Saturday, January 20, 2018

Alphonse Mucha Exhibition in Upstate New York

Superstar actress Sarah Bernhardt desperately needed a poster for her play Gismonda.

But the three top poster artists were on vacation. So she turned to a little-known Bohemian artist named Alphonse Mucha.

The rush order came on Christmas Day. The final was due January 1.

Mucha delivered on time. His poster was narrow and tall—7 feet tall—not the square format others used. It was full of detail, with many layers of muted colors. Each color had to be separately drawn on huge stone lithographic plates.

Mucha's poster was displayed throughout the streets of Paris in January of 1895. The "street galleries" generated as much passionate art talk as did the oil paintings in the Salon.

His design looked nothing like the ones by Toulouse Lautrec or Jules Chéret or any of the other poster specialists in Paris. Everyone was enraptured by his distinctive brand of confident femininity, ornate botanical detail, and extravagant pattern.

The Gismonda poster so enchanted Bernhardt that she signed him to a multi-year contract. After years of relative obscurity, he was the toast of artistic Paris, an overnight success.

This photo wasn't taken at the Hyde Collection,
but it's from the same show in another location.
The Gismonda poster was the first thing to greet us as we entered the exhibition ALPHONSE MUCHA: MASTER OF ART NOUVEAU, Selections from the Dhawan Collection, which opened last weekend at the Hyde Collection in Glens Falls, New York.

Mucha unleashed a torrent of creativity. He contributed designs not only to posters, but also to menus, books, calendars, furniture, jewelry, cigarette advertisements, and chocolate boxes. He said, “I prefer to be someone who makes pictures for people, rather than who creates art for art’s sake.”

People called it 'Le Style Mucha' or 'Art Nouveau.' But Mucha preferred not to be labeled. He just believed that artistry belonged to everyone and that artistry should be lavished on every aspect of life.

He was so much in demand that he couldn't fill all his orders. So he produced an Art Nouveau Stylebook, with sample designs for various settings, encouraging others to absorb the ideas and adapt them to their needs.

The exhibition includes 63 major works plus books and ephemera, 75 works in all. There are a few original drawings and paintings, but the glory of the show is the selection of original color lithographs, which need to be seen in person to be fully appreciated. The lithos are huge and subtle, far more impressive in person than they appear in books.

Some of the lithos are more soft and painterly than I expected, and they reward close examination. These works demonstrate the academic foundation to his skills. Mucha studied at the Munich Academy, and then at Academie Julien with Boulanger and Lefebvre, continuing at the Academie Colarossi, and finally under Jean-Paul Laurens (source).

The exhibit has a whole room of Mucha's later work leading up to the Slav Epics, including an original ink drawing that shows how he used stippling and hatching. His later work is exotic and expressive, infused with mysterious Masonic symbolism and a passion for Czech nationalism.

The show is curated by Gabriel Weisberg of the University of Minnesota, an expert on academic painting. Even if you can't make it to the show, there's an illustrated museum publication in PDF form that you can download here for free.

To celebrate its Mucha exhibition, the Museum will be hosting costume events, musical concerts, and free educational experiences for school-age children. As Interim Director Anne Saile told us, "The Museum is more than just the artwork on the walls."

Museum information.
The Hyde Collection is located in Glens Falls, just off the New York I-87 Northway, about four hours north of New York City or three hours south of Montréal. The show will continue in Glens Falls through March 18. It continues to Texas A&M in September.

Five best books on Mucha
Alphonse Mucha: Masterworks Emphasizes his posters and decorative work with large color reproductions.
Alphonse Mucha pub. by Prestel Oversize, 354 pages, with his photo reference in back, good selection of drawings and Slav Epics.
Alphonse Maria Mucha Text by Mucha's son Jirí Mucha gives extensive insight into Mucha's life and work.
Mucha: The Triumph of Art Nouveau Contains many prints, jewelry, drawings, and photos not included in other books.
Art Nouveau Stylebook, also called Documents Decoratifs, this is a Dover reproduction of Mucha's influential style book.

Previous posts
Mucha's Le Pater
Sarah Bernhardt's Leg
Mucha's Hearst Magazine Covers
Scaling Up with a Grid

Friday, January 19, 2018

Thursday, January 18, 2018

E.G. Lutz and Drawing Made Easy

Edwin Lutz was the author of the first how-to book I ran across as a kid.

Lutz's great-great nephew has created a tribute website about his illustrious ancestor, who among other things inspired the young cartoonist Walt Disney to make moving drawings.

I wrote the following for the tribute section for the new website:

There was an old copy of Drawing Made Easy on the shelf of my home when I grew up. It belonged to my mom when she was little, and the cover was hanging on by a thread. When I was just 7 or 8 years old, I was fascinated right away by the funny character types and the old fashioned locomotives and automobiles. I was also intrigued by the method of drawing that it presented, illustrated with a very clear series of steps. The method struck me then—and it still strikes me now—as a sensible way to draw anything. By starting with simple shapes and straight lines bounding the outside of the form, you can subdivide the geometry of anything down to smaller and smaller details. It really does make the process of drawing much easier. As I've learned more about art and how it has been taught over the centuries, I keep coming back to Mr. Lutz's clear-headed, practical, and whimsical approach as being the best doorway into the world of drawing.

E.G. Lutz website
Drawing Made Easy From Amazon.
Drawing Made Easy with intro signed by me, from my online store.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Oscar Droege's Color Woodblock Prints

Oscar Droege was a German artist who worked in the medium of the color woodblock print or Farbholzschnitt. 

The color woodblock print (sometimes called a "color woodcut") is a printing process where multiple wooden plates are relief-printed.

Each plate is inked with a different color, including opaque light colors. Note how one of the plates is lighter and cooler than the paper. Smooth gradations can be achieved while inking the plate. Note how the far mountains are lost in mysterious atmospherics.

Sometimes many plates are needed. The detailed dark lines are printed last. The effect can be lyrical and poetic, while at the same time it carries strong poster-like impact.

The reflections of those two pilings are inked in the plate. The white foam on the water has a second plate for the slightly darker value.

Droege was born in 1898, serving in both World Wars. He was kept prisoner by the Soviets. During peacetime he traveled with a friend through Germany, France and Scandinavia on bicycles and paddle boats in search of subjects for his art. He died in 1983.

Learn more
Brief online biography of Oscar Droege
Examples of Farbholzschnitt (color woodblock prints)
Other practitioners of the color woodblock print include:
Carl Thiemann (1881-1966)
Martha Cunz (1876 -1961)
Josef Stoitzner (1884-1951)
Engelbert Lap (1886-1970)
Heine Rath (1873-1920)
Sherrie York is a young artist working today who carries on the tradition in color lino cut
YouTube: Hubert Pische demonstrates how to create a color woodcut (in German)

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Pissarro's advice to an art student

Camille Pissarro offered the following advice to an art student around 1896. I encourage you to read it critically. I'll comment afterward.

"Look for the kind of nature that suits your temperament. The motif should be observed more for shape and color than for drawing. There is no need to tighten the form which can be obtained without that. Precise drawing is dry and hampers the impression of the whole; it destroys all sensations."

Camille Pissarro
"Do not define too closely the outlines of things; it is the brush stroke of the right value and colour which should produce the drawing. In a mass, the greatest difficulty is not to give the contour in detail, but to paint what is within. Paint the essential character of' things, try to convey it by any means whatsoever, without bothering about technique."

Camille Pissarro
"When painting, make a choice of' subject, see what is lying at the right and at the left, then work on everything simultaneously. Don't work bit by bit, but paint everything at once by placing tones everywhere, with brush strokes of the right color and value, while noticing what is alongside. Use small brush strokes and try to put down your perceptions immediately."

"The eye should not be fixed on one point, but should take in everything, while observing the reflections which the colours produce on their surroundings. Work at the same time upon sky, water, branches, ground, keeping everything going on an equal basis and unceasingly rework until you have got it."

"Cover the canvas at the first go, then work at it until you can see nothing more to add. Observe the aerial perspective well, from the foreground to the horizon, the reflections of sky on foliage. Don't be afraid of putting on colour, refine the work little by little. Don't proceed according to rules and principles, but paint what you observe and feel. Paint generously and unhesitatingly, for it is best not to lose the first impression. Don't be timid in front of' nature: one must be bold, at the risk of being deceived and making mistakes. One must have only one master --- nature; she is the one always to be consulted."

My thoughts (and I want to hear yours)
The foregoing advice is one of the pivotal texts of Impressionist technique. It has echoed down to our times through various teachers. Whenever I've read Pissarro's advice, I've taken it with a grain of salt, especially when it was presented dogmatically. Here are some of my initial reactions:

1. To his credit, Pissarro talks about seeing as well as technique: "The eye should not be fixed on one point, but should take in everything..." Capturing an impression not just a matter of brushes and paints. It's at least as much a problem of learning to see. For example, learning to isolate and compare colors is essential to painting them convincingly, regardless of what brushes you use. Since Pissarro's time, we've learned a lot about how the human eye sees color, so it's possible to be more analytical about that.

2. When he says "Don't proceed according to rules and principles, but paint what you observe and feel," I would counter that knowing the rules and principles helps you observe and feel more accurately. Telling a student just to "paint what they observe" is useless advice unless you explain what to look for and why things look the way they do.

3. I never understood why the line "Precise drawing is dry and hampers the impression" was necessary. Is he just making an excuse because he can't draw well? Why can't I have both good drawing and accurate color? Artists who combined academic drawing skills and impressionist methods, such as Krøyer, Mønsted, Zorn, Sorolla, and Sargent could capture impressions without disregarding precise or accurate drawing.

John Singer Sargent
3b. However, it makes sense when he says "Do not define too closely the outlines of things; it is the brush stroke of the right value and colour which should produce the drawing." Painting students who have only drawn with line need to learn that paint strokes don't have to be linear; they can be any shape or texture, and for this kind of opaque painting, the value and color, (plus edge quality, opacity, etc)  have to be considered, too.

4. John Singer Sargent (above) sometimes painted in the "small touch-impressionism" way. A subject like the one above necessarily is made of small touches, well observed. Sargent is perhaps a closer ally to Monet than to Pissarro, but Monet didn't like to write about his method. 

5. Painting in "everything at once" rather than "bit by bit" is just one way of painting. It applies more to opaque oil painting, and less to watercolor or gouache, which can favor a more planned and organized approach. Oil can be painted in many ways: "window shading," area-by-area, systematically, or indirectly (as with Maxfield Parrish) and the results can be accurate and strong.

6. If Pissarro wants to capture an overall impression immediately, why does he say: "Use small brush strokes and try to put down your perceptions immediately."? Big brushes are much more efficient for capturing overall impressions rapidly. Students don't need encouragement to use small brushes. They need to be encouraged to use bigger ones, especially at the beginning. He does say to "paint generously and unhesitatingly" and I think he's right there: be willing to use lots of paint. By painting unhesitatingly, I think he means to develop your intuition, and that comes from a combination of practice and analysis.

7. Painting overall with brushstrokes of a given module makes it hard to achieve scale. If you want to make something look big, you need to alternate large shapes with tiny touches. Nature is not composed of bean-size blobs. I think the advice should be to use a variety of tools and to look for contrasts of scale within the subject. And to achieve depth, the advice might be to paint from background to foreground, not overall or 'everything at once.'

8. If you use the same tools or approach for every part of the scene (sky, water, buildings, etc), those areas will all look the same and they will all look like paint. In Pissarro's case, it leads to what contemporary critics called "woolliness," meaning it looks like the whole thing is rendered in counted cross stitch. No problem if you want your painting to have that look, but if you want your painting to hold the mirror up to Nature, it may not be the best advice.
I welcome your thoughts in the comments. What parts of Pissarro's advice are useful to you or your students? What parts don't make sense or seem wrong? 

Monday, January 15, 2018

Sketching with Patches of Tone

In this graphite pencil sketch, Charles Bargue (1825–83) uses well placed patches of tone rather than using only outlines to describe the form.

Charles Bargue, graphite, 8 x 5 3/16 inches, Metropolitan Museum
The patches are made out of short, parallel strokes, which create an impressionistic, painterly effect, even though he's working only in unblended pencil.

Charles Bargue helped create the Drawing Course used in many ateliers.
The method of sketching with patches of tonal values is also described in Sketching - from Square One to Trafalgar Square and Ernest Watson's The Art of Pencil Drawing.

Previous post: The El Dorado Page (Ernest Watson)

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Dan Gurney, 1931-2018

Very sad to know that race driver, car builder, team owner (and my cousin) Dan Gurney died today from complications of pneumonia. I'll miss his courage, tenacity, kindness, and humor.

African Warrior Fantasy

Imaro II: The Quest for Cush is a fantasy novel written by Charles Saunders, an expert in African folklore. I wanted Imaro to be a convincing warrior hero, so I located a tall, built model named Darrell, who was in training to play for the L.A. Lakers. That’s Mount Kenya in the distance.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Hobey Ford's Rod Puppets

In this video, master puppeteer Hobey Ford of North Carolina shows how he uses foam and wire to create lifelike movement. (Link to video)

Hobey Ford and his puppets. Image from Focus Newspapers

Thanks, Linda Crank.

Friday, January 12, 2018

New Book on Edwin Georgi

A young woman is startled by a sound while raiding a jewelry box.

The artist is Edwin Georgi (1896-1964), the subject of the latest monograph on an American illustrator by The Illustrated Press.

Georgi was a pilot in WWI, but was shot down and injured. While recovering, he took up an interest in art. Mostly self-taught, he began his career doing paste-ups in an advertising agency. His early illustrations were muted and restrained.

His earliest illustrations were for advertising clients, portraying exotic women in elegant settings. As time went by his approach to color became more daring.

He is best known for a shimmering, golden backlighting, painted in a pointillist style. He often accentuated color effects by placing strong warm and cool accents near each other.

He was a bold experimenter with lighting ideas, and he painted in many media, including colored ink, watercolor, gouache, and oil. 

The book starts with a short bio, but the bulk of the pages are devoted to large reproductions of originals and tearsheets. 

The book is loaded with art, and includes a lot of preliminary studies rendered in pencil, ink, and gouache, sometimes with the art director's comments written in the margins. Many of the sketches are paired with the finished work, so you can study how the pictures developed.

The Art of Edwin Georgi is hardback 224 pages, 9" x 12" full color. The standard edition is $44.95, and there's also a collectable slipcased edition of 100.

Previous books in this series by The Illustrated Press are each limited to 1000 copies include Tom Lovell—Illustrator and The Art of Jon Whitcomb

Art Blogs Award 2017
If you like this blog, please nominate it and vote for me.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

The Frozen Hudson

The Hudson River was a sea of jagged ice yesterday.

(Link to video on Facebook) The temperature climbed briefly above freezing, allowing me to paint in gouache. I used a sketchbook page with a light blue-gray priming color in casein that I did the day before.

The underpainting color came close to the color of the snow layer on the ice. Where the chunks had an icy, specular surface, it picked up more of the golden light of the sky.

We're 100 miles north of New York City, and the river is tidal here. The vertical movement of the surface shatters the 12-inch-thick layer of ice along the shoreline, making it a jumble of angular shapes.

Check out my gouache board on Pinterest

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

How Many Values?

Matthieu asks: "I know that value grouping is a technique you often use when sketching. How many values do you usually prefer? I have been experimenting with four values lately (white, black, bright and dark). But that is so few it is a challenge in itself..."

Matthieu, for this exercise to be useful, the fewer values the better. As Howard Pyle said, "The fewer tones the simpler and better your pictures." As an exercise, try limiting it to two or three tones. You can do that by using markers or gouache, or by premixing pools of color in oil.

Dean Cornwell
Sometimes it helps to think of families of values: a light family (with some variation in the tones) and a dark family (very much darker than any in the light family, but still distinguishable from each other). 

Those big families of tone don't have to be close to white or black, by the way. The poetry of the Cornwell moonlight scene comes from handling those "whites" as a family of mid-range cool tones and saving the highest values for those sparkling windows.

Another thing to keep in mind is that it's not just how many values you have in your design, but how they're arranged. 
Travels of the Soul by Howard Pyle
In the painting above, Pyle has basically set up a light family and a dark family and has gradated between them.  The impact of the design comes from that powerful grouping of the lights together into a single mass and the grouping of darks into a mysterious shadow.

Pyle told his students: "Put your white against white, middle tones (groups) against grays, black against black, then black and white where you want the center of interest. This sounds simple, but it is difficult to do."

John Singer Sargent, Two Girls Fishing, 1912Cincinnati Art Museum
These ideas were in the air when Pyle and Cornwell were working. Many other leading artists, such as John Singer Sargent were always grouping tones in arresting and memorable ways. If you check out any of the posts linked below, you can see more examples.
Previous related posts: