Saturday, July 22, 2017

Artist of the Month: Frederic Church

-By William O’Connor



Almost ten years ago I moved with my family to live on the Hudson River about 20 miles north of Manhattan. As an artist I was immediately struck by the beauty of the river and came to realize the extensive artistic heritage of the Hudson. This week I was finally able to realize an item on my art wish list and took a trip up the river to visit the historic Olana Estate, the home of 19th century American Master of the Hudson River School Frederic Church (1826-1900).

Many times in the past in this series I have talked about the tumultuous events of the 19th century, Romanticism, The Industrial Revolution and the Victorian era. The social, political and subsequently artistic changes were radical. Most of the posts I have written however have looked at this change from the European perspective. By looking at Church we can see the same changes reflected by the American artist. Church’s career encapsulates the most revolutionary generation in American history, stretching from a pre-Civil War agrarian society, to a trans continental superpower in less than 40 years.

Church was born into a traditional monied family in rural Connecticut before steam locomotives began to transform New England. As a young man Church became the pupil of Thomas Cole, a British landscape painter who founded the Hudson River School. Cole’s Romantic style (like Friedrich, Martin  or Turner -click on link to see those Artist of the Month’s) exalted and celebrated in the power of nature over man. The landscape painting became the source by which an artist could pay homage to the beauty of God’s creation. Under Cole’s tutelage Church adopted this Romantic style.

In 1861 America underwent a violent transformation. The industrial revolution pushed the traditionally agrarian nation to a breaking point as to what kind of country it would be in the future. An expanding, modern world power, or a traditional farming society. The American Civil War separates America’s 19th century experience from that of its European counterparts by catapulting the nation into industrial superpower status practically overnight. Less than four years after the end of the war the transcontinental railroad is completed; before the end of the century the United States will double in population (30 million to 60 million) and would add a dozen new stars to its flag. Expansion and growth socially, technologically, societally and of course artistically were transforming the nation at an unimaginable speed.

Church was as transformed by the war as the country. Before the war he had traveled extensively to Europe and South America to study the majestic landscapes, most famously for his painting “The Heart of the Andes” 1859. At ten feet wide it was a work so meticulously detailed that it served as a botanical guide, and so luminous it was presented to the public like a modern day blockbuster film, with audiences queuing to get a look at the famous painting with opera glasses at a railing, as if gazing out a picture window.  The sale of paintings like Heart of the Andes and others made Church famous and rich.

Only a few years after the war Church began the Olana estate on the Hudson in the very region where he had studied with Thomas Cole. Church, the Hudson River School and the American Frontier had become a powerful brand. The American vista had become something to claim as America's Manifest Destiny. Whereas in Europe artists were depicting their imperial legacy with Victorian paintings of  Roman bath houses and picturesque landscapes of ruins and cathedrals, in America the landscape was its legacy, its panoramic natural splendor was its cathedral bequeathed to a fledgling empire by God. American Nationalism was tied to its landscape with Church and other contemporary artists like Albert Beirstadt painting a bright future written across the sky (literally and figuratively). In his later years Church's artistic output diminished and the Hudson Valley School went out of style sending Church into semi retirement. After his death large landscape paintings fell out of fashion for most of the twentieth century. Today a renaissance of academic 19th century art has renewed interest in The Hudson River School and Frederick Church leaving an artistic legacy uniquely American.

For those artists, and art aficionados, living or visiting the American East Coast and New York City, I highly recommend the artist’s trail along the Hudson River, from the Brooklyn Museum, to the Hudson River Museum  in Yonkers, up to Storm King Art Center  in New Windsor, NY, The Dia Museum  in Beacon and up to Olana Mansion in Hudson NY.

Get out there and explore!

Enjoy

WOC

Below is a selection of Church paintings as well as a link to the photos of my trip to Olana State Historic Mansion

"The Heart of the Andes" 1859

"Aurora Borealis" 1865




"Niagra Falls, from the American Side" 1867

"Olana" 1870


Friday, July 21, 2017

Tadema and the Victorian Obsession

--by Howard Lyon

Last week there was a post by Dan Dos Santos about a new Alma-Tadema exhibit at the Leighton House in London. Tadema is one of my all time favorites and I hope to be able to make it to the show. There is no substitute for seeing the original, but if we can't make it there, major exhibitions usually come with high quality books and reproductions made from excellent photography.

After seeing the post I went in search of the book that would accompany the show and I found it.  It does not disappoint. It is a nice sized book with excellent reproductions and some large prints.  The text of the book is excellent as well, showing the arc of Tadema's career and how he influenced other artists of his time. We also get some insights into his working methods and family.  I can't recommend the book enough if you are at all a fan of this amazing artist.



Here is a flip-through of the book:


You can order the book on Amazon here: Lawrence Alma-Tadema: At Home in Antiquity


I found another book while in France at the Musee D'Orsay bookshop.  I couldn't find the book in english in the shop, but a quick search on Amazon dug one up.  The prices are all over the place, which suggests that the supply is limited and when it is gone, the book may be in high demand.  The book catalogs another Leighton House show.  This time it is the collection of Pérez Simón who loves the late 19th century Victorian artists.  This is another fantastic book with a great variety of artists represented.  Tadema is again a well represented, but so are Waterhouse, Godward, Leighton, Millais, Poynter and many other greats.




Here is another flip through:



And you can get this one on Amazon as well: A Victorian Obsession

It is limited in supply, though there are a dozen or so copies below $40 as of this writing.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Center It! (or, Why a Good Illustration Doesn't Automatically Make a Good Book Cover, pt.1)

By Lauren Panepinto
  
I look at a lot of portfolios, and in almost every review, the artist asks me whether their work is suitable for book covers. Sometimes a gorgeous portfolio just doesn't have the "book cover feel" I need to commission them. There's a lot of reasons why a good illustration may not be a good book cover. Remember most of all, a book cover is advertising first, art second. As painful as that simple fact may be to us on the artist side of the spectrum, that fact is undeniable: An "ugly" book cover that is a bestseller is more successful than a "beautiful" one that sells half as many copies. Now of course, those are subjective values, and I'm exaggerating. As an Art Director, one of the main responsibilities I have is to balance the Artist's priority (make a gorgeous portfolio piece) with the Author/Editor's priority (sell books), and that can lead to choices that make business sense but not aesthetic sense (ex: making the type bigger and as a result covering more of the art).

Remember, there are creatives on both sides of this equation. Artists on one, and Authors on the other. And I want to do my best job for both. After all, more books sold means more paying work for both the author and the artist. (And, bonus, it keeps your Art Director employed.)

In most bookstores, you're lucky if you get a cover-out spot, instead of just a spine-out.

Anyway back to the point. A cover sells the book in a way that concept art, interior illustrations, and gaming art really doesn't have to. A good book cover needs to be eye-catching more than it needs to be beautiful, because book covers exist in a highly competitive and overwhelming visual market. A viewer of a table or bookshelf at a bookstore only has half a second tops to scan past a cover, and it's even less on websites.

So what do I look for? (given that skill level is suitable)
—Simple compositions, usually with the Important Thing in the center
Visual Hierarchy, with a strong focal point
—Control of the viewer's eye path thru secondary focal points
—Strong silhouettes and graphic use of negative space (because that reads really well small)

Extra Credit: Depicting common genre checkpoints in a fresh way

Covers need to be visually interesting in thumbnail size too. You don't necessarily need to be able to see exactly what's going on, but your eye is drawn to strong colors, shapes, and silhouettes at this scale.

I think I can probably do a post on each one. I probably should. I already did one on Visual Hierarchy. So let's pick off an easy one, something that I see mishandled in a lot of student and young professional's portfolios: Simple, centered compositions.

Now I'm not talking about compositions that are off-center for a definite compositional reason. Again, if you've nailed the visual hierarchy and eye flow path, then you don't need to center the composition. I'm talking about the off-center for no reason compositions. The ones where, if I ask why the character wasn't centered, I get a shrug at best. At worst, I've heard fresh grads state their teachers told them never to center a character or composition because it was too simple. So I end up seeing a lot of illustrations that just look...mis-cropped. They're not off-center enough to look deliberate. They're just...slightly enough off-center to look like a mistake.

Look I don't want to shame anyone's wishy-washy compositions here, so instead I'm going to show you a whole bunch of covers below that are solidly centered. And I'm going to challenge you, next time you're in a book store, or browsing online, go find an illustrated book cover where the composition isn't centered. Not too easy, is it? And the ones that are off-center, I bet the type takes over the role of center focal point. That's most of the big epic fantasy landscape covers right there.

So the moral of the story is, if you don't have a deliberate reason to have an off-center composition, then just own it. Center that character! Center that planet! Center that giant space slug! (or whatever). Trust me, as I am the one hiring book cover artists all the time. It's not "too easy". It's not "cheating". It's not "playing it safe". When in doubt, just center it.

Jaime Jones

Greg Manchess

Dan Dos Santos

Sam Weber

Victor Mosquera

Richard Anderson

Sam Weber

Dominick Saponaro

Ben Zweifel