Friday, May 6, 2016

Harold Speed on Pigments

Welcome to the GJ Book Club. Today we'll cover pages 227-237 of the chapter on "Materials," from Harold Speed's 1924 art instruction book Oil Painting Techniques and Materials.

I'll present Speed's main points in boldface type either verbatim or paraphrased, followed by my comments. If you want to add a comment, please use the numbered points to refer to the relevant section of the chapter.

In this section of the chapter, Speed discusses the pigments available to artists in his day.

Portrait by Harold Speed
1. Permanency: "The oils and mediums used, and repainting before the under coat is thoroughly dry are much more the usual causes of lack of permanency [than the pigments] in modern painting." 
I hadn't heard this before. Also, when he talks about permanency, I wonder if he means lightfastness or stability/cracking of the emulsion.

2. "The fewest colors possible should always be used."
This in contradiction to the usual advice to have a warm and cool red, warm and cool blue, plus earth colors, etc. Speed goes on to say: "The more brilliant colours have a fascination for the young students. Prone to messy handling and dirty brushes, they rush to the brighter pigments in the hope of getting themselves out of a mess; whereas with cleaner handling what is wanted could better be got by simple earth colours, the use of which gives one an excellent training in clean handling. The fine, dignified colouring of a Titian, or, among the moderns, a Watts, is greatly due to their extensive use of earth colours."

3. Flake (lead) white: more crisp, better body than zinc. Blackens when exposed to sulpheretted hydrogen" from gaslight. 
Zinc White: shower at drying.
Speed describes titanium white as a "new white, said to be permanent, that has recently been discovered."

4. Earth colors are permanent with good body.  He says: "Always do as much as you can with earth colors, especially early in the early stages of a picture."
I agree. Best to stay restrained in chroma and value in the underpainting, and save punch for final painting.

5. Ivory black
Safe, but slow drier. You can use an accelerator like copal to speed it up. Use for rich shadows. Good to have a blue-black to and to use warm and cool blacks.

6. Notes on specific pigments
Yellow ochre. Useful. Can mix with cadmium to brighten.
Terra vert. Olive green, good permanency, poor body. Good for modifying reds in flesh. Used by early painters for underpaintings.
Cadmium Yellows. He raises permanence issues, but I believe they have been settled in the pigments' favor according to modern manufacturing standards.
Emerald Oxide of Chromium. Speed recommends care because it's dangerous in the sense of being a strong acid color that can overpower a painting.
Madder reds. Again Speed cautions against intense red pigments in inexperienced hands, and he hadn't even seen the quinacridones and the naphthols invented after his day.
Alizarins. Modern substitutes are more permanent.
Rose doré. Good tinting strength.
Vermilion. He recognizes that the traditional pigment turns black (and is toxic).
Cobalt blue. "most useful blue on the palette."
French ultramarine. Best for dark shadows. Permanent. Not as opaque as cobalt.
Cyanine blue. Mixture of cobalt and Prussian.
Cobalt green. "beautiful opaque blue-green."
Cerulean blue. "opaque blue of lighter tone." Good in tints.
Lemon Yellow. "pale brilliant yellow of very light tone."

Next week—We'll continue with brushes on page 237.
In its original edition, the book is called "The Science and Practice of Oil Painting." Unfortunately it's not available in a free edition, but there's an inexpensive print edition that Dover publishes under a different title "Oil Painting Techniques and Materials (with a Sargent cover)," and there's also a Kindle edition.
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Article in Fine Art Connoisseur

There's a new article posted on my work in Fine Art Connoisseur's online magazine. "Windows to a Forgotten World."

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Kickstarting the ArtOrder Invitational

How would you like a private look into the creative journals of all your favorite concept artists and fantasy painters? Award-winning art director Jon Schindehette is kickstarting an art book with work by artists from a variety of backgrounds.

Each artist gets a spread, and they can combine words and images any way they want. Here's the spread by Spectrum Grand Master Gerald Brom.

This one is by John Harris. The goal is to give everyone a chance to lure the viewer into their own creative vortex.

My spread has the sketches and ideas that led up to the giant robot painting "Aftermath."

Participating artists include Iain McCaigAllen WilliamsLaurie Lee BromGerald BromSean MurrayKarla OrtizSterling HundleyCraig Elliott Bill Carman,Jon Foster Ron Lemen Vanessa Lemen Mark A. Nelson Tony DiTerlizzi Filippo Vanzo, John-Paul Balmet Petar Meseldzija, Rob Rey Stephanie Law Reiko Murakami John Picacio Kinuko Craft, Alyssa Winans, Andrea Sipl, John Harris, Bastien Lecouffe Deharme, Bud Cook, Chuck Lucacs, Elizabeth Leggett, Eva Widermann, Filippo Vanzo, Galen Dara Smith, Grahame Baker Smith,George Pratt, Henrik Uldalen, Ian Miller, J.A.W. Cooper, Jessica Shirley, Kelly McKernan, Micah Epstein, Mike Yamada, Nekro, Richard Anderson, Rob Rey, Rovina Cai, Samuel Araya, Sho Murase, Stephanie Pui-Mun Law, Tommy Arnold, Tooba Rezaei, Tracy Lewis, Tuna Bora, Yukari Masuike, and me—and that's not even everybody.

Jon is doing this to benefit the artists and to give the backers a thing of true beauty and mystery.
This is the kick-ass campaign that you'll be glad you kickstarted, and if you miss out, you'll kick yourself later.

ArtOrder Invitational on Kickstarter

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

A Guy in Old San Juan

A while back I'm sketching on the street in San Juan, Puerto Rico, not far from a fancy hotel. A guy wearing old clothes comes up and sits quietly near me. 

We don't talk much at first. But after a while he tells me he's an artist, too. I ask if I can sketch him, and he says, sure. He says he played bass in all the jazz clubs from New York to New Orleans. 

This is the kind of spontaneous encounter that I'll be documenting in my next video called "Portraits in the Wild," which should be finished in a month or so.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

The Chromolithographs of Fidelia Bridges

Fidelia Bridges (1834-1923) was one of the few commercially successful female artists of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. She was a student of William Trost Richards, who encouraged her to paint detailed views of nature. 

Her sensibilities resonated with the newly emerging technology of color printing, called chromolithography, published in the form of album cards and greeting cards by Louis Prang. 

Album cards were treasured color images intended to be glued into a scrap book.

Bridges was influenced by Pre-Raphaelite art and Japanese prints. Often the scenes included a foreground bush or tree with a couple of birds, with a landscape view visible beyond.

These prints were immensely popular, and made her famous and well compensated, though some people in the day complained of the prints being overly saturated with color.

There's a chapter on chromolithography and the art of the late 19th century in the book The Artist's Garden: American Impressionism and the Garden Movement
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Monday, May 2, 2016

Meissonier's "The Smoker"

Jean-Louis-Ernest Meissonier The Smoker (A Man of the First Empire), 1873.
Watercolor and gouache on paper. Overall: 13 7/8 x 8 5/8 in. (35.2 x 22 cm
In this small painting, Meissonier shows an approach to water media that would make sense to an oil painter.

Meissonier. Approximately actual size
The lights are built up over a warm middle tone paper. The light tones are scumbled over the background, leaving little pits of darker tone. The face and hands are carefully modeled. You can feel the bones underneath the skin. The edges of the lapel and the hat are grease-stained and frayed, as befits an old outmoded soldier from Bonaparte's era.

The highlights on the pipe are very small, considering that the whole painting is the size of a piece of legal-size paper. Watercolor with gouache can be precise and highly descriptive if you take your time.
Download the large size file of the painting