Monday, January 31, 2011

C.W. Mundy on Ryan Mellody's Fine Art Journal

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Artist Ryan Mellody has recently posted to his blog a two-part article on Indiana impressionist Charles W. Mundy.  In the first installment, Mellody offers insight into Mundy's palette, materials, and working methods, including Mundy's use of pre-mixed "color pots."  In Part 2, Ryan gives a brief overview of Mundy's technique through a step-by-step presentation of one of the Master's paintings.  Be sure to check it out!








Saturday, January 29, 2011

More Thoughts on Illustration and Fine Art


John William Waterhouse, like many of his peers, took inspiration from literary sources.  His painting
The Lady of Shallot was based upon the poem of the same name by Sir Alfred Lord Tennyson.
 Though not literally an illustration, Waterhouse's is still a visual representation of an author's words.

When writing the previous article, Rockwell Draws a Crowd, in the back of my mind, I had the theory of art evolution as proposed by Dennis Nolan, an associate professor of art at the University of Hartford.  Nolan's opinion, which I first learned about through James Gurney, is unlike that traditionally offered in today's art schools.  A talented illustrator in his own right, Nolan likely felt disenfranchised by the Art establishment's portrayal of the art timeline- where was illustration's place in art history?  And for that matter, where was animation?  Comics?  The proposal Nolan has put forth is that the progression of art from Impressionism to Modern Art was not the sole branch on the family tree which descended from Academic Art.  In Nolan's view, illustration, animation, and comics are each additional branches of art which carried on the tradition of realist art.


Nolan's illustrated view of art history from the Gurney Journey blog.


For me, having a background in illustration, Nolan's theory has much appeal.  A large motivating factor for me studying illustration in college was my love of representational art;  illustration at the time seemed like the only outlet for realist artists seeking an income, so it was the area to which I gravitated.  Not surprisingly, now that representational art is re-gaining popularity, many of the field's most successful artists have had extensive backgrounds in illustration.  The transition from Academic Art to illustration, and now back to representational gallery work seems like a natural progression.


Art by Dennis Nolan


While writing the Rockwell article, I was also reminded of a comment made by one of my professors in college.  I was in an art history lecture where the teacher, who was also the head of the painting department, encountered a palpable resentment for illustration from the painting students in the class.  Though he did not propose to us a theory like Nolan's, which would have included both disciplines in the lecture hall, he did still calm the crowd and bring to the fine art students a kinder view of the few commercial artists present.  "You painting students act like the illustration students are prostituting themselves when they sell their art," he began.  "Let's face it- we all want to sell our art, even if it is just to buy more paint.  We all paint to sell."

To read more about Dennis Nolan's theory of the art timeline, visit James Gurney's post, Art History: A Fresh View, on the Gurney Journey blog.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Norman Rockwell Draws a Crowd

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In a recent article in Britain's The Independent, critic Adrian Hamilton reluctantly agreed with his counterpart at The New Yorker, Peter Schjeldahl, who in 1999 said, "(Norman) Rockwell is terrific."  Loathe to too strongly praise the American artist, however, Hamilton followed his compliment with the rejoinder that "'Terrific' isn't the same thing as good."  Hamilton's review for Norman Rockwell's America, currently on view at London's Dulwich Picture Gallery, cannot escape the author's prejudice, not against the U.S.A., but against the art of illustration.   He admits not knowing much about Rockwell's paintings before viewing the show (his milieu is actually international affairs), and, to his surprise, he seems to find elements of Rockwell's work to recommend, but not before disparaging the artist's effective visual communication skills and his ability to portray American optimism even in the country's darker times.  Dulwich Gallery too is faulted, for hosting a show with commercial and popular support, as if attracting crowds to a museum in such hard economic times were a bad thing.  The article, titled, "Norman Rockwell:  An Artisan, not an Artist" concludes with Hamilton forecasting that, despite "calls for his re-evaluation in the canon of American art,"¹ Rockwell will never be regarded as "more than a supreme commercial artist of his time;"² it's a back-handed compliment for Rockwell that never disguises the author's opinion of illustration's place in the art world.




Hamilton is singing an old tune, but thankfully, one that is losing popularity.  Other reviewers of the Dulwich exhibition were able to see through past biases and interpret correctly Rockwell's narrative paintings as significant to 20th century art.  "Only recently," says Emma Crichton-Miller of Prospect, "... the critically hardheaded have begun to acknowledge the truthfulness in the sweetness of Rockwell's creations."³  He knew how to show America "the story of its people"⁴ and the mood of his times, in a way that abstract expressionism never could.⁵  If he presented only one side of America, that aspect of his country that was optimistic, moral, unprejudiced, and hard-working, he did so fully cognizant of his choice  to portray America only as he wished it to be.  And this portrayal, filled with humor, poignancy, and an uncommon empathy for the common man, was always executed  with unfailing and unparalleled technical mastery of his craft.⁶  Said Abby Cronin in the 2010 Winter edition of Illustration, "His command of composition, design and perspective and use of light demonstrate a sophisticated grasp of artistic skills.  Rockwell has earned his place in the history of western art and 'Rockwellian' is no longer a term of abuse."⁷




Though never a darling of the critical art elite, Rockwell has long been a favorite of the everyman he so skillfully painted, and the artist's popularity has given no indication of losing its bloom, even now, more than three decades after his death.  During the 2010 season, there were no fewer than five exhibitions centered on Norman Rockwell:  Norman Rockwell's America now on view at the Dulwich Picture Gallery; American Chronicles:  The Art of Norman Rockwell, currently at the North Carolina Museum of Art; Norman Rockwell:  Behind the Camera, currently on view at the Brooklyn Museum of Art; Norman Rockwell and his Mentor J.C. Leyendecker, held this past summer at the National Museum of American Illustration; and Telling Stories:  Norman Rockwell from the Collections of George Lucas and Steven Spielberg which recently closed at the Smithsonian American Art Museum.   This last show alone had approximately 706,000 visitors during its six month run, which was a 52% increase in attendance at the gallery over the same time period in 2009, and which made Telling Stories the most popular show at the Smithsonian American Art Museum in recent history.⁸




Some may say that the recent resurgence of interest in Norman Rockwell is really a reflection of the world turning to 'Rockwellian' optimism in hopes of alleviating the real world fears generated by current, difficult economic times.  This is certainly part of the truth.  But perhaps it is also the economy and the dire financial circumstances museums now find themselves facing which is creating a shift in the politics of art criticism and museum exhibition schedules.  The public will flock to see the narrative works of Norman Rockwell, an artist most fine art museums once disdained, and now that federal funding for these institutions is being cut, it is the public who must be catered to, and not the snobbish elite.  It is hopefully a sign that illustration- and representational art in general- will gain the recognition in contemporary culture it rightfully deserves.  Until then, let the common man rejoice that "the arbiters of taste" are finally recognizing the truth Peter Schjeldahl stated more than a decade ago:  "Rockwell is terrific.  It's become too tedious to pretend he isn't."⁹






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The Smithsonian American Art Museum gave visitors to the show Telling Stories:  Norman Rockwell from the Collections of George Lucas and Steven Spielberg a chance to comment on the exhibition.  Here are a few of their observations:


"I am only ten, but, I have a favorite artist…His name is Norman Rockwell. He is able to take those pure moments that all of us have, and turn them into art."

"Gracias por esta maravillosa exposición. Rockwell nos hace ser mejores personas." [Thank you for this marvelous show. Rockwell makes us better people.]

"Some artists strive to capture the physical. NR also captured those emotions that make us human."

"These are the stained glass windows of the American cathedral. Thank you for sharing them with us."

"Rarely have I ever been to an exhibit where there was so much interaction between the viewers—people making comments to strangers, laughing, smiling at one another. That is what makes Rockwell such an important artist."

"I served in Iraq and will soon go to Afghanistan. If other nations had their own Rockwell we would have more friends in the world and fewer enemies and wars."

"I have more of a sense of American history and American spirit after seeing these pictures than after all the monuments combined."



To see more comments, visit Eye Level - Comments at an Exhibition: Visitors Respond to Rockwell.



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The National Museum of American Illustration has catalogs available for both Norman Rockwell's America ... In England and Norman Rockwell and his Mentor:  J.C. Leyendecker.  The cover prices are $35 and $30 respectively, but if ordered together the museum is offering a special New Year's combined discount price of $48.  Contact the NMAI online store for more information.






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Norman Rockwell's America, currently on view at the Dulwich Picture Gallery in London, will return to the National Museum of American Illustration during the Memorial Day Weekend in 2011.



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¹ Hamilton, Adrian, "Norman Rockwell: An artisan, not an artist", The Independent, December 27, 2010, retrieved January 24, 2011 from www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/art/features/norman-rockwell-an-artisan-not-an-artist-2169713.html
² idem.
³ Crichton-Miller, Emma, "Prospect Recommends", Prospect, December 1, 2010, retrieved January 26, 2011 from http://americanillustration.org/articles/prospect/12_01_10_Prospect_ProspectRecommends.pdf
⁴ Burgess, Laura, "The Illustrations of Norman Rockwell's 20th Century America at Dulwich Picture Gallery", Culture24, December 24, 2010, retrieved January 26, 2011 from http://americanillustration.org/articles/culture24/12_24_10_Culture24_IllustrationsofRockwell.pdf
⁵ Fox, Celina, "American Dreamweaver", House & Garden, January 2011, retrieved January 26, 2011 from http://americanillustration.org/articles/house&%20garden/01_01_11_House&Garden_AmericanDreamweaver.pdf
⁶ Güner, Fisun, "Norman Rockwell's America, Dulwich Picture Galley", The Art Desk, December 16, 2010, retrieved January 26, 2011 from http://americanillustration.org/articles/arts_desk/12_16_10_TheArtsDesk_RockwellsAmerica.pdf
⁷ Cronin, Abby, "American Eye", Illustration, Issue 26: Winter 2010, retrieved January 26, 2011 from http://americanillustration.org/articles/illustrationMag/12_01_10_IllustrationMag_AmericanEye.pdf
⁸ Trescott, Jacqueline, "Rockwell:  Officially a Blockbuster", The Washington Post, January 5, 2011, retrieved January 26, 2011 from http://voices.washingtonpost.com/arts-post/2011/01/rockwell_officially_a_door_bus.html
⁹ Schjeldahl, Peter, "Fanfares for the Common Man", The New Yorker, November 22, 1999.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Auction Preview: Heritage Illustration #5052

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Saul Tepper


The catalog of Heritage Auction Galleries upcoming Signature Illustration Sale is now available for online viewing, and once again, they have assembled an impressive offering.  This auction, scheduled for February 11th and 12th, consists of over 700 artworks from artists the likes of Norman Rockwell, Saul Tepper, Gil Elvgren, Haddon Sundblom, Dean Cornwell, Andrew Loomis, J.C. Leyendecker, Harvey Dunn, Tom Lovell, and Maxfield Parrish, just to name a few.  In what seems like an attempt at rapid expansion, Heritage has been cultivating their online presence, providing electronic catalogs such as this with large image files for all lots in the sale.  This is not only a treat for internet bidders, but for all art lovers , who could easily get distracted for hours looking at these amazing paintings and drawings.


Tom Lovell

Joe Bowler

Steve Hanks


The lots in this sale are available for in-person viewing at Heritage's Beverly Hills Office from 9:00 AM to 7:30 PM February 9th, from 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM February 10th, and from 9:00 AM to 11:00 February 11th.


Maxfield Parrish

Dean Cornwell

Gil Elvgren

Andrew Loomis

Harold Anderson

J.C. Leyendecker

Charles Edward Chambers

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

A Day-in-the-Life of the Hein Academy of Art



Artist and teacher Jeffrey Hein has recently posted a video to YouTube showing a time-lapse view of a day-in-the-life of his Art Academy in Utah.  In it, not only do you see his students at work, but you get to see the lengths to which Hein goes to be able to paint his images entirely from life.   At different points throughout the video, Hein is visible dyeing fabrics, sewing costumes, and constructing props, as well as posing models and painting from costumed mannequins.






Sunday, January 16, 2011

Workshop: Tony Ryder, Part IV, "The Poster Study"

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The poster study on left, and the form painting, Day 10, on right.
From the Ryder Studio Blog.


"A painting is a miniature world, a microcosm.  In it every brushstroke relates to every other.  This microcosm is tonal:  it consists of many colors relating to one another in a delicately balanced harmony.  That balance is called 'the poster'.  The poster is the state of tonal agreement in the color microcosm.  The 'poster study' is the exercise in which we study the poster.  It is a small (5" x 7"), very simplified, very abstract, color sketch that represents the major tonal elements and tonal relationships of the composition.

The poster study is the first exercise in the form painting process.  It helps students see the composition they intend to paint in the sense of a whole tonal field.  Once painted, poster studies are kept close at hand.  They serve as reference for the subsequent steps of the painting process." - Tony Ryder¹






Artist Tony Ryder refers to the method he uses and teaches as "form painting," a process through which the play of light upon a subject is carefully and accurately rendered in order to give the impression of reality.  It is the same method which his teacher, Ted Seth Jacobs, taught Ryder, and one which Ryder has never tried to improve upon;  instead, Ryder has worked within the steps of this proven technique to continually improve upon himself as an artist.  Other painters may pick and choose different techniques learned from several teachers, and try to make one successful process from such a synthesis, but this approach to the "language of painting" has never made sense to Ryder;  as he says, "It takes a real genius to combine 80% Greek, 10% Chinese, 5% German, and 5% French and make a single language of it."






Ryder is specific in the steps of his form painting process, and although he may occasionally employ an abbreviated method* during certain single-session painting demonstrations (such as at the "Face-Off" segment of the Portrait Society of America's annual conference), his easel paintings all follow the same order of execution, whether they are a portrait, a teapot, or a floral still-life.  "If I eat dessert first," Ryder says, "then go back to the pot roast, it doesn't quite taste the same."  Though the stages of this procedure are important, it must be remembered that painting is more than knowing technique.  Ryder's emphasis in his teaching is really about learning proper visual analysis:  "One must see, and understand what one sees, in order to paint well."²  The individual steps of the form painting process are therefore arranged in such a way as to help the student understand what they are painting, as well as teach them the skills of how to paint.







Naturally, Ryder began the workshop by demonstrating the poster study, the initial step in the form painting process.  As stated earlier, it is through this sketch that the artist first establishes the composition of their work, and begins to evaluate the scene before them in terms of color-  that is, the three aspects of color (hue, tone, and saturation in Tony's terms) as viewed simultaneously.  It is meant to be done quickly and loosely, and to give an overall impression of what the final painting is to be, rather than a fully realized sketch of the finished painting in miniature.


The early stages of my own poster study from the workshop showing the
simple drawing and the lay-in of the first few colors.  The drawing, as seen
 here, was more detailed than necessary.


Using Old Holland Deep Ochre oil paint heavily diluted with Gamsol odorless mineral spirits, Tony quickly outlined the head and shoulders of our model, Randy, on a gessoed hardboard panel, no larger than 5 x 7 inches.  Accuracy is not important at this point, and there should not be much time spent on this stage of the process.  At most, this quick drawing should take 5 seconds to only a few minutes.





After this "map" drawing was done, Ryder began blocking in the subject in color, pushing the paint into the texture of the panel with a round, nylon brush.   The darkest mass was established first, which,  in our demonstration, was Randy's cast shadow.  Once this extreme was determined, he continued working from dark to light, moving onto the background next.





While Ryder blocked in the background, it became clear that what he was painting was what the light appeared to be doing.  So while the background was the same value all of the way across, Ryder lightened the color of the backdrop as it approached Randy's cast shadow in order to enhance the relationship of the light to the dark in the painting.  This is an illusion our eyes often create, but rather than allowing the viewers' eyes to make the same perception, Ryder recreated the illusion.





Ryder mixed a new color for almost every brushstroke he laid down on the panel.  He did not save lumps of paint, nor did he try to recall color combinations-  a color can be arrived at "in a multitude of ways."  This is not to say that Ryder, even with all of his experience, mixes the exact color he wants at first attempt ("Mixing colors is like playing golf- rarely a hole in one." - Tony Ryder).  The process of finding the correct color, no matter how many tries or how many pigments in combination, is all part of understanding the subject in front of you.




Paint was applied as if Ryder were laying down strips of masking tape.  Brush strokes were kept clean and intentional, with no attempt made at blending edges;  it was important that the comparisons between areas of varying hue, value, or chroma were kept distinct.  As Ryder continued on with the poster study, and more abstract shapes of color were added, certain color relationships no longer worked, and Ryder made necessary adjustments to retain the kind and the feel of the light in the space defining Randy.  Despite the definite separations between the light and shadow shapes within the image, Ryder was quick to point out that the "dark light" - the part of the light which is turned farthest from the light source while still being part of the illuminated surface- could not be overlooked when recreating form in this manner.


A very small poster study by Ryder from the same workshop, as done from a student's easel.



Generally, Ryder, who always works from life, spends six hours a day painting, broken down into two three hour sessions.  This first step in form painting, from setting the model or still life, through painting the poster study, should take no longer than the first of these three hour sessions.







* Ryder has recently developed another approach to his paintings which he uses on occasion.  In it, Ryder skips the second and third steps of his normal form painting method, and instead begins drawing his subject in paint on a toned ground.  The poster study is still integral to this other manner of painting.  To read more about this approach of Ryder's, visit his School's website.

¹ Ryder, Anthony, Portrait Painting Demo (2002).  Retrieved 2005 from http://www.tonyryder.com/demo/index.htm.
² Idem.