Monday, August 31, 2015

Inspiration: Metalmorphosis

This public sculpture by David Černý is entitled 'Metalmorphosis', and depicts the likeness of author Franz Kafka.

The piece is more than 30 feet tall, weighs 39 tons and is composed of 42 independently moving layers which are controlled via the internet.

This particular version is located in Prague. But there are alternate versions, including one in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

False Start: Part 1

Some interesting thoughts on the origins of complex composition inspired by a flashback of my childhood.

-By Ron Lemen

First of all I would like to thank the many beyond amazing talented artists here at Muddy Colors that gave Vanessa and me a chance to share some of our stories, history, and knowledge with all of you. I will admit that when I first heard about this I thought I had everything together and would blaze through the first article with flying colors but they were soon muddied up when I began. But in all honesty, just thinking about this first article really broke me open with some glimpses from my past, a history of sorts as to why I choose some of the choices I make as a preferred way of working. I'd like to share this discovery as my first article before launching into a series of "how-to" articles. Thank you all again and I look forward to sharing what I can to help you improve your craft.

I like raised paint with lots of energy in it and brush strokes with many colors in them you cannot meticulously paint one by one. I love story and I am taken by complex design. I didn't become aware of why I make life miserable for myself and build pictures that are too complex for short deadlines, painted in a way that is little appreciated unless standing before the actual piece, and reproduces like crap because of all the shadows that the brush strokes cast when lit from ANY direction until I wrote this article. Here is what I discovered.

This Dean Cornwell example shows thick paint throughout and the top left corner is a series of "chords", a complex colored brush stroke.

This is a close up of a Nicolai Fechin painting.  Here you can see the thickness of the paint and how beautiful it looks and how meaningful the stroke is to what he painted.

I have vivid memories as a child of exploring antique stores and glass stores, and watching my parents as they mined bins and box after box of bits of colored glass called panels regardless of whether they were square or a broken shard, looking for just the right color, just the right texture, just the right noise in crazy cavernous buildings throughout the Sacramento Valley all the way out to the San Francisco Bay Area.  These were adventurous places where caution was exercised, because with just the right pressure glass would shatter (barely touching or leaning against), or skin would rip and tear with ease just turning around down an aisle.  BUT oh man, the colors that danced around the rooms and aisles between bins and stalls were fantastical like a kaleidoscopic portal to a child's dreamland.

These glass racks pale in comparison to the aisles of stores we used to frequent.

In my eyes all those bits of glass my mom and dad would sift through looked like chunks and shards from broken things, and I couldn't quite grasp their jubilant cries of victory when that "special" piece of glass was found.  These shards of glass were gold nuggets to my folks if the streaks or the misty frosted bubbles flowed in just the right direction and more so if there happened to be a unique splash of colors combined together.

Some interesting pieces of glass panels.  Notice the interesting marbling, swirling, etc. that look very much like brush strokes.  These patterns are chosen very carefully to be used in a stained glass window, lamp, etc. very much like a brushstroke in a painting.

My parents worked to transform several famous Sacramento painter's works of art into stained glass windows for private collectors.  Each piece of glass represented a brush stroke and the "recording" of the stroke, or the orchestration of colors in a "chord" if any glass could be found that mimicked these complex brush strokes of many colors.  Each brush stroke carefully planned to look spontaneous, and my parents had to find the perfect glass to emulate this effortless look and feel that was never effortless to begin with.

I was exposed to exquisite colors from these amazing pieces of glass.  I was also exposed to texture and noise with the different colors blown together.  And no matter how many photos they would shoot of the windows they made, nothing every beat the experience of looking through them live.  My parents put together complex drawings and diagrams of the paintings they were replicating and mapped them out on illustration board that would then be cut out and used as the templates for each piece of glass they would cut and assemble into the final window.  And with these thoughts going through my head as I was thinking about the history of painting and how it originated with stained glass windows and tapestries, and as I had a flash flood of images from my childhood, I started to see the connections to my favorite artists, my style of working, my preference of color choices, and my taste in compositions more clearly.

An example of the intricate detail of a stained glass window.  All those shapes are calculated and worked out before any glass is cut.

I love painters like Dean Cornwell, during his first two periods or styles, P. P. Rubens, Fechin, Mucha, Brangwyn, Wyeth, Rembrandt, Rockwell, etc.  I love them in print and double that, no, quadruple that when viewing their canvases live.  I see the marks they made, the design they perfected, and the life and energy they found in the materials of their craft that I believe is why the canvases they made of the stories they tell are so vivid and feel more alive than they look painted.  Whether I succeed or fail, and fail a lot, this is what I search to find in everything I craft.

Dean Cornwell after he studied with Harvey Dunn.  This is his first period of illustration, the influence of Harvey Dunn is very evident here.

This is Peter Paul Rubens.  The figures in his paintings are mostly life size, the canvases enormous and the compositions flawless.

Nicolai Fechin.  The figures in this painting are life size, the brush work loose but accurate and lively.

An example of Alphonse Mucha.  These are a series of paintings depicting the four seasons.  Even the frames of his canvases were designed meticulously to match each canvas.

Frank Brangwyn and his exquisite color and shape control.  It looks and feels so much like a tapestry or stained glass window.

N. C. Wyeth and his impeccable shape design and color control.

Rembrandt and his amazing control of paint, unlike any other painter in the history of painting.

Norman Rockwell and his fantastic control of composition, light, form, color, texture, um, just about everything a painter aspires to master all in one.

These painters painted with clear, easy to read shapes.  The differences in light and shadow, and the half tones in between are easy to read and clear to the eye.  The colors are controlled and well designed together.    The textures within each shape space are cleverly designed and do not take away from the whole and are not overly busy or demanding.

These painters were very much inspired by the complex compositions developed by the artisans, craftsmen, and smiths of medieval tapestries and stained glass windows, the complex Byzantine murals, or by artists who were inspired by these historic craftsmen.  In fact, it is said that the many complex geometric composition templates in painting were borrowed from the mathematically calculated grid systems developed by the mystery artists who drafted the cartoons for the ancient tapestries, murals, and windows.  These tools were predecessors to our modern grids and tools that help to control all the elements within a pictorial space also called the pictorial matrix. 

Here you can see the complex spaces well controlled and abstracted to serve as a whole.  Renaissance painters sought out this mastery of control by studying these windows and the tapestries and murals of the ancients.

This tapestry is The Story of David.  Remember that tapestries are made 1 fiber at a time, and are not painted on after they are woven.  This requires intense planning and preparation for every fiber to land exactly where it is supposed to go.

An example of Byzantine craftsmanship.

Crafting a painting of this level of complexity means that the drawing which precedes the painted finish needs to be thoroughly designed.  This stage of building the composition is about converging the story, all of the props and figures together, bound by an invisible complex design grid hidden in the story like a magician's mirrors to the tricks performed.  All of this so the painter can focus solely on the final performance and to finish with whatever elegance or bravura necessary in the brushwork.  In many ways, the design of the piece and the final shapes designed within its matrix are what inspire the brushwork and the quality of the paint that represents the various spaces, surface facets or changes, and textures.  These tiles are in many ways very much like painted shards of glass.

Here is a great example of one of Dean Cornwell's fantastic drawings.  These are purely utilitarian, no vanity drawing in his preparation drawings.  Every design is worked out, the abstractions built and all the parts of the picture are connected and designed as a light, half tone or shadow tone.

Here is a fine example of a sketch by Peter Paul Rubens (After Leonardo daVinci).  The different colored washes and chalks help denote form and space, light and shadow.  These drawings were done to this level of finish to work out the forms for the final painting.

The painters I have listed worked with controlled color and push the color beyond a  tonalist approach.  All of these painters worked with the properties of the paint, sculpting with it, layering it and playing with mediums to elevate it or suspend it to create surface effects and the illusion of textures.  And in many ways, one could say that a good number of paintings by these painters look like stained glass windows or feel similar to the ancient tapestries.

This Dean Cornwell is a great example of a painting that looks and feels like a tapestry or stained glass window.

This Frank Brangwyn painting also feels very much like a controlled tapestry or a stained glass window, right down to the heavy lines that seem to surround almost every color in the image.
Many of the painters I have mentioned above are also linked to one another through a lineage of teaching using certain tools that ultimately lead us to what we have today as the current methods of teaching using what are called the "construction method" and the "Reilly method" of figure drawing and figure composition.  These modern tools of the trade share a direct lineage back to stained glass windows, tapestries, murals and sculptural reliefs.

An example of the Reilly abstractions that were coined by Frank Reilly, who gleaned most of this knowledge from Dean Cornwell, who got it from Frank Brangwyn who learned it from his father and the other craftsmen he worked with in his youth who learned abstractions and composition grids from their mentors that learned from theirs spanning back to the medieval period and possibly before that.

It is really interesting what grabs our attention, what we favor or enjoy and what we end up doing in our own work because of the influences we have in our lives.  Until recently, I have not really stopped to pay too much attention to these things in my life.  While it doesn't help me make a better brushstroke I do feel more complete understanding how I have come to be the way I am as an artist and why.  I also find it fascinating that what I do might really have been informed so early on in my life.  I wonder just how much what I like to look at and do in my own work has been from discovery along the way or was it shaped early on and everything after that time is nothing more than collecting what we already have a certain bias towards much like collecting iron with a magnet in sand.

I hope that you caught on to many of the little nuggets of information that I dropped in to this article that we will certainly revisit very soon.  I have several talking points I wanted to make in this first article but this diversion really helped me figure out a way to briefly touch upon them here and allows me to expand upon them with greater detail later.

Friday, August 28, 2015

ESSENTIAL BOOKS: Wyeth at Kuerners

Greg Ruth

For all of us Andrew Wyeth fanatics, and you know who you are, the holy temple, the mountain upon which his most enticing work in my view at least, can be found in his time at Kuerner Farm (aka Ring Farm). The most pervasive single location for all his work- over a thousand drawings and paintings, one third of his entire body of work at least, derived from his time at this extraordinarily haunting and beautiful place near Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania. Of all the Wyeth books I own, and I confess readily  that I own a few too many, it is the massive volume, WYETH AT KUERNERS that is among my most dog-eared, inky stained and lovingly abused of all the books I keep in the studio.

I came across the hardcover at a used book sale for about $5 and thought I had stolen it at that price, though now I find it can be had for a similar price nearly everywhere. Why this is I cannot begin to fathom except that perhaps it is not your usual monograph of seminal works we identify with Wyeth. It is a quintessential artist's art book. While Kuerner Farm was in fact the location for all of his controversial Helga paintings, there isn't but the slightest indication of her here. It is a kind of flowing visual journal of his time in the fields and old barns. Pages of the the same bucket over a stream mill basin, or rack of crows strung from a porch, and vast wide open landscapes feather by distant fence lines and barely reachable rooftops at the far edge of the horizon. It is a book that denotes not a single work, but is a collection of many works seen and meant to be seen as a single work altogether. Sketches, ink drawings, watercolors, swaths of mud scraped across the page, sometimes a single tiny nail and a loose thread in a vast field of paper.

I came across this book when I was in the middle of working on Freaks of the Heartland, and if you looks not too closely you will see its influence throughout that book. We had just moved up to an old
red 1700's cape house on Trouble Street in Cummington, Massachusetts. Between the reality outside the twelve over twelve windows of rolling hills and sugar maples, the breezeway connected barn filled with rusted old milk jugs, wagon wheels and flat squarish hand forged iron nails, cobblestones and moss, finding Wyeth's Kuerners book was like an affirmation for having decided to leave Brooklyn for this new place.

When I look back on it now, having delved back in just this morning, I am both reminded of the place and time of its discovery as well as the imminent and readily available value of the way the book is established and presented. For me one of the most compelling aspects of drawing is the selfsame rawness and immediacy contained within this heavy volume. The naked send of searching through
line, the free flowing experimental compositions, and explorations of light and form and place live best in the kind of drawings contained within. It is a celebration of that searching in paper form, both as fuel to encourage the reader to start mapping out his or her own landscapes, or simply to see the world, whatever locale they may find themselves in, in a new way down to its tiniest overlooked detail. It is like finding a sketchbook hidden in a floorboard like an intimate secret only you and he knows.

Wyeth at Kuerners remains for me one of the top ten most important art books I have ever had the fortune to bring home, and like most of the others on that list, is affectionately abused and overhead to the point of near collapse from use. A favorite old leather shoe near its final journeys but made more valuable for it in where they take you, and how. It's easy to track it down and come across it online and in brick and mortar stores, and I would encourage you to get a hold of a copy for yourself. Being able to see many of the originals at the Brandywine Museum made the accuracy of their printing a revelation. Being able to have the entire volume of thumbnails, trial drawings and sketches,  as vibrant evidence of the well won paths towards his most seminal and famous pieces is about as close to sitting next to him at his work as you could ever hope to get. There's something new to see and learn with each viewing.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Value Control

by Donato

The control of value is one of the most basic elements in organizing a visual composition, from the simple abstract sketches through to the final rendering.  Many artists, myself included, tend to only design with value in the early phases of image development, pushing around shapes, lines, and edges in pencil and chalk either on white or toned papers, happy to leave color options off the table as we seek some sense of where we want an image to go.

Not to state that color is not important, but value is one of the strongest cuing anchors in our visual understanding of the world.  How we read a shape and its apparent relationship to surrounding objects is mainly determined by value (with exceptions given to high chromatic color contrasts). It is likely for this reason that most artists are comfortable and intuitively prefer to create initial designs with limited color.  As many of us may feel, it is hard enough to organize and conceive an image without having to introduce color into the game!

That said, I wanted to share a few images where color is certainly a huge factor in the overall mood and feel to the work, but also call out how value is playing a deep harmonizing bass line to color's flamboyant show within the composition.  I do not believe in following rules when it comes to compositional design, but enjoy analyzing successful pieces to understand and consider the knowledge they reveal for possible manipulation and use in future works of my own.

Below we have a cityscape by Edward Cortez, with a brilliant use of orange in the sky, cafe lights, and reflections from the wet landscape.  A large mass of complimentary purple holds our interest in the center. 

Edward Cortez     A Paris Street  

Taking the work into black and white, what I want to point out here is how Cortez withheld deep darks for only the mid-ground figures and objects.  Allowing them to float in a field of gray values and creating a band of darkness moving horizontally through the composition - a way to create a horizon line without having to link it to deep objects in the distance.  Also by locating a large white figure with a likewise dark one in the center, the two masses play off each other and draw our eye into them as a point of interest, further centering our focus.

Looking at the image with a value bar inserted, we can see how Cortez also held off from using bright whites in his light sources, providing the feeling of under illumination you may perceive at dusk, and graying out his shadows rather than going too quickly to black. This graying out adds an atmosphering effect and increases the dropoff of the buildings on the right, making them appear more distant in the landscape, an effect further carried out into the deep space of the street to such an extent that the furthest point is almost the same value of the sky.  Cortez then uses color here to distinguish the shapes of the buildings against the sky to great effect.  A wonderful play of value and color together!

As a second example I turn to Alphonse Mucha.  I have never seen the original piece, thus cannot speak to the color accuracy of this image, but the values tell us so much!  A brilliant display of control over the entire surface of the work.

Alphonse Mucha   Spring Night    1910
Mucha used a subtle play of warmth in the this work to pull out the skin tones of the two figures from the background.  His combination of those color harmonies with a narrow range of values on the figures results in the reading of this image as if under starlight or through a magical hazy fog. Look again at the lower portion of the image where the figures bodies trail off into a near unified mass of gray value!

The value bar shows us just how narrow a range Mucha worked within, taking great care to manipulate the greatest sense of form and volume from as little contrast as he could manage. 

Lastly a strong graphic image by Fernand Pelez de Cordova.  I'll let you analyze the work and come to your own conclusions.

Fernand Pelez de Cordova   Homeless   1884

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

New Prints Available

-By Dan dos Santos

I've finally gotten around to making prints of two of my favorite covers for Patricia Briggs' best selling novels, 'Dead Heat' and 'Shifting Shadows'.

These oversized prints are 18x24 inches, and printed on a super heavy weight stock. The prints are just $35 each, and include FREE SHIPPING anywhere in the US.

Plus, for the next 24 hours I'm offering a special promotion, and will be including a FREE 'Blood Divided' poster with every order.

You can order your copies here:

Master of Ceremonies

-By Jesper Ejsing

This Monday the new Hearthstone cards for The Grand Tournament were released. I have couple of cards featuring in that expansion, but the one I would like to share is the Blood Elf Commentator.

I submitted 3 sketches, with very different moods. The first one is super happy playful and reminds you of a cheerleader.

The second is menacing and mysterious as if she is revealing a nasty contender.

For the last one I thought of medeval heralds blowing horns and made a sketch somewhere in between playful and announcing.

Jeremy Cranford, my Art Director at Blizzard liked that she had the horn/megaphone, so I turned it into a final sketch. I tried to make a beautifully twirled hair shape that kind of encircles the top and used the banners from the horn to frame the bottom. Ever since I was in Prague, and was exposed to Alphonso Mucha's Slav Epic paintings, I have had a fetish for billowing hair strands and banners. I have found almost no image that wouldn't benefit from a little added cloth blowing in the wind. it creates a movement that lends life to the picture. Same reason I added some rose petals and some larger banners to the background.

When I started painting I had in my mind a picture that was very bright and happy in colour choice, so I made up my mind to try to avoids darks altogether. I have had difficulty to reach the same level of full on colour in my digital work as I have in acrylics. When painting traditional I have always forced myself to add colours to all areas and leave nothing black ( thanks to a 15 year old advice from Donato ) I have accustomed myself to use colours in all shadows and have fun making up bouncing light everywhere. But in my digital illustrations I start out from solid grey tones. the image seem very strong in values but I have not the same boldness and bravura that I don brush and paint. I seem to make everything too dark and black and leave the shadow areas dead and lifeless. I blame it all on changing media and hope to work my way out of that problem. So when I started this I knew I had to anticipate and deal with dark colours and started out way way lighter than I used to. I scribbled in the pure white rim light and let it go all the way down to enhance the shape of her breasts. I try to use rim light more freely than just on the rim or edge.

As a bouncing environment light I went with a turquoise green that looks almost sick compared to all the orange and yellow. But it really does wonders when you use a cold colour as highlight on top of warm areas like especially the shadow areas in the hair or face. The temperature shift in the skin tones makes it look more 3d than only a warm skin tone would. Remember that skin are moist and reflect easier than cloth.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Odds and Ends: Personal Work Again...

-By John Jude Palencar

"Mason's Island", Acrylic on maple panel, 15"x 15"

I have always felt that there would be a conflict between my illustration and painting. Actually, they have both been made stronger. Each approach lends itself to discovery, simple experimentation (in my case) and using parts of your brain that you typically don’t often get to use. But they work for each other, instead of against each other in a positive way - at least in my case. Sure - you’ll screw up every so often but working on your own work will create an interior freedom and conceptual dialogue that’s hard to come by any other way. Those of you that have more free time than established busy professionals… take heart. Now is the time to develop and give yourself challenges to accomplish before you get established in the industry. If you fall flat on your face, no one will hear your head hit the pavement. Pick yourself up , dust off your clothes and move on. Do what you want to do - it’s all at your whim. This can be a rare and wonderful time in you career. As we know that goes for established professionals too ( See Donato’s and David Palumbo’s previous posts on personal work).

Often I describe illustration as having everything, all elements, visually turned up to eleven on the art amplifier. That being said, there are many illustrators that have a very subtle technique and conceptual approaches. Now that I have that covered…. When creating personal work, you have a chance to fool around will the EQ, amplitude or even the pitch of an image. Doing personal work will give you that opportunity to listen and develop your own internal voice. In essence you are the art director. I’m not saying - do an illustration. Do a piece of art with no thought of type placement or where does the authors name go… just paint. Creating personal work can be a monastic and almost spiritual in nature. Finding new creative layers within yourself can be surprising and liberating. How you choose to develop and at what pace will only get better and increase when the effort comes from your heart with sincerity and authentic inspiration.

“Discipline breeds freedom”.

My examples shown here are not earthshaking or groundbreaking in any way. The drawings and paintings are just another foray into the dark. These are quiet attempts. In fact I don’t see them as complete visual statements. They are somewhat malformed but they are a way of keeping my hands busy. These are artistic wanderings… they do however serve to gestate concepts and explore new avenues. They may and have led to new ventures and artistic opportunities.

I can’t stress the importance of keeping a sketchbook. I have noticed that when I don’t sketch or develop personal concepts my work and attitude are lessened. I am guilty of not drawing enough in my sketchbooks. So I yell at myself internally, and yes, sometimes even out loud. Pardon my noise.

Below are a few things I’ve been working on.

Dress Form Study #1 Pencil

Dress Form Study #2, Pencil

Dress Form Study #3, Pencil

Dress Form, Acrylic on birch panel, 31.27" x 24"

"Sharon's Bell"  (detail), Acrylic on board, 30" x 33"

Easel Line