Friday, October 21, 2016

Dagnan-Bouveret's "An Accident"

Many of you expressed an interest in looking at compositions by doing pencil copies of them. Here is a painting that has always captivated me.

"An Accident" 1879 by Pascal Adolphe Jean Dagnan-Bouveret (French, 1852-1929)
at the Walters Art Gallery
The caption from the Museum's website says:
"After training with Alexandre Cabanel (1823-89) and Jean-Léon Gérôme (1824-1904), Dagnan-Bouveret turned from Classical themes to subjects drawn from everyday life. In this scene, a country doctor bandages a boy's injured hand, while his family looks on with varying expressions of concern. The artist witnessed an incident like this while traveling with a doctor friend in the Franche-Comté region of eastern France. When this painting was exhibited at the Paris Salon in 1880, it established the artist's reputation as both a perceptive reporter of rural customs and a Realist who explored the psychological states of his subjects."

Compositional study of Dagnan-Bouveret's "An Accident" by James Gurney
What struck me as I did my little pencil and gray-wash sketch was how the story is structured in terms of action and reaction. The center of the design and the area of highest contrast is the white shape of the bandage, the doctor's hands, and the boy's white shirt and face. 

Lesser lights in the design bring our attention to the faces of the people and the clock, which tells us that this event brought the work day on the farm to a halt.

Behind the white bandage is the profound black of the fireplace, and there's a remarkable use of sfumato or enveloping tone linking the surrounding dark values together. There are no edges demanding your attention unless they're important to the story.

Beyond pure design issues, I love the way the story is brought to life by character and psychology. Reaction is more powerful than action in video, and that's true here, too. Whatever injured the boy's hand — by 1872, that might have been a piece of farm machinery — we can see how bravely and stoically he is dealing with it, and we can study the variety of reactions of his parents and fellow farmhands. All the eye lines keep bringing us back to the center of interest. We can only imagine what this injury might mean to the fortunes of the farm.

This all goes back to the thoughts on the analysis of the Forsberg recently: Tonal organization isn't just a design issue, it's also a story issue.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Moby's new video

Here's a new music video called "Are You Lost In The World Like Me?" by Moby & The Void Pacific Choir with animation by Steve Cutts in a 30's retro style. The subject is a little depressing—how people are all hooked on their devices—but it's incisive satire, an apt commentary on our times.

(Link to see the video on YouTube)

Peludópolis: A Lost Animated Film

Peludópolis was an 80-minute animated film by Argentine director Quirino Cristiani. Released in 1931, it was the first animated feature film with sound.

Unfortunately, all copies of the finished film were lost in a fire, so the film is best known from this making-of featurette. If you get this post by email, you might need to follow this link to YouTube to see the video.

The film was made by a novel paper cut-out process. 

The characters and background elements were drawn with white paint on black paper. The paper cutouts were then laid out, and shot with a reversal process.
Peludópolis on Wikipedia

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

DVD Set on Sale

Here is the ultimate gift for yourself or the artist in your life. 

At the GurneyJourney store, we've got the full set of eight art instruction DVDs on sale for 25% off the list price. The set includes four popular titles about plein-air painting: Portraits in the Wild, Fantasy in the Wild, Gouache in the Wild, and Watercolor in the Wild. 

Plus you get all four behind-the-scenes instructional documentaries The Mammal that Ate Dinosaurs, Tyrannosaurs: Behind the Art, Australia’s Age of Dinosaurs, and How I Paint Dinosaurs. 

You get eight full hours of running time, helpfully divided into chapters, plus slide shows, special features, and printed card inserts. Plus we'll include a signed door-hanger for the studio or art room. Save $50 off the combined list price of $200.00.  

(Meanwhile, I'm working on the final edit of Casein in the Wild....should be out in less than a month.)

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Canaletto Up Close

In honor of Canaletto's birthday today in 1697, let's take a look at one of his paintings. His method of painting is quite unusual.

Canaletto, The Bucintoro at the Molo on Ascension Day
Nowadays most oil painters would go for a general overall impression first and refine it further and further with spots of paint. 

Canaletto is rhythmic and precise, like visual music. The way he achieved this look was by painting the big background tones first. When those tones were completely dry, he would go back in with paint on a long thin brush and define the smaller forms almost like calligraphy. 

Because of the drying time, I would guess that he would have had several canvases going at the same time. 

Overlapping forms like figures and boats were painted from background to foreground. So those stairs going down to the water were painted all the way across and allowed to dry before the figures were added over them. 

As the paint has transparentized slightly over the centuries, you can see the earlier layers through the figures.

This method of painting takes some faith and some visualization, because you have to anticipate many steps ahead. The procedure would not work very well in oil on location unless you painted it in a two day session. But it would work extremely well with casein or gouache, where the drying time and opacity encourage such handling.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Forsberg's "Death of a Hero"

A secret to good composition is to group and simplify the tones. But the tonal organization must serve the story. 

Let's look at an example, along with my pencil sketch.

Nils Forsberg (1842-1934) La Fin d’un héros (Death of a Hero) 1888
Oil, 300 x 450 cm, Stockholm, Nationalmuseum

At the moment of his death, a war hero is slumped on his improvised bedding. The setting is a church. A priest gives him last rites. His wife or mother grieves at the foot of the bed. His fellow soldiers pay last respects. On the left are other wounded patients laid out on other beds.

Tonal structure
The dying hero is the crux of the design. He is a light shape surrounded by the light-toned bedding. Those light patches are shape-welded to the illuminated vertical column behind his bed. 

I don't know if it was intentional, but that column ascends like an elevator to heaven. The only other light-toned figures are the altar boy with the candle and the attending priest. 

The rest of the mortals are mostly dark. The ailing figures on beds on the left are enveloped in darkness. Wherever possible, dark tones are grouped into large shapes to simplify the design. 

Perhaps I'm reading into it a bit, but the light seems to be associated with spiritual life or afterlife or redemption, and the darkness seems to be associated with mortality and suffering. The point is that tonal organization isn't just a design issue, it's also a story issue
Previously: Shape Welding