Still Life – more tone exercises

Still Life tone exercise

Continuing on the series of Tone Exercises proposed in Harold Speed’s Oil Painting book, I setup a simple still life in my studio. I will post the photo next time, with the color study, but for now I just wanted to mention the bottle is green and the front sauce pan of a bright red. I had trouble trying to match tones and the different qualities of the objects (like the wooden spoon), so, in the end, I think I didn’t take the coffee pot to a decent finish, probably because it was so worn and brushed that it barely had any reflection in terms of value (more in color).
Here 2 previous steps of completion. The goal was once more to try to use paint as thin as possible, while preserving its opacity. I probably didn’t do it enough, but I am happy with the result.

I used once more Burnt Umber + Titanium while, fairly thinned with a mixture of Turpentine and Linseed Oil (50/50). The board is a simple wooden panel with 4 coats of gesso.

Stage 1

Still Life tone exercise - WIP 1

Stage 2

Still Life tone exercise - WIP 2p.s. There was no actual color shift, I just took the photos under different lighting conditions


Mass Drawing + Oil Painting Chapter 6 – Tone Exercises

Following the method illustrated in the 1917 book The Practice and Science of Drawing, by Harold Speed, I tried the mass drawing (aka painting) of a head maquette. At the same time, I used another approach to paint a classic plaster cast I bought recently, illustrated in the Oil Painting Techiniques book, which we are discussing at Gurney Journey

Head maquette tone studies

The first  method (on the left) is pretty simple: after laying down the base drawing in pencil and fixing it, you mix up a dark, mid, and light value with Raw Umber and white. I thinned the mid (ground) value down a lot with some Liquin, then scrubbed it across the whole surface. I then came in with the white, while the ground was still wet, and let the paint on my brush freely mix with it. This way, I had to use thicker paint to get the lighter values.

It’s a great exercise that helps you learning how to lay down paint, control its thickness, and think about strokes ahead. I then did the same with the dark, and came back in with the mid in a thicker version to fix thin spots.

Speed insists on the fact that you should keep lights and darks as separate as possible, so avoid letting them ever touch.

The second method (above right, and below), illustrated in the Oil Painting book, relies strictly on laying down very thin, yet opaque paint. Tones must be kept simple and arranged in large areas, while details must only be added after establishing the main masses. Overall, I prefer this latter method.
Bust plaster cast tone exercise



GJ Book Club: The Technique of Painting


The Practice and Science of Oil Painting - Harold SpeedAt the GJ Book club we are discussing  Harold Speed’s 1924 art instruction book The Science and Practice of Oil Painting.
This week, we discuss chapter 3 on the technique of painting (I didn’t have time to re-post part 2 of chapter 2).

Here are The main points highlighted by Gurney, almost verbatim quotes from the book.
1. “Few people realize how little they really see of the marvelous things happening on the retina of the eyes.”

2. “Sight as a faculty is not so essential to our survival as some of our other senses, such as touch.”

3. “…the surprise that greeted the first pictures of the impressionist movement.”

4. Parallel between developments in art history and the individual’s development of the faculty of sight.

5. “The extreme impressionists said there was no outline, and no use for line drawing.”

Here is my recap of this Chapter:

Our perception of the world is associated to the sense of touch, rather than on sight. We do not remember objects much as we see them,  but rather how we know they are, as a solid mass that we got accustomed with during childhood. The same goes for both shape and color. Rather than remembering the impression the object had in our retina, under “those” lighting conditions, we remember a generic shape, as it would appeal our touch sense when getting close to it (a table with four legs of the same length), having the color the surface would have under normal light.

This was clear in Egyptian drawings, representing the known, not the seen fact. An exception is represented by some cave drawings, which are purely impressionists and get away from the metal idea of form. They can be linked directly with Chinese or Japanese traditional paintings.

Light and shade was the great discovery of the 15th century (Masaccio, Leonardo). Up until then, paintings had started simply as lines little by little filled with a bit more of local color, but without getting to real shading, and with the only late introduction of the laws of perspective. This, plus Aerial Perspective, constituted the whole knowledge on visual representation that guided artists till the 18th century

Impressionists revolutionized the world of painting, by throwing away the whole concept of line as boundary of the form, and focusing exclusively on the flat image impressed on the retina. They threw away too much though, as they lost the power line possessed of appealing the sense of touch.

Line drawing, as well as the impression of light on the retina, and thus masses of color, must be put together, and painting should embrace both as a whole.


Bottom Line: I mostly agree with Speed once more. I like how he uses the sense of touch to describe the mental idea we have of an object, and also agree on having to keep a certain line quality in painting.

Next week—Chapter 4: The Painter’s Training


GJ Book Club: Modern Art – Part 1

The Practice and Science of Oil Painting - Harold Speed

At the GJ Book club we are discussing  Harold Speed’s 1924 art instruction book The Science and Practice of Oil Painting.
This week, we read the first part of chapter 2, on Modern Art. Here are the points highlighted by James Gurney:

1. “A considerable body of artists have deliberately set aside fine craftsmanship in order to express themselves more freely…there has been such a fashion for the crude methods of savages and primitive peoples.”

2. Mass culture sets the dominant cultural note of the modern age

3. “Now nobody waits until he has developed his mind before expressing an opinion.”

4. “The greatest works of art have been produced by small communities, such as existed in Athens and the independent states of Italy in the Renaissance.” 

5. “It is only those whose work shouts at you, who have much chance of any immediate notice.”

6. “anaemic people painted life-size drinking the blood of freshly killed bullocks”

7. “I am not at all sure that the columns of literature it has produced, are not of much greater value than the works of which they are supposed to treat.”

8. Quotes from Roger Fry on page 16 and 17.

9. “The great influence the Press has on modern life has brought into existence a new variety of artist, one who ministers to the demands of art critics.”

10. “Good craftsmanship is a healthier soil for art to grow in than fine theories about aesthetics.”

You can read the comments and Gurney’s Analysis at Gurney Journey.

Here are my .2

1. I don’t believe Speed is being racist here, at least no more than the average set of thoughts of the period. I can’t find myself in disagreement with him when he states the superiority of western art to exotic. There are indeed interesting points in their level of abstraction, but the form is definitely primitive.
I think a nice comparison could be made in this case with music. Primitive societies cannot develop a music that is over their artistic sense. It is noticeable how rhythmic, but yet dry of any sense of melody and polyphony (I might be using the wrong english terms, sorry for it) songs of all of the african people are. It’s a matter of fact that western music has reached higher levels of expression. I think the same goes for art. We cannot compare something composed by Jean Baptiste Lully with a generic series of drum hits made in an african village, as we cannot compare Bouguereau’s Psyche Abduct with their simple, graffiti like drawings.
Yes, I will probably sound racist too, but I hate having to say good of something I think is not, just cause it sounds “politically not correct” 🙂

2. I believe speed is angry with those self-proclamed artists who pretend to be making art just because they put something together and claim it is. It’s true what James says, that Modernism is a tendency of an “elite” more than of the lower classes. My thought was that Speed is arguing with the brutalization of technique, which followed the diffusion and more ready availability of mediums to everyone. A bit like “pop” art, a more gross expression made to enchant people who for any reason do not appreciate higher levels. It’s sadly more common to hear someone praise for Ed Shereen (I don’t even know him, just hear youngsters yell about him) than for Mozart or Beethoven, which is sad. It’s something that always existed of course, but whence before lower class people had simply no access to art, “pop” made it ready for everyone.

3. So true. Social Media are the fair of people not knowing what they talk about.

4. I agree with James, and refer back to what I said on Pop art

5. Can art with quiet, sober virtues find an audience in our own age of ubiquity and image overload? I think it does, but has the same audience it had before, in terms of numbers. In these days where few people listen to Bach but masses go to Lady Gaga’s concerts.

9. I agree on Speed’s opinion on art critics: most of them love “modern” art because they can say anything they want about it. A dot on a blank canvas. Art. No way! And they come up with all sorts of mental absurdities on what it should represent.

10. I agree once more on the fact that art is a natural evolution of craft. It’s the latter expression of it. Having studied Latin I know Art comes from Ars, which means Craft, ability. There can’t be art without craft, without some kind of manual ability do create what you want to represent.

To sum it up, here is what I do when I try to describe modern art.
I take a blank sheet of paper, and draw a dot on it. What is it? It’s a dot.
Then I put it in a frame, and write below “Sad Woman”.
What is it? it’s still a dot!
But hey, since we wrote something below it and stack it to a wall in a museum, it must be art. I so agree with speed’s thoughts when he says modern art is self-proclaimed, and made by people who say that’s art, without having real value.

P.s. I wanted to add a short note on the “brutalization of beauty” idea. Stockhausen tried to make us convinced of the fact that “Quartet for helicopter and orchestra” is art. That’s not. I’m adding this to my point 2, meaning that there is a (decreasing? hopefully) tendency of both pop and “elite modern art” in wanting us to think something ugly is beautiful (the first with a decreasing quality, the latter with an absurd illogic thought at its base). Have you heard about the “piece of art” (which was just a pile of trash sacks” thrown away in venice? A garbage collector didn’t know it was art and threw it away. Of course, it was “art” not real art.




GJ Book Club: Oil Painting Techniques and Materials by Harold Speed – Preface and Intro

Yesterday I joined the GJ Book Club at Gurney Journey. This time around we’re discussing the first chapter of the 1294 classic by Harold Speed: “Oil Painting Techniques and Materials”, which actually went by “The Science and Practice of Oil Painting” in its original print. The version I own is a reproduction made by Dover, which you can easily find on Amazon.

The Practice and Science of Oil Painting - Harold Speed
Here are the points highlighted by James at the club, taken directly from the book.

1. “Painting is drawing (form expression) with the added complication of tone and color.”

2. The impressionist movement has required a reformulation of the course of study in art schools because of the new vision that the movement has given us.

3. There are two modes of teaching: hard drilling on technical methods or leaving the student to figure out a technique on his own.

4. Every work of art starts with a nebulous idea.

5. “The best definition of a genius I have seen, is that he is described as the man most under the influence of these mental uprushes from the subconscious.”

6. Conscious / unconscious

7. Practical / intuitive


Here are my 02:

I agree with most of the things Speed says, I admit, especially when he talks about practice and academical study only being useful if subject to the impulse that comes from within.
As self-taught, I often struggle with my lack of academic knowledge, feeling like my limited technical skills are somehow denying the expression of something I would really like to put down on paper (or canvas). This is why I recently bought Guptill’s book on sketching and rendering in Pencil, which will hopefully give me at least some kind of direction, helping me to understand what I am doing wrong (and I am, quite a lot).

I also love the analogy he makes with Golf, bringing up the subject of consciousness/unconsciousness. What I find limiting in my own experience, which is likely due to my lack of practice, is the time I need to think about everything I do when I paint. I guess, or better hope, this feeling of doing something which I can’t grasp yet will become less and less apparent the more I practice.
I did, and do a bit of acting sometimes, and when I was starting I was told that all the things that I was finding so difficult to do, thinking consciously every time I had to do them, I would have been able to master only after reaching the point of not even knowing I was doing them, like breathing. But, heh, I guess that’s the ultimate level of mastery in drawing and painting.

Lastly, I certainly agree with Speed’s quote that James mentioned, although I believe the previous statement: “… and every obstacle should at first be put in the way of the aspiring artist,…” is a bit extreme, as not everyone might eventually become a genial artist, but just a moderate one. And perhaps, although loving art but not possessing enough strength of will, might prevent him/her from becoming an artist in the end, and grow up with frustration.

If you want to read all of the comments by James and others, you can reach his blog here