Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The Drawing of Santa

If it weren't for Clement Moore, author of The Night Before Christmas (1823) and artist, Thomas Nast, we probably wouldn't have the Santa Claus we enjoy today.

Originally, the idea of Santa Claus evolved from the Dutch Sinterklauss, who stems from St. Nicholas, a bishop from Greece, usually celebrated on his holiday of December 6th.  Our current-day Santa has many similarities of the Dutch counterpart—the red garb, the large white beard and helper (servant) named Zwarte Piet or Black Peter (see boy looking in the window).

Our contemporary Santa began his visual journey from a mid-19th century editorial artist, Thomas Nast, who worked for Harper's Weekly. His first Santa appeared in January, 1863, where Santa was giving gifts to the soldiers in camp during the Civil War.

The next time Nast draws him, Santa is a kindly old man with pipe in hand for a Harper's Weekly Christmas Eve spread.

Here is the beginning of the Santa to come.

Notice how the white beard is fuller and he's added the pipe.

Years later, in the midst of the Victorian Age, Nast illustrated the most famous Santa of all: Merry Old Santa Claus, which appeared in Harper's Weekly, January 1, 1881. The time was plumb for this Santa, who was adored by the Victorians and loved by their children. Nast has also been credited with creating Santa's home in the North Pole, the helpful elves, letter writing to Santa and only gifts given to good children.
Click on the picture and take a look at all the intricate line work.
From an illustrative viewpoint, this Santa is work of superb inkwork. Notice all the hatch and cross-hatch work. Below you can see more of his illustrations with Santa and children, all with the same craftsmanship.

Notice the brick line work!

Our modern-day Santa took on a more robust look when Coca-Cola "hired" Santa to be their visual spokesman. During the holidays, soft drinks didn't do as well. So to beef up sales, Coke really hired an illustrator named Haddon Hubbard "Sunny" Sundblom (June 22, 1899 – March 10, 1976). Using the Night before Christmas as his model, Sundblom painted the first Santa, while working for  D'Arcy Advertising Agency.
For the next thirty years, Sundblom would entertain us with
his many renditions of Santa Claus
Again, taking a closer look at this painting of Santa, you will find a wonderful painting with settle brush stroke for the beard and a interesting use of light.

Feel free to visit my new page at  Glastonbury Studios Facebook  to learn more on this subject. In the meantime, have a happy holiday season and I wish you a great new year in 2011. I'll be back next month with an article on the sketches of Rembrandt.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Creating studies for final work

The other night in one of my drawing classes, I was working on a rendering of a dog. I often draw my class assignments before my students arrive, but this term, I've been working along side them at my studio. It's been fun and rather spontaneous, that is, until last night. 

For the life of me, I just couldn't get this cute little dog down on paper. I'd lay down one sketch, then pull the sheet out of my book. The second page went in the same direction. By the third try, I was feeling very frustrated and maybe even a little embarrassed. After all, I'm the teacher—the one who's supposed to show how “easy” it is to draw. Fortunately, I didn't have egg on my face too long. My fourth attempt was satisfactory. But it wasn't until everyone went home that I finally drew another (my fifth try!) and achieved what I wanted—a decent rendition of a darling little pooch.

My point? Perfection cannot be achieved immediately. We sometime struggle to get what we want--guess that's why they call it art "work."  Indeed, many artists develop studies before they commit to a final piece. Georges Seurat was one such artist. Born in the mid-1800s, he is credited as the inventor of pointillism, although Johannes Vermeer had dabbled with the concept years earlier. Similar to stippling in drawing, one uses small dots to create the subject. But unlike stippling, pointillism uses small dots of color that blend to give the illusion of another color. For instance, Seurat would not mix yellow and blue on his palette to create green, but place both colors together to create an “optical” green. A very difficult task.

One of his greatest paintings is A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of the Grand Jatte (in French: Un dimanche après-midi à L'Ile de la Grande Jette) shown below (click to see a larger view):

Notice that this entire piece (measuring 6ft X 10 ft 1 in) is entirely created by placing one colored point next to the other. Displayed in 1886, the painting took Seurat two years to create. But more importantly, he visited the park —the Grand Jatte—day after day to create studies, both drawings and small paintings before he created the final product.

For example, here are a few drawings he created in Conté crayon in preparation for the painting:

Notice the woods on the right hand side of the painting.
Can you find this woman in the final painting? 
And what about this little girl?
And here's une femme fishing (left-hand side)
But Seuret didn't just stop at drawing (which by the way, he practiced drawing in black and white for an entire year). He also did study after study on small canvases. Notice the similarities and the changes that appeared on these studies.

Getting closer, don't you think?
And one more look at the final work:

So don't get frustrated if you have to do a drawing over and over again. I can guarantee the subsequent drawings do get easier and you also find yourself adding and subtracting as you go along, which ends up being a true “work” of art!

(Note: many people wonder about the monkey that the ever-so-proper woman has on a lead in the painting—especially when in the 1800s monkeys were symbolic for prostitutes. Any theories???)

Next month, I'll be talking about the art of Santa Claus....

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Drawing for Myself: A long journey

I've been drawing and sketching ever since I was a small child. Even so, I've been frustrated at times, usually because I wanted to create perfection. I longed to fashion my art as accurately as possible, not only so someone would recognize what I drew, but also so it would be real, authentic, true.

By the time I was able to accomplish this reality-type drawing (through the tutelage of Rene Paudler), I found myself proud but at the same time, a bit let down. I think part of this disappointment came from realizing what I accomplished was just a copy of what I saw, instead of an interpretation of what I experienced (a oneness with the object). Now, of course if you are illustrating for the scientific community, claiming to be a botanical or anatomical artist, you have to be accurate. But even then, is there wiggle room, a place for what one could call, artistic license? Yes and no.

On one hand if you are drawing for a client, creating a piece on commission, you are usually rather restricted. The scientific illustrator must stay faithful to what she is drawing. The same is true when drawing a portrait or a client's favorite pet. In other words, open creativity, carte blanche if you will, may be only a whisper in your drawing.

But what about your own stuff, do you paint or draw for your audience or do you paint for yourself? I can honestly say that I draw for myself. That is, I still draw what I see but now I try to tell a story about my experience with the object that I am drawing or painting. I may do that by adding something that isn't quite there in the photo or the scene before me. Perhaps, I’ll change the mood by increasing or decreasing the lighting. I'm not the only one who does this. I once read a story about an artist who put a lighthouse in the wrong part of town in her painting. Local folks hated it. But for her, it was esthetically more appealing. And of course, we’ve all heard about  Da Vinci's painting of the Last Supper, which is supposedly riddled with mistakes—wrong background, wrong table, wrong race of people, and so on.
Guernica, (1937) by Pablo Picasso (1881-1973)
Museo Reine Sofia, Madrid
Another example is Picasso's painting, Guernica. While way-off the realistic charts, it illustrates the massacre of this small Basque village in 1937. Franco allowed Hitler to practice his bombing techniques on the unsuspecting and innocent citizens, ending with 1600 dead or wounded. Of course, Picasso could have painted a realistic landscape with planes pouring over the canvas, while releasing their deadly load. But that's not the way he wanted to tell the story, to express the experience. Instead he showed confusion, anguish, fear—death to humans, to animals to life itself.

Picasso went on to say, “A painting is not thought out and settled in advance. While it is being done, it changes as one's thoughts change. And when it's finished, it goes on changing, according to the state of mind of whoever is looking at it."

I hate to be trite, but Shakespeare said it better than I can say it today, “To thine ownself be true.” And while we can't always draw and paint what we want, if we do, then let’s go for it with as much gusto as we can muster. It’s been a long journey throughout the years, but I’m glad that I now create art for myself. It’s important that I please myself first, perhaps later some we enjoy it as much as I do.

Next month I'll discuss A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte by Georges Seurat, the master of Pointillism!

Friday, July 2, 2010

Mistake made on subscription

For those of you who just signed up for the English Tales will have to do so again by going to http://myenglishtales.blogspot.com/. I mistakenly put in the wrong code for the blog's subscription.

I just uploaded a new installment and I don't want you to miss it.

Please excuse the inconvenience. If you're having any problems let me know and I'll try to help.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Op Art--Waldport Report

For next few months I will be covering art movements. My first is Op Art, one of my favorites. Defined, it is art that plays tricks with optical illusions, thus Optical art. Although many op artists are painters, you can find the art expressed in sculpture and design.

Victor Vasarely, (1906-1992) is considered the father of Op Art and the piece listed below, entitled Zebra (1937), demonstrates why.

Op Art creates movement like no other. I love how the artist creates an image that moves without moving. Here's another by another great, Bridget Riley (1931--). This one is entitled Movement in Squares (1961).

And last but not least, here's a cartoon from Heini Scheffler, "Halt the Thief."

If you think Op Art is easy to create, watch this video on YouTube to see how hard it is:

Report on Waldport: Memorial Day Weekend
Our weekend at Waldport was so much fun. I believe it was the best one ever. And it didn't rain for two days!!! Yes, we were in Oregon. Here are some pictures of the students at work and the paintings they created. 

Until next month!

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

May 2010--Drawing & Painting in Plein Air

Someday we will have nice weather again (please!), so I'd like to talk about what to take with you when painting or drawing outdoors--or en plein air (the French way of saying "in open air").

To begin, it's important to think of traveling light. One of the biggest mistakes I made when first going outdoors to paint was that I  thought I had to bring everything. I quickly learned that a lot of stuff becomes a big burden when you're hiking through a park or city street, and it's also unnecessary. I brought things I just didn't need.

If you plan on just drawing, a simple sketchbook and pencil will do. Mechanical pencils are great as you don't have to worry about sharpening a point or go searching for an eraser. If you want to be more elaborate in your drawing, you can always add a permanent pen, some watercolors and a waterbrush. My kit shown below can fit into any purse or small satchel. I would also suggest taking a small camera--to capture the scenery you can't draw right then and there.

For painting, I favor the same type of watercolor kit with a small amount of watercolor paper. For acrylics I use a French half-easel. They are small, not too heavy, can carry a lot of my supplies, and it comes with an easel already to go. I find the guerrilla boxes are a bit bothersome for me as I also have to take along a tripod. Here's mine (click on the picture to get a larger view):

As you can see I store my acrylics in a
variety of ways, preferring capped bottles the most.

Okay so now we've covered the materials, here are some other items you can take on your outings:

Canvas bag/backpack Camera Jacket, wide-brim hat, sunglasses,  Light clothing, good shoes Sunscreen, bug repellant, Chapstick Bottle of water for drinking Zip lock bags (for storing and cleanup) Wet cloth or sponge in baggie (cleanup) Toilet paper roll First-aid kit, compass A few snacks: fruit, candy bar, granola, etc.

Until next month...

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

April 2010 Newsletter

Colors. They're fun. They're vibrant. They enrich our lives.  I was just thinking about how much our lives have changed for those of us who were brought up during the mid-20th century. It's hard to imagine that once upon a time we watched television in black and white--no color, no HD, and with only three channels. How dull can you get? (Although lots of us thought it was cool then!) Today, we're watching the same “concept,” with drama flowing from a thin rectangle hung on  a wall, in full-brilliant color and high-definition.  Just see how uninspiring this black and white ad is for Bewitched.

Black and white television: what shade of gray do you like?

Years later when color television came along, a similar scene, in full color, was far more interesting. This was revolutionary at the time. That's what color does. 

Last month I covered the primary colors: yellow, red and blue. From these three we can create lots and lots of colors (even a million). But for now, I just want to talk about the three naturals, orange, green and violet or what's called the secondary colors. 

Creating a secondary color starts with one primary, which you add to another primary, thus making a new secondary one.  It goes like this:

With both the primary and secondary colors, you can create almost anything you want. Except perhaps for color pencil and pastels, you really don't need to buy all those endless colors from paint manufacturers (oh shucks!) to create a painting. It's just a matter of mixing the right color. And as with everything else, it's just a matter of practice.

Below, I've created a color wheel that includes something called complementary colors. These are the colors that are opposite each other on the color wheel. While we may think that these colors “complement” each other, they actually complete each other, creating some of the most beautiful grays and browns when mixed. 

Complementary colors are also rather striking in a picture―be it a painting or photo.

©2010 by jjgoodell

Try it tonight!
Why not pull out some watercolor paints tonight, select only primary and secondary colors and start mixing away. First mix some secondaries, then see what happens when you mix the complementaries together.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Primary Colors

As we all learned in elementary school, there are three primary colors: red, yellow and blue. Traditionally, we’ve also been told that yellows and reds are warm, while blues are cool.  But like everything in the study of art, it’s not that simple. Let me explain.

When I started to mix colors seriously, I had such a hard time. Nothing seemed to work. I’d try to mix my blue and yellow and I’d get a sick green. My blues and reds were a very anemic violet—more like a cinnamon. It wasn’t until I learned about color temperature that things improved.

What I didn’t understand was that the three primary colors have cool and warm attributes, depending on the pigment you choose. Mixing warm colors with warm colors and vice versa, really helps. Look at the colors below and hopefully you will see variations in temperature. They're primary colors, but distantly different. One may lean towards a red (warm), while another may lean towards a blue/green (cold).

Yellow: Lemon yellow and cadmium yellow
Blue: Ultramarine and cobalt blue
Red: Cadmium red and alizarin red
Source of colors: Pigments through the Ages.

Sometimes it's easier to understand color temperature by looking at paintings directly. Here are two examples of cool and warm paintings. Can pick which one is which?

When mixing colors, you can create new warm colors by combining two warms. Conversely the cooler colors (and paintings) can be made stronger by mixing cool with cool. However, the real fun and perhaps certain frustration begin when you play with mixing cools and warms. If you want to play with this more, you can find the colors listed above at many art stores. Try mixing them first-hand. I can guarantee you’ll learn a lot and have fun too boot. Want to learn more about pigments, then go to: http://www.webexhibits.org/pigments/

Next month, we’ll talk more about secondary colors.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

February 2010 Newsletter

Every month, I try to write an informative newsletter that will hopefully take you to a new level. Today I want to discuss something that’s been around for centuries: the grid. In fact, a student of mine told me recently that artists used the grid method in Egypt to paint their murals. I’m not surprised because they are extremely helpful to the new as well as the experienced artist.

My mentor and career coach does not like grids. She thinks there are inhibiting, holding back the expressive artist within. While I can see her point, overall I disagree with this belief. Grids are perfect for the artist to get a fairly accurate drawing. It still requires  “looking” at the object that's being drawn, even more so because the artist must translate what is seen in each segment on the paper.

So who uses grid? Lots of folks. One artist who used it a lot was Degas while he was drawing his dancers. As you can see, his 1” grid appears in one of his famous dancer drawings.

A grid can be as simple as using the “rule of thirds,” where you divide the page into equal thirds vertically and horizontally.

The rule of thirds is a guideline that we use in composition to ensure that pictures are well-proportioned and have strong focal points—those areas that fall onto the “sweet spots,” that is , where the lines intersect.

Thus, by using the rule of thirds as a grid, you are accomplishing two things: composing your picture properly and drawing your picture truthfully. Let’s take the above picture as an example. This is how I would begin my drawing, using the above grid.

  1. I draw the same grid on my paper.

  1. Next I begin to draw what I see in each section.

By concentrating on one square at a time, I am not feeling overwhelmed by the whole picture in front of me. I can also use this method when I’m outside by creating what’s called a viewfinder. Just take a baseball card size hard-plastic sleeve and draw the lines right on the plastic.  You can also make one with a small mat board frame and attach strings to the sides where the third lines appear.

There are other grids as well. Many people use a 1” grid. In many of my classes and workshops, I hand out grids you can create on plastic presentation plastic sleeves, which again you simply draw the lines and then slip your photo inside. 

No matter what kind of grid you draw, just remember to create the same proportional grid on your drawing surface. In other words if you are using a 1” grid, then be careful to draw the same 1” grid on your paper. I even use a simple cross-grid to help me get things in place properly. These grids don’t have to be fancy.

Next month I will start another series, this time on color. We’ll look at the two basic triads: primary colors (blue, red and yellow) and secondary colors (green, orange and violet). Until next time, have a great February with all my love.
Happy Valentine's Day!