Thursday, May 21, 2015

Urban Sketchers, Montreal

Yesterday we painted in Montreal's Chinatown with the Urban Sketchers group.

We met at Place Sun-Yat-Sen, facing the East Gate. I used gouache, dramatizing the lighting a little to spotlight just part of the face of the main building.

There were four of us painting next to each in one small cluster, and it was fun swapping sketching stories with each other and chatting with the people who were passing by. 

The photo is by Urban Sketcher correspondent Shari Blaukopf. Have a look at her painting on her daily sketchblog.

Afterward, we had a congenial supper together. Clockwise from left: Blue, Elise, Marc Holmes, his wife Laurel, Shari Blaukopf, Jeanette, Ubisoft art director Raphael Lacoste, and Chantal.

After the meal, I drew this little portrait of Raphael Lacoste.

Since we were all sketching at the table, we attracted the attention of a couple of very observant girls at the table next to us, so I invited them over to try out some water-soluble colored pencils and to watch a little demo on how to make something look 3D.

P.S. Yes, we saw the Benjamin-Constant exhibition! I'll post about it on Saturday.
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Urban Sketchers Montreal will meet this Sunday. Anyone is welcome to join them, and here's information about their meet-up. 
Shari Blaukopf's sketch blog

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Painting a Pelican at the Pember


Yesterday we stopped at the Pember Museum of Natural History, a collection of old natural history specimens that is still displayed in Victorian-style glass cases.


The small museum is in Granville, New York, near the border with Vermont. They have about 10,000 taxidermy birds, mammals, and insects, as well as birds' eggs, nests, and minerals. 


I painted the American white pelican in watercolor and gouache. The colors were white, ultramarine blue, yellow ochre, and burnt sienna. 


The specimen has the large growths on the top of the beak that occur temporarily during breeding season, which gave me ideas for pterosaurs.


I recommend the museum to artists who want to sketch. Nearly everything is on display. They welcome artists, and they even provide comfortable wood chairs. 

Harvard biologist Stephen Jay Gould wrote about the wonder of the 19th century cabinets of curiosity, and the different assumptions they present about imparting natural history knowledge:
"The display of organisms in these museums rests upon concepts strikingly different from modern practice, but fully consonant with Victorian concerns: Today we tend to exhibit one or two key specimens, surrounded by an odd mixture of extraneous glitz and useful explanation, all in an effort to teach (if the intent be maximally honorable) or simply to dazzle (nothing wrong with that either). The Victorians, who viewed their museums as microcosms for national goals of territorial expansion and faith in progress fueled by increasing knowledge, tried to stuff every last specimen into their gloriously crowded cabinets — in order to show the full range of global diversity. . . . You can put one beetle in a cabinet (usually an enlarged model, and not a real specimen), surround it with fancy computer graphics and pushbutton wwhatzits, and then state that no other group maintains such diversity. Or you can fill the same cabinet with real beetles from each of a thousand different species — all of differing colors, shapes, and sizes — and then state that you have tried to display each kind in the country."
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Pember Museum, Granville, New York.
More about the white pelican on Wikipedia

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Rare Video of Illustrator Arthur William Brown


Here's a rare archival sound film from 1949, showing Golden-Age illustrator Arthur William Brown (1881-1966) as he tells the story of his career and the principles behind his pictures. (Link to YouTube)

He says: "I think I was one of the first to realize the advantages of the camera, whether to get natural attitudes, telling expressions, and quick accidental poses that a model couldn't hold long enough for an artist to get on paper. Today, with a few exceptions, every illustrator uses the camera in some way. We don't copy the photograph. We use it as a guide."

"If I were giving advice, I would say, be sincere in your work. If you admire the work of a great illustrator, learn from him, but don't imitate. You won't last long if you do. And if you really want to be popular, make your girls beautiful. Then you can't miss."

Sorry the quality isn't any better. I added subtitles to make it a little clearer. It has been duplicated a few times, and I'm not sure if the original film even exists.

The footage was shot by Frank Reilly, part of his "Artists at Work" series. According to Reilly himself, the purpose of the film "is to impress upon us the accomplishments of those among us now and to perpetuate their memory for the inspiration of those who are to follow."

If you like this, you might also like the ones on Dean Cornwell and Harvey Dunn
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Wikipedia on Arthur William Brown

Monday, May 18, 2015

Tone Paper Studies

I drew this study from a live model in charcoal and white chalk on brown wrapping paper. It was made in preparation for a National Geographic illustration. 

I drew the study instead of taking a photo because it's faster. In 20 minutes I had all the essential information I needed. Getting a pre-digital photo printed out would have required driving to the one-hour-photo place at the mall or shooting a Polaroid (which I never used). 


Here's a detail of the figure in the final painting, along with other figures that were also based on charcoal studies from models. The model for the guy working the lever on the ground is ski instructor Mike Rogan, back when he was still in high school.

Iron smelting at ancient Populonia, from The Etruscans, National Geographic
Tone paper studies are one of the oldest of old-school methods, and it's still one of my favorite ways to develop reference for multi-figure work, not only because it's efficient, but because it allows me to immediately begin selecting significant details and making a statement. 

Previously: Doing a mirror study for Kushite King
More old-school methods in my book: Imaginative Realism: How to Paint What Doesn't Exist

Sunday, May 17, 2015

H. Septimus Power's Horse Paintings

Septimus Power, The End of the Day
H. Septimus Power (1877-1951) was a New-Zealand-born Australian artist who was always fascinated with horses.

H. Septimus Power, Horse Cart, Watercolor
He got an early job painting animal heads on butchers' delivery vans, and later worked for a veterinarian. 


He studied at the Académie Julian in Paris and then moved to London, exhibiting at the Royal Academy. Arthur Streeton said of him: "One is impressed first by a tremendous display of colour and a dauntless feeling of optimism … He displays remarkable knowledge and vigour in his paintings of animals."

H. Septimus Power, Bringing Up the Guns
In World War I he worked as a war artist, specializing in scenes with horses. The biplane is almost a ghost in the distance.
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Saturday, May 16, 2015

Yakovlev's Citroën Expeditions


 Alexander Yakovlev (1887-1938) Mirza Dolik
One of the works in the upcoming Sotheby's auction of Russian pictures is this portrait by Alexander Yakovlev.

Portrait of Mirza Dolik (detail) 
The drawing is 20 x 14 inches, and it was drawn outdoors from life in 1931 using sanguine and pastel on paper. 


Alexander Yakovlev (also spelled Alexandre Iacovleff or Jacovleff) did the drawing as the official sketch artist of a motorized expedition across Asia.


The vehicle was a Citroën with a half-track in back. It drove across regions of the Asian continent that had no roads and very little petrol. Along the way the motor caravan overcame incredible obstacles, including warriors, mountain passes, and raging rivers.


Yakovlev was born and trained in Russia at the Imperial Academy of Arts under Kardovsky, and he lived later in France and America.

He was involved with two Citroën expeditions through Asia. The team traveled through Syria, Iran, Afghanistan, Mongolia and China. He also went on an expedition through Africa, crossing the Sahara to Equatorial Africa.


His portraits bear the intensity of the encounters between cultures unfamiliar with each other. In many regions, his lifelike portraits provoked awe, and the people seeing such drawings being made regarded him as a form of conjurer.


Alexander Yakovlev Salek Ibn Mohamed 

sanguine and pastel on paper 29x21.5 in.

According to Sotheby's: "The clothes of the present sitter suggest that Salek Ibn Mahomed was a Baghdadi Kurd, a people whose proud and dignified air Yakovlev found very attractive and markedly different to the rather more simple appearance of the Kurdish nomads in the north. ‘If I hadn’t known that the Baghdadi Kurds who came to pose for me were just porters handling supplies for the expedition’ Yakovlev wrote, ‘I could easily have mistaken them for descendants of the princes of One Thousand and One Nights’"

Read More
Alexandre Jacovleff / Alexandre Yevgenievich Jacovleff on  Wikipedia
Sothebys "Russian Pictures," June 2 at Sothebys London
Exhibition catalog with essay
Read a French website about portfolios of these portraits.
Tate Gallery has one of his works
Book: Great Adventures With National Geographic: Exploring Land, Sea, and Sky
Print articles:
"From the Mediteranean to the Yellow Sea by Motor," by Maynard Owen Williams, National Geographic, November 1932 
"Through the Deserts and Jungles of Africa by Motor: Caterpillar Cars Make 15,000-Mile Trip from Algeria to Madagascar in Nine Months," by Georges-Marie Haardt, National Geographic, June 1926.
Related Posts on GJ:
Josep Tapiro's Ethnographic Portraits
Eugene Burnand's World War I Portraits