Gurney Journey | (page 623 of 627)


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.

Landscape Maquettes

How would you go about painting a realistic scene of a sand dune or a snowy mountaintop? Short of scouting real locations, you might browse through stacks of photos of the Sahara Desert or the Himalayas. I tried that, but came up short. There was a specific composition and lighting idea that I had in mind for each scene and I couldn’t find anything like it.

I knew that if I tried to invent the whole thing from my storyboard sketch, it wouldn’t be convincing, because the key to realism is lighting. Whenever I base a painting on a real form in real light, I notice little accidents of truth that I could never imagine.

Landscape Maquettes
Artists (and animation studios) often use maquettes, or reference models, but they’re typically created only for characters or vehicles. Maquettes are just as useful for landscape elements. Maxfield Parrish collected jagged rocks, which he photographed as reference for his rocky mountainscapes.Landscape MaquettesFor the sand dune painting I used a light tan modeling clay, or plasticene, warmed up in the oven and shaped into a dune. I then arranged a small plastic model of a Brachiosaurus and photographed them both in the same lighting condition.
Landscape MaquettesThe combination of references gave me what I needed to paint “Skeleton Dune.”

Landscape MaquettesTo create a maquette for a snow-covered mountain, I made a rough base from styrofoam, then draped some plaster-impregnated burlap over the base. I then built up a very rough model of an alpine castle from modeling clay and cardboard.

Landscape Maquettes
This was the work of no more than three hours--and I threw it out when it was finished--but it gave me the information I needed for the painting “Thermala: Alpine Hideaway” in Dinotopia: Journey to Chandara.

Hog Heaven for a RetroGeek

When you give a talk at the Library of Congress, they don’t pay you with money. They reward you something far more valuable. Your compensation is to have their researchers dig whatever gems you would like to see out of their collection of 134 million items.

Hog Heaven for a RetroGeekSome years ago a Dinotopia fan and Library staffer named Sirikanya Schaeffer invited me there to speak and asked me what I would like to see afterward. I told her I was dying to look at some original Nineteenth century explorer’s journals like those of Arthur Denison. I also asked to study a few of the handwriting primers from the first half of the 19th Century, the kind of thing they would use to teach writing in one-room schoolhouses more than 150 years ago.

Hog Heaven for a RetroGeek
The researchers covered two large tables with jaw-dropping specimens, and let us very carefully turn the pages. There were delicate little watercolors of people getting haircuts in China in the 1840s. And there were gorgeous examples of lettering guidebooks showing the standard Copperplate and Roundhand alphabets for the aspiring penman. For a bookworm and retro-maniac like me, this was hog heaven, and it was one of the key inspirations for Journey to Chandara.

Please post a comment: What would YOU choose to see at the Library of Congress?

Diluvium IV at Oshkosh

Here’s a sneak peek at one of the surprises that will be unveiled at the “Return to Dinotopia” exhibition at the Oshkosh Public Museum in Wisconsin. The exhibit opens November 3rd, 2007, with over 40 paintings from Dinotopia: Journey to Chandara.

Diluvium IV at Oshkosh
Oshkosh museum exhibit technician Bill Radig has build three different miniature scenes, including the “Diluvium Model IV,” which was described on this blog August 18-24.

Diluvium IV at Oshkosh
According to the museum’s assistant director Mike Breza, the model “was created by using pre-existing dinosaur figures, casting and modifying human figurines, fabricating the saurian turn-out gear as well as construction from scratch on the building. A high level of detail went into the miniature in order to bring to life, in a small way, one bit of Dinotopia. The miniatures might go up for sale at the end of the exhibit to help benefit the Oshkosh Public Museum."

For more information, contact Mike Breza at

Juice: Beston and Liljefors

Juice: Beston and Liljefors
This is another in a series called “Juice,” pairing a quote and a picture to stimulate discussion.

“We need another and a wiser and perhaps a more mystic concept of animals…For the animal shall not be measured by man. In a world older and more complete than ours, they move finished and complete, gifted with extensions of the senses we have lost or never attained, living by voices we shall never hear. They are not brethren, they are not underlings. They are other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time, fellow prisoners of the splendour and travail of the earth.”

Quote by Henry Beston (1888-1968) in The Outermost House.
Art by Bruno Liljefors. (1860-1939).

Birds on the Brain

Birds on the Brain
Birds have been on my mind a lot lately.

Even before I heard paleontologists calling them “avian dinosaurs,” I had a hunch that birds were linked somehow to dinosaurs. The fine-grained fossils that have been pouring out of the Liaoning province in China show clear evidence of well-developed feathers.

When it came to illustrating small two-legged dinosaurs, all my old painter’s tricks for rendering scaly skin were not going to cut it anymore. My old paintings of Oviraptors look naked now.

I realized I would have to learn to draw birds. I would have to watch them like hawks to see how they behave. I hung out at zoos, pet shops, county fairs, and chicken coops.

Did dinosaurs have a preening ritual in a definite sequence as birds do? Did they have aBirds on the Brain preening oil gland near the base of their tail? Were their feathers for flapping or warmth or social display—or all three? Could they fluff up their feathers to look impressive or to release tension, as birds do?

I started wondering: what did dinosaurs look like during a moult? Did some dinosaurs have wattles and combs like roosters?

These are the questions that all of my friends who are paleoartists are asking, and it makes right now a very exciting time to be doing dinosaur art!

Birds on the Brain

Cell Phone Talk

Cell Phone Talk
You won’t hear me complaining about strangers who talk loudly into cell phones in public. Like all artists and writers, I’m curious about people. I’m all ears.

If people want to put their innermost thoughts on parade, I will stand alongside the parade route, quietly jotting in my little book.

(Click on image to enlarge.)

Borrowing, Part 2

Yesterday’s “spot the swipe” challenge brought out some sharp eyes. Emilio, Jamin, Mark, John, and David picked up on the British painter Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema. Here’s a typical picture of his called "Expectations" with the classic Roman-style marble plaza by the sea.

Mark and David also noticed the Maxfield Parrish influence. Parrish loved to paint figure groupings in black and white polka-dotted or striped costumes. This painting is called “Florentine Fete.” Come to think of it, another artist known for black and white striped fabric was James Tissot, but his stuff wasn’t front-of-mind at the time.

The next one is a bit more obscure: William Merritt Chase’s “A Friendly Call.” I’ve always loved the pose, because it’s both polite and confrontational. Homage or rip-off? You tell me.

John and Cat were right about the guy pointing upward. That's me, all right. I was thinking of Raphael’s “School of Athens,” shown here in detail. David got that. You remember that painting. It’s the one every philosophy teacher trots out to contrast Plato's idealism with Aristotle's materialism. Aristotle is the empiricist gesturing down to the ground and Plato is the rationalist pointing up to the unseen world. When you read the Chandara book, the allusion will make more sense.

After I finished the painting, I remembered that DaVinci’s “Last Supper” also had the same pointing gesture, and it was painted around the same time as Raphael's, so I suppose it's fair that Meredith, Mark, and David should be given a point on that one, too. So by my tally, David is the winner with four points, and Mark a close second with three.

I don’t know if there are any conclusions to draw about borrowing. A guy coming out of the confessional should stay out of the pulpit. But I would propose for your consideration the following four rules:

1. It’s better policy to borrow from heroes who are long dead.
2. Don’t base anything on one artist; look at three or four.
3. Never assume your swipes will pass unnoticed.
4. Go ahead and look at the other fellow’s art, but at some point, put away the art books, pose your own models, and base your final work on that.

Borrowing, Part 1

Borrowing, Part 1

Here’s a subject we all think about, but we don’t really want to admit to. When you’re doing your own picture, is it OK to look at another guy’s work and…what’s the word…Borrow? Lift? Swipe?

Borrowing, Part 1
This is a painting called “Spotters and Liners” from the new Dinotopia book. Click on the image to enlarge. Let’s see if you can guess which artists I was looking at while I painted it. Post a comment if you think you know. Hint: there are four different artists—at least four that I'm conscious of.

In tomorrow's post I’ll reveal not only the artists, but the very pictures that I swiped (ahem) borrowed from.

Al Parker at the Rockwell

Al Parker at the Rockwell
Yesterday Jeanette and I recharged our inspirational batteries with a visit to the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Massachusetts. The museum is hosting a major retrospective of American illustrator Al Parker called “Ephemeral Beauty: Al Parker and the American Women’s Magazine, 1940-1960.”

Curator Stephanie Plunkett showed us the actual fan letter that Rockwell wrote to his friend Parker in 1948, saying “While the rest of us are working knee-deep in a groove, you are forever changing and improving. You have brought more freshness, charm, and vitality to illustration than any other living illustrator.”

Al Parker at the Rockwell
Over 80 works by Parker and his contemporaries demonstrate how Parker's compositional ingenuity and freshness of concept influenced all his peers. Parker originated the extreme close-up portrait, and created the acclaimed “mother and daughter” covers for the Ladies’ Home Journal between 1939 and 1952, which are collected in an array of tearsheets and original paintings.

Illustrators in particular will appreciate seeing Parker’s informal sketches, photo reference, tearsheets, and letters from art directors. The catalog includes a fascinating article by Alice Carter on the history of the American women’s magazines. Other essays explore how, after World War II, magazine illustrators like Parker played a powerful role in shaping the styles and aspirations of everyday Americans. The exhibition will be on view though October 28.

Al Parker at the RockwellIf you want to see more of Parker's work on the Web, don’t miss the fascinating Flickr collection by Leif Peng in Today’s Inspiration, as well as a good article with more links by Charley Parker in Lines and Colors (scroll down to Sunday March 11)

We’ll be back to the Rockwell Museum sometime this winter, because they’ll be hosting a groundbreaking graphic novel exhibition starting in November.
Landscape MaquettesHog Heaven for a RetroGeekDiluvium IV at OshkoshPopcorn DogsBirds on the BrainCell Phone TalkBorrowing, Part 2Borrowing, Part 1Al Parker at the Rockwell

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