Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Pisarro's advice to an art student

Camille Pissarro offered the following advice to an art student around 1896. I encourage you to read it critically. I'll comment afterward.

"Look for the kind of nature that suits your temperament. The motif should be observed more for shape and color than for drawing. There is no need to tighten the form which can be obtained without that. Precise drawing is dry and hampers the impression of the whole; it destroys all sensations."


Camille Pissarro
"Do not define too closely the outlines of things; it is the brush stroke of the right value and colour which should produce the drawing. In a mass, the greatest difficulty is not to give the contour in detail, but to paint what is within. Paint the essential character of' things, try to convey it by any means whatsoever, without bothering about technique."


Camille Pissarro
"When painting, make a choice of' subject, see what is lying at the right and at the left, then work on everything simultaneously. Don't work bit by bit, but paint everything at once by placing tones everywhere, with brush strokes of the right color and value, while noticing what is alongside. Use small brush strokes and try to put down your perceptions immediately."

"The eye should not be fixed on one point, but should take in everything, while observing the reflections which the colours produce on their surroundings. Work at the same time upon sky, water, branches, ground, keeping everything going on an equal basis and unceasingly rework until you have got it."

"Cover the canvas at the first go, then work at it until you can see nothing more to add. Observe the aerial perspective well, from the foreground to the horizon, the reflections of sky on foliage. Don't be afraid of putting on colour, refine the work little by little. Don't proceed according to rules and principles, but paint what you observe and feel. Paint generously and unhesitatingly, for it is best not to lose the first impression. Don't be timid in front of' nature: one must be bold, at the risk of being deceived and making mistakes. One must have only one master --- nature; she is the one always to be consulted."

My thoughts (and I want to hear yours)
The foregoing advice is one of the pivotal texts of Impressionist technique. It has echoed down to our times through various teachers. Whenever I've read Pissarro's advice, I've taken it with a grain of salt, especially when it was presented dogmatically. Here are some of my initial reactions:

1. To his credit, Pissarro talks about seeing as well as technique: "The eye should not be fixed on one point, but should take in everything..." Capturing an impression not just a matter of brushes and paints. It's at least as much a problem of learning to see. For example, learning to isolate and compare colors is essential to painting them convincingly, regardless of what brushes you use. Since Pissarro's time, we've learned a lot about how the human eye sees color, so it's possible to be more analytical about that.

2. When he says "Don't proceed according to rules and principles, but paint what you observe and feel," I would counter that knowing the rules and principles helps you observe and feel more accurately. Telling a student just to "paint what they observe" is useless advice unless you explain what to look for and why things look the way they do.

3. I never understood why the line "Precise drawing is dry and hampers the impression" was necessary. Is he just making an excuse because he can't draw well? Why can't I have both good drawing and accurate color? Artists who combined academic drawing skills and impressionist methods, such as Krøyer, Mønsted, Zorn, Sorolla, and Sargent could capture impressions without disregarding precise or accurate drawing.

John Singer Sargent
3b. However, it makes sense when he says "Do not define too closely the outlines of things; it is the brush stroke of the right value and colour which should produce the drawing." Painting students who have only drawn with line need to learn that paint strokes don't have to be linear; they can be any shape or texture, and for this kind of opaque painting, the value and color, (plus edge quality, opacity, etc)  have to be considered, too.

4. John Singer Sargent (above) sometimes painted in the "small touch-impressionism" way. A subject like the one above necessarily is made of small touches, well observed. Sargent is perhaps a closer ally to Monet than to Pissarro, but Monet didn't like to write about his method. 

5. Painting in "everything at once" rather than "bit by bit" is just one way of painting. It applies more to opaque oil painting, and less to watercolor or gouache, which can favor a more planned and organized approach. Oil can be painted in many ways: "window shading," area-by-area, systematically, or indirectly (as with Maxfield Parrish) and the results can be accurate and strong.

6. If Pissarro wants to capture an overall impression immediately, why does he say: "Use small brush strokes and try to put down your perceptions immediately."? Big brushes are much more efficient for capturing overall impressions rapidly. Students don't need encouragement to use small brushes. They need to be encouraged to use bigger ones, especially at the beginning. He does say to "paint generously and unhesitatingly" and I think he's right there: be willing to use lots of paint. By painting unhesitatingly, I think he means to develop your intuition, and that comes from a combination of practice and analysis.

7. Painting overall with brushstrokes of a given module makes it hard to achieve scale. If you want to make something look big, you need to alternate large shapes with tiny touches. Nature is not composed of bean-size blobs. I think the advice should be to use a variety of tools and to look for contrasts of scale within the subject. And to achieve depth, the advice might be to paint from background to foreground, not overall or 'everything at once.'


8. If you use the same tools or approach for every part of the scene (sky, water, buildings, etc), those areas will all look the same and they will all look like paint. In Pissarro's case, it leads to what contemporary critics called "woolliness," meaning it looks like the whole thing is rendered in counted cross stitch. No problem if you want your painting to have that look, but if you want your painting to hold the mirror up to Nature, it may not be the best advice.
----
I welcome your thoughts in the comments. What parts of Pissarro's advice are useful to you or your students? What parts don't make sense or seem wrong? 

Monday, January 15, 2018

Sketching with Patches of Tone

In this graphite pencil sketch, Charles Bargue (1825–83) uses well placed patches of tone rather than using only outlines to describe the form.

Charles Bargue, graphite, 8 x 5 3/16 inches, Metropolitan Museum
The patches are made out of short, parallel strokes, which create an impressionistic, painterly effect, even though he's working only in unblended pencil.

Charles Bargue helped create the Drawing Course used in many ateliers.
The method of sketching with patches of tonal values is also described in Sketching - from Square One to Trafalgar Square and Ernest Watson's The Art of Pencil Drawing.

Previous post: The El Dorado Page (Ernest Watson)

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Dan Gurney, 1931-2018


Very sad to know that race driver, car builder, team owner (and my cousin) Dan Gurney died today from complications of pneumonia. I'll miss his courage, tenacity, kindness, and humor.

African Warrior Fantasy


Imaro II: The Quest for Cush is a fantasy novel written by Charles Saunders, an expert in African folklore. I wanted Imaro to be a convincing warrior hero, so I located a tall, built model named Darrell, who was in training to play for the L.A. Lakers. That’s Mount Kenya in the distance.
-----

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Hobey Ford's Rod Puppets

In this video, master puppeteer Hobey Ford of North Carolina shows how he uses foam and wire to create lifelike movement. (Link to video)

Hobey Ford and his puppets. Image from Focus Newspapers



Thanks, Linda Crank.

Friday, January 12, 2018

New Book on Edwin Georgi

A young woman is startled by a sound while raiding a jewelry box.


The artist is Edwin Georgi (1896-1964), the subject of the latest monograph on an American illustrator by The Illustrated Press.


Georgi was a pilot in WWI, but was shot down and injured. While recovering, he took up an interest in art. Mostly self-taught, he began his career doing paste-ups in an advertising agency. His early illustrations were muted and restrained.


His earliest illustrations were for advertising clients, portraying exotic women in elegant settings. As time went by his approach to color became more daring.


He is best known for a shimmering, golden backlighting, painted in a pointillist style. He often accentuated color effects by placing strong warm and cool accents near each other.

He was a bold experimenter with lighting ideas, and he painted in many media, including colored ink, watercolor, gouache, and oil. 

The book starts with a short bio, but the bulk of the pages are devoted to large reproductions of originals and tearsheets. 


The book is loaded with art, and includes a lot of preliminary studies rendered in pencil, ink, and gouache, sometimes with the art director's comments written in the margins. Many of the sketches are paired with the finished work, so you can study how the pictures developed.


The Art of Edwin Georgi is hardback 224 pages, 9" x 12" full color. The standard edition is $44.95, and there's also a collectable slipcased edition of 100.

Previous books in this series by The Illustrated Press are each limited to 1000 copies include Tom Lovell—Illustrator and The Art of Jon Whitcomb

Art Blogs Award 2017
If you like this blog, please nominate it and vote for me.