Friday, July 29, 2016

Menzel the Sketcher


Adolph Menzel’s drawing supplies accompanied him everywhere, whether on a short walk or a long journey. He was always prepared to draw. One of his overcoats had eight pockets, each filled with sketchbooks of different sizes. 

On the lower left side of his coat was an especially large pocket which held a leather case with a big sketchbook, some pencils, a couple of shading stumps, and a gum eraser. 

Bärtiger Mann herabblickend [Bearded man, looking down]. 1887.
Carpenter’s pencil on paper. 20.8 x 12.8 cm. [8.2 x 5 in.] GSS 


His personal motto was “Nulla dies sine linea” (”Not a day without aline”). He drew ambidextrously, alternating between the left and the right, sometimes on the same drawing. 

If he was ever caught without drawing paper, he sketched on whatever was available, even a formal invitation to a court ball. Whenever he was spotted at a social event, the whispered word went abroad that “Menzel is lurking about.” 

Zeichender Junge, am Tisch [Boy drawing at a table]. 1837.
Pencil. 16.6 x 10.3 cm. [6.5 x 4.1 in.] KK.
Copyright © bpk/ Kupferstichkabinett/SMB 

He was known to interrupt an important gathering by pulling out his sketchbook, sharpening his pencil, casting an eye around the room, and focusing on a coat, a chair, or a hand. This sometimes brought the proceedings to a halt until he finished. 

He preferred to draw people unawares, often catching them in unflattering moments of eating, gossiping, or dozing. Once his friend Carl Johann Arnold awoke from a nap to find the artist busily drawing his portrait. “You just woke up five minutes too early,” Menzel told him. 
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This is an excerpt from the Introduction of my new book on Dover. It contains 130 images, including 32 pages of color. Note: the listing on Amazon shows the incorrect cover.

Here's the link if you'd like to order a signed copy from my website store (I can ship to addresses in the USA only because of the high shipping rates overseas, sorry). If it's a gift book and you want me to sign it to someone it particular, just make a note on the order form.

Adolph Menzel: Drawings and Paintings from JamesGurney.com

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Menzel Book Now Available

I'm pleased to announce that my new book on Adolph Menzel is now available, and you can get a signed copy today.

This art book collects the best of his drawings, watercolors, pastels, and gouaches, many of which have never been published before.

Adolph Menzel (1815-1905) exhibited tremendous powers of observation and an interest in a wide range of subjects.


Bildnis Friederike Arnold [Portrait of Friederike Arnold]. 1847.
Pastel, highlighted with Chinese white on brown paper. 45.2 x 24.5 cm. [17.8 x 13.6 in.] GSS
Menzel drew and painted everything—people, animals, architecture, and landscapes. His drawings and watercolors were revered by contemporary realists for their truth to nature and technical accomplishment.

He was also a master of historical illustration, and this collection includes some of the best examples of his imaginative realism.
Halberstadt, Dom: Blick auf das Chorgestühl. [Halberstadt, Cathedral: view of the choir stalls].
1850/1864. Pencil and watercolor. 20.3 x 11.5 cm [8 x 4.5 in.] KK.
Copyright © bpk/ Kupferstichkabinett/SMB
The book has been over four years in the making. It took a long time to get the rights cleared.

I selected the drawings and paintings in this volume from vast archives of his work (he was extremely prolific), and I also wrote the introduction. I was lucky to have the help of my Berlin friend Christian Schlierkamp, who, along with Christoph Heuer, interviewed top Menzel scholars, translated journals and letters, and went to the museums there to locate unusual works that hadn't been published before.

The book also includes two short essays by leading Menzel scholars Claudia Czok and Claude Keisch, who describes Menzel's studio in detail.

The publisher is Dover, and they did a fine job reproducing the art from high resolution files taken from the original art.


The result is a labor of love that we are very proud of. This is the finest collection in print of the drawings and watercolors of an unjustly overlooked artist. It contains 130 images, including 32 pages of color. Note: the listing on Amazon shows the incorrect cover.

Here's the link if you'd like to order a signed copy from my website store (USA only, sorry). Adolph Menzel: Drawings and Paintings, Introduction by James Gurney, and signed by the Editor. The first 30 copies ordered will be signed by both me and my co-editor Christian Schlierkamp.

Edit: Here's a well-illustrated video biography with German voiceover (link to YouTube) Thanks, Vanessa!

I'll share excerpts from my introduction over the next week or so.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Paramount Lighting

Paramount lighting is a lighting setup where a strong key light is placed directly in front of the subject with a slight downward angle, lighting the subject evenly from in front.

Marlene Dietrich, source Pinterest
It got its name from the classic glamour shots of Hollywood celebrities like Marlene Dietrich, who insisted on it. It's also called butterfly lighting because the shadow under the nose looks like a butterfly.

If the model is looking right at you, you need to have the light on an extension arm so that the light pole isn't blocking your line of sight. The diffusion on the key light can vary depending on the effect you want. Sometimes you need a softbox or a reflector as a fill light to reduce the harshness of the shadows.

Paramount or butterfly lighting off-angle Source: Zealfaith
It's still Paramount lighting if the subject is looking off to the side. Paramount lighting emphasizes the cheekbones and can be both flattering and dramatic.

Question for discussion: Do any art schools teach courses on lighting for artists? It seems like a basic thing all artists should know, but in my experience, photographers know this stuff, but most artists don't.
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Related Posts on Portrait Lighting:

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Guinea Fowl and Donkeys

Guinea fowl keets, watercolor, 5 x 8 inches
Over in the barn, they've got another load of hay into the loft. The guinea fowl hatchlings (called keets) have moved into a larger enclosure. Peanut and the other donkeys got their summer haircuts. They spend these hot days in their barn stalls cooling off in front of the fans.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Ten Tips for Better Brushstrokes

Over on my Instagram page, Sean Walsh asks: "What are some tips for getting better with brushstrokes? Yours are so deliberate and telling. They do so much despite having almost no detail. Is it a "better with practice" sorta thing or is it something you've focused on specifically?"

Thanks, Sean, and those are good questions. Here are ten tips.



1. Mix plenty of paint
If you prepare plenty of paint on the palette, you're more likely to use it. Sometimes a big, juicy stroke full of paint is what you need for a passage. With oil, do this mixing with the palette knife before the painting session. You'll save yourself a huge amount of time, and it will triple your painting speed. Here I'm loosely mixing value strings of green, gray-violet, and orange.

2. Use it thinly, too
Although thick, generous paint is attractive, also be ready to use the paint thinly and delicately. Have a tiny brush for extremely delicate details. Have a soft blender to blur out some areas. Rarely should a painting be covered equally with thick paint strokes. Variety of handling is almost always desirable.

3. Variety of brushes
Use a lot of different brushes: big ones, small ones, synthetics, natural fibers, stiff ones, soft ones, flats, filberts, new brushes, and old splayed out brushes. Experiment with them all and get to know what you can do with them. With old brushes you can push and pound with them (moving the brush in the direction of the brush tip) as well as the typical movement of gently stroking away from the tip.

4. Big brushes
Before you start painting, select a family of brushes that you expect will do the job. Five or six will often be enough for a given painting. They should range from large to small. But for any given passage, choose the biggest brush you can get away with for that passage.


5. Don't forget the painting knife
The painting knife is useful not just for mixing paint, but also for applying it. Use it for troweling on paint and for dropping in random textures. Here I'm dragging dark paint over a dry underpainting, so I can pull it over the bumpy underpainting. I can get textures this way that I could never get by diligently painting stroke by stroke.

6. Scratch through
Don't forget that you can scratch through the wet paint with the tip of your brush handle. This works with wet oil paint. Scratching through is a good way to sign an alla prima painting. (An alla prima painting is executed from start to finish all in one session.)


7. Use the edges and corners
Flat brushes are really three or four brushes in one. The knifelike edge can give you thin lines or hairs, and you can use the corners for details that are smaller than the width of the brush. Filberts were invented because they have advantages of both flats and rounds.

8. Make every stroke count
There's no formula for good technique, but most often it comes from a sense of urgency and economy. Use whichever touches convey the most information about your subject with the least effort. That doesn't mean you have to be hasty and loose, but rather that you think before you mix and apply paint. Great painters of the past have often been described as holding their brushes above the canvas deliberatively before going in for the stroke.



9. Better with practice 
Yes, it gets better with practice. The best kind of practice is painting from living subjects in changing light, because the dynamics and risk adds more focus than you're going to get under controlled studio conditions.

The deliberate, thoughtful but efficient stroke-by-stroke consciousness becomes second nature as you focus more attention on the subject rather than on the surface features of your painting. Think how economical and automatic your movements are when you wash dishes or tie your shoes. That's the way you want your brushwork to be. Your brushwork should be deliberate and controlled, but occasionally wild and impetuous.

10. The test of good technique
As you paint, your ultimate goal is to think beyond the strokes, the way a race driver is thinks about the line they're taking on the turn, not about how they're holding the steering wheel. Try to think as much as you can about the thing you're painting and how its made and how the light is playing on it. If you can do that and reach for the brushes more unconsciously, you'll be more likely to make the brushstrokes less attention-getting.

So, what's the test of good technique? Ideally the viewer shouldn't notice it. Rather, their awareness should be directed to features of your picture that are on a higher level, like the light, mood, or story.
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The images in this post are from my tutorial video Tyrannosaurs: Behind the Art, which demonstrates oil painting techniques and brushwork in the context of reconstructing extinct dinosaurs.

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Sunday, July 24, 2016

Norman Teeling Painting on Location


Dublin artist Norman Teeling (born 1944) describes the experience of painting on location. "When I paint a picture," he say, "I want to be elevated, I want to escape from the mundane and enter a world of the romantic whether it be an interior or a landscape."
Thanks, Garin.