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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.

gurneyjourney.blogspot.com

Ludgate’s strutter models

Ludgate’s strutter models
Dinotopia enthusiast Glenn Ludgate of Australia has been working for a while now on a whole fleet of Dinotopian strutters.

These maquettes are all scratch built, and are based on the biologically based vehicles that appear in Dinotopia: The World Beneath.

Go Glenn!

Many of my own original reference maquettes will be exhibited at the Lyman Allyn Art Museum show, which opens September 22.

Jordu Schell's Monster Sculptures

Jordu Schell wants to scare the daylights out of you.
Jordu Schell's Monster Sculptures
In Allentown, Pennsylvania last weekend, Schell gave a lecture about designing monsters for Hollywood movies. I'm an admirer of his work, so I sat up front and sketched him as he spoke about the things that scared him as a kid.

Jordu Schell's Monster SculpturesHe started out by showing examples of weird animals in nature, then gave an overview of creature design in movies, and spotlighted some of his inspiration from the field of illustration, ending with examples of his own work.

Schell has done concept work for “Avatar”, “The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian”, “300”, “Hellboy”, “Aliens vs. Predator – Requiem” and many other films since he began in the field in 1987. He also makes props, masks, model kits, and effects — and he offers classes.

Jordu Schell website gallery
Video of a sculpture demo
Large gallery at Monster Brains


Sert's Maquette Tableaus

Josep Maria Sert (1874-1945) was a Catalan muralist whose epic works grace the walls of the League of Nations in Geneva and the Waldorf Astoria and Rockefeller Center in New York.

Sert's Maquette Tableaus
Many of his compositions teem with artistic groupings of larger-than-life figures.

Sert's Maquette Tableaus
To gather information, he posed human models, but he also constructed elaborate tableaus of small mannikins or maquettes. These little groupings gave him scope to try things that might be impossible with real humans.

Sert's Maquette Tableaus
He used rods to hold them in position. He dressed some in little costumes to figure out the clothes.

Sert's Maquette Tableaus
Mannikins only give a rough approximation of a real figure, but they're often a helpful starting point. Sert started drawing and refining right over the photographs. The grid helps him transfer the pose accurately to any scale.

Sert's Maquette Tableaus
For scenes of storms at sea, he sculpted waves from clay, and placed model boats into them.

Josep Maria Sert  (He also goes by the Spanish name José María Sert y Badía)
Thanks to Jim Vadeboncoeur for telling me about this guy!

Book: José Maria Sert : La rencontre de l'extravagance et de la démesure
Related GJ posts:
Lay Figures
Scaling up with a grid

Langweil's model of Prague



(Video link) Antonín Langweil began as a painter of miniature portraits. Then, starting in 1826, he began his big project: a detailed model of the city of Prague. 

He measured each building and then drew the elevations on stiff paper. 

Then the paper could be folded and attached together. This is a good way to make reference maquettes, too.

Langweil's Prague is scaled at 1:480, and includes not only an accurate portrait of each building, but also tiny details such as signs and sundials.

The model is a valuable document for historians of the city because it shows how things looked before 20th century modernization efforts.
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Menzel's Maquette

Here's a painting by Adolph von Menzel called “The Disturbance,” which shows the response of two finely dressed women to the arrival of an unexpected visitor. 

Menzel's Maquette

According to a primary account, "To study the candle lighting accurately he had constructed a tiny parlour with a small piano and two little lights and as well a tiny dressed puppet. He already begun the painting in 1843. On the first sketch a young lady is walking up and down in the room. He later changed his idea into an unexpected visit in the background."

Thanks Christian.

Really Rough Maquettes

How quick and rough can a maquette be and still provide useful lighting information?

Really Rough Maquettes
The Oviraptor maquette on the left is sketched in plasticine modeling clay, with a marble stuck in for the eye. It took me less than an hour to sculpt. I set it up with a strong rim light and a weaker frontal light source.

You can see those two sources reflected in the eyeball, both in the maquette and the final painting.

I was looking for how the two sources would interact with the form. I didn't choose to follow the reference exactly -- I didn't bring the edge light as far into the form.

A maquette like this is not a keeper. The clay goes back into the primordial mud for next time.
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More on maquettes in Imaginative Realism. (Amazon) (signed from my store)
The painting is from Dinotopia: Journey to Chandara (Amazon) or (signed from my store)

Artists' Lay Figures, Part 3

Happy New Year everyone! Continuing the series on lay figures...

Painters before the era of photography often traveled with miniature lay figures that they carried around in boxes, along with finely made miniature costumes. 

Artists' Lay Figures, Part 3
Portrait painters could arrive at a client's palace and paint the head of their subject from observation, quickly sketching their actual costume. The miniature lay figure came in handy to help them finish the portrait at leisure.

Artists' Lay Figures, Part 3
Here’s a portable lay figure set from 1769 (Collection LACMA). The figure is only 11 and a half inches tall, made of wood with metal screws.

Artists' Lay Figures, Part 3
The set contains an assortment of tiny costumes, made from very delicate fabrics. Thin fabrics were required to get the folds and wrinkles in the proper scale. 
Sculptors and ceiling painters used miniature lay figures for angels and saints. These jointed dolls could be draped, and the fabric could be wetted to make it follow the form. Or it could be soaked in plaster to make it take spiraling folds that hardened into permanent form.
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Previously: 

Read the full GurneyJourney series on lay figures:
Part 1
Part 2
Part 3 
Part 4

Part 5. The Origins of Dinotopia: Treetown

Part 5. The Origins of Dinotopia: Treetown
Something I never got to do when I was a kid was to build a proper treehouse.

There were big trees in front of our house, and lots of scrap lumber in the garage. But my dad didn’t want me hammering nails into the living trees.

I think he was also afraid I’d drop stuff on people’s heads when they walked by on the sidewalk underneath. He was probably right. But I was determined to have my treehouse.

I tried propping loose boards in the branches of our tree and disguising them with bunches of leaves. The lack of nails made my tree platforms a bit dangerous.

Once a board fetched loose underfoot and half of my treehouse collapsed and fell fifteen feet down. I almost went down with it.

Part 5. The Origins of Dinotopia: Treetown
Even as an adult, I still wanted my ideal treehouse, so I had to build one in Dinotopia. I didn’t stop at just one treehouse. I made a whole town in a forest, with sleeping baskets and suspended bridges between the trees.

 Part 5. The Origins of Dinotopia: Treetown
What would it feel like to live up there? I visited my friend Henry Wheeler, a Quaker farmer, who let me study the giant oak he had out in his back field. I climbed the tree and sketched the views from the upper branches.

Part 5. The Origins of Dinotopia: Treetown
I broke off small branches and and brought them into the studio to use as the basis for a reference maquette. I beefed up the trunk with modeling clay to make it thicker. Now I knew what it felt like to be in every part of Treetown.

I knew what the wind sounded like in the branches, how the whole structure groaned and moved in storms, and what the dry leaves smelled like in the autumn.
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This series of essays is adapted from the illustrated afterword of the new Calla Edition 20th anniversary edition of Dinotopia: A Land Apart from Time  Signed copies at this link--There's still time to get them there before Christmas.
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Calla Editions
"Origins of Dinotopia" series on GurneyJourney:
Part 1: Childhood Dreams
Part 2: College Obsessions 
Part 3: Lost Empires
Part 4:  Dinosaurs
Part 5: Treetown
Part 6: The Illustrated Book
Part 7: Utopias 
Part 8: Building a World 
Part 9: Words and Pictures 
Part 10: Canyon Worlds 
Part 11: Putting it Together
Part 12: Book Launch

Blum’s Mendelssohn Music Hall Murals

Cincinnati-born Robert Frederick Blum (1857-1903) is perhaps best known for his paintings of Venice and Japan, but in his day he was also renowned as a muralist.

Blum’s Mendelssohn Music Hall Murals
His most ambitious mural undertaking was the decoration of the Mendelssohn Music Hall, home of the Mendelssohn Glee Club, which was once located at 113-119 West 40th Street in New York.

Blum’s Mendelssohn Music Hall Murals
The first was called “Moods of Music,” started in 1893, and followed soon after by “Feast of Bacchus,” from 1895. The Bacchus subject is shown in two repros above: Note Blum in the top black and white image, photographed working on the mural at center.

Each frieze was 50 feet long and 12 feet high. The twin panels flanked the proscenium arch of the concert hall.

Blum executed the murals on canvas in a studio that was too small to unroll the composition to its full extent. He opened it one third at a time, but wasn’t able to see it all together until it was installed.

Blum’s Mendelssohn Music Hall MuralsHe developed the composition for “Feast of Bacchus” over a period of three months by sculpting groups of small figures in clay and setting them on a ledge, rearranging them as a tableau until he was satisfied with the relationships of the figures. According to an observer at the time, by using this method, “he could study each figure in the round instead of in the flat, could block out the perspective, could tell which knot of figures to make prominent and which subordinate, and, in brief, handle a plastic theme in a plastic manner.”
Blum’s Mendelssohn Music Hall Murals

After sculpting the maquettes, he sketched the design in color, posed models for each of the figures, and made individual studies of the costumes and decorative details.
Blum’s Mendelssohn Music Hall Murals
Blum’s Mendelssohn Music Hall MuralsWithin four years of its completion, the Mendelssohn Glee Club fell into financial difficulty. The founders lost control and the building was sold in 1911. The new owners hoped to convert it to a movie theater, but the enterprise failed and it was torn down in 1912 to make room for a modern building.

Since the murals were painted on canvas and attached with paste, it was possible to successfully remove them before the building was torn down. The canvases went to the Brooklyn Museum, which displayed them in 1965. They’re preserved in the BMA collection, but not currently on view.
Blum’s Mendelssohn Music Hall Murals
Blum also painted murals for the New Amsterdam Theater, which were later destroyed.
Sources: “The Making of a Mural Decoration: Mr. Robert Blum’s Paintings for the Mendelssohn Glee Club,” by Royal Cortissoz, The Century Magazine, November 1899, Pages 58-63

Wikipedia on Blum
History of the Hall
History of the Glee Club
Brooklyn Museum Website: “Feast of Bacchus” (mistitled “Vintage Festival” in the BMA collection)

Robert Blum by Martin Birnbaum (Free Google book)
Ludgate’s strutter models  Jordu Schell's Monster SculpturesSert's Maquette TableausLangweil's model of PragueMenzel's MaquetteReally Rough MaquettesArtists' Lay Figures, Part 3Part 5. The Origins of Dinotopia: TreetownBlum’s Mendelssohn Music Hall Murals

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