Saturday, July 22, 2017

Artist of the Month: Frederic Church

-By William O’Connor



Almost ten years ago I moved with my family to live on the Hudson River about 20 miles north of Manhattan. As an artist I was immediately struck by the beauty of the river and came to realize the extensive artistic heritage of the Hudson. This week I was finally able to realize an item on my art wish list and took a trip up the river to visit the historic Olana Estate, the home of 19th century American Master of the Hudson River School Frederic Church (1826-1900).

Many times in the past in this series I have talked about the tumultuous events of the 19th century, Romanticism, The Industrial Revolution and the Victorian era. The social, political and subsequently artistic changes were radical. Most of the posts I have written however have looked at this change from the European perspective. By looking at Church we can see the same changes reflected by the American artist. Church’s career encapsulates the most revolutionary generation in American history, stretching from a pre-Civil War agrarian society, to a trans continental superpower in less than 40 years.

Church was born into a traditional monied family in rural Connecticut before steam locomotives began to transform New England. As a young man Church became the pupil of Thomas Cole, a British landscape painter who founded the Hudson River School. Cole’s Romantic style (like Friedrich, Martin  or Turner -click on link to see those Artist of the Month’s) exalted and celebrated in the power of nature over man. The landscape painting became the source by which an artist could pay homage to the beauty of God’s creation. Under Cole’s tutelage Church adopted this Romantic style.

In 1861 America underwent a violent transformation. The industrial revolution pushed the traditionally agrarian nation to a breaking point as to what kind of country it would be in the future. An expanding, modern world power, or a traditional farming society. The American Civil War separates America’s 19th century experience from that of its European counterparts by catapulting the nation into industrial superpower status practically overnight. Less than four years after the end of the war the transcontinental railroad is completed; before the end of the century the United States will double in population (30 million to 60 million) and would add a dozen new stars to its flag. Expansion and growth socially, technologically, societally and of course artistically were transforming the nation at an unimaginable speed.

Church was as transformed by the war as the country. Before the war he had traveled extensively to Europe and South America to study the majestic landscapes, most famously for his painting “The Heart of the Andes” 1859. At ten feet wide it was a work so meticulously detailed that it served as a botanical guide, and so luminous it was presented to the public like a modern day blockbuster film, with audiences queuing to get a look at the famous painting with opera glasses at a railing, as if gazing out a picture window.  The sale of paintings like Heart of the Andes and others made Church famous and rich.

Only a few years after the war Church began the Olana estate on the Hudson in the very region where he had studied with Thomas Cole. Church, the Hudson River School and the American Frontier had become a powerful brand. The American vista had become something to claim as America's Manifest Destiny. Whereas in Europe artists were depicting their imperial legacy with Victorian paintings of  Roman bath houses and picturesque landscapes of ruins and cathedrals, in America the landscape was its legacy, its panoramic natural splendor was its cathedral bequeathed to a fledgling empire by God. American Nationalism was tied to its landscape with Church and other contemporary artists like Albert Beirstadt painting a bright future written across the sky (literally and figuratively). In his later years Church's artistic output diminished and the Hudson Valley School went out of style sending Church into semi retirement. After his death large landscape paintings fell out of fashion for most of the twentieth century. Today a renaissance of academic 19th century art has renewed interest in The Hudson River School and Frederick Church leaving an artistic legacy uniquely American.

For those artists, and art aficionados, living or visiting the American East Coast and New York City, I highly recommend the artist’s trail along the Hudson River, from the Brooklyn Museum, to the Hudson River Museum  in Yonkers, up to Storm King Art Center  in New Windsor, NY, The Dia Museum  in Beacon and up to Olana Mansion in Hudson NY.

Get out there and explore!

Enjoy

WOC

Below is a selection of Church paintings as well as a link to the photos of my trip to Olana State Historic Mansion

"The Heart of the Andes" 1859

"Aurora Borealis" 1865




"Niagra Falls, from the American Side" 1867

"Olana" 1870


Friday, July 21, 2017

Tadema and the Victorian Obsession

--by Howard Lyon

Last week there was a post by Dan Dos Santos about a new Alma-Tadema exhibit at the Leighton House in London. Tadema is one of my all time favorites and I hope to be able to make it to the show. There is no substitute for seeing the original, but if we can't make it there, major exhibitions usually come with high quality books and reproductions made from excellent photography.

After seeing the post I went in search of the book that would accompany the show and I found it.  It does not disappoint. It is a nice sized book with excellent reproductions and some large prints.  The text of the book is excellent as well, showing the arc of Tadema's career and how he influenced other artists of his time. We also get some insights into his working methods and family.  I can't recommend the book enough if you are at all a fan of this amazing artist.



Here is a flip-through of the book:


You can order the book on Amazon here: Lawrence Alma-Tadema: At Home in Antiquity


I found another book while in France at the Musee D'Orsay bookshop.  I couldn't find the book in english in the shop, but a quick search on Amazon dug one up.  The prices are all over the place, which suggests that the supply is limited and when it is gone, the book may be in high demand.  The book catalogs another Leighton House show.  This time it is the collection of Pérez Simón who loves the late 19th century Victorian artists.  This is another fantastic book with a great variety of artists represented.  Tadema is again a well represented, but so are Waterhouse, Godward, Leighton, Millais, Poynter and many other greats.




Here is another flip through:



And you can get this one on Amazon as well: A Victorian Obsession

It is limited in supply, though there are a dozen or so copies below $40 as of this writing.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Center It! (or, Why a Good Illustration Doesn't Automatically Make a Good Book Cover, pt.1)

By Lauren Panepinto
  
I look at a lot of portfolios, and in almost every review, the artist asks me whether their work is suitable for book covers. Sometimes a gorgeous portfolio just doesn't have the "book cover feel" I need to commission them. There's a lot of reasons why a good illustration may not be a good book cover. Remember most of all, a book cover is advertising first, art second. As painful as that simple fact may be to us on the artist side of the spectrum, that fact is undeniable: An "ugly" book cover that is a bestseller is more successful than a "beautiful" one that sells half as many copies. Now of course, those are subjective values, and I'm exaggerating. As an Art Director, one of the main responsibilities I have is to balance the Artist's priority (make a gorgeous portfolio piece) with the Author/Editor's priority (sell books), and that can lead to choices that make business sense but not aesthetic sense (ex: making the type bigger and as a result covering more of the art).

Remember, there are creatives on both sides of this equation. Artists on one, and Authors on the other. And I want to do my best job for both. After all, more books sold means more paying work for both the author and the artist. (And, bonus, it keeps your Art Director employed.)

In most bookstores, you're lucky if you get a cover-out spot, instead of just a spine-out.

Anyway back to the point. A cover sells the book in a way that concept art, interior illustrations, and gaming art really doesn't have to. A good book cover needs to be eye-catching more than it needs to be beautiful, because book covers exist in a highly competitive and overwhelming visual market. A viewer of a table or bookshelf at a bookstore only has half a second tops to scan past a cover, and it's even less on websites.

So what do I look for? (given that skill level is suitable)
—Simple compositions, usually with the Important Thing in the center
Visual Hierarchy, with a strong focal point
—Control of the viewer's eye path thru secondary focal points
—Strong silhouettes and graphic use of negative space (because that reads really well small)

Extra Credit: Depicting common genre checkpoints in a fresh way

Covers need to be visually interesting in thumbnail size too. You don't necessarily need to be able to see exactly what's going on, but your eye is drawn to strong colors, shapes, and silhouettes at this scale.

I think I can probably do a post on each one. I probably should. I already did one on Visual Hierarchy. So let's pick off an easy one, something that I see mishandled in a lot of student and young professional's portfolios: Simple, centered compositions.

Now I'm not talking about compositions that are off-center for a definite compositional reason. Again, if you've nailed the visual hierarchy and eye flow path, then you don't need to center the composition. I'm talking about the off-center for no reason compositions. The ones where, if I ask why the character wasn't centered, I get a shrug at best. At worst, I've heard fresh grads state their teachers told them never to center a character or composition because it was too simple. So I end up seeing a lot of illustrations that just look...mis-cropped. They're not off-center enough to look deliberate. They're just...slightly enough off-center to look like a mistake.

Look I don't want to shame anyone's wishy-washy compositions here, so instead I'm going to show you a whole bunch of covers below that are solidly centered. And I'm going to challenge you, next time you're in a book store, or browsing online, go find an illustrated book cover where the composition isn't centered. Not too easy, is it? And the ones that are off-center, I bet the type takes over the role of center focal point. That's most of the big epic fantasy landscape covers right there.

So the moral of the story is, if you don't have a deliberate reason to have an off-center composition, then just own it. Center that character! Center that planet! Center that giant space slug! (or whatever). Trust me, as I am the one hiring book cover artists all the time. It's not "too easy". It's not "cheating". It's not "playing it safe". When in doubt, just center it.

Jaime Jones

Greg Manchess

Dan Dos Santos

Sam Weber

Victor Mosquera

Richard Anderson

Sam Weber

Dominick Saponaro

Ben Zweifel





Wednesday, July 19, 2017

SmArtSchool Class with Greg Manchess, Sept. 2017

-By Greg Manchess


My SmArt School class starts up again in September!

The images you see here are examples of demonstration pieces I do live during the semester. As we progress through the assignments, students usually have questions regarding certain media, especially oil painting since that is my main focus. But not everyone is working in oils. Some are painting in watercolor, some gouache, and of course, many are painting digitally.

If you thought that digital painting would be frowned on in my class, reconsider. I train that a well-rounded artist should be able to control all forms of media. Having those skills allows an artist to gain a wider range of affect and a broader ability to communicate visually.

All pigment is practically the same anyway. It’s just the binder that makes the difference, and understanding how those binders work for the pigment is the important thing to grasp. From there it’s focused manipulation of those media that one trains for. Digital painting still needs an in-depth understanding of texture, readily apparent in traditional media, to imbue a painting with character.

I recently had a student ask about working with gouache for their assignment. So this demo of Wonder Woman was executed in gouache so we could all observe and talk about working with it. Many think it’s oil. But that’s knowing how to stretch and pull your capabilities to be able to work in many techniques.



I focus on composition skills in my classes a lot. Composition is story-telling and good composition will get your work attention. It all starts with a small rectangle on paper. We talk at length about getting your ideas on paper, about how an artist thinks on paper, and the best way to do that is with a good pencil.

Everything comes from that thumbnail, that pencil skill, alone. Even if you work digitally. Advanced pencil skills are necessary for giving your work life. Class discussions are about getting your ideas to grab a viewer and hold them.



My assignments are mostly based on where you want to take your work, with much attention paid to next steps for your portfolio. We go over business practices and chat about building a book, and ways to attain a look for it.

There are no magic pills, no smoke and mirrors, no tricks. Talent is definitely unnecessary for reaching a level of proficiency in painting. My class is a guide toward reaching those goals after the semester. We look at practical methods for training and gaining usable visual skills, built from real-world experience.


Tuesday, July 18, 2017

John Bauer

By Justin Gerard


I was sitting in my Doomsday bunker today, sipping cold coffee and admiring my bear-proof suit when I thought to myself, "It's high time we had a post on John Bauer around here."

Sure, Bauer's name has been mentioned on Muddycolors before, but his art has never had its day in the sun. So today I am dusting off a copy of Swedish Folk Tales and cracking open the fallout doors to share some really wonderful trolls with you.


Looking at Bauer's work, one might reasonably think that it was all pure escapist imagination. Yet much of it was based on the real world study of mankind and of nature grounding his highly imaginative work in reality.

At 22 he journeyed to Lappland, which in 1904 was an exotic wilderness to him. He was commissioned by industrial developers to paint watercolors of the Sami people and their culture to send back to people in Stockholm. While there Bauer took notes, photographs and made sketches, detailing the landscape and the curious people he encountered there. This real-world study would influence his work throughout his career and would impart solid earth beneath the magic in his illustrations.

Few artists have truly captured the magic and mystery of the forest like John Bauer. Who knows what lurks in the darkness beyond those trees? Or beneath that water or under that stone? His art has a wonderful quality that draws you out into the world, instead of encouraging you to retreat from it.



He makes the forest seem a precious and magical place. Which is interesting considering that he was originally commissioned to document these places by people who sought only to exploit it for natural resources.



While Bauer's work feels very classical and a product of the Golden Age of Illustration, it continues to be quite popular, inspiring artists to this day. His paintings have gone for as much as $87,000 at auctions in recent years and his books still being reprinted more than a hundred years later.


Fellow Muddycolors contributor Cory Godbey visited the John Bauer Museum in Jönköping, Sweden  a few years back. He gives a brief video tour of it here.





I hope you've enjoyed this little tour of John Bauer's work. I'm going back to my bunker now where its safe from all the things that come out after dark around here.


Link to higher resolution files on Wikimedia: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/John_Bauer
Link to the collection on Project Runeberg: http://runeberg.org/jbauer/
Link to Swedish Folk Tales on Amazon: http://a.co/7Zxe1R6

Monday, July 17, 2017

Painting on the Go

-By Jesper Ejsing


I am out at the tip of Britannia, in Cornwall to be precise. Together with my family I have rented a small 300 old fishing cottage in a town called Port Isaac. It is a very picturesque area.

Before leaving I packed up some paint to paint some landscapes ”on –the go”. I heard from Nathan Fowkes that he was using watercolours from tubes and then adding them to white gouache to make it thick and covering like acrylics. So I bought a starter set of watercolour tubes and a white gouache, a flat brush and threw it in a plastic bag.

Also I had seen him using a sketchbook with brown dusted paper and I just bought one like that. Not because I thought it had any value except for the artsy feeling it would impose on my sketches done in it. But that sketchbook I hadn’t touched since, because the trip in which I bought it was together with the great Karl Kopinski, and he had, as a friendly gesture made a very very nice drawing in the first page to “break it in”. In reality it had me scared like hell. Every time I opened it to start sketching Kopinskis super “Directly with black marker” drawing looking intimidating out at me. And on top of that: Brown arty paper. I threw that book into the suitcase also. “Haa, Karl, I am doing something completely different than you now. No figures, no cool mean looking characters, just landscapes”.


Here you can see some of the landscapes I did while traveling.

I was right away happy that the paper was not white. It works fantastically with a brown muted down surface when you paint opaque. So my childish insecure and completely private and secret urge to spite Karl Kopinski became a happy accident.


One thing I learned and that I have thought about will be the one thing I take home from this trip is this: The less preparation and packing in and out you have to do to start painting the easier it is. I started having everything I needed in one small plastic bag in my backpack, all the time. The water bottle for drinking was also the water I used for painting. The tissue papers the palette (A small plastic one) and the book. It was always in the backpack.

And this is also why I see the gouache and the small tubes of watercolour to be perfect medium for this. It takes up almost no space and is light and easy to carry around. It meant that I could pull it all out in less than 30 seconds and start painting when the light was right or if I sat down to rest in the middle of a hike.

It sounds like an indifferent thing and to some it might be no point at all, but I struggle with this a lot. I always have 2 voices in my head. One saying “ you should paint now, and draw something now, you lazy bastard. Why are you just sitting here? You could be drawing to become better? All the time! You are lazy you will never improve by not doing anything” this voice is not a happy voice. It is my bad conscience and a voice that will never really let me relax. I do not like that voice but I have learned to live with it.

The other voice says stuff like: you do not have to paint all the time. Just relax, enjoy nature, play some games? You should make a cup of coffee and watch a movie”, but 5 minutes into that and the other voice starts calling me a lazy bastard again and the hamster wheel keeps spinning.


What I am trying to say here is that I struggle with the ability to actually just enjoying the painting just for fun or just for nothing else but the joy of painting. It always has to be for a specific purpose. I sketch figures at a café to be better at drawing real people. I paint trees to be better at trees in a fantasy background; I try to capture clouds so I can use them for setting in a dragon painting. To be honest it is just yet another pressure, And yet another purpose. Something you do to improve something else and not just for its own sake.

It was with that in mind I sat out to do these small landscape paintings in my vacation. And I have to say I had fun without any kind of pressure to accomplice anything. And the most important part of that was the setup. I did not relied on an easel of palette setup in acrylic or oil. The gear allowed me to keep it fun and spontaneous. I think I will carry this setup with me from now on till the book is full. Even when I get back home. To do a small painting on my way to the studio when the light is right.

Lets face it. If it’s not fun it is something you set yourself up to. And I do not want to set myself up to something I love as much as painting.


When I was painting this one, I was down by the Harbour. I got the paints out and sat my backpack down by the sand and climbed the rocks to get a good position. When i was almost done and was working on the cliff to the left in the foreground I spotted something big and green in the corner of my eye floating on the waves in from of me: my backpack. The tide had taken it within just ten minutes. I jumped in and got my wallet and everything in it back to shore...