Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Woodcarving a Seated Figure

This video (link to YouTube) shows how British sculptor Guy Reid (b. 1963) uses photographs shot at different angles to find the silhouettes of his sitting model. He cuts the shape out of wood with a band saw. Then he refines the 3D form with wood carving tools.

The video itself is remarkable for the way it eschews voiceover and music, letting the visuals explain the process instead.

Monday, January 16, 2017

How I start a casein painting

I often approach a casein or gouache painting with two passes: a semi-transparent lay-in of the big shapes, followed opaques, going for the details last.

The surface is a Pentalic watercolor journal. Here's a big blowup of the page so you can see the finished sketch up close. Note that "PALACE HOTEL" is painted dark over light.

The limited palette of the Gurney 6 Pack is enough for this subject: Colors include titanium white, ivory black, Venetian red, yellow ochre, and cobalt blue. The cobalt blue mixed with Venetian red makes a nice near-black that I use as a base for the shadow. Note the partial mixtures in the shadow..

(Link to watch video on YouTube)
My Gumroad tutorial: Casein Painting in the Wild
On Amazon: Casein 6 Pack
Casein six pack with travel brush set

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Painting in an Age of Apps

A photo with a low pixel count via Tech in everyday life
After reading the recent post about the photograph technique of cross processing, John Tija asks:

"On the subject of cross processing, in addition to Instagram and Photoshop effects, there are also apps on the smart phone. I recently came across Prisma for the iPhone, and have found that the app can transform my ordinary looking photos into some pretty spectacularly different renderings, both in the color scheme and also in the details of the subject itself (e.g., photos become line drawings, or mosaics, or even Mondrian-line canvases, all with color schemes I could not have dreamed up)."

"My question in all this is where the "artist" is in all this. If I paint a scene based on how this app has transformed it, am I "cheating"? I guess it comes down to my starting suspicion of how much I can rely on a photograph (a "ready made" scene) as a start to my painting? And if I start relying on some color scheme produced by an app algorithm, do I then lose more of my originality, since I become, step-by-step, nothing more than a copier?"

"As a funny aside, I used this app to run a photo I took of a painting I did based on another photo I had taken, and I came out with a pared down digital rendition (koi in a pond) that had strangely alluring colors and was pretty good. So what kind of an artist am I in this? This has puzzled me!"

Head painting detail by Frank Brangwyn
John, that's a very thoughtful question. You're right to ask about these powerful tools, including photography, digital processing, and apps. And we're just beginning to arrive in the era of machine-learning algorithms. They all challenge our idea of what makes us an artist.

Let's consider what we do when we paint. You could look at all painting as a form of altered—or even degraded—vision. It's the opposite of the usual way we regard representational painting. Typically people talk about painting as a way of representing exactly what we see, or even enhancing what we see. 

But really, in terms of detail at least, paintings and drawings nearly always reduce the amount of information, and I've found that the more they do, the more they people talk about them as "artistic." Think of monochromatic paintings, notan drawings, limited palettes, and paintings made with big brushes. All images follow processes that reduce information. The Brangwyn at left looks a lot like a low resolution photograph.

Of course there are highly resolved, detailed, color-enhanced styles of painting, too. But even those are usually simplified, flattened, or reduced from our genuine stereoscopic, dynamic visual experience in some way.

So the question is: what aesthetic and practical criteria should guide us in the interpretation of reality, and how should we employ all these new tools in this process?

Photography presents us with another way of seeing, another way of mapping the 3D universe into 2D. There are so many forms of lenses, films, and processes before you even get into digital manipulation. Cameras and computers have expanded our vision. We can see infra-red images, we can stop action, we can see through things with x-rays, we can see wildlife up close. Photography has really given us new eyes. 

That doesn't mean we have to project and copy the random detail of a single given photo, though that's OK, too, if that's what you want to do.

But the more we understand how cameras see, the more we appreciate our eyes, the little "meat cameras" in our heads. The more we know about photography, the more we realize our eyes and our visual brains are not like cameras at all. That's been a big subject on this blog. 

So where does that leave us? How can each of us find the best way to use the tools to make our art? It's going to be different for each person.

In my case I'm usually either trying to interpret my experience of reality directly into a sketchbook, or I'm trying to visualize a scene from the ancient past or from a science fiction future. In some cases I want my paintings to incorporate photographic effects so that they can fit into a magazine presentation that's mostly comprised of nature photos. To get that effect, I try to learn the theory behind photography, and I also surround my easel with a lot of different reference photos, taking a little from one and a little from another to make something new.

For what I do, I find the old-school methods of drawing and painting are the most efficient and they produce the best results. But I'm always open to learn more and to try new things, and if there's any tool that helps me make better art, I'm willing to try it.

As the tools give us new ways of seeing and new ways of producing images, they also challenge us to create things that machines can't create. They make us ask what is truly the human component of our vision. There's no moral right or wrong about what tools you use. No tools can directly bring your dream world to life. That's up to you. As long as your work is original and it communicates your own experience, it's not cheating. It's a gift.
Previous posts about:
Computer Graphics
Visual Perception

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Young Ladies Visit Coney Island, 1905

In this vintage 1905 motion picture, a group of young ladies in white dresses visit Coney Island in Brooklyn, New York. Some of the amateur gags involve the girls outrunning their chaperones.

They climb onto a big horseless carriage, open their parasols, and visit Dreamland, with its thrill rides, the Steeplechase, and the beach. The film captures the spirit of buoyant fun and playfulness of that era. (Link to video on YouTube)

Incidentally, the title cards seem to be made of felt letters. A set of flimsy letters cut out of white wool felt can be repositioned on a black or green felt background. It sticks to itself like weak Velcro, with no need for glue, tape, or pushpins.

I still remember these felt or "flannel" boards when I was in grade school in the early 1960s. If a kid was good in class, they would be allowed to make the felt sign in the front of the classroom that might have a seasonal message. You can still buy educational flannel boards, or better yet make your own out of Merino wool felt, which would feel much nicer in the hand.
Previously: The story of Coney Island's Dreamland
Thanks, Kay

Friday, January 13, 2017

The Power of Cropping

In his concept sketch, Oscar Björck (Swedish, 1860-1929) shows a fisherman hastily putting on his gear, responding to a distress call. 

Sketch for A Signal of Distress "Et nødskud" by Oscar Björck
His wife and kids anxiously peer out through the window. We can see the shining horizon and the dark sky. Evidently a ship is in desperate need of rescue, because the title tells us that a shot has been fired to call the alarm.

Et nødskud by Oscar Björck
In the final painting, the artist decided to crop the scene tighter. The fisherman is gone, his meal is uneaten, his chair is pushed back, and the door is thrown open. The focus is on the family's reaction. Only the baby is unconcerned and unknowing.

Less action sometimes yields more drama. Tighter cropping sometimes opens up a story. 
Wikipedia: Oscar Björck
Previously: Krøyer's Hip Hip Hoorah!

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Cross Processing

Cross processing (also called x-pro) is an experimental form of photography where one kind of film stock is deliberately processed in chemicals intended for another kind of film. The resulting color schemes are weird and unnatural, offering traditional painters some interesting inspiration.

via crossprocessing.info
Here, slide film has been processed in C-41 print film chemicals. The result is a high contrast image, with a hue shift toward greens and yellows and a boost in saturation. There's also a considerable amount of vignetting at the edges, a result of the lens.

 Negative film processed in slide chemicals via crossprocessing.info
When negative film is processed in slide chemicals, the results can go many different ways, but this one is lo-fi, contrasty, and grainy, with a saturated warm color bleaching and infusing all the lights.

Photo by Chick Dastardly-JennR.Williams, via EpicEdits 
With X-pro, you never know how it's going to turn out. This one gets contrasty, with a green-red split in the midtones.

Photo by Laurent Butre via The Darkroom
The colors aren't always saturated. Sometimes they're relatively muted, but still with the high contrast and the hue shift. In this link the photographer describes the process he used.

If you want to check out more examples, check out any of these galleries:
Epic Edits: Ten Reasons to Love Cross Processed Film
The Darkroom: Cross Processing examples

The effect can also be simulated digitally with filters in Instagram in or with Photoshop. Here's a link to a Photoshop tutorial.

How can we use this as artists?
Traditional painters can use cross-processing as a jumping off point for exploring color schemes. One way is to use a strongly colored underpainting. The second example in this post of the guy riding the bike could be painted over an orange base color, leaving that color as the stand-in for all the light values. The scheme in the lower scene of the little kid on the Harley could be simulated with a green-red-yellow limited palette, taking care to bleach the lights, sink the darks, and vignette the edges.