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Gurney Journey

This daily weblog by Dinotopia creator James Gurney is for illustrators, plein-air painters, sketchers, comic artists, animators, art students, and writers. You'll find practical studio tips, insights into the making of the Dinotopia books, and first-hand reports from art schools and museums.

gurneyjourney.blogspot.com

Decoration Day

The American holiday of Memorial Day is a time to commemorate those who have died in war. It was once called “Decoration Day.”

Decoration Day
The older custom was to decorate the graves, and honor the memory, of all of the dead, and then to have a party afterward. After the Civil War, the holiday became established more along military lines.

Let’s remember the soldiers, bur let’s also remember the musicians and artists and teachers and carpenters and farmers who have lived their lives and passed into our memory.

Wikipedia about Memorial Day / Decoration Day
Image: “To the Memory of Cole” by Frederic Church
Thomas Cole book by Earl A Powell

July Lecture in the Catskills

This coming July 8th at 7 pm in the Catskill Mountains of New York, I’ll be a one-day guest lecturer at the Grand Central Academy’s Summer Workshops for a presentation on color and light.

July Lecture in the Catskills
I’ll give an evening lecture during the workshop of Senior Hudson River Fellow, Thomas Kegler (above). His week-long course called “Field Study for the Studio Landscape Painter.” Tom’s work has the rare quality of being closely observed and poetically inspired, and he could have held his own with any of the traditional Hudson River School painters (Kegler's "Buffalo Creek Dusk," below). 

July Lecture in the Catskills
My lecture will cover material from the new book, Color and Light: A Guide for the Realist Painter, geared for plein air painters who want to explore the methods of the pre-impressionist Hudson River School Painters. Besides the digital slide show, I’ll have original paintings to show and books to share. If it’s like last time I visited, there will be plenty of opportunity for camaraderie and shop talk.

The full course will go from July 5 - 17, 2011 (10 instructed days, 1 free uninstructed day). The tuition is $1350, which includes Mr. Kegler’s instruction, park fees, 2 group meals, and my lecture. The class is open and is now accepting registrations.
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Previous GJ Posts on the Hudson River Fellowship.
Color and Light on Amazon
Grand Central Academy's Summer Workshops
Senior Hudson River Fellow, Thomas Kegler

True to Nature


True to Nature

A new book about American landscape painter William Trost Richards describes the artist’s tribulations while painting the sea from life. Richards says:

“I watch and watch it, try to disentangle its push and leap and recoil, make myself ready to catch the tricks of the big breakers and am always startled out of my self possession by the thunder and the rush, jump backward up the loose shingle of the beach, sure this time that I will be washed away, get soaked with spray, and am ashamed that I had missed getting the real drawing of such a splendid one, and this happens twenty times an hour and I have never got used to it.”

True to Nature

The book was produced by the Cantor Arts Center of Stanford University in California, based on the sizable collection of WTR’s studies inherited by his youngest son in 1905 and donated to the museum in 1992.

The 9.5 x 11-inch book has over 204 pages, with 250 color reproductions documenting the entire collection at Stanford. It includes his Ruskin-influenced early pencil studies of plants, his Adirondack landscapes, and his seascape studies in gouache and oil. Trost Richards was the king of gouache landscape, often working on toned paper to capture transitory atmospheric and aquatic effects. 

The emphasis is on his small plein-air studies, which rival those of Frederic Church, Peder Monsted and Ivan Shishkin for impeccably accurate observation. Because Richards worked in this mode well after it was fashionable (he called  himself a “fogy”), he is not as well known as he deserves to be.  


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William Trost Richards—True to Nature: Drawings, Watercolors, and Oil Sketches at Stanford University, by Carole M. Osborne.
Cantor Arts Center’s recent exhibit ended September 26.
Previous GJ posts on Trost Richards: "Outer Limits of the Pencil," "Trost Richards Watercolor," "Called Away,"
Thanks, Margaret!

McEntee’s Train Deal

In 1860, the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad had a sweet deal for a couple of artists. The railroad approached Hudson River School painters Jervis McEntee and Sanford Gifford with the idea of a sketching trip.

McEntee’s Train Deal
“The company supplies [the artists] with two cars, one which is fitted with sleeping accommodations. They switch off at any picturesque point of view that may strike their fancy, and when they have exhausted its capabilities for artistic purposes, they book on to a train and proceed as far as they choose.”

It was good publicity for McEntee, Gifford, and the railroad. Hey, if Amtrak wants to try the idea out again, I’m sure we can find a couple of artists to sign up.
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From “McEntee & Company,” a catalog from the Beacon Hill Fine Art.

Kindred Spirits Location?

Asher B. Durand painted Kindred Spirits to memorialize his friend Thomas Cole and their beloved Catskill Mountains. In 2005 the painting sold for $35 million dollars to Walmart heiress Alice Walton.

Kindred Spirits Location?What is the setting of the painting? Is it just an idealized composite, or an actual place? Landscape painter Scott Balfe sent me this picture of a place he discovered in a remote section of Kaaterskill Clove.

Kindred Spirits Location?The picture shows Shelf-Rock at the Five Cascades under Haines Falls. “Bit of a hike to get down there,” he says. The rock sticks out 10-12 feet. “I know Durand must have seen that spot,” Scott told me.

“You can see South Mountain and Kaaterskill High Peak in the distance today, which resemble the shapes of the mountain forms in Kindred Spirits. I’m sure Durand’s painting was a composite, but once you’ve been down there, the impression is a strong and lasting one.”
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Previously:
I paint a portrait of Scott in a downpour
Painting a sheep farm with Scott

William Bliss Baker (1859-1886)

William Bliss Baker (1859-1886) If William Bliss Baker had not died at age 27 from a skating injury, he might have gone on to be a bright star in the firmament of American landscape painting.

His "Fallen Monarchs," above, shows the influence of one of his teachers, Albert Bierstadt, with a keen awareness of light and atmosphere, and a close observation of forest detail.

More about Baker on Wikipedia and Fine Arts Trader.
Thanks, Chris!

Church and the Mirror

I had supper last night with the great-granddaughter of Frederic Church at her home less than a mile from Olana. She said she found one of Church’s journals from his Near East expedition as she was exploring the attic a year or two ago.

“The reason I liked him,” she said, “is he seemed to have no fear.”

Church and the Mirror
During his 1868 expedition to the lost city of Petra, she told me that Church was in mortal danger from the local Bedouin tribes, who had killed an artist in the region not long before. It was considered blasphemy to make graven images. But Church “hired a bunch of people to guide him. He payed them a great deal of money so they didn’t want to kill him.”

Church and the MirrorAt one point the locals blocked his way and threatened his life. Church then asked to borrow a mirror, because “he realized a mirror was a sacred thing.” He took the mirror, and, while the Bedouins weren’t looking, he painted a crack on it. He then showed the cracked mirror to the angry men.

Then, announcing he would restore the mirror to its original condition, “he went behind the tent and erased the crack.” The men believed him to have divine powers, and they alllowed him to pass safely.

Hudson River Fellowship

A juried group of landscape painters with an unusual mission will be working in the Catskill Mountains this summer for the third year in a row. If you want to join them, you've got a little over a month to apply.

The group, called the Hudson River Fellowship, is dedicated to the principle of close and prolonged observation of nature, patterned after the practices of pre-impressionist painters like Asher B. Durand and Frederic Church.

Hudson River FellowshipArtist Tom Kegler of Buffalo, New York completed this forest floor study last summer, when I paid a visit to the school.

The artists selected to attend the fellowship will enjoy a month-long residency with full-tuition scholarship for all members and free housing. There’s a spirit of comraderie at the periodic exhibits of work in progress and at the group suppers.

The teachers include founder Jacob Collins of the Grand Central Academy, Edward Minoff, Travis Schlaht, and Nicholas Hiltner.

The curriculum includes lectures by guest speakers and a series of assignments, beginning with field studies in pencil, tonal renderings, and plein air observations. These studies aren’t done merely as an end in themselves.

The ultimate goal is to use these preliminaries to develop a large composition, what Bierstadt used to call a “Great Picture,” back in the studio after the fellowship is over.

Acceptance into the program requires a portfolio review and an application. The deadline for applying for this summer’s fellowship is May 1, 2009.
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Thomas Kegler (artist of the study above), link.
Home page of the Hudson River Fellowship, link.
Previous GJ Post, link.

The Falls Remain the Same

The Falls Remain the Same

Fernando Emmanuel Laverde Bohórquez of Columbia has traveled to some of the same places that Frederic Church painted, including Tequendama Falls, 1854. In spite of the human damage (and natural erosion), he has discovered that the landscape is almost the same as it was. Thanks, Fernando.

The Falls Remain the Same

Filling In

“Filling in” is a 19th century art term that refers to the process of association that a picture induces in a spectator. A picture was said to be capable of filling in when it suggested layers of meaning or awakened long dormant feelings.


A good example of this process comes from the writing of Asher B. Durand (1796-1886) in his "Letters on Landscape Painting," 1855. In a passage where he described the joys of picture-gazing, he wrote that the viewer
“becomes absorbed in the picture—a gentle breeze fans his forehead, and he hears a distant rumbling [from] far away in the haunts of his boyhood—and that soft wind is chasing the trout stream down the woody glen, beyond which gleams the ‘deep and silent lake,’ where the wild deer seeks a fatal refuge.”

This sense of art’s power to charm the soul risks sounding sentimental to our modern ears, accustomed as we are to a very different aesthetic culture. And perhaps it did so even to Durand himself in 1855, when he said, “I need scarcely apologize for the seeming sentimentalism of this letter. In this day the sentiment of Art is so overrun by the the technique, that it can scarcely be insisted upon too strongly.”
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Image is by Arthur Parton (1842-1914), "Summer Afternoon on the Delaware," 1879.

American Artist has an excerpt of "Letters on Landscape Painting" here.
Linda Ferber's recent book "Kindred Spirits: Asher B. Durand and the American Landscape" has the full text printed in an appendix.
Decoration DayJuly Lecture in the CatskillsTrue to NatureMcEntee’s Train DealKindred Spirits Location?William Bliss Baker (1859-1886)Church and the MirrorHudson River FellowshipThe Falls Remain the SameFilling In

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