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Gurney Journey | category: Academic Painters | (page 60 of 60)

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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.

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Mirror Studies

Over the next week or so, I’ll be doing a few posts about models and posing, so I thought I'd start with the most mega-retro method.

A great way to get reference for a painting a character is to pose yourself in front of a mirror and make a charcoal study on tone paper. I learned this method from Tom Lovell, whose work I have always admired. There’s a full-length mirror mounted on a piano hinge on my studio wall just for this purpose. I set up the drawing paper on an easel and act out the pose, sketching a little at a time.

Mirror Studies
A few years ago, I needed to create the character of a warrior riding an armored dinosaur. I took the pose myself, wearing a wig and scowling in front of the mirror. During a break I forgot to take off the wig, much to the amusement of FedEx man, who chose that moment to come by the house.

Mirror Studies
Here's a detail of the final painting, which appeared as a gatefold in Nintendo Power magazine to announce the Dinotopia GameBoy game “Timestone Pirates.”

Mirror Studies
This picture of Will Denison from Dinotopia was also based on a mirror study. Even if you’re not exactly the right type for the character you’re portraying, you can make plenty of little adjustments. What you’re looking for is the basic action of the pose, something to begin with.

Mirror StudiesThe final painting appeared in Dinotopia: The World Beneath.

Artists have worked from mirror studies for centuries, and it’s still a viable method as long as the pose is possible to hold for a while. It's just about as fast as shooting scrap. Although in recent years I refer to photos a lot more than I used to, I still like working from drawn studies when I can, because they give me only the information I need, unlike photographs, whose details can be compellingly seductive.

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).

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.


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Borrowing, Part 1

Copies from the Masters, Part 1

Copies from the Masters, Part 1
From what I’ve read about 19th Century art training, students used to spend a good deal of time making copies of the old masters. I don’t know how many art schools these days are encouraging the practice, but I think it’s a great idea. It forces you to appreciate in a much deeper way what your heroes were actually doing.

I made these copies from reproductions of some of my favorite academic painters, Hudson River School artists, and golden age illustrators. They’re all in oil, mostly about 6 or 8 inches across. I’ve never had the nerve to set up and do a copy in a museum, but I salute those who have.

Juice: Shishkin and Cather

Juice: Shishkin and Cather
This is the first of a little feature called “Juice,” where I pair up an artist with a quote. Each has inspired me in some way or stimulated a new pathway of thinking. Please post a comment and share your thoughts.

“Artistic growth is, more than anything else, a refining of the sense of truthfulness.”

Quote by Willa Cather
Art by Ivan Shishkin
Mirror StudiesBorrowing, Part 2Copies from the Masters, Part 1

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