Gurney Journey


Gurney Journey

This daily weblog by Dinotopia creator James Gurney is for illustrators, plein-air painters, sketchers, comic artists, animators, art students, and writers. You'll find practical studio tips, insights into the making of the Dinotopia books, and first-hand reports from art schools and museums.

Illustration by Balliol Salmon

A.J. Balliol Salmon (1868-1953) was a British illustrator who painted high-society subjects using pencil, watercolor, gouache and pen. 

Illustration by Balliol Salmon

Various drawing and painting media were used in early 20th century illustration: "There are very few technical limitations in general illustration. You may use charcoal, chalk, pencil, wash, oil-colours, line and tone combined—practically anything which will reproduce effectively. The minor periodicals use pen and ink, chiefly because the paper on which they are printed isn't suitable for tone work, but your readers want, as far as possible, as complete a representation of a subject as they can get, and full tone or colour can of course be suggested more easily by the tone mediums than it can be by line."

—Percy Bradshaw, quoted in the Artist MagazineAug. 1932, p. 248. Thanks, James W.

BAM Logo

While I was a college student at UC Berkeley, I got a part-time job as a designer and paste-up artist at BAM magazine. BAM was a music magazine in the San Francisco Bay Area. It was kind of like the Rolling Stone of California.

BAM Logo

They asked me to redesign their logo. Back then designing a logo meant using ink pens, T-squares, compasses, circle templates, photostats and waxers. The gradient tone was made with Zipatone, a pre-printed grid of black dots on a self-adhesive clear plastic sheet. I would stick it on the pen drawing and cut away everything outside of the design.

BAM Logo

BAM used my Broadway-on-neon-style logo for a while, but it really was too complex for a magazine logo, so they  adapted it to a simpler design. 

Etching by Callot

 Etching by Callot

Beggar with Pot, etching by Jacques Callot, 1623

Wikipedia says that Callot "made more than 1,400 etchings that chronicled the life of his period, featuring soldiers, clowns, drunkards, Gypsies, beggars, as well as court life."

'I'm Done with Girls on Rocks.'

After painting dozens of successful calendar illustrations, Maxfield Parrish felt that his subjects were getting stale, and he wanted to paint pure landscapes for his own pleasure.

'I'm Done with Girls on Rocks.'

"I'm done with girls on rocks," Parrish said in 1931. " I've painted them for thirteen years and I could paint them and sell them for thirteen more. That's the peril of the commercial art game. It tempts a man to repeat himself. It's an awful thing to get to be a rubber stamp. I'm quitting my rut now while I'm still able."

He continues: "Magazine and art editors—and the critics, too—are always hunting for something new, but they don't know what it is. They guess at what the public will like, and, as we all do, they guess wrong about half the time. My present guess is that landscapes are coming in for magazine covers, advertisements and illustrations...."

"There are always pretty girls on every city street, but a man can't step out of the subway and watch the clouds playing with the top of Mount Ascutney. It's the unattainable that appeals. Next best to seeing the ocean or the hills or the woods is enjoying a painting of them."


From Associated Press, April 27, 1931, quoted in the book Maxfield Parrish by Coy Ludwig, page 129.

Maxfield Parrish's Edison Mazda Calendars

The Edison lightbulb company commissioned American illustrator Maxfield Parrish to create paintings for a series of calendars, which were published starting in 1921.

Maxfield Parrish's Edison Mazda Calendars

 The theme was the history of humanity's relationship to light.

  Maxfield Parrish's Edison Mazda Calendars

The calendars were extremely popular, in part because they came out during a time when electricity was making its way to rural America.

Maxfield Parrish's Edison Mazda Calendars

The name Mazda comes from Ahura Mazda, the chief deity of Zoroastrianism, which divided the world into realms of light and darkness.

What Do Watercolor Societies Say About Gouache?

Can you enter a painting that uses gouache into the annual competitions of the various watercolor societies? What are their rules about mixed media?
What Do Watercolor Societies Say About Gouache?

There are several different organizations in the USA, and they have different rules. The oldest group is the American Watercolor Society (based in New York and founded in 1866), followed by the National Watercolor Society (a California based group founded in 1920), and the Transparent Watercolor Society of America, which formed in 1976.

The American Watercolor Society rules allow "water soluble media: watercolor, acrylic, casein, gouache and egg tempera on paper. Watercolor board is not accepted," but forbid "collage, pastels, class work, copies, digital images or prints."

The bylaws of the National Watercolor Society don't mention gouache specifically, but they define watercolor fairly broadly to include "aquamedia, watercolor, acrylic and other watersoluble media," specifically excluding work in encaustic or oil. The latest exhibition prospectus puts it this way: "Painting must be watermedia paintings on natural or synthetic paper Yupo, Aquabord and Clayboard. No stretched canvas or canvas board. Collage may be used but aqueous medium must constitute 80% or more of the work." They forbid digital media and photography, which presumably means that generative AI is not acceptable.

I asked Lana Cease, who is on the board of directors of the National Watercolor Society to explain. "The main difference between the societies that you mention," she says, "are mainly the media that they allow. Of course, anyone could be a member but to enter the exhibitions you have to use your materials in a certain way."   

Lana says that the NWS "welcomes everyone in any media with all skill levels. We have members that just started painting recently, and also have members that are highly trained, awarded and successful. We do allow art such as collage if the collage is mainly water media, but we don't do mixed media like oils and acrylics together. You could mix anything water based. So essentially, you could use watercolor, gouache, watercolor pencils, water soluble pencils (although we allow pencil as long as it's not predominantly pencil), watercolor markers, and fountain pens if they contained water based media.... and still be considered water media with the look of mixed media. We can't allow things like pastel or oil based paints in our exhibitions, but of course, we still would love to have those types of artists be part of our organization. We're very inclusive and we try to be progressive."

Specifically, the rules of the The Transparent Watercolor Society say that the work "Must be transparent watercolor, applied on a single piece of rag or wood pulp paper that is free of pigment and imbedded materials." 

The TWSA goes on to exclude the following: 
• Opaque white paint, of any kind, such at titanium white, Chinese white, etc. 
• Gesso, matte medium, or any other priming material or exterior surface treatment 
• Gouache, acrylics, or water-soluble oils - Inks, metallic, or iridescent paint or products that leave a metallic, graphite, or reflective sheen. 
• Watercolor crayon, colored pencil, charcoal, pastel, Conte sticks, or Conte Crayons 
• Varnish, wax, wax crayon, oil sticks, or oil pastel 
• Collage or surface constructions, impasto, embossing 
• Watercolor resist, such as Frisket, that is not completely removed from the final painting 
• Yupo or similar papers. 
• Canvas or canvas paper 
• Use of digital images or enhancements printed on the paper.

What is the rationale given by the TWSA for excluding gouache when so many pigments classed as watercolor (such as cadmium yellow) are more opaque than other pigments (such as diazo yellow) that may be in a tube of gouache?

In their FAQ, the TWSA addresses this issue: "The use of transparent watercolor paint includes pigments classified as 'opaque', such as the cadmiums and others which are acceptable as long as they are applied largely in a transparent manner. The focus on the way paint is applied to the paper, 'in a transparent manner', is to allow the white paper to create luminosity rather than, 'in an opaque manner', which obscures the reflected light. This shifts the emphasis from a discussion of pigment to the way in which pigment is applied. In practical terms, if the texture of the paper can be seen through a dark area of the painting, or there is an undulation of value or color(s) within it, then it is not 'opaque'."

What is the reason for banning opaque media and so many other techniques, especially given the fact that many traditional masters of watercolor, such as John Singer Sargent, Winslow Homer, and William Trost Richards frequently used gouache? 

In a single word, the answer would be luminosity. As the NWSA argues on their website:

"'The white paper showing through a transparent wash is the closest approximation to light in all the media, and light is the loveliest thing that exists.' This is how Edgar Whitney describes and extols the virtues of transparency. Cheng Khee Chee expands on Whitney's definition by describing the effects of transparent washes. 'The flow of washes possess a strong evocative power. The interpenetration of colors creates mysterious precipitations and nuances.' Respected artist and teacher, Frank Webb, describes luminosity as '...the painting's ability to give off light. It generally derives from the light within and beneath - such as the white of watercolor paper under paint.'

I'm sympathetic to these reasons for using transparent pigments, because transparent passages can lend themselves to efficiently achieving certain kinds of gradients and textures that are hard to execute with opaque paints. 

But in my experience, transparency offers neither a guarantee of luminosity, nor a hedge against muddiness, since those qualities have more to do with the disposition of tones within a picture, however they are achieved technically. Flat, opaque, or thickly painted passages, if they are of the right value, can sometimes bring light and air to a picture.

My own preference with water media is to begin a picture transparently and bring in opaques or other mixed media wherever they're called for, and most often my own paintings in water media are a blend of opaque and transparent passages, just as they would be if I were painting in oil. 

Bistable Percepts

Most people are familiar with the face / vase illusion (below). Psychologists refer to it as a "bistable percept." 

Bistable Percepts

A bistable percept is an image that can be perceived in two different ways. The perception can switch back and forth between the two interpretations, but you only see one at a time. 

Bistable Percepts
Another example of a bistable percept is the Necker cube which switches from appearing above you and projecting to the right, to appearing below you and projecting to the left.

One characteristic is that the duality, once perceived, can't be forgotten.
Shadows and LightIllustration by Balliol SalmonPainting in GardensBAM LogoEtching by Callot'I'm Done with Girls on Rocks.'Maxfield Parrish's Edison Mazda Calendars'To Quicken Our Souls'What Do Watercolor Societies Say About Gouache?Bistable Percepts

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