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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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Getting Back to Analog

Getting Back to Analog
The title makes a provocative claim: The Future Is Analog

It's an even bolder proposition than David Sax's previous book The Revenge of Analog. 

The new book, released tomorrow, suggests that the digital revolution hasn't turned out the way most of us had hoped, and people want to return to reality. 

Sure, we'll still order things online or work remotely if we have to, but most of us yearn to get back to a more grounded, face-to-face existence. 

"It didn’t take long to realize how awful it was to live in this promised future," he says. "We craved real experiences, relationships, and spaces and got back to real life as quickly and often as we could."

The pullback from the universally digital future has, if anything, become more pronounced after suffering through the loneliness and disconnection of the pandemic, after the collapse of crypto and NFTs, after social media's content-moderation fiascos, after Facebook's fizzling efforts to launch the Metaverse, and after AI image generators have sucked up and replaced the work of creative people.

The glowing promise of the digital future has turned to ashes. We were sold a utopia of virtualized connections and products, but it turns out that what makes us human is the time we spend with each other and with real things.

The book is divided into sections that explore work, school, commerce, the city, culture (mainly performing arts), conversation, and the soul (religion). Sax asks whether the choice to 'go digital' is inevitable in every one of those categories, or whether we can choose options that may be a little less efficient, but that are better for us psychologically, socially, and culturally. 

He's not advocating for a Luddite future, but for a more conscious and deliberate one by asking the following questions: 

"Can we reject the downsides of digital technology without rejecting change? Can we innovate not for the sake of productivity but for the good of our social and cultural lives? Can we build a future that serves us as humans, first and foremost?"

These are the questions that, according to Sax, we need to grapple with now. Let's face it: the future will be a blend of technologies, old and new. We all have to make our peace with computers, cellphones and the internet. But Sax sensibly asks us to question the inevitability of the digital future that the tech lords have laid out for us. 


Book Review: Peter Clapham Sheppard: His Life and Work

Book Review: Peter Clapham Sheppard: His Life and Work
Peter Clapham Sheppard (1879-1964) painter of impressionistic cityscapes that are reminiscent of John Sloan and the Ashcan School, with confident daubs of oil paint making a mosaic patchwork that evokes the bustle of city life or the growth of nature. 

The book Peter Clapham Sheppard-- His Life and Work is a full color monograph that covers his training and his life of art, working primarily in New York, Toronto, and Montreal. He was a contemporary and colleague of the Group of Seven. 

Art historian Ross King describes him as "a retiring, elusive artist whose skill and vision, untouched by the noisy nationalism of some of his peers, can now finally be properly celebrated in the remarkable artistic rediscovery that is unveiled in the pages of this book."

Book Review: Peter Clapham Sheppard: His Life and Work
The publisher, Firefly Books, says:

"This book is a celebration of the rediscovery of the masterworks of Toronto-born Peter Clapham Sheppard (1879-1965), an artist who played a leading role in the founding of Canada's national school of art. A contemporary and colleague of the Group of Seven, he was one of the finest artists of his generation and his work is among the best in Canadian art.

"The book is full of beautiful color reproduction of Sheppard's paintings, and his work shows a wide range of sources and influences. In the early years of the 20th century he was a Realist who captured the life and times of the city and people of Toronto. Later, he was inspired by the French Impressionists to capture with paint the effects of light and weather, particularly in winter, in urban settings, especially New York City.

"Termed a "radical" in his early career, rather than being inspired by his friends and contemporaries in the Group of Seven, Sheppard looked to New York painters of the urban and industrial scenes for inspiration. He was a forceful painter of urban development which he interpreted as a metaphor of national growth and resilience during World War I.

"He was skilled at drawing and painting the city, capturing the dynamism of urban life, but he also traveled into the woods and wilderness of Ontario, much like the Group of Seven, to paint scenes of woods and waterfalls.

"Although he was widely exhibited in national and important international exhibitions of Canadian art in his early career, over the course of the last century Sheppard has fallen into the shadow cast by the Group of Seven. From occupying a place among a generation of artists who established a national school, he died in relative obscurity.

"This book casts light on a unique talent, an artist of his times, whose art matched the quality of the Group, but found inspiration beyond the sources that inspired his more famous contemporaries. This book is the culmination of a 30-year effort to bring Sheppard's name and art to its rightful place in this country's art history."
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Peter Clapham Sheppard-- His Life and Work

Book Review: 100 Flying Birds

Artists who paint birds need clear reference photos of various flight positions. 

Book Review: 100 Flying Birds

A new book called 100 Flying Birds: Photographing the Mechanics of Flight delivers a helpful collection of images in a beautiful and useful form.

Book Review: 100 Flying Birds

Author and photographer Peter Cavanagh has documented the flight poses of a variety of species, from swans and geese to hummingbirds to eagles and owls. 

Book Review: 100 Flying Birds

The photos are sharp and clear, reproduced full-page along with the author's commentary on the facing page. The text presents the context of the shot, the mechanics of the flight pose, or insights about behavior or the environment.

Book Review: 100 Flying Birds

That text combined with the photos makes this an unusually welcome resource for birdwatchers or ornithological artists who want a better understanding of their subject.

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100 Flying Birds: Photographing the Mechanics of Flight, by Peter Cavanagh, Firefly Books, 320 pages, all color, 11 x 11 inches. 

Mr. Cavanagh curated the exhibition "How Birds Fly" exhibit at Seattle's Museum of Flight in 2015.

Photos by Peter Cavanagh (@howbirdsfly on Twitter).


Review of Graphic Witness: Five Wordless Graphic Novels

Telling a story purely with illustrations is a challenge not unlike making a silent movie. There can be dramatic moments of action or conflict in a wordless graphic novel. Or the images can enshrine reflective and poetic moments.

Review of Graphic Witness: Five Wordless Graphic Novels 

But the connective tissue of a story, such as internal thoughts, sounds, or intentions can be challenging to convey. 

Review of Graphic Witness: Five Wordless Graphic Novels

Wordless stories flourished in Europe and America in the 1920s, '30s, and '40s, in part inspired by dramatic visuals of the silent movie era and expressionist art of the time.

In turn these works have inspired many contemporary comic artists, though the development of these wordless picture-stories is mostly independent of the pop-culture origins of modern comics. 

Review of Graphic Witness: Five Wordless Graphic Novels

Many of the artists used the time consuming method of woodcuts for their illustrations, which allowed artists to produce small runs of books, which have been prized by collectors ever since. 

Review of Graphic Witness: Five Wordless Graphic Novels

The best known member of this group was Lynd Ward (1905-1985), who produced several stories without words such as God's Man and Madman's Drum, but there were other artists who contributed to the genre such as Frans Masereel (1889-1972), Giacomo Patri (1898-1978), Erich Glas (1897-1973), and Laurence Hyde.

Review of Graphic Witness: Five Wordless Graphic Novels

The works of all of those artists are featured in the new book Graphic Witness: Five Wordless Graphic Novels, selected and edited by George A. Walker, himself a woodcut artist and professor. 

Review of Graphic Witness: Five Wordless Graphic Novels

The large trade paperback book consists of a separate image reproduced on each page, beautifully reproduced in black and white and occasionally a red-brown on good paper. 

Here's more information about Graphic Witness: Five Wordless Graphic Novels.  

Posing for a Painting Saved a Man's Life

Illustrator Saul Tepper (New York City, 1899-1987) hunted throughout the city for amateur models to pose for his illustrations. One time, as a deadline approached for a painting of a lumberjack, he entered a cafe, where he saw "a man of the proper features, sitting alone."

Posing for a Painting Saved a Man's Life

"Saul approached him," recalled illustrator Mason Combs, "explained the situation and presented his card, telling the potential model to be at the studio at 10:00 the next morning. The man took the card without conversation. The next morning he appeared, posed, and before leaving asked when the illustration would appear."

Posing for a Painting Saved a Man's Life

"A week after the issue hit the newsstands, the man reappeared at the studio. He told Saul that he had been sitting in the cafe, having decided to put the .38 he carried to his head and end it all. He had left his wife and family in his hometown upstate, lost his job, and been on a binge when Saul arrived on the scene."

"Once the Saturday Evening Post illustration came out, everyone in the man's hometown recognized him; his job was offered back; he was reunited with his family; and he became a town celebrity. Yes, Tepper touched many people's lives."

Posing for a Painting Saved a Man's Life

This story is part of a new book on Saul Tepper produced by The Illustrated Press. The book continues the series of monographs on Golden Age masters such as Dean Cornwell and Tom Lovell. The short introductory biographical essay by Dan Zimmer covers Tepper's career and his painting methods, and then the rest of the book is devoted to high quality color reproductions, mostly from the original art.

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The Art of Saul Tepper hardback, 224 pages, $44.95

Review of Thomas Blackshear's Illustration Master Course

Thomas Blackshear has produced a series of instructional videos called the Illustration Master Course. I have had an opportunity to watch most of the videos in the series and can highly recommend them. 

Review of Thomas Blackshear's Illustration Master Course

If you're not familiar with his work, Thomas Blackshear emerged in the '80s and '90s as an illustrator, creating about 30 US postage stamp designs, plus posters, art prints, and 3D figurines.

He trained in Chicago and worked for Hallmark Cards and the Godbold/Richter Studio. 

Review of Thomas Blackshear's Illustration Master Course

At that stage of his career he was inspired by Mark English, Bernie Fuchs, Drew Struzan, and David Grove, and he either learned directly from them or figured out their techniques. 

The first volumes in the series demonstrate these unusual techniques with gouache and acrylic.

Review of Thomas Blackshear's Illustration Master Course

In Volume 4 he demonstrates the "lifting out" technique, where you apply a gouache base layer over a pencil drawing and lift out light areas with a wet brush or Q-tip.

Review of Thomas Blackshear's Illustration Master Course

He has since pursued a gallery career for his original paintings, developing his own style that he calls 'Western Nouveau,' inspired by a variety of painters of the past such as Maynard Dixon and Alphonse Mucha. 

Most of his gallery paintings start in acrylic and finish in oil, sometimes with special touches of gold leaf.

Review of Thomas Blackshear's Illustration Master Course

His videos take you through the entire process, with closeups of his palette, his brushwork, and his special techniques, which he explains at each stage in a clearly recorded voiceover. 

Review of Thomas Blackshear's Illustration Master Course

The video occasionally cuts away to him sitting in his studio explaining the thinking behind what he's doing. His process is 100% 'old school,' using pencil, brush, tracing paper, and acetate overlays.

He often does a very detailed and complete pencil drawing and several color studies before he starts the finished painting, and the quality of his final results proves the value of solving all the problems sequentially.

Review of Thomas Blackshear's Illustration Master Course

Blackshear puts a lot of emphasis on getting the drawing right, no matter how much effort it takes, before proceeding into the paint. He hires models and shoots photo reference, but he freely interprets his reference to make it better.

There are six episodes so far, produced by Thaxton Studios. Each video is about an hour long, and priced at $45 for either a download or a DVD. Each is a standalone exercise and you don't have to follow them in order. I would suggest starting with whichever one that sounds closest to your interest. 

You can get info about Thomas Blackshear's Illustration Master Course at this link. The videos are also available at Gumroad as digital downloads or streaming videos.

Muddy Colors did a blog post featuring his gouache 'pick-out' technique as featured in the magazine Step by Step Graphics. (Thanks, Matt Dicke and Dan Dos Santos)

Spectrum 27 Flip-Through

This year's edition of Spectrum presents a juried selection of contemporary fantasy art, including dragons, warriors, monsters, trolls, angels, and dinosaurs. 

This YouTube video takes you through all 304 pages in less than a minute. 

Spectrum includes fantasy and science-fiction artwork in several categories, including book, comics, film, horror, illustration, sculpture, conceptual art, fine art and video game genres. 

Chris Dunn, illustration from Wind in the Willows 
 9x12 inches, watercolor and gouache.

While most artists create their art with digital media, there are plenty of examples painted in watercolor, gouache, and oil. The book contains 350 works by over 220 diverse artists, including Tommy Arnold, Wylie Beckert, Rovina Cai, Dan dos Santos, Jesper Ejsing, Cory Godbey, Iain McCaig, Daniel Zrom, Tran Nguyen, Greg Ruth, Cynthia Sheppard, Yuko Shimizu, Claudya Schmidt, Terryl Whitlatch, and me. 
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The book releases November 10, but you can pre-order at this link: Spectrum 27: The Best in Contemporary Fantastic Art
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If you like fantasy art, you'll also enjoy the new book Enchanted: A History of Fantasy Illustration

Book Review: 'Enchanted: A History of Fantasy Illustration'

The new book Enchanted: A History of Fantasy Illustration is a comprehensive history of imaginative art.

Curator Jesse Kowalski begins the story with a comparative survey of the art of ancient  cultures, going all the way back to Gilgamesh, the earliest known epic story.

Book Review: 'Enchanted: A History of Fantasy Illustration'
Bernat Martorell, Saint George and the Dragon, 1434

Most ancient art is filled with fantastic imagery, with monsters, strange worlds, heroes, gods, and stories of creation. 

Book Review: 'Enchanted: A History of Fantasy Illustration'
Martin Schongauer (1448-1491) The Griffin

Kowalski defines fantasy in terms of larger-than-life stories, such as folktales, myths, legends, and epic tales. That includes religious stories. As Joseph Campbell once said, “Mythology may, in a real sense, be defined as other people's religion."

Book Review: 'Enchanted: A History of Fantasy Illustration'
Eugène Delacroix, Liberty Leading the People, 1830

Some political revolutions have expressed their core values in terms of fantasy.

Book Review: 'Enchanted: A History of Fantasy Illustration'
Richard Doyle, The Fairy Queen Takes an Airy Drive, 1870

Kowalski delves into the work of Freud, Jung, and Campbell, who all recognized the universal power of the subconscious in art. 

Book Review: 'Enchanted: A History of Fantasy Illustration'
Arthur Rackham, The Fish King and the Dog Fish; It's Head 
Was Patted Graciously, ca. 1905

This broad and inclusive history covers a range of narrative art forms, including film posters, comics, and book illustration.

Book Review: 'Enchanted: A History of Fantasy Illustration'

The book is a catalog of an exhibition that was originally planned to open last summer at the Norman Rockwell Museum, but because of the pandemic, was delayed one year. The exhibition will now be on show from June 12 through October 31, 2021.

Book Review: 'Enchanted: A History of Fantasy Illustration'
James Warhola, Magic Shop, 1985

The book covers fantasy art to the present day, with works by many living fantasy artists, some of whom created paintings especially for the exhibition.

Book Review: 'Enchanted: A History of Fantasy Illustration'
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Enchanted: A History of Fantasy Illustration, 232 pages, with 180 illustrations, mostly in color. There are essays by Jesse Kowalski, Alice Carter, Stephanie Plunkett, Greg Manchess, Craig Chalquist, and Rusty Burke. 






Jess K. Recommends Some Art Books

(Link to YouTube) Thanks to Jess Karp for shouting out a recommendation for Color and Light: A Guide for Realist Painters and Imaginative Realism: How to Paint What Doesn't Exist along with some other intriguing books. 

Check out Jess Karp's YouTube channel. Her sketchbook tours are inspiring, and I look forward to reading her book one day. 

You can also get my books signed from my webstore


Meltzoff Paints Avati and Family Sharing the Studio

Today, some of us begin a new week of coronavirus confinement. Workers face the prospect of doing labor in their domestic settings (if they can), with kids underfoot as they try to get their schoolwork finished there, too. And let's not forget the work that has always happened in the home, such as cooking and cleaning. Somehow, we manage.

Meltzoff Paints Avati and Family Sharing the Studio
Stanley Meltzoff, James Avati in his Studio, oil on mounted canvas (21.5" x 26")
Picture-maker Stanley Meltzoff (1917-2006) shared a studio with paperback cover artist James Avati in Red Bank, New Jersey. Deploying some gentle humor and a lot of art history savvy, Meltzoff painted his good friend at the easel. Avati is shown using his divine talent (notice his feet don't touch the ground), baby on floor illuminated by the cool foil-fringed light. On the far sofa, a visiting reverend lends spiritual guidance while a son crouches with his toy pistol. The Avati daughters are absorbed by their own inner worlds of art or dance. Outside the window of this chaotic little utopia, the world gleams with eerie purple light.

The Illustrated Press has just released a brand new edition of Stanley Meltzoff: Picture Maker, featuring both his illustrations and his paintings of wild ocean fish.

Meltzoff Paints Avati and Family Sharing the StudioI've just received a copy and have taken a quick look at it. The quality of the art is excellent as always. One of the treasures of the book is that Meltzoff tells his own story and describes how he makes his pictures.

The text was published in a previous big art book on Melzoff (now out of print), so I asked publisher Dan Zimmer how this one is different. He said, "I really wanted to emphasize a lot of his earlier illustration work that wasn’t shown in the first book, or was shown in very small reproductions." 
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Wikipedia: Stanley Meltzoff 


Getting Back to AnalogBook Review: Peter Clapham Sheppard: His Life and WorkBook Review: 100 Flying BirdsReview of Graphic Witness: Five Wordless Graphic NovelsPosing for a Painting Saved a Man's LifeReview of Thomas Blackshear's Illustration Master CourseSpectrum 27 Flip-ThroughBook Review: 'Enchanted: A History of Fantasy Illustration'Jess K. Recommends Some Art BooksMeltzoff Paints Avati and Family Sharing the Studio

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