Sunday, May 20, 2018

How should I paint the light in shadows?

Blog reader Ewan Lamont says: "I need to tell myself to paint the shadows darker than they appear, because the tendency (for me at least) is to overstate the fill and reflected light. John Ruskin noted that the human eye is far more sensitive to light than photographic paper (I am not sure about digital arrays of sensors) and wanted artists to paint what they could see in shadows and which was invisible in the dark shadows of photographs where shaded details did not register. He also deplored the Claude glass for the same reason."

John Sell Cotman, Chirk Aqueduct, 1806-7
Thanks for those interesting thoughts. Ruskin is correct in saying that our eyes can see more light in shadows than cameras can see, especially any cameras that he would have known. 19th century cameras had much less latitude than modern digital cameras are capable of. He's also right that usually we want to avoid indiscriminately copying black shadows in pictures.

But lighting and value organization were never Ruskin's strengths, so I take his opinions about light and shadow with a grain of salt here. I would hesitate to draw any single conclusion about how to treat the light in in the shadows in a picture. There are times you may want to paint shadows black, especially if you want drama. Other times you might want to flood the shadows with variations and bleach the lights. It depends on the nature of the lighting and your goals in a given study or painting.

If my goal in a picture is to capture a sense of light, I'll want to group the shadows and separate them from the lights. I think John Sell Cotman does that beautifully in the painting above. The tones in the shadow are kept together, even though they're not too black. Using a (Claude) Lorrain mirror can help in seeing these tonal relationships. It shows the darks all merged together as a mass -- even though you don't have to paint them as black as you see them.

And look how Cotman unifies the illuminated areas at the base of the aqueduct. It would have been very tempting to put a lot of dark accents and texture into those lights.

Let me leave you with these three suggestions:
1. Paint gives us a very limited scale of values to work with, so management of tone is essential.
2. To achieve a feeling of light, focus on grouping the shadows, simplifying them, and separating them from the lights. 
3. Your reference won't give you the value organization. You have to invent it. It requires a leap of your imagination and a remarkable level of discipline to pull it off. 

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Previously unknown Rembrandt confirmed

Portrait of a Young Gentleman by Rembrandt
A previously unknown painting by Rembrandt van Rijn has been confirmed by experts. When the portrait came up for auction, identified as by the "School of Rembrandt," Dutch art dealer Jan Six suspected it was the real thing. That lace collar was only popular for a couple years, and those years were before Rembrandt's style was influential.

"Portrait of a young Gentleman is the first unknown painting by the Dutch master to turn up in 44 years and takes his total known painting oeuvre to 342, the NRC reported on Tuesday. Six bought the work 18 months ago at an auction at Christie’s in London on a hunch. He paid the equivalent of €156,000 for the portrait, which is undated and unsigned but which was probably painted in 1634. The portrait, measuring 94.5 cm by 73.5 cm, was sold by a British family who had had the painting in their possession for at least six generations. Six worked with Rijksmuseum experts to authenticate the work, and argues that the primer, pigments, brush strokes and method of composition all point to it being by Rembrandt."
Read more at DutchNews

Friday, May 18, 2018

Will that van stay parked?

It's grocery day, so while Jeanette does the hunting and gathering, I am out in the parking lot scouting for a new slice of ordinariness.

Here's a short video (link to video on Facebook).

I use two tripods, one for the sketch easel, and the other for the camera, which is held out on an extension bar. The camera I'm using is a Canon EOS M6 mirrorless, which has a built in time lapse function.

Here's my setup (product links below). The casein underpainting color is just a random page; I didn't paint it for this particular composition. I just like to have a few pre-primed page in the book. The priming gives unexpected energy to the colors.

The sky is overcast, making the sky flat and nearly white. With overcast lighting, there's no clear light side or shadow side. On the van, the planes that face more upward receive more light from the sky and are therefore lighter. I liked the fact that the white on the hood of the van was the brightest white in the composition.
The brushes are from a pocket travel brush set and I'm painting in a Pentalic Aqua Journal with gouache over the casein underpainting. Everything is attached to the homebuilt sketch easel. I made a video explaining how to make one.
Full-length painting tutorials on GouacheCasein, and Watercolor.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Painting in the Ghibli Style

Here are two videos that demonstrate some gouache techniques resembling those used in background paintings for Miyazaki's Studio Ghibli.

The first is by Osamu Masuyama, a background artist on Spirited Away, Ponyo, and Howl's Moving Castle, doing a demonstration at a university. (Link to YouTube)

He pre-mixes four colors before starting on the sky: a lighter and darker blue for the gradation of the sky, plus a white and a gray for the lit part of the cloud and the shadow part.

Artist Victor Ishihara demonstrates creates a painting of the building from "Spirited Away" (Link to video on YouTube). I'm not sure what Mr. Ishihara's connection is with Studio Ghibli, but his way of painting seems fairly similar to that of Mr. Masuyama.

A few observations on both demos:
1. The art is set up flat on the table, so the method doesn't depend on gravity to pull down washes.
2. The paper is pre-wet for the sky, which helps achieve those soft edges in the clouds.
More resources
Previously: Demo by Kazuo Oga
 Kazuo Oga
Watercolor Tips from Miyazaki
DVD: Oga Kazuo DVD
Paints: Nicker (Knicker) poster color (imported from Japan)

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Hollywood Backdrops: Illusion at a Cinematic Scale

A coffee table book called The Art of the Hollywood Backdrop showcases an art form that is often overlooked because it is designed to be invisible.

Photo: Warner Bros/Photofest
Backdrops, or "backings," as they are called in the industry, are huge painted panoramas that fill in the setting behind the live action. Unlike matte paintings, which are smaller-scale paintings that are optically combined with the action, backings are actually positioned on the back wall of the set.

Photo: Dennis Welch/Art Directors Guild Archives/Courtesy of JC Backings
Sometimes backings are used where you don't expect to see them, such as an interior setting, which can be easier than building a set or shooting on location. This painting is 13 feet tall by 20 feet wide, and was used multiple times as a rental from the inventory of Coast Backings Corporation.

Photo: Courtesy of JC Backings
Above, scenic artist Ben Resella paints a backing for Earthquake, (1974).

The book is organized into three parts: first, an introduction that explains the history and technique; second, a survey of the main artists and companies that dominated the industry; and third, an essay on the future of the hand-painted backing in film.

Even though backdrops have been largely replaced by CGI techniques, they're still used for productions that want to achieve an other-worldly look. Backdrops were used extensively, for example, in the 2004 movie Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events

The book The Art of the Hollywood Backdrop is a lavish, oversize coffee table book, 324 pages, hardbound, slipcased, with huge photo reproductions that spill across its 11x14" pages.

One of the co-authors is Karen Maness, an atelier-trained painter who teaches at the U.T. Austin's Department of Theatre and Dance. Sheworks as a Scenic Art Supervisor at Texas Performing Arts, and recently co-founded the new Atelier Dojo.

Related titles: The Invisible Art, about the history and methods of matte painting, written by veteran matte painter Craig Barron.
Windows on Nature: The Great Habitat Dioramas of the American Museum of Natural History, which features the diorama illusions of James Perry Wilson and Duncan Alanson Spencer, who painted background illusions both for movies and for museums.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Sorolla's Gouache Pigments

El Pan de Fiesta (Castilla) by Joaquín Sorolla
Joaquín Sorolla (1863-1923) used gouache to plan his Provinces of Spain murals (part of the finished mural above).

Some of the gouache preliminaries Provinces of Spain.

According to scientists who studied these gouache sketches, Sorolla used the following pigments:
Lead and zinc white, vermillion, earth pigments, ochre, zinc yellow, chrome yellow, ultramarine, Prussian blue, chromium based and copper–arsenic based green pigments, bone black and carbon based black pigments, and gum arabic as binding media in the gouache pigments. 
Analysis of pigments from Spanish works of art using a portable EDXRF spectrometer