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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

Stanley The Robot’s Debut

A few months ago I put out an invitation for a sculptor to bring to life a robot named Stanley.


I designed Stanley nearly 30 years ago, but thought that maybe this was his moment to be born in 3D.
 The occasion was a robot event called "Robot Nation" coming up this Saturday at the Norman Rockwell Museum.

 
Sculptor Lawrence Elig from Rhode Island rose to the challenge. Here is the rough sculpt leading to the final sculpt.

 
And here’s the sculptor at work. Stanley is a pot-bellied steamerbot constructed from spare junk thrown behind an intergalactic restaurant. He has worked odd jobs at spaceport fast food joints. He’s brave and loyal, but he has a tendency to drink all the frier oil and sing off-key.


Larry took the rough sculpt apart so that he could do a layup in the moldboard.


Then he poured in the rubber mold material.


Here’s what the cold cast bronze process looks like for Stanley’s arms.


Stanley rises from the workbench. You can practically hear his clanking gears.


And the finished sculpture. Awesome job, Larry! Stanley has just been installed at the Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, ready for his debut at the reception this Saturday at 4:00.


He’s just one installation in a whole robot sculpture exhibition, part of the fun that’s happening with the Blue Sky animation (the folks who made the film Robots) exhibition.

Larry Elig and I will also be there on Saturday, so please come to meet Stanley, me, or Larry.

LINKS
Previously: Stanley the Robot
Lawrence Elig Website
Lawrence Elig Blog
Ice Age to the Digital Age: The 3D Art of Blue Sky Animation Studios Video
Official Museum website exhibition page
"Robot Nation" Family event July 16th

The Stone Figures of Ebulon

Inside the seated stone figures of Ebulon of Dinotopia are many levels of rooms hollowed out from the rock.

The Stone Figures of Ebulon
The sleeping chambers are on the top level, with windows looking out through the eyes of the statue. Below that are workshops and a privy or toilet to the right. The next level contains kitchens and dining areas. The bottom level of this cutaway view reveals a storehouse for barrels of salted fish, and a roosting area for the skybaxes, which leads out to a flight platform on the lap of the seated figure. 

The Stone Figures of Ebulon
Various views of the Ebulon figures in the book Dinotopia: Journey to Chandara are all based on this rough clay maquette. It was about four inches high, and it only took about a half hour to sculpt. I recycled the clay after photographing it.

A physical maquette pays great dividends in the understanding of lighting. Note the warm reflected light in the shadow planes on the right of the figure, compared to the cool tones of the fill light. This information is very hard to invent, and it makes all the difference in convincing the viewer of the reality of an imagined world.

From Dinotopia: Journey to Chandara, published in 2007

Drawn Studies for the Space Jockey

Sometimes I think it’s helpful to use several different reference sources for a given figure. For this science fiction cover called Space Jockey (Color and Light, page 163), I wanted to show a space pilot who seemed to come from the “Right Stuff” era of bold space exploration.

Drawn Studies for the Space Jockey
 Instead of resorting to the camera to take photos of a specific model, I tried to construct the character in my imagination by using a variety of charcoal studies on tone paper. Some are done from my own face in a mirror, lit frontally with a clip-on lamp. I also used a couple of my little plaster head maquettes  as models. The one in the lower left is the simplified plane head  (Imaginative Realism, page 69, based on George Bridgman’s analysis) with a “mouth barrel.”

In the end I only used photo reference indirectly for some of the costume details, but not for the face and hands. This way of working helps steer me to a more structural understanding, away from a purely photographic look.
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Color and Light on Amazon
Imaginative Realism on Amazon
Or get them signed at the Dinotopia Store
Previous Posts: Character Maquettes, 
Tone paper studies, Using (or not using) Photo Reference

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. 
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 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

Cotton-Gesso Maquettes

Artist Dragan Bibin has developed an interesting method to create reference maquettes using gesso-saturated cotton.

Cotton-Gesso Maquettes
He begins with an armature made from aluminum wire and tin foil, wrapped in masking tape.   
This framework is coated with acrylic gesso. Then bits of dry cotton are applied to the wet surface and shaped with a small brush, adding more acrylic gesso until the cotton is saturated enough to hold the desired shape.

Cotton-Gesso Maquettes
All the shaping is done with a small brush. The forms are built by adding layers of patches of the saturated cotton. This method is actually very fast, because you don’t have to wait for the surface to dry to build upon it.
   
The resulting maquette is inexpensive, lightweight, airy, very tough, and durable, since the acrylic polymers are fairly elastic. Once it is fully dry, it can later be sanded and painted with acrylic paints.     

Thanks, Dragan!
Dragan's Blog with more pictures
Dragan's Website

Sea Monster, Part 3

Even though this illustration of a mosasaur had only about a six-day time window from start to finish, I spent the first two days making quick reference maquettes to help visualize the creatures in three dimensions. That investment of time made the final painting go much faster.
Sea Monster, Part 3
On the far left is an aluminum wire armature on a threaded bolt. The bolt is screwed into a pine base and bent to the side. The wire armature, loose as it is, fits within the measurements of the adjacent line drawing. It’s smeared with two-part quick-dry epoxy to hold it together.

To the right is the finished Sculpey maquette, painted with acrylic. The streams of water are represented by strips of flexible packaging foam hot glued to the fins.

Sea Monster, Part 3
I tried photographing the maquette in a variety of natural lighting conditions. Real outdoor light is almost always better than artificial illumination. The maquette is held in position on a C-stand, while I hold a white backdrop behind it. The digital SLR camera is mounted on a tripod, set for a small aperture to get maximum depth of field.

Sea Monster, Part 3
I also made a 2D-3D maquette of the Pteranodons, which made the foreshortening a lot easier to imagine. A little maquette like this, since it has bones made of aluminum wire, can be reused and repositioned many times for future illustrations.

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Sea Monster, Part 2
Sea Monster, Part 1
2D to 3D Maquette on GJ

Drawing Models

J. D. Harding wrote a book way back in 1854 that still has solid-gold advice for art and architecture students today.

He suggested making models of architecture to use as drawing subjects.

They teach you perspective and light and shade in a way that nothing else can. The geometric forms are a good supplement to the organic shapes of figure and cast drawing.

The book shows roof plans for various grand estates. If you’ve got a wood shop, you can cut all the various architectural pieces out of larger pieces of wood. The model pieces also make great blocks for kids to build with. Nowadays you could also use build them out of cardboard or foam core board, or cut them out of a dense foam.

His book, “Drawing Models and Their Uses” is available as a free download from Google Books.
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Drawing Models and Their Uses from Google Books (click the "Download PDF" button at the right side of the page)

Skybax Maquette

In 1990 I constructed a reference maquette for the Quetzalcoatlus or “skybax” in Dinotopia.

If you’re thinking of making a maquette for a dragon or pterosaur, you might try some of these techniques.

Skybax MaquetteI wanted to make this "hero" model to be fully posable so that I could position the wings in up and down flying positions. I also wanted to be able to fold up the wings so that I could imagine it perched on the ground.

Skybax MaquetteIt has a skeleton of aluminum armature wire running from head to tail and out through the wings. Toothpicks serve as wing bones, pipe cleaners as legs, and zigzagging floral wire support the wing. The head is made from a chunk of pine, with Sculpey bulking up the crest and eyes.

The neck is made from flexible squishy foam, allowing it to bend or twist. The prone rider is made from Sculpey, resting on a saddle glued together out of scraps of leather.

The wing membrane gave me the most trouble. My wife donated a pair of her old stockings, which I stretched over the wing bones and coated with a thin layer of latex. I added another layer of latex a few years later, but the wings got too thick and lost their elasticity.


Skybax MaquetteThe whole thing was knocked over several times by the cat. During one crash landing the rider lost an arm, so I replaced it with cardboard.
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Previously on GJ: Cellphone tour spotlighting "Skybax Rider" painting.

Making Gargoyles

There are at least two ways to make a gargoyle: Carve it or sculpt it.

Making GargoylesI carved this one out of poplar wood for the end of the handrail in the stairway to my studio. Poplar splits easily and I messed up on the other side---which is why I put the bad side to the wall.

Making GargoylesBut there’s an easier way if the piece is only decorative. You can sculpt the head out of the air-drying foam called “Model Magic,” and then paint it with acrylic to simulate wood grain. The whole process only takes a couple of hours.

Making GargoylesThat’s how Jeanette and I did the green men that live on the keystones of the arches over the studio windows.
Stanley The Robot’s DebutThe Stone Figures of EbulonDrawn Studies for the Space JockeyDog-a-SaurusAction Figures in ActionCotton-Gesso MaquettesSea Monster, Part 3Drawing ModelsSkybax MaquetteMaking Gargoyles

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