Gurney Journey | category: Journey to Chandara


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.

Building Dinotopia in Lego

Seattle area builder Shawn Snyder recreated the saurian-themed architecture of Dinotopia in Lego bricks.

Building Dinotopia in Lego

The gold trimmed details of the pediment use dinosaur-shaped motifs, and pterosaur finials hover over the towers.

Building Dinotopia in Lego

The dinosaur firefighting rig was based on a page spread from Dinotopia: Journey To Chandara.

Building Dinotopia in Lego

The firefighter has his tools mounted on the side of his Triceratops saddle, with the hose reel right behind him.

Building Dinotopia in Lego

More Lego creations on the site Brothers Brick 
Thanks, Michael Lynch

Tips for Taping Off

Tips for Taping Off

When I do Dinotopia paintings on illustration board, I tape off the edge with blue low-tack painter's tape (from the hardware store). Then I cut a thin strip of white so-called "artist's tape" to put over that to preserve my perspective grid markings. Red marking is the eye level. I don't recommend using the white tape directly on the illustration board because the adhesion is too strong and it rips the board—and it's non-archival, as is almost all tape, really.

I seal the whole surface, including the edge where the tape meets the drawing, with clear acrylic matte medium so that the oil paint doesn't seep under the tape. 

When the painting is finished, I remove the tape. The image can be flapped with polyethylene coated paper while in production, and it has a safety margin of white board around the image. When it comes to framing it can either be cut down to the edge of the painting and framed without glass or matted and framed. 
Previously on GJ:
Perspective Grid
Technique Notes
Want more insights? Pick up a signed copy of the new expanded edition of Dinotopia: Journey to Chandara at my website or on Amazon or Imaginative Realism: How to Paint What Doesn't Exist.

New expanded edition of Dinotopia: Journey to Chandara

Dover Publications has just released a new expanded edition of Dinotopia: Journey to Chandara in their premier Calla line of illustrated books. (Link to book trailer video on YouTube)

This beautiful hardcover edition includes an exclusive peek behind the scenes, with 30 pages of sketches, storyboards, maquettes, photos of models, character designs, and models posing.

If you live in the USA (or can provide a domestic US shipping address), you can order a signed copy from my website store and it's also available from Amazon

Dinotopia painting, step-by-step

Here's a quick video that shows the painting sequence for an illustration in Dinotopia: Journey to Chandara. In the scene, Arthur Denison meets a retired musical conductor, surrounded by dinosaurs and musical instruments.

Old Conductor, 13 x 14 inches, from Dinotopia: Journey to Chandara
The drawing is pencil on heavyweight illustration board, sealed with matte fluid medium. Over the drawing, I start by lightly washing transparent oil paint, and then paint area by area, making sure I get the major faces and the statement of light the way I want them early on.

If you're getting this blog post as an email, you may need to follow this link to see the video on Facebook.
The painting is from Dinotopia: Journey to Chandara (signed from my web store) or from Dinotopia: Journey to Chandara from Amazon
More about the steps in a picture like this in my book Imaginative Realism: How to Paint What Doesn't Exist (James Gurney Art)

Tonal Study in Pencil

It doesn't take very long to do a preliminary tonal study, but the time spent pays big dividends. Here's a small pencil sketch that I did in preparation for a painting in Dinotopia: Journey to Chandara

Tonal Study in Pencil

For example, the tonal study helped me plan the dark area behind the light feathered dinosaur in the lower right, and it helped me work out the chiaroscuro of the bearded farmer.

Tonal Study in Pencil

Once I get into the details of the painting, I'm making decisions at a more micro level. Without that tonal study, it's hard to see the big picture. 

The original pencil tonal study appears in The Art of James Gurney exhibit at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia through November 16.
More about various kinds of preliminary drawings in my book Imaginative Realism: How to Paint What Doesn't Exist

Strategies for Evoking Moonlight

"Khasra by Moonlight" is one of the original paintings in the exhibition "The Art of James Gurney"  in Philadelphia. 
Strategies for Evoking Moonlight
Khasra by Moonlight by James Gurney, 12 x 18 inches, oil on board
To evoke the feeling of moonlight, I used the following six strategies, which I based on my own personal memories of observing moonlight, and my study of other artists whose nocturnes I really admire (especially Frederic Remington, Atkinson GrimshawJohn Stobart, and Frank Tenney Johnson):

1. Set up an overall temperature contrast between the orange torchlight and the cool blue-green moonlight.
2. Keep the chroma in the moonlight low--not too intense of a blue-green. Hint of blue in far distance.
3. Put a slight warm halo around the moon and edge-light the adjacent clouds.
4. Keep the key of the painting relatively high.
5. Suppress all detail in the shadows and put some texture and variety in the lights.
6. Introduce a gradual stepping back of value, lightening as it goes back to the far minaret.

Here's the quick (45 minute) maquette that I built for lighting reference. It didn't need to be beautiful at all, just any old blobs of modeling clay were all I needed.

I quickly discovered that I had to move the actual lighting position quite far to the left, much farther to the left than the position of the moon in the painting.

After taking a digital photo of the maquette, in Photoshop I shifted the key toward blue-green, and I desaturated it slightly. The photo shows a lot of reflected light in the shadows, which I largely ignored. I would have played up that reflected light had I wanted to evoke daylight effects, where I might want to amplify the relatively weak reflected light.
"The Art of James Gurney" at the Richard Hess Museum at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia will be on view through November 16, and I will do a public presentation on October 29.
"Khasra by Moonlight" was first published in Dinotopia: Journey to Chandara
There's a discussion of architectural maquettes in my print book Imaginative Realism: How to Paint What Doesn't Exist and an exploration of moonlight in Color and Light: A Guide for the Realist Painter

Eye tracking the stairway illusion

When I painted this Dinotopia image I wanted to do my own spin on the famous "infinite stairway" optical illusion invented by Lionel Penrose and M.C. Escher.

If you walk around the stairs clockwise, you proceed infinitely downstairs, and if you walk counterclockwise, you go upstairs forever without gaining in altitude.

Eye tracking the stairway illusion
"Scholar's Stairway," Oil on board, 12 x18 inches.
The way I painted it, the illusion is fairly subtle, and I wondered if other people even noticed the illusion, and if so, whether their eyes moved systematically around the stairs.

To find out, I asked vision scientist Greg Edwards, president of Eyetools, Inc., to run some eye tracking tests using this image as the subject.

Dr. Edwards had fifteen subjects look at my pictures on a computer screen for fifteen seconds each while a sensor tracked their eye movements in real time. Below is the eye track of one subject's experience. The colored line shows the pathway of the eyes, beginning randomly at the green circle. The numbers in the black squares show where they eye traveled at each second of the fifteen second session. 

One can’t know for sure without a follow-up interview, but evidently this particular observer didn’t notice the optical illusion.

Eye tracking the stairway illusion

The second image shows the "heatmap," which aggregates data from all fifteen observers. The red and orange blobs are the areas of the image received nearly 100% of people's attention. The rider on the brachiosaur took attention away from the central illusion. The dark blue and black areas received almost no attention. 

What can we conclude from the heatmap image? Viewers definitely looked at the figures, wherever I placed them. Beyond that, we can't say much because we didn't design a very thorough experiment. I would love to work with a larger sample size and to gather followup interview data, and ideally collect simultaneous fMRI data set to see if we could correlate cognitive behavior with eye movement. That way we could understand better what happens when people "get" the illusion. If there's any vision scientist who has the equipment and wants to try an experiment like this, please contact me.

This original painting is in the "Art of James Gurney" exhibition at UARTS museum in Philadelphia through November 16.
Previous posts about my stairway painting:
Credit to Mr. Penrose
Using a Perspective Grid

Market Square and Maquette

Market Square and Maquette

"Market Square" and the archway maquette I built for lighting reference are both now on view at "The Art of James Gurney" exhibit at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia through November 16.
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More on maquettes in my book Imaginative Realism: How to Paint What Doesn't Exist

Races in Skybax CanyonKentrosaurus BakeryBuilding Dinotopia in LegoTips for Taping OffNew expanded edition of Dinotopia: Journey to ChandaraDinotopia painting, step-by-stepTonal Study in PencilStrategies for Evoking MoonlightEye tracking the stairway illusionMarket Square and Maquette

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