Thursday, December 2, 2010

The Palette: Part 4 - Contemporary Masters

I want to take the first few lines of this post to commend those dedicated bloggers who post something everyday, whether it be a simple drawing or an academic undertaking. James Gurney and Stapleton Kearns come to mind, among others. I don't know how you do it, but I thank you!

To keep things rolling, lets just jump right into the first artist I want to talk about, Richard Schmid. Anyone working representationally knows his name since by this point in his long career it is synonymous with the likes of Sargent, Serov, Fechin, etc. If you don't know who he is, I strongly suggest you visit his website. Why he isn't in art history books is beyond me. This is my opinion but I think that of the many artists who came out of the 1950s art school scene where abstract expressionism predominated, he most successfully bridged it with realism. If you take a look at his earlier work you'll notice just how abstract his compositions are. His paint dances across a heavily textured surface, shapes of colors melt together to form a human figure placed in a believable but heavily abstracted setting. His landscapes were a tour de force in paint handling, some of them being so laden with paint and vitality you'd just as soon be convinced Monet was still alive and well. His recent work is where one truly sees a master at work. While it is evident that he had confidence as a young artist, employing only the necessary marks to achieve his end, there was a timidity and reliance on heavy paint given the trends of the times. It was just as much about the surface as it was about the painted image. This is not to criticize him in anyway since those paintings made a lasting impression on me and right now I too like playing with the physicality of the surface and paint. But when looked at side-by-side to his current portfolio, there is no comparison. Richard Schmid has become a living master in the truest sense. He transcends fame and success, and I'm sure many who read this blog will agree that he belongs in the pantheon of artists that include the previously discussed Bouguereau and Rembrandt, as well as Raphael, Michelangelo, Sargent, Sorolla, and many more.

Images descend chronologically, starting with recent work to a painting from the 60s. All images copyright of Richard Schmid

So as to get the meat of this story, I'll simply mention that I own both his out-of-print "RIchard Schmid Paints the FIgure: Advanded Techniques in Oil" as well as his newer "Alla Prima: Everything I know About Painting." These two books offer a lot of information on how to paint and why to paint, especially the latter. A thorough review of that book requires its own post. One thing that both books do mention, and the Alla Prima one goes even further in showing examples, are creating color charts. By that I mean create a chart on canvas or sturdier support, one inch squares all across (however many colors are in your palette) and five down. Start with your whole palette and place it straight from the tube in the first square. Add varying levels of white to each color and work your way down the five vertical squares until you have five values for each color. Once this is done, make a chart with one predominant color mixed with each other color and do the same with the white. Sounds tedious? It is. I made one chart, successfully at least, and it took me about four hours or so to complete.

This beast of a man completed one for every color on his palette. And when he adds a new color to his palette, he makes a chart for that one as well. Speaking of, his current palette is as follows in this order:
Cadmium Lemon
Cadmium Yellow Pale
Cadmium Yellow Deep
Yellow Ochre Light
Cadmium Red
Terra Rosa
Alizarin Crimson (the permanent variety, he mentions Gamblin)
Transparent Red Oxide (replaces burnt sienna because it is permanent, darker, and more transparent)
Cobalt Blue Light
Ultramarine Blue Deep
Titanium White

Looks kind of familiar, eh? A lot of similar colors appear on my palette as well, or at least similar values and pigments. I actually used his palette for a while. It made sense to emulate him and then branch out on my own. But this was a huge step in the direction I wanted to go as a painter. I want to get my palette down to a minimal amount of colors again, but until I exhaust the possibilities of mixtures and preferences, I'll keep with my current large monstrosity. In a later post I will thoroughly do justice to his art literary masterpiece "Alla Prima: Everything I Know About Painting." But now we move onto...

Donato Giancola. If ever there was an artist who has inspired me, whose work gives me goosebumps, makes me think, fills my brain with images of fantastical beings so real you can just touch them, its this guy. Whenever I describe Donato to students and friends, I frantically fight to control the urge to frolic as every painting he has created floods my conscience. It isn't like me to have a "favorite" artist since my tastes and preferences change so much that it seems almost childish. But for about five years now, ever since I was introduced to his work, Donato Giancola has remained my favorite living artist. I can go months without looking at his website (hypothetical, I'm on it daily) and I can scour the web looking at impressionistic realism, but as sure as the ocean is deep I can always return to his works and stare for hours. He creates works of art in a market that requires quick turnarounds to sell a product. Did I mention he's a fantasy illustrator? Must have slipped my mind! Donato seamlessly blends fantasy and science fiction with the aesthetic qualities of Renaissance masters. He names people like Hans Holbein, Jan Van Eyck, Bouguereau, and Richard Scarry (I'm serious too) as some of his biggest influences. He turned me on to John William Waterhouse and the Pre-Raphaelites. His knowledge of art history is staggering, and you can see it in his work. He doesn't just paint dragons and creatures, he creates pictorial masterpieces filled with narrative qualities that would make Rubens jealous. And one thing is for sure: the man has no qualms about filling a painting with figures. I don't know if he picks a random number out of a hat, but I won't be surprised that one day he'll bust out a painting with over 100 figures. If anyone can do it, it's him.

All images copyright of Donato Giancola

Like any good illustrator, his palette is extensive. Take a deep breath and enjoy the ride:
Titanium White, Payne's Gray, Burnt Sienna, Raw Umber, Yellow Ochre, Burnt Umber, Terre Verte, Cadmium Red Deep, Cadmium Yellow Medium, Cad Yellow Light, Ultramarine Blue, Permanent Green, Manganese/Dioxazine Purple, Greenish Umber, Sap Green, Alizarin Crimson, Pthalocyanine Blue, Pthalo Green, Cobalt Blue, Turquoise Blue, Cad Red Scarlet, Cad Yellow Pale, Raw Sienna, Sepia, Lamp Black, Cad Red Light, Magenta, Naples Yellow, Brilliant Yellow, Indian Yellow, Mars Violet, Brown Pink, Chinese Red Vermillion, Emerald Green, Manganese Blue, Davey's Gray.

No, he doesn't lay that whole list out at the same time. That's just silly. And he doesn't use every color in any one painting either. They're just there when he needs it. It is an honor to call Donato a friend and just as great an honor to have had the opportunity to study with him at the Illustration Master Class for the first two years it has run. I have seen him paint in his studio and at live demos countless times. The most fascinating aspect of how he paints is his "mud" pile. He mixes a large puddle of what he refers to as mud in the middle of his palette and begins adding other colors to create the desired tones he needs. His modeling of flesh is based heavily on his love for Bouguereau, and that is very evident. But if you look at his mixed colors on the palette, you're left thinking "how on earth are his paintings so vibrant?" To finish today's post I'll let the man himself explain. He and a number of other brilliant illustrators have joined forces to create a Super Blog where they share their insights on art making with us humble fans and aspiring artists. It is certainly a treat and I recommend everyone visit on a regular basis to see what these titans of the field are up to. Tomorrow I'll end with some tips on choosing colors for your palette based on my own experiences and finish off with December's first friday self-portrait. I'll also outline intended future posts. Have a wonderful day, and make sure to read Donato's mud post here:

And because I have forgotten to do so in the other posts, here are a number of links relevant to what I've been discussing as well as a number of other blogs worth reading: