Thursday, March 31, 2011

!00 paintings an artist should know, X11(a)

55) The Gleaners by Jean-Francois Millet 1814-1875

Millet was a peasant from Normandy who studied with Paul Delaroche. The painting represents French peasants gleaning that is, following after the harvesters and picking up the spilled grains of wheat left behind.This is described in the Old Testament in the story of Ruth and Naomi. It is a reminder of the plight of the desperately poor rural peasantry. Millet first a portrait painter turned to the country side in which he had been raised and depicted the simplest humblest peasants with a reverence and religious dignity. This is austere and extremely serious art. In a way, it is almost the opposite of the Gerome's with their nearly frivolous but slightly self important subject matter and fascination with the trappings of wealth, rarity and antiquity. Below is The Sower painted in 1850.

Here is a representation of a peasant sowing grain by hand is the ancient way that is was done from prehistoric times. He is presented heroically against the sky in the failing light. Behind his sowing hand are birds, that will undoubtedly claim their share of the seed.

Although supported by a few patrons Millet's art was not particularly well received until he was old. His rough, simplified handling was perfectly suited to his subject matter and basic and brutal. Alongside the highly polished works of many of the salon painters with whom he was displayed, his art seemed at first to be too roughly made and his political sensibilities made patrons uneasy. But the paintings dignity and depictions of the eternal and most ancient simple means of life, which were to vanish in a generation have a evocative power, and "remember" well. They are Old Testament Biblical in their sternness and themes.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

More Leon Gerome

Public prayer in the mosque of Cairo

In the 1850's Gerome made a number of trips to the middle east touring Turkey and later Egypt.
He was one of the French painters who enamored with those ancient and picturesque lands made trips there to draw and make sketches, and then returned home to make paintings for the salon. This group of painters were called Orientalists, although Gerome handled many other subjects as well.

Le Eminence Grise depicts Cardinal Richelieu descending a staircase, with courtiers bowing to him. This wonderful painting is in the Boston Museum and they have always shown it, despite Gerome's unfashionable status through the 20th century. People love this painting perhaps it is too popular to store. I know this painting very well and it is one of my favorite things in the Boston Museum.It is a startlingly well painted work, a technical tour-de-force.

Selling Slaves in Rome. This painting obviously has a broad based appeal. The gesture of the auctioneer is priceless.

Monday, March 28, 2011

!00 paintings, L. Gerome

54) Pollice Verso by Jean-Leon Gerome 1824-1904

Painted in 1872 Pollice Verso represents a scene in the Roman coliseum when a victorious gladiator standing over his wounded foe turns to the crowd for them to signal whether the defeated should live or die. Although pollice verso is translated into English as thumbs down, no one today is able to actually tell from period resources whether it meant thumbs up, or down, or perhaps the thumb was hidden in the fist. Literally translated it means with a turned thumb.
This painting inspired the movie Gladiator and a lot of other sword and sandal movies before that.
Gerome was a pupil of Delaroche (who I featured last night). He was refused the Prix de Rome Prize because his figure drawing was weak. In order to study the figure he painted the piece below, The Cockfight.

The cockfight was painted in a tiny garret studio and had a lukewarm reception from the judges and the critics. But the crowds loved it and it made his reputation. Behind the figures is the Bay of Naples that Gerome had visited some years earlier before a fever forced his return to France.

Images from

!00 paintings a painter should know, head loss edition

53) The execution of Lady Jane Grey by (Paul) Hippolyte Delaroche 1797-1856

I warned you I am presenting my own and somewhat arbitrary list of the great painters and painting. This post is about one such. I intend to spend far more time on academic painting as is commonly done, but I think this sort of painting has a growing influence on young painters of the realist or traditional bent today.

A wealthy young Parisian and friend of Delacroix, Delaroche was a student of historical painter Antoine-Jean Gros. Gros was a student of David and had a great number of pupils. He painted the Execution picture in 1833
Lady Jane Grey was proclaimed Queen of England in 1553 and deposed nine days later. She was beheaded at age 16 a year later by Mary Tudor who ascended to the throne.
This painting was thought destroyed by a flood at the Tate gallery in 1928 but was discovered rolled up in a storeroom in 1973 in near perfect condition. It was moved to the National Gallery.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

A little morbid tonight.

After the time of the Romans Paris began burying it's dead in municipal cemeteries. This went on for almost a thousand years. As Paris grew, it absorbed the cemeteries that had been outside its boundaries. In the Les Halles area of Paris a cemetery called Saints Innocents was a particular problem. The practice was to bury hundreds of bodies in large pits without coffins. When the hole was filled another was opened nearby. Eventually the hole would be reopened and the bones now devoid of flesh would be stacked in special buildings and new bodies buried in their places. This only worked for about about 500 years, and enormous numbers of citizens of the area became ill as a result of ground water pollution.
In 1768 the cemeteries had become such a problem that it was decided to move all of the bones and bodies to ancient Roman limestone mines outside of Paris. For years, every night, black draped wagons hauled the bones of the dead from every cemetery in Paris to a location outside the city where they could be distributed in the massive tunnel systems. Over SIX MILLION bodies were moved out of every location within the city limits. Some of the bodies had even been walled up in unused houses throughout the city.Today the "catacombs of Paris can be toured and the bones are artistically arrayed along with the monuments from the old graveyards. A sign over the entrance to the ossuary reads Stop! This is the Empire of Death!

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Back to Ingres

In 1824 after his many years in Italy, Ingres returned to Paris. His Vow of XIII painting was well received and he was a celebrity in the art world. He had begun to lose some of the archaic mannerisms that had been disliked by his critics. He also secured a stream of portrait commissions. The highly finished realism of his portrait of Louis- Francois Bertin (1832) was enormously popular at the salon.

The success of his work from this era brought attention to his previous paintings that had not been well received initially and the won all of the major awards France had to bestow.

Ingres became the premier classicist artist in France who led the defense of classical ideas of art against the rival romanticists. He was a highly regarded teacher and was beloved by his many students. His wife died in 1849 and in 1852 Ingres age seventy one marries Delphine Ramel aged forty three. Evidently this marriage was as successful as his first.

Ingre lived to be eighty six years old and upon his death was buried in Paris's famed Pere Lachaise cemetery. This is the cemetery that contains the grave of Jim Morrison of the Doors.You know, I think that cemetery deserves a post of it's own, Have I got a bizarre story for you, about how Paris moved hundreds of thousands of bodies out of Paris at night for years when it became necessary to relocate their dead, who were so numerous they were even walled up in ordinary houses for lack of a better place to put them.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Themed shows

OK, there it is.

One of my pet peeves is this, gallery theme shows. That's when a gallery tells all of their artists they are doing a special show and want paintings of some particular subject, say, Forgotten Foods of Yesteryear. I think the only theme that I really like is "New Work". I am a landscape painter, I don't really paint food, but I obligingly and naively do a beautiful 24 by 36 of a suet pudding and take it to them. They say they love it and even put it on the sleazy postcards they send out to be ritually discarded by their clientele. Well it's one of the six on there anyway, cropped.

At the end of the show's run, I go back to the gallery and they hand me back the painting unsold. Again they smile and tell me how much they loved it.They are so sorry it didn't sell, but now they are done with it. They think they have done me a favor, in fact, they included me in a show! Years ago I learned never to work for exposure. Now here I am doing it again! But what am I supposed to do with my apotheosis of suet now? I put all the effort into making something I would never have made except for their request, I wanted to appear to be a good sport, but I wasted two weeks of effort and a pudding, and they still know I'm a crank. I have put out all of that work for nothing. No other gallery is going to want my over the sofa sized quivering desert. I have made a painting that should have been a commission.

Here is what I intend to do in the future. If a gallery calls me and tells me about a "themed" show I will ask myself "will what I make be portable?" For instance, if the gallery is in a place of great natural vistas, or in a historic village, or something else I would ordinarily paint, and they want something local, OK I'm there. If they don't sell it, I can take it somewhere else. But if they want, Steam Driven Wurlitzers that Changed the World, count me out! I will be as polite to the dealer as I can be, but that is the rule. I have lost weeks making things for dealers that they never sold, and I can't afford it.

A newly wed young couple is going to be perplexed, when as their wedding gift they receive my lovely suet pudding painting in a Chinese frame with an open corner. Its a suet pudding! I'll tell them, but they will still look glum.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

sporadic firing along the halftone front

Goodbye, Liz Taylor

I received more comments including the following;

This post sows confusion. if the halftones are everything that's neither a shadow nor a highlight, what, then, are the lights? the lights is a term normally used to refer to all the lights as distinct from all the shadows and the lights are normally thought to include highlights, average light, and half tones, where half tones are the darkest lights. Is there a good reason confuse readers by ignoring common usage?

Dear Rubysboy;
There would seem no reason indeed, to confuse readers by ignoring common usage. And the usage I usaged was common in the milieu in which I was trained, where all the modeling was referred to as halftones, probably as a convenience. But, tonight I will present a non spheroid form and cut the demarcation into finer pieces. I don't understand how there can be average light on a sphere, as it constantly turns away from the light. Could you please link to your art on your profile? When I clicked on it I found nothing, no name, no website, nothing. If you want to post a strong disagreement with me, that is fine, but I would prefer you not do so anonymously. Keeps everything a little more civil too. I Googled Rubysboy and all I found was a Pomeranian puppy by that name for sale. Probably bites.

Brady said: A highlight is the brightest spot in the painting or drawing.
A halftone is any value between the highlight, and the bedbug line.
So, there could be any number of halftone values from 1 up to the limits of human vision. (Which I think is about 100 steps.)
So lets say that your bed bug line is value 99 on a 100 value scale and that the highlight is value 1.
(Given a scale where black is 100 and white is 1.)
This means that you could have up to 98 values in the halftones. Since all of those values are between the highlight and the bedbug line, they are all halftones.
To put what I said into context with Stape's post you can put all values into two categories.

Highlights + halftones = Lights

Bedbug line + Reflected light = Shadows.

Yes that is what I meant. However I was speaking in the simplest form and there is another tighter definition I will now explain.

Tonight we are going to look at a more complex form and take this out a little further. Please meet me again below this crude drawing below
Last night we talked about a spherical shape. Here is a cabochon or a tetrahedral or whatever the proper name for such an object might be. It is faceted, or planar. As you read above, I have referred to all the modeling as halftones, but there are systems for dividing it more finely. In the tightest definition a halftone is exactly that,

the tone exactly halfway in value between the lights and the shadow.

On a sphere that would be a band about a micron wide running close to the shadow edge. but on a faceted surface it is defineable. On the form above #2 would be the highlight and #4 would (approximately) represent the halftone. The problem with this strict definition is, in use it precludes any discussion of this halftone being varied from that halftone. There is only one value that is a halftone. There are no halftones, only the halftone. That is clumsy from a teaching standpoint.

There are painting systems that premix a standard color for the highlight, average light, halftone and the shadow and reflected light. In the form above the #1 and #3 would represent the average light.

Portrait painters are very fond of these systems. I sometimes use a system like this for laying in a figure painting. But I generally discard it and go with close observation of the values after my lay in. These systems are useless training before a cast, for instance, when the point is to observe the nuances of modeling rather than large and approximate groupings of the values into two or three standard deviations. It is a good way to roughly build a structure of form, but disallows both the observation from nature of values and the nuanced infinitesimal gradations of value found in something like that Bouguereau I discussed the other night.

Now I suppose I have really sown confusion.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

What are halftones?

I posted a Bouguereau (fron last night and talked about halftones and their subtlety. Several people in comments wrote that they were unsure just where the halftones were. Let me see if I can explain that. Below is a sphere labeled with the parts of the light. It is taken from a post I wrote in the late 15th century that you can read here.
Most simply understood, the halftones are part of the illuminated side of an object neither in the highlight or in the shadow. Because they are a part of the lights they are part of a family of values (that is degree of lightness or darkness) that are always , always, ALWAYS! lighter than anything in the shadow.

The handling of halftones is one of the niceties of painting where the fine draftsman shows his power. Well understood and handled halftones are a hallmark of a proficient painter. It takes some doing to handle them well, and the naive tendency is to overstate them.

Here is our Bouguereau again, from I think I will try to explain this by showing you where the halftones are n0t. I have dropped the head into black and white to simplify this a little bit. Halftones are a part of drawing and thus they remain even when the color is removed.

The little numbered arrows point to some of the shadows on this head. For instance number 6 indicates the mouth, a cavity that the light doesn't illuminate, and 5 points to a shadow cast by the ear. 3 points to the cast shadow alongside and below the nose. All of these being in shadow are DARKER than anything in the lights. The shadows are where the light is not striking the form. That is either the underside of something, a cavity like a nostril, or simply where the form is turned sufficiently away from the light that the light cannot reach it.


Above is our girl again. This time the little arrows are pointing to various highlights. These are the brightest areas where the form turns into a position where it, like a mirror, most effectively reflects the light it is receiving out towards the viewer. For instance 4 is the upper part of the chin, 5 is the cartilaginous tip of the nose and so forth. The highlights are the brightest values.

In between the highlights and the shadows is a varied topography created by the close modulation of the values OF THE LIGHT. The swellings and recessions of the form that are illuminated, though less than the highlights, are all halftones and the tell the story of the form as it curves away from the light until it suddenly turns and enters the world of the shadow.


Ok here is the head again, can you find the halftones now?

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

About the subtlety of halftones

William Bouguereau courtesy

My Dearest Stape;
Can you please address the magic behind the half tones? As I grow as an artist, I find little written about the importance of them, and how to use them correctly. I truly need advice here!
Love!............................ Ms. Darlene Lubriderm

That's a big topic. I will throw out a few pointers. The painting above is a great example of beautifully managed halftones. Here are some bullet points on halftones;
  • The halftones ARE A PART OF THE LIGHTS!
  • Look at the painting above and notice that the halftones (those parts of the light that approach the shadow and explain it's structure) are always way lighter than the shadow. They are lighter than the reflected lights.
  • The most common drawing error is to represent them darker than they are, to overstate them. This instantly destroys the illusion of form and gives the drawing a dirty look. If you walk through any art school you will find endless pads of crudely drawn figures from life drawing class bearing exactly this fault. The models look like they are wearing rubber wetsuits.
  • This overmodeling happens because the tendency is to compare them to the value of the rest of the lights, that is, they look darker than the lights and in order to make them look darker, the tyro overstates them. If they are compared to the entirety of nature they will appear in the proper value. The "big" look of nature is more valuable in comparison that a piecemeal approach. Nowhere is this more vital in obtaining the proper values for halftones.
  • Look at the subtle value changes about the cheek and around the mouth of the painting above, see how subtle those transitions are? They are enough to turn the form, but they don't chop up the large presentation of the lights. They are a small variation in the value of the lights and only that, they are not part of a different light.
  • If you squint at the Bouguereau above the halftones almost disappear. Delicacy is the key. Understate your halftones and you will usually find they are about right. Never paint them any value that is found in your shadows. Often the addition of just enough color to make them different from the highest lights will drop their value sufficiently to work.

Monday, March 21, 2011

A question about three color palettes

baby animal

Here is a a letter from a reader;

Hey Stape -

After years of using a palette full of colors, I am going the limited route. I have experimented with a variety of triads and wondered if there are triads that you find to be most "harmonious," for lack of a better word. I have used the Ultramarine Blue, Cadmium Red Light, Cadmium Yellow triad and am now playing around with Alizarin, Pthalo Blue, and Cadmium Yellow Light. I enjoy mixing greens and would love your advice on that issue as well. As for my darks (particularly dark space) I use a mixture of Sap and Alizarin - in addition to the triad.
Thank you for your gracious and generous help!...........................Rodney Achromatopsia


There are a lot of three color palettes, If I had to choose just one it would be Cadmium yellow light, alizarin permanent (quinacridone) and cobalt blue. Painting in a three color palette is a great way to develop your color technical skills. It also means you are dragging less stuff around with you. Matching a new note to one already on the canvas is easy too, because there are only a few color choices you can make. You will get great color harmony, but you lose some things as well.

I have also painted with earth color three color palettes. You don't hear much about those, but I have had some good days working in those. An example of that would be yellow ocher, ivory black and an earth red.

Mixing greens would seem pretty obvious as there are so few choices you can make. Yellow plus your blue, usually doctored up with your red.You may not be able to get anywhere near the actual greens in front of you, but that matters less than you might think, the harmony of your colors will make the greens seem correct,USUALLY.

I would suggest caution with adding that sap green and alizarin mixture to get your darks, after all, the beauty of the three color palette is the color harmony it automatically installs in your painting adding that sap green will probably compromise that. Sap green used to be made with buckthorn berries, today it is a hue, and can be almost any shade of yellow green, and is generally mad with pthalo. Unless you already have pthalo in your palette, I think that is a recipe for disharmony.

Working in a three color palette is excellent for learning to mix up your colors chromatically and as I mentioned before gives great color harmony. But it also brings some problems.They are;
  • Unless you are very careful you will end up with a lot of pictures that are the same color. You want to watch that if you are doing a show.
  • When I am working on a larger palette I have the ability to use different pigments to paint my lights than I use to paint my shadows, that's handy. If you are on a three color palette you are going to paint the light and the shadow with the same colors. For instance, if I am painting a red barn with a full palette I can paint the lights with cad red and the shadows with alizarin, if I am using a three color palette I am going to paint my lights with cad red and my shadows with cad red plus my blue or my yellow, but the same red note must appear in both.
  • I have far better control of my color temperature if I have a warm and a cool version of each hue.
  • A famous palette called the Zorn palette, after an artist who probably didn't use it, substitutes Ivory black for the blue.
  • I think a cool red is best if you only have one, rather than a hot red like the cadmium red light, unless you are Zornizing, in which case I suggest what ever red is closest to vermilion in color that you can find. I am painting figures one night a week and doing that with gold ocher, vermilion ( a hue, made by RGH), and ivory black. Real vermilion is too poisonous and the hue I am using works pretty well.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Some thoughts on art and money

Allow me to rant a little tonight. I have a feeling I am going to upset you tonight. But I think this is important. There is a delicate balance to keep between your art and commerce. I don't mean that you should be starving in a garret, or that making money from your art is ignoble. I make my living painting. What I mean to say is that the product has to come before the profit.

I bring this up because I think I am seeing a trend now of putting marketing into too exalted a position. The web crawls with books on how to market your art and advice columns and how-to seminars on marketing your art. And yes, I market my art. I also think you should show and sell your art if you can. But it is really about the art and it's quality, more than it is about sales!

There is so much dreck out there being sold and hustled and so many auctions and schemes for selling weak paintings that things have somehow become out of balance. Do you know what kind of paintings sell best? GOOD PAINTINGS. When I look around me at the painters who are successful financially, virtually without exception they are skilled painters and it is easy to see why their art sells. They have reputation too, not reputation for selling, reputation for the quality of their work.

I am deluged with ads for shows full of work that is amateurish, I get e-mails from artists promoting paintings that are of student quality. I think some of these folks should lay back and work at improving their art more than selling it. You would fault a merchant who sells shoddy goods, yet advertises them everywhere. Most of these artists probably could survive without the meager income they derive from their sales and let their work rise in the market on it's own quality. I do believe it can be done.

Art has no reason to exist other than that it be excellent. If you are imitating another artists style, get your own! I open the art magazines and see page after page of amateur rip-offs of Scott Christensen and Richard Schmid. That's not good enough, everyone who sees those ads knows they are seeing a Richard Schmid ripoff. People are not easily fooled.

Make your own art, make it good and then market it. If you are an amateur, show and sell when you can, but don't get the marketing out ahead of your abilities, try to move the two along at something like the same pace. Try to OWN your own little area first before trying to go national. If you aren't making a lot of money on your art, I will bet you the problem is your quality more than your marketing, it almost always is.

Don't buy magazine ads that cost more than you are ROUTINELY paid for a painting! They will only show the world what you have left unlearned. Don't compare yourself to Sargent or claim to have invented a new school of painting. It is tiring, and the pro's will tell snide jokes at your expense. You need the respect of your peers, this will lose it for you. Nothing has a bigger effect on your career than having other artists speaking well of your art. Work towards that.

Again I am not saying that you shouldn't show and you shouldn't do some marketing, I think you should, but try to keep your marketing efforts commensurate with the quality of your art. If you work hard and develop your skills you will benefit by a hearty marketing campaign.
I guess I will have to post some baby animals tomorrow after that. Class dismissed!

Saturday, March 19, 2011

A Sorolla sketch

I was scrolling through some Sorolla paintings on the net and I found this half finished painting by the Spanish master. I always look twice when I see an unfinished picture by a great artist. It often reveals their working methods. I am not an expert on Sorolla's technique and I have seen Sorolla's that were half finished and NOT done on a colored ground. But let me see what I can find in here.
  • The painting is done on a colored ground, and that is what caught my attention. Because he is such a high key painter I find that a bit surprising. Usually high key painters work on a white ground. The ground looks like an earth red, either a red ocher, or maybe burnt sienna and it looks to me as if he has stained the canvas with it. I would suppose that was done with a rag and solvent, and then allowed to dry.
  • I think that he sketched a few major lines with charcoal or a pencil. I see evidence of that around the table top and in the delineation of that unfinished chair on the left. But I don't think there is much drawing under here, just some cursory gesture lines and a few straight edge lines where he knew he would need them. As soon as he knew how he was going to fit the image onto the canvas he got out a brush.
  • Next I think he began working with his black and starting with the female figure on the right began to define the figures and get the structure of the darks in the grouping of figures.
  • After a very short time he grabbed a second brush loaded with flake white and starting next to the dark, left most figure began developing the lights, he loaded that passage with the white to get opacity and contrast there. I think he was working at enormous velocity. He had all or at least several of the figures before him. The guys in the hats could have been posed by a single model, but without a doubt the female figure at the right was standing before him as he worked. The grayer passages like the back wall are simply the flake white with a little black in it. He painted around the box holding the flowers on the left and the two chairs, leaving his ground visible. That let the ground do some of the drawing for him.
  • Finally he painted in the plates and tchotchkes ( spell check doesn't like that word, suggested crotchless instead ) on the shelf in the background. There are a few places here where he left the ground behind to help his image along and a few dark accents. Then he put the cobalt down into the shadowed part of the tablecloth. He also hit that ladies sash in the middle of the picture with that.
  • Notice how he picked out the figure of the woman on the right by using the transparency of the flake white allowing the ground to show through, so that his shadow note is warm and the opaque white represents the lights, and is cooler than the shadow note. Transparency gives him temperature control and white, no less. It is ordinary to do this sort of thing in black or umber over a brown ground, but doing it in white is tricky. That's a a nicer move, fast and easy.
  • He then threw a little green, maybe chromium oxide or viridian for a few accents. one, two. three spots right across the middle of the canvas. Even money says he faked the one on the right for balance.
  • The red notes in the standing figures across the middle ground are probably vermilion. That was in common use and appears to be about the right hue in the reproduction. Then for some reason he quit. I wonder why? Seems like he was off to a good start.
  • This whole thing happened really fast. He pretty much painted it in black and white over a brown ground and the poked a few accent colors into it. ZAP!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

On sanguine, charcoal and chalk drawing

A Watteau from the National Gallery of Scotland

Dearest Stapleton;
Yesterday I visited a wonderful exhibition of drawings by Watteau at the Royal Academy. The amazing thing is that all these drawings were done with just three colours of chalk, sanguine, white and black, with only a very limited use of graphite is some of his last drawings. However though I have looked in various art suppliers catalogues, I cannot find any chalks for sale. Can you advise me as to what material Watteau and other artists actually used.
I must say how much I enjoy your blog. It is so informative.

Ms. Trixie Pantalot

Oh! Trixie!

Well lets start with the charcoal, I like the Winsor and Newton vine charcoal. I think that which is graded hard the best. The important thing is it must be real charcoal and not a compressed charcoal. The compressed contains wax or other binders to hold it together that affect it's working quality and make it difficult if not impossible to erase. Here is a post I wrote about using charcoal.

Sanguine is a naturally occurring chalk that has a brown-red tone. Conte makes sanguine sticks in various species, here is a link to them ( this link is to Jerrys Artarama and probably other places have the same thing). I believe they are compressed and probably contain some wax, but they work well and I have used them successfully. There may be a boutique maker out there making real organic sanguine sticks from natural deposits, but I don't know of one. Conte even makes a shade called Watteau, that sounds like it ought to work! Lastly, at the bottom of the page are white sticks too, I have used ordinary chalk and that works as well.

You also need to get a proper paper to do this. I can think of three possible choices. The first is ordinary brown"butchers" paper. It comes on a roll and is very inexpensive. It has a nice tone to work on if you are highlighting in white chalk. This is useful for studies for paintings more than for making finished work. Drawings on brown paper can look very nice but are less permanent than my next two suggestions.

Mt first suggestion would be a quality charcoal paper, which usually comes in a package of about 25 sheets. I have always liked the Canson Ingres paper best. It has little raised lines on it because it is chain laid and that gives it a pleasing texture. I believe in the olden days it was sometimes called cartridge paper. Strathmore makes a nice charcoal paper too. Remember if you are highlighting in white chalk you want a toned paper. Gray, buff, blue,tan, there are lots of varieties and you will have to decide what you like best.

The last alternative is pastel paper. That comes in a zillion different weights and colors. I think for this particular type of drawing you wouldn't want the sort that is sanded. Sanded paper is almost like sandpaper it has a fine grit on it's surface.

Watch out for that white chalk by the way, do that last as it doesn't erase well and if it gets mixed with the charcoal it gives an unpleasant opaque gray that will look different than the rest of your drawing, so try to keep the two separate. You will need a couple of kneaded erasers too. I think it best not to spray drawings with fixative as it kills the look of them a little. Sometimes you must, but it sacrifices something of the tonal quality that comes naturally to charcoal and other dry mediums.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

More Ingres distortion

Above is an Ingre painted in 1811. The subject Jupiter and Thetis is taken from Homers Illiad. Thetis a nymph ( I love those!) begs Jupiter to spare the life of her son, Achilles, who is fighting in the Trojan war. The painting was done in 1811 and shown at the Academy to poor reviews. His stylized form was unacceptable to the critics and Ingres kept the painting until 1834 when the French Government bought it. The painting is immense, over eleven feet high. Below is a closeup of Thetis.

Notice how Ingres has flattened the figure into a cameo. Thetis is a bas relief only a couple of inches thick. This is a deliberate distortion in imitation of ancient Greek decorations such as those on the Parthenon. Below is our John Flaxman cameoware plate. It has the same stylization.

Below is a Grecian coin from about 450 BC. The Greeks represented an idealized nose often in their work, the line of the nose is the same as the brow, the two are continuous. Compare that to Ingres head of Thetis and you will see where he got that. The low relief of the Thetis figure is also like the coin.

Thetis's elongated and tubular arm reaching across the lap of Jupiter is sexually suggestive in it's positioning and Ingres has reduced all of the anatomy to the minimum. Everything within the outline of the figure is almost ignored. His intention is, like I showed you in the drawings last week, to keep the thing as linear as possible. Ingres is again subordinating nearly everything to his line. He believes that line is beautiful, so he is presenting the picture in line, a convention. Below is a portrait showing his capability of rendering in a more conventional manner.

Ingres is able to juxtapose insanely tightly painted passages with Strange flattening of form to give a very convincing yet unreal image. There is an interplay between those two opposites, it is so real yet so strangely distorted.That helps the viewer understand that we are not in a real world here, this is not two actors posing on a stage, but a story being told about mysterious gods in Mt. Olympus. Think about how unconvincing the cinematic scenes of the gods were in those sword and sandal epics the Italians produced in the early 1960's. Too much realism weakens a story like this one. It needs to be both real and unreal.

I hope I haven't bored you too tears with all of this on Ingres stylistic conventions. It interests me and I can't see over the footlights to see if it interests you too. I think that it is important in that it shows the abstract qualities that existed in painting even in the early 19th century. Many modern theorists would assert that abstraction and distortion appeared in painting only as a reaction to photography. They gave argued that the photograph replaced the role of the artist and painting had to shift to new ground to justify it's existence. But the Jupiter and Thetis were painted in 1811, but not until 1839 was the first photograph of a person taken by Daguerre. In that image, a street scene, a man stopping for a shoeshine was still long enough to register in his long exposure. From that, I conclude that Ingres was little influenced by photography.


The dream of Ossian, Ingres

James Macpherson 1736-1796 was a Scottish poet and expert on ancient Gaelic poetry. In 1765 he published "The Works of Ossian" a collection of rediscovered poems from ancient Scotland. They were a sensation and were studied and read around the globe in many languages. They were similar in some ways to the Homeric legends and were the poems of a blind bard, Ossian.

Goethe and Thomas Jefferson, Napoleon and Sir Walter Scott were enamored with Ossian, but the great Dr. Samuel Johnson, the English writer, was skeptical and called Macpherson a mountebank. A great controversy ensued that lasted for at least a hundred years. The Irish claimed that Ossian must have been Irish and the Scots claimed he was Scottish. Some disputed the entire work as a fake. Artists painted scenes from the story and children were named Ossian.
Scubert wrote songs based upon episodes in the epic.

In the 20th century Ossian was concluded to have been a fake. Macpherson had taught himself to write in the ancient Gaelic tongue and compiled a number of previously obscure stories and mixed in some ideas of his own and a dash of classical literature, cooking up the mess into a extremely well written forgery.

There are a number of towns in American named after Ossian as the book was verety popular in the 19th century when many of them were founded. Above is the State Bank in Ossian, Iowa. It appears to have a modern facade pasted over the remnants of a much older structure which was no doubt, damaged in the process.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

More Ingres management

Here is our old friend the Vicomtesse d'Hausonville. I ran into some of the studies Ingres did for the painting and those are shown below.

Ingres made a number of changes after this drawing, he altered the angle of the head and he has removed the sleeves from her gown. He must have used an entirely different costume in the finished painting. He also reworked the hand that she holds to her chin. The hand in the painting looks a little less natural, but design wise seems to be an improvement over the drawing. The head and the hand flow in the same direction and there is a design dialogue between the two that the drawing doesn't have. Sometimes the natural is not as good as the invented and I think this is a case of that. The remarkableness of her appearance depends partially on that odd hand beneath her chin. In the drawing it is perhaps more natural looking but it is a little ordinary.The hand in the drawing appears square and the hand in the painting is graceful. I wonder if he didn't make up the hand for the painting.

Here is a preliminary drawing for the head. He has turned the head into the position it will have in the painting but the features look more coarse. In the painting he seems to have reduced their size and again the painting is lees naturalistic but it has gained an other worldly rather startling perfected look. The "open" areas (where the features are not) are enlarged. The naturalism of the drawing is more accurate and convincing. But the slight unrealism and oddness of the painting is startling and just enough out of our ordinary expectations of the appearances of things to be curious and interesting.

The slightly bizarre "look" he achieved might not be your cup of tea, although I like it myself. But it is eye catching and more interesting than a more natural look which the drawings show him perfectly able to do. He has deliberately made the thing a little alien. It has a style, and Ingres lived in stylish times.

images from

Monday, March 14, 2011

Glaze question.

Above; From a number of studies by Ingres that show some unfinished portions and give some idea of his working methods.

Stapleton -
Have you posted to the blog any entries relative to Mediums and Glazing techniques?
Your post on Ingres (and master references) remind me that I want to try this technique.
For mediums I have Liquin Original and Res-n-gel, but have in the past only used these to thin my paint or to make a mix go further.
Thank you ..................... Dr. Unctuous Craquelure

Dear Unctuous,

I haven't used Res-n-gel in years but Liquin will work just fine as a glazing medium,most of the makers of mediums make a glazing medium and a varnish, turps and oil medium works well too.

Being an impressionist landscape painter I don't do a lot of glazing, but the general idea is this.

  • Generally you will have at least a drawing on your canvas first and more likely a "dead color" underpainting. That is a nearly complete version of the finished image done in a single earth color or black or umber plus white.
  • Then you are going to color it up with transparent color. The beauty of this is that you can separate the problems of drawing from those of color. You first deal with the drawing in your underpainting and then the color in glazes.
  • Generally you will want to use transparent pigments in your glazes. If they are opaque pigments you are scumbling which often gives a cloudy look.
  • If you are not using something like Liquin or Galkyd you may have long drying times.You may have to lay a glaze and then wait for your painting to dry completely before continuing. Some painters who work in glazes operate at a glacial pace because of their drying times.
  • You are probably going to want to use fewer bristle brushes and more sables and soft synthetics. Fan blenders can be handy for glazing too.
  • I have a book called "How to paint like the Old Masters which lays out in very simple steps some systems of building paintings up in glazes. It is aimed at the weekend warrior or the reader of the popular how-to magazines from your local magazine store, but it does give you enough information to figure out how to make a painting in glazes several different ways.
  • Be careful to keep the pigment loads in your glazes up, better to spread the glaze out well than to make them entirely out of medium.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Ingres drawing in his painting

OK, lets see if I can tie this thing up. Above is a portrait, in oil this time, by Ingres. Lets note the similarity in the painting to the drawings I have been showing you for the last few days. Here is the head from that portrait below.

Below is the head I posted the other night still wearing its ovoid delineation explanatory line. As you can see the same technologies I have been discussing the last few days are in the head above in paint. The values are suppressed and the painting is a creation primarily of line and not of mass. Ingres painting is a colored drawing. There is more modeling in the painting than in his pure line drawing, but there is still a dominance of line over shading. The sinuous line that defines the forms is superior to the modeling. It is particularly obvious in the hand above.

Ingres has continued the strategies of expressing his form through other methods than modeling. The ribbon like hair above and in the painted portrait express the curvature of the skull, for instance. Notice how the lips are wrapped around the face showing how the forms turn there.

There is no clutter in the lights, and there are no obvious brushstrokes to clutter up his forms. Everything is refined down to clear ovoid shapes. It is an austere refined beauty. It is classical. We are so accustomed to the romantic bold and bravura handling today, most of the artists we revere and who appear in the pages of our contemporary art magazines are romantic, but there is another approach. The crystalline perfection of these formal paintings is irreproachable and they have a purity of vision that can influence our paintings today.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Ingres drawing, overlapping lines

Another device that Ingres and other line draftsmen use is overlapping lines. Above is the "Study for the golden age", a very beutiful and important Ingres drawing. Below I have cropped out a detail and drawn some cryptic lines and numbers on it.

If you look at the bounding line of the figure, what Ives Gammell sometimes called the arabesque you will notice it is not entirely uninterrupted. Ingres has cut some of his lines diving into the interior to express the overlapping forms of the musculature. I don't have my anatomy books with me tonight so I will spare you most of the nomenclature. I am going by memory so you artistic anatomists are welcome to correct me in the comments.

1) Here is a real good example of what I am describing, Ingres has shown the biceps diving down under the pectoralis major, and on the viewers left the triceps diving in under the teres major and minor. He has clearly expressed the way these forms meet. His overlapping forms are installed from his knowledge of anatomy as much as they are observed.
External oblique

At 3) the pectoral shows itself in front of the neck, this overlap establishes dimension. That neck is obviously behind the top line of the pectoral

At 4) the underside of the chin cuts in front of the sterno-clito mastoid, which goes behind it on its way to the base of the unseen ear.

At 5) the line is darkened, I believe that is the Latisimus dorsi there, and when the line begins to represent the ribcage it goes soft. By varying his line weight here he is able to separate out the different masses.

At 6) The external oblique is depicted by a line that cuts inside the outline of the figure. Whew, I hope I got those right!

So here is the point. Rather than a dumb outline like a coathanger or a traced silhouette, Ingres uses lines that overlap and dive inwards across another line to show the overlapping of forms.

Like the other nights post showing the varying of line weight to express form without leaving the discipline of pure line, Ingres uses overlapping lines to express the form without having to resort to much shading which would clutter up the open lights of his spare drawing.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Ingre's drawing, examined some more

Here is our lady again. Tonight I want to point out a very simple thing. Look at the way Ingres conceived of the head as an ovoid or egg shape. This is constructive rather than strictly visual draftsmanship. He initially laid an oval on his paper to represent the shape of the head.

When I was a kid, I had a series of books by Arthur Zaidenburg that explained how to draw cats or horses using various ovals that were joined together by lines.While that seems pretty basic it is one of several approaches to building a drawing. There is another way, purely observational, that uses no preset armature but instead the copying of the shapes in the flat by observation. My training under Ives Gammell was more like the latter. I have over the years moved towards a more constructed type of drawing.

Then he wrapped the features around the head and not onto it. I have drawn some construction lines on the head below to show you what I mean.

The hair is laid unto the surface of that egg too, like ribbons. It sits on and defines the form of the upper part of the egg shape. The use of the hair and the way the eyes are wrapped around the head on lines that describe it's form, explains the volume of the head. Because the volume of the head is described by these lines, Ingres can dispense with most of his modeling, his line has done the work already.

Last night I talked about how we expressed the values of forms by varying the lines about them, tonight I am showing how he describes the forms by lines that plot their circumferences. Both of these are ways to make the drawing work nearly by line alone.

I have heard devotees of impressionist and mass drawing say "there are no lines in nature" and strictly speaking they may be right. But Ingres made his art from line and used some subtleties of that line to make that happen. These are abstract and elegant solutions. You cannot observe art into a drawing. Art is the result of decisions made by an artist, to make the image look a certain way. These nuances of line and the solutions he imposes on the drawing to get form and imply value are artful. When we look at the drawings we are pleased in a way that a matter of fact strictly observed (or shudder) copied from a photo image cannot approach. By forcing his drawing into the realm of line he has made something beautiful. That is not to say that there are not beautiful mass drawings, but the clarity and reduction of the Ingres is special.
Below I have shown the same method operating on the head of the boy in the same drawing.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Ingres, Line weight and value suppression

Above is an Ingres pencil portrait of Madame Victor Baltard. I will make a few observations on it tonight. Bullets please:
  1. This is a line and not a mass drawing. The values of the clothing, for instance are completely left out. This is not transposed from nature in the same way that a visual draftsman might work. It is abstracted deliberately into a reduced description of its boundary's in space and the most salient lines of its construction.
  2. If you were making a study for an academic painting, a colored drawing built up in glazes, this is the information you would want on your canvas before the brush began it's work.
  3. The darks are concentrated about the heads with the remainder scattered as accents about the drawing.
  4. The modeling, even in the heads is suppressed. There are no cast shadows and the darks are selectively used to express the forms like the eyes and the lips rather than the larger shadow structure of the light on the forms. Ingres is drawing the forms and not what he saw before him in light and shadow. He has extracted the forms from the appearance of light on the model. This is the opposite of impressionist drawing. It is a classical way of perceiving the drawing.
  • Notice at 1 how soft the modeling (representation of the form through shadow or halftone) is. The plane formed by the side of the face is a different value, but it is suppressed so that it is just enough to tell the story of the plane change there. It is very subtle and understated. This is true of all the modelling of the face. Ingres has deliberately done this to keep the big shape of the face rather than chopping that up with darks. Also this soft focus gives a delicate look to the drawing and that is elegant and refined. Particularly he has avoided covering the face of this lovely woman with big dark areas indicating the structure of the head. He still has the structure in their but he has expressed it by outline and hinting at the different values out in the open spaces of the illuminated forms.
  • At 2 and 3 notice how he has expressed the major axises of the head which I have shown by a construction line through the eyes and the mouth. If he didn't put the lines I have added in as he began the drawing, later to erase them, he certainly had them on the paper mentally.
Here are some remarks on line weight, that is the strength of the line Ingres has used to express and accent the forms. Some of this is done to explain what we are seeing and some of it is done to obtain an elegant and varied variety of line. Most of this variety is had simply by his pressure on the pencil as he drew.
  • At 1 is a very soft line, the equivalent of a lost edge we might find in a painting. Notice at the top of this line where the fabric would be shadowed by her fancy collar the line is darkened. That shows that the form is in shadow, but still keeps this in the vernacular of line rather than having a shaded area here.
  • At 2, where the cape turns in direction Ingres has used a darker line, as it is the bottom of something, he has made it darker, the bottom of that form is in the shadow as it faces the ground away from the light source.
  • At 3, he has trotted out an even darker line. Almost all of the lines representing the sleeves are darker representing that that portion of her garb is made of a different darker material that takes the light differently. Rather than put a dark value out in the open space of it's form he has implied its entire value merely through variations in the outlines that describe it.That is very economical use of darks. Pencil is best as a line medium so he has made the lines do the description that a in mass drawing would have done within the boundarys of the form by dark modeling.
  • 4, points out soft lines probably made with the side of the pencil point representing modeling on the folded surface of the cape, again very carefully understated. This is intended to be as much a line drawing as it can be, and lots of modeling destroys that intention by making it more of a mass drawing. Expression of the shadows and modeling is always subordinated to expression through the use of an incise line.
  • 5, points to a dark accent that represents a place where the cloth goes into a fold and into the shadow created by that. Also this accent makes the illuminated portions look brighter. It is impossible to make something really look bright with out the contrast of a few strong darks. Again this also adds to his line variety.
  • 6, there is no six.
I will return and do more analysis of the drawing chops of Ingres tomorrow.