Gurney Journey | category: Journey to Chandara | (page 5 of 14)


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.


The painting on the cover of Dinotopia: Journey to Chandara shows a convoy of dinosaurs and people crossing the desert, passing huge statues from one of Dinotopia’s ancient civilization.

OzymandiasAs I painted the fallen stone face on the right side of the picture, I was thinking of Percy B. Shelley’s 1818 sonnet “Ozymandias,” which describes a traveler’s encounter with a colossal ancient statue in the desert: “Near them, on the sand, half sunk, a shattered visage lies.”

OzymandiasThe inscription on the stone at the lower left echoes Shelley’s theme of the mute arrogance of a vanished civilization. The phrase says “EVERLASTING DOMINION” in Dinotopian footprint alphabet, ancient Greek, and Aramaic (written with Hebrew letters).

The features on the fallen face in the painting are based not on Egyptian forms, but on casts of Michelangelo's David.

The painting is on view in "The Fantastical Art of James Gurney" which opens at the Norton Museum tomorrow.
The Dinotopia online store, where you can order a signed copy of Journey to Chandara.
Dinotopia Wiki on the Footprint Alphabet
Wikipedia on the poem Ozymandias
Previous GJ post on using plaster casts, including the David casts.

Dinotopia at the Norton Museum of Art

The staff of the Norton Museum of Art in West Palm Beach, Florida is putting the final touches on the Dinotopia exhibit, which will open this weekend.

Dinotopia at the Norton Museum of Art“Dinotopia: The Fantastical Art of James Gurney” contains over 50 original oil paintings, along with preliminary sketches, plein air studies, scale maquettes, and dinosaur fossils. This will be the first venue to show the sculpt of the Protoceratops Bix made by Jim Henson’s Creature Shop.

I’ll be attending, this weekend, with a colored pencil drawing workshop on Saturday, June 5 from 1:00-4:00 (there’s still space available), and I'll give a lecture on Sunday at 3:00, with a booksigning afterward. Come by and say hi and get a book or poster signed.

Dinotopia at the Norton Museum of ArtThere will be a whole family day celebration on Sunday June 6 from 1:00 to 5:00 with live animals and activities. And there will be events going on all around town during the whole summer. The exhibition will be up through September 5. Call 561. 832.5196 for more information. Dinotopia Exhibit.
Download the full PDF of press release with schedule.

Portrait Lighting: Broad

When a face is turned slightly to the side, the nearer side appears wider or broader. It’s called the “broad” side, and the farther, foreshortened side is called the “short” side.

Portrait Lighting: Broad
Light striking the broad side is called broad lighting. Mr. Lincoln here is lit “broad three-quarter.”

The portrait below of Arthur Denison and Bix, from Dinotopia: The World Beneath,
uses a low, broad, three-quarter light coming from the right. Note how the cheek on the shadow side has that inverted triangle we saw in the last post, a characteristic feature of three-quarter lighting.

Portrait Lighting: BroadThe forehead and cheekbone planes on the illuminated side are turned with color temperature, rather than with value. The blue color of those planes that angle back suggests the effects of light from a blue sky beyond, even though we can’t see any background in this vignette.

Portrait Lighting: BroadThe dramatic broad lighting brings out character in this mountain man from Dinotopia: Journey to Chandara. The shadows help to define the wrinkles in the brow, and the low sun increases the squint.

Loose vs. Tight Underdrawings

Blog reader and academic painting student Stephen J. asked me the following question:

“I, and some of my classmates, have been dealing with the issue of how much drawing one should do on the surface of a canvas (board, panel, paper etc) before jumping into paint. This is outside of the studies that are done beforehand and assumes that a drawing is not being transferred. Basically we've bumped into the issue of doing relatively tight, refined lay-ins in pencil and then completely losing those delicate drawings once paint is applied. Some of the teachers and students believe in "finding" the drawing with paint rather than doing a tight charcoal/graphite underdrawing. This could be related to the fact that most of our teachers here seem to advocate the thicker paint application of a certain style of Alla Prima, but I'm not sure.”
Dear Stephen:
I practice and recommend both extremes, depending on the picture. When I'm painting outdoors on location or doing a portrait from life, I completely find the subject with the brush (no pencil drawing at all), beginning with spots, big divisions, and measurements.

Loose vs. Tight UnderdrawingsHere’s the loose lay-in demonstrated on a 9x12 inch plein-air study, shown with the finish on the right half and the first statement on the left.

Loose vs. Tight UnderdrawingsWith other pictures, however, it's a different story. In this painting from Dinotopia: Journey to Chandara, I did a careful pencil drawings directly on the final surface, and I sometimes work out the drawing on a separate piece of paper.

With a very complex subject, like a sinking Civil War sailing ship, there's no other way I can imagine approaching it.

Loose vs. Tight UnderdrawingsSargent, the maestro of alla prima, sometimes did very careful pencil drawings before he tried to tackle some of his Venetian studies of architecture. Richard Ormond’s new book on his Venetian work includes a reproduction of a line drawing that he did to work out the perspective of the church of Santa Maria della Salute.

With an imaginary scene with a lot of figures, historical elements, mechanical forms, lettering, or anything of that kind, I recommend following something like Rockwell's method of the separate full size charcoal comprehensive, or "cartoon" as they used to call it. Of course that practice in one form or another goes back to many of the old masters.

The charcoal comprehensive pays dividends because you're not trying to solve basic problems with paint. It’s much easier to do either a line drawing or a full-on tonal study as Lovell tended to do. On top of that, it really helps to do small tonal studies and color studies.

Once you've worked out your picture you can be confident of the painting. If the drawing is "saved" in a separate tracing, you should paint boldly with no fear of covering up lines. You can always find them again if you need to.

It should be said that there are others who got great results with complex multi-figure scenes without always doing the comprehensive preliminary drawing. They bravely “found it” in the paint, and the painting shows the fascinating struggles.

Loose vs. Tight UnderdrawingsThey would include Howard Pyle, Lawrence Alma-Tadema, and John William Waterhouse (above).

I’ve also seen demos by Richard Estes and Frank McCarthy, which show a ‘find-it-in-the-paint’ approach on at least some paintings.

You can figure out these methods by looking at half-finished paintings, in strokes of overpainted elements or pentimenti that have transparentized, or in the edges of the picture normally hidden by frames.

Waterhouse from “I am a Child” website.
More about the charcoal comprehensive and preliminary drawings in my book Imaginative Realism.

Fibonacci Patterns

Nature is full of patterns based on the Fibonacci sequence of numbers. The way you get the Fibonacci sequence is to add the last two numbers in the sequence: 1,2,3,5,8,13,21,34, etc.

Fibonacci numbers turn up in the Archimedes spiral, the chambered nautilus, and the pattern of overlapping spirals in a sunflower or a Queen Anne’s lace.

In Dinotopia: Journey to Chandara, I did a page of small oil studies showing Fibonacci patterns in pine cones, pineapples, and thistles.

If you count the rows of seeds going one way around, you get 5, 8, or 13, etc. And if you count the rows going the other way around, you get another one of those numbers.

The video "Nature by Numbers" is a beautiful demonstration of the principles. Even if you’re not inclined toward numbers, there’s an unmistakable visual logic behind it.

A few inspired math teachers make the time in their curriculum to teach Fibonacci theory, along with fractals, topology, and tessellation, the right-brain branches of math that most teachers unfortunately have to skip over.

And maybe a math expert can explain in the comments why those Fibonacci numbers turn up in nature so universally.

From BoingBoing.
More at Lines and Colors.
Wikipedia on Fibonacci numbers.

Dinotopia in China

Fantasy Art Magazine, the leading professional magazine in China for the imaginative arts, has just published a 10-page portfolio of Dinotopia artwork.

Dinotopia in ChinaThe recent book Journey to Chandara, features some of China's exciting dinosaur discoveries, such as the Microraptor from the Liaoning province, and great discoveries from the Gobi desert, such as Protoceratops and Oviraptor. The interior of of Chandara's Imperial Palace was based on the historic photographs of temple interiors by John Thomson. (1837-1921).

Dinotopia in ChinaDinotopia books have been released in China in three different translated editions. Happy New Year (Year of the Tiger, Feb. 14) to my friends at Fantasy Art Magazine.

Dead Tech: Esterbrook Inkwell

Dip pens aren't dead tech. Lots of people, including me, use them all the time. That's how I did all the lettering in Dinotopia: Journey to Chandara.

Dead Tech: Esterbrook Inkwell
But the Esterbrook 407 Dip-Less inkwell is an endangered species. It came singly or configured in pairs. The black bakelite Art Deco base holds the inverted glass well, which is sealed with a rubber stopper. It was intended to be used with an Esterbrook Dip-less pen, which held more ink than a simple dip pen shown above.

It was made to feed ink to a constant level and to reduce the risk of spillage. You'd find it chained to a desk in the lobby of a bank, hotel, or post office, where a steady supply of ink had to be made available to the public.

Previous dead tech: Zipatone, Waxer.

Eye Tracking and Composition, Part 3

(Note: This is the third and final part of a series of posts adapted from Imaginative Realism, Andrews McMeel, October, 2009). Please follow these links to the earlier posts, Part 1 and Part 2.)

By adding together the eye movement data from a group of test subjects, we can learn where most people look in a given picture.

To create the image below, the eye-tracking technology recorded the scanpath data of sixteen different subjects and compiled the information into composite images, called heatmaps. The red and orange colors show where 80-100% of the subjects halted their gaze. The bluer or darker areas show where hardly anyone looked.

Here’s the heatmap for the painting Marketplace of Ideas, which we discussed in the last two posts.

It turns out that there was very little interest in either of the main vertical columns. Instead, the red splotches reveal a concentration of interest in the figures. There were secondary interest areas in the far buildings and the sign in the upper right.

The interest in people, especially faces, appears to reflect a hardwired instinct to understand our fellow humans.

In the heatmap for Chasing Shadows, which shows a group of children running along a beach with a Brachiosaurus, there’s a strong focal point around the dinosaur's front feet and the nearby running children.

There are secondary points of interest at the dinosaur’s head and the leading child. Note how the action of the walking pose was read without directly looking at the rear leg.

Other spots of interest congregate around the dinosaur’s tail, the base and the top of the tree, and the vanishing point along the beach.

Hardly anyone looked directly at the sky, the upper palm fronds, or the middle section of the palm trunk. But these areas were presumably perceived in the halo of peripheral vision around the center point of vision.

Have a look at this painting, and be aware of where your eyes travel.

The heatmap for the painting Camouflage (click to enlarge) shows that everyone noticed the dinosaur’s face. They also spotted the hidden man and the small pink dinosaur.

According to statistical data connected to timing, these three faces drew almost everyone’s attention within the first five seconds. The dinosaur's face was statistically the first thing most people looked at, followed quickly by the hiding man. Below is one subject's scanpath, with the black numbers counting off seconds.

I was surprised that the two patches of lichen on the tree above the man scored near 100% attention. Evidently viewers noticed these strange shapes in their peripheral vision and checked them to make sure they weren’t important, or somehow a threat to the man. From a narrative standpoint, I suppose they were a bit of a red herring, distracting with no payoff.

The sunken log and the detailed patch of leaves in the lower left drew 60% of the viewers, perhaps because those were likely places for other dangers to hide.

Just because an element has sharp detail or strong tonal contrasts, it doesn’t necessarily attract the eye. The dark branches behind the dinosaur’s head drew almost no attention because they fit into the natural schema of a forest scene. Apparently the viewers developed a search strategy based on the threatening situation of a hungry dinosaur looking for a bite to eat.

These experiments force us to question a few of our cherished notions about composition and picture-gazing.

1. The eye does not flow in smooth curves or circles, nor does it follow contours. It leaps from one point of interest to another. Curving lines or other devices may be "felt" in some way peripherally, but the eye doesn't move along them.

2. Placing an element on a golden section grid line doesn’t automatically attract attention. If an attention-getting element such as a face is placed in the scene, it will gather attention wherever you place it.

3. Two people don’t scan the same picture along the same route. But they do behave according to an overall strategy that alternates between establishing context and studying detail.

4. The viewer is not a passive player continuously controlled by a composition. Each person confronts an image actively, driven by a combination of conscious and unconscious impulses, which are influenced, but not determined, by the design of the picture.

5. The unconscious impulses seem to include the establishment of hierarchies of interest based on normal expectations or schema of a scene. For example, highly contrasting patterns of foliage or branches will not directly draw the gaze unless they are perceived as anomalous in the peripheral vision.

5. As pictorial designers we shouldn’t think in abstract terms alone. Abstract design elements do play a role in influencing where viewers look in a picture, but in pictures that include people or animals or a suggestion of a story, the human and narrative elements are what direct our exploration of a picture.

As Dr. Edwards succinctly puts it, “abstract design gets trumped by human stories.” The job of the artist, then, in composing pictures about people is to use abstract tools to reinforce the viewer’s natural desire to seek out a face and a story.

Related posts on GurneyJourney:
Eyetracking and Composition, part 1
Eyetracking and Composition, part 2
Eyetracking and Composition part 3
Introduction to eyetracking, link.
How perception of faces is coded differently, link.

All the paintings are from Dinotopia: Journey to Chandara.

Many thanks to the team at Eyetools, Inc. for their assistance.
Estonian EditionOzymandiasDinotopia at the Norton Museum of ArtPortrait Lighting: BroadLoose vs. Tight UnderdrawingsFibonacci PatternsDinotopia in ChinaGreek Edition of DinotopiaDead Tech: Esterbrook InkwellEye Tracking and Composition, Part 3

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