Gurney Journey | category: Models Posing


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.

Cardboard Cutout for Reference

Cardboard Cutout for Reference
James Warhola posing for an Etruscan musician
Here's a tip when you need a quick prop for your model to interact with, but you don't have time to build an elaborate replica. Just draw the shape of it on the surface of a piece of cardboard and cut out what you need. At least that gives the model something three dimensional to hold, and you don't have to make up the whole thing.

It works for a lot of things—instruments, guns, shields, furniture, windows. It only takes a couple of minutes to build, and it's recyclable when you're done.

The full illustration appears in the June, 1988 issue of National Geographic, in the story "The Eternal Etruscans" or on the History and Science section of my website.
It also appears in my book Imaginative Realism: How to Paint What Doesn't Exist

Painting a Potter

At our figure sketch group we want to paint a person doing a real action, rather than holding an artificial pose.

Painting a Potter
Sarah the Potter, oil on canvas, 9x12 inches, 5 hours
So we ask Sarah to bring her pottery supplies and to do her normal work.

Painting a Potter

We agree on a base pose that she can return to from time to time. We talk to her during the pose, so she's not holding totally still.

Painting a Potter1. I draw with the brush on gesso-primed canvas mounted on a Masonite panel. I begin the quick block-in with casein. Casein is a good underpainting medium.  

Right away I'm looking for the big shapes of tone, in this case her light face and figure against the simple dark background.

2. I begin to overpaint with oil on the face, hair, and background. Eventually, about 95 percent of the surface will be covered with oil paint. The oil paint achieves deeper values than the casein because of its glossiness.

I have three cups: Gamsol for thinner, Liquin, and a slow-drying medium (equal parts stand oil, damar varnish, and turpentine). 

3. I simplify the tones in the arm and shoulder and torso, painting them with very little value variation and using color temperature to turn the form instead. 

Consequently, the front plane of her shoulder has a slightly cooler cast. 

The key light is a warm incandescent. I introduce the window into the composition to motivate the cool edge (or "rim") light.

Her hair melts into the simple tones of the background. On the left, I paint the window mullions and other background details out of focus. 

In contrast to those empty shapes, I revel in the sharp accents and clutter of the worktable.

Painting a Potter

Studio host Garin Baker paints next to me. He'll be leading a painting workshop with Max Ginsburg and Christopher Pugliese this October in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania. Here's the link for more info.

Painting a Potter

Fun times and great camaraderie! Top row: Amber and John; Sarah, Kev FerraraGarin Baker and Jeanette, Not shown, Janet, John Varriano, and Mary Mugele Sealfon.

Cornwell's Gangsters

Cornwell's Gangsters
Dean Cornwell, Saturday Evening Post, 1947, "Night Boat from Havana" 21x58 in. 
At their upcoming May 2 sale of American Art, Heritage Auctions is offering an illustration by Dean Cornwell (1892-1960). 

Cornwell's Gangsters

A car's headlights shine on a group of captured Cuban gangsters at the waterfront. Cornwell "saved $50 in models' fees" by having a group of his illustrator friends—some of the top talent in the business—pose for him as the smugglers.

Cornwell's Gangsters

The models include: Frank Reilly, Arthur William Brown, Gilbert Bundy, Harry Beckhoff, and John Gannam. Cornwell took a photo as a convenience, though in his earlier days he would have worked from life. Cornwell said, "Life models are soft these days and don't like to hold a pose long." Plus, they had deadlines.
Quotes and photo from the book Illustrating for the Saturday Evening Post

Book Review: The Drawing Club

Every Thursday night in Los Angeles, a group of artists gets together to draw from the model, but this is no ordinary sketch group.
Book Review: The Drawing Club
Characters by Mike Swofford from The Drawing Club
Organized by Art Center teacher Bob Kato, attendees of the Drawing Club work from costumed models who are set up with props and set pieces to suggest a specific character. Themes include such classic types as "The Detective," "French Maid," "The Samurai," or "The Rock Star."

The Thursday night sessions are mostly short poses ranging from 5 minutes to a half hour, and they have long poses on Sundays.

Book Review: The Drawing Club
For example, here's Steve Jacobsen modeling as The Chef.

Book Review: The Drawing Club
"The Chef" by Brett Bean from The Drawing Club
And here's one of the drawings by visual development artist and character designer Brett Bean.

The Drawing Club is not a class; it's more of an open workshop. Anyone who pays the $20.00 entry fee can attend, and the regulars include a lot of master animators and character designers from Walt Disney Feature Animation or DreamWorks Animation who are looking to brush up on their drawing skills. There are also plenty of students, and a spirit of experimentation.

Book Review: The Drawing Club
Bob Kato recently released a book of some of the work that has come out of the Drawing Club. The 9x9 inch softcover edition is 144 pages long, and is lavishly illustrated with examples from 66 different artists.

The text by Mr. Kato is full of encouraging tips for going beyond what you're actually observing from the live model. He suggests a variety of media: pencil, markers, brush-and-ink, watercolor, and digital.

Mr. Kato explains how each artist approaches the challenge differently depending on the kind of work they do.
"Story artists like models to do quick, daring poses because they're looking for gestural movement as it relates to storytelling. Their sense of design is heavily invested in the communication of the moment, rather than what media looks best....The character artists, on the other hand, are always looking at the model like a raw ingredient that will be turned into their own version of the character. When the model shows up in costume and starts posing, they look at the shapes made by the costume and character and get to work make the character funnier, scarier, happier, or sadder. They take the pieces apart—a gangster's hat, tie, overcoat, drooping cigarette, and gun—and create their own version."

Book: The Drawing Club: Master the Art of Drawing Characters from Life
Website: The Drawing Club

Models for American Gothic

The models for Grant Wood's "American Gothic" were the artist's sister Nan and his dentist, Dr. Byron McKeeby. 

As the painting became more and more famous, his sister was embarrassed to be seen as the wife of someone twice her age, so she began telling people the painting portrayed a man and his daughter, a reading that Grant Wood confirmed. 

The painting, which resides in the Art Institute of Chicago, has invited many parodies and commentaries, and has become something of a symbol of American life. In this video art historians Steven Zucker and Beth Harris explore the biography of the painter and the ambiguities of the image.

Kids Riding Dinosaurs

In 1996, Storyworks magazine sponsored a national poster contest inviting school kids to portray an answer to the question "If the residents of Dinotopia came to your hometown, how would you welcome them?"

I selected the six winning posters out of hundreds that were submitted. The grand prize winners, it turned out, came from all across the USA.

Kids Riding Dinosaurs

The prize for each of the six winners was not only a signed book, but a chance to pose for a new Dinotopia painting. My original idea was to show the six kids riding around in a dinosaur version of a merry-go-round or carousel, maybe flying through the air with a blue sky background. That's my concept sketch above.

Kids Riding Dinosaurs

From the beginning, I knew that the logistics of transporting each of the winners and their parents to my studio would be impossible, so I would have to take the risk of working from reference that they provided.

I asked them to find a parent or helper to set them up with a "Dinotopian" costume and to take a few dozen photos, facing to the right, and not looking at the camera. The photos were even better than I expected, and the costumes and expressions were really fun to work from.

Kids Riding Dinosaurs
It dawned on me, though, that it made more sense to show them on real dinosaurs instead of on a carousel. So I switched the concept when I did the final painting, a large oil panorama.

• Read about the experience of Kathryn Noel of Utah, who appears on the left
• Some of the reference photos, as well as the final painting will be part of the Lyman Allyn Art Museum exhibition "Dinotopia: Art, Science, and Imagination" on September 22.
• More about the exhibition on the blogs Lines and Colors and Underpaintings
• The final painting appears in Dinotopia: Journey to Chandara
• The art also appeared as an accordion-fold greeting card, but I'll show that in a future post.

Posing Animals

The best way to learn to draw and paint animals is observe them from life. But since they generally don’t pose, you’ve got to catch them sleeping, or hope they feel like standing still for a while.

Posing Animals
Some of the great 19th century teachers organized schools that included painting animals, and they would often hire a farmhand to hold the animals steady. Heinrich von Zügel was photographed here with his students in Germany. 

According to his account, they spent their time “drawing and painting in the daytime and discussing and drinking until midnight.” His students made precise studies indoors in the winter. In the summer they went outdoors and captured fleeting impressions of Nature. But thanks to those farmhands, the cows held fairly still.
Posing Animals
Paul Meyerheim (1842-1915), another great German animal painter, had his master students set up in a courtyard of the Berlin academy, where they worked on oil studies of a mounted horseman.

Posing Animals

When I taught my creature design class a couple of years ago, I brought my neighbor's goat Billy, who stood very patiently for my students as they drew studies of him. Billy seemed to enjoy posing. The farmer, Lenny, knew he would. "He'll love the attention," he said, as I lifted Billy into our van.
 Thanks my friends and blog readers Christoph Heuer and Christian Schierkamp, who are doing some terrific research on 19th century German realists.
Day 3: Goat Day
Heinrich von Zugel
Paul Meyerheim

Artists' Lay Figures, Part 4 and Final

Jean-Léon Gérôme painted “The Grey Eminence” in 1873. It shows a powerful Capuchin friar descending a flight of stairs. He has his nose in a book while worldly nobles ascend the stairs, bowing in homage.

Artists' Lay Figures, Part 4 and Final
R. Ives Gammell wrote of this work: “No painter today would know the procedures necessary to make such a picture even if he possessed the technical skill to carry them through.” (Twilight of Painting)

Mr. Gammell is right. A great deal of the knowledge needed to create such a work has been forgotten. The perspective alone is a daunting prospect. And consider the value-control needed to set up for those slashes of window light. Securing all those models and all those costumes would have been a formidable undertaking, a lot like the job of producing and directing a scene in a modern live action movie.

Artists' Lay Figures, Part 4 and Final
Once Gérôme had the models and reference, how did he use them? Although he was known to use photography as reference, I don’t think he would have used photos for a richly colored indoor subject such as "The Grey Eminence." He generally preferred to work from observation, as did his contemporaries, such as Ernest Meissonier. 

Artists' Lay Figures, Part 4 and Final
But it’s impossible to get models to hold such long bowing poses and keep the drapery consistent. How did he do it?

I don’t know for sure, but I suspect Gérôme would have used the lay figure here. 

In his Manual of Oil Painting of 1847, based on French sources, John Timbs describes how lay figures were properly used. The artist, Timbs declares, should first pose a living human model in costume.

From that living pose, a rapid sketch in pencil or crayon should be made, capturing the most desirable folds. These ideal folds are almost always the result of accident, and captured in the fleeting moment. 

Later, the costume on the lay figure can be arranged to match the model. The artist strives to reproduce the original arrangement, so that it can be copied at leisure.  If the artist uses a miniature lay figure, Timbs says, a small wooden stick or knitting needle helps to arrange the tiny folds. 

But the lay-figure should be brought in only after the artist has made the guiding sketch from the human model. Using the lay figure as the initial reference was regarded as a bad practice. (Timbs, page 46.)

Philip Alexius de László, a student of John Sargent, concurs. "Once the head and hands are finished, I could, if I wished, complete the draperies and accessories with the help of a model or lay figure, without losing the qualities of the picture, because I have already painted all the main facts of the draperies on the sitter."

Artists' Lay Figures, Part 4 and Final
When William Bouguereau had himself photographed working in his studio, he had live models posing in the background. Whether he really used only live models, especially children, for the many hours it took to do the painting, or whether he worked from a lay figure, or from photography, is an open question.

Daniel Parkhurst, a student of Bouguereau, said this about the use of lay figures: 

The use of a lay figure will help you somewhat if you can get one which is true in proportion. It will not help you much in the finer modeling, but it will at least insure your structural lines being in the right place, and that is as much as you can hope for without the special study of the nude."

 "A lay figure is expensive," he continues, "costing about three hundred dollars in this country. You will hardly be apt to aspire to a full-sized one, as only professional painters can afford to pay so much for accessories. But small wooden ones are within the means of most people, and will be found useful for the purpose I have mentioned, and one should be obtained.”

Artists' Lay Figures, Part 4 and Final
"My Favorite Model" by John F. Weir (Thanks, Greg)
Once photography became well established as a reference tool in the late 19th century, the use of costumed lay figures became less crucial. Artists could now paint from photos of the costumed model. Lay figures gradually fell out of usage, and most practitioners didn’t talk about them anyway, for they were often disparaged. Benjamin Constant’s portrait of Queen Victoria was accused of looking like a "lay figure...arranged in shapeless, incoherent draperies." (The Nation, Vol. 72)

So as they became less useful, lay figures were discarded, and today the old ones are rather hard to find, either as working props or antique studio bric-a-brac. But I think there should be one in every art school, so that students can study costume patiently from observation.

Well, that’s it for this four part series. If you find more images or links, please pass them along in the comments.
Read the full GurneyJourney series on lay figures:
Part 1
Part 2
Part 3 
Cardboard Cutout for ReferencePainting a PotterCornwell's GangstersBook Review: The Drawing ClubModels for American GothicKids Riding Dinosaurs From the reference filesPosing for Will Denison of DinotopiaPosing AnimalsArtists' Lay Figures, Part 4 and Final

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