Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Miscellany 2

Another Day in the Field

First, thanks to everyone who commented: to Matt Larson in the comments section, and to all those who sent an email. I appreciate your input---especially because, couched within your kind remarks, were all those nuanced suggestions that I shouldn't give up my day job.

Below is the current state. This photo is too yellow, and a bit blurry. But it's a slice of the the situation as of studio-leaving today.

As you can see, I followed some of the suggestions. There were others I might have followed had I the skill to do what you said. 
One of the basic things that raised its head was the quality of the flat, even light that I wanted for the painting. Here I am with Clausen again, and many of the British naturalists of the end of the 19th century.

What I sought was a dry, almost granular surface. This is very much at odds with the creamy, luscious surface of a lot of portrait painting.
Because it is out of doors, under even light, without sun, there are not strong shadows, and hence less modeling.

Here's a Clausen en plein air:


Sargent painted few plein air paintings that one would call portraits, but here's one. Notice how even, and unshadowed, is the light. Jacques-Emile Blanche, the sitter, was a successful portrait painter himself.


Here's an Emile Friant (French, 1863-1932) self-portrait, under flat gray light from a skylight. A favorite of mine.

I like the fellow outside on the street, craning his neck for a peek.

Below is a tree drawing by Thomas Ehretsmann. Thomas is an illustrator, and follows the blog from his home in northeastern France.

Thomas won the Society of Illustrators (Los Angeles) Silver Award for 2013. In 2012, Thomas won the Gold Medal of The Society of

Illustrators. You can see more work by Thomas here.

Thomas has small children, and many deadlines, but we still hope he can find a way to join the French Workshop, in the Berry, next June.


A first heads-up: I will be doing a long demo at the Newburyport Art Association's Sargent Gallery on Sunday, March 17th, from 6:30-9:30 p.m. The demonstration will be followed by brief crits of work that members of the audience have brought in (one painting per artist, please!)  An autographed copy of my new book, Donald Jurney: Selections from the French Sketchbook, will be given as a door prize.

For more information please visit the Art Association's workshop page.

For further information about the book, please click here.

You can now preview the entire book on the blurb site.

For those for whom English is not a first language, please notice that there is now a Google Translate widget at the top of the blog, on the right. It might be helpful in sorting out some of what I've written.

And last but not least, we've had another sign-up for the Savannah workshop, beginning in about 10 days. You may still come along if you're quick about it.


Sunday, January 27, 2013

Aidez-moi, s.v.p.!


Those of you who read last night's post have seen the strange painting begun under the influence of Clausen and Bastien-Lepage.

You may recall that my point was that we should each place ourselves way out of our comfort zone from time to time. For me, that means portraits and figures. So I essayed a figure in a landscape, one with a high horizon. 

I mostly embarrassed myself, but I think it got a bit better today.

Nonetheless, I need some help from the portrait painters among you. I promise to reciprocate when you have problems with a meadow---honest.

Anyway, the 18 year-old "made up" young man is coming along...sort of. He seems to have come to rest somewhere between 1930's American Regionalism
and a Pre-Raphaelite sensibility. And all I had wanted was George Clausen's honesty. 

Here's a detail, with the boy's noggin, as it was when I headed home tonight (about half-size).


As it turns out it's very soft, but that rather fits with the idealized sense I have of the painting and with the rather palpable innocence of the young man.

So I beseech the portrait painters among you to come to my aid. While 
keeping the feeling, what should I do? Because the whole process is so terrifying for me, I get very timid about corrections (needed though they be). So I need you to tell me in no uncertain terms.

And, like I said, if you need help with a brook or a mountainside, I'm here to help.

For the longest time---despite the fact that I couldn't paint a portrait, or a figure---I wanted to paint like Sargent. I wanted that luscious swoop of a loaded brush, conquering all before it. I wanted the sureness and the bravado, and the whole alchemy of his technique. 

I never really tried to paint in Sargent's manner (aside from anything else I couldn't afford all that paint), but I'm sure I secretly believed that JSS, or Zorn, or Sorolla was lurking within me,  just waiting for me to liberate him.

It took me many years to realize that I painted best when I was most true to myself. That meant in terms of both subject and technique. As much as I might admire the bravura stroke, it's not part of my personality.

It's a hard lesson to learn, this realizing that maybe you aren't going to be a giant, that you won't be the John Sargent of your time.

But look at it another way. Sargent became Sargent by being true to himself. Perhaps Sargent pined to be John Kensett or Ingres, but found the goal at odds with his own temperament.

Thus do we all hope to find that particular marriage between our temperament and our talent.

Remember that your best work will be found where they converge.






Saturday, January 26, 2013

A Miscellany

If, by any chance, you're not enjoying our cold New England weather, be advised that there are a couple of spots left for the 70-degree painting adventure we have planned for Savannah, two weeks from now. For more information, have a look at the workshop blog.

A Number of Things...

First, my thanks to everyone who communicated their reasons for not drawing trees this week. The excuses were manifold and I treasure each one.

Second, the blog has followers around the world. We have regular visitors from Russia, Sweden, Ukraine, Indonesia, India, Iran, France, and a host of others.

But none of the tree drawings I received came from outside the U.S.

I was never particularly good at geography in school, but I'm pretty sure that there are trees in those countries. So just a gentle hint: if you send them, I'll post some. (Let me know if you want credit, or just your place of origin.)

Here are several drawings I did receive. The first, a maple tree, is from Mary Graham, a professional artist from New Hampshire, USA.

The snow at the base reminds us how very cold it's been in New England.

The remaining two are by Frank Hyer, an architect from Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Frank is reasonably new to oil painting, but he clearly can manage his drawing materials.

Thanks to both Mary and Frank.

Now Latvia, Greenland, the Netherlands and the UK, you need to step up. You know who you are.


On a different subject, many of you know that I am a big fan of Jules Bastien-Lepage (1848-1884) and George Clausen (1852-1944). I particularly am fond of their single-figure paintings, with high horizons, tilting the figure into our space.

Here's a favorite George Clausen:

And two gems by Bastien-Lepage:

Kelvingrove Museum, Glasgow

National Galleries of Scotland

Today, when I should have been drawing trees, or stretching canvas, I was day-dreaming about Clausen, and Bastien, and James Guthrie, too.

Now anyone who knows me at all knows I don't (read: can't) paint the figure. I can't even draw the figure. So there wasn't much good likely to come out of today's experiment.

Nonetheless, while I metaphorically waited for paint to dry, I seized upon a 20x25" landscape start, from some rainy day last summer. This painting needed more than even the Dead Paintings Society could hope to supply. So I stood it on end, and proceeded to have a wonderful time making a really poor figure in a landscape. First, when I put the head in, I didn't think about where the figure was within the painting. Second, since I had no model, and thus had to make it all up, the inadequacies of my skills made a thousand problems.

On the other hand, though, it doesn't count! Too often I, and I suspect you, forget to just have fun. Because the painting had to reach no particular standard, I could just play with it.

So go ahead and there in Mumbai, and Vilnius, and Bandar-e Anzali. I don't care. I had fun. So what if he has a melting shoulder, crazy elbow, etc.? Who cares that the two-board fence was the only solution that came to mind for the bottom of the canvas?

Okay, stop laughing.

The reason I opened myself up to your ridicule is to remind you to occasionally work way outside your comfort zone.
For a change, why not just have fun? Take a chance on making a fool of yourself. the studio, of course, with the door double-locked.

p.s. A correspondent tells me that if you order a copy of the drawing book on they'll give you a chance to order a second one at half-price. Seems a good strategy to try with a friend. Pleased to see that the book has made it to Blurb's bestsellers list.  Drawings...who knew?

Monday, January 21, 2013

Winter Drawing II

In this corner, wearing the brown trunks...

Since pencils are made of wood, it must be true that pencils get a special kick out of drawing trees. It's something that pens just don't understand.

Nonetheless, here's a pen and ink drawing from the very beginning of my art experience. It has a lot of awkwardness, and there's much I would now do differently. Still I have a warm spot for this early attempt.

Donald Jurney, Trees and Figure, 1983

A bit more recent, this time an oil on canvas, is this painting of a cold winter's morning. Winter trees make a wonderful screen.

Donald Jurney, A Frosty Dawn, oil on canvas, 12x18"

A group of tree trunks animate this small painting. Though not winter, it has a rather  cold, mysterious feel.

Donald Jurney, Montgivray, 2007

Here's a grisaille from last spring. The architecture of the trees, and their placement, is the result of careful planning.

Donald Jurney, Grisaille 23 April 2012, oil on canvas 20x25"

The drawing below is a maquette for a five-panel folding screen I've been thinking of making for a few years.

Donald Jurney, Maquette for a Five-Part Screen

My exhortation from last night to go forth and draw trees had at least one adherent. This drawing was made today, and sent to me by Cynthia DeSando.

If anyone else drew a winter tree, please send it along. If you didn't do one today, do one tomorrow.

Finally, three snippets about trees.

I think that I shall never see
A billboard lovely as a tree.
Perhaps, unless the billboards fall,
I'll never see a tree at all.
              - Ogden Nash (1902-1972)

I frequently tramped eight or ten miles through the deepest snow to keep an appointment with a beech-tree, or a yellow birch, or an old acquaintance among the pines.
             -  Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862)

 Trees, how many of 'em do we need to look at?
               - Ronald Reagan (1911-2004)



Sunday, January 20, 2013

Winter Drawing

Go Draw a Tree or Two!

On Friday, Todd joined me for a long day's roundtrip to New York. I had a delivery to make at my New York gallery, and we wanted to steal a few moments at the Metropolitan as well. We managed two hours in the museum, and a bit of time in the museum shop. And I came away with a new Constable book. (I might as well confess it now: it's one of at least a dozen.)

Evans, Mark, John Constable: Oil Sketches from the Victoria and Albert Museum, V&A Publishing, London: 2011

In 1983, I attended a lecture on Constable, given by Graham Reynolds, at the Metropolitan Museum. Afterward, I was introduced to him and he autographed my copy of Constable's England, the catalog for the concurrent exhibition at the museum. Through a friend, I subsequently received an invitation to visit Reynolds and his wife on my upcoming visit to England.

At that time Reynolds was the recently retired Keeper (curator) of Paintings at the Victoria and Albert in London, and was the indisputable Constable expert.

Off I went to Bury St. Edmunds, spending two nights with Graham and his wife Daphne (who was a well-regarded artist). They were tremendously kind to me, and Graham and I spent hour after hour speaking of Constable. For me, through his scholarship, Graham became Constable's oldest living relative----and for me it was bliss.  Let me assure you that in 1983 I had a very bad case of Constable.

Since then, though I've had brief flings with some other heroes, I always seem to come back to Johnny. Thus I was doubly pleased to see that my new Constable book is dedicated to Graham Reynolds.

So what has this got to do with drawing trees?

Well I'm getting to that. 

Most of my students, to my dismay, don't spend enough time just drawing. It would be a great deal easier for many of them to paint a tree if they had some idea of the tree's form, under the leaves.

Winter is the absolute best time to learn about trees. There are no great masses of green to get in the way. One can easily draw from the car if the weather's too bitter, and the even, gray light is a nice neutral background.

So let me encourage you to do so. 

Of course you'll probably think that I won't know whether or not you took this advice. 

And I won't----except when we're painting outside in the Spring, or in England or France in June. 

If you've taken the time to do some learning now, you will paint trees en plein air as you never have before. And you and I will both know.

Now back to Constable.

In 1824, John painted this oil on paper, Study of the Trunk of an Elm Tree.

John Constable, Study of the Trunk of an Elm Tree, 12 x 9.75 ", oil on paper, 1824, Victoria and Albert, London,

My new book tells me a bit about Constable's impact on Lucien Freud, arguably the greatest British artist of the 20th century. 

"(Lucien Freud's) 2003 etching after (Constable's) Study of the Trunk of an Elm Tree was made in homage to a work he had admired since the age of seventeen:

Lucien Freud, Elm Tree after Constable, 2003
Victoria and Albert Museum,

 Of course, Freud's etching is the reverse of Constable's oil sketch. But what particularly struck me, from this giant of  modern painting, was his remark about his experience:

' I'd seen the little painting of the tree trunk, close-up in the V&A...and I thought what a good idea. That's the thing, I thought. Trees. They are everywhere. Do one of those. A close-up. Real bark. So I took my easel out and put it down in front of a tree and found it completely impossible.' "

Now, when I stop to think about what a miserable figure painter I am, I'll take heart from Freud's collision with the task of drawing a tree. 

So go draw a tree. You don't want end up like Lucien Freud.

Donald Jurney, graphite on paper, 1994. This is a scary, pollarded tree from the French sketchbook. It has always seemed to me, afterward, that it had one eye fixed on me. I didn't notice that as I drew it.




Monday, January 14, 2013

A Book! A Book!

Selections from the French Sketchbooks

After many of years of wishing there were a way to share the drawings from my French sketchbooks, a fellow artist told me about a self-publishing
a site where, with great patience and a great deal of time, one can make a book.

Encouraged by this, I set about scanning about 90 pages of drawings. Since many of the drawings are long gone, sold to collectors in the U.S. and abroad, it was fun to bring so many back together again.

The book is for sale (all of which is handled by Because the books are printed to order, they ain't cheap---and my wish for a better quality paper, coupled with wanting a hardcover with a dust jacket, made the initial cost climb. Please accept my apologies. 

On the good side of the ledger, the book has 100 pages, and the print quality is quite reasonable. The number of pages enabled me to include lots of drawings of different types, as well as a few pages of musings from my 1995 French journal.

I hope that those of you who get a chance to see it will find it to be an encouragement to draw as much as you can.


The wee preview below has only 16 of the 100 pages.
I don't have any copies myself, so if you'd like to have one, you must order through