Monday, 28 June 2010

BAMBOO


Corel Painter X art software simulates a Bamboo Pen... without the drawbacks of traditional pens, which can clog, spatter, or run dry.

Young Ronald Searle and his friends enlisted in the British Royal Engineers at age 19 during World War II. They were stationed in Singapore when the city was captured by the Japanese in February 1942.

Searle and his friends were taken prisoner and shipped to a dense tropical jungle to build the Burma-Siam railroad. They worked at forced labor in sweltering heat, chopping through miles of dense bamboo forests and hacking a path through granite mountains. On a starvation diet of less than 400 calories per day, plagued by insects and disease, victimized by brutal guards, the prisoners began dying like flies. The guards quickly killed any member of the ragtag group who fell behind. Searle recalled:
My friends and I, we all signed up together. We had grown up together, we went to school together and they all died like that. So few of us came out of it. Basically, all the people we loved and knew and grew up with simply became fertiliser for the nearest bamboo....
Cholera also took a terrible toll on the men, including Searle:
Between bouts of fever I came round one morning to find that the men on each side of me were dead, and as I tried to prop myself up to get away from them, I saw that there was a snake coiled under the bundle on which I had been resting my head.
His captors enforced a harsh discipline. The slightest infraction
meant a thrashing for someone with the ubiquitous bamboo stick - and being beaten with bamboo is like being beaten with an iron bar.
One such beating left Searle temporarily paralyzed. But there were even more insidious uses for bamboo:
Some of our overseers had an extremely primitive sense of humour. During the noon break on the cuttings, they would frequently relieve their boredom by calling us into line before we had barely gobbled down our rice, to watch the torture of one of us picked at random. The unlucky one might be made to hold a heavy rock above his head in the full sun, with a sharpened bamboo stick propped against his back. If he wavered, which he inevitably did, the bamboo spear pierced his skin.

Searle resolved that he was going to draw a record of his ordeal. He obssessively began drawing every day on smuggled scraps of paper.



He later described his sketches as "the graffiti of a condemned man, intending to leave a rough witness of his passing through, but who found himself - to his surprise and delight - among the reprieved." Searle could have been severely punished by the guards for his drawings. He sometimes concealed them by rolling them up inside the ubiquitous bamboo and burying them in the ground.

When the railroad was completed, Searle was among the small percentage of prisoners who survived the jungle. He was shipped back to Changi, a horrifically squalid and overcrowded jail in Singapore.

There, the men continued to starve. Searle was especially taken by a pair of baby kittens at the jail:



Searle fattened them up and on Christmas day, 1944, cooked and ate them.

In August 1945, Searle was released after the war ended and went on to a long, passionate career as a brilliant artist. Thinking back, he said, "Everything goes back to being a prisoner. When I think how fortunate I was to survive that, to lose all one's friends at 19 years old - every day is a treasure. I decided when the war ended that I was going to do something interesting."

Searle, now 90, drew distinctive pictures using an old fashioned bamboo pen.




Corel Painter X art software conveniently provides you with art and passion with none of the mess or drawbacks of a traditional Bamboo Pen... which can clog, spatter, or run dry.


Friday, 25 June 2010

Composition Workshop! Saturday July 10

The skills of drawing and color are critically important and yet they don't find their full expression until they're teamed with a strong composition. If you're going to make a great picture you have to have a great composition.
That will be our topic of study for this years composition workshop on Saturday, July 10, 12-8pm. So whether you're a landscape painter, figurative or entertainment artist, if you're in the LA area I'd love to see you there.


Composition: design for dynamic picture making:
  • Slideshow presentation and lecture, 12-3pm: Lectures on the fundamentals of effective picture making. Discussions on the creation of mood and environment. Principles for organizing complex scenes into pleasing arrangements. Strategies for solving compositional problems quickly and effectively. Studies of Composition in history and the modern day
  • Painting demonstration, 3:30-5
  • Compositional exercises, 6-7pm
  • Student painting time with instructor feedback, 7-8pm


To enroll contact the Los Angeles Academy of Figurative Art at 877-695-2232. Their site is www.laafa.org.

Sunday, 20 June 2010

ARTISTS IN LOVE, part 16

In 1863, artist Albert Bierstadt and writer Fitz Hugh Ludlow left New York on an expedition into the great American wilderness. Bierstadt dreamed of painting spectacular western landscapes while Ludlow planned to write about them.

The two men also had something to work out between them: Bierstadt was in love with Ludlow's wife, Rosalie.



The men traveled together for nearly nine months. They picked up fresh supplies in Kansas and followed the Overland Trail, working their way through Nebraska, Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, Nevada and into what would one day become Yosemite National Park.

Nobody knows for sure what the two men discussed around the campfire at night, but things must have gotten a little testy in Colorado when they discovered a beautiful 14,000 foot mountain and Bierstadt named it after Ludlow's wife.

Bierstadt is reputed to be the first man ever to climb Mount Rosalie.

The travelers reached the west coast before winter. They found a steamer ship in San Francisco that returned them to New York, where Rosalie waited apprehensively.

Both men returned home steadfastly in love with Rosalie. Unfortunately for Ludlow, he also loved hashish (his most famous book was the classic account, The Hasheesh Eater). As drugs took an increasing toll on Ludlow's life, Rosalie turned to Bierstadt for comfort. Ludlow's cousin wrote at the time,

[Ludlow] is a pretty fellow to be cursing poor Rose. Whatever she may have done is no excuse for him and if he had done as he should she never would have been so fond of the attentions of other men. I don't entirely excuse her, but I will stand up for her against him. I have no patience with him.
Ludlow continued to work on his book about their expedition while Bierstadt worked on immense paintings of the landscapes he had witnessed. His masterpiece was, "Storm in the Rocky Mountains, Mount Rosalie."



In 1866, the year that Bierstadt unveiled his painting of her mountain, Rosalie divorced Ludlow and married Bierstadt. The embittered Ludlow removed every reference to Bierstadt's name from the manuscript of his book.

Bierstadt and Rosalie went on to lead a happy life together. They traveled the world and the successful painter opened studios in London, Paris and Rome. Years later, Bierstadt took Rosalie back to California on the newly built railroad, returning over some of the same ground he had traversed on horseback and by foot as a young artist.

If you look for Mount Rosalie today, you won't find anything resembling Bierstadt's painting. For one thing, after Rosalie died the Colorado state legislature renamed the mountain for the governor of Colorado, John Evans. (As surely as rain erodes mountains, bureaucrats and politicians will follow in the wake of lovers and pioneers, eroding all romantic gestures and leveling all artistic achievements).

But apart from that, you won't find the mountain because Bierstadt's landscape was largely imagined. He painted accurate studies on site, but then exaggerated and romanticized them back in his studio. He combined waterfalls from one location with cliffs from a second and mountains from a third. For added drama he sometimes inserted fog, mist or dark storm clouds.

In Bierstadt's famous painting, you can see that he envisioned Mount Rosalie as a radiant heaven beckoning from beyond the clouds in the the upper left hand corner of the picture:



But a photograph of Mt. Evans today conveys a different feeling:



Geologists could tell that Bierstadt's paintings were composites, and art critics faulted him for concocting landscapes in his studio rather than capturing reality on the trail.

It's true that the farther an artist gets from his subject (whether the subject is a mountain or a girl) the harder it becomes to retain all the facts about the subject.  Details begin to drop out, to be replaced by imagination and thoughts and feelings. This digestive process is what helps us find the larger poetry in our subjects. It's what makes relationships a shared reality.

After the first three or four months on the trail thinking about Rosalie (imagine-- no letters, no skype, no sexting!) it's not surprising that Bierstadt began to see her in the mountains, or in the wildflowers or in the moon. I'd wager that both Bierstadt and Ludlow were baying at that moon before their trip was through.

How important are the factual details about the artist's subject? Bierstadt painted Mt. Rosalie more with his heart than his eyes, but that doesn't mean the result was less accurate than the photographs of Rosalie or Mount Evans. Bierstadt's idealized image of Rosalie as a pristine white land of flowing waterfalls may have been more real than the facts about her that have dropped away with time. It may have been more true than Rosalie's own views of her sins from her first marriage.

Contrary to the art critics who faulted Bierstadt for painting landscapes back in his studio, I think the most important part of his Mt. Rosalie painting-- the part that he painted with his heart-- was created during those long nights on the trail thinking about Rosalie.

Thursday, 17 June 2010

Friday, 11 June 2010

THE NEXT GREAT ARTIST

Anyone curious about the identity of the next great artist will surely want to tune in to the new TV reality series, Work of Art: The Next Great Artist.

In last night's debut, host and judge China Chow (ranked #54 on the Maxim list of the Hot 100 Women of 2001) welcomed a gaggle of artists who will be pitted against each other as they claw for celebrityhood. In the first phase of the competition, Chow told the artists how to create "a successful portrait."


"Chow: show the inner essence of the subject"

Art lover Sarah Jessica Parker (Sex in the City) then exhorted the competitors to "be brave."



But nothing quite compared to the the moment when the oleaginous, double breasted Simon de Pury, described as a "leader in the international art world," purred inappropriately over a nude portrait of a contestant half his age ("I seenk eet loooks vehreee appeeling").

The cumulative effect reminded me of Ambrose Bierce's observation,"So scurvy a crew I do not remember to have discerned in vermiculose conspiracy outside the carcass of a dead horse."

It's not like we didn't smell this state of affairs coming. Mid-way through the 20th century, artist Raphael Soyer looked ruefully over his shoulder at the path fine art had recently taken:
The art world of the 1920s and 1930s was different from today's art world. Art was not the big business it has become today. It did not have the air of glitter and commercialism. Art was less sensational, reputations were not so rapidly made and lost. There were about 15 or so modest art galleries in New York, several of them filled with paintings by Eakins, Homer and Ryder. The well known, in fact, famous artists of that time-- Bellows, Sloan, Hopper-- were not celebrities.
Saul Bellow had a similar view of the way a foolish prosperity had undermined potentially serious writers:
Nowadays when a young man thinks of becoming a writer, first he thinks of his hairstyle and then what clothes he should wear and then what whiskey he's going to endorse.... The depression bred compassion and solidarity between people instead of breeding crime and antagonism. They were much less harsh or severe than in time of prosperity.
Even Soyer and Bellows didn't anticipate the path art would take. One of the contestants on Work of Art: The Next Great Artist created performance art where white males in her audience were invited to apologize for oppressing indigenous people by biting a burrito attached to her substantial hip.

Decadent, superfluous art seems especially difficult to tolerate because of what art has the potential to be. As Shakespeare noted, "Lilies that fester smell far worse than weeds."

But the purpose of this week's post is not to shoot fish in a barrel. There is actually an interesting point here. It is worth considering why illustration has largely escaped this type of putrefaction. Illustration admittedly has many limitations, but it also seems to contain antibodies that protect it from the decadence and self-indulgence which have infected much of the fine art field in recent decades.

The relentless efficiency of the marketplace strips illustration of a lot of potential qualities, but at the same time it seems to scrub away a lot of pretensions and illusions. Art in the service of robust commerce doesn't have as much latitude for the vices that we see on display in so many of today's temples of fine art.
.
.
Here's another idea piece for the ogre encampment from Shrek Forever After.
.

Friday, 4 June 2010

Shrek Forever After: evolution of a sketch

.
The ogre resistance encampment was an interesting challenge, here's one of many passes we took at it:

Moleskine sketch



Color rough



"Ogreifying" the location in photoshop



Establishing the scene as an ogre encampment and finishing in photoshop.



I prefer the previous image over this one, I'm a location guy more than a character painter but they asked me to populate the scene with characters. This is what I came up with.

Tuesday, 1 June 2010

THAT PLACE IN BETWEEN


"Vertical Hold" by Sterling Hundley

Somewhere between the art you have not seen yet and the art you have stopped seeing because it has become too familiar...

Between the veteran artist running out of original ideas and the child who believes his every crayon line is unprecedented...

Between the artist who aggressively competes with all his peers and the artist who is oblivious to where he stands...

Between the professional who desperately depends on art to pay the mortgage and the amateur who resorts to art to fill an idle Sunday afternoon...

Between the expert who is hamstrung by too much knowledge of art's long history and the airy ignorance of the novice...

Between the artist who is shackled by the demands of unreasonable clients and the heedless freedom of an artist with no audience at all...

Between the investor who views art only in financial terms and the fan who is insensitive to the economics that make art possible...

Between the person who ignores art and the person who is so obsessed with art that it diminishes his experience of life...

........................................lies a sweet, sweet spot.