Sunday, February 19, 2017

Anguish by August Friedrich Albrecht Schenck

We think of ourselves as being outside of mother nature, but this painting is a humbling reminder of what life really is all about. Mother nature is brutal and indifferent and August Friedrich Albrecht Schenck portrays this perfectly in the cold and windy landscape that seems to stretch forever in every direction in the only clear shots between the birds we get. She will either have to abandon the body or die with it from starvation.

We can see the passage of time in the footprints of the crows around the body, and if you look closely you can see the blood trickling from the babies mouth and snow kicked up around its leg that gives us the clue that the calf just recently died.

Composition and Value 
Here we can see how he groups his dark and light shapes together and uses the light value shapes on the top and bottom to hold the central part of the composition. He also makes it balanced by adding bits of dark values in the whitest parts of the piece. This is to create balance and you can see that the picture is asymmetrical in the top half, we see two black shapes in a white shape to the top left and on the bottom we see one bigger, more detailed black shape on the bottom right. this makes the top part feel elevated and the bottom feel heavier.

He frames the mother in a large black shape that comprises most of the sky and the crows. The composition almost feels like a sideways turned hour glass and even though its probably not intentional I had to make notice of the skull shape in the right that you can see in threshold here. Creepy!

He uses the crows flying into the scene to add atmospheric perspective and bring our eye to our focal point and he does the same with the sun rays on the right hitting the edges of the cloud to do the same thing.  Even the beaks of the crows and footsteps all take us to our main focal point which also has the most texture and detail in the whole scene.
The Color
The darker colors of the crows contrasts with the duller yellow/grey of the sky. He uses dull yellow brownish color for both the sky and the mother, however the mother has more brown in her coat.
He makes sure to add visual interest to the darker underbelly of the mother by adding some light values in this area with bits of snow on the fur.

The crows are mostly very dark reds or purples and he goes back and forth throughout the render with both colors and as we move to the back of the crows on the right we get the last bit of rendering in a dull grey yellow within the same range as the yellow on the rest of the piece.


Saturday, February 18, 2017

Dead Men Tell no Tales by Howard Pyle

Narrative and Composition
The narrative in this picture is easily read and understood but he does it in a way as to not make it too obvious that it is uninteresting. We can tell right away that there was a standoff between the man in the back and the two pirates in the foreground of the picture over treasure that they found. If Howard had placed a chest of loot next to them I think it would have taken away from the mood of the picture and added another visual element that would distract from the drama on the man's face who is overlooking the scene.

The man standing with two guns and the face of the pirate who lies dead on the ground is our two main focal points. Like the man standing over the bodies trying to figure out the situation, we too are trying to figure out what happened. To give us a hint he places a shovel to the right that is pointing at the scene of the crime to let us know that this battle was over treasure. This shovel is almost hidden in the sand around it, if it wasn't for the slight highlight of the stick we would miss it since it is so close in color and value to the surrounding sand. He uses both the stick and the gun in the man's left hand to point us to the bodies and particularly the face of the fallen pirate.

If we take the image and throw it into threshold mode in Photoshop we can see Pyle uses a negative space shape in the top of the picture to frame the story and puts another island in the distance to add visual interest. Its important to notice that no element of the story wanders out of this frame and he takes our eye from the back figure who is the next closest light value shape to the body of water and uses a trail to literally walk our eye back to the main focus of the picture. This can work both ways to lead us from or back to the foreground image. Its also important to note that the man who is alive is not visible in threshold mode because the values are contrasted with the white pants of the dead men, but the highlight on the gun is. If he himself was wearing the same kind of white pants there would be no contrast between the characters and would possibly distract from the focal point of the two faces.

The lack of any bright colors in this scene makes it feel like this image takes place in a cloudy, humid day. He uses color in a very minimalist way to direct our eye exactly where he wants it to go without adding too many other colors to conflict with the image. The red in this picture is the only color standing out from the pale dull yellow and brown of the image and you can notice the color gets brighter and more saturated the further away it gets from us. This is atmospheric perspective in the form of color. If all of the red was at the same level of saturation it may not be as effective in leading our eye.

We also see he uses the only orange in the image to frame the head of the pirate laying dead on the ground. Even the orange on the pirate who we cannot see points to the man laying on the ground from the left side of the image. This draws our attention to his face which is an important element of the story since the blood running from his mouth is an important clue to the story. You can also see he does a similar technique with framing the standing man's head with a red cap and yellow green shirt.


Thursday, February 16, 2017

His Muscles Relaxed by Harold Von Schmidt


Like other pieces on this page I cannot comment on the true nature of this story since I do not know what publication this was made for but the gestures of the characters invite us to to tell our own story.  If we were to read the body language of the characters to give us a clue I would start with the character in the back and work clockwise around the picture. The figure in the back doesn't have a look of amusement or pleasure instead he looks disheartened or concerned over the situation as if this did not go the way he hoped it would and his hand in his pocket suggests he was a unwilling participant or spectator.  The other two men with him do not show us their faces but their upright gestures tell us they don't share the same concerns.

Next we move to the guys in the front right. The right guys facial expression tells us that in his eyes he deserved it. He smirks at the man next to him and gestures over his shoulder as if in the middle of cracking a joke. Another hint that the man tied to the post is dead is this is the first guy to fully remove his handkerchief we see so he isn't concerned about anyone seeing his face.  The man next to him though, has the same look on his face as the man in the back. He looks mad as if this situation didn't go the way he hoped it would or that he feels like it went too far.

Next is the man tied to the post. he is the central figure in the painting and has the brightest value here in his gesture shape in the form of an S. His gesture is completely defeated and this gives it contrast to the rest of the gestures but also tells us that their is no sign of life in his body. There is no sign of bodily injury only that his clothes have been ripped from his upper body, and he looks like he is wearing a light colored pants and boots which are not the same as the other men who wear dark pants maybe another hint that he did not know these men.

Next we get the line up of the 4 men on the left. The first 3 guys look like they are in conversation as the center figure holds the whip up for observation. Again we get another figure who does not share the same pleasure as the rest of the gang at the far left end with a figure looking over his shoulder back on the scene.


Interesting enough the man who did the whipping has a different color hat and handkerchief around his mouth then the rest. The purpose of this is to create a focal point for your eyes to move back and forth from the man on the post and the man on the left holding the whip so your mind can make the association between the two. But what would happen if we turned the white handkerchief into blue like the rest and made his hat a different color? How would that change the dynamic of the painting?Above I have done so and if we pay attention to it we see he bleeds into the background and instead our eye has to search longer for the whip.

Here are the value groups in threshold mode and we can see the three main light groups here that tell the basic of our story. We have the man on the right with an expression on his face of how this event did not unfold the way he wanted it to, the dead man tied to the post and the man holding the whip used to beat him. His value shape is brighter then the other men around him to draw attention to him.  We also notice the placement of these light shapes almost ascend and descend like musical notes along the page.


Our first instinct is to immediately look at the character tied to the post that sits slightly to the right of the page making the placement of the characters asymmetrical.  After that our eye then begins to travel around the painting. We have the two right shapes at a downward slope with the man's hat creating the downward slope, then we have a strong vertical shape that breaks the composition of the painting into two segments in the form of the man tied to the post and the post itself. It anchors them all into the scene and gives a reference point for all of the characters walking away both for narrative and perspective purposes.

Then our eyes descend again to the man on the left who is observing the man holding a whip and investigates it. One thing to note about the man holding the whip is he not only has a white handkerchief and a light colored hat but he is also sitting taller in the picture frame then any of the other characters near him.  We descend again to see one of the bandits relishing in the actions they just took we then see the last character looking back on the scene which makes us look to the right towards the body again and to the man in the back. This keeps our eye coming back to the focal point.

He uses mostly greens and blues throughout the piece in order to depict the night scene and dark purples for the shadows in the piece. The blackest parts of this piece are actually in the mans hair who is tied to the post, in order to keep him from fading into the background and the black used in the pants and shadows of the men along the bottom of the page.

The brightest blue used on any of the faces is actually used on the face all the way in the back. The other faces in the front all use muted blues and whites to render their faces.

He uses a light blue, medium blue and dark purple to render the forms of the men. While using a bluish green for the environment light which is likely coming from the moon above them.


Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Pollice Verso by Jean-Léon Gérôme

Pollice Verso or "with a turned thumb" is used as a reference for the gesture of turning ones thumb to determine the fate of the fallen gladiator in battle. Ridley Scott said this painting inspired him to make the movie Gladiator and its not just because of the subject matter, its also because Jean-Léon Gérôme's paintings are considered to depict time in a way that feels very cinematic.

"What is the essence of the director's work? We could define it as sculpting in time."- Andrei Tarkovsky

Jean-Léon Gérôme paints like a film maker and by that I mean he paints the "in between" moments of time that don't exist to the naked eye outside of film but somehow he does exactly this by painting several different moments of time within this piece.
The most obvious suggestion of the passage of time is how the sun rays move across the painting. They feel like pin drops of sunlight that slowly move along the painting as the sun peers around the corner of the back wall of the Colosseum. They give a sense of calm over the whole piece. This helps create the tone of the bottom part of the painting and defines the passage of time here in this area. Along with the sun rays we also see the fallen gladiators and their gestures feel slow in this time frame.

We then look upwards to the women in the top right and the crowd behind them and their rhythm is the complete opposite its full of energy and conviction as they put their thumbs down to determine the fate of the combatant. If we were to edit this painting together like a film we might start out with this depiction of the scene here but also visit each group of people and their reaction to create the suspense in the scene. For example we may start out with a slow shot of the gladiator placing his foot on the throat of his opponent and looking up and over to the crowd. Our next shot might be of the frantic crowd of virgins making gestures to kill the fallen gladiator, Our next shot might then be lingering again on the gladiator on the ground as he reaches out to the crowd for mercy. 

Our final shot would be of the emperor studying the scene while he eats grapes from his bowl. Behind him then our eyes can linger in the crowd which feels like they all have a general movement of back and to the left which does not draw too much attention to itself and lets your eye rest here.  Their positions along the background are all even as if they are all standing at the same height or sitting down. 

You can see someones recreation of the piece here on youtube:
(insert pursuit of art plug)

light rays that move along the ground that help define the perspective behind the gladiator but also suggest the passage of time. The rays of light very lightly move across the ground

he relies on body gestures amd silhouttes to communicate the crowds feelings without having to show a great deal of detail.
The statues in the back are another way he uses perspective to suggest the turning of the stadium.

raven and the sun, in roman symbol
In Greek mythology, ravens are associated with Apollo, the god of prophecy. They are said to be a symbol of good luck, and were the god's messengers in the mortal world.

The overall tones and colors he uses feels like for the most part they stay in the reds, browns and purples along the bottom. He uses a light opague red for the skin of the opponent begging for mercy and purple on his blood that stains the sand. The skin of the fallen gladiator is pale but still is within the orange range of colors. The same goes for most of the painting but he also uses a lot of different complementary colors to this range with blue greens in the ornamentation of the drape on the wall and the clothing of several spectators. However these complementary colors stay within the same color range.

Its interesting though that he doesn't save these complementary colors for the focal point and they don't distract. They all feel coherent even though they are all along the color range.


The brightest value grouping is for the group of white robed virgin women  to the right of this picture since this is where he wants us to look after we look at the Gladiators. Notice in no other part of the piece is their this many people with the same color robe next to one another. The rest in the background are a variety of different colors of red blues greens and browns.

The other main bright value range is in the figures in the foreground. These characters are laid on top of the darker background of the Colosseum wall to make him pop forward. These two lighter value groups are separated by the large curving wall of the dome. Which creates a very striking and dramatic shape across the page. The final light value group is in the top left corner. This is the last place our eye would go to and is a resting spot for the eye. The lighting and how the sun cuts across the crowd helps define this large dark shape and gives focus to the image. If the whole crowd was in the same value range the sense of time passing would not be achieved and some focus would be lost.


Friday, February 10, 2017

Occupation of Paris by Tom Lovell

"I consider myself a storyteller with a brush. I try to place myself back in imagined situations that would make interesting and appealing pictures. I am intent on producing paintings that relate to the human experience.”- Tom Lovell

I picked this painting originally cause it reminded me of the previous analysis I did of Mead Schaffer's Hide The Body. I don't know anything about Tom Lovell that I didn't read through a Wikipedia or Muddy Colors article, but come to find out he lived in New Rochelle where artists like Norman Rockwell and Mead Schaffer lived.

Since he painted both covers for pulp novels as well as historical portraits this image could have been one he did for National Geographic or an actual story its hard to tell but you do get the chance to come up with your own story by reading the body language of the figures. That is what is so captivating about the picture. This is a portrait of a family fleeing Nazi occupation of Paris as the guards watch suspiciously.

Perhaps they just had a passport approved to leave the country, we don't know but we can tell by
the older woman's body language that she is afraid and feels very uneasy about the situation. Meanwhile the protective mother stands more upright and defensive as she shoots a gaze over her left shoulder. The Guard also gazes at them and you can almost see this as the moment right before the two make eye contact.


The light of the window behind the baby and mother is much stronger in value contrast as well as this window behind them creating the negative space around the mother and baby is glowing and it gives the impression that the baby and mother are emanating light. This actually reminds me of religious depictions of the mother and child. They are glowing almost signifying hope but also being used to keep our eye here since it is the brightest value, but this spot has the highest contrast thanks to the blue clothes of the baby.


The triangular composition becomes more evident once you put the image in Threshold. We see the only white shapes are actually the two triangles in the back and the two rectangular shapes below them in the form of curtains and revealed windows. But these two smaller triangles house the bigger triangle of the overall composition. This could be interpreted as symbolic of the Third Reich since a triangle is often used as a symbol of power over others.

He avoids tangents by overlapping the older woman with the chair in the back and creates atmospheric perspective and the suggestion of a dining hall filled with people with only 5 actual characters. One officer who looks at them suspiciously, a server/butler and three non descriptive people in the back. He only uses the gesture and expressiveness of the pinky finger up to suggest these people are in their element and are not at all scared of the Nazis so they must either be Nazis or a part of the social elite who befriended them. This gesture is enough to make a good contrast with the rest of the tense picture.


The red is obviously the official color of the Third Reich however it serves a double meaning here and feels very ominous like a warning for the protagonists leaving the red makes the scene feel very threatening. Outside of the baby, our main focal point, the palette looks like it stays in the browns, reds and lighter reds.

Notice above how if we go into Adobe Photoshop and use the color balance adjustment to put more Cyan into the picture it immediately feels less threatening. It also feels like it makes it slightly harder to read. Your eyes still go to the family in the front but I found my eye was pulled away from them more.

The red colors dull in the highlighted back curtain to give the illusion of atmospheric perspective.
Here Tom uses the red, brown and green for most of the painting. Green is used for the officers uniforms and the shadow tones on the officers uniforms often have a lot of red in them. Brown and shades of light brown are used for the surrounding area.

The brightest values in the are in the back window, her lipstick, around the child's mouth, the mothers pearl necklace and the scarf of the old lady which brings her forward. He uses highlights on the officers, butler and people in the back to keep them in their visual hierarchy and not to bleed into the background. In fact we still have one other figure silhouetted all the way outside. This gives us again another hint of the space we are in.

The one with the most highlights is the Nazi officer to the right with 18 highlights.

Notice on the chandeler he uses darker values on the right and lighter values on the left since he does not want this element to bleed into the triangle window shape behind it. He uses a few highlights on the right side to suggest where the light is hitting it from.

For more information you can See Muddy Color's book preview of Tom Lovell Illustrator below:


Thursday, February 9, 2017

Hide the Body by Mead Schaeffer.

Hide The Body by Mead Schaeffer

Focus and Composition

The face is the major point of contrast in this illustration which makes it our focal point and it contrasts with our other focal point of the foot on the floor. Every light shape in the painting is pointing upwards towards her from the bottom right where we see the body and contrasting circle shape of the hat.  You can also see the lines pointing back to her on the hips and  her dress line

He keepss our eyes only in this area by obscuring everything else away from our eye. For example the bottom left corner has a corner of a chair or bed frame peering out of the darkness which helps create the jagged shape of the negative space of the light on the left side to keep our eye drifting too much away from her. Obviously the ground to her right is lit but he uses this negative space to keep our attention here and for the vaules in the composition to feel dramatic and nerve wrecking.  so we only have the main details in our attention.

To create visual balance to the big strong shapes on the right he adds a sense of normalcy with two light switches upright and the book shelf built into the wall.


Her reaction feels defensive and surprised, having just killed someone who she must now hide. The overturned painting and chair behind her along with the knocked over books obviously contrast with the candle holder, the light switches to the left and the mirror behind her in terms of order and disorder. There has been a struggle here and the little hints of normalcy in the room create the tension since these elements blend in and fall back to support the main focal point.  He accomplishes more by showing us less so that our imagination can fill in the blanks of what happened here and in what condition he lies. Only using the expression of a dead foot to again point upwards towards her.


Mead chooses an analogous color scheme the range from dark browns, grey and dull greens, and light pinks and deep reds reds. Her skin feels like a dull yellow green again hinting at her emotional state. The drape she is holding to cover the body is the strongest color contrast with her greenish yellow skin and is obviously alluding to the murder that just took place.

The contrast in the details of the books to the right are also interesting. He uses red in the bottom section in order to feel like it fits in with the overall color scheme. note that he didn't use very much green in this area cause it would drag your eye away from the composition. he had to make this part feel like it was a part of the whole even though it could have easily pulled you away since it is not well lit at all. He then offsets the color of the drape by placing the green grey hat and foot at the bottom of the painting.


The strong negative space created by the light shapes in mead's work is always a feature I really like and here he uses it to almost make it feel like it is either symbolic or analogous to the film. The light shape feels like it is cutting across the page like a lightning bolt or it sits in the page like broken jagged glass that could prick you from any angle. It fits well with the subject matter and gives you an indication of her mental state of being on edge and hostile.

He makes the different objects pop forward by using pin points of lights in the bigger shape designs to show overlapping in forms. Notice the light is hitting right on the tip of his shoe, the bottom of the chair, at her waist and right behind both of her arm pits. They are also on the ornamentation on the wall to the left and give us a nice hint of the texture of the wall. This is actually the only real hints of texture on the wall but along with that and the color its enough for our imagination to fill in the details.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Silver Warrior by Frank Frazetta

Frazetta's painting are mythic and iconic, this painting was an image I remember seeing in a old Spawn comic book in my childhood and it has stuck with me over the years. Like all of Frazetta's work he paints the moment right before or after an action capturing the highest moment of drama in a picture.

The focal point in this image is between the warrior's face and his sword. He uses every trick of contrast, value and edges to draw your attention to this area. The sharp edge of the sword is juxtaposed against the soft and lost edges of the sun rays. The mountains in the distance and the soft edges of his hair makes the sword dominate the whole image with its dark values and shape. The suns reflection on the sword is another point of contrast since this is one of the the only warm colors in the piece. His silhouette against the backdrop is sharp and easily readable.

Contrast and lighting 
The white on the polar bears is brighter than the white on any other part of the picture including the icecaps in the back. This gives them contrast to the ornamentation and darker values of the sled and the Silver Warrior behind them. This also helps them stand out from the backdrop of the snowy terrain they are standing on.

There is another strong contrast here with the bold dark shadows on the warrior's face with the contrast of the white snow caps behind him. He uses another element of lighting contrast with telling us where the lighting source is in the scene. We can see it is directly above him and in front of him by the light reflection on his vest. This adds another rhythm of light variation in this area that adds more visual interest.

Outside of the yellow on the ornamentation on his armor and the sled as well as the red along his sword from the suns reflection, the whole picture is done in varying tones of blue, black and purple. The purple is absent in the top part of the picture and is only used to give warmth to the shadows of the polar bears at the bottom. These purples disappear as we go up the image to the warrior and where we only get cold pale blues, yellows, and deep black shadows.

Like a lot of Frazetta's work, the composition feels triangular in its shape from the tip of the sword down to the legs of the left sled and to the right leg and back up. It sits heavy to the left and he uses the contrast of the white snow caps to compensate for that on the right. Notice he doesn't need to balance it by placing a huge white shape on the right side, instead he can suggest bigger shapes by placing smaller ones close to one another. This gives variation to the shapes as well since the left side of the caps are much bolder. He uses the blue in the background to suggest a vast empty space behind him.

The darkest value of blue is in the top left corner of the image near the top of the mountain. This gives a sense of depth and distance to what lies behind the mountain and contrasts with the sun hitting his sword and radiating off. We also see that the darkest blacks are reserved for the features on the face of the polar bears and the shadows of the figure riding into battle.

Giving soft and lost edges to the polar bears allows our eyes to drift from one element to the next without feeling like every element is completely distinct from the others. The shadow along the back here also helps define the shapes of the two front polar bears and in both of these we see parts of each of them with lost edges or very slight edges. That gives us the impression of them being almost as soft in texture as the snow around them but out of the core shadows he implies enough shapes to also let us know that these bears are strong and feel grounded to their surroundings.

The edges of the sun rays bouncing off the sword are sharp at first and become lost edges as it moves away from the sword.

The whole shape of the gesture, his ornamental elements and silhouette are connected together in the same shape. Notice how his hair waves to the side connecting with the sharp dark shape of the sword to the shadows across his chest and the shadows on his face that obscure his features.