Saturday, February 27, 2010

We've Made the D-List! Passing 500 Followers!

It seems like only last month that Underpaintings surpassed 400 followers (okay, it WAS last month), and already we've gone beyond 500! I am, as always, so pleased by everyone's reaction, and grateful for the encouragement and kind words all of you have given me. Thank you for joining me during my personal exploration of art, and I hope that you receive as much joy and inspiration from sharing in the journey as do I.

For exceeding 500 followers, I wanted to offer something very special to the winner of the next contest (outlined below). I was at a bit of a loss, and considered putting together a gift-basket of art items, but I was caught so unawares by the sudden influx of followers, that I wasn't able to get much together in time. The only item I had in my hands was a copy of The Pleasures of Painting Outdoors with John Stobart, which is still one of the items the contest winner will receive.

At the time Underpaintings passed 500, I had been communicating back and forth with artist Michael Klein about several new projects of his (look for an upcoming post). I asked Klein if he would be willing to donate a copy of Flower Painting: The Guide to the cause, and without hesitation, he said, "Yes." The booklet, which was intended as a supplement to Klein's DVD, Flower Painting, goes beyond what is represented in the video demonstration, and offers deeper insight into his methods and the thoughts behind his processes. Klein believes in unselfishly sharing art knowledge, and he has really come through with this gift.

Wanting to add even more to the ante, I decided to contact Vasari Paints, and ask them if they too might be willing to make a donation to the prize package. I had hoped I might be lucky enough to receive a single tube of their excellent product, in whatever color they might choose, but when Gail Spiegel of Vasari got back to me and said that the company was happy to make an offering, she suggested it would be better if the winner were able to choose their own color. Then to my amazement, Gail went on to say that Vasari would be donating a $100 gift certificate to the contest so that the winner could not only get the color they wanted, but possibly several tubes! I am honored that Vasari has made such a generous donation to this contest: my many thanks to Gail Spiegel and to Steve Salek of Vasari for all of the support they give to the arts.

To win the prizes for the current contest- The Pleasures of Painting Outdoors with John Stobart, Michael Klein's Flower Painting: The Guide, and a $100 gift certificate to Vasari Paints- contestants must be able to identify all 21 artist's studios pictured below. Send your answers to me at Best of luck to all of you!

Friday, February 26, 2010

Jeremy Lipking Interview

In the latest issue of The Art of the Portrait, The Journal of the Portrait Society of America (volume XI, Issue 46), there is an interview with artist Jeremy Lipking conducted by Lauren Harris. In a response to Harris' question, "What is the core message that you wish to communicate with your artwork?" Lipking gave a very candid answer, which I think echoes many artist's beliefs. Lipking responded:

This might sound like a weird answer to some people but I usually don't have a message I'm trying to communicate through my art. I usually do a painting just for the joy of creating. While art is a great medium to make a statement, some great paintings were made just for the fun of it with no message underneath. I think a mistake some critics and connoisseurs of art make is to try and find a message or an underlying subtext in every painting created. It's like if you look hard enough at burnt toast you can eventually find the Virgin Mary.

The Art of the Portrait full-color newsletter is included with membership in the Portrait Society of America, as is a subscription to the magazine, International Artist. Later this year, the Portrait Society of America will be holding its 12th annual conference in Washington, D.C. from April 22 through the 25. These conferences are always a lot of fun, with presentations, vendor sales, portfolio reviews, and, of course, the portrait competition.

Later this year, Lipking will also be having another solo show at New York's Arcadia Gallery. The exhibition, to which I am looking very forward, will be held from June 10 through the 25.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Casey Baugh Update

I received an email today with the latest painting by young artist Casey Baugh. He will be having a solo show later this year at Wendt Gallery's new space in New York City, and I'm really looking forward to it. Always a talented artist, his recent work does not disappoint, and is really exceptional.

Casey's show, Évoquer, will take place in December 2010.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Defining Beauty: Jon Whitcomb- Beauty in Non-Symmetry

American artist Jon Whitcomb (1906-1988) was one of the last celebrity illustrators during the heyday of magazine publication. In nearly every major periodical of the day, Whitcomb's story illustrations and advertising art could be found, as could pictures of the artist himself, as Whitcomb was also a spokesperson for products including everything from cigarettes to women's nylon stockings. He even became a regular contributing writer for Cosmopolitan magazine having his own feature, Jon Whitcomb's Page, which later expanded, allowing the artist several pages to explore his own subjects. Whitcomb was so sought after, it is rumored that his income then, during the 1950's, regularly exceeded $100,000 per year.

What made Whitcomb so popular was his romantic representations of glamorous women, and his ability to predict and represent fashion trends. He did not think of himself as an artist, but as a "manufacturer"¹ with a very practical approach for giving his editors and the public what they wanted. His ideas may have seemed very clinical, but he was not an artist who painted for future generations, but an illustrator who continually re-invented himself in order to usher in the new and ever-changing popular tastes, and to remain employed by the companies who thrived on America's need for the latest fads.

Whitcomb, during his time of accurately predicting trends, altered his stylization of beautiful women's faces very little, however. The understanding he had of the aspects which made a woman attractive were among the first lessons he offered students through The Famous Artists School, a business of which Whitcomb was co-founder. In an effort to attract more students to the course, Whitcomb published a portion of his lesson on "On How to Draw a Beautiful Face" in the August 1954 edition of Cosmopolitan (excerpted below).

Sadly, though his information is still sound (if not verbatim, at least as a guideline for making one's own critical assessments), his artwork has fallen into disregard. But as an artist who lived by representing the latest inclinations in style, it is not surprising his last painting was forgotten as soon as hemlines and hairstyles grew or shortened. Timelessness is not often the goal of an illustrator's art.


The most important feature of the eye is the iris. For some reason, girls with irises a little larger than usual look prettier. This is a critical measurement. When I draw a pretty girl, I sometimes spend a long time making the irises smaller and larger until they look just right. The current fashion in eyelashes is to emphasize the top row from about the center of the iris to the outside corner, and to minimize the lower lashes. The lashes should be somewhat uneven and of varying lengths. This is critical. If too long, they look false. If too short, the eyes look too plain. If too dark, the girl looks too heavily made up. Depending on the lighting, they cast their own shadows, and I usually try to indicate that. In the movies, eyelashes take a faintly Oriental curve upward at the outside corners. While seldom found in nature as standard equipment, this touch is a valuable device for widening small eyes or eyes placed too close together. In addition, it gives a cheerful look. Never draw eyes that match. They are not found in real life and don't look quite right drawn that way. There can be subtle differences between the two eyes of any one person, either in size, iris, slant of lids, or the indication of skin folds above and below. This especially important in indicating certain expressions, such as sadness, quizzicality, or delight. This is the reason the practically symmetrical faces occasionally encountered in real life fail to be entirely satisfying.


The eyebrows should never be identical either. They're the easiest things on the face to manipulate for expression. For a pretty girl, the brows are usually a generous distance above the eye. If they aren't, she may look sinister or hillbillyish or scowling. They should never be plucked into a thin line. Hairline eyebrows aren't hot stuff just now. Unless the girl is an exotic brunette, with coal-black eyes, I prefer eyebrows fairly light in tone, never as dark as the lashes or hair. (If you lighten your hair, remember this.) They can be arched, or peaked, or just slightly curved, but in general they are wider toward the nose and taper toward the ear. Raising one at a time is a handy trick for a whole gamut of expressions, from simple inquiry to stern indignation. Generally speaking, the slightly uneven brow makes a pretty face interesting.


The nose does not contribute much to a change of expression, but it is the simple most important item in a pretty face. If the nose is ugly, little can be done with mouth and eyes to improve the score. Not many people notice when a nose is good, but everyone senses the effect of a bad nose without quite knowing why. The nose of a pretty girl must not be extremely long, short, or wide. It can turn up a little but not down. It should be right in the middle and not lean to port or starboard. Some very pretty girls look fine from the front but not from the side. Or they have what's called a "good side." This is usually due to the nose. This is fortunate, in a way, for illustrators. A slight twist to a nose, or a bit of extra length at the tip, and you have a character study rather than a straight face drawing. A chiseled nose with sharp angles adds age; the young have rounded planes, with a slight tilt at the end. In general, the shorter the nose the younger the effect.


The mouth of a pretty girl is practically never visible without make-up. For a number of years, the generous mouth has won out over the thin-lipped variety, and lipstick makes it easy for the girl with either type to paint on a standard mouth. Cupid's bows are out, and mouths are painted in a full circle, depending on the size, right around the corners. Fashins in color run from dark wine to pale cerise, but the most becoming shades lie somewhere in the clear-red part of the spectrum. My own preference is for no shine. I seldom like the wet-lipped appearance achieved with highlights. This means that the mouth is usually painted in a flat, over-all tone, with a suède-like finish.


The chin is a negative feature, like the nose. Lack of a chin makes a face look weak and moronic. If the chin is firm and adequate, nobody will notice it. When too prominent, it makes a girl look witchlike. In young girls, the chin is rounded in profile; the more pointed it gets, the more the apparent age increases. Some chins are divided vertically down the middle with a faint cleft; this can be attractive in women if not overdone. In men, of course, it is a major attractive feature.

The classical measurement for ears is the length of the nose, when measured around the head on a great-circle route. On girls, I usually draw ears a little smaller than they should be, and pinker. They shouldn't stick out very far, of course, unless you are trying to show a tomboy.

Foreheads are supposed to denote intelligence when high, a lack of I.Q. when low. Unless a girl's forehead is obscured by bangs or a hat, the higher the forehead the younger the face looks. In profile, the forehead should show a softly rounded line, not too slanted.

Necks also indicate age. The width of the neck, from all angles, is a quick index to age. The very young have tiny, smooth necks. Increase the width slightly, and watch the years pile up.


Next to faces, people seem to notice hands most in illustrations. Some quarters hold that hands are a better indication of character than faces. Even if they aren't, hands come in for considerable attention from illustrators because they appear frequently for close-ups in both editorial and advertising pictures. Cosmetics, cigarettes, soft drinks, liquor, and jewelry are some of the products that demand expertly drawn hands.

A woman's nails are drawn in a fat oval, broader at the base than at the tip. Nail polish gives an accent you can't rely on if the nails are to be rendered au naturel. Me, I hope red lacquer stays in style indefinitely. A woman's nails are always stretched a bit in drawings. Of course, they look silly if they're too long. Here again, clear reds are preferred: but one of the new tricks is an opalescent silver very becoming to long, thin fingers.²

¹ Peng, Leif (December 12, 2008). Jon Whitcomb: "I don't think of myself as an artist. I'm a manufacturer." Retrieved February 23, 2010 from {}

² Jon Whitcomb, "How to Draw a Beautiful Face," Cosmopolitan August, 1954: pp. 90-92.


Artist Leif Peng, who produces an excellent blog called Today's Inspiration, has posted several pieces on Whitcomb, including the one referenced for part of this article. Peng also has an amazing Flickr set of images of Whitcomb's illustrations, as well as additional sets on other famous illustrators. Be sure to check them out.

Friday, February 19, 2010

'Recent' Art Book Purchases

It has been many years since I made regular art book purchases from a bricks-and-mortar bookstore. I began ordering books through the mail in 1992, the very same day my first Bud Plant catalog arrived and I came to the realization that there were companies out there specializing in the types of books I wished to purchase. Of course, now I make most of my purchases over the internet, and the number of sources from which I have to choose has grown exponentially.

When I can, I rely upon recommendations and reviews in making my book choices, but most of the time, I purchase my books sight unseen and with no idea of what will arrive on my doorstep. I am often very happy with my picks, but occasionally, I grab a lemon.

When one of those disappointments shows up, I have to ask, "For whom are the publishers creating these art books?" Some books I have gotten are written by art historians who are understandably proud of their research, but who tend to forget that their subject created paintings. Where are the pictures? Sometimes, even when the number of images is decent, the quality of the pictures is poor: they are blurry, dark, or pictures of photocopies. The printers can often be blamed here, or the publishers who don't bother to check the color proofs, but it is at times beyond either of their control- Often the images must be licensed from the museums which house them, and the pictures those museums provide are woefully inadequate. I've bought books where the cover image is the only good picture in the book, and I've bought books where not a single of the artist's greatest works was included. I have books where every image is too small, and books where too many images are too big, and run across the furrow in the book, and the best part of the paintings are lost in the crevice of the book's shoulder joint. If artists (or picture-lovers) are the ones who most frequently buy these books, and I think that they are, why aren't they made with the artist in mind?

With my last three book purchases of 2009, despite buying them before seeing them, I knew I would have no lemons. Why? These books were BY artists FOR artists. I was confident that these three knew what to give to their fellow artists, and I was not disappointed.

The first book I received was Richard Schmid's The Landscapes, which, upon opening it, gave me the feeling of uncovering a treasure chest or digging up a time capsule. The images inside range in date from 2007 back to 1960, and represent locations throughout the world where Schmid has lived or visited over the past half-century. Of those nearly 250 paintings pictured in the book, there were so many with which I was not familiar.

© 2009 Richard Schmid and Stove Prairie Press, LLC

I ordered the hard-bound edition, which is over an inch thick, cover-to-cover. Because of its size, the book opens and lays quite flat for displaying the images nicely, and the pages being 9" x 14", allowed for several of the paintings to be printed actual size. Many of the images were photographed in raking light, and are large enough that the brushstrokes are clearly visible, which is a real treat.

© 2009 Richard Schmid and Stove Prairie Press, LLC

Schmid familiarized himself with Adobe Photoshop so that he could do the color corrections himself. Some works were from so early in his career, that no one near him or working on the project had ever seen the originals before, so Schmid felt no one could do a better job bringing the color in the old photos back in line with how the paintings' colors really looked. Without his work on this, so many of these wonderful works may have been lost to posterity (excepting the owners of the original pieces). I look forward to the next two collections in Schmid's three-volume retrospective, Still Life and Figures, and to all of the treasures Richard will reveal when they are published.

Of the three books, Rose Frantzen's Portrait of Maquoketa was the purchase about which I might have had any reservations. This concern had nothing to do with Frantzen's artwork; I loved her paintings from the first time I saw them. What had me worried was the price- it seemed too inexpensive for a book which intended to reproduce 180+ paintings in color.

© 2009 Rose Frantzen and Old City Hall Press

Like Schmid before her, Frantzen formed her own publishing company and produced her own book, a very daunting undertaking. The advantage to doing this however is that you have complete control over the output, and the results of the artist having so much involvement in the creation of such a book can be breathtaking. This is the case with Frantzen's book, which stands as not only a beautiful collection of paintings, but also as a source for artists who wish to study Frantzen's work intimately (Several of Rose's original 12"x12" portraits are reproduced in the book at a size of 10½" x 10½", and could easily be used as sources for student copy-work).

An example of an actual spread in Rose Frantzen's Portrait of Maquoketa
© 2009 Rose Frantzen and Old City Hall Press

What I like so much about the book, besides the excellence of the paintings, is that it is, as the title states, a portrait of a town and not just a collection of portraits of sitters. The 6,100 citizens of the small, Iowan town of Maquoketa not only served as the inspiration for Frantzen's portrait project, but also as the labor behind the production of the book (the book was printed by Maquoketa Web Printing). To me, the project represents the America that I learned to believe in during my youth, and shows what a community can accomplish when it takes pride in the quality of their creations. It is probably my favorite book purchase of 2009.

Frantzen's 180 portraits of her fellow townspeople is currently on view at the Smithsonian Institution's National Portrait Gallery in Washington, DC. The exhibit runs through July 5th, 2010.

The third book is not a coffee-table art book, like the other two (though it contains some beautiful images), and I would not classify it as a how-to book (though there are so many lessons to learn within its pages). If anything, this new book, Imaginative Realism, by Dinotopia creator, James Gurney, is like the missing manual that should have been handed out to anyone graduated in the past several decades with a degree in illustration. In it, the highly intelligent Gurney gives tip after tip on how artists can paint items which no longer exist or have never existed and make them seem real.

A sample page from James Gurney's Imaginative Realism
©2009 James Gurney and Andrews McMeel Publishing

The book is compiled from posts from James' very popular blog, Gurney Journey, and cover such topics as setting up your studio, building and photographing maquettes, costuming, composition and perspective, material handling, life studies, and career options for artists, to name just a few. In the book are the answers which fill in many of the gaps in traditional training, and it is, by rights, a wonderful companion book to such instructional classics as Andrew Loomis' Creative Illustration and Norman Rockwell's Rockwell on Rockwell.

If you have not read Gurney's blog, I'd be surprised. I would imagine that anyone who has found their way here has already spent a great deal of time perusing the lessons Jim shares on a daily basis. It was his blog which inspired me to start Underpaintings, and my gratitude is not nearly enough thanks for allowing us all the glimpse into the behind-the-scenes work this brilliant man puts into all of his creations.

© 1995 James Gurney, The Greenwich Workshop Inc., and Turner Publishing

I look forward to Gurney's next book installment, Color and Light, which is also culled from his blog, and promises to be just as informative.

Note: Images used in this post are copyrighted by their respective license holders, and are used here solely for the purpose of review.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Of brushes, DVDs, and painting like a Pro...

Tony Pro, as well as other prominent artists including Richard Schmid, Jeremy Lipking, Nancy Guzik, Morgan Weistling, and Michael Klein, have long kept Royal & Langnickel's long, flat, sables in their quiver of brushes. These brushes, the series 5590, offer a distinctive calligraphy in their stroke which has been prized by many oil painters, but as one successful artist put it, "they are probably the worst brushes out there." Despite the problems artists report with the Langnickels (mostly the errant hairs they are forced to pick from their canvas), no other brush could do what they do, so the brushes have remained in everyone's arsenal.

Pro has recently reported, however, that he, Lipking, and Weistling have found a substitute brush which holds up much better than the Langnickel 5590. All three have switched to brushes made by Rosemary & Co., a small, family-run business located in Great Britain, where all the work is still done by hand. Rosemary's series 279, which is a long, flat, Mongoose hair brush, seems to be the closest to the Langnickel 5590, though Pro also uses and recommends the company's Mongoose brights and filberts.

I have already ordered several of the series 279, and I will share my thoughts on those brushes when they arrive. It would be wonderful if artists could have a personal relationship with a master brush-maker again, like many painters once had a century ago.


Don't forget, Pro has also released his first DVD, The Portrait Sketch, which can be ordered directly from the artist through his website. I have not seen the video myself, but being familiar with Pro as a person and as an artist, and seeing how emotional he is about this tribute painting of his father, I am sure that he put everything he had into this production. The alla prima demonstration is over 4 hours long, and includes discussions on materials, color choices, and obtaining a likeness. Also, Pro's long time friend and cohort, Jeremy Lipking, joins Tony in the audio commentary portion of the video: the two previously collaborated on Lipking's highly-successful, first DVD.