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2013 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The Louvre Museum has 8.5 million visitors per year. This blog was viewed about 70,000 times in 2013. If it were an exhibit at the Louvre Museum, it would take about 3 days for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

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Today (12/12/13) a new app was published on the app store called Waterlogue.  It is a program that turns a photograph into a watercolor painting.

Painted in Waterlogue

bike original

Nothing before (e.g. photoshop) has done anything like this.

The right hand image is a waterlogue derivative.  It is only one of the many varieties of transformation you can make of a photo.  What is important for me is that one can learn from it.   For example, look at the white vignetting in the trees, around the heads, the arms of the man and women, in the hair of the woman.

John Balestrieri (@tinrocket) one of the developers of this software left a comment below.  Of course, he can’t disclose his algorithm, but there are two things I can say about how the effect is achieved.  First there is a dead-on drawing “equivalent”underneath (derived from the photograph used, of course.)  The app to use for this is “copyIt” which will “square up” a photo so you can draw it on your paper ( see here and here for my posts on the subject of squaring up).   It is  really essential to get a good underdrawing.  Sargent and Homer were excellent draftspersons.  It’s really not difficult if you square up.

Secondly, Balestrieri has somehow mastered mimicking  the “juicy wash”.  The outline of the form is established by the background pigment.  Look at the man’s shirt.  It is established by the dark behind it.   The lightest value is left white within the outline.  The inside is not completely painted.  You need a loaded brush with which you drop colors into the form.  You do not “brush with it”.  Take the woman’s pony tail.  It works the same way as the man’s shirt.  If I were painting it, I would be tempted to describe the curls, but to do that I would have to use the brush as a brush to draw lines with it.  Here the lightest light is white and the rest of color is dropped in.  The darks are rich in color not the dull grays in the photograph.  But detail is there.  The ears are painted.

I’ve actually painting this scene many times in watercolor and oil and have always had problems with it.  For example, I get hung up in trying to paint the rim around the pond.  Here its left white with some pencil markings to hint at the molding along the top.  The mass of trees in the back has also been a problem for me. Using reserved paper as an outline for the forms of the trees works in the Waterlogue version.  The buildings at the top left, I see, can be left in pencil with a light wash over them.  Then there’s this boathouse in a copper roof turned green that Waterlogue doesn’t even color.  I like that.

The photo below is not the same one that I used with Waterlogue, but you can get some idea of how a complicated drawing gets done.

Painted in Waterlogue

flower similar

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There are 40 works of art by John Singer Sargent on display at the Michael Altman Gallery, 38 East 70th, New York, N.Y.   (and a couple more in the free catalog) .  The show is soon to close, so call before going. 212 879 0002

The show  is in a newly and beautifully refurbished “town house” which is, itself, a work of art.   Don’t get your hopes up that there are 40 watercolors.  There is a mixture of watercolors and oils, mostly oils, with a few charcoal studies.   Most are lent to the gallery and only a few were on sale.  Thus this could be called an “exhibit D’esteem” (or however one would write that it French. )  That is, this is an exhibit intended to increase the standing of the gallery in the eyes of the world –and Oh Boy does it.  All of the work is wonderful.

However, what the outcome of mixing the watercolors with the oils is that they are remarkably similar, and Mr. Altman seems to have recognized that.  There are oils of subjects known for the watercolors Sargent did of them.  In the catalog, for example, there is this spread which is part of a watercolor on the left and part of an oil on the right of subject matter we have seem before.  Altman is on to something.  It’s not that easy to tell which is which until you get close.

mixed water:oil

We’ve all seen this subject of Sargent’s friends and relatives taking a nap in the Alps but who knew he did both watercolors and oils of the same subject matter?

under bridge water

This is the watercolor from under the Rialto Bridge in Venice which was in the Brooklyn Museums show.

under bridge oil

And here is the oil of the same subject at Altman’s.  He’s at the exact same spot.  Do you think he brought both oils and watercolors the same day?   Or did he do the oil from the watercolor.?  How did he make the decision about the water?  In the watercolor it’s the blue that stands out, and in the oil it’s the orange.  I, myself, think the oil is the better picture because the colors in the lights are more vivid.

If we start with the oils, we can see that Sargent really smears the stuff on.  There are a couple of portraits with a slightly off white (a very small amount of raw sienna and white?) smudge down the nose for the highlight that could almost have been put of there by squeezing the paint out of the tube.  It is not descriptive of the nose, but is more an icon of a highlight.  There was one portrait of a young girl with a square of white on her forehead with no attempt to blend in the ends or make the square a more realistic and organic form.  It works at a distance, but once you see it stands out as if it were floating before her forehead a bit.

There is a wonderful remembrance of Sargent teaching a young lady, who, not having much money, had put tiny dots of paint on her palette.  To her dismay Sargent grabbed her paint tubes and squeezed huge  blobs out.    You can see the loaded brush work in the oil paints.  He’s that way with the watercolor paint as well, what we would call “juicy”.

Also Sargent is not concerned with detail.   That’s more associated with oil sketches than watercolor which is often precise with a pencil drawing showing underneath.   Look at the doorway across the canal.  In the oil it lists to the left.  Sargent had a problem with vertical lines and had a weight attached to a line to help him get images plumb in the studio.  In a gondola he probably didn’t take it along.  But my point is the lack of definition particularly in the watercolor.

I think , the bottom line for me, is that Sargent took his oil technique to the watercolor work, and it worked for him. We , or at least I, have Mr. Altman to thank for that insight.  The next time I go out with my watercolors, I am going to try to imagine I’m painting in oils.


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The Clark Museum

The Clark Museum, Williamstown, MA

Quote from the exhibit:

“Robert Sterling Clark  declared Winslow Homer (1836–1910) to be among the greatest artists of the nineteenth century. Acting on this belief, Clark bought more than two hundred of Homer’s works and eventually owned more works by Homer clark portraitthan by any other artist. The breadth and ambition of Clark’s collection, more important than the large number of works it contains, make it the finest gathering of Homer’s art assembled by any individual since the artist’s death.”

(Clark’s grandfather was the business partner of Singer of Singer sewing machine so he could afford all this.)

I would say that the exhibit is really about the man and not the watercolors per se.  It is unlike the Brooklyn Museum’s Sargent exhibit which was about watercolor technique as Sargent practiced it).

There was a great deal of memorabilia in the exhibit, like this case of gallery correspondence:

home case with letters

As well as very minor graphic work, often reproductions of some sort.

home wall of reproductions

and a wall of woodcuts

homer wall of woodcuts

There was introduced the interesting idea that Homer painting some paintings, mostly oils, for himself and some for the market.   They segregated the two types.  Of course, the ones for himself were much better than the ones for the market.

Sledding, a paint Homer is thought to have painted for himself.

Sledding, a painting Homer is thought to have painted for himself.

Corny painting for the market

Corny subject but a well painted job for the market

There were several study drawings for the above picture which is quite interesting since Homer’s finished drawing have a different quality.  He seems to be working out the planes and forms of the image in this sketch.

homer drawing jpeg


There is a section of the Clarke website here that allows you to search the images in the show.  It is a “nested” series of images, meaning you click on the first image and it opens to a page of other images.   Everything seems to be there, so I am not going to post all the watercolor images.

Most students of Homer’s watercolors believe there was a radical shift late in life (sometime after the late 1880) when he did his Adirondack paintings and his Bahama paintings as a result of the influence of Japanese woodcuts which were indirectly transmitted to him via John LaFarge and work in stained glass.  Unfortunately Clark bought a lot of very early work.

An early Homer

An early Homer

a late homer of two guides who appear in his paintings often

a late homer of two guides who appear in his paintings often


One of my favorites (the bird is an Osprey)

One of my favorites (the bird is an Osprey)


Below is a list of the watercolors in the exhibit.   You might want to check the dates to focus on the late work.

One thing I noticed was how complex his skies are and how dark and formless his background trees are in the later paintings.


Summer, 1874

Gouache, watercolor, and graphite on cream wove paper
21.9 x 11.1 cm
Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts, 1955.1491

Hunting for Eggs, 1874
Gouache, watercolor, and graphite on cream wove paper
24.9 x 14.1 cm
Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts, 1955.1497

Children on a Fence, 1874
Watercolor over graphite on paper
18.3 x 30.2 cm
Williams College Museum of Art, Museum purchase, with funds provided by the Assyrian Relief Exchange, 41.2

Sketch at Ferry Landing, c. 1875
Watercolor and graphite on paper
34.3 x 36.8 cm
Private Lender, New York

Lemon, 1876
Watercolor over graphite, with touches of gouache, on cream wove paper
47.9 x 30.3 cm
Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts, 1955.1494

Shepherdess of Houghton Farm, 1878
Watercolor and graphite, with additions in ink and gouache, on cream wove paper
27.9 x 48.3 cm
Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts, 1955.1483

Feeding Time, 1878
Watercolor, gouache, and graphite on cream wove paper
22.2 x 28.4 cm
Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts, 1955.1493

Four Boys Bathing, 1880
Watercolor over graphite on paper
24.2 x 34.3 cm
Williams College Museum of Art, Gift of Mrs. William C. Brownell, 58.15

Two Boys Rowing, 1880
Watercolor on paper
25.4 x 34.9 cm
Private Lender, New York

The Lobster Pot, 1880
Watercolor on paper
24.1 x 33.7 cm
Private Lender, New York

Perils of the Sea, 1881
Watercolor over graphite on cream wove paper
37.1 x 53.2 cm
Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts, 1955.774

Beach Scene, Cullercoats, 1881
Watercolor, over graphite on cream wove paper
29.1 x 49.5 cm
Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts, 1955.1490

Fisher Girl with Net, 1882
Graphite, gouache, and gray wash on gray laid paper
28.9 x 48.9 cm
Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts, 1955.1485

An October Day, 1889
Watercolor over graphite, with scraping, on cream wove paper
35.7 x 50.2 cm
Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts, 1955.770

A Good Pool, Saguenay River, 1895
Watercolor over graphite, with scraping on cream wove paper
24.7 x 47.9 cm
Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts, 1955.1492

Fish and Butterflies, 1900
Watercolor over graphite, on cream wove paper
36.7 x 52.5 cm
Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts, 1955.775

The Eagle’s Nest, 1902
Watercolor over graphite on cream wove paper
54.7 x 34.5 cm
Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts, 1955.1502

Schooners at Anchor, Key West, 1903
Watercolor on paper
35.6 x 55.2 cm
Private Lender, New York

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ultra light tripods

zipshot folded

If  you don’t just jump out of your car and set up right next to it, the weight of your gear becomes important.

There is a new class of tripods that are very light and quick to set up that artists are starting to experiment with if they want to travel very light.  There seems to be three companies marketing the same thing on Amazon:   Zipshot for $49.95, Davis and Sanford for $24.29, and AGFA for $17.99.   If you shop around, beware when you shop on the internet because, although these are full-size tripods, there are mini tripods that look like them when they are folded .

I do not know how to explain the wide variation in price, but it probable is something we will see more and more as merchandise is mass produced in China with the upscale product being made during the day and the cheap product made on the same machines at night with often cheaper materials by another group.   This has long been the case with tripods.  You can see identical tripods in a camera store, but one is considerably heavier than the other (the one made at night.)

I have the Davis and Sanford one and it seems to me to be the same as the more expensive Zipshot, not heavier or made with different materials probably because the materials for both versions are cheap.

The thing about these tripods is that the sections are held together by bungie cord material, so they set up by just untying them and giving them a shake.

zipshot expanding

When they are expanded they look like this:

agfa expanded

The above picture is of an AGFA.

The head looks like this:

zipshot head

You can put a very light-weight pochade box on it and there are quick-release accessories for an additional price.   But, when I put a sheet of 1/4 inch plywood on it that I use to hold a 1/4 sheet of watercolor paper, it was not steady under any weight.  I could not hang a waterbasket on it or it would tip.  The ball head doesn’t hold tight if there is too much weight.  In a wind I don’t think it would work.    On the other hand, I could paint with this set up, but just using the brush made it move.  Sometimes I steadied the plywood with my hand.   All that said, I find it acceptable.

By the way, the sheet of plywood has to have a female part that mates with the male bolt in the head of the tripod.  There are two types, one that you must hammer in  and another you screw in.   Here’s what the hammer in one looks like.  It probably is the best for a thin sheet of plywood which is all this tripod can handle.  It is called a T-nut.

sell nut


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check this out:  here

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A good watercolor is based on a good drawing.  What you usually need is a contour drawing of the kind that Charles Reid talks about.    In fact, many “watercolors” are often just colored drawings.   You can, of course, paint over the details in the drawing, but you have to have the perspective right, the gestures, and so forth, so you have to have a drawing with which to start.  One way to get that drawing on the paper for a watercolor  is to “square up” an image from somewhere else.  I have a post on the details here.  Then you can decide how much of the pencil marks to leave for the viewer to see.  The problem in the field has been that you can’t get that image from which to work.  You would have to carry both a camera and a portable printer.

That has all changed with the ubiquitous smart phone or tablet.  The smart phone is always in your pocket and therefore always available, and the mini ipad is pretty portable.   There are several apps for smartphones and tablets that do the squaring up of a photograph you have just taken.  Here is an image from one I like, an app called Copyit:

copy it example

There are grid lines (the black lines) whose number and thickness can be varied (I have just 6 boxes in the above image), and there are “guide lines” within the grids in red (16 within each grid in the above).  If the grid happens to be obscuring something, you can move it.  You can change the photo temporarily to black and white to get a value picture.  You can zoom in with the usual two finger gesture to look more closely at a grid.  You can save the result like that above to your photo album, print it out, etc.   The developer has thought of most things.  There is a help function and a manual that you can print out which is not particular written with a new-to-the-app point of view.

I hope it’s clear that you have to draw the grid on your paper and the “guide lines” as well in crucial areas.

There are a lot of people out there who are against using photographs in general.  There is something to their criticism, but it applies to people who are trying to copy a photograph rather than use a photograph to make measurements on an already sketched image.  You should definitely start with a freehand sketch of anything your doing.  When you do that, you will notice that you are making measurements usually against some line on your drawing that you have decided to hold constant (like the length of the statue in the above photograph.  The waist is about 1/3 of the way down that line, etc).  This is really not much different from how you work with a grid.  It’s just that the constant lines against which you are making measurements are the added grid lines.  Using the thin red guide lines the waist is about 1/4 of the way down the red line in the box.

Unfortunately I usually can’t spend a whole day outside doing a painting.  That means that my drawing has to be of a rather simple subject if I am to do it completely freehand.  With this app I can take on much more challenging subjects and get a drawing down much quicker than before.

By the way, it is, in fact, very hard to make a drawing or a painting look like the light in a photograph, and most people can’t do it.  So don’t worry.  The problem is that most photographs are not particularly good, have too much detail, etc.

A search (e.g. Google) of the term Copyit will bring up several options to explore including a UTube video, the support page, and the app from iTunes.  If you carry a smart phone you should consider Copyit.

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