May 30, 2010

How Van Gogh burned my eyes out

Seeing my artwork appear in digital book form is a little unnerving.  The reproductions are reproductions of reproductions of reproductions, and that has made colors stray quite a bit from the originals.  This is one reason why I've decided to learn how to make my own prints, so that I can proof every one and make sure the colors stay intact.  But images are reproduced in many different ways these days and different formats have advantages and disadvantages.

I'll never forget the first time I saw an original Vincent Van Gogh.  I had never been to the Fogg Museum at Harvard University before, and I wasn't expecting any "wow" moments from the impressionist section we were exploring.  The Fogg has a fine collection of  impressionist paintings including works by Picasso, Monet, Manet, Matisse, Renior, Degas and Cezanne.  But I didn't expect to be impressed by the impressionists.

Strolling through the rooms I came to a doorway and turned my head to the right to look inside.  On the other side of the room was an entire wall with only one painting hanging in the center.  It was a Van Gogh self portrait, painted in 1888 for his friend Paul Gauguin.  That green background... I was slammed in the eyeballs by this weird, lime color.  I started walking toward the painting, drawn to it like a moth flying into a campfire.  It radiated off the wall like an emerald.  

As I got closer, I saw that he placed paint strokes in circular patterns that emanated away from the head, as if he was radioactive or something.  Hell, he even used the lime green in his skin tone.  Wow, that was creepy-weird.  "Yeah", I thought, "This guy was nuts!"... or, he was brilliant... or more likely, a bit of both.  Vincent had painted himself in the image of a Japanese monk, with a calm exterior on the surface and an inner intensity beneath.   He knew exactly what he was doing.  
But he painted this just weeks before lopping off a chunk of that ear.  I remember thinking that this was the oddest, and yet, one of the most intriguing paintings I'd ever seen.  I couldn't take my eyes off of it.  I stared at it for quite a while.  Also odd, is that the eyes aren't looking at you, unlike most self portraits where an artist looking in a mirror is likely to paint the eyes looking directly back at the artist. 

That painting changed my opinion of the impressionists. I finally began to get it.  I began to see in a different way... which was the whole point of what they were doing.  Design was not the goal, they were exploring emotions, through color.  Van Gogh had painted himself with an aura.  The image gave off an energy.  I had this surreal feeling as if Van Gogh's soul had been painted right into this painting. I realized that the painting itself had an aura.  Some images do that to you. I'd felt it with other paintings, but never like this.

Getting back to the point, seeing an original painting is important, even though time may give it a bit of a patina.  Googling images of paintings will inevitably bring a variety of versions, most of which do not accurately represent the original, and most likely will not reproduce that aura, if it has one.

Comparing examples of another Van Gogh portrait taken from the web, it's clear that accuracy is lacking.  Design is present but color is random.  How would anyone know which is closest to the original?

May 18, 2010

Photoshop CS5

After several months of waiting, Photoshop CS5 has been released and I've downloaded it to my imac.  The beauty of this is that I can now plug my Cintiq into the imac and use both screens.  This allows me to place Photoshop tools on the left screen and paint on the right.  Having all that space clear on the Cintiq screen is really helpful. Being able to draw right on the screen has been an adventure.  I've grown accustomed to it and marvel at what it can do. 

As nice as this setup is, I do miss the days of smelling oil paint and linseed oil.  I own a complete set of Old Holland paints and new sable brushes which have been sitting unopened in my studio for several years now.  I've been looking at painting easels and if I get one, I'll have to rearrange the entire work space, but I'm looking forward to creating things the new way AND the old way.

My working space here on Maui has been a lot smaller than my previous studio in Massachusetts.  Here are a few photos of my old studio which was on the top floor of an old brick factory building in Worcester, complete with skylight and huge windows.
My cat, Nerf, was quite at home among the painted animals on the walls.  In the corner was my drum set on a riser where the boys would rehearse on Wednesday nights.  The space was beautiful.  Unfortunately, it had a downside... it was located in the city of Worcester.  I got tired of the cold weather.  I got tired of hearing gunshots and sirens at night.  The back windows overlooked a small lake... which often had trash and broken shopping carts all along the shore.  In 1995, it was time to move on to greener pastures.  Not many artists get to have such a cool studio as this one, but I'm going to try it again... if I can afford it!   

May 10, 2010

Frank Frazetta 1928-2010 (Part 6)

As I was writing a final post in this series about Frank Frazetta, I have just learned of his passing.  Very sad day for his family, and for his admirers who were inspired and amazed by his artwork and talent.

Hanging on my living room wall is a fantasy painting of a deer with wings.  The deer was my first attempt at a fantasy oil painting, inspired by Frazetta.  While it wasn't monsters or warriors, the deer originally had a rider on its back.  She had a dagger strapped to her leg and a spear in the other hand.  And she didn't wear much else (hey, I was a teenager).  It was only my second attempt at using oil paints and unlike the first attempt, a still life painting, I wanted to create something purely from my imagination, thanks to Frank.  But I never tried to copy Frazetta, I just wanted to share in his world.  Three years I spent on that painting, fussing with the wings so that you could still see the beautiful, primitive huntress.  Eventually, I decided to paint her out so the wings could unfurl. That was around 1980.

At the same time, Frank Frazetta was at the pinnacle of his career and had sketched this drawing about five years earlier (my guess). When I came across this little gem for sale, I couldn't help but fall in love with it. I purchased it and framed it in a bronzed wood with black velvet and gold inset.

It's quintessential Frazetta... Conan posing with a battle axe, a quick sketch that he inked in with all the little pen noodling that I love about his line work.  The pen seems to have zipped along his form with just the right touch, getting lighter and heavier at times.  The stance is solid, the angles are perfect, the pondering attitude on his face, and his classic signature off to the side.  Maybe it's me, but I see beauty in that squiggle that runs up the ax handle.  Never have I seen a better portrait pose of Conan.
Or is it something else that draws me to it?  Could it be his depiction of the raw nerve of the barbarian that just gets my testosterone up?  Yeah, that's me inside.  I'm certainly no muscle dude.  In fact, I'm all of 142 pounds. But a part of me is that guy, poised and ready to give life a good swipe.  That's me making a decision... do I guard myself or do I just attack?  
But I digress...
I now own a drawing by one of the greatest artists, in fact, thee grand master of fantasy art, who has now passed on in flesh but he will live on in his magnificent art.  Frazetta's Conan drawing shares wall space with my Deer painting, a tribute to the artist who inspired me so much.  Rest in peace, Frank, you'll be missed.

Links to the other posts in this series about Frazetta are found here:
Frazetta Part 1
Frazetta Part 2
Frazetta Part 3
Frazetta Part 4
Frazetta Part 5

To see the most recent posts by Mark Astrella, click on the header at the top of the page (A Burning Designer)

May 03, 2010

Frank Frazetta (Part 5) More sketches

I'm posting a couple more examples of Frank Frazetta's preliminary sketches to compare with his final illustrations,  That he traced some of his initial drawings onto his canvas before painting is in no way an unusual practice among painters, in fact, it is one of the most logical ways to transpose a drawing that is best created on a substrate meant for drawing, over to a substrate meant for painting.  To re-sketch it from scratch onto the canvas could run the risk of losing the essence of the sketch.  The whole point to sketching is to flush out the design.  It's like a wire frame for a sculpture.  If the final is not to be painted but finished with ink, he may have traced the sketch onto Bristol paper, which is a very smooth paper made for illustration. It's especially good for inks.  I've been using it for all my airbrushed acrylic illustrations because the smooth surface is ideal for using Frisket film. 

Above is Frazetta's pencil sketch side by side with the final ink drawing.  I've laid the sketch over the ink drawing and merged the two at 50% opacity to show how closely they match up.  He seems to have stayed close to the original sketch and it leaves little doubt that he traced one onto the other.

That he traced some drawings over to Bristol paper doesn't mean he always worked in this way. He doesn't really have one set method. In some instances he sketched right on the canvas and sometimes he sketched with paint rather than pencil. 

In this example of about a dozen people fighting, you can see the darker lines which were most likely the lines he traced over and applied pressure in order to get an image on the paper beneath it.  Then he'll have a clean surface to begin inking it in and he can refer to the drawing for shading if he needs to.

Again, I merged the two to see how they fit together and how closely he followed the drawing.  
There's no real point I'm trying to make here.  I just find it interesting.  Frank Frazetta is known as the Grand Master of fantastic art and the most influential illustrator of the 20th century.  He is without doubt one of the great artists of our timeHis work has had a profound affect on many artists, including me, even though I can't say my style is anything like his.  I've simply admired his genius and talent.  He wowed me, as did Norman Rockwell, Maxfield Parrish, Michael Whelan and Roger Dean, among others.

Here's one more sketch by Frazetta that he did for Savage Pellucidar.  The parts don't necessarily line up exactly with the painting so he must have reworked the design on the canvas.  But there are some heavy lines that seem to indicate a transfer.  You be the judge.  I just love the way the shadow under the tiger becomes an abstract shape.  Pure genius!

Links to this 6-part series on Frazetta by Mark Astrella are found here:
Frazetta Part 1
Frazetta Part 2
Frazetta Part 3
Frazetta Part 4
Frazetta Part 6

Click on the header at the top of the page (A Burning Designer) to see the most recent posts by Astrella.