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.
Bill Wiist asks: I am planning to build posable human maquettes. Have you done a blog on articulation, best materials to use, etc.
Bill, I haven't done a blog post about articulated joints yet. The simplest solution is to build your person or creature over an existing action figure by grinding away material and then adding what you want to add with Magic Sculpt.
Part 3: Maquettes and Manikins "Meissonier was so scrupulous in his drawing that he sometimes modeled his horses and sometimes his figures in wax from which to make his drawings.
"In a subject in which there are numerous figures, animals, or objects of similar size, the element of correct perspective is of great importance, and the grouping together of maquettes, or small models in wax or clay, makes it possible to avoid those errors which creep into the work of some of the greatest artists.
Lord Frederic Leighton in his studio
"Sir Frederic Leighton frequently made use of the plan, and it is said that Detaille, in composing his battle scenes, arranges whole companies of pewter soldiers on a table on which the inequalities of the surface of the ground have been represented in various ways.
"Maquettes and manikins are of great service in composing decorative subjects when it is desired to show figures in unusual positions requiring violent foreshortening, as in flying, or in a perspective system such as is sometimes used in ceiling decoration, with a vanishing point in the air.
Aimé Morot with the skin of a lion
Animals in Motion "When animals are introduced into a picture many studies of them are necessary because of the great difficulty in securing a suitable pose or action, owing to their almost constant movement.
"In making studies of animal motion, many painters resort to the use of instantaneous photographs with the result that they frequently show movement too rapid to be observed by the human eye. In their efforts to avoid such solecism, artists have resorted to various devices to study the motions of the animals they paint.
"Aimé Morot, who has painted some of the most spirited cavalry charges ever reproduced on canvas, was attached to the General Staff of the French army, and had all the horses and men he desired at his disposition. His favorite mode of study was to have horses ridden past him, and at a certain point he would give one quick glance at his models, close his eyes, and open them only when he had diverted his gaze to the white surface of the paper held in his lap on which he quickly jotted down the impression received. (See previous post: Morot's motion device)
Horse study by Jean-Louis Ernest Meissonier
"Meissonier had a track built, along which he had himself propelled as horses were ridden along a parallel course. Another excellent way for an artist to gain an appreciation of a horse's movement is to see and feel it at the same time by riding the animal along a wall in sunlight and observing its shadow."
Editor's note: The author is muralist and critic Edgar Spier Cameron (1862-1944) from Chicago. He studied at the Art Students League in New York and the Académie des Beaux-Arts in Paris. His teachers were Dewing, Inness, Cabanel, Lefebvre, Boulanger, Laurens, and Benjamin-Constant.
Step 1: Research. I study the scientist's papers, look at photos of the fossils, and compare animals in our world that might serve as analogues.
Step 2: Thumbnails. I sketch these preliminarieswith watercolor, gouache, colored pencil and fountain pen. I do these from imagination, pretending I'm watching the animals go through a series of actions. What is the moment to capture?
On some level I'm also aware of 2D design issues, but I'm really trying to project myself into the moment. I try to think of my sketch as a window rather than a piece of paper.
Sometimes the first sketch is the best. Sometimes a discovery happens later. You will never know until you try a lot of variations. I don't get too attached to any of them.
Step 3. Once the art director and I agree on the best sketch, I try to recreate in physical form the conditions of the sketch, to see if it works out spatially and dimensionally.
This stage is where all the unexpected surprises arrive to add conviction to the idea—for example the dappled light on the tree and the cast shadow on the visible foot.
Step 4. Then it's on to the finish in oil. Check out the video below if you haven't seen it already.
Step 5. Make a Documentary Video. It's the age of social media, so there's more work to do. Creating a video is the final part of the job. Of course it's not officially commissioned. There's no budget for making a behind-the-scenes video. An outside crew could never get the personal angle that the artist himself or herself can get.
It appears in Ranger Rick, a magazine dominated by wildlife photography. So I blur the background to suggest depth of field. I spotlight the action with an area of soft dappled light cast from the tree behind us.
The following 1-minute video gives a glimpse of the process.
I make the paper-over-wire maquette by photocopying a flat plan drawing of the animal two times onto card stock. Then I make a glue sandwich with aluminum armature wire in the place of the bones. Then I bulk up the maquette with epoxy putty.
Here's an 8 minute video on YouTube of all three dinosaur paintings for the March issue of Ranger Rick Magazine.
It's easy to explore variations in lighting, too. By moving the light from one side to the other, I can completely change the value organization and the way the elements read. I can also discover cast shadows that I never would have imagined.
I start by trying to match my sketch, and then I look for ways to improve on it, as in the case of this illustration of a Teratophoneus attacking a fallen Gryposaurus for Scientific American Magazine.
I do the first two sketches out of my imagination, then do the third one after looking at the maquettes. The shadow side dark predator frames the light head of the prey.
I can also fine tune the lighting on a given element.
It's important to be open to any possibility that makes for a better picture. And in the case of a physical maquette, those possibilities often arrive completely unexpectedly.