Friday, August 28, 2015

GJ Book Club: Chapter 21, Conclusions

For the GJ Book Club, let's consider the concluding chapter in Harold Speed's 1917 classic The Practice and Science of Drawing, and reflect back on the book as a whole.

Lady Diana Bridgeman, Harold Speed (British, 1852-1957).

Speed begins this final chapter talking about the camera, and the merits and dangers of mechanical accuracy. This is an issue that hasn't gone away, and that people in our community still discuss today.

I'll put Speed's quotes in boldface, followed by my thoughts.

1. There may be times when the camera can be of use to artists, but only to those who are thoroughly competent to do without it.
Speed suggests that truth achieved by mechanical accuracy may be a valuable stepping stone toward true art, but we should use a standard other than accuracy alone to measure our response to art. Art is not merely a collection of objective facts, but rather "records of a living individual consciousness." Whether one traces a photo or some other procedure to achieve mechanical accuracy, one must not lose sight of the driving emotion that guides the choice and placement of elements, and that shapes the rhythms of the artistic statement.

2. The training of his eye and hand to the most painstaking accuracy of observation and record must be the student's aim for many years.
Despite his caution to see beyond mechanical accuracy, Speed argues that accurate drawing is an absolute prerequisite to the kind of evolved subjective vision he advocates. Students must strive for unflinching honesty or sincerity. Seeking originality for its own sake is a trap, leaving the young artist chasing the fashions of the moment, or contenting himself or herself with an easy substitute for the fine craftsmanship that is more difficult to attain.

3. Individual style will come to you naturally as you become more conscious of what it is you wish to express.
Speed argues that young artists should be wary of adopting readymade techniques or design conventions borrowed from other artists. More often than not, those outward stylistic gimmicks don't fit the subject you're painting nor the mood you're trying to evoke. Everything must begin with an artist's idea, and style is simply the most direct means to communicate that idea.

4. Appendix: Phi Proportions
I wish an editor had suggested that Speed delete this appendix—or save it for another book, because I think it contradicts Speed's entire argument leading up to it. After decrying readymade compositional formulas, he proceeds to introduce a readymade mathematical formula for design. It strikes me as an afterthought alien to the rest of Speed's argument. Longtime blog readers know where I stand about via the Golden Ratio (also known as "phi"). You can read my thoughts in my blog series "Mythbusting the Golden Mean" or, if you like, another website called "The Myth of the Golden Ratio."

Final thoughts
Looking back on the book as a whole, I'm struck with how much this book is about aesthetics. When I first encountered the book as an art student, I was primarily interested in materials, methods, and techniques but what I take away from the book at this stage in my life is the importance that Speed rightly places on the thinking, feeling, and intention behind the technique.

I have newly marked up my print copy with pencil notations in the margins, and I have been inspired by the many fresh perspectives that you as blog readers have brought to each chapter to deepen my appreciation of Speed's book. For those who discover this book club weeks or months later, please feel free to add your comments. I'll be able to review it and publish your comments any time, and keep this book club constantly in session.

The next book for the GJ book club will be Speed's book on painting, the sequel to this one on drawing. In its original edition, it's called "The Science and Practice of Oil Painting." Unfortunately it's not available in a free edition that I know of, but there's an inexpensive print edition that Dover publishes under a different title "Oil Painting Techniques and Materials." We'll start up with that book in three weeks, on September 18, which gives you time to pick up a copy.
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The Practice and Science of Drawing is available in various formats:
1. Inexpensive softcover edition from Dover, (by far the majority of you are reading it in this format)
2. Fully illustrated and formatted for Kindle.
3. Free online Archive.org edition.
4. Project Gutenberg version
Articles on Harold Speed in the Studio Magazine The Studio, Volume 15, "The Work of Harold Speed" by A. L. Baldry. (XV. No. 69. — December, 1898.) page 151.
and The Windsor Magazine, Volume 25, "The Art of Mr. Harold Speed" by Austin Chester, page 335. (thanks, अर्जुन)

Thursday, August 27, 2015

A Day at the County Fair

Here's what I pack in my bag for a sketching day at the Dutchess County Fair in Rhinebeck, NY.



It's everything I need for sketching in watercolors, colored pencils, and gouache. There's a 5 x 8 inch watercolor journal, plus devices for capturing video, stills, and audio. All of this fits onto my belt.



I start off in the cow barn, where the milkers are taking a morning nap before their judging. Without a chair, I paint standing.  

Holstein named "Jacket," gouache by James Gurney
I use a limited palette of three colors of gouache: yellow ochre (Holbein), perylene maroon (Winsor Newton), and viridian (Winsor Newton)—plus white (M. Graham). Viridian serves as my "blue." I can get a nice black with the maroon and the viridian. 

By the way, this would be a good limited palette to try for the "Paint an Outdoor Palette on Location" challenge (link goes to Facebook page where you can see entries so far).

1. Underdrawing in water-soluble colored pencil.
2. A wet block-in without white approximates the final colors.
3. Introducing opaque white, and defining the forms of the body. 
4. Dark spots and definition of small forms and details.


In this audio clip (link to Soundcloud file), Jeff Pulver of Pleasant View Farm, describes what a judge looks for in a dairy cow.


After the painting session, we watch the draft horse pull. It requires immense power for the team of two Belgian geldings to pull 8500 pounds of concrete.


The Dutchess County Fair will continue through this Sunday in Rhinebeck. If you live nearby, check it out—it's the second largest fair in New York State, with one of the largest displays of farm animals.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Fallen Birch

Study of fallen white birch, pencil, James Gurney
Pencil is the medium of choice when I'm more interested in form than in light or color. In this case, I was fascinated by the way the white paper-like bark peeled off the rotting log. This is a page from a 9x12 sketchbook that is devoted just to nature studies.

I usually use two hardnesses of graphite: HB and 2B and switch between them.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Draft Horse Portrait

Sofie the draft horse, gouache, by James Gurney
Yesterday at the barn I painted this portrait sketch of Sofie, one of the four Belgian draft horses. She had just gotten her shower in advance of her appearance today at the Dutchess County Fair. I used a limited palette of black, white, ultra blue, raw sienna, and yellow ochre.

The image is the size of a playing card, about 3 x 3.5 inches.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Painting an Excavator in Gouache


John Deere Nortrax 80C Excavator, gouache, 5 x 8 inches
I painted this track excavator yesterday at a construction site. It's a study for a concept painting of a giant robot which will be part of an upcoming video tutorial called "Fantasy in the Wild." (By the way, Casein in the Wild is coming, too, but I'll probably release it after.)


Here's what the painting looked like at an early stage. I measured everything out pretty carefully, but then blocked in the colors loosely.


The new video is going to be a lot of fun. I'll be doing two different imaginative-realism paintings entirely on location. Each one is based on details drawn from the scene around me. In this case I've been going to this construction site on weekends when the machines aren't working, so I can really study all their workings up close. 

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Baby Tattoo 10 Year Exhibit


The Oceanside Museum of Art opened an exhibition yesterday called the Baby Tattooville Carnival of Astounding Art, which looks back on ten years of the pop surrealist art gathering inspired by Bob Self.

Detail of 2009 Baby Tattooville Art Jam
I was an artist guest at Baby Tattoo in 2009 and 2011, and participated in the Art Jam, a group painting event. Here's my contribution, Happy Buddha as a gold spheroid.


I did about 50 little drawings for the guests that attended in 2009, and one of those drawings will be part of the exhibit, but I'm not sure which one. 
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The show will be up until January 3, 2016.