Saturday, December 10, 2016

Compressing faces

Can you recognize the faces below? (Answers at bottom of post). The faces are compressed so the width is only 25% of the original photo. 
Source: G. J. Hole, P. A. George, K. Eaves, and A. Razek, B
Many computer vision systems are premised on the idea of making absolute measurements within the face, the way we would carefully measure when drawing or painting from life.

But apparently the human visual system does not depend critically on exact measurements. Scientists have discovered recognition doesn't suffer much with proportionally distorted faces. As long as the measurements are proportional within a region or across a single dimension—that is, as long as the ratios are preserved—recognition performance isn't greatly affected. 

So what structural aspects of the face are the most important for recognizing faces? The researchers conclude: "It is possible then that human encoding of faces utilizes such ratios (we refer to them as iso-dimension ratios), and this might constitute a useful strategy for computer vision systems as well. "

Answers: Ronald Reagan, Jason Alexander, Prince Charles, George Bush, Robin Williams, Woody Allen 

Source: G. J. Hole, P. A. George, K. Eaves, and
A. Razek, B. Effects of geometric distortions
on face recognition performance, [ Perception, vol. 31, no. 10, pp. 1221–1240, 2002.

Friday, December 9, 2016


Tiepolo Giovanni Battista (1696/ 1770), oil, 39 cm x 68 cm

Bozzetto is an Italian term that refers to a comprehensive color sketch to work out an overall composition. It often intended for approval by a client or patron, or else to work out the ensemble for the satisfaction of the artist. It is usually undertaken without models or reference.

Antonio Canova, terra cotta bozzetto of Adam and Eve.
Bozzetto can also refer to a sculptor's study of a figural grouping to establish the broad masses, typically executed in terra cotta.
Synonyms: Maquette (French word for sculptural sketch), Modello (Another Italian word for a comprehensive oil sketch).

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Optical Box (1750-1790)

This optical box from the Museum of Cinema in Catalonia dates from the late 18th century. (Link to YouTube video).  

It had multiple functions: You could use it as a camera obscura for drawing. Besides this, it could be folded up into the shape of a book and easily transported.

Or it could be set up like for viewing theatrical dioramas, kind of an ancestor of Disney's multiplane camera.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

A Slap On The Derrière

When Napoleon III visited the Salon of 1853, he did not like Gustave Courbet's painting "Bathers." So he walked up to the 8-foot-tall canvas and slapped the posterior of the figure with his riding crop.

Courbet, The Bathers, 1853
The issue was not that she was nude, nor was it the size of her posterior, which appeared proletarian to many observers.

The painting outraged the Emperor "because, nude and proletarian, she was masquerading as a nymph."

In his book Art and Photography, Aaron Scharf argues, "Almost always, Courbet's nudes assume attitudes derived from antique conventions; though they are never garnished with the obvious archaeology of his Neo-Classical contemporaries, their settings are no less traditional. The degradation of the Ideal was guaranteed by coupling it with the real: with vulgar photographic realism."
Gustave Courbet on Wikipedia

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

New Portrait Book from Nathan Fowkes

Many of us have been following Nathan Fowkes on the internet, both for his landscape gouache studies and his portrait studies.

Yesterday I received a copy of his new book "How to Draw Portraits in Charcoal," and it's every bit as beautifully produced as I hoped it would be.

I had the honor of writing the foreword to the book, and here's what I wrote:

This book presents a welcome opportunity to study Nathan's dazzling charcoal portraits in beautiful detail.

Nathan’s portraits overflow with virtuosity. Sweeping, energetic strokes dance across the page, as if animated by a master conjurer. The lighting is so brilliant that it seems to shine brighter than the paper. Shadows are soft and mysterious, concealing more than they reveal.

The student or fellow artist looking for the precise recipe will rejoice, for Nathan generously lists all the tools he uses and all the procedures he follows. There are plenty of step-by-step sequences showing how the drawings develop, and those process images are beautifully shot and printed.

If the book stopped there, it would still be a valuable contribution to a shelf of portrait drawing books. But it goes far beyond style and surface. Nathan delves deeply into the thought and planning that lies behind his drawings.

Beneath the painterly strokes lies a firm armature of line drawing, using an adaptation of the method taught by Frank Reilly (1906-1967), an instructor at the Art Students League. Having that diagrammatic foundation gives the drawings the structure that holds them together. The basic plan is: 1) a simple construction drawing, 2) simple masses of value to describe big forms, and 3) design hard and soft edges.

Nathan explains his principles of construction, lighting, planes, and edges. His insights are like gold: “I’m much more able to render complexity when I look for the simplest shapes first.” A recurring theme is that drawing is not a literal representation, but rather an interpretation of what we see.

Although he is specific about his methods and principles, he is not dogmatic about them. He invites the reader to question. He doesn’t want students to copy his outward style. Instead he encourages his reader to try out his way of drawing, and if they wish, to apply it to their own work.

Nathan shows compassion for his subjects. They are not nameless models, but rather human beings. He is not just documenting someone’s physiognomy, but rather creating probing studies of character. He tells the story of one of his models, Clark, who had a successful career as an actor until several tragic setbacks changed the course of his life. Nathan’s drawings of Clark express both the dignity and resilience of the man.

This book will become a cherished classic of portrait drawing, and I can only hope that we’ll see more books in the future that take a similar look at Nathan’s observational painting and imaginative work.
How to Draw Portraits in Charcoal
Nathan Fowkes website
Nathan's gouache landscapes on Instagram

Monday, December 5, 2016

Richard Johnson's Migrant Portraits

Richard Johnson has served as a war correspondent, urban sketcher, and newspaper illustrator. Now he has turned his attention to portraits and stories from the migrant experience. In a project sponsored by McKinsey&Company, he documented many of them with his sketchbook. He says:
"These are a few of my live sketches of migrants from last week in Rome and Berlin. I spent time and listened to migration stories from people who have moved their worlds for a vast array of reasons....Migrants were drawn live, wherever we happened to meet, in parks in Rome, migrant rescue centers in Berlin, or pleasant Toronto homes.... I get paid to draw pictures of real life. There should be more of us doing it. Making people look. These are my favorites."
See the gallery: People on the move: Migrant voices
Richard's website News Illustrator