Gurney Journey | category: Imaginative Realism | (page 3 of 6)


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.

My Preference for Reference

When you set out to do a painting of a scene from fantasy or history, you have a range of choices for reference.

There’s an argument for using no reference at all. If you train your memory, you can work entirely from your imagination, which helps particularly in the development stages of the idea.

My Preference for Reference
And there are pros and cons of using traditional drawn studies of a model. Above is a charcoal mirror study of me posing in a pirate costume and the resulting painting.

There are also benefits of working from photo reference, especially when you’re dealing with kids, animals, or anything in movement. When I needed to paint a picture of a kid playing tug-of-war with a dinosaur, the first drawing I did from my head didn’t have the conviction that came later when I actually staged and photographed the action.

My Preference for Reference
Photography has its benefits, but also its pitfalls. Copying a photo too much can drain the mythic magic from your painting. Photographic effects such as depth of field and motion blur belong in some images, but not in others.

Everyone has to develop a reference strategy that suits their goals. I’m a pragmatist on this issue: the desired results govern the choices, and I’ve used every kind of reference.

My Preference for Reference
This meaty topic is the subject of a six page workshop that I wrote for the June, 2011 issue of ImagineFX magazine. You can pick up a copy at the local newsstand, or visit their website. The accompanying DVD has a couple of my short videos and lots of examples.

ImagineFX magazine

This topic is also explored in Imaginative Realism: How to Paint What Doesn’t Exist.
Tug-of-war image from Dinotopia: Journey to Chandara
Pirate image is from Dinotopia Lost by Alan Dean Foster

Previous posts on GurneyJourney
Acting it Out: (Tug of War)
Rackham on Photo Reference
Using Photo Reference (32 comments)
Model to Mermaid

P.S. I've just received word that the painter Jeffrey Catherine Jones passed away this morning from emphysema. R.I.P. There's more information at the blog Muddy Colors . Jeff was an acquaintance and fellow artist I had known for twenty years or so, and I'll miss Jeff's unique perspective.

I.R. in Japanese

Imaginative Realism is now available in Japanese from the publisher Born Digital.
You can get it at in the Japanese edition.

Born Digital / Imaginative Realism with sample pages in Japanese
Imaginative Realism in English from Amazon

Color and Light on Amazon internationally: USA | CA | UK | FR | DE | JP
Color and Light signed (and doodled in) by me, from the Dinotopia Store

Meanwhile, at the Printer

The Japanese edition of Imaginative Realism is on its way. It is being produced by Born Digital, one of the finest publishers of science fiction and fantasy art.

Meanwhile, at the Printer
Here’s what the cover will look like.

And here’s some of the back cover copy.

Meanwhile, at the Printer
Also, the US publisher Andrews McMeel has just announced that the English language edition of Imaginative Realism is going back for its fifth printing. Color and Light is going into its second printing, just five weeks after release. Woohoo!
Born Digital / Imaginative Realism with sample pages in Japanese
Andrews McMeel Publishing / Color and Light
Color and Light on Amazon internationally: USA | CA | UK | FR | DE | JP
Color and Light signed (and doodled in) by me, from the Dinotopia Store

Action Figures in Action

Action Figures in Action
A couple of action figures glued to the saddle of a homemade Deinocheirus filled the bill for helping imagine an olympic event in Dinotopia.

Action Figures in Action
I also built a maquette of the pagodas, made from wire, dowel rods, and tissue paper. I discarded the paper pagodas after the photo shoot, but by then they had served their purpose.

Here's the finished painting, which is currently on exhibit, along with the dinosaur maquette (and the little action figures) at the Berkshire Museum in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, through Jan. 2.

In addition, the show of children's book art has two original paintings from Norman Rockwell's "Willie Was Different," original art by Tasha Tudor, and more. 
 The Berkshire Museum's Festival of Trees through January 2
 This process is documented in Imaginative Realism: A Guide for the Realist Painter. (Available at Amazon, or signed at the Dinotopia Store)
Previously: Backyard Posing Party

Schlierkamp Interview

Two days ago, a German reporter named Christian Schlierkamp interviewed me.

Christian SCHLIERKAMP: During your career you have been working in such different fields as book cover illustration, on animated films like Frank Frazetta/Ralph Bakshi’s “Fire and Ice,” you celebrated the outstanding success of  your Dinotopia books, which also have been turned into a TV series, and you give lectures for creative professionals (e.g. at DreamWorks Animation SKG and Lucasfilm, Ltd).

What in your perspective has changed within the field of visual art in general and for the artists and the requirements on them compared to 20/25 years ago?

JAMES GURNEY: The most obvious change in the last two decades is the emergence of digital tools, both in illustration and in filmmaking. Although I work in traditional oil paints, I find this new technology very interesting, particularly the breakthroughs in 3D modeling, lighting, and animation, because it has brought about a renaissance of new understanding of the visual world. It has brought artists together with physicists and mathematicians to better understand such things as subsurface scattering, caustics, occlusion shadows, and particle behavior. All of these new insights have influenced me, even though I work entirely in traditional media.

But I think your question touches on another, and perhaps less obvious change. Emerging forms of digital distribution offer artists new ways to market and promote their work.

These tools have given artists a lot of choices for how to use their talents. If they enjoy working collaboratively on a large enterprise like a film or a video game, there are huge opportunities. The term “concept artist“ didn’t exist when I was in art school. But artists can also work alone to write, illustrate, and design their own illustrated stories, graphic novels, or even animated films, and connect with the readers before the works are published.

CS: Considering platforms like “Deviant Art“ or “,” in which artists seem to produce outstanding artwork en masse every day, one provokingly may ask: is there still a demand for illustration/imaginative artwork and what does this mean for the individual artist of today?

JG: I can’t say too much about those forums simply because I don’t have enough time online to be able to explore them, but I realize they’re a rich resource for both emerging artists and professionals.

People are hungrier than ever for images from the imagination. Imaginative artwork is healthier than ever today. The most successful exhibit in recent years at the American Society of Illustrators was the Spectrum exhibition. Most young people have grown up loving comics, games, science fiction, and fantasy, so it’s not going away soon.

CS: In your first instructional book on illustration, “Imaginative Realism – How to Paint What Doesn’t Exist” you give an extensive overview, drawing from the treasure trove of the Golden Age of illustrators as well as providing a generous insight into your personal methods and experiences, on how to create imaginative artwork in an encompassing way that I didn’t find in such form yet – will there be further publications after “Color and Light?” What was your initial starting point/motivation to go for a “how to”-book?

Yes, there will be more books after Color and Light, including another art-instruction book, sketchbooks, and new illustrated fantasies along the lines of Dinotopia. I’m also keenly interested in video, e-book, and app formats, so I will find at least a little bit of time on the side to develop those ideas.

To answer your second question, like a lot of artists in my generation, I found that art school didn’t answer all the questions that were burning in my mind. I was hungry for certain chunks of information, and I could never find it, so I wrote the books to answer all those questions.

To research those books, I drew not only from my own direct experience, but also on that of the older mentors I encountered, such as the classic illustrator Tom Lovell. I also researched out-of-print art instruction books from 50 and 100 years ago, which was like a window into the distant past.

Schlierkamp InterviewImaginative Realism reached within the last six months the #1 position on in the categories of both art instruction and painting, Color and Light, not released yet, is already on #3, only through pre-orders! How do you explain this success and was it surprising for you?

Completely unexpected, both for me and the publisher! There are so many good books on art instruction out there, especially about drawing the figure, or painting a landscape, or rendering a still life. I didn’t want to repeat what has already been said. But as I looked at the available books, I realized there were gaps, and those pieces of missing information were what I wanted to offer. Surprisingly few books systematically explored the question of making a realistic picture of a subject from fantasy or history. That was the subject of my first book.

Concerning “Color and Light” – one might say the two most fundamental themes of art. I was skimming through the archive of your blog “Gurney Journey“ and found as well a lot of theoretical knowledge as practical examples – what can we expect of this book? Can you give us a brief overview? What are it’s essentials/what was most important for you ?

As I assembled the first volume, Imaginative Realism, I realized that the information on color and light was so extensive that I decided it required a second volume.

I was interested in reaching four groups of readers:
1. Artists of all media interested in a traditional realist approach.
2. Fantasy and science fiction artists, illustrators, and concept artists.
2. Non-artists who are curious about the workings of the visual world.
3. Collectors and and fans of my artwork, making sure to introduce all new artwork compared to what we saw in the last book.

Here’s what the book contains: The book begins with a survey of historic masters who used color and light in interesting ways. It then examines the various sources of light, and we look at how light creates the illusion of three-dimensional form. The middle chapters cover the basic properties of color as well as an introduction to paint and pigments.

Then I present the method I use for color planning called gamut mapping. The later chapters of the book deal with specific challenges that we face when we wish to portray surfaces like hair and foliage, together with detailed information about the infinitely varied phenomena of atmospheric effects. The book ends with a glossary, a pigment index, and a bibliography.

The book does not contain recipes for mixing colors or step-by-step painting procedures. It is not overly technical, but it deals authoritatively with the topic. I also spared the reader some of the extremely technical discussions that are hard to follow unless you’re a physicist. Instead I wanted to keep the text brief enough so the artwork could be reproduced large. And I wanted to offer practical observations that painters can really use. I have already heard from art teachers that it will used as a textbook in art schools and I hope it will be a standard studio reference for many kinds of artists.

Of what I got from your blog, stronger than in “Imaginative Realism,” you seem to focus in your new book on plein-air studies; in “Imaginative Realism“ you promote as well a classic approach to using plein-air studies, charcoal studies from life models as well as from nature whilst the modern digital painter oftentimes is used to working mainly with photo references he loads into his painting software. Why are studies from life so important? What is the difference to working with photo references and is this approach achievable within today’s fast-moving industry (be it book publishing/editorial artwork or conceptual design for the film- and game industry)?

The best way to answer that question is to show you a page from the book which shows the comparison of photographed and observed reality.

Schlierkamp Interview
Working from imagination and from observation are indispensible to each other. I couldn’t paint from my imagination for very long without needing to go outdoors, and I couldn’t paint from observation exclusively. And yes, it’s achievable to work from life in this fast-moving world. A charcoal study from the model only takes fifteen minutes. But I also love spending three hours or more doing a careful oil study from observation.

Contrary to many modern art schools you do not promote to go for an individual/“personal“ style. Can you explain why?

You’re right. I think it’s a mistake to dwell on developing a personal style, especially for a student, because sometimes the style gets in the way of really seeing. Also, any style eventually becomes tired and stale, but truth to nature is timeless. In my view, students especially, but also working professionals, should keep studying the world around them with close observation. It’s natural and good for young artists to model their pictures after those of other artists as a path to mastery. But I prefer my heroes to be dead, and I’ve always tried to study many different ones, not just one.

In the afterword of IR you quote American painter Harvey Dunn, who said: “The only thing that’s true about anything is the spirit of it,” concluding the book by saying: “Art that lives in the memory and stands the test of time mixes earthiness with mystery, containing both a fistful of clay and a feather from an angel’s wing.” What in your point of view is essential for good art in general and is there something you can share to young up-striving artists?

I can’t speak for what is “good art“ because I love many different kinds of art which are based on different starting premises. But I have always been interested in a painting where the surface seems to disappear and I feel I can live inside the scene I’m painting. There’s a Latin quote that I have wood-burned onto my mahl stick. It says: “Ars est celare artem.” I picked it up from an artist named James Perry Wilson, who painted the illusionistic diorama backdrops in the American Museum of Natural History. It translates: “True art is the concealment of artifice.” It’s easy to make a painting look like paint, but it’s much harder to make a painting that pulls in viewers so completely that they feel the heat of sun on their neck and the sand in their shoes.

Art is more than illusionism, of course. What really matters to me in the end is to what extent a given work connects the visible world with the world of dreams and emotions. Many different modes of art can achieve that goal, but what excites me is art that does so by being sensitive both to the visual world around us, and the sea of mystery inside us. The inner eye and the outer eye inspire each other.

Interview by Christian Schlierkamp

Introducing Color and Light

On Thursday I traveled to New York City to visit the Book Expo, the annual convention where the publishing industry presents the fall book titles.

Introducing Color and LightAt the Andrews McMeel Publishing booth I signed posters for Color and Light: A Guide for the Realist Painter (224 pages, Fall 2010).

Andrews McMeel is known for their cartoon collections and gift books, but art books are something new for them. When I first presented the idea for Imaginative Realism a couple of years ago, the head of the company was a little skeptical whether there would be an audience for such a book.

Nevertheless, Andrews McMeel went all out to support the book, just as they did for Dinotopia: Journey to Chandara. The total commitment that they made was a great risk for them.

Introducing Color and LightIt was a risk for me, too, but I was rescued by you, my audience. In the last six months since the release of Imaginative Realism, it has reached the #1 position on in the categories of both art instruction and painting, and I was surprised to learn that it is already in its third printing.

Introducing Color and LightSo I am very appreciative to of each of you readers of the book and the blog for helping support my work in the rough waters of this economy.

The advance response for Color and Light has also been very encouraging. Here is a sampling of some of the preliminary reaction:

“This is the book I wish I had in art school”
Dylan Cole, Concept Art Director, Avatar

“This is the text book that we’ve been searching for but until now, never existed.”
Mark Tocchet, Chair, Illustration, University of the Arts, Philadelphia

“There has been a profound lack of a clear and comprehensive volume on color and light for the representational painter until now. James Gurney’s outstanding new book gives traditional and digital artists the means to give accurate and compelling expression to their subject matter.”
Nathan Fowkes, concept artist for DreamWorks and teacher at the L.A. Academy of Figurative Art

“James Gurney’s new book, Color and Light, cleverly bridges the gap between artistic observation and scientific explanation. Not only does he eloquently describe all the effects of color and light an artist might encounter, but he thrills us with his striking paintings in the process.”
Armand Cabrera, Artist

"The world we all see is a light painting. Gurney gives you the tools you need to understand and paint the light you see."

Tobey Sanford, Photographer and Author of Capturing Light

“James Gurney’s book Color and Light is a rich compendium of practical information vital to any artist concerned with depicting visual reality. With a fresh intelligence, Gurney moves from foundation principles for creating form and premixing a palette, to advanced concepts of color gamut mapping. He gives us a new look at the traditional color wheel, and essential advice for the plein-air painter. I enthusiastically recommend this book to my students.”
Ed Ahlstrom, Professor of Painting,
Montgomery College

Andrews McMeel Publishing's page on Color and Light
Amazon's page on Imaginative Realism and customer reviews
Order Imaginative Realism signed.

Color and Light Book

I’ve got a big project in the works, and I’d like to ask for your input.

As you may have guessed, I’m creating another book to be a companion volume to Imaginative Realism. It’s called Color and Light: A Guide for the Realist Painter. It’s all new art and all new material. I’ll tell you more about what’s in the book at the end of this post and in tomorrow’s post.

About your input: we’re not completely settled on the cover design. Please look at all of the following rough mockups and vote at left for the one you like best.

Color and Light BookSleeping Dino

Color and Light BookStreet Scene

Color and Light BookBirdman

Color and Light BookMontage

Color and Light BookSunset

Color and Light BookLamplight

Here are the big chapter titles:
Sources of Light
Light and Form
Elements of Color
Paint and Pigments
Color Relationships
Visual Perception
Surfaces and Effects
Atmospheric Effects

I look forward to your vote in the poll at left. More tomorrow!

2009 Making-A-Mark Awards

2009 Making-A-Mark Awards Congratulations to the group blog Sketching in Nature for winning the 2009 "Going Greener" award from Making A Mark. This award is for the art blog which is most stimulating for getting us in touch with nature and the environment. The blog does that by featuring artists from all over the world who use their art as a way to closely observe animal behavior, plant growth, and weather phenomena.

And I'm very excited to say that Imaginative Realism won the "Best Book by an Art Blogger Blue Ribbon." Thanks, Making a Mark, and thanks to all who voted.

There's still time if you'd like to be part of the voting on one of the remaining awards, "Best Artwork on an Art Blog." The nominees are Karin Jurick, Gary Nemkosky, and Pierre Raby.

Prehistoric Times and Digital Image

Prehistoric Times and Digital Image
Thanks to the readers of Prehistoric Times for voting Imaginative Realism the "Favorite Prehistoric Animal Book of 2009."

Prehistoric Times and Digital ImageAlso, I really appreciate the review from Digital Image Magazine, which noted that the book is not just for fantasy artists who use traditional materials.
"There are a few pages devoted to traditional materials and methods, but most of the book contains information any artist, digital or otherwise, will find helpful. Even if you’re not painting fantasy images, you’ll find useful techniques for composition, altering lighting, color schemes, focus, directing the eye, telling a story, and so forth."

Check out Digital Image homepage with a cool feature on using chiaroscuro in portraits.

Note to aspiring and established paleoartists: Prehistoric Times is a great venue for getting your work seen. Information about submitting your artwork here.
My Preference for ReferenceI.R. in JapaneseMeanwhile, at the PrinterAction Figures in ActionSchlierkamp InterviewBooks for Art JunkiesIntroducing Color and LightColor and Light Book2009 Making-A-Mark AwardsPrehistoric Times and Digital Image

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