Thursday, December 30, 2010

Workshop: Tony Ryder, Part I

In the winter of 2005, I enjoyed the good fortune of being a member of the inaugural class held at the Andreeva Portrait Academy, then located in Santa Fe, New Mexico.  The instructor for the workshop was Anthony J. Ryder, and although I cannot recall when I had first learned of his artwork, I had, by the time the class was offered, become a huge fan of his drawing and painting skills.  Of the artists with whom I wished to study when I had finally decided to improve upon my university education, Ryder was at the top of a short list.

It is presumed Ryder had several teachers during his own formative years, but the artist whom he values as his greatest influence is painter Ted Seth Jacobs, a former student of renowned instructor Frank J. Reilly.†  Ryder, who feels greatly indebted to Jacobs, has not attempted to improve upon the lessons he received from his mentor, but to pass them on tempered by years of faithfully adhering to the tenor of those methods.  Certainly, what Ryder practices and teaches is his own interpretation of Jacobs' classroom, but the goal of addressing visual assessment as well as the technical process of applying paint remains the same.

As a painter and as an instructor, Ryder is a highly conscientious person.  In analyzing his own work through every step of its creation, he has become superbly aware of the hows and whys for the decisions he executes while picture-making.  This has enabled him to clearly and concisely express these steps to his students, who, if they are earnest in their study, walk away from his classroom better artists.  Ryder is truly that rarity whose dedication to teaching has made his ability as an instructor a match to the brilliancy of his artwork.

Much of the information that will be recounted in the next several posts can be found online.  Ryder has freely shared a step-by-step description of a portrait demonstration he gave at the Bay Area Classical Artist Guild in 2002 on his personal website, and there is also a great presentation on form painting on his Studio School's website.  I do hope, however, that by supplementing these online, step-by-step explanations with my individual recollections and perspectives from the 2005 workshop in which I participated, that I can reveal a little more about the actual experience of studying with Ryder.  There is, of course, no substitute for the personal interaction a student gains by participating in class with a teacher of Ryder's caliber, and the best I can really offer here is an enticement to seek out further direct instruction.

Anthony Ryder at the Andreeva Portrait Academy, 2003


Ryder provided an extensive list of suggested materials for his 2005 portrait painting class, but since the workshop, several items have changed.  Where possible, I have included Ryder's current recommendations alongside those from seven years ago.

Oil Colors

The most surprising aspect of the supply list was Ryder's recommended choices in colors.  Ryder, who employs an open palette, uses many different pigments, and even the list below does not accurately reflect those colors which made it into his final painting.  (During his first day of demonstrating, he was adding colors he had just received a few days earlier from Robert Doak & Associates, including "Adobe Medium" which he returned to often).  Colors in boldface were recommended, especially for beginning students.  However, this list should not be considered a limitation;  any colors could be used. The manufacturer of each oil color is unimportant unless where it is specifically noted.

  • Titanium White*
  • Flake White
  • Zinc White
  • Brilliant Yellow Light
  • Naples Yellow (Winsor & Newton)
  • Naples Yellow Green (Rembrandt)
  • Naples Yellow Red (Rembrandt)
  • Naples Yellow Light*
  • Jaune Brilliant* (Winsor & Newton)
  • Cadmium Lemon Yellow*
  • Cadmium Yellow Medium*
  • Cadmium Orange*
  • Cadmium Red Medium*
  • Brilliant Pink* (Old Holland)
  • Alizarin Crimson Permanent* (Winsor & Newton)
  • Cobalt Violet or Cobalt Violet Light*
  • Cobalt Violet Deep
  • Ultramarine Violet*
  • Cobalt Blue*
  • Ultramarine Blue
  • King's Blue
  • Cerulean Blue*
  • Phthalocyanine Blue
  • Phthalocyanine Green
  • Cobalt Turquoise
  • Viridian*
  • Chrome Oxide Green*
  • Cadmium Green Light
  • Bohemian Green Earth (Schminke-Mussini)
  • Sap Green*
  • Cinnabar Green
  • Yellow Ochre
  • Raw Sienna*
  • Mars Brown
  • Burnt Sienna
  • Flesh Ochre (Old Holland)
  • Mars Violet
  • Deep Ochre* (Old Holland)
  • Raw Umber*
  • Burnt Umber*
  • Payne's Gray
  • Ivory Black*
(Currently, Ryder is recommending Old Holland Ochre and Transparent Brown Oxide in addition to the colors listed.  Lead White [Flake or Cremnitz], Naples Yellow, King's Blue, and Phthalocyanine Green have also joined the status of recommended colors.  This makes for 27 suggested colors).


For brushes, Ryder suggested nylon rounds.  His preferred brands are Raphael 869 (sizes 4, 6, and 8; three of each size), Winsor & Newton University Series 235 (sizes 1 and 2; two of each), and Winsor & Newton Monarch Series 5503 (sizes 8, 10, and 12; two of each).


In 2005, Ryder suggested odorless mineral spirits such as Turpenoid or Gamsol.  He now uses Livos brand, Svalos 222 natural solvent.

Painting Medium 2005

1 part Damar varnish
1 part Venice turpentine
5 parts light stand oil
20 parts odorless mineral spirits

This earlier medium has been replaced by:

7.5 ml Larch turpentine/Svalos 222 (1:2)
45 ml Damar varnish (3 lb. cut)
150 ml Stand oil
300 ml Svalos 222

The medium was provided to the workshop participants by Ryder.


Tony prefers his students use a permanent palette, such as glass or properly sealed wood, as opposed to a paper palette.  Ryder uses a "dusk"-colored piece of Corian countertop for his palette, which is supported vertically below his canvas while painting.  Students were also encouraged to position their palettes vertically by tacking them to an easel-mounted piece of Homosote®, and this should be kept in mind when choosing a palette for this exercise.

Ryder working from his vertical Corian palette

Stretched Canvas

Adherents of Ryder's methods generally work small.  For the workshop he suggested bringing a stretched canvas in the size range of 10" X 12" to 14" X 16".  Ryder recommends the support itself be a finely-woven, oil-primed, portrait-grade linen.  Currently he encourages students to use the LLD DP canvas from New York Central Art Supply (which can often be purchased in pieces rather than by the roll) or Artfix L64C, a quadruple primed Belgian linen.  For stretcher bars, he suggests the RTR (regular weight) ready-made bars from Simon Liu Inc..

Ryder also wanted students to bring either a 4" X 6" or 5" X 7" canvas board or primed Masonite panel to the workshop for a poster study.  In 2005, Ryder also had a pad of Canson Figueras 140 lb textured canvas paper which he used for his poster sketches, which was a new item to many of us in the class.  Today, Canson Canva-Paper is his preferred surface for doing these preliminary paintings.

Additional Items

Mahl Stick
Palette Knife (Holbein #3)
Paper Towels (Viva)
Hat with visor or brim
Small Jar with tight fitting lid (for painting medium)
Pliers (for opening stubborn paint tubes)
2 Large bulldog clips
Brush Washer (such as the Silicoil brush cleaner or the Holbein #1052-15s or #1052-15m)
Vine Charcoal (Grumbacher, medium - 6 sticks)
Kneaded Eraser
Sanding Block (at the workshop, those of us who were able made a charcoal sharpening box)
Seat Cushion (optional)
Opera Glasses, Binoculars, or Monocular (optional)

† Although Ted Seth Jacobs was a student of Reilly, he developed his own technique which has little resemblance to Reilly's methods.  In discussing with Ryder the drawing and painting exercises from Jacobs' classroom, however, it is apparent that certain lessons were retained and passed down.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

App Apropos

Photograph gridded in Photoshop using the free Accurasee software available from the company's website.

Artist G Bjorn Thorkelson has recently released Accudraw, an application for the iPhone, based on his Accurasee Measurement System.  The app allows users to easily add a latticed overlay to photos stored on their phone, and to then manipulate both the image and the grid in order to attain the picture proportions best suited to the work at hand.  For the month of December, Accudraw is free from the iTunes store.

To me, this application would make the iPhone a great improvement over compositional viewfinders when painting en plein air.  After all, having a 2D image of the landscape before you would make sketching the scene easier, especially when the vastness of the surrounding environment is visually overwhelming.  So draw from the phone screen, but paint from real-life observation;  once the elements are loosely indicated on the canvas, put the phone away!

Thorkelson has also just gained approval for another application for the iPhone called Accuview.  Accuview has all of the same features as Accudraw, but also allows the user to convert their images to black and white for an easier assessment of values.  Included in the app is an adjustable, floating value scale to make those measurements of tonal relationships nearly foolproof.  Currently, this app is also free at the iTunes store.

Screenshot from the new Accuview a iPhone app.


Palette swatches created from a painting by Michael Klein.

Some other interesting software which can be found online are palette generators, available for free from several different sources.  These programs were created to help web designers choose harmonious colors for website page layouts based on a single image (eg. a photograph of a company product).  Once an image is uploaded, the application extracts colors from that picture, and uses them to create a series of swatches with their corresponding hexadecimal values (the codes which indicate colors in HTML).  Often, these palettes can then easily be transferred to Photoshop.

The usefulness, to painters, of these digital palettes varies.  They can, of course, aid in designing your own website, or in isolating a color for matting your art, but mostly, I think they are just wonderful curiosities which provide a different way of analytically looking at favorite works of art.

Color generator sites include:  pics2colors, whatsitscolor, Adobe Kuler, and Color Palette Generator.

The Adobe kuler site is particularly fun, and gives several options for designing your own palettes
 formed around triad,  complementary, analogous,  and compound color relationships.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Gray Matter

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.
-Howard Pyle

When examining the tonal plan of my reference - whether it is a photograph or a live model - I frequently forget that what I am looking at is not an absolute whose values I must match exactly in my painting, but rather a guide for plotting value relationships.  Too often, I have been a slave to my reference, when I should have intelligently manipulated the values I was observing in order to make a better picture.

In his book, Creative Illustration, Andrew Loomis explains that there are specific relationships between the areas of shadow and light in a subject which are dependent upon the intensity of the illumination source.  He expresses these relationships between light and shadow using the steps of the value scale, which, in his system, consists of eight equidistant tones ranging from White (1) to Black (8).  As example, Loomis proposes that the separation between light and shadow on a subject in full sunlight would, in general, be three tones (reflected light in the shadows will lighten those dark areas, but the region of shadow closest to the light- sometimes called the 'bedbug line' -will maintain the separation of tones Loomis describes).  The top value and bottom value in this parameter are unimportant, provided that the separation remains consistent.  It is much the same as a single piano tune being played in multiple key signatures;  the song remains the same, provided the notes keep their proper relationship.

It must be noted here that what Loomis is discussing when he talks about tone is not the value of the local color of the subject, but the effect of light and shadow on the local color.  So if a red shirt in neutral light were a value of 4 on Loomis' scale (in other words, its local color tone), in full sunlight it might appear to the eye to be a value of 3 in the light, and a value 6 in the shadow.

Once the value relationship in your subject is understood, Loomis demonstrates that that particular information can be altered to present multiple interpretations of the same scene.  In each representation in Loomis' example above, the tone separation remains constant throughout, though in some of his studies the local tone of certain objects were altered for effect.  In this way, a composition can be strengthened through the simplification of value patterns (what James Gurney refers to as "Shape Welding"), without sacrificing a believable lighting situation.

Being able to accurately translate values from a live model to the canvas takes a certain amount of trial and error at first, but it becomes easier with practice.  To then be able to transpose the visible values while working from life, however, takes a greater familiarity and understanding of the intensities of light Loomis describes.  Again, this ability comes only after experience, and much observation.

I was reminded of this skill several years ago while watching an alla prima demonstration given by Jeremy Lipking at the California Art Institute.  Lipking seems to prefer working under natural lighting conditions, but that day, his model was lit by a hot, incandescent lamp.  When he began his painting, I was surprised to see the value he selected for the light areas on the model's white gown.  To me, being very accustomed to working under such conditions, the value of the gown in the lights appeared to be an 8 on the Munsell scale (In the Munsell System, there are 11 equidistant tones ranging from Black - 0, to White - 10).  Lipking instead chose a 5 or 6, which I imagined he would have to correct as the painting progressed.  But as he continued, it became apparent that Lipking was altering all of the values, keeping them in a tighter, more compressed range of tones.  With his experience working from life, Lipking had manipulated the value relationships he saw before him to paint a subject which, to all appearances, had been posed in diffused light, his favored lighting condition.  The end result was a painting imbued with a character and mood which would not have been present had Lipking merely copied the values in the scene before him.

In this painting by Jeremy Lipking, the lighting is diffused, much like the gray lighting preferred by the Naturalists.
The darkest value in the picture is a 2 on the Munsell scale;  the lightest, an 8.  On the model, the brightest area
 of skin is a 6; the darkest (other than the deepest folds) is a 3.

Though I cannot overemphasize the importance of learning to assess values when working from life, if you are only able to work from photographs, you at least have more objective tools for identifying tones in your reference.  The most common and effective way to understand the values in a photograph is to simply reduce the photo's color data to a black and white using computer software.  The translation is a simple process, but there are some tricks which can make the resulting information even easier to understand.

The most important tool in deciphering tonal values is the value scale;  this is why I append a pre-made scale to any color photograph I intend to translate into black and white so I can have that gauge always nearby.  Since I use the Munsell system, my value scale, which I created in Photoshop, contains 11 tones  ranging from white to black.

To make the scale, I began with a new image file in Photoshop, 1 inch high and 11 inches long, and with a background color of 'white.'  This I then divided into 11 squares using guides.  I approached each tone square as if this were a screen printing project, choosing to think of each section as a percentage of 'black' (ie. Value 9, which is 90% white, can also be thought of as 10% black.  Value 8 would be 20% black; value 7, 30% black; and so on...).  One by one, each square was then selected, and filled using the color black and the Paintbucket tool.  This action, however, was done each time on a separate layer, which was later merged with the background.  The separate layers were necessary, because each successive layer had a different fill percentage in order to control the density of black in each square (eg.  The layer which represented value 8, had a fill percentage of only 20%).

I realize this sounds complicated, but it is really very simple, and hopefully, a logical construction method.  Of course, there are many ways to reach the same end result, and mine is only one route to reach the objective.  The easiest method now would be to just download my scale, providing you subscribe to Munsell's classification of values, and if that helps, then please do so.

A photograph of yours truly.  The image on the right has had the color information discarded by converting the image to B&W
 using the Grayscale mode.

Once I have the scale added to my photograph, I convert the image to black and white by changing the file's color mode to 'Grayscale.'  (From the Photoshop menu, choose ImageModeGrayscale and then agree to discard the color information).  Some people advocate using desaturate to remove the color information from a photo, but that would be a mistake.  When you desaturate an image, the luminance of the original colors is not preserved.  This is most apparent in yellows and greens, which appear brighter to the human eye;  when the luminance is not preserved, these colors will appear much darker in the desaturated image. The Grayscale image is a much more accurate reflection of the values we would regularly perceive.

This painting by Andrew Loomis is flanked by the same image Desaturated on the left, and converted to Grayscale on the right.  Notice how the yellow leaf disappears in the Desaturated image.

The reason why someone would choose to use Desaturate over changing the Mode to Grayscale when converting a photo to black and white is probably because of the advantages gained by having the file in RGB.  One such advantage is that black and white images print better in color modes-  the values tend to be more subtle and have smoother transitions.  Another advantage is for the people who like working from monochromatic images rather than black and white images.  These people will add an overall color to the black and white picture in order to shift the picture to a more pleasant hue.  (From Photoshop menu, Image→Adjustments→Variations).  Off course, there is an easy remedy to this when you have an image in Grayscale mode;  simply change the mode back to RGB after discarding the color information (Image→Mode→RGB Color), and you will have regained all of the advantages of the color channel.

Options available in the Variations tab.

Once you have your Grayscale reference, you have another useful tool at your disposal:  Posterization.  In Photoshop, the Posterize command (Image→Adjustments→Posterize) allows you to separate your image into a finite number of tone separations.  The number of separations is up to you, but if you are using the Munsell system, you would choose 11 levels of distinct tones (any additional tones would be averaged into the nearest respective value on the scale).  Using Loomis's scale, you would divide the image into 8 levels;  for Pyle, you might use 3 or 4 levels.  And this is where it is important that you have added a value scale to your photograph at the beginning;  posterization divides the images into the number of levels you indicate using the extremities of tone in the reference for parameters.  If your darkest dark in your photograph were actually a value 3 on the Munsell, and the lightest light was an 8, the posterize command would set those as the end points, and create the other separations between those two extremes.  By adding the image of the scale, values 0 and 10 (black and white respectively) will become the extreme tones when you execute Posterize.

From left to right:  Original, 11 levels, 8 levels, and 4 levels.
Notice how the value scale also compresses when the levels are reduced.  In the far right image, values 0, 1, 2, and 3 have all been averaged to the same tone (Black).

On a Mac, another tool at your disposal is the Digital Color Meter application.  After the image has been posterized, the Meter can be used to verify values.  Simply roll the cursor over one of the posterized zones in the image, note the RGB statistics, and find the matching statistics when you roll the cursor over your value scale.  This will give you the exact value of that section of your reference.

The Digital Color Meter is registering the color of the cheek just to the right of my nostril.
When checked against the value scale, it matches a value 6 in the Munsell System.

Using these tools can be helpful in understanding value, and in finding a better way with which to work with tones to create better compositions.  However, breaking down each of your own works this way can also be a bit stifling, and has the possibility of taking some joy out of painting.  Perhaps the best way to employ these tools is to use them to analyze Master works which you find most satisfying.  Assimilate  those lessons and apply them to your own paintings until they become a regular part of your arsenal;  this will then give you the freedom to intelligently design the tone pattern in your work, and do so with confidence.

In this painting of the Pieta by William Bouguereau (1876), the artist uses the full range of value at his disposal.
  Even on the figure of Christ, Bouguereau used a broad range of tone.  The brightest lights on the skin are a 9;
the deepest shadow on His body, a 2.  Christ's loin cloth contains pure white (10), and Mary's robe, which
surrounds Christ's outline and separates the Two from the background, is black (0).