Gurney Journey | category: Plein Air Painting | (page 1 of 22)


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.

Crowdsourcing Lights for Plein-Air Nocturnes

Crowdsourcing Lights for Plein-Air Nocturnes
On Instagram, Paul T Levin asks: "James, you did a video about plein air nocturnes a while back where you talked about good lights but I can’t find it. What do you recommend if I may ask?"

I answer: I don't know to be honest, since everything is changing so fast in the LED space. Anybody have a suggestion for good book light or headlamp with adjustable light levels?

Cleve Page answers: "I got a Lumecube 2.0. It has adjustable light levels and there are attachments like barn doors or snap-on color filters. It's an excellent product. It also has 1/4-20 threads so you can add it to a separate structure. It's more pricey than a headlamp, but it's much more capable."

Crowdsourcing Lights for Plein-Air NocturnesFiona Fleming adds: "I just purchased a Vekkia 19 LED Music Stand Light with a nice substantial clip, and a flexible arm…the light alters to warm, medium or cool and can be directed right onto the surface. I haven’t road tested it on the easel at night yet, but I might tonight! It charges with a USB cable."

J. Owens says: "(There are) a few different headlamps for camping and I believe most have adjustable levels. Mine is a PTEC, (Princeton Tec) it has three levels along with a red light."

    Drew Baker I've mused about putting something using srtip LEDs from Waveformlighting. My thinking is a very high CRI source would be a better approach than something with tunable temperature and questionable CRI.

    Edgeprogear sells a light for their pochade boxes. It's essentially a Vidpro LED-230 on a gooseneck, with a bespoke mount for the Paintbook. (At least, that's what mine is.)

  • Crowdsourcing Lights for Plein-Air Nocturnes
  • Brian Meyer I paint at night, at concerts, etc. Basically I have bought every light you can get. The ones I prefer now are rechargeable, which can last 2-3 hours.

    The last one I got is the best so far, its designed for musicians, its battery on bright lasts an entire session of 5 hours, and it goes from 4 to 3 on its power display, I have used it two sessions in a row without recharging.
    (photos from Brian Meyer)

    Vekkia clip-on book light.

  • Crowdsourcing Lights for Plein-Air Nocturnes
  • The issue with most lights is the bulb is exposed, which is blinding if you have an audience, this light has it in a recess so all the light is directed towards the paper. Prior to this I was setting up a hood.

    Julie Bloch I got little clip on rechargeable LED lights that are tiny. I bought 2 for my plein-air backpack.

    Damian Kinsella I try to limit the light as much as possible so these do well to not give me so much light that I lose the sense of what I'm looking at. Eric Merrell brought up the idea of taping a piece of vellum over them and that diffuses the light a bit more and warms it up slightly as well (depending on the vellum). They don't work well with my Yarka rig, but for a Gurney-style flip easel they're practically perfect.
    The kit I purchased can run off the included 12-hour lithium batteries so this would allow painting on location far away from any other electrical source for an extended period of time.

    Although I haven't used them for an en plein air nocturne, I do plein air oils and am always looking for an efficient means of transporting my gear. I can envision these old bones including such a light in an excursion. The kit essentially could be doing triple-duty (copywork, studio painting, and night painting on location) if I decide to try a nocturne. Their use in conjunction with polarizing filters on the lights and camera lens makes a remarkable improvement when copying art. Because of such versatility, they may be worth consideration.

    I paint at night, at concerts, etc. Basically I have bought every light you can get.The ones I prefer now are rechargeable, which can last 2-3 hours.

    The last one I got is the best so far, its designed for musicians, its battery on bright lasts an entire session of 5 hours, and it goes from 4 to 3 on its power display, I have used it two sessions in a row without recharging.

    Good for extra light, like on your palette and paint mixing areas, or as a backup main light. Its also better light, good for when recording with a GoPro.

    Always plan on the batteries dying and have a spare.

How Sacrificing Detail Can Add Mood

In a new YouTube video I show how I painted this moody morning scene in gouache by sacrificing detail and emphasizing light effects.

My goal is to capture a fleeing light effect by using a warm priming color to achieve a "photographic" lens flare. Halfway through, I paint over the whole thing with a glaze to reduce detail. The glaze is risky because gouache reactivates when it's rewet, and to be honest, it's kind of a disaster for a while.

Here are some takeaway quotes about the theory of sacrifices: 

“Nature instills sentiments in the spectator through the selective sacrifice of details in order to improve the overall effect.” 
--The Theory and Practice of Water Colour Painting: Elucidated in a Series of Letters

“Painters without experience often weaken the effect they wish to produce by a prodigality which multiplies uselessly the figures and accessories of a picture. It will not be long before they learn that, the greater the conciseness and simplicity with which a thought is interpreted, the more it gains in expressive force.” 

Peter Brown Paints a Street Scene

 Urban plein-air painter Pete "The Street" Brown shares his thoughts as he paints a London cityscape.

He talks about the difficulty of choosing a motif and his ideas about "mapping out" the shapes with a brush on a piece of toned MDF board or canvas.

The video shows how he builds up the image with blocks of tone rather than with lines defining boundaries.

MDF Board, (11 x 14 in,)

With Bierstadt on a Painting Expedition

In 1859, Albert Bierstadt (1830-1902) organized a painting expedition in the high country of the Rocky Mountains. He sought out the help of William Byers, editor of the Rocky Mountain News, a "mountain tramp" who knew his way around. 

With Bierstadt on a Painting Expedition

Byers recalled how the artist "said nothing, but his face was a picture of intense life and excitement. His enthusiasm was badly dampened, but the moment he caught the view, fatigue and hunger were forgotten. He said nothing, but his face was a picture of intense life and excitement. Taking in the view for a moment, he slid off his mule, glanced quickly to see where the jack was that carried his paint outfit, walked sideways to it and began fumbling at the lash-ropes, all the time keeping his eyes on the scene up the valley."

With Bierstadt on a Painting Expedition

Byers waited patiently for Bierstadt to finish the color sketch, which the artist thought had taken fifteen minutes. Byers said: "You were at work forty-five minutes by the watch!"

The artist produced one sketch after another, each time exceeding his estimate of how long it would take.

“Wait twenty minutes while I sketch this storm.” They waited, but twenty minutes flew by, and he was still at work. Thirty, forty, and fifty minutes, and then an hour was gone, and the artist, absorbed in his work, was earnestly engaged in transferring the natural sublimity before him to paper. At the end of an hour and a half the artist completed his sketch."

With Bierstadt on a Painting Expedition
With Bierstadt on a Painting Expedition

According to Eleanor Harvey in her book The Painted Sketch

"'It was claimed that the artist’s recording “every detail of so wide a view in time—sketches, each limited to twenty minutes, and each noting the time of day, and consequent relative position of the sun, is one of the secrets of M. Bierstadt’s success.' He also developed a reputation early in his career as a prolific artist in the field, evidenced by the weight of his accumulated materials.”


Albert Bierstadt: Witness to a Changing West 

The Painted Sketch: American Impressions From Nature, 1830-1880 by Eleanor Harvey


Henry Wheeler's Barn

Henry Wheeler’s barn has a horse weathervane. The electrical line goes to a small electric milker. 

Henry Wheeler's Barn

I've sat in the hayloft on a summer day. It's peaceful and quiet up there with a bright sunbeam slanting in the hayloft door. 

One of the sheds has old wagons and carriages parked inside it, almost as if they're ready to return to the roads again in case those newfangled automobiles give up the ghost. 

Olana Eye Shows Famous View

Olana Eye Shows Famous View

Olana, the home of landscape painter Frederic Church has installed a  live skycam on its tower. Called "Olana Eye," it lets anyone stream the famous view of the Hudson River at any hour and in any weather.

Olana Eye Shows Famous View
Frederic Church, The ‘Bend in the River’ from Olana,
c. 1870-73. Oil on academy board, 10 1/16 x 12 7/8 in. 
Church frequently painted the view looking southwest from his tower.

Olana Eye Shows Famous View
Frederic Church, "Winter Sunset from Olana"
Typically his sketches were small and rapid oil studies, capturing fast-changing effects of light and weather. His paint application is relatively thin, working to finished effect from top to bottom and from background to foreground.
Link to Olana Eye

Church's Palm Trees

Church's Palm Trees
Frederic Edwin Church, American, 1826–1900, oil sketch showing the top of one palm tree, with a glorious crown of palm fronds, beside a pair of coarse, scaly trunks belonging to two different palm trees, June 1865, oil on paperboard
I'm guessing he painted this over a prepared gradation for the sky color. Click on the image to get the full study.

Easels in the Sacristy

Easels in the Sacristy
John Singer Sargent, Pavement of St. Mark's, 1898
In late-nineteenth-century Venice, worshippers and tourists had to share St. Mark's cathedral with painters. According to artist and ambassador Maitland Armstrong, the artists were given an honored place:
"In San Marco the artists were privileged; we could sit and paint wherever we pleased, no one ever interfering with us; we were allowed to store our easels and canvases in the sacristy—there were so many of them that it looked more like a studio than the robing-room of a church... Never was there a more delightful place to work in."
Quote from Day Before Yesterday: Reminiscences of a Varied Life by Maitland Armstrong, 1920
Crowdsourcing Lights for Plein-Air NocturnesHow Sacrificing Detail Can Add MoodLanding the Spirit of St. LouisSurrounded by MemoryPeter Brown Paints a Street SceneWith Bierstadt on a Painting ExpeditionHenry Wheeler's BarnOlana Eye Shows Famous ViewChurch's Palm TreesEasels in the Sacristy

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