Monday, June 30, 2008

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Our Newest Creation

Avery Aidan Innis
Born June 26, 2008 at 6:47 PM
20 inches long,  7 lbs.  6.6 oz.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Jeremy Lipking's Solo Exhibition

Jeremy Lipking's solo show opens this weekend at the Track 16 Gallery in Santa Monica, California.  I wish I could attend:  it is the first of his exhibits through Arcadia Gallery that I will be missing.  The catalog is for sale now through Arcadia, and I recommend it highly.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Art Books

There are several books that I hope I will see in print some day.  Here are a few:

•  A large format book with close-ups of the heads of famous portraits.  (I think of this book every time I go to the Met in NYC and wish they had hung Sir Anthony van Dyck's portrait of James Stuart closer to the ground).  There is one book out there, Beyond the Naked Eye, which is an interesting foray into this style of art book (ie.  designed for artists!)

• Anthony Ryder's painting book.  He was beginning work on it several years ago after the success of his drawing book, The Artist's Complete Guide to Figure Drawing.

• Marvin Mattelson's painting book.  I don't know when he'll have the time to write it, especially with his perfectionist nature, but he has made plans for one.  He has been taping his lectures and demos for a while now, and will eventually transcribe hem.

•  Sir Frank Dicksee.  Simon Toll, who wrote Herbert James Draper:  A Life Study, was planning on writing a book on this fabulous artist.  I'd like to see more of his portraits.

Stanhope Forbes.  This Irish naturalist was part of the Newlyn School.  Though there have been books on him and the school, there isn't much out there currently.

Edmund Blair-Leighton.  Wonderful, beautiful work.

Saul Tepper.  I had forgotten how talented he was until I saw more of his originals at an illustration exhibit a few years ago.

Mead Schaeffer.  Another great American illustrator.

Dean Cornwell.  There is one book out there, Dean Cornwell:  Dean of Illustrators, but it's not enough.  Not only is the book very expensive (even the reprint), but there just aren't enough examples of his work in the book.

William Logsdail.  I've seen too few of this artist's work, and only one in person, but I love his brush strokes, and want to see more.

Jules Bastien-Lepage.  I hope more books are released on the French Naturalists like Bastien- Lepage, Émile Friant, and Pascal-Adolphe-Jean Dagnon-Bouveret.

• The Charles Bargue Drawing Course as a poster book.  I'd love to see the drawing diagrams in this book as large, individual poster prints in a folio, which you could remove and copy.

•  I would list J.C. Leyendecker here, but thankfully there are two books scheduled for release later this year!  The Art of J.C. Leyendecker and J.C. Leyendecker.

more to come...

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Canvas Pliers

I am a bit of a gadget junkie, I admit it.  There are plenty of art tools I own that my wife will be happy to point out to you, were a "waste of money," as they just sit in my studio, never getting used.  (alright, that's a bit unfair;  she's actually quiet on my purchases, which is probably worse, since I just keep buying more then!).  I have tried different brands on many different items, and have often learned the hard way, which item was the best purchase.  Therefore, I will occasionally post my picks, so that a person reading this down the road won't waste their money on an inferior item. 

If you are planning on stretching your own canvases, and are in need of canvas pliers, then the only choice is Holbein.  Their model HK 1053-5 canvas pliers are the only ones I've tried that can actually grip canvas and allow me to bear down and really stretch the fabric tightly.  They list for $145 USD, but if you shop around, you can find them for nearly half that.

I've tried many other models that ranged from $10 to $60, and they were all horrible.  I should have just spent the money in the beginning to buy the quality pair pictured here.  Don't be fooled, however;  there is another company out there which makes a generic pair that looks just like this, but the don't compare.  The knockoffs are sold under various names by the big catalog companies, so make sure that what you are buying is specifically manufactured by Holbein.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

The Mattelson Palette

When I first began painting, I asked everyone I could harass what was their "secret formula" for painting flesh.  (A college professor had told me I had horrible color sense because I used brown in the painting of a costume, and my fragile ego had me very uncertain about color for years).  One artist told me he used nothing but cadmium scarlet, cadmium green, and white.  Another, mars orange, Winsor orange, sap green, dioxazine purple, and titanium white (I used this for a while, over a burnt sienna underpainting-  I sometimes got good results, and other times it looked like "TheLand of the Sherbert People").  A different artist recommended cadmium orange, titanium white, cadmium yellow, cadmium red, and ultramarine blue.  I never liked any of the results I achieved, so I stuck to the basic yellow, blue, red recipe, and fiddled with the hues now and then.

In the studio of Marvin Mattelson, however, I learned a flesh palette that really clicked for me.  He based the system he taught on the lessons of Frank Reilly, but instead of using Reilly's color palette, he substituted for it the palette of William McGregor Paxton.  I was very happy with the results, and for the first time, I felt I was achieving colors closer to what I was seeing, including all of the subtle grays (I finally had permission to use black in flesh!).

Marvin had already been a successful illustrator and teacher for nearly thirty years when he began his study of the Reilly method.  His work up until then had mostly been executed in acrylic, and he had avoided oil paint because he was concerned that the drying time of the oils would adversely affect his illustration output.  The first time he used oils, he realized the benefits oil paint held for blending, and how this offset the time he spent blending colors in acrylic.  

If you've ever seen Marvin's acrylic illustrations, then you know how amazing they are.  I've never seen any one else's work in acrylic that had such smooth transitions.  Part of the technique he developed was based on pre-mixing his paints according to Munsell color charts, enabling him to cross-hatch his color according to value strings, and creating acrylic work that looked like oil.  When it came time to study oil painting, it was natural that 
he gravitated to the Reilly method, considering that technique, too, took advantage of Munsell's color classification system.

Marvin's instructor in the Reilly Method was John Murray, a direct former student of Frank Reilly.  In his instruction, Murray used the same Frank J. Reilly Palette Reilly had himself taught his students.  This palette consisted of cadmium yellow light, cadmium yellow orange, cadmium red light, burnt umber, raw umber, cadmium green, cadmium violet, viridian, ultramarine, alizarin crimson, titanium white and ivory black, laid out according to Munsell's 9 value scale (this will be explained better later- I hope).  When John Murray retired, Marvin volunteered to take over teaching his classes, and to pass on the Reilly tradition.

Although Marvin was happy with the progress his students were making under the Reilly system, he felt they were being hampered by their inability to control the highly chromatic and staining cadmium colors instituted by Reilly.  At the same time that Marvin was teaching the Reilly palette to his students, he was researching the flesh palette of one of his favorite artists, William MacGregor Paxton, a former student of Jean-Léon Gérôme.  Using what he knew of Paxton's palette, Marvin decided to combine the two systems to see if this would help his students, and the change was immediate.  No longer burdened by the cadmiums, his students were able to increase their skill at rendering flesh using the earth tones favored by Paxton.  This effective combination was the system I learned in Mattelson's class.

Marvin's flesh palette, as I learned it, consisted of the following colors:  yellow ochre, yellow ochre pale, Indian red, terra rosa, raw umber, ivory black, and flake white.  He rounded out his figure palette with burnt sienna, ultramarine blue, viridian, cadmium yellow light, cadmium scarlet, and alizarin crimson.  He later dropped the yellow ochre pale, as he didn't like the way it looked in flesh as much as he liked the yellow ochre lightened in value with just the flake white.  I suspect that this was because the yellow ochre pale is synthetic and more chromatic (as opposed to yellow ochre light).  When mixed with the higher values of the reds, I think it over-powered the subtlety of those colors.

One class, after Marvin had done a demo, I offered to clean his palette.  I scraped off his paints, and carried them home.  I then made piles of paint, matching them to Marvin's palette by hue, value, and chroma, and tubed them for future use.  The color chart below is from my first batch of tubed colors, not from Marvin's scrapings.  I later modified this, to make it more accurate (ie.  I made the neutrals in the top row less blue, and I decreased the value jumps to make them more even, I eliminated yellow ochre pale, etc.).  This will still serve to illustrate the example of the Mattelson palette, however.

The top row of the color chart represents the neutral string.  It is laid out according to Munsell's 9 value scale, where 10 is White, and 0 is black, and there are 9 even gradations between the two ends.  [Why Munsell assigned white as 10 and black 0, I do not know.  It is often confusing when most artists, like Andrew Loomis, use the reverse, basing their classification on the printing process, in which the numbers represent the percentage of black ink in a color layer (1=10% black, 2=20% black, and so on up to 10=100% black.).  Munsell's values are based on the percentage of white in the mixture.]  These neutrals are made from a mixture of raw umber and ivory black (approximately in a ratio of 1:2), and flake white, and are used to control the chroma of the other colors on the palette.

The following row is the yellow string.  Depending on the brand of yellow ochre oil paint you begin with, the color out of the tube may fall somewhere around a value 6 (it may need to be tweaked to match the value scale established with the neutral string).  From the initial yellow ochre, flake white is added as you move towards value 10, and raw umber (a dark earth yellow) is added to progress towards value 0.  Value 1 is likely to be pure raw umber from the tube, but may need ivory black to bring it to the correct value, depending on manufacturer.

The next row is the warm red string, which is based around terra rosa.  From it's basic value as squeezed from the tube, progress up the value scale by adding flake white, and down by adding ivory black.

The last row, the cool red string,  is based upon Indian red.  Again, from it's basic value from the tube, progress up the value scale by adding flake white, and down by adding ivory black.

When you are finished, each column, 10-0, should be organized by values.  All mixing should be done in the same column, this way the hue is affected without a value shift (ie.  to reduce the chroma of a warm red shadow of value 4, add the value 4 neutral).

This system speeds up many decisions while painting.  When you notice a value change in your model, and the color you just laid in was of value 6, it is very easy to just jump to the next column and keep going, without having to mix up a completely new batch of paint.  Value choices are what this system is all about, and the earthen colors make for nice flesh tones.

There is no blue or green used in the flesh.  When you perceive these colors in the model, the neutral string is used, and it's the juxtaposition with the other colors that gives it the appearance of a blue or green.  This is useful when painting veins, or a man's beard area.

All of these colors are painted on top of an underpainting executed in raw umber.

Using the same method he teaches his students, Marvin gets great results.  He uses Michael Harding paints from Great Britain almost exclusively, which were only available in the USA from the Italian Art Store until recently, but now Dick Blick has started carrying them.  During workshops, he sometimes uses Old Holland Flake White #1, because of its faster drying rate.  The image at right of Marvin's portrait of Cardinal Egan does not do justice to the flesh tones you witness in person.

In my personal use of Marvin's palette, I have, on occasion supplemented the colors with others of my choosing.  I've added Old Holland's jaune brillant and brilliant rose at times to keep the chroma in high key portraits, as I  sometimes find the higher values of the palette lack the right amount of saturation for my tastes.  Old Holland's rose Dore madder lake antique extra can be useful, depending on the model's complexion, as are Gamblin's transparent earth series.  Madder crimson lake deep extra, also from Old Holland is great for deep flesh creases.  Another Old Holland color, cobalt blue turquoise, also creeps onto my palette, but not because I feel it is needed to fill a void, but just because I love the color so much, and try to justify the use of it.

Many people seem to balk at this system, but I don't understand why.  I consider it almost as rules of grammar that help structure my artistic communication.  In class, the students, because of the design of this system, make incredible progress quickly, and yet, despite the framework many find rigid, no two paintings look alike;  there is room for everyone's individual style and paint application.

It may not be the method and palette I always use, but I will always refer back to this system I learned from Marvin whenever I encounter problems in my paintings.  Already, I have found it has aided me in my color mixing when using an open palette, and the colors on the palette will probably always influence my personal palette.  It is no surprise to me that this well-thought-out method has produced so many talented artists.

Monday, June 16, 2008 : update

I finally added some books to my list of recommendations, with more to come (I'm sure).

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Who is John Galt?

My friend, Nicole, recently travelled to her local art supply store to find that it no longer carried art supplies, but had become a framing store and gallery.  To celebrate this changeover, the owners were having a mural contest in order to decorate the side of the gallery.  The only catch: Artists were not allowed to participate.

This put me in mind of a discussion Graydon Parrish had posted on his painting forum, Rational Painting, and the current art movement described by Steve Diamant, owner and president of Arcadia Gallery, in his Spring 2008 newsletter.  It seems that the new "ism" is "deskilled art," in which traditional skills and disciplined training are devalued, in favor of poorly executed art.  That's right, the "avant garde" galleries out there want you to buy the worst stuff a person can create and hang it on your wall or throw it in some corner of your house.  Naïve art and primitive art are even too masterfully done for this new genre.  (I am happy there are galleries out there like Arcadia, which do not subscribe to this new movement, and value representational art instead).

Deskilling is not a new term.  In sociology, it is used to describe the change in our industry's manufacturing process.  Through deskilling, the job of building something is broken down into it's smallest component parts, so that people with no skills and no training can be hired to do each individual task.  (ie. carving a Hepplewhite chair is difficult;  being on an assembly line squeezing wood glue into a pre-drilled hole is easy).  The end result is a workforce you can pay less, but which also has no skills, and takes no pride in its work.

In the past, artists like Andy Warhol took advantage of deskilling, in a sense, by not creating his own work, but just by conceiving it, and outsourcing the production of the art to his anonymous factory worker-followers.

When did the general populace begin to fall for this sort of thing, and how?  Discordant, random notes do not make up a song, or otherwise, the public would listen to that on the radio.  Although modern dance succeeded in in bringing some unskilled and unattractive choreography to the main, it didn't last as a genre either, because no one wanted to watch it, and the very nature of our human bodies and that of physics fought against it.  Why in the visual arts then do people accept the very inability to do art as a form of art?  When art is used to measure the success of all of our previous societies in history, then why did we in the last century learn to devalue it so much?

In part, we made everything art, which meant that anyone could do it equally well, and conversely, none of it was to be exalted or valued since it was so abundantly found (Warhol's Campbell's soup cans, for instance).  When I watch DIY shows on cable, however, the designers never ask the participants to paint a copy of the Sistine Chapel on the ceiling;  instead they are given some paint and told to make a piece of abstract art.  

One way that we began as a society to learn to devalue skilled art, feels Fred Ross, chairman of the Art Renewal Center, was based on the economic wants of galleries and art representatives.  Artists like William Adolphe Bouguereau had waiting lists for their art, often eighty clients deep.  Unfortunately, the galleries only made their percentage when a painting was sold, and Bouguereau couldn't produce at a rate equivalent to the demand for his paintings.  The galleries needed artists who could produce more quickly, but whose work was still in want by collectors.  In the end, galleries had to learn more about promoting and advertising their artists, and learn to convince the public that what they saw on the walls were "so good as to be beyond the public's understanding," and that as the vanguard of artistic taste, they had to add it to their collection.  The artist meant little, as long as he was quick, because the galleries (and the critics they fostered) did the work of "selling" the work, in every way that word connotes.   This system of salesmanship got out of control when people started believing what they were saying.

I mentioned in an earlier post that their were quotes in John Collier's book that I found amusing.  One such quote from his 1889 treatise which reminds me of this latest movement is:

Who knows?  some day the art of painting may be become progressive; but I am convinced that that day will not come until painters learn to study their business with the same devotion and the same intelligence with which men of science study theirs.

Little did he know that the art world would "progress" to the point where study and devotion to training would become anathema to "good" art.

Ah, well;  Who is John Galt?

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Andrew Loomis

Andrew Loomis seems to appear on every artist's list of favorite art books.  Loomis, a successful American illustrator in the first half of the 20th century, wrote several books on art that sold  extremely well, and are still in demand today.  His 1947 masterpiece, Creative Illustration, has long been considered "The Illustrator's Bible," and it is filled with instruction on composition, color, and storytelling.

Ten years ago, I bought my copy of the second edition of Creative Illustration for $125, and it is my most treasured book.  I had never spent so much on a book before, but I had also never before run across a book that was so universally admired by artists either.  I have no regrets on this purchase for the lessons it holds within.

The Loomis family has retained the copyrights to Andrew's books, and have not for many years re-published them despite the high demand.  Recently, however, several of his books have been making their way back to the printer, such as Figure Drawing for All It's Worth (available in German and Spanish).  The latest is his wonderful Creative Illustration, which is due to be released in September of this year. is taking pre-orders now at $13.57 USD, and I plan to buy this edition as well, just as a bang-around copy.

If you look around the web, you'll find downloadable copies of all of Loomis' books, and they are worth looking for, as he was an incredible teacher, with a great mind for organizing his lessons.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Joseph Todorovitch

Yesterday, I went to the Two Rivers Arts & Antique Show just to see the solo exhibit of Californian artist, Joseph Todorovitch.  It was a great display by a talented artist, and I am happy to say, his sales were good for this two-day event.  By far, it was my favorite part of this charity function.

While visiting the exhibit, I had a conversation with Joseph Manqueros of the Wendt Gallery, and he suggested an East Coast workshop taught cooperatively between Todorovitch and Casey Baugh.  What a great class that would be.  Are you interested?

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Random Thoughts: Aerial Perspective

As artists, we are all aware of aerial perspective:  the effect of atmosphere on different objects.  Gas molecules in the air disperse the shorter wavelengths of the visible spectrum (Rayleigh scattering), giving our atmosphere a blue appearance.  The amount of atmosphere between us and a distant mountain, for example, (and the amount of reflected light from that mountain to our eyes) cause the the mountain to appear more blue than a closer object.  In fact, distant objects appear to have less contrast, seem lighter in value, and have a lower chroma.  The darker a distant object actually is (ie. if it were dark in value at close inspection), the closer it comes to blue-gray when viewed from a distance.  This is because less light is reflected from a dark object, through the atmosphere, to our eyes (light objects, such as snow, reflect more light, and do not appear as blue, as there are more of the longer wavelengths of light to reach our eyes).

It's easy to see that a mountain several miles away is bluer than that clump of trees a quarter-of-a-mile away, and that the next clump of trees, only 100 yards from us, has more contrast and chroma than the trees in the middle-ground.  Do we always notice, however, that the object ten feet from us has more contrast and chroma than the object 20 feet away?  Our tendency is to focus on the drastic effects of atmosphere on far-away objects, but we overlook the more sensitive and minute differences in the close objects.  

Human beings, consciously and unconsciously, rely on our brain's interpretation of aerial perspective to tell us depth of field.  Despite knowing this, how often do we take advantage of this effect in our paintings?  Landscape artists, of course, use aerial perspective all the time when painting vistas, but how often do we use it when painting portraits?  If we can accentuate that small difference in chroma and contrast between the foreground figure and the backdrop, then we can make a more believable three-dimensional space in which our sitter can reside on the canvas.

Personally, I often forget that painting is more than reproducing just what I see.  There are often conscious and deliberate actions to be taken in order to fool the viewer's eye when creating form and depth.  It's not to say that what I create might not be in the actual scene, but if I'm not purposefully looking for it, my eyes might overlook essential elements which could make my painting better (eye fatigue?). 

Creating art is often a wonderful combination of intuition and logic, through which our end results can really surprise and entertain us, as well as the viewer.  Isn't painting really for ourselves, after all?

Wednesday, June 4, 2008


Here is an example of the still life I shot yesterday:

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Shadow Box

The peonies are in bloom here, so yesterday I made a shadow box out of an old cardboard container and set up a still life to photograph.  Now I just need the time to paint from my reference.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Lighting Your Model Consistently

If you are working from a live model over several sessions, and have to move your lights around between those sessions, it can be time consuming making sure your lights are in the same location, and at the same height each time.  You'd have to keep moving the model and light, and compare it to your painting from the session before.

A trick I learned from Marvin Mattelson was to place a small object on the modeling stand after your model's first pose, and trace the footprint of the object, and the shadow it casts.  (he used a small aerosol can he had in his materials locker).  Rather than trying to compare the complex shadow shapes on your model, you just have to compare the tracing to the shadow cast by the light when you set up for each day of painting.

Once the light is in place, you only have to make sure the model is looking the correct way (at the same height, with the same expression, etc..)