Friday, February 24, 2017

Trust the Process

I always remind myself: "Trust the process."

Step 1: Research. I study the scientist's papers, look at photos of the fossils, and compare animals in our world that might serve as analogues.

Anchiornis sketches
Step 2: Thumbnails. I sketch these preliminaries with watercolor, gouache, colored pencil and fountain pen. I do these from imagination, pretending I'm watching the animals go through a series of actions. What is the moment to capture?

On some level I'm also aware of 2D design issues, but I'm really trying to project myself into the moment. I try to think of my sketch as a window rather than a piece of paper. 

Sometimes the first sketch is the best. Sometimes a discovery happens later. You will never know until you try a lot of variations. I don't get too attached to any of them.

Maquette made of paper over armature wire,
bulked out with epoxy putty, and painted in acrylic.
Step 3. Once the art director and I agree on the best sketch, I try to recreate in physical form the conditions of the sketch, to see if it works out spatially and dimensionally. 

This stage is where all the unexpected surprises arrive to add conviction to the idea—for example the dappled light on the tree and the cast shadow on the visible foot.

Step 4. Then it's on to the finish in oil. Check out the video below if you haven't seen it already.

Step 5. Make a Documentary Video. It's the age of social media, so there's more work to do. Creating a video is the final part of the job. Of course it's not officially commissioned. There's no budget for making a behind-the-scenes video. An outside crew could never get the personal angle that the artist himself or herself can get.

But I like to do this when I can because it helps the magazine reach more readers. We illustrators need to do everything we can to help our print partners win.
Previous post: How to Video Your Art
Book about the process: Imaginative Realism: How to Paint What Doesn't Exist
Link to YouTube video for this painting
The painting appears in the March issue of Ranger Rick

Thursday, February 23, 2017

A Dinosaur Takes Wing

Although a scene like this would have taken place 160 million years ago, I want the image to look like it was captured yesterday by a wildlife photographer's camera.

Anchiornis in Flight
It appears in Ranger Rick, a magazine dominated by wildlife photography. So I blur the background to suggest depth of field. I spotlight the action with an area of soft dappled light cast from the tree behind us.

The following 1-minute video gives a glimpse of the process.

(Link to Facebook video)

I make the paper-over-wire maquette by photocopying a flat plan drawing of the animal two times onto card stock. Then I make a glue sandwich with aluminum armature wire in the place of the bones. Then I bulk up the maquette with epoxy putty.

Here's an 8 minute video on YouTube of all three dinosaur paintings for the March issue of Ranger Rick Magazine.

(Link to YouTube video)

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Courtship Display

What good are feathered "wings" if you can't fly?
Khaan mckennai, oil on board by James Gurney
Well, if a predator or another male threatens you, you can spread your wings and tail to make yourself look bigger. And you can attract females.

And since you are lightly built, your wings can help you jump a little farther and higher.

Clark, J.M., Norell, M.A., & Barsbold, R. 2001. Link and Link
This little dinosaur is Khaan mckennai, an oviraptorid. It's possible that the beautifully preserved fossils above represent a male and female.

I did these sketches in watercolor and gouache to show the art director at Ranger Rick, a magazine for young naturalists produced by the National Wildlife Federation. 

Here's a little video taking you behind the scenes (link to Facebook). The artwork appears in the new March, 2017 issue of Ranger Rick Magazine.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Taking a Dust Bath

Sparrows do it. Donkeys do it. Elephants do it. And ostriches do it. It makes sense to me that a big feathered dinosaur like Yutyrannus would take a dust bath, too. 

I checked with a couple of paleontologists and they said that the 30 foot long tyrannosaur relative would more likely squat down with their belly to the dirt than roll over on their side.

In this short video of the process, I take you behind the scenes. (Link to Facebook video)

My sketches are in gouache, which gives a quick impression that I can show to the art director of Ranger Rick Magazine, where the illustrations appear in the March 2017 issue.

I make a new maquette because none of my existing dinosaur maquettes are in this pose. The head looks big because of camera distortion. 

The sculpt is made with a 2-part epoxy called Magic Sculpt over a core of Sculpey. I use aluminum wire for the armature. (Thanks, Clayton) Even though the maquette doesn't have a feathery surface, the big planes are clear, so I can light it and have a sense of light and shadow.

Monday, February 20, 2017

New Dino Paintings: Flyover Preview

Here's a flyover preview of three new feathered-dinosaur paintings. (Link to video on Facebook)

The set-up for shooting flyovers is all home made. The camera is suspended from a Lego cart (tires removed). That cart rolls on two dollar-store metal broomsticks, pulled by a geared down Lego motor. Smoke machine is off to the right.

I'll be sharing more about these paintings over the next few days.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Hotel Catalina

Hotel Catalina, oil, 8 x 12 inches, Catalina Island
I painted this view of Hotel Catalina about 35 years ago. The layers of paint are fairly thinly applied on a panel that was pre-primed with a warm acrylic ground. For the window details, I used a 1/4 inch synthetic flat brush, using Liquin for the medium.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Tennessee man builds Dinotopia in miniature

Photos by Jack Vance of the Johnson City Times
Bill Lankford, 78, of Johnson City, Tennessee, built this amazing miniature of Dinotopia.

He worked on the 12-foot-long creation for over a year. It includes stairways, bridges, canals inspired by scenes from Waterfall City, Pooktook, and Sauropolis. 

His wife Linda helped him by sculpting over 100 humans and dinosaurs using epoxy sculpting compound

The miniature world has been packed up and shipped to Taipei to be exhibited in the Miniatures Museum of Taiwan.

Feature article about Lankford's Dinotopia miniature.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Painting stripes on a bongo

When you're painting in oil, it's possible to lay down light shapes over dark ones while the dark under-layer is still wet. But to do that, you've got to keep the under-layer thin and not too wet.

That's how I painted the white stripes on this bongo. I was lucky that at this antelope at a zoo was resting long enough for me to paint this study (about 45 minutes).

Over a tinted Venetian red priming, I lightly painted the brown body without the stripes. I used a small amount of Liquin as my medium, with white synthetic flat brush for the brushes. I then painted the stripes on top of the wet paint, and they came off the brush without disturbing the layers beneath.

Having slightly wet paint can actually improve the handling of subsequent strokes, and that's why people oil out when they're going back into a dry painting.
Previously: What is oiling out?

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Casein Video Review

ImagineFX Magazine reviews the new casein video in their February issue.

"Illustrator James Gurney offers a guide to a much-underrated medium — but there's creative gold inside for any artist.

"Partway through this video, the latest in James Gurney's series showing how to use different media in outdoor painting sessions, the illustrator explains that casein may not be as ubiquitous in the artist's arsenal as watercolour or gouache, but it's a very effective medium. Like acrylic, you can apply casein in thin washes or as thick, opaque daubs, making it a versatile choice when you don't want to carry too much around.

"In the 74 minute video, James presents seven sketchbook projects where he relied on casein to get the job done, as part of his continual work to gather reference on the interaction of light and the natural world. As the camera follows him from a picturesque Catskills mountain stream through a Wyoming horse ranch and into the main street of a small Colorado town, you'll see how James uses casein's properties to capture each scene with great efficiency.

"His approach is pragmatic, placing the paint in service to his concept. Sometimes he records the scene as he sees it. Sometimes he uses his surroundings as raw material for an idea he wants to explore, as in the project where a mundane roadside scene becomes a shimmering contre-jour light show.

"It's this down-to-earth attitude to his materials that always makes James worth  watching, even if you're rather be painting on your iPad. Whether by coincidence or design, there's a broad theme of simplifying complexity running through these projects. As James paints a boat workshop, for example, he focuses on colour temperatures and values to make sense of the many overlapping forms. You'll see in a couple of other projects, meanwhile, how he constructs his initial sketches to ensure the proportions are correct. Whatever your preferred medium, an hour and a quarter in James's company is time well spent."
Casein Painting in the Wild DVD direct from manufacturer
Casein Painting in the Wild DVD on Amazon
(74 minutes NTSC Region 1 North America)...............$24.50
Casein Painting in the Wild from Gumroad and Sellfy
Buy now (HD MP4).........$14.95

Casein supplies on Amazon
More info about ImagineFX

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Meet the GurneyJourney Staff

Ruth Squitieri asked if I do this blog all by myself or if I have a team helping out. So Ruth, Let me introduce my production staff to you.

Here’s Clifton, our Art Historian and Image Sleuth. He is an expert on obsolete traditions and hot new trends, which in the art field are one in the same.

Jonathan is our Writer. I keep telling him to keep it brief, cut out adjectives, and eschew obfuscation.

Donna, on the right, is Manager of Comments and Analytics. She tracks reader response and compiles the weekly Boredom Index to remind me which posts fell flat.

Margie, on the left is in charge of Blog Revenue. Or I should say "was in charge." Because of the economic downturn, I had to let her go last week, so she's sniffing around for a new job.

That’s about it, Ruth. I don’t do much on this blog, just let it run itself.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Quick head study

Painting a head in one minute is a good warm-up exercise. It forces me grasp the essentials right away.

Sequence: 1. Shadow shapes, 2. Background, 3. Halftones.
Tools: water brush filled with Higgins Eternal ink, a big flat brush with a diluted ink, and a sable brush filled with water.
Timer: an antique one-function electric unit by Cole-Parmer. 
Reference: photo of Donald Tusk, President of the European Council.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Atlanta Cyclorama Moves to New Home

If the Atlanta Cyclorama were laid out flat, it would be one of the largest paintings in the world: 40 feet tall and longer than a football field.

When properly displayed in its cylindrical format, it's a wraparound experience akin to virtual reality, Small sculpted figures in the foreground to add to the illusion.

According to the New York Times, the painting "was prepared in Milwaukee by a team of German artists and was completed in 1886, when cycloramas...were a leading form of entertainment, and the colossal works traveled the country."

But over the years, it has fallen into neglect. Fortunately $35 million has been raised to restore it and to move it to a new home.

New York Times: On a Mission to save Atlanta's Civil War Cyclorama
Atlanta History Center

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Sunday, February 12, 2017

Sketching at Barber of Seville

I brought my pocket sketchbook to Rossini's Il Barbiere di Siviglia (Barber of Seville) at the Metropolitan Opera in New York last night.

Linda Benson asked, "How do you sketch when the lights go down?"

Answer: I limit my means to black and white so I can see in super dim light. Once in a while there was a little spill light from the stage, but most of the time it was hard to see much.

I'm using just two tools: a black Caran D'ache Supracolor Watersoluble Pencil and a Niji water brush.

Maurizio Muraro played Doctor Bartolo, who is pictured in the sketch. On the mini-video, the voice is my great uncle John Gurney singing Don Basilio's aria "La Calunnia."

(Link to mini video on Facebook)

Saturday, February 11, 2017

'When should I launch my project?'

Alphonse Mucha working on the Slav Epic

Anthony Ross says:

"I'm working on a long-term, multi-faceted project that is very close to me. It has the estimated size to the Marvel Universe of comics and is in illustrated novel format. Right now my brother and I have a seed of this project that has sprouted for over a decade.

"Only recently have I started to practice art academically, feeling the necessity to do so, to share this story with the world in the way I'd like it to be. I don't feel I can halt the creation of the story, but hesitate to finish even the first pages when knowing how much I can improve and how good the project could be (when I am better). 

"Perfectionism. This is a lifetime of work, but I would like to ask if you look back on personal projects, like Dinotopia, and feel you published them too early, before you had enough skill, or waited too long believing you weren't ready to make something?"

Anthony, you raise a question shared by anyone who conceives of a big idea: 'Am I ready to announce this thing to the world, or should I develop it longer and improve it?'

On the one hand you might want to resist announcing. While an idea is held back from the world and allowed to grow in your head, all changes are possible. As your artistic skills and experience grow, your conception and your expression can develop as well. Announcing it risks that someone else might run away with the idea and go to the public with it first.

If you feel a need to keep your development unadulterated by exposure, you might want to set a time limit on that period. Keep in mind that an idea is always perfect before it is expressed. The very act of committing it to a particular form diminishes it, regardless of your level of ability. Don't worry about that. That's the nature of art.

Beginning to share your idea has advantages. You can test your expression with real audiences and see whether it holds up. People appreciate being invited into your creative vortex. You can plant your flag on in the sand and claim the territory for your grand idea. Maybe there's a piece of what you've got that you can put out there.

Putting it to the public test can help you sort priorities. Maybe your idea is a dud. How will you know unless you try it out with real people? 

Remember that life is not a rehearsal. This is it! Your life clock is ticking. At some point you've got to plant your seed and let it grow.

The Marvel Universe didn't start out with a grand plan delivered by polished talent. (Neither did Dinotopia.) Brahms waited a long time to write his first symphony because everyone expected it would be as good as Beethoven's Ninth. But once he put the first symphony out there, the next three came more easily.
"Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative and creation, there is one elementary truth the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one's favor all manner of unforeseen incidents, meetings and material assistance which no man could have dreamed would have come his way. Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it. Begin it now."
Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe

Friday, February 10, 2017

Spectrum Fantastic Art Live

I'm looking forward to being a guest of Spectrum Fantastic Art Live in Kansas City this April. It's a good place to meet other artists who create imaginative realism.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Met makes high-rez images freely downloadable

The Metropolitan Museum of Art announced on Tuesday that they will now make all 375,000 of their public domain images freely available to the public. You can download the JPEGs and use them however you want, including commercially.

On the website you can zoom into the finest brushstrokes of iconic masterpieces like Madame X by John Singer Sargent, Joan of Arc by Julian Bastien-Lepage, and Juan de Pareja by Diego Velazquez (above).

You can also examine lesser known drawings and watercolors that are rarely exhibited. This pencil study of palms was drawn by William Trost Richards in 1855.

The Met's caption says: "This uncanny study, probably executed at the botanical garden of the Pitti Palace in Florence, anticipates by several years the conservatory and bower compositions that Richards made a specialty after he fell under the sway of John Ruskin and the Pre-Raphaelites. Richards’s sketchbooks of his first trip abroad, in 1855, are full of broad landscape scenery, architecture and statuary, but at the Pitti Palace he dwelt for several days on palms, banana leaves, philodendron and other tropical species. Their intricate beauty alone may well have stimulated the artist, but his unprecedented taste for such motifs probably arose also from his admiration of the tropical landscape paintings of Frederic Church that he had seen recently in New York."
Books: New Path: American Preraphaelites

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Craig Sketching

This is my nephew Craig. He loves to draw, and on occasion I've had the pleasure of drawing pictures with him. I love the purity and happiness he brings to drawing.

I teach him a few tricks to make his drawings of people and houses more realistic, and he teaches me how to declutter my mind.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017


While we're on the subject of weird utopias, let's consider the plan by German Bauhaus architect Herman Sörgel called Atlantropa.

The idea was to drain the Mediterranean by building several huge dams, the principal ones being across the straits of Gibraltar and the Bosporus.

By sealing off the inflow of water, the sea could be gradually lowered by more than 200 meters, opening up land routes from Morocco to Spain and from Tunis to Italy and increasing vast swaths of arable land.

With easy travel between Europe and Africa, a supercontinent would emerge to challenge the rival powers of Pan-Asia and Pan-America. The dams would provide unlimited hydroelectric power.

Unfortunately for Sörgel, the Nazis had no interest in the scheme, though the idea stayed alive for a few more decades. In 1977, Popular Mechanics analyzed the engineering challenges and concluded:
"It would require a dam 18 miles long and up to 1,000 feet deep and 1,500 feet wide at its base. The volcanic Mediterranean seafloor, relieved of all that weight, might react in eruptions and earthquakes, and the sea level everywhere else in the world would rise by three feet." 
Atlantropa in The Futility Closet
Atlantropa on Wikipedia
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