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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.

gurneyjourney.blogspot.com

Seeing the Big Shapes, Painting the Details

It's an overcast October day in Rhinecliff, New York and I want to paint this street scene in gouache.



(Link to YouTube) Even with a straightforward scene like this, I have to remember to think about the big shapes and not get lost in the details, or as they say in the Tao Te Ching, the 10,000 things.



One way to see the simple tones of a scene is to photograph the scene and put a photo of the scene through a Photoshop filter, such as Filter / Artistic / Cutout or the Poster Shine app.



I use the following pigments of watercolor and gouache in tubes:

Priming for a Gouache Painting

Priming for a Gouache Painting

Sarah Noda says: You stated that you primed the paper with casein and that it could be primed with acrylic. If you primed with acrylic then wouldn't that prevent the paper from absorbing the watercolor?

Sarah, yes, you want the priming to be a receptive surface for the gouache. If it dries too thick and glossy, the gouache will bead up. The acrylic I was suggesting is Holbein's Acryla Gouache, which dries with a matte surface, as does casein.

Whatever priming you use, it should be a thin layer, thin enough so that the texture of the paper still shows through. You could use watercolor for the priming, but the idea of Acryla Gouache or casein is that it should dry with a flat, even tone and be impervious to reactivation.  As with any unconventional technique, experiment first on a scrap.

Painting While Facing the Light



How can you capture light in a painting while facing toward the light? I've got a new video that you can watch here or on YouTube.


The technique uses watercolor, gouache, and pastel over a casein priming to capture the feeling of objects against a bright sky. I also discuss whether it ‘breaks the rules’ to combine gouache, watercolor and other mixed media.
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RELATED BLOG POSTS
Should Watercolors Be Purely Transparent?
Contre Jour Lighting
Light Spill

The Red Eye from Newark

Sunset at Newark airport. Our red-eye flight has boarded. Floodlights shine on the fuselages of the airliners.


The painting is just 2 x 3.5 inches, the size of a business card. I like that size for a quick color thumbnail study.


Some questions from Instagram:
sarahstergiotis I‘m wondering how much time you had to complete the painting before the plane took off?
I had about 20 minutes before pushback, when I had to fold up the tray table. I painted a little more on it later from memory.

annscottpaintings What the heck is that pen you are using? I want some!
It's a gel pen: Gelly Roll Sakura Number 10

hermiispainting Which colours do you use? How are they packed to manage them while travelling? I pulled out five colors. I keep them in a little sandwich bag inside my carry-on belt pouch.
1. Prussian blue (gouache)
2. Titanium white (gouache)
3. Yellow ochre (watercolor)
4. Pyrrol red (gouache)
5. Alizarin crimson (watercolor)

scottzan@jamesgurneyart What kind of brushes do you use for sketching?
These are synthetic round brushes—the Jack Richeson Series 7130 #8 and #4, which are part of a travel set that works for gouache, watercolor, and casein. I also sometimes use really cheap brushes from big-box craft stores.

nmsgwatercolors Would you mind saying what kind of paper are you using?
It's a Pentalic watercolor sketchbook, which has "European milled, 140 lb. (300 gsm) acid free paper" sized for watercolor.
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There's a link-filled list of all of my sketching materials at this Google Doc.
 

Painting a Supermarket Entrance

I have painted around this supermarket many times, and I keep discovering new views of it. On a rainy day, I notice how the warm inside lights contrast with the cool light outdoors.


I have to push the painting through the “ugly stage” by having faith in the process. 


The palette of colors is very simple: White gouacheYellow ochre (watercolor), Transparent red oxide (watercolor), and Ultramarine blue (gouache)


In the choice of subjects, I am inspired by French philosopher Emile Zola, who encouraged artists to paint commonplace subjects from our own era. 



He said: “The past was but the cemetery of our illusions: one simply stubbed one's toes on the gravestones.” (Le passé n'était que le cimetière de nos illusions, on s'y brisait les pieds contre des tombes.)

Zola also said: "A work of art is a corner of creation seen through a temperament” (Une oeuvre d'art est un coin de la création vu à travers un tempérament).

Somehow, by interpreting a subject that isn't often painted, it opens the doors to appreciating our world anew.
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I Rub Out a Painting and Try Again



The weather changes from sunny to overcast. Should I rub out my painting and chase the light? (Link to YouTube)
Grafton Street near Trinity College, gouache, 5 x 8 inches
With a warm underpainting in casein, I can rub out the gouache layer without the casein lifting up.

PAINTS
White gouache (gouache)
Cadmium yellow light (watercolor)
Yellow ochre (watercolor)
Transparent red oxide (watercolor)
Neutral Tint
Underpainting in casein colors

OTHER MATERIALS
Empty watercolor tin
Pentalic Aqua Journal sketchbook
Liner brush (synthetic)
Winsor & Newton Series 995 synthetic flat brush

VIDEO TUTORIAL
"Gouache in the Wild" (Download on Gumroad)

Your Questions about Painting


Your Questions about Painting

Vlad Kiperman
I always wonder how painters capture variable objects like clouds, passers-by, fluttering flags and such? In the time it takes to capture one of these, it has changed its shape, position and/or orientation. Do you memorize (does that take photographic memory)? Do you take a snapshot with your camera for later reference? Or is it a you've-seen-one-you've-seen-them-all kind of training? Also, painting a scene while setting up a video to capture it seems like complex stuff.
James Gurney: With flags or waves it's not too hard because they come back to similar positions. You just have to commit to a single phase of action. With people it's harder. I have asked random strangers to pose for a minute or two, and they've almost always been willing. I also often take a snapshot. For moving animals such as horses, you can bring maquettes of walking poses to set up in place. For more on the video capture methods, here's a blog post
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Marilene Sawaf: I have been using casein successfully for a few years now and usually varnish with acrylic varnish after a week, but lately I like my work without varnish...was wondering if not varnishing would be ok for the painting? Also the casein varnish they discontinued was terrible, it became brown in the can and split in two substances, one brown liquid and another one a milky gray substance...I think I will throw it away
James Gurney: You can use casein with or without varnish. If it's a dark valued painting, a varnish can give it a lot of depth. But if it's a light, pastel key I think the natural matte surface looks best. Try some of the modern spray varnishes and see which you like best. Try both on test swatches and see what you prefer. And if you're using casein unvarnished, remember that even if the values of the darks are a little lighter, you can fix that after it's shot by adjusting the histogram in Photoshop.
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Raysartjourney Hi James do you have an absolute favorite medium? I know you use pretty much everything watercolor, gouache, casein, oil, acrylic but what is your hands down favorite? And why?
James Gurney: Oil is probably the most infinitely versatile, and my favorite studio medium, but the mineral spirits are starting to affect me when I use it, so I keep it to a minimum and use ventilation. I'd put gouache first for a plein-air medium because it can be taken into so many situations where you couldn't think of oil. Since I use gouache in combination with watercolor, casein, and even acrylic and pastel, I don't think of all of those as separate media, but rather separate instruments in the band.
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Monstahq: I see you use M.Graham watercolours which use honey as a binder. So do you ever have trouble with insects because of the honey?!
James Gurney: A ladybug landed on my last painting but I never thought it might have been the honey that brought her over.
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Masonbanana Why use a red pencil for the under drawing compared to a pen or pencil? Or even a blue pencil 🤷🏼‍♂️
James Gurney:  I like blue pencils for lay-ins, too, but I just find that when the drawing melts a little bit into color it adds a little verve to the places where it shows through.
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Your Questions about Painting
jplguedes: James, could you recommend a good art history book for me?
James Gurney: For a general art history that goes outside the usual party line, check out "Art: A New History," by Paul Johnson.

Nick Doe
 Did u saw off your brush handles? :D
James Gurney: Yes, I like the brush handles to be short. Partly that's so they'll fit in my pencil case, and partly it's because if they're too long they bump into the camera.
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Michaelangelo Reina
: What do you do to combat impatience compounded by exhaustion?
James Gurney: That's one of the biggest challenges. Concentration is so hard to achieve, and even harder to maintain for hours. The key for me is to solve one set of problems at a time. I try to maintain a constructive level of dissatisfaction, and to hang in there until I really feel it can't be improved.
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Avishek Banerjee In on-spot painting how do measurement technique is being accomplished?
James Gurney: The video where I show the most about the measurement technique is "Street Painting in Indiana."  I'm working on a whole video on measurement and methods for achieving accuracy.
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Pamela Broeker  I am curious to why you put the thin layer of casein down if it makes the gouache not go on smoothly? I get the watercolor and gouache can be used together, but the casein step confuses me.
James Gurney: I like the fact that the casein layer is not too absorbent. I feel the same way about oil priming before an oil painting. It's not for everybody, and the manufacturer of casein doesn't necessarily recommend it. You don't have to use casein at all. I'm not recommending it, just explaining my process. You can use acryla gouache if you want.

Your Questions about Painting

Jan Karlsson
"Do you sell your sketch book gouaches? I think they are incredible."
James Gurney: Not really, because they're bound in sketchbooks. News about original works for sale and exhibit can be found on my original art blog.
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Thomas Kauffman Do you use your sketches for studio work later on or is this as far as you take these.
James Gurney: I occasionally do sketches with the intention of gathering references for studio work, but most of these are done for fun, memories, learning.
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Kathy Jenkins: Does the paper have to be primed before painting in a sketchbook etc?
James Gurney: No, you can definitely paint straight on the paper.
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Your Questions about Painting
Chikkachinijohannady: "Why didn't you show the entire process? It suddenly got detailed after you said you hope they won't call you yet."
James Gurney: Sorry I couldn't show the whole process. It's really hard to paint with one hand and film with another, and the later stages of painting required me to use the left hand for holding the ruler. I had no tripod for the camera so I had to hold it in my left hand while I was painting. Toward the end I set down the camera because I had to focus and 'turn on the jets' so to speak.
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Artwork By Mari: "Do you do all the camera work or is Jeanette also working the camera at moments? I find that working the camera distracts me so much when I am painting for my channel, so I’m interested to know!"
James GurneyYes, I do all the camera work. It's almost second nature for me, but sometimes I have to push the camera aside and focus only on painting. Sometimes I can get Jeanette to shoot a few angles, but normally she's too busy with her own picture. Here's a blog post with a shot list.
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Nevington: When did you and Thomas Kinkade part ways in life? Was it because he went into painting cottages and you had your own ideas for an art career? just wondering... thanks again!
James GurneyEach of us got married, left Los Angeles, moved to places 3000 miles apart, raised families, and got busy with life. But we always remained friends and in touch and managed to get our families together and paint together every couple years.
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Your Questions about Painting Your Questions about Painting

Vadim Derkach: I have a question about gouache lightfastness. Do you pay attention to the lightfastness when you pick your colors? I have just bought 24 colors Holbein gouache set. Most of the paints in the set have a 2 or less lightfastness rating. Is a rating of 2 which means "Moderately durable colors" according to Holbein acceptable for artists? Do you paint with such colors?
James GurneyYes, I am concerned about this, especially when I'm doing work that will be exposed to light. Reputable manufacturers should list lightfastness ratings, or at least tell you the pigments on the label so that you can make an informed decision. I also recommend doing your own tests. Here are a few I've done:
Lightfastness tests for pencil and watercolor. and Fade test for gouache.
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Nihonga Painting

Nihonga Painting
Nihonga painting by Takeuchi Seiho
Nihonga is the name for a a water-based painting tradition from East Asia that uses some opaque pigments.

Nihonga Painting
Madaraneko (斑猫, Tabby Cat) by Takeuchi Seihō, (1924)
Nihonga painting was introduced to Taiwan during the Japanese colonial era of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It came into its own during the Meiji and Showa eras in Japan, and is still being practiced.

Nihonga Painting

It has similarities and differences with gouache painting in Europe and America. Pigments are made from natural minerals such as shells, corals, and semi-precious stones, ground to powders of different densities. The binder is a hide glue called nikawa, which, like gum arabic, can be reactivated after it dries.

Nihonga Painting

The paint also uses powdered calcium carbonite called gofun that serves as an opacifier, which is used in the ground, underpainting, or the surface color. The paintings decorate hanging or folding screens, but more often they're made on stretched paper and framed under glass.
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Article: Taipei Times
Wikipedia: Nihonga painting
Blog: "Nippon Dreamz: Nihonga"
Book: Nihonga: Transcending the Past : Japanese-Style Painting, 1868-1968

The Lot Behind the Car Dealer

It's late afternoon and the sun is setting behind the car dealership in Kingston. I'm struck by a view that looks back to the lot where they keep all the extra cars.


As complex as this scene first appears, it boils down to two simple flanking dark masses and a path of light back to the horizon.


Darn! A big truck parks right in front of my view, so I have to deploy X-ray vision. (Link to Facebook video)
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MATERIALS:
Pentalic watercolor sketchbook
Richeson travel brush set
Connoisseur "cat's tongue" brush
Water cup
Homemade easel
Tripod
"Gouache in the Wild"

Seeing the Big Shapes, Painting the DetailsPriming for a Gouache PaintingGetting an Oil Change, So Let's PaintPainting While Facing the LightThe Red Eye from NewarkPainting a Supermarket EntranceI Rub Out a Painting and Try AgainYour Questions about Painting Nihonga PaintingThe Lot Behind the Car Dealer

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