Thursday, November 12, 2009

music in the studio - setting the mood

Setting the tone and mood for a work session can really enhance your effort... See if your most favorite sounds work for or against your focus.  Fatigue and or distraction can be the result of poor choices in pairing music and hand (drawing - painting ).  Experiment with the same project and find the right match for you with different genres of music.  What does Beethoven do to your hand as opposed to Louie Prima , Stan Getz, Billy Holiday?.

Get to know Tim Hardin...probably the best single sensitive source for lyrics and sound you will find to set your mind. He took his life at forty in 1980 but left an incredible, generous source of great will not regret searching for more of his work.

Louis Prima  video from the 50's and rare Jungle Book video
Stan Getz video - more  Getz - Desafinado
Corcovado  video - one more with Dizzy

Friday, October 2, 2009

Drawings at the Morgan Library

When ever I started a new drawing class the first thing I require the students to do is surround themselves with great with the internet there is no excuse for lack of source.. The Morgan Library in NYC is one great drawing experience, not only for their collections but for the excellent environment it provides for the viewer. Today (October 2, 2009, through January 3, 2010) they are opening with a series of drawings - Rococo and Revolution: Eighteenth-Century French Drawings features more than eighty exceptional drawings almost exclusively from the Morgan's renowned holdings. The exhibition includes Antoine Watteau, Jacques-Louis David, François Boucher, and Jean-Honoré Fragonard, among others. Go to the Morgan's exhibit links and play with the zoom on each drawing...look for how the lines describe the form in the placement of the shading.

 Antoine Watteau (1684–1721)
Seated Young Woman, ca. 1716
Black, red, and white chalk
Purchased by Pierpont Morgan, 1911; I, 278a

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Painting in Yellowstone Park - Transendent Experience

Ken Burns' inspiring series now on Public Television brought back with amazing clarity my first experience with the national park system.  I drove across the country from New Jersey to California in a '50 Buick 4 door and slept in the back seat at truck stops serenaded by cattle carriers and revving Mack's and Peterbuilt's.  Burns speaks of having a transcendent experience upon a first viewing..indeed.  I spent the night outside the gate to the Grand Canyon south rim and entered at the early morning opening in time time to see the sunrise across the canyon.  The cool air chilled the body and etched the image forever.  I promised to return not knowing when.  I was still in college and had not yet decided to go on to study painting and illustration at the Art Center School as it was known at the time... now The Art Center College of Design.
The next experience was similarly sleepless in a parking lot near Artists' Point in the Yellowstone accompanied by my wife and an acrobatic Great Pyrenees with paws the size of catcher's mitts. Every animal sound within ear shot was translated into a trampling leap from front to side to back of the Econoline van which served as house and home for the trip. Finally at sunrise we wandered down the path to the lookout and watched the most incredible display of light crawl down the canyon walls warming both body and soul with sulfur yellows, crimsons and deep purples.  Again, I vowed to return to paint this time as I had graduated from the ACS some years before. 

Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone - 30 x 40 oil

Shoshone River Canyon- oil

Canyon Pools - plein air gouache - 3" x 5"

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Homemade Slide Scanner That Works

Here is a very simple digital slide scanner that you can put together in a few hours that will get those old slides onto your PC or Mac... more than adequate for the web or use as reference to paint from.  While not truly a scanner technically, it digitizes the slide with one click of your camera.  You must have macro capability on your camera and experiment a little with the settings to maximize the output. Everything used was stuff from the shop or junk box..the key component was the plastic parts tray drawer from one of these multiple tray cabinets that has the magic dimensions just right for the slide and diffuser.  

Click pictures to enlarge


Add some rubber feet to the base.

Cut the hood slightly oversize to make it easier to lift. Use tape for the hinge and your imagination for some adaptation to suit your personal camera and taste.. any available light source is usable as you can balance later in Photoshop if needed.. experiment... !

This is the original pencil brain storm think-through.


Invite me in? Frank Gehry - Steven Holl - architecture that pulls and pushes.

When we first see a building for the first time at ground level (the only way most of us are able to) does it ask you inside to discover how the interior space is organized out of curiosity or seduction?
If you see a rendering or photo of architecture from a POV that you never can personally physically encounter does it interest you as sculpture?  An emotional pathway? In an age of Starchitects such as Frank Gehry,  Jean Nouvel, Zaha Hadid, Thom Mayne, Michael Graves, Steven Holl, Rem Koolhaas, and Norman Foster visualizing the proposals or finished projects, models etc. with areal views or computer animated fly-arounds is a wholly different experience. We see a dazzling photo beautifully composed with rich color and sensuous light that becomes an art piece in itself.
Are we having a separate experience?  Engaging the buildings real world - real time 'taint the same. 
It is all in the details of human flow.. A building in use with people interacting.. this is what the client pays for.. or do they?  Maybe the building is the building is the building..the trophy skin.

 Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao, Spain - Frank Gehry 
Artsy link to Gehry
                                                                                                photo by Roland Halbe

Kansas City, MO, United States, 1999-June 9, 2007
Explore the museum interior through the architects' web representation

How does the project enclose usable space and for what purpose?  How do you feel when you enter? When you leave? Do the details of the interior excite your senses and  move you past the expected?
  • Do the buildings waste structural resources by creating functionless forms.
  • Are the buildings designed accounting for the local climate?
  • Are the buildings a spectacle that overwhelm their intended use?
  • In the case of museums and arenas, do they relate to what they are intended for?
  • Do the buildings belong in their surroundings "organically"?
  • Are the buildings friendly towards disabled people. Are ramps eliminated to preserve the intended aesthetic of the architect?
 Tell me a story...!

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Improve your drawing - Part 1

Here is a method to improve your drawing that covers two subjects...type construction and warm up scales.

The Warm Up..Who ever bothers to do this? Wrong..
No athlete ever goes into competition with out warming up – drawing is no different.
You are using muscle groups, finger dexterity and eye-hand coordination. Everyone who has ever studied music or played an instrument knows how 'sticky' your coordination is at the beginning of each session. After a few scales and arpeggios things begin to come together. I have adopted the same reasoning towards the quick improvement of your drawing ability. The exercises shown here are adaptations of those used in learning how to write, indicate type and drawing. There must be a gazillion books on drawing but not too many ever discuss practice strokes or the warm up. The practice strokes are analogous to the scales in music. Think about will work if you are not in a hurry.

Here is a vintage cut from the Palmer Method lesson on repetitive practice for good handwriting.  It sounds nuts but if you work on learning to indicate a type face it will help your drawing considerably.
You get a two for one deal on this one as making notations in your journals will really have a neat look.

Learning how to indicate type (as it was called in the “good ol' days”) not only will give you an appreciation for the beauty and thought behind typeface design, it will help you in your note taking or expression in your journals or sketches.

Here is Adobe Caslon. I've shown examples of others as well and I suggest that you carefully compare the subtle differences between the faces – look at the lower case g's.

Mark out on a sheet of paper several groups of horizontal lines about 1 inch apart.  Set down a series of squares within the line in which you will copy each capital (upper case) letter. First draw the outer edge of the letter and then the inner edge. Just the outlines – do the entire alphabet – letters, numbers, and punctuation. This practice exercise will hone your ability to discern very subtle differences. Good for your drawing..!

 Now..sharpen a pencil to a chisel point and single stroke the serif forms so that you get a nice neat letter.

Use this reprint from an old Speedball pen handbook for the stroke sequences.(click to enlarge)

This is the start of learning a new and improved eye-hand skill with the added cool ability to charm your friends with an actual vintage effort in calligraphy.  My instructor in illustration at the Art Center School, Joe Henninger, wrote all of his letters with this nice neat hand.

This scratchboard illustration of Joseph Morgan Henninger was done by John McCormack for a beer ad in the '50's. (partial view)

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Haddon Sundblom - Home in America

Here is one of Sundblom's  Home in America beer ads about 1955.
His broad brush scrubs the light onto the fabric of the clothes and with a warm and cool light source.  Painters like Sargent, Zorn, Sorolla all expressed the form with rich strokes in the right place and careful delineation when needed like in the hands pictured below.

Lush and creamy -

Another of the Home in America series.
I have reduced the illustration into gray scale and rotated it 180 degrees to see the spotting of lights and darks for composition.  You can use this device with your own work to design the composition by first doing several small sketches (thumbnails) in black and white and then playing with them in Photoshop. Then go to a quarter size full color comp.

Haddon Sundblom - Painter - Illustrator

Best known for his Coca-Cola Santa's from the '50's Sundblom had a solid stroke - economical and bravura.
Sargent, Zorn, Sorolla are the lights on this path... more to come on this skilled painter-illustrator.

Tell me a story...

Below is one of the great Christmas Coke ads featuring Santa creamily painted with lush strokes.  click on image to enlarge

Follow the edges both lost and hard that add so much interest to this image.  Hands that are rendered with authority and fur that reads as fur all done with brush size and stroke.

Here is a closer view of how the warm and cool light so often used by the illustrators of the time makes the forms set against the background. The sharp edge contrasting with a soft edge which adds interest. While we're here take a good look at those hands...

In case you are curious as to who posed for this iconic brand label painted by Sundblom look at this photo of Haddon himself.

Next time we will look at some of his "Home in America" series.

Monday, September 7, 2009

John LaGatta at the Art Center

Anyone who has studied with John LaGatta has at least one story.
His method of instruction was strictly old school but wasn't that what you wanted at the time?
The drawing at the right is an example of his 'fine Italian hand' as he liked to call it... John was the first illustrator to crack a million dollars as his sensual drawings of the female form were much in demand by both story and fashion.  He spoke often of completing more that two drawings a day from hired models at $1800 per drawing... remember during the 20's and 30's taxes were no where to be seen.

His painting classes were always formed around a draped model lighted with  warm and cool sources for contrast on the form.  We were expected to have a prepared watercolor stretch with a gray-green half tone over the entire surface. A very careful drawing of the model in charcoal was done on tracing paper and transferred to the prepared stretch.  The medium was gouache.

Here is another example of his work exemplifying his beautiful rendering of  posterior views.  His fellow illustrators of the time affectionately referred to him as the ***man.
John had a very short fuse if he thought you were not following his instructions or "not getting it."  There was a student in one of our classes that John felt was not putting it together and ignoring him. During the break he noticed that the student had an ear piece with a lead to his breast pocket and assumed that he was hard of hearing and apologized. The student confessed that it was a radio and that he was listening to a ball game. LaGatta exploded. After the break we all had a little extra room to work in.

John would often join some of the students for coffee before classes and talk about anything and everything. He would roll a cigarette in wheat straw paper and get into some deep discussion or not depending on the day...
One morning I brought my Basset hound in to pose in one of the other classes as he was very accommodating... you could twist him into almost any position and he would remain there.  John just stared down at the dog for the longest time while rolling one of his yellow papered sigs and finally looked up at me and said "God must have been at the beach the day that this dog came into being designed. His head is too big for his body, his legs are too short, his ears are too long, his tail makes no sense..This is with out a doubt the ugliest thing I have ever seen. A design disaster."  "Sir" I replied, "You are defaming the dog I love"..

Here is a drawing by Laura Edwards of Sweetwater and myself done I believe with a sharpened popsicle stick, India ink and wash for one of the night classes.

The original Sweetwater circa '61

Sunday, September 6, 2009

John LaGatta Illustrator and Teacher

More of John LaGatta's drawing shows in the lovely hands and clinging folds of the models dress.

The drawing again describes so well the material and form.

John LaGatta