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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.

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Shishkin and Photography

Shishkin and Photography
Ivan Shishkin, Woodland. 1889. Oil on canvas. 39 1-2 x 29 in. Date 1889
Although he was a devoted and prolific outdoor painter, Russian landscape painter Ivan Shishkin was also a big fan of photography, according to an article in the Russian archives.

He became closely involved with photos while working in Andrey Karelin's photography studio in 1870, coloring black and white photos for an album that was presented to emperor Alexander II.

Shishkin encouraged his students to work from photos, especially in the depths of winter, for example, when painting outdoors was impractical. Shishkin wrote in one of his letters:
"... Let me give you one major piece of advice, that underlies all of my painting secrets and techniques, and that advice is — photography. It is a mediator between the artist and nature and one of the most strict mentors you'll ever have. And if you understand the intelligent way of using it, you'll learn much faster and improve your weak points. You'll learn how to paint clouds, water, trees — everything. You'll better understand atmospheric effects and linear perspective and so on..."
Shishkin enlarged details with a magnifying glass, and he also used a projector. When he came to teach at the Academy of Fine Arts in 1897, he specifically mentioned the need for a "magic lantern" type projection device to aid in student learning, not only for enlarging photos, but for presenting drawings at a larger scale.

Although photographs were used widely by artists during his time, Shishkin was conscious of not mindlessly copying. He told his students that the way an artist uses a photo will reveal the artist with talent, because "a mediocre artist will slavishly copy all the unnecessary detail from photos, but a man with a flair will take only what he needs."

Shishkin's enthusiasm for modern tools like photography is not surprising during an era of technological innovation, and in an age of positivism, which placed a value on verifiable facts. His friend, portrait painter Ivan Kramskoi also used photography, and he probably used one to guide his portrait of Shishkin below:

Shishkin and Photography
Portrait of Shishkin by Ivan Kramskoi
But Shishkin never regarded photography as a substitute for painting outdoors from life. Kramskoi marveled at his productivity: "He paints two or three studies a day and completely finishes each of them."

Shishkin wrote: "In the case of art - be it art, architecture, such practice is of the greatest importance. It alone allows the artist to appreciate the substance of the raw material which nature presents. Therefore, the study of nature is necessary for any artist, but especially for the landscape."
Shishkin knew as much about individual plant forms as did the professional botanists of his day. He probably would have agreed with the critic Adrian Prakhov, who said, "I love the original character of every tree, every bush, and every blade of grass, and as a loving son who values ​​each wrinkle on the face of his mother."

Shishkin said, "Work every day as if it is your daily duty. There's no need to wait for inspiration! Inspiration is the work itself!"
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Thanks to Samir Rakhmanov for the link and the help with translation.
Previously on GJ: Using Photo Reference
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Visual Backstory: A Checklist for Science Fiction Artists

After yesterday's post about my 1982 concept painting called "Skysweepers," I thought I'd post a checklist for things to consider to give your scene a backstory, a feeling that the world has been lived in. This is a good post to bookmark for future reference.

A painting of a futuristic world should provide evidence of what happened in the period of time leading up to the moment you’re showing. For example, some of the vehicles and buildings might be new, but others might be holdovers from an earlier period in your world’s history. I went around and took some photos and found some samples to suggest the kinds of effects we're talking about.

Here are 25 tips to help give your scene that convincing “lived-in” look.

Visual Backstory: A Checklist for Science Fiction Artists

1. VEHICLE MAINTENANCE
Instead of always showing imaginary vehicles in perfect repair, why not show them in the shop? Most train yards have a side track for discontinued designs or ones in need of repair.

Visual Backstory: A Checklist for Science Fiction Artists

2. FACTORY FINISH
In both digital and painted renderings, surfaces usually come out looking pristine and new, so adding wear and tear takes deliberate effort. Leave some parts of it looking almost perfect, and then add dirt, dust, cracks, chips, creases and bent corners to the parts that get the most handling or exposure to the elements.

Visual Backstory: A Checklist for Science Fiction Artists
Visual Backstory: A Checklist for Science Fiction Artists

3. CORROSION
Most metals except gold corrode when exposed to air or water. Corrosion is a chemical reaction where the metal combines with oxygen. Each kind of metal has a characteristic color. Iron corrodes to a red-orange, copper to a dark brown, bronze to a blue green, and aluminum to a white powder. Thin outer surfaces corrode first, especially if they’re exposed to salt. A colored stain often stains downward following the path of water runoff.

Visual Backstory: A Checklist for Science Fiction Artists

4. DENTS AND SCRATCHES
The dents and scratches in a vehicle tell the story of a series of misfortunes. Traffic impacts are often at bumper height; aircraft often get nicks on the leading edge of the fuselage and wings. Industrial designers usually plan for breakable forms like light covers and windows to be set back from the outermost edge of the form. This Cousteau submersible vehicle has a scratches, dents and paint chips missing from its many voyages.

Visual Backstory: A Checklist for Science Fiction Artists

5. STREET TRAFFIC WEAR
Vehicles also wear down the surfaces they contact in very particular ways. Asphalt surfaces are prone to potholes and lateral cracks, as well as indentations under the wheels from the weight of heavy vehicles, especially at intersections. You can imply the passage of large vehicles by putting scrape marks under bridges or guard bars around delicate forms (such as those guarding the cooking oil barrels behind this fast food restaurant).

Visual Backstory: A Checklist for Science Fiction Artists
Detail of Spaceport Bar by James Gurney from Imaginative Realism
6. FLYING VEHICLE WEAR
Airport tarmacs have skid marks from tires on touchdown. Spacecraft would probably need some sort of launch apparatus, which would endure abuse from the propellants. Large spacecraft in docking bays might use some kind of flexible fenders like those that shield docks from ship impacts.

Visual Backstory: A Checklist for Science Fiction Artists

7. PAINT CHIPS
Paint doesn’t adhere well to sharp edges or corners, so it chips off there first. Nor does it hold on if water vapor gets trapped underneath, so it will often peel at the base of a wall near the ground. Paint will crack with a particular geometry, with the cracks usually meeting at right angles.


Visual Backstory: A Checklist for Science Fiction Artists

8. CRACKS
Rigid materials bend a certain distance before they break. Brittle materials, like masonry or cement, will crack in lines perpendicular to the direction of expansion or bending. Pre-scoring sidewalks reduces cracking. Trees push up on paving surfaces around their root systems. This kind of cracking and heaving is accelerated in subfreezing weather. Window glass tends to crack in radiating lines from the point of impact.

Visual Backstory: A Checklist for Science Fiction Artists

9. VANDALISM AND GRAFFITI
People deface things for a variety of reasons. Pyromaniacs might burn a parked car or an abandoned building. Bored kids might break windows. Many regard graffiti as vandalism, but people often do it in the name of art. A lover might use graffiti as a declaration of love, or a gang member might use it as a proclamation of group identity. In a totalitarian society, protestors often deface the visage of a despotic dictator. Most graffiti has looping or curving shapes because it follows the radius of arm movements.

Visual Backstory: A Checklist for Science Fiction Artists

Visual Backstory: A Checklist for Science Fiction Artists

10. DEBRIS
Small windblown street debris includes such things as paper wrappers, leaves, or cigarette butts. It collects in corners or against curbs wherever there’s no person or machine to actively clean it. Futuristic societies could have robot drones doing the job. Junk debris also collects wherever people leave it: on counters, in stairway landings, or on rooftops. In this scene of a rooftop workshop (above) there are tools and parts on the counter, a dented screen against the wall, and larger machine parts outside.

Visual Backstory: A Checklist for Science Fiction Artists

12. WORN COSTUMES
Old clothing tells the story of the owner’s life. In the case of this asteroid miner, he has evidently worked for a variety of different corporations, including one called “Western,” and has toiled away for a time on Neptune. The American flag on his shoulder is tattered, and his jacket is as creased as his forehead.

Visual Backstory: A Checklist for Science Fiction Artists

12. GRAPHICS
Letterforms can be made from paint, stick-on vinyl, neon, or translucent plastic. You can contrast hand-lettering with machine lettering to suggest a society with an extreme class division. Consider what technology your society will use for changing information, such as announcing that a business is “Open” or “Closed.” You might show the system failing in some way, such as having some of the letters not lighting up.

Visual Backstory: A Checklist for Science Fiction Artists
Visual Backstory: A Checklist for Science Fiction Artists

13. LEAKS AND STAINS
Cooking oil must be vented from a kitchen, and it invariably plasters the wall with a black stain that drips downward. All vehicles use lubricants which drip from the engine in places where the vehicle stays stationary or where it hits a bump in the road. Every vehicle needs access points for refueling or lubrication. Drips form below these points.

Visual Backstory: A Checklist for Science Fiction Artists

14. LABELS AND LICENSES
In young societies, there often isn’t much regulation of vehicle traffic or commercial activity. But as a society ages and gets more crowded, vehicle owners have to show that they’ve met legal requirements for registration and inspection. Vehicle labels include license plates, inspection stickers, theft warnings. Because alcohol and drugs are usually regulated, you often see a lot of stickers near the entrances of bars.

Visual Backstory: A Checklist for Science Fiction Artists
Visual Backstory: A Checklist for Science Fiction Artists

15. CONDUIT CLUTTER
To make a dwelling or vehicle receptive to wireless signals, it needs antennas or parabolic dishes. Anything that needs a direct flow of electrons, fluids or light pulses needs wires or pipes or fiber optic cables. In old stone structures, these are often run along the outer walls. Large scale cable corridors typically follow railroad right-of-ways. Obsolete cables, antennas, or satellite dishes are often not removed after they become obsolete.


Visual Backstory: A Checklist for Science Fiction Artists

16. IMPROVISED REPAIRS
Fixing something properly is expensive. If you can’t afford to repair that car window with factory parts, why not use a little duct tape and plastic sheeting? Junkyard parts generally don’t match, as seen in this sketch of an old Buick. In the photo of a car’s front end, the owner has held the parts together with rope. In our world, modernistic buildings are sometimes draped with tarpaulins to keep their roofs from leaking.

Visual Backstory: A Checklist for Science Fiction Artists

17. OLD PEOPLE, OLD TECH
Old people tend to be reluctant adopters of new technology, and they generally keep on using tech that served them when they were younger. In this photo of a pet shop counter, the fax machine and security camera monitor are at least 20 years old.

18. POST-FASCIST UTOPIAS
Your world doesn’t have to look decrepit or dystopian. You might show a city that had once been ruled by an authoritarian central government that is now in the hands of a vibrant local economy; think of Le Corbusier’s severe worker houses taken over by people who love flowers in window boxes.

Visual Backstory: A Checklist for Science Fiction Artists

19. CUSTOMIZING
You might want to show how individuals customize a standardized environment. In a high-tech corporate future, people might be issued a uniform work cubicle, vehicle, or housing unit. But people don’t leave it standard-issue for long. Cab drivers in Jordan hang religious images from the rear view mirrors. Animators festoon their computers with cool collectibles. A pack rat will transform any workspace with eccentrically organized clutter.

Visual Backstory: A Checklist for Science Fiction Artists

20. RECYCLED TECH
What happens if a low-tech society inherits a world from a machine age? They might have no idea how the mechanical parts function, yet they would use whatever parts they find for other purposes. You might have a low-tech society reusing the parts of abandoned spacecraft for animal-drawn vehicles, or a robot made up of recycled parts

Visual Backstory: A Checklist for Science Fiction Artists

21. RETROFITTING AND REPURPOSING
A classic design strategy is retrofitting, modifying existing technology with updated elements, usually to adapt the system for modern uses. You are retrofitting if you stick an outboard motor on a rowboat, tape a GPS unit on your dashboard, or, in the case of this photo, use a steel ship cabin as a guardhouse near the entrance of a scrapyard.

Visual Backstory: A Checklist for Science Fiction Artists

22. REPAIR AND CONSTRUCTION
Many science fictions worlds in film and video games are shown being destroyed. But few are shown being fixed afterward. If there have been battles in your world’s past, surely there will be work crews fixing the damage. Apart from battle damage, there’s the normal decay and wear which requires constant maintenance. At actual construction sites, take note of the way pedestrian and vehicular traffic is rerouted around the construction.

Visual Backstory: A Checklist for Science Fiction Artists

23. DECORATIVE HOLDOVERS
Remember that for most of the history of design, people have used decorative elements to evoke a civilization’s past glories. This explains hood ornaments, ship figureheads, and the Venetian bucentaur. Functional elements often get absorbed into a design, where they serve a decorative function in the later stages of design evolution. Examples include running boards, which appeared on cars even when they were no longer useful.

Visual Backstory: A Checklist for Science Fiction Artists

24. DISTORTED FORM
Wood, like many other organic materials, tends to warp if it is exposed to heat or moisture. Plastics and metals bend or melt when they are heated or stressed. Even masonry goes out of alignment, especially if it is subjected to seismic stresses. These effects play out on older buildings, which rarely remain on plumb.

Visual Backstory: A Checklist for Science Fiction Artists

25. INVASIVE PLANTS
In any temperate or tropical climate, a structure that’s not actively maintained quickly gets overwhelmed by plants, but too often dystopian futures show a denuded planet. Invasive plants can get started in the smallest cracks near the ground or even high up on a structure. In the end, nature returns and swallows up the fleeting efforts of humankind.
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You can find some of my dystopian world-building in Dinotopia: First Flight (signed copies on our web store, also available from Amazon). For more tips on creating realistic imaginary worlds, check out my book, Imaginative Realism: How to Paint What Doesn't Exist which you can also get from Amazon.



Resource for Movie Screenshots

In his cinematography website, Evan E. Richards presents entire movies as a series of screenshots.
Resource for Movie Screenshots
Screenshots from Amelie
Seeing a film broken down into as many as 400 individual frames makes this a helpful reference site for illustrators, storyboarders, concept artists, production designers, cinematographers, photographers, and art teachers. Above are a few samples from Amelie.

Resource for Movie Screenshots
With animated films, like The Incredibles, it's interesting to check the design language of the final frames against the color script developed before production.

Resource for Movie Screenshots
Seeing screenshots of Hugo reminded me of a lighting continuity issue that was so distracting to me that it took me out of the film. When shooting the dialog coverage, director Martin Scorsese and cinematographer Robert Richardson reset the lights for all the closeups so that the actors were always backlit.

Resource for Movie Screenshots
It makes for pretty lighting, but it's an impossibility. If one person is backlit, the person they're facing must be front-lit.
Resource for Movie Screenshots
Ben Hur (1959)
There's a lot of inspirational reference for illustrators, such as 1959 epic Ben Hur.

Resource for Movie Screenshots

You can click on the individual frames to get a large blowup. In Ridley Scott's Blade Runner, it's exciting to see how almost every shot is a revelation in set design and lighting.
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Evan E. Richards
Index of films on his site
Here's a similar website called "Film Grab"

Gérôme on Truth, Illustration, and Photography

Late in his life, academic painter and teacher Jean-Léon Gérôme (1824-1904) wrote a statement of his beliefs about art.


Gérôme on Truth, Illustration, and Photography

"The fact is that truth is the one thing truly good and beautiful; and, to render it effectively, the surest means are those of mathematical accuracy. Nature alone is audacious above anything human; she alone is original and picturesque. It is, then, to her that we must become attached if we wish to interest and enthuse the spectator."

Gérôme on Truth, Illustration, and Photography
Illustration by Howard Pyle
"The art of illustration has made progress. It is more documentary, but none the less artistic. From this point of view the Americans excel. They have learned how to make use of the document and to make it serve their purpose. In this, instantaneous photography has been of inestimable assistance…. From all this one must conclude that our sense of sight is not as well developed as that of the Greeks or of the Japanese, and that it is not one of our gifts to observe with sufficient attention the various aspects of nature when in rapid motion."

Gérôme on Truth, Illustration, and Photography
Jean-Léon Gérôme - Diogenes, 1860, Walters Art Gallery
"When one is young and inexperienced one prefers the art of sentiment, and has even the false idea that too much study, too much truth, take away from work its light and its movement. When one has grown old in the harness, when one has worked for many years, observed well, compared well, ideas change. The artist should be a poet in conception, a determined, honest, and sincere workman in the execution. One must put into his work an artistic probity, and, above all, work, work. But there can be no serious and durable work if it is not based upon reason and mathematical accuracy.—if, in a word, art is not allied to science."

Richard Estes: Reflections and Transparency

The paintings of photorealist Richard Estes (born 1932) are currently being featured in a major retrospective at the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington.

Richard Estes: Reflections and Transparency
Richard Estes, "Murano Glass," 1976, 24 x 36 inches, oil
Calling him a photorealist is a little misleading. Although he uses photos as a source for his work, many of his paintings combine information from several different photos, and he doesn't paint over traced photographic projections. In the case of "Murano Glass," above, the reflection that you see in the window isn't actually visible in that particular store window. He had to construct the scene.

Richard Estes: Reflections and Transparency
Richard Estes, "The Candy Store," 1969, 47 x 68 inches
Painting a reflection in a shop window presents a fascinating visual challenge. Usually the street reflection is most visible in the dark areas of the window. Wherever the reflection crosses an object seen through the window, the colors and values are added to each other, such as in the slanting yellow sign. 

Richard Estes: Reflections and Transparency
Estes delights in creating a puzzle out of all the overlapping layers of information. In the painting above, the interior ceiling forms slant across reflections of buildings in the upper right. Some signs, such as "Burger" are reflected twice by parallel planes of glass or mirrors.

Painting reflections + transparency from observation rather than from photos is a much greater challenge because one has to overcome the effects of stereoscopic vision and focal depth. Whereas a camera will compress reflections and transparencies into a single plane, our eyes and brains separate them, so that it's almost impossible to perceive the combined effects of transparency and reflection at the same time. 
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Here's an example where I try an outdoor painting of reflections and transparency from observation.
New book related to the exhibition: Richard Estes' Realism

Stephen Shore, Photographer

In the 1970's he was taking pictures of things that no one else was. He took a trip across country with the goal of documenting everything: including every meal he ate and every toilet he used. 

A formative influence was hanging out at Andy Warhol's Factory. By age 23 he had a show at the Metropolitan Museum.

Stephen Shore, Photographer
Portrait of Stephen Shore, photographer, drawn from life by James Gurney
Last night Stephen Shore gave a slide show of his work in Rhinebeck, New York, and I drew his portrait as he spoke. He briefly struck a pose with a hand to his mouth, both pensive and guarded. The lecture gig had somehow slipped his mind, and he drifted in a half hour late after a few nervous phone calls from the bookstore owners.

His wild nimbus of white hair was rim-lit from the fluorescents of the bookstore. The projection screen lit him with soft light from the other side. I chose to portray him in grays, anticipating that he might talk about color vs. black and white. 

Stephen Shore, Photographer

He said:
"When I started this work, no art photography was in color. Paul Strand told me, 'Higher emotions couldn't be communicated in color.' Mind boggling! What would Kandinsky think of that? I see the world in color. It's what it's like to see. Color gives cultural information. By 1990 almost all art photography was in color. Then in contrariness I started working in black and white."
Stephen Shore, Photographer
Stephen Shore, Columbia South Carolina June 1972
Shore said, "I was interested in the immediacy that some snapshots have. I wanted to use repeated motifs, to capture some aspects of our culture. I was taking what we would now call screenshots of our field of vision."

Stephen Shore, Photographer
Stephen Shore, Photographer
Stephen Shore's photography is currently being featured in an career-spanning exhibit of 320 photographs at the Fundacion Mapfre in Madrid, Spain. The exhibition will continue in Berlin, Turin, and Amsterdam.
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Stephen Shore's website. Photos ©Stephen Shore
Recommended books:
Stephen Shore: Survey,
Stephen Shore: Uncommon Places
Materials in portrait:
Caran D'ache - Supracolor watercolor pencils: black, white, slate grey, brownish beige, Vandyke brown.
Watercolor sketchbook, 5 x 8 inches. Portrait is about 4 x 5 inches.
Water brushes filled with clear water, dark gray ink, and black ink.

Harry Anderson's Photo Reference

When Harry Anderson (1906-1996) set out to illustrate images from his 7th Day Adventist religious faith, he turned to photo reference to give him added realism.

Here are the photos next to the finished paintings. It's interesting to compare the changes he made as he went from the reference to the painting. 

Harry Anderson's Photo Reference
Here, Jesus is lowered from heaven to outreached human hands. The painting invents the sweep of the garment, and the warm reflected light from the back of the figure to the encircling white fabric.

Harry Anderson's Photo Reference
This is one of Anderson's most famous religious paintings. Much of the spontaneous action and accurate eyelines came from posing the whole grouping together and actually having them walk. 

Norman Rockwell didn't shoot reference this way, and would instead generally pose models separately and would set up walking poses somewhat artificially. 

Harry Anderson's Photo Reference
The potential pitfall of shooting photo reference, especially for religious paintings, is that one can get caught up in the commonplace and random details of the photo and lose sight of the mental image of the scene. 

Anderson certainly didn't copy the reference, instead redrawing it, and controlling the values. Note how he downplayed the reflected light on the shadow side of the chest. 

Harry Anderson's Photo Reference
Like many other illustrators of his day, Anderson used black and white photos, not wanting to be influenced by the colors. He spared no expense or effort to get good scrap. According to his biography, a large percentage of his commission went to model expenses and photography fees. 

Harry Anderson's Photo Reference
Most of the photos he used he took and developed himself in a bedroom that he converted into a photo studio and darkroom. He used professional models—who even 50 years ago charged as much as sixty dollars an hour—but he also used neighbors and friends. 

The biography says: "By posing his models in approximately the right costume and photographing them, Harry could obtain what he needed—the proper foreshortening of limbs, inclination of head, relationship of light and shadow."

Additional resources:
Illustrated bio in book form (emphasis on religious work): Harry Anderson: The Man Behind the Paintings
Previous posts:
Thanks to Jim Pinkoski and Lars Justinen for the images

Reference Reference

Reference Reference
How does an elephant lie down? It pulls itself forward, lowering its rear half onto the knees, then settling the front half on the elbows. (Link to video)

A free website called ReferenceReference has a wealth of stock video clips of such animal actions. Most clips are a few seconds long, and they're intended as reference for animators. 

But illustrators will find them fascinating too, because it's really important to know where a pose is coming from and where it's going.

Reference Reference
Most of the clips show human action. There are several categories for fighting poses, including hand-to-hand, weapons, kick boxing, and defense. Typically they're shot against a simple background, with a grid to show the perspective of the floor.

Reference Reference
There are also clips in categories like dance, contortionist, and push-pull-lift. The actors are divided into men, women, and children, with a variety of ages and ethnicities.

Reference Reference
In addition to full-figure actions, there are close-up actions and facial expressions. Often the same action is presented from the front and side views at the same time so that you can get a clear spatial sense of what's going on.

For any actual illustration or animation job, of course, you will probably want to cast and direct your own models, but this resource is useful for generating ideas, for understanding basic principles, or for getting yourself out of habits.

And it's a good supplement to Muybridge's Human Figure in Motion or the Books of art poses.
ReferenceReference

High speed photos of dogs shaking

Dogs make the most amazing faces when they're shaking off water.
Animators will appreciate the extreme keyframe poses and the overlapping action of all the loose forms pulled around by centripetal forces.


(Video link) Slow motion footage shows that different animals shake at different frequencies to maximize the effectiveness of removing water.

See more high speed photos at Demilked.com. Thanks, Susan.
Visual Backstory: A Checklist for Science Fiction ArtistsResource for Movie ScreenshotsGérôme on Truth, Illustration, and PhotographyRichard Estes: Reflections and TransparencyStephen Shore, PhotographerHarry Anderson's Photo ReferenceMacro Photos of Compound EyesReference ReferenceHigh speed photos of dogs shaking

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