Saturday, October 24, 2009

Words of Wisdom: Howard Pyle

The great American illustrator, Howard Pyle, taught about two hundred students in his lifetime. Of those, about eighty became well-known artists and illustrators. His assistant for many of those years was Charles DeFeo, whose job it was to clean Pyle's palette, reset it with fresh color, wash the brushes, and take Pyle's French poodle, Bijou, for walks. While DeFeo was in the studio, he recorded some of the advice Howard Pyle gave to his class.

First an artist- then an illustrator.

If you are going to be an artist all hell can't stop you. If not, all Heaven can't help you.

If you receive only fifty cents for a job, put as much of your heart into it as you would in one you are receiving $500 for.

If you are doing a black-and-white, a little color will hide a multitude of sins.

If you are painting a sky full of birds, or a garden of flowers, or any objects- show one or a thousand.

If an object in the foreground of your picture looks too big, make it bigger. If it looks too small, make it smaller.

After the first half-hour of work, your lay-in should kill at a hundred yards.

If you can make a picture with two values only, you have a strong and powerful picture. If you use three values, it is still good, but if you use four or more, throw it away.

In using three values he used to say, "Put your white against white, middles tones (groups) against grays, black against black, then black and white where you want your center of interest. This sounds simple, but is difficult to do."

If you're doing a fight picture or a stormy scene make the background fight as well as the figures in the picture.

A strange color, that is different from the color scheme of your painting, use in one spot only. It will be beautiful, but do not repeat it.

They will never shoot you for what you leave out of a picture.

Your picture is finished if it is one-third as good as your original idea.

My favorite of DeFeo's reminiscences of Pyle's class, however, is the comment Pyle would make after giving a painting demonstration: "I'm afraid you didn't get much out of it outside of entertainment for you could see me work, but you could not see me think." Whenever I have witnessed a demonstration by a master painter, I am always left with the frustration of seeing what they did, without knowing WHY they chose to do what they did. For better or worse, I know my style will always have a signature element that is me; I am not seeking to be a copy of another artist (no matter how brilliant they are). If I could only "see how they think," though, perhaps I could approach that master's skill.

Delaware Art Museum, Howard Pyle: Diversity in Depth (Delaware Art Museum: Wilmington, DE, 1973).

Friday, October 23, 2009

Defining Beauty: Solomon J. Solomon, Part IV

I have not seen it advanced elsewhere, but personally I have noticed this peculiarity in almost all faces- and even slightly marked in the faces of children: that the eyes run down either on the right or the left and that the mouth runs up toward the lower eye.

You will rarely see the eyes and mouth sloping the same way. The converging of these features on one side seems somehow to restore the balance of the face.

In the full face mark the nature of the triangle made of the ends of the brows and the tip of the nose, the distance between the eyes, the relative size of the chin and forehead to the nose; and ascertain whether the face inclines to the long, the round or the square

Further than this I can only advise you, when drawing a face, after having examined its characteristics in the hand-glass, to place your drawing- if it be of large size- by the side, or preferably when possible in a line under, the face, and to look at it with your eyes half closed. See that the masses- that is to say, the areas of light and shadow- tally with those of the sitter; and that the head is correctly placed on the shoulders, about which there need be no special difficulty, and no loss of the real character, if only the background spaces be your constant guide. To this it is necessary to give careful consideration, for the setting of the head on the shoulders is an important factor in the realisation of character.

The rest must depend on your own powers of discernment and draughtsmanship.¹

¹ Solomon J. Solomon, The Practice of Oil Painting & Drawing, (Seeley, Service & Co. Ltd.: London, 1952), pp. 53-54.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Defining Beauty: Solomon J. Solomon, Part III

The eyes set wide apart denote breadth of view. When close together they give a mean look to the face; and when deep set they are contemplative.

The ear will be seen set well back in the head in nearly all really intellectually strong men.

Great bulk of jaw, when matched with a well-developed forehead, implies imagination and constructive ability; but when not balanced by these signs of mental development it may indicate brutality and animalism.

Sweetness of character is to be discovered in the muscles running under the eye and over the cheek-bone; and the mouth, perhaps more than any other part of the face, is indicative of refinement or the reverse.

Personal observation will enable you to add to this short list of examples, for in these days of tube saloon carriages the student has endless opportunities of comparing types and adding to his store of the knowledge of human nature and the facial indices of character and expression. Sir Joshua Reynolds says so wisely "that the eye sees no more than it knows," and we take no more from the world than we take into it. Accordingly, to discern the finer characteristics, we must ourselves reach a degree of refinement- or we shall fail to recognise it in others.

The expression of the intellectually strong or the sympathetically sweet will be, as it were, over our heads if we are unable to share with the intellectual some of their strength, with the sympathetic some of their sympathy.¹

¹ Solomon J. Solomon, The Practice of Oil Painting & Drawing, (Seeley, Service & Co. Ltd.: London, 1952), pp. 52-53.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Defining Beauty: Solomon J. Solomon, Part II

There are portrait-painters who flatter their sitters by endeavoring to regularise their irregular features. Are those painters sufficiently conscious of the existing characteristics? For they certainly do not seem conscious of what might well be taken as an axiom, that in proportion as we depart from Nature we court a weakening of results.

A serious artist is not affected by a demand for the pretty-pretty.

Proportion is the chief factor in the making of individuality, and this is clearly seen in those large photographic groups of schools and crowded collections of people where the individual heads are sometimes not larger than a small pea and are still easily identified. Subtleties of drawing or light and shade can hardly affect the heads so reduced, so that obviously the individuality of each head is almost entirely due to the relative proportions of the features

¹ Solomon J. Solomon, The Practice of Oil Painting & Drawing, (Seeley, Service & Co. Ltd.: London, 1952), p. 51. (emphasis mine)

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Defining Beauty: Solomon J. Solomon

Artistically speaking, it may be said that the perfectly symmetrical head is lacking in "character."
The oval face; the dual features the counterpart of each other; the measurement from the top of the head to the brows, from the brows to the base of the nose, from the base of the nose to the end of the chin, which are all fairly equal in length; the bow-shaped mouth; the eyes parted by the length of one eye, and so on, would constitute a symmetrical head.

Although some such standard of measurement and regularity, both of face and in a similar way of the body, might serve the ends of the painter and sculptor of cold classic figures and certain decorative schemes, they can only help the painter who is a student of nature as so many points of departure, for you will rarely find in real life anything approaching the regularity of the classic figures. Still, underlying all our personal observations, there is a consciousness more or less developed of the "perfect," for when we talk of a man with a long nose, of a woman with a sort aristocratic upper lip, of a lean person or a short-limbed one, we are, perhaps unconsciously but no less certainly, comparing these features and characteristics with a set symmetrical standard of which we are conscious, and it is the variations from the standard- let it be of a leaf, of a hand, or of a face- that make for character.¹

¹ Solomon J. Solomon, The Practice of Oil Painting & Drawing, (Seeley, Service & Co. Ltd: London, 1952), pp. 49-50.

Sotheby's 19th Century European Art Preview

Sotheby's 19th Century European Art Including Important British Paintings Auction is currently in previews. Prior to the actual auction on Thursday, the paintings can be viewed in Sotheby's New York facility. The hours for Tuesday October 20th are from 10:00 AM to 5:00 PM, and on Wednesday the 21st from 10:00 AM to 1:00 PM. There is no admission.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

The de László Magic

The Portrait Institute will be hosting its 2010 lecture, The de László Magic, this coming January 22, at 7:00 PM, at The Salmagundi Club, New York. Presenter John Howard Sanden will examine de László, the "most successful portrait artist of them all," with an illustrated lecture highlighting major events in the artist's life, and showcasing some of the 3,000 works of art created by the vigorous Hungarian painter. Tickets ($20.00 each, or free to Portrait Institute members) are required, and can be ordered from the Institute's webpage.

The Reilly Method and Beyond...

In February 2010, the Connecticut Society of Portrait Artists will be hosting a 2-day portrait symposium based on and around the teachings of Frank J. Reilly. Ten master painters who are part of the lineage of the Reilly Method will be present at the Stamford Campus of the University of Connecticut to offer demonstrations, discussions, and critiques. Faculty members include: Robert Anderson, Igor Babilov, Laurel Stern Boeck, Mary Minifie, John Howard Sanden, Jack Faragasso, Thomas Nash, Everett Raymond Kinstler, Michael Shane Neal, and Frank Covino. The event will be held Friday and Saturday, February 5th and 6th, 2010, at the cost of $200 for non-CSOPA members . For more information, please consult the CSOPA website.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Defining Beauty: Norman Rockwell

Norman Rockwell: Grown-up Faces

This is the age of the young adult- the pretty girl and the handsome man. I think I like to paint this age least of all. I would not mind painting them if I could be honest and picture the real young people I see around me everywhere, but the magazines believe that the public wants only glamour girls and matinee idol men.

This is, of course, the age when nature is at its best and the great masters, like Rubens and Rembrandt, painted it magnificently. There is the perfect balance of round and straight lines. Another reason, I guess, why I am not crazy about painting this age is that it seems to be the age of beauty and perfection while human interest pictures are more concerned with pathos and humor.

There are regular formulas to be used in painting pretty girls. The eyes should be emphasized and enlarged; the nose understated as much as possible; the mouth enlarged and perfectly shaped. The hair should be perfectly groomed and lustrous. There should be no wrinkles and as little shadow as possible. I love to paint wrinkles and character so I guess that is why I leave the pretty girls to the other boys. Don't get me wrong - I like them personally but not as models.¹

¹ Norman Rockwell, Rockwell on Rockwell: How I Make a Picture (Watson-Guptill Publications, New York, 1979), p. 61.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Mancini's Graticola

His paintings were done through a wire grille, whose squares correspond with a grille before the sitter. The marks of the grille remain. The sitter being, as it were, pinned down, retained of his mobility alone the facial expression. But, trembling and snorting within that restriction, there is an extraordinary vivacity, there is power and a dashing impasto.¹
-The British artist, Walter Sicket, describing Antonio Mancini's working method, 1927.

Portrait of Antonio Mancini by John Singer Sargent

While in his early thirties, the Italian artist, Antonio Mancini, began experimenting with a mechanical drawing aid which he would later come to rely upon extensively for executing his paintings. He called this device the graticola, and although it closely resembled the Dürer Grid which the great masters had employed centuries earlier, Mancini's own use of this tool was as peculiar as the artist himself. Despite any doubts the odd, little Italian received about the efficacy of the grid's application, Mancini justified his use of the device, claiming, "the advantages I derive from it are unlimited."²

Mancini's graticola system consisted of two identical wooden frames, each of which started with strings or wires stretched both vertically and horizontally across their middles in order to create a grillwork of squares. One of these frames was placed before the artist's canvas, while the second frame was placed between the artist and the model, providing a screen through which to view the subject. Focussing on one sector of his view of the model at a time, Mancini would then paint a somewhat abstracted representation between the corresponding strings floating before his canvas. As the painting progressed, Mancini further segmented the screens by adding matching strings to each frame, sometimes diagonally, as dictated by the contours and angles of his sitter's pose.

Notice the angled threads which parallel the sitter's thigh and right arm

In 1907, dramatist Lady Augusta Gregory sat for Mancini in Dublin. Her account of the experience is as follows:

I sat in a high chair in an old black dress, in front of a curtain lent by Miss Purser. Mancini set up a frame in front of me. He pinned many threads to this, crossing one another; their number increased from day to day, becoming a close network. The canvas on which he painted was crossed little by little with a like network. This- as he would explain in almost incomprehensible Italian- was not his own method, but had been the method of some great master. Having put up a new thread or two, he would go to the very end of the long room, look at me through my net, then begin a hurried walk which turned to a quick trot, his brush aimed at some feature, eye or eyebrow, the last steps would be a rush, then I needed courage to sit still. But the hand holding the brush always swerved at the last moment to the canvas, and there in its appropriate place, between its threads, the paint would be laid on and the retreat would begin.³

In this description, Mancini's placement of the grid before the model, and even the addition of the bisecting diagonal lines within the frame, was very traditional, but his utilization of the second, stringed grid placed against the canvas was an oddity. Why he chose to use the strings, rather than drawing the corresponding grid directly on the canvas and painting over it as he progressed, was never disclosed. In using the strings in this manner, Mancini often created an embossed image of the grid in the oil paint: if this was an intention of his when he began experimenting with the grid, it is uncertain.

What is also unknown is why he wrapped some strings in paper, and if he exchanged the paper during the procedure. Perhaps the paper was added to increase the paint texture, or perhaps as he painted, the strings became obscured by colors, so the paper was necessary to make the lines more distinct when viewed from a distance, as was his habit.

That Mancini would step back across the room to view the model and canvas simultaneously, would indicate that he was practicing sight-size, much like his contemporary, John Singer Sargent. The two grids being of the same dimension seems to support this idea. If Mancini were not confident in his ability to visually translate the measurements from the model to the painting, then maybe the grid helped him in his stroke placement. However, if this were the case, then it seems the grid would eventually be discarded as Mancini's ability to work sight-size improved.

In Katie Swatland's "Learning from Richard Schmid," volume three, Schmid offers his thoughts on Mancini's use of the grid. "The real reason Mancini used this graticola was to make himself, while in the act of painting, to forget that what he was painting were things, like flowers, but rather that they were shapes of color! We think we are painting flower petals, a nose, or an eye, when what we are really seeing are the shapes of color that come together to make up what we are seeing. When Mancini looked at his subject through those little squares of his device he was forcing himself to look at his subject as an abstraction. He was forcing himself to see it simply as and arrangement of shapes of color, value, and edge."⁴ This is likely to be true, but as the same level of abstraction appears in his work predating his use of the graticola, then it is still a curiosity as to what genuine benefit Mancini gained by the device's use.

If Mancini were ONLY using the grid to isolate abstracted patterns, then his work might be expected to look more like that of Chuck Close, above.

For most, the use of a grid would indicate a desire for representational precision and a need to slow down for the sake of accuracy, yet by most accounts (see varying description by John Jacobsen, below) of Mancini's work routine, he painted with much energy, fairly attacking his canvas Leonardo Bianchi, a doctor who treated Mancini during the artist's stay in Naples mental hospital, said this of Mancini's procedure:

When [Mancini] was ready to paint he placed himself in front of the canvas at a distance of four to five meters, prepared the brushes and colors, fixing the canvas every now and then with an acute and penetrating glance, almost as if he wanted to find the point on which to settle his eyes, to discover there the images that he almost saw projected on the canvas, and then he ran towards [the canvas] with the brush gripped in his hand, delivered three or four rapid blows with the brush like a fencer and then quickly drew back again, and then repeated it again towards the canvas. In this way, after seven or eight attacks, the figure was beautifully sketched out with a breath of life seeming to exhale with vigor from those shapeless colors.⁵

Mancini's biographer, Saveriò Kambo, also indicates that the artist painted with energy, and a near aggression:

... as the excitement of creation little by little takes hold, he becomes silent and somber, and his face is transformed and contracts almost as if pain. His eyes glitter. Words tumble from his lips while, with youthful vigor he advances restlessly back and forth before the canvas, nervously delivering three or four blows of the brush and drawing back to measure the result. His excitement grows steadily as the work proceeds.⁶

Perhaps the graticola was just an experiment which became a crutch for Antonio Mancini, or perhaps it was a necessary divider which enabled the troubled artist to narrow and keep his focus during a process which obviously left him overwhelmed. In 1893, the Dutch artist, John J. Jacobsen, left probably the best account of Mancini's method, which not only described his process, but also the mania and anguish the artist suffered while creating:

In the last years he's been working with his system of squares- he spans his frame with slanting lines with paper glued to them, pins pieces with paint on them to the canvas and to the frame- 'pour voir les tons- les valeurs.' That means everything to him. I've only heard him use the word 'color' a couple of times. Mrs. Mesdag's words, that Mancini is a great 'tonist,' form a powerfully correct critique. He searches for nothing other than tone. And this he searches for with all his soul, bringing the colors halting and jerking to the canvas and whenever he approaches his canvas to... , how do I say it, to push and twist, to carefully apply paint behind the grid, gently laying it down, then he heaves and sighs as if the tones to which he had given birth were then torn from him. He always works at a distance from his canvas, always returning to sit at precisely the same little spot that he carefully marked on the floor. He works with the greatest precision, although every time you look at him he's different, at one moment he is grieved to his soul, then he is singing happily- then livid and wild- every square of tone shows what you get out of him- every little square he paints is another little piece of his sanity lost- it won't be long before he runs out. I hope that I'm mistaken in this, but... the great genius that leads to madness tosses and turns in his head incessantly. He is surprisingly arduous about his working- kneading, persisting to get it completed. You should see him sometimes when he leaves his studio, frozen solid, stupefied, he walks staring, suddenly yelling- sighing - peering aloft- with damp eyes, as if he was addressing his Virgin (this less out of religiosity than to call on a deity of his art.⁷

Maybe it is most leading, and also romantic, to find a clue to Mancini's need for the graticola in the name he chose for the device itself. In his recent book on the artist, author Ulrich Hiesinger gave the word graticola this possible translation: "grating" (as in a confessional window).⁸ For the artist, who was quite devout, though he only painted one religious subject in his career (Saint John the Baptist), his grid may have served as the divider between the mundane and the holy. Through his screen, sins were laid bare, and truths were revealed, and it is possible that the artist felt he could not be a conduit for the talents bestowed upon him from his God without it.

¹ National Museum Wales, Antonio Mancini (1852-1930): Portrait of a Girl, October 5, 2009.
² Ulrich Hiesinger, Antonio Mancini: Nineteenth-Century Italian Master (Yale University Press: New Haven, CT), p. 67.
³ Hiesinger, pp. 88-89.
⁴ Katie Swatland, August 14, 2009. (
⁵ Hiesinger, p. 67.
⁶ Hiesinger, p. 105.
⁷ Hiesinger, p. 67.
⁸ Hiesinger, p. 66.



Wednesday, October 14, 2009

A Visit to the Met

This past Sunday, I visited the Metropolitan Museum of Art for the first time in quite a while. I travelled in to the City especially to see my friend, Nicole Moné, of The Skeleton Project, and to see the special Vermeer exhibit of The Milkmaid, on loan from the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam.

I must admit, I am not the biggest Johannes Vermeer fan. Undoubtedly, I admire what he accomplished, especially for the time in which he painted, but in the grand scheme of art through the ages, there are so many other artists whom I prefer. Perhaps I would be more enamored of his work if I were to see more of the thirty six known pieces (especially The Geographer and The Astronomer). Still, I was eager to see The Milkmaid, and it is now definitely my favorite work by Vermeer which I have seen in person.

To see a wonderful, interactive overview of The Milkmaid, check out the website, Essential Vermeer. Artist and author, Jonathan Janson, has created an amazing online tribute to the Dutch artist, including everything from Vermeer's palette to the music popular during the painter's life. It's definitely worth checking out.

The rest of my tour of the Met was bittersweet. Although I was disappointed that the American Wing was still closed for renovations, I was happy to find a few of my favorites had been moved into the Henry R. Luce Center for the Study of American Art. This area of visible storage is one of the best sections of the museum to me, and I've often wished that many of the paintings usually on display there were given a more prominent location in the gallery. However, on the flip-side, having paintings by Sargent, Chase, Eakins, Abbey, and others, at eye height, and only six inches away (behind glass) was a nice welcome. I never expected to have the chance to be face-to-face with Sargent's Madame X!

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

The Garden of Enchantment

The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, which is hosting the last stop of the John William Waterhouse retrospective, has posted a special addition to their website with much information about the show. This newly renamed exhibit, Garden of Enchantment, opened last week, and will run until February 7, 2010.

At the exhibition's site, make sure to check out curator Peter Trippi's eight videos describing several important paintings in the Waterhouse show.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Heritage Illustration Auction October 27, 2009

Later this month, Heritage Auction Galleries will be holding the second installment of the sale of illustration art from the estate of Charles Martignette. The first sale realized more than three million dollars, and this auction promises to have similarly good results.

The 539 pieces in the auction will be available for viewing in Heritage's Dallas location from October 24th through the 27th, but can also be viewed online. Heritage posts probably the best auction images on the web, so it is always a great treat to look at the large scans of the items up for sale.