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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.

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The Watercolor Portraits of Liu Yunsheng

The upcoming issue of International Artist (#123 Oct/Nov) has a feature article about Liu Yunsheng, who was born in China in 1937. 

The Watercolor Portraits of Liu Yunsheng

He earned a degree in painting in 1963, but put his love of art aside to serve in the Chinese military for 35 years. During that time he was prohibited to pursue his art. He took up painting again after retiring at the age of 61. 

He was deeply moved by his encounters with the Tibetan people, and has traveled to remote areas of Asia 24 times on reference-gathering expeditions during the winter months. It's too cold to paint at that time of the year, so he takes photographs. He lives with the families to get to know them better.

The Watercolor Portraits of Liu Yunsheng

He doesn't want to pursue novelty for its own sake, nor is he trying to preach or to make a political statement. Rather, he's interested in universal ideas, such as the struggle for existence, the quality of the air on the Tibetan plateau, and the expression of complex emotions.

He uses some modern tools such as Photoshop (in the planning stages), but otherwise his watercolor method is fairly traditional.

The Watercolor Portraits of Liu Yunsheng

Liu Yunsheng uses Winsor & Newton watercolors and a medium-size wolf hair brush for painting faces, hair, and clothes. He saves out his white areas with masking fluid. What fascinates me about Mr. Liu is how his surface technique is so conscientious, but yet he is always striving to capture deep feelings and human nature.

One of the great things about International Artist Magazine is that, for the most part, the artists write their own articles, rather than having their ideas filtered by someone else. In addition to the article on Liu Yunsheng, (#123 Oct/Nov) also includes articles on Daniel Keys, Richard Schmid, Morgan Samuel Price, Daniel Greene, John Michael Carter, Colley Whisson, Jesse Lane, Haley Hasler, and the winners of the International Artist Magazine Challenge with the theme of "Wildlife."

The Watercolor Portraits of Liu Yunsheng

The #123 Oct/Nov issue of International Artist will also have a feature that I wrote on painting animals from life. Why paint live animals? Of all the plein-air subjects, animals sharpen my senses the most. When they inevitably move out of position, I can no longer rely solely on observation and must shift over to knowledge and memory.

The Watercolor Portraits of Liu YunshengPainting Animals from Life
69 minutes Widescreen, MP4 video. 
Digital download:
DVD
DVD at Amazon

“James Gurney has an uncanny ability to take on challenging painting subjects, and then make his methods clear and easy to understand in low cost, high quality instructional videos." —Charley Parker, Lines and Colors

A Farrier in Action

At the Dutchess County Fair yesterday, the farriers competed to make a perfect horseshoe. They had exactly one hour to create a standard shoe design, starting with a straight, rectangular bar of steel.



An hour was about right for me to try to capture a keyframe of the action. I watched Pennsylvania farrier Elmer Glick wielding his two-and-a-half pound hammer, which was moving so fast I had to paint it as a blur.

From where I was standing in the middle of the tent, he was lit by cool light spilling in from the sides. I contrived the background tones to be darker on the right side of his silhouette. That made his hair and his shirt stand out light against dark. I lightened the background on the left side to make his face and hammer read clearly.



This video (link to YouTube video, jump ahead to 2:35 for farrier only) gives a sense of the controlled chaos and energy of the moment. By the way, can everyone see these embedded Facebook videos?
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For more about painting people in natural settings, check out my video tutorial, Portraits in the Wild.

"I loved how genuine these videos are. James doesn't hide anything. When his subject walks away, he shows us how he deals with it to save the painting."
—Stan Prokopenko, Proko.com

"Insightful, direct and inspiring, Portraits in the Wild brilliantly shares James Gurney's creative process of capturing those fleeting moments of beauty that life provides.”
—Edward Jonas, Chair, Portrait Society of America

Download (66 minutes, 1080p HD widescreen MP4 video) Available at Gumroad and Sellfy for $14.95
DVD (NTSC widescreen with slideshow) Available from Kunaki.com and from Amazon.

Irish Fiddler Dylan Foley

At a house concert in upstate New York, I open my gouache sketchbook in my lap to paint Irish fiddle champ Dylan Foley.


(Link to video on YouTube)

Here's what I try to do at each stage:

Step 1. The watercolor-pencil drawing locates
the elements. A big gray wash lowers the tone.
There's a moment of hesitation as I worry that 
the wash will erase the drawing.

Step 2. I place the features as spots, as if
I'm seeing the scene out of focus. Next, the
big darks establish the poster-like pattern.

Step 3. Interpreting the tones of the face in two 
values first, then finding halftones and variations.
Because Dylan is in constant motion, I can find
the most characteristic aspects that would not 
show up in a static pose.  

Step 4. Bringing in some background color, I
now have all the basic tones and colors worked out
and can begin focusing on nuances. Things like
glasses and details of the fiddle can wait.

Step 5. Gouache lets me get small details but 
also I can go back and soften edges. I want the
blow hand blurry because it's always in motion,
so I soften the paint and set up a blur. 

Finish. I letter his name with a fountain pen in the Irish 
Gaelic Alphabet. Some of the action lines on the 
far left are done with a gray watercolor pencil.

On Instagram, vjoy1 asks: "How do u fix a pose when subject is moving...??. and what is your motive to achieve extreme likeness or a representation?"

jamesgurneyart@vjoy1 Musicians reliably return to poses. As they move around, you seek after the most characteristic aspects of the person. You can’t get that with a static pose, which is why 19th century portrait painters like Sargent, Sorolla, and Zorn worked from dynamically moving or talking subjects.-----
Previously: Gouache Materials List
Dylan Foley / Deliriously Happy 
Bandcamp

Dylan Foley and Dan Gurney / Irish Music of the Hudson Valley
Bandcamp
Amazon Music

Portraits in the Wild / Painting People in Real Settings
Gumroad
Sellfy
DVD from manufacturer
DVD from Amazon

Bauck and Wegmann trading portraits

Bauck and Wegmann trading portraits
Portrait of Jeanna Bauck by Bertha Wegmann, 1881
Bertha Wegmann painted a portrait of her friend Jeanna Bauck...

Bauck and Wegmann trading portraits
Jeanna Bauck, The Danish Artist Bertha Wegmann Painting A Portrait
...and Bauck returned the favor, painting Wegmann in the studio that they shared.

Bauck and Wegmann trading portraits
Portrait of Jeanna Bauck by Bertha Wegmann, 1887

What it was like to sit for Sargent

Dr. William H. Welch and three of his colleagues sat for John Singer Sargent, and here's how it went.

What it was like to sit for Sargent
The Four Doctors by John S. Sargent, 1906.
The Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions, Baltimore
"The first sitting was taken up with trial groupings; the following ones singly and in pairs. The artist talked incessantly of everything and smoked cigarettes continually while he worked. The boldness and accuracy of his work conveys the impression that he sits steadily at his easel.

"This, however, is not the case. He walked back and forth, talking and smoking, but when at the picture his brushwork was rapid and precise. At one of our group sittings he seemed in despair, saying: 'You all seem so much alike—four white dots on a canvas. It is not a picture.'

"With that he approached the canvas and passed the brush rapidly before it. 'I have it!' he exclaimed. 'There is a big Venetian globe in my other studio. If there are no objections, on medical grounds, it will make the portrait a picture.' I replied that there were no objections to its introduction: in fact, I thought it would be symbolic of Dr. Osler's fame encircling the earth.

("Unfortunately, the globe was so massive it could not fit through the studio door. Undeterred, Sargent simply directed that the doorway, and a good chunk of the wall, be chopped to permit the object's entry."—Gazette)

What it was like to sit for Sargent

Welsh continues: "We each averaged two sittings a week, which owing to the artist's press of work, he was frequently getting mixed with the sittings of others, one of whom was Lord Roberts, who broke in on us several times. Dr. Osler gave the artist the most trouble. Sargent complained frequently that Osler was 'fidgety.' My head he painted on a single impression. The present portrait of Dr. Osler is the third attempt. He did not attempt to 'niggle' the first two into acceptability, but rubbed them out each time.

"Sargent's affability and unaffected simplicity are engaging, and his broad interests make him an interesting talker. He lent to simple incidents of the street the same penetration and humor that attended his remarks on art. At the time of our sittings he was anxious to finish his work in London and get to Syria in order to make sketches for his unfinished decorations of the Boston Public Library, which seemed to have become a great burden on his conscience. Contrary to the general
impression that Sargent is difficult to sit for, I never while before him felt that I was being scrutinized."
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Source: Brush and Pencil, Vol. 19, No. 3 (Mar., 1907), pp. 95-99
More about the painting "The Four Doctors" online at JSS Gallery.

Previously unknown Rembrandt confirmed

Previously unknown Rembrandt confirmed
Portrait of a Young Gentleman by Rembrandt
A previously unknown painting by Rembrandt van Rijn has been confirmed by experts. When the portrait came up for auction, identified as by the "School of Rembrandt," Dutch art dealer Jan Six suspected it was the real thing. That lace collar was only popular for a couple years, and those years were before Rembrandt's style was influential.

"Portrait of a young Gentleman is the first unknown painting by the Dutch master to turn up in 44 years and takes his total known painting oeuvre to 342, the NRC reported on Tuesday. Six bought the work 18 months ago at an auction at Christie’s in London on a hunch. He paid the equivalent of €156,000 for the portrait, which is undated and unsigned but which was probably painted in 1634. The portrait, measuring 94.5 cm by 73.5 cm, was sold by a British family who had had the painting in their possession for at least six generations. Six worked with Rijksmuseum experts to authenticate the work, and argues that the primer, pigments, brush strokes and method of composition all point to it being by Rembrandt."
Read more at DutchNews
 

Portrait Demo at the Yellow Barn Workshop

On Sunday night we had a sold-out audience for my mini-workshop at the Yellow Barn Studio in Glen Echo Park, Maryland.

Portrait Demo at the Yellow Barn Workshop

After my lecture presentation, I did a half-hour gouache portrait. My model was Steve Hanson, who was wearing a reproduction antique vest and coat. Steve has portrayed John Brown in a historical reenactment at Harper's Ferry.

Portrait Demo at the Yellow Barn Workshop

I used a limited palette of gouache: Light Red by Shinhan Pass, plus Yellow OchreUltramarine BlueIvory Black, and Titanium White (M. Graham) in a Pentalic watercolor journal.

I did my preliminary lay-in with a Brown Caran d' Ache watercolor pencil and I finished up with a White Supracolor pencil for those few stray beard hairs and other accents.
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Thanks, J. Jordan Bruns and Gavin Glakas for organizing the event, and to model Steven Hanson.

Sargent's Technique and Temperament

John Singer Sargent's grandnephew, Richard Ormond, speaks with veteran portrait painter Michael Shane Neal about Sargent's technique and temperament.

Michael Shane Neal and Richard Ormond, gouache

Here's an extended lecture by Richard Ormond about Sargent's work during World War I.
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Sketched live at the Portrait Society Conference in Washington, DC
Ormond has authored many books on Sargent, including John Singer Sargent: Figures and Landscapes 1908–1913: The Complete Paintings

Side by Side Demos

The Portrait Society Conference features many painting demos, where the artists paint models in oil during a 2-3 hour period, commenting as they go.

Side by Side Demos
Daniel Gerhartz demo at the Portrait Society
Two cameras record the painting and the model, and project the images side by side, so you can really see what the artist is seeing. Here's a demo by Daniel Gerhartz.

Side by Side Demos
Later, Jeff Hein painted Matteo Caloiaro.

The Watercolor Portraits of Liu YunshengA Farrier in ActionIrish Fiddler Dylan FoleyBauck and Wegmann trading portraitsWhat it was like to sit for SargentPreviously unknown Rembrandt confirmedPortrait Demo at the Yellow Barn WorkshopPortraits in the AudienceSargent's Technique and TemperamentSide by Side Demos

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