Saturday, January 31, 2015

The Action Art of Mort Kunstler

On Thursday we visited the exhibition "Mort Kunstler: The Art of Adventure" at the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Massachusetts.  
Mort Kunstler, "Buried Alive for Four Months," Stag Magazine, 1965.

The exhibit spans his entire career, celebrating his well-known Civil War paintings, but I'd like to focus here on his earlier work for the men's action magazines, which doesn't get exhibited as often. 

When Mort Kunstler started doing illustrations in the early 1950s, he said that the field of mainstream magazine story illustration was already beginning to die away. "Color photography and television was coming in," he says, and advertising money was going to television. Dramas were broadcast on TV instead of being published in magazines.

But there were over 130 separate titles of men's adventure magazines still going strong, catering to veterans of World War II. The magazines had names like Adventure, Real, True, Saga, Stag, Swank and For Men Only

The illustrations were often printed in limited color palettes, such as red and black, and they required tight deadlines. Kunstler produced a vast output of complex images, usually staged with maximum drama and sex appeal. Most of these early paintings were executed in gouache on board.

Still at the easel in his 80s, Mort has remained busy for all these decades, with one assignment or painting idea following another. He has done it all: movie posters, plastic model box covers, commercial advertisements, and limited edition art prints.

He painted this spoof on Jaws for Mad magazine. He wasn't sure if it would alienate his fans, so he signed it "Mutz," just one of his pseudonyms.

In the 1970s, after the era of men's magazines was over, he painted paperback covers, such as "The Kansan," above. He switched to oil paint, and found his main calling painting scenes from American history, particularly documenting epic moments from the Civil War. 

All these aspects of his career are well represented in the three large rooms of the exhibition, along with examples of his preliminary sketches, comprehensive drawings, and tearsheets that show his process.

The exhibition "Mort Kunstler: The Art of Adventure" will be on view at the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Massachusetts through March 8. 


Friday, January 30, 2015

Mosaic Imps Sweater

Yoo hoo, knitters! Jeanette says: "I began this sweater in 2011, and almost frogged it, but I persevered and 4 years later it’s done.

I usually knit in the round, and this flat knitting really slowed me down! Mosaic knitting requires flat pattern pieces, done on straight needles. But I HAD to do that tessellated imp mosaic pattern!

The tessellation pattern includes both white and black imps. The imps are both right side up and upside down.
I was intrigued by Barbara Walker’s “shadow patterns” in her book “Mosaic Knitting”, and I chose to use her little black and white imps for my fabric. She was a genius.

I adapted a basic modified drop-shoulder pullover pattern, by Heather Lodinsky in Knitter’s Mag.#57, winter 1999. She named it “Woven Weekenders”, and also used a mosaic stitch pattern, but I wanted those imps. I used her pattern schematic as a base, for stitch counts and measurements.

I did corrugated ribbing (red and black) on the cuffs, bottom hem, and neckline, because the sweater needed a red color accent. The rest of the sweater is garter stitch in black and cream. The mosaic imp pattern is all slip-stitch. The sweater is heavy and warm, but not as impossibly heavy as stranded worsted-weight would have been.

Today when my husband wore it into the library, it stopped the librarian in her tracks. She was a knitter, and those imps definitely got some attention."

For more info about yarns and needles on this sweater, visit this page of Jeanette's Ravelry account

Animation Exhibition in Mexico

"Watch Me Move," an exhibition that explores the art form of animation from its origins to the present day, is currently on display at the Museo Marco in Monterrey, Mexico through March 1. (link to video)

Museo Marco website

WAMC Public Radio Interview

Yesterday in Albany, New York, I visited our public radio station WAMC and had a 20 minute conversation with my favorite radio guy, Joe Donahue. Link to audio interview.

They'll be giving away sets of my art instruction DVDs as a pledge premium during the fund drive next week.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Dinotopia Exhibition coming to Connecticut

Next month, the Stamford Museum and Nature Center will host a major Dinotopia exhibition.

There will be over 50 original paintings from several of the books, including Dinosaur Parade, Waterfall City, and Dinosaur Boulevard. The artwork is completely different from the Lyman Allyn show a few years ago.
The show will also include preliminary sketches, reference maquettes, and several dinosaur fossils.
I will be in attendance for a few special events:

Farm to Table Supper with Chef Tim LaBant
Saturday February 28, 2015 from 6:00 PM to 10:00 PM

Enjoy a casual, rustic winter supper in the warmth of the Bendel Mansion featuring Tim LaBant, Owner/Chef of the Schoolhouse at Cannondale. Guests will begin with cocktails and artisanal hors d’oeuvres in the Museum Galleries with artist James Gurney who will provide a tour of the Dinotopia galleries, with stories behind the paintings. Here's the link for tickets.

Fantasy Drawing Workshop with James Gurney
Sunday, March 1, 2015, 1:00-3:00
Leonhardt Gallery in the Stamford Museum

James Gurney will present a digital slide program and a hands-on drawing workshop for artists of all levels of experience. Gurney will demonstrate the water-soluble colored pencil techniques he uses for many of his observational and imaginative sketches. Participants will get a chance to try out the watercolor pencils as they draw dinosaur models and still life objects. The workshop will take place in one of the exhibition galleries. Materials will be provided. The class size is extremely limited. Link for more info.

Book signing and public presentation
Sunday, March 1, 2015, 3:30-4:30
Leonhardt Gallery in the Stamford Museum

After the private workshop, all museum guests are invited to meet the author/artist. Mr. Gurney will offer a mini-lecture about the making of Dinotopia, followed by a book signing. Copies of Gurney's Dinotopia editions and art instruction books Imaginative Realism and Color and Light will be available at the gift shop.

Jared Cullum is organizing a gathering of GurneyJourneyers for sketching and coffee before or after the events on Sunday.
Stamford Museum and Nature Center
Farm to table sign-up

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Book Review: Goodbye Old Man

In the spring of 1915, Fortunino Matania traveled to the front lines of the Great War to research his illustrations for the British illustrated journal The Sphere. 

Neuve Chapelle, 1915, by Fortunino Matania, Royal Worcestershire Regiment Museum
He sketched the positions of the dead and the the layout of the defenses, reconstructing the battle that had just taken place. But the battlefield was still hot, and his attempts to sketch were interrupted by machine gun fire. Ducking into a trench, he bobbed his head up for a few seconds to take in the view of the nearby village and the debris—a battered teakettle, a discarded bottle, and a sardine can.

A shell exploded just five yards away, covering him and his sketchbook with dirt. He escaped to the relative safety of a field hospital, where he interviewed survivors. Returning to his studio in England, he dug a trench in his own garden to reconstruct the scene in real life, where he could study the effects in safety.

This story is just one of many contained in a new book called Goodbye, Old Man: Matania's Vision of the First World War about the Italian-born illustrator Fortunino Matania (1881-1963). The title is a reference to his most famous image, showing a soldier saying farewell to his dying horse as his buddies urge him on.

The book is softcover, 6 3/4 x 7 1/2 inches with over 100 illustrations, more than 30 of which are in color. The images are reproduced both from original art and from tearsheets. Because of the petite size of the book, the illustrations are unfortunately disappointingly small, but they're well captioned, and larger files can often be found online. List price is U.S. $18.95, but it can be found on Amazon for less than $15.00. 

The book does much to fill the gap in published information about this underappreciated artist whom I've written about many times before on this blog. It's an especially good resource for anyone interested in the documentation of World War I. I hope that someone will produce another book covering his vast output of historical illustrations after the war.

Book: Goodbye, Old Man: Matania's Vision of the First World War by Lucinda Gosling
Previous GJ posts on Matania

Tuesday, January 27, 2015


The TV reality show King of the Nerds asked permission to include a print of Dinotopia's Waterfall City in the set, called "Nerdvana." This is the third season of the program, which premiered last Friday night on TBS.

Dinotopia Podcast Episode 12

The final episode of the Dinotopia Podcast has arrived. You can listen by clicking on the Soundcloud play button below, or by following this direct link.

The beginning of the episode finds Will and Sylvia in their crashed airship near Sauropolis.

Preparations are underway for a big springtime parade.

Will pilots a skybax to meet up with Arthur, who hints at marvelous discoveries in The World Beneath. We'll begin that podcast next week.

The Podcast Series
This acoustic adventure was produced by Tom Lopez of the ZBS Foundation, with an original music track by composer Tim Clark.
Each 10-minute episode will only be live online for one week, and then it will disappear.

If you'd like to purchase the full two-hour Dinotopia podcast right now and hear all twelve episodes back to back in a feature-length production, check out Dinotopia at ZBS Foundation website for the MP3 download.
You can also order the original book from my web store and I'll sign it for you.  (Ships via Media Mail within 24 hours of your order. US orders only for the book, please). The Dinotopia book is also available from Amazon.
There will be an exhibit of Dinotopia originals at the Stamford Museum and Nature Center in Connecticut from February 14 - May 25, 2015. I'll be giving an illustrated lecture there on Sunday, March 1, 2015 at 1:00.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Botched Restorations

When workers in Egypt were changing a lightbulb in a display case, they accidentally broke off the beard of King Tut.

 Then, when they glued it back on, they smeared a big blob of epoxy on the gold leaf. But that's not the only botched restoration job. The Telegraph mentions a few other notable cases.

Cecilia Gimenez's restoration of Ecce Homo

Yunjie Temple before and after.

The bungled nose job on Supper at Emmaus by Veronese (from the Guardian)

Read more: "King Tut's broken beard and other art disasters" at The Telegraph

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Interview with Grammarly

I recently received an offer to try out the grammar correction program called Grammarly. On their website, Grammarly claims to make you a better writer by finding and correcting grammatical mistakes.

I downloaded the software and tried it out, but instead of reviewing it, I thought it would be interesting to interview a representative of the company by email. Mr. Mager, an online marketing analyst, agreed to my request. Before he sent his answers, he said he checked them with a colleague to verify that they were accurate.

JG: Would you briefly describe how Grammarly is different from other grammar-checking programs?

Grammarly offers automated grammar, spelling, and plagiarism checking. Its technology catches 10x more mistakes than Microsoft Word, while also offering unique features such as writing enhancement and citation suggestions. Grammarly regularly conducts tests to compare our algorithms against our competitors including Google. Our continuously improving machine learning algorithm always wins. A more recent defining element of Grammarly is its Chrome extension that will soon be available for Firefox and Safari later this year. The extension allows our users to have a grammar checker wherever they go on the internet from their emails to Facebook comments.

JG: Do you recommend a different prose style for print settings than you do for online settings?
Our linguists approach Grammarly with a classical, academic approach. We realize that context is vital to proper communication. A properly written sentence or paragraph can make the difference in receiving a passing or failing grade, job offer, or a good story. When writing with Grammarly, we offer seven categories and 32 different document types that range from short stories to business emails. With each document type, Grammarly applies different grammar rules and suggestions.

JG: How does the reading experience differ when we read text on a computer screen?
Last year, the Grammarly team ran a survey to get more information about this topic from our community of word nerds about their reading habits. We found that out of 6,744 responses, 79% preferred to read printed books versus e-books. Another survey showed that of 1,929 responses 39% would prefer their children read printed books while 11% preferred e-books and 34% of respondents simply wanted their kids to read! It is clear that there is a more positive experience with holding a paper book than looking at a screen.

JG: Should those differences change the way we think about writing for the computer?

The most important thing, about writing for the computer or print, is that we write with clarity and creativity. If readers can’t understand what we are writing, then our message is lost on them - no matter what we’re saying. What I have personally noticed is that writing in print is often more formal than online writing and written in long form. Online writing tends to be more succinct, with more paragraphs and bullets to break up thoughts. This is likely due to our shorter digital attention spans.

JG: I allowed Grammarly to evaluate the first paragraphs from Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea, Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island, and Mark Twain’s Tom Sawyer. According to Grammarly, each of them has issues with wordiness. Is that a false positive, a change in historical standards or a valid objection to their style?

Grammarly is not meant to critique works of art or classic literature. It is built around a powerful and an ever-evolving algorithm designed to provide students, professionals, and advanced language learners with an automated, cost-effective, accurate, and always-available online tool to help improve their written English skills. Through contextual guidance, users are empowered to make the final assessment of whether the feedback they’ve received fits the material being reviewed, enabling them to learn from their mistakes.

JG: How has using Grammarly changed your personal experience as a writer?
For me, Grammarly serves as an extra pair of eyes on my work. It keeps me aware of some common issues that I have with my writing and explains the grammar rules that I miss. This feedback has been helpful with the accuracy of my writing even when Grammarly isn’t available. I find when I write to my boss, family, or friends I can have more confidence and credibility behind my message.

JG: Given that you work at a web company that ferrets out mistakes in writing, do you find that your friends and family give you a hard time every time you make a mistake?
Yes! So much so, in fact, that one of us wrote a blog post about it:

I appreciate the challenge though. My writing wasn’t the best in school so as I pay more attention to how I speak and write, I see my communication improving every day.

JG: Forgive me, but you did make an error in your cover letter to me, saying, “stuck a chord” rather than “struck a chord.” That’s a hard one to catch given that you spelled each phrase correctly, and it was grammatical. Would Grammarly be able to find such a mistake if it used the kind of statistical algorithms that Google uses when it prompts alternate search phrasing?

Grammarly is able to pick up “stuck and struck” a chord and other contextual errors such as “there, their, they’re”, however we are still adding to the contexts that they can be found in. Our program is constantly learning, similar to the way Google uses its statistical algorithms, and while Grammarly is not yet perfect, we are still the leader in writing enhancement software.

JG: What thinking did you give to the manner in which Grammarly points out issues to the writer? I notice that it has a polite and helpful demeanor. If you had designed it differently, it might have appeared obnoxious or pedantic. What thinking went into that interface?

Grammar rules can be confusing to many people and are constantly evolving. Grammarly was created to provide an easy way for students, professionals, job seekers, and English language learners to become better, more accurate English language writers and help them learn and understand the rules of grammar. We’re not here as a grammar judge; rather, we want to be a resource. Our world-class designers and UX experts have played a big role in this as they obsess over every detail to create an easy, understandable interface for our users.

JG: What happens behind the scenes when the little Grammarly logo starts spinning around? Is the text being uploaded to your computers? Do you keep a copy of the writing? Do you ever share it with anyone else?

Our policy agreement provides detailed information about how Grammarly stores text, but I can tell you that we never share any writer's text publically. Behind the scenes, Grammarly's learning algorithms are constantly reviewing whether our tool is being applied in the right context or not -- that is how we can make continuous improvements.

[Note from JG: The Policy Agreement states: "By uploading or entering any User Content, you give Grammarly (and those it works with) a nonexclusive, worldwide, royalty-free and fully-paid, transferable and sublicensable, perpetual, and irrevocable license to copy, store and use your User Content in connection with the provision of the Software and the Services and to improve the algorithms underlying the Software and the Services."]

JG: Do you worry that the reliance on machine-based spell-check or grammar-check programs will blunt the attention that you devote to your writing or that it might sand off the corners of your personal style? (Grammarly didn't like me using the word "sand".)

Nice imagery. No, the great thing about Grammarly is that it was developed alongside English professors to be a passive learning tool. For each potential issue flagged by Grammarly’s algorithms, users receive a detailed explanation so they can make an informed decision about how, and whether, to correct the mistake. Our positive reviews from professional writers really speak for itself.

JG: How would you envision Grammarly five years from now? Please describe the kind of writing partner you’d like to see it become.

Grammarly’s core mission is improving lives by improving communication, and there is a lot in store over the next few years. One part of this is improving Grammarly’s algorithms to the level of a human proofreader. Every day, we get a little closer to that goal. The other part is integrating Grammarly more into people’s lives. This new plugin we recently launched for Chrome, and soon other browsers, is a big step to bringing our advanced grammar checker to where a majority of the world writes most. It is an exciting time to be here!
Grammarly official website

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Mikhail Ryasnyansky (1926-2003)

Mikhail Ryasnyansky (1926-2003) was a painter from Ukraine. He fought in World War II but was discharged in connection with serious injuries and a concussion.

Ryasnyansky's first name is written either Mihail, Mikhail or Michael. 

He studied under Tetyana Yablonska. Later he taught at the Kiev Art Institute. 

His portraits have simple backgrounds and a controlled focus on the face and hands, with other areas handled more softly and broadly. 

His drawings are soulful, with a keen sense of tonal values.

He was an avid outdoor painter, and his on-the-spot landscapes are painted with bold colors and thick paint. 

Friday, January 23, 2015

Animated Sand Toys and Music Boxes

Here's a short video that I made to spotlight the wonderful sand toys and music boxes created by Mel and Eunice Birnkrant. (Direct link to video)

These primitive automata are inspired by the artwork of Victorian toy theaters. The figures are cut out of paperboard sheets and arranged in a tiny stage, complete with curtain and audience. Mel took the idea to the next step and invented the mechanisms needed to make them come to life.
More about Mel Birnkrant, toy inventor and collector
More about Mel and Eunice's sand toys and music boxes.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Dreamworks to Close its Northern California Animation Studio

From Cartoon Brew: "DreamWorks just announced to it staff that it will shut down one of its main studios, PDI DreamWorks, in Redwood City, California. The closing of that studio will begin immediately. The beleaguered animation studio also announced that 500 jobs will be eliminated, far more than the previously expected number of layoffs. The studio is cutting back its slate to two DreamWorks-produced films per year: one original film and one sequel."

Sympathies to all, and best wishes getting everything back on track.

Julius Kronberg, Swedish Academian

Speaking of Swedish painters, blog reader Staffan Alsparr shared some information about Julius Kronberg (1850-1921): "I thought he might be an artist that you haven't heard of before, which isn't strange at all, he is very unknown here as well."

Kronberg, Portrait of Artur Hazelius, 1910
Mr. Alsparr continues: "The two Swedish artists that most people do know are Anders Zorn and Carl Larsson. Kronberg was contemporary to them, although he followed a more academic path, and was very popular in his time, but largely forgotten today, like many of the academicians."

Julius Kronberg, David och Saul, 1885

Julius Kronberg and his daughter, with charcoal preliminary for a mural
Maquettes by Julius Kronberg
"I thought you might find his work interesting since he worked with imaginative subjects and built his own models, props and maquettes to aid him in this, just like many others and like you've written about in Imaginative Realism." 

Julius Kronberg Queen of Sheba
"His studio is now also part of Skansen, an outdoor museum in Stockholm, and it is open to the public but only a few weeks a year." 

Thanks, Staffan.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Anders Zorn's "Une première"

The painting "Une première" was one of Anders Zorn's first experiments portraying nude models in the open air. He was fascinated by the waves, the water reflections, the shifting weight, and the colors of the flesh as the woman and child wade into the shallow water.

Anders Zorn, Une première, gouache, 1888, 76x56 cm,
(29.92 in x 22.05 in), at the Nationalmuseum, Blasieholmen, Stockholm.
Zorn said, "My model was in Stockholm staying at a shoemaker's family with many children when I came along and asked to borrow a boy. The shoemaker had nothing against being rid of one for a while. The boy that suited me was sickly and close to death anyway. But what an effect fresh air had on a naked body. A couple of weeks later, I returned the boy and he was so healthy and rosy-checked that his parents hardly recognized him."

The original version of this gouache painting won a medal, but Zorn decided to rework it. He became so dissatisfied with the outcome that he angrily folded it and hacked it to pieces. A fellow artist, Christian Eriksson, gathered the fragments and put them back together. It is now considered a masterwork of figure painting.