Sunday, May 20, 2018

How should I paint the light in shadows?

Blog reader Ewan Lamont says: "I need to tell myself to paint the shadows darker than they appear, because the tendency (for me at least) is to overstate the fill and reflected light. John Ruskin noted that the human eye is far more sensitive to light than photographic paper (I am not sure about digital arrays of sensors) and wanted artists to paint what they could see in shadows and which was invisible in the dark shadows of photographs where shaded details did not register. He also deplored the Claude glass for the same reason."

John Sell Cotman, Chirk Aqueduct, 1806-7
Thanks for those interesting thoughts. Ruskin is correct in saying that our eyes can see more light in shadows than cameras can see, especially any cameras that he would have known. 19th century cameras had much less latitude than modern digital cameras are capable of. He's also right that usually we want to avoid indiscriminately copying black shadows in pictures.

But lighting and value organization were never Ruskin's strengths, so I take his opinions about light and shadow with a grain of salt here. I would hesitate to draw any single conclusion about how to treat the light in in the shadows in a picture. There are times you may want to paint shadows black, especially if you want drama. Other times you might want to flood the shadows with variations and bleach the lights. It depends on the nature of the lighting and your goals in a given study or painting.

If my goal in a picture is to capture a sense of light, I'll want to group the shadows and separate them from the lights. I think John Sell Cotman does that beautifully in the painting above. The tones in the shadow are kept together, even though they're not too black. Using a (Claude) Lorrain mirror can help in seeing these tonal relationships. It shows the darks all merged together as a mass -- even though you don't have to paint them as black as you see them.

And look how Cotman unifies the illuminated areas at the base of the aqueduct. It would have been very tempting to put a lot of dark accents and texture into those lights.

Let me leave you with these three suggestions:
1. Paint gives us a very limited scale of values to work with, so management of tone is essential.
2. To achieve a feeling of light, focus on grouping the shadows, simplifying them, and separating them from the lights. 
3. Your reference won't give you the value organization. You have to invent it. It requires a leap of your imagination and a remarkable level of discipline to pull it off. 

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Previously unknown Rembrandt confirmed

Portrait of a Young Gentleman by Rembrandt
A previously unknown painting by Rembrandt van Rijn has been confirmed by experts. When the portrait came up for auction, identified as by the "School of Rembrandt," Dutch art dealer Jan Six suspected it was the real thing. That lace collar was only popular for a couple years, and those years were before Rembrandt's style was influential.

"Portrait of a young Gentleman is the first unknown painting by the Dutch master to turn up in 44 years and takes his total known painting oeuvre to 342, the NRC reported on Tuesday. Six bought the work 18 months ago at an auction at Christie’s in London on a hunch. He paid the equivalent of €156,000 for the portrait, which is undated and unsigned but which was probably painted in 1634. The portrait, measuring 94.5 cm by 73.5 cm, was sold by a British family who had had the painting in their possession for at least six generations. Six worked with Rijksmuseum experts to authenticate the work, and argues that the primer, pigments, brush strokes and method of composition all point to it being by Rembrandt."
Read more at DutchNews

Friday, May 18, 2018

Will that van stay parked?

It's grocery day, so while Jeanette does the hunting and gathering, I am out in the parking lot scouting for a new slice of ordinariness.

Here's a short video (link to video on Facebook).

I use two tripods, one for the sketch easel, and the other for the camera, which is held out on an extension bar. The camera I'm using is a Canon EOS M6 mirrorless, which has a built in time lapse function.

Here's my setup (product links below). The casein underpainting color is just a random page; I didn't paint it for this particular composition. I just like to have a few pre-primed page in the book. The priming gives unexpected energy to the colors.

The sky is overcast, making the sky flat and nearly white. With overcast lighting, there's no clear light side or shadow side. On the van, the planes that face more upward receive more light from the sky and are therefore lighter. I liked the fact that the white on the hood of the van was the brightest white in the composition.
The brushes are from a pocket travel brush set and I'm painting in a Pentalic Aqua Journal with gouache over the casein underpainting. Everything is attached to the homebuilt sketch easel. I made a video explaining how to make one.
Full-length painting tutorials on GouacheCasein, and Watercolor.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Painting in the Ghibli Style

Here are two videos that demonstrate some gouache techniques resembling those used in background paintings for Miyazaki's Studio Ghibli.

The first is by Osamu Masuyama, a background artist on Spirited Away, Ponyo, and Howl's Moving Castle, doing a demonstration at a university. (Link to YouTube)

He pre-mixes four colors before starting on the sky: a lighter and darker blue for the gradation of the sky, plus a white and a gray for the lit part of the cloud and the shadow part.

Artist Victor Ishihara demonstrates creates a painting of the building from "Spirited Away" (Link to video on YouTube). I'm not sure what Mr. Ishihara's connection is with Studio Ghibli, but his way of painting seems fairly similar to that of Mr. Masuyama.

A few observations on both demos:
1. The art is set up flat on the table, so the method doesn't depend on gravity to pull down washes.
2. The paper is pre-wet for the sky, which helps achieve those soft edges in the clouds.
More resources
Previously: Demo by Kazuo Oga
 Kazuo Oga
Watercolor Tips from Miyazaki
DVD: Oga Kazuo DVD
Paints: Nicker (Knicker) poster color (imported from Japan)

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Hollywood Backdrops: Illusion at a Cinematic Scale

A coffee table book called The Art of the Hollywood Backdrop showcases an art form that is often overlooked because it is designed to be invisible.

Photo: Warner Bros/Photofest
Backdrops, or "backings," as they are called in the industry, are huge painted panoramas that fill in the setting behind the live action. Unlike matte paintings, which are smaller-scale paintings that are optically combined with the action, backings are actually positioned on the back wall of the set.

Photo: Dennis Welch/Art Directors Guild Archives/Courtesy of JC Backings
Sometimes backings are used where you don't expect to see them, such as an interior setting, which can be easier than building a set or shooting on location. This painting is 13 feet tall by 20 feet wide, and was used multiple times as a rental from the inventory of Coast Backings Corporation.

Photo: Courtesy of JC Backings
Above, scenic artist Ben Resella paints a backing for Earthquake, (1974).

The book is organized into three parts: first, an introduction that explains the history and technique; second, a survey of the main artists and companies that dominated the industry; and third, an essay on the future of the hand-painted backing in film.

Even though backdrops have been largely replaced by CGI techniques, they're still used for productions that want to achieve an other-worldly look. Backdrops were used extensively, for example, in the 2004 movie Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events

The book The Art of the Hollywood Backdrop is a lavish, oversize coffee table book, 324 pages, hardbound, slipcased, with huge photo reproductions that spill across its 11x14" pages.

One of the co-authors is Karen Maness, an atelier-trained painter who teaches at the U.T. Austin's Department of Theatre and Dance. Sheworks as a Scenic Art Supervisor at Texas Performing Arts, and recently co-founded the new Atelier Dojo.

Related titles: The Invisible Art, about the history and methods of matte painting, written by veteran matte painter Craig Barron.
Windows on Nature: The Great Habitat Dioramas of the American Museum of Natural History, which features the diorama illusions of James Perry Wilson and Duncan Alanson Spencer, who painted background illusions both for movies and for museums.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Sorolla's Gouache Pigments

El Pan de Fiesta (Castilla) by Joaquín Sorolla
Joaquín Sorolla (1863-1923) used gouache to plan his Provinces of Spain murals (part of the finished mural above).

Some of the gouache preliminaries Provinces of Spain.

According to scientists who studied these gouache sketches, Sorolla used the following pigments:
Lead and zinc white, vermillion, earth pigments, ochre, zinc yellow, chrome yellow, ultramarine, Prussian blue, chromium based and copper–arsenic based green pigments, bone black and carbon based black pigments, and gum arabic as binding media in the gouache pigments. 
Analysis of pigments from Spanish works of art using a portable EDXRF spectrometer

Monday, May 14, 2018

Deal with variable light on your painting

Judy P asks:
"James, I've can't remember if you ever discussed the topic about painting in daylight, and the value problems it causes. Umbrellas are a pain, so often I paint in the sun, with my canvas and palette aimed away, not getting hit by the light. But even if I am in shade, often my painting ends up way too dark, with little contrast, when I get it inside. 

That just happened yesterday. My painting looked successful while I was working, good value contrast, strong color and temperature variation. Then I bring it inside, and all of that is lost. I'm been doing plein air about 6 years now- how long does it take to make that automatic eye adjustment, to paint lighter and brighter than you perceive? Do you have any tips to keep on top of this problem during painting? So far my only aid is to use the middle grey paper palette to keep track- lighter or darker than middle. But 'paint what you see' is problematic!"

Painting under an umbrella held on a C-stand at right
Judy, You've got two important questions here. The first is how to set up your artwork so that the light on it isn't jarringly different from the scene you're looking at. The second is how to accommodate your eye and brain to the inevitable differences in illumination.

The answer to the first question is that you ideally want the illumination on the artwork—both the painting and the palette—to be identical to the light in the scene—identical both in terms of brightness and color. 

A close match of illumination levels makes color choices easier
If you're painting a front-lit subject, the full sun shining on your painting may be OK, but it may be too harsh and bright. This can be a problem for gouache and other water media because it makes the paint dry too fast.

One of the worst problems is dancing shadows and dappled light from a tree or the line of a cast shadow going across half your picture or your palette. This makes accurate color judgments almost impossible.

To solve all these problems, a diffuser can smooth out variations in illumination and reduce the brightness of the sun. It also makes a softer light that's nicer to work under. A diffuser is a layer of thin, translucent white nylon cloth suspended above your painting and easel. It might be a white umbrella or a smaller frame that's held closer to your work and that's less susceptible to wind.

Here's a video trailer that introduces some of the options of diffusers. (Link to YouTube)

Painting toward the light (or contre-jour) gets rid of the problem of uneven, dappled, or overly bright light, but it can sometimes be hard to get enough light on your work.

Using a diffuser while painting contre-jour
In some instances, like pubs or concerts, there's nothing I can do about the light being way too dim or differently colored on my work relative to the subject. In that case, I often work in black and white.

In the video below, I share some tips for increasing the light on your painting when you're facing toward the light. If you're working in deep shadow, there are ways to bounce light or use portable illumination to get the light levels higher and more even. I show how to build several basic diffusers in my video tutorial How to Make a Sketch Easel .

Most of these things can be made from inexpensive materials. (Link to YouTube)

The second problem has to do with accommodating your eyes to different light levels and getting the right contrast within your painting. A gray palette can reduce glare, but you need a white palette for transparent mixtures. Also, even if you use the gray palette, I find it's helpful to always have at least a patch of pure white and pure black in view somewhere as a reference to calibrate the rest of your values.

When I'm painting in bright sun, the problem for me is that my pupils get fatigued from alternately opening and closing. That can cause headaches as well as making it hard to judge relative values. The ability of your pupils to rapidly dilate and constrict diminishes with age.

In direct sun I tend to misjudge the variations in the colors, and either make the lights too dark or the darks too light. Regardless of the relative illumination levels, you have to always be conscious of comparing values within the little universe of your composition. To avoid "middle value mumbling," it helps to group the light values together and the dark values together, and keep the lights and darks separate.
How to Make a Sketch Easel (video tutorial) on Gumroad
Previously on GurneyJourney 
White Umbrellas
Contre-jour Lighting
Middle Value Mumbling

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Tips for Painting Efficiently

I shared this painting in a blog post a few days ago, but I repackaged the video when I put it on YouTube in order to answer Chris's question, below.

  • ChrisBreier asks: "45 minutes is quick for all of the detail you captured! Got any tips for painting efficiently?" 

(Link to video on YouTube

1. Get your measurements right.
Spend a few minutes making sure the measurements in your preliminary drawing are accurate, so that you don't have to waste time fixing mistakes. These measurements may be just a few key lines, slopes, or anchor points, not a detailed drawing. You'll do the the real drawing and definition of forms with the brush.
2. Use a small number of colors.
Fewer choices reduces confusion and increases the harmony in your color scheme. When you're deciding which colors to squeeze out on the palette, just include the ones you really need. This saves time, saves money, and saves cleanup.

3. Have your paints close to your painting.
Set things up so that your painting is close to your line of sight and your palette is close to your painting. That will make it easier to achieve accuracy, and it will reduce the time you spend reaching back and forth from painting to palette.
4. Use each mixture in multiple places.
When you mix a color and have it on the brush, don't just use it for one small spot. Look throughout your scene for other places to place that color mixture. Try to analyze the scene for similar colors or planes.

5. Use the largest brush you can.
Start with the biggest brushes and work your way to the small ones as you finish. Those windows I painted first as big dark strokes and then painted the mullions to square them up and divide them into three smaller windows.

6. Paint from life under limited time frames.
Painting from life always helps you improve your speed and efficiency, because it forces you to focus on what's most important, as life and light races on around you. If you attend a sketch group, try bringing paint instead of pencils.

Parked Car, gouache.
Of course, painting fast is not the highest goal of art, but an efficient technique often looks attractive. And it's always good to hone your skills and have them ready when you need them.
Previous post: 45 Minutes in a Parking Lot

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Gottfrid Kallstenius

Gottfrid Kallstenius was a Swedish painter born in 1861. 

He began by studying medicine and then went into art, studying at the Academy of Fine Arts. 

He wrote a handbook of oil painting in 1915, and is represented by the National Museum in Stockholm and other museums.

His early paintings are carefully observed from nature, and later he became interested in symbolism and mood painting. 
Wikipedia (Swedish) Gottfrid Kallstenius (1861-1943)
Bukowski's Auction House
Gallery of images on "Blog of an Admirer"
Wikimedia Commons

Friday, May 11, 2018

Your Questions on Materials and Techniques

You all have been asking some great questions about materials....

Kent Strabala asks: "Can you please tell me the main differences between gouache and casein? I know how they're made, i.e. gum arabic vs. a milk binder, but I want to know the differences in how they lay down, are used, and how they look when a painting is finished."

Jack Richeson Casein 6 Pack with Brush Set
James Gurney Kent, the biggest difference is that gouache remains soluble after it dries. Casein, because of its milk-based binder, resists reactivation after it's dry. Casein also lays down differently. Casein has more body and feels more like oil paint as it comes off the brush. Unlike acrylic, it doesn't get sticky as it starts to set up, because its emulsion is weaker than acrylic polymer. Both casein and gouache dry with a matte finish. Gouache is more delicate and more suitable to extremely fine details. The final difference is that gouache tends to look better in transparent washes, since most gouache is just pigment and gum arabic.
Sros6 asks: "What brand of flat brushes are you using?"

I like synthetic flats in varying sizes. I'm mainly using the Jack Richeson pocket plein-air brush set and some cheap synthetic "Artist Loft" brushes. I find even those latter mass-produced brands are often very good, but watch out, because sometimes the ferrules fall off and you have to glue them back.
Frances Wilcock asks: "Do you prime with casein to seal the paper or just for a colour wash? I have used gesso with gouache, which gave a somewhat rough surface, and matte medium (which I didn’t like much as it felt too slick). What would be the nearest alternative to casein for those of us who don’t have it?"

I prime with casein mainly to set up for an interesting underpainting, and sometimes to cover up a failed start. Casein does seal the surface, making it less absorbent to the gouache, so you might not like it if you don't like the acrylic matte medium. The nearest alternative is Acryla Gouache (see next question).
Naomi asks: "I wonder if acrylic gouache can be used in place of the casein and then continue with traditional water gouache?"

Yes. I often use Holbein Acryla Gouache for priming. It seals the paper but has a matte surface, which makes it receptive to the gouache.
Sunshinearts asks: "How do you carry your gouache tubes? Mine always have the gum Arabic come out and it becomes a crazy sticky mess."

James Gurney I just carry my gouache tubes in a zippered pencil bag, or one of those plastic sandwich containers. If you have trouble with the gum arabic leaking out the top, you can try kneading the tube with the cap on to distribute the liquid. Also, with gouache and watercolor tubes, you can clean off the threads of the tube and the cap by taking the cap off and using a damp paper towel and a toothpick.

Robert asks: "Do you ever start a watercolor portrait of someone with a detailed pencil outline drawing of their portrait first and then start painting? Or do you almost always start with large, simplified masses and then get the likeness and details of their portrait as you paint?"

James Gurney Robert, I don't usually have time for a detailed pencil drawing on location. However, I usually try to get the measurements right and try to have an accurate map or foundation to work over.

Dusty asks "I've seen you use those ShinHan Pass watercolour and gouache hybrid paints a few times and I'm wondering if all the colors are usable or if you just use a few because you can't get those pigments from other brands? Quality gouache is very expensive and these Pass paints are much more affordable in comparison."

James Gurney I haven't tried all the colors in the Shinhan Pass watercolor/gouache set yet. I just bring them out to replace other colors that have run out. When I head outdoors, I just bring a few colors at a time to keep my life simple, usually 8 or fewer. I'm just using a small mixing surface, and a small number of colors lends harmony to the final painting. I'll eventually work my way through all those colors in the Shinhan set. The only criticism I have about the ShinHan colors is that they tend to be too runny unless you massage the tube to even out the ingredients.

Bryan Coombes asks: "I'd sure like to know your thoughts on how you cultivate your motivation to paint and do it so often. It's so easy to put it off... I guess this is a 'success principle' question."

I'm just happiest when I'm doing art. There are always spare moments in the day, and I love the challenge of facing a difficult subject and capturing some aspect of it. I also like having something tangible to show for my time. I think the best tip if you keep 'putting it off' is to find a sketching buddy nearby and go out with your sketchbooks on a regular basis.
Previous posts:
Gouache Ingredients: Info from Manufacturers
Questions about Gouache
Gouache Materials List