Gurney Journey | category: Imaginative Realism


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.

Reconstructing an Etruscan Tomb

In 1987 I traveled on assignment with National Geographic to Italy to explore Etruscan archaeology. 

We descended a ladder into the recently discovered "Blue-Devil" tomb in Tarquinia, which unfortunately had been emptied by tomb robbers a little earlier. 

Reconstructing an Etruscan Tomb

The Blue Devil is painted on the wall behind me. He's a blue-skinned dude holding a snake in each hand.

Reconstructing an Etruscan Tomb

My painting takes us back to around 700BC to show a family departing the tomb, accompanied by musicians and dancers. 

Reconstructing an Etruscan Tomb

The pencil sketch shows the figures as I first imagined them, still without reference to models. The sketch had to be comprehensive enough to sell the editor on setting aside a double page spread in the article layout.

Reconstructing an Etruscan Tomb

Once we got approval, I asked my friend James Warhola to pose as a musician, holding a cardboard cutout of a lyre. I changed his appearance to look like the story's photographer, Lou Mazzatenta.

Reconstructing an Etruscan Tomb

For the charcoal comprehensive, I drew each figure grouping on a separate layer of tracing paper. In this way I could experiment with overlapping without erasing or affecting the layers beneath. Of course you could do all this in Photoshop, but working in pencil or charcoal is deliciously tactile and just as fast.

There's more about these methods in my book Imaginative Realism: How to Paint What Doesn’t Exist, available signed from my web store or from Amazon.

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'
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. 

How do you develop imagination?

How do you develop imagination?
Lawrence Alma Tadema, A Kiss, 1891, 46 x 63 cm
Anthony asks:
I'd like to ask you, though you have plenty of information in Imaginative Realism on the subject, how one develops imagination. How have you stretched or enhanced your imagination? Or has it simply been there all along? What is the essence of that skill and how does one meet it? 

My answer:
It's a fundamental question, and there's no simple answer. I believe the imagination develops from several sources of practice or experience.

First, there's the inspiration you get from enjoying other people's art: reading books, going to museums, watching movies. To consolidate that inspiration, it helps to make copies, sketches, or notes, and think about them afterward.

The artwork of other artists serves your imagination best if it opens you up to appreciating previously unseen potential in the world around you. A pioneer in your field offers you a template for how you can begin to interpret the hazy ideas forming in your own mind.

How do you develop imagination?
Pages from the sketchbooks of movie director Guillermo del Toro
If you keep journals and sketchbooks of what you observe, keep another one for what you imagine. Draw designs for what you want to build. Try to capture your mental image of what you remember about an experience you've had.

Another way to develop the imagination is to harness your brain's natural image-making engine. Keep a dream log. See if you can accomplish lucid dreaming. Tap into your REM dreams and hypnagogic hallucinations, which are wonderfully non-directed, evanescent and hard to capture. Develop a meditation practice. I suppose you can also stimulate your imagination with psychedelic drugs, but I haven't explored that direction because I don't want to be seduced by the illusion that any of this comes for free, or in a pill. If you can develop techniques for encouraging your brain to generate images freely, you don't need drugs. As Salvador Dali reportedly once said, 'I don't do drugs. I AM drugs."

How do you develop imagination?
Albrecht Durer, Melencolia 1. Link takes you a
discussion of how Renaissance artists thought
about the sources of imagination and art.

How do you develop imagination?How do you develop imagination?Many artists that you may see on YouTube creating worlds from their imagination started out by developing a toolset of relatively standard techniques that you can learn and practice. Comic artists and storyboard artists in particular learn how to draw any situation from any angle. Learning the skills of imaginative figure drawing, perspective, and composition will reliably allow you to draw or paint a plausible image from your imagination, one that you can then take the next step of embodiment, by putting it though the process of sketches, studies, maquettes, models, and the rest.

In the comments, please share your thoughts on how you stimulate and develop your imagination.
Imaginative Realism: How to Paint What Doesn't Exist
Guillermo del Toro Cabinet of Curiosities: My Notebooks, Collections, and Other Obsessions
Oga Kazuo Animation Studio Ghibli Artworks 2 Japan Edition

Keepers of the Flame

Keepers of the Flame
NC Wyeth, illustration from Treasure Island
The new exhibition at the Norman Rockwell Museum explores the lineage of academic painting and how its branches connected to the Golden Age of American Illustration.

Keepers of the Flame

The show, called "Keepers of the Flame: Parrish, Wyeth, Rockwell and the Narrative Tradition," traces teacher/student lineages going all the way back to the Renaissance.

Keepers of the Flame

Dennis Nolan is the curator of the show and the author of the 216-page catalog. A teacher himself for half a century, he is interested in how the skills and knowledge needed to make storytelling pictures were passed from one generation to the next. 

Keepers of the Flame
Maxfield Parrish
The Art Students League and the Philadelphia Academy were important schools for training American illustrators. Many teachers there had spent time in Europe under the tutelage of French academic masters. 

Keepers of the Flame

For example, Maxfield Parrish studied under Thomas Anschutz, who was a pupil of Thomas Eakins, who enrolled with Jean-Leon Gérôme, who was taught by Paul Delaroche, who learned from Antoine-Jean Gros, who studied under Jacques-Louis David, who was in the studio of Joseph-Marie Vien. 

Keepers of the Flame
Gerome, Bouguereau, Laurens
It takes a lot of concentration to keep track of all the didactic genealogies, which call to mind the begetting streaks in Genesis and Matthew.

Keepers of the Flame
Mowbray and Benjamin-Constant
The teacher-student lineage story leaves aside important forces that shape and define an artist. Nolan ignores other formative influences, such as the inspiration that Rockwell took directly from artists he never met, from his contemporaries, and from Modern movements. 

Keepers of the Flame

When Rockwell listed the artists he studied in his student days and who he admired later, he didn't mention his teachers (George Bridgman and Thomas Fogarty):
"Ever since I can remember, Rembrandt has been my favorite artist. Vermeer, Breughel, Velásquez, Canaletto; Dürer, Holbein, Ingres as draftsmen; Matisse, Klee―these are a few of the others I admire now. During my student days I studied closely the works of Edwin Austin Abbey, J.C. and Frank Leyendecker, Howard Pyle, Sargent, Whistler.” (from My Adventures as an Illustrator by Norman Rockwell)
Keepers of the Flame
Jules-Joseph Lefebvre, The Language of the Fan
The curatorial approach of focusing on these teacher/student lineages also unfortunately leaves out a lot of women artists and self-taught artists, and it leads to the impression of all this art being created by a stodgy, backward-looking old-boy's club, when it's really not true.

American illustration was inclusive, inventive, popular and progressive. It embraced new technologies such as color printing, gave birth to new art forms such as comics, movies, and animation, and expressed the drama of contemporary life.

But these minor quibbles don't get in the way of appreciating the extraordinary artwork on display in this exhibition.

Keepers of the Flame
"The Byzantine Emperor Honorius" - Jean-Paul Laurens, 1880
The artist/teachers William Adolphe Bouguereau and Jean Leon Gérôme are central to the story and they're well represented in the exhibition, and there are many lesser-known artists who are worth seeing.

Keepers of the Flame

Nolan and the museum worked for years to negotiate loans of the paintings and drawings from both public and private collections. Unfortunately the show won't be able to travel to other venues, and will only be at the Norman Rockwell Museum.

Keepers of the Flame
NC Wyeth
Keepers of the Flame
Nolan dedicated the catalog "to my teachers, who taught me how to be an artist, and to my students, who taught me how to be a teacher." For visitors who are either students or teachers of art, this exhibition will be particularly affirming.
The exhibition will at the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Massachusetts through October 28, 2018.

The catalog "Keepers of the Flame: Parrish, Wyeth, Rockwell and the Narrative Tradition"
Previously: Dennis Nolan and the Hartford Art School

Imaginative drawing—with and without reference

How do you draw something that you can't see directly—such as a Chasmosaurus, a Phoenician, or a bog troll? 

Alan North of Alan's Art Log came up with an interesting way to think about this problem.

There are two ways ways of imaginative drawing: with and without reference.

     • One way is to draw observationally from actual models, props, maquettes, and reference.
     • The other way is to draw the scene purely out of your visual imagination.

You get better at the first method by learning to sculpt maquettes, improvise costumes, and by building a reference file. When you draw and paint your final picture, you observe those reference elements and composite them together into the picture.

You get better at the second method by developing your visual memory, and by learning to construct figures and forms convincingly.

Alan presents his idea in this video review of my book Imaginative Realism: How to Paint What Doesn't Exist. You can watch the video on YouTube at this link.

I think that in practice an artist needs both skills working together. References, no matter how good, will only take you only 20% beyond what you can draw or paint purely out of your imagination. Having a good sketch that you did out of your head is really important for guiding the interpretation of the references and for keeping the statement unified.

Drawing or painting without any references whatsoever can lead to repetitive or mannered solutions, and to missing out on surprising nuances of lighting or foreshortening that would never have occurred to the imagination alone. Those nuances often carry the force of truth, and make the scene believable.
You can get a signed copy of Imaginative Realism at my website. It's also available on Amazon.
Alan did a blog post version of his video.
Follow Alan on Instagram or support him on Patreon

SCAD Atlanta makes Scroobius Pips

SCAD Atlanta instructor Rick Lovell says on his blog:

"Two classes worked on the Scroobious Pip project this fall quarter. The project was inspired by two different things; James Gurney's video demo called "How I Paint Dinosaurs", and a silly poem by Edward Lear called "The Scroobious Pip," a nonsense story about an animal that is a little of everything."

SCAD Atlanta makes Scroobius Pips
Scroobius Pip maquette by Sally Geng
"The students created their version of the Scroobious Pip in polymer clay; it begins with a wire armature, is bulked out with aluminum foil, is covered in Super Sculpey, sculpted, baked and finally painted."

SCAD Atlanta makes Scroobius Pips
Scroobius Pip illustration by Sally Geng
"The maquette is lit and photographed and is used as a model for a finished illustration that tells a bit of a story about each Pip."

Scroobius Pips on the SCAD Illustration blog

Teaching Imaginative Realism in High School

Teaching Imaginative Realism in High School
Mr. Seifert from Information Technology
at Athens Area High School helps out as a model.
Dr. Andrew Wales, art teacher at the Athens Area High School in Pennsylvania, says:
"In Art 3 and Art 4, we are learning how artists portray the costumed figure. As a guide, we're using a selection from Imaginative Realism: How to Paint What Doesn't Exist by James Gurney. In this way, we're learning what real artists do when they want to portray a fictional scene."
Teaching Imaginative Realism in High School
Imagine a train track here
He continues: "We're using models and makeshift costumes to set up imaginary scenarios. Students will use these as sources for drawings. They'll use other sources for background imagery."
Teachers: If you want to use Imaginative Realism as a text, why not order a classroom copy from me (USA only, please) that I can sign to you or your school? If you remind me that you're a teacher, I'll send a free signed poster, too.
Reconstructing an Etruscan TombBook Review: 'Enchanted: A History of Fantasy Illustration'How do you develop imagination?Super Colossal MarioKeepers of the FlameImaginative drawing—with and without referenceImaginative Realism in Traditional ChineseSpanish Edition of I.R. ComingSCAD Atlanta makes Scroobius PipsTeaching Imaginative Realism in High School

Report "Gurney Journey"

Are you sure you want to report this post for ?