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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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A Dinosaur-Eating Mammal

A Dinosaur-Eating Mammal

Here are two concept sketches of the Cretaceous mammal Repenomamus.

A Dinosaur-Eating Mammal

It's an extinct badger sized animal who raided dinosaur nests.

A Dinosaur-Eating Mammal

I also made a maquette out of an air-dry craft foam.

A Dinosaur-Eating Mammal

The finished painting of is fully documented in a Gumroad tutorial called "The Mammal That Ate Dinosaurs."

A Dinosaur-Eating Mammal

The illustration appeared in an article on paleo mammals in Scientific American.

Lebedev's Oil Study

Klavdy Lebedev (1852-1916) did this oil study from a costumed model as a preparation for a larger painting. 

Lebedev's Oil Study

I'm just guessing, but he probably did study on an oil-primed surface, and that he must have done a preliminary pencil drawing and laid in the tones fairly thinly. 

Lebedev was a member of the Itinerants, and a student of Perov. 

Lebedev's Oil Study
Martha the Mayoress. Destruction of Novgorod by Ivan
by Klavdy Lebedev. 1889. Tretyakov Gallery.

The Destruction of Novgorod was "an act of vengeance against the perceived treason of the local Orthodox church, the massacre quickly became possibly the most vicious in the brutal legacy of the oprichnina, with casualties in the tens of thousands and innumerable acts of extreme violent cruelty."

More Etruscan Sketches

The sketches you saw yesterday are just the tip of the iceberg. 

More Etruscan Sketches
Most National Geographic illustration assignments go through a months-long exploratory process, going back and forth with the art director, editor, writer, and scientific consultants.

More Etruscan Sketches

My job is to digest all the information and to explore lots of variations in visual terms. 

How can we incorporate the caption and text in the design? What tells the story most effectively? How can we communicate what's known and unknown? 

More Etruscan Sketches

Many archaeologists don't want to veer too far into speculation. But on the other hand, we want the reader to be fully transported back to the heyday of this mysterious ancient culture.

In the case of this tomb, big sections of the wall mural were lost or damaged, and the contents of the tomb were missing, so we studied evidence from other tombs to guess what the full picture must have looked like.
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Gérôme Study of an Angel

Gérôme Study of an Angel
Here's a pencil study by Jean Léon Gérôme (1824-1904) of a model with drapery . 

The study is very carefully observed, but it's surely not a copy of what he saw. Instead he edited the forms to fit with his sense of flow and make it look right for an angel. Most academic studies were propelled by narrative choices away from literal truth.

He probably executed another study of the nude figure, and traced the hands, face, and feet from that study as a basis for this one.

The sketch was a gift to one of his students, illustrator André Castaigne.
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Books on Gerome
Jean-Leon Gerome 

Walter Shirlaw's Studies

Walter Shirlaw (1838-1909) was a Scottish-born American, a painter, banknote engraver and teacher. 

 Walter Shirlaw's Studies

His painting "Toning the Bell" (1874, Chicago Art Institute) shows the foreman striking the bell with a hammer, while the violinist plays a reference note. 

The faces, hands, and postures of the two main characters show that they have different personalities and that they come from different worlds.

This page of studies shows the construction of the violin, how the left hand needs to finger the strings, and a couple options for the bow hand. 

Walter Shirlaw's Studies

It looks like he contemplated having the foundry man rest his left hand on the bell, and then changed his mind and brought the hand back into the shadow in front of his stomach.

Walter Shirlaw's Studies

This appears to be another quick study to figure out the pose of the violinist. Studies like these are just a step in the process, but a very necessary step.
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Walter Shirlaw on Wikipedia

Saul Tepper Thumbnail


Saul Tepper Thumbnail
Here's a thumbnail sketch by American illustrator Saul Tepper (1899-1987). This has all the qualities a good thumbnail should have:
1. Basic story situation reads immediately. Guy comes into a disordered room and sees woman on bed.
2. Simple tonal organization. She's light, he's dark. Coats on wall behind her frame the curve of her hip.
3. Basic acting through body language is strong. He seems shocked or angry, she seems sick or weak.
4. All other less important details are barely suggested and subordinated.
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Illustration Art blog has a great post about Tepper's thumbnail sketches.
A lot of people don't know that Saul Tepper was also a songwriter. Here's one of his tunes.

Emil Hünten's Preliminaries

Emil Johann Hünten (1827 - 1902) was a German military painter who studied in Paris and Düsseldorf.
Emil Hünten's Preliminaries
Emil Hünten, Frederick the Great on horseback 
He produced his oil canvases only after careful preliminary study from life.


Emil Hünten's Preliminaries

Those studies were typically made from costumed models in three different media: 1) Oil studies... 

Emil Hünten's Preliminaries

2) Watercolor studies

Emil Hünten's Preliminaries

and 3) Tone paper with pencil and gouache. He probably also used lay figures and maquettes.
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More about Emil Hünten on Wikipedia

Studies for Dagnan Bouveret's "Breton Women at Pardon"

Studies for Dagnan Bouveret's
Study and finish for Breton Women at a Pardon by Pascal Dagnan-Bouveret.

Studies for Dagnan Bouveret's
"Study for Women at a Pardon, 1887. Black ink, pencil, charcoal. 
Sketch for the two women on conversation to the far right."

According to Wikipedia, "There are many known photographic studies and drawings both for the Breton series in general, and this work in particular. One photograph shows a grassy area in which the artist had a friend pose, another a view of the church seen here in the background, complete with the festival flags protruding from the lower spire."

Studies for Dagnan Bouveret's
Photograph of Dagnan at his easel while his wife
poses in Breton costume. Taken in 1886 
Studies for Dagnan Bouveret's
"Woman in Breton Costume Seated in a Meadow, c 1887,
an oil on canvas study for the central outward looking figure."

Studies for Dagnan Bouveret's
"1887 photographic study of the group, including the standing men"
Studies for Dagnan Bouveret's Previously:
Dagnan's easel on rails
Using photo reference

Herbert Draper's Prospero Mural

Victorian painter Herbert Draper (1864-1920) undertook a massive ceiling decoration project. 

Herbert Draper's Prospero Mural

Here he is in his studio working on the large oval composition, with the bottom edge rolled under. He has various ladders and platforms to allow him to reach the life-size figures.

The mural shows "Prospero Summoning Nymphs and Deities," a scene based on Shakespeare's play The Tempest.

Herbert Draper's Prospero Mural

Prospero (the dark figure with the upraised hand) was the rightful Duke of Milan, cast adrift by his usurping brother to live out his life on an island. There he learns the sorcerers' arts and thereby becomes acquainted with the nymphs and other supernatural beings. 

Herbert Draper's Prospero Mural

Draper drew several exquisite studies for the characters in the story using charcoal on tone paper . Here's a study for Prospero's head.  

Herbert Draper's Prospero Mural
I would guess he had the models lying sideways on cushions, and then he turned the poses vertically to make them ascending or descending.

Herbert Draper's Prospero Mural

Given that it is a ceiling decoration, there's no up or down, and the figures seem to exist in a realm without gravity.

Herbert Draper's Prospero Mural

Beautiful as they are to our modern eyes, these studies were created as a means to an end, not an end in themselves. They're not meant to be objective, accurate renderings of the models as real people, but rather, they're idealized, already beginning to capture the spirit and animation of the imaginary beings.
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Evolution of a Picture, Part 4 of 4: Refining the Idea

This is Part 4 of a 1901 article called Evolution of a Picture: A Chapter on Studies by academy-trained Edgar Spier CameronYesterday's installment discussed maquettes and animals. Today we follow the journey to the finished painting.

Evolution of a Picture, Part 4 of 4: Refining the Idea
Aimé Morot, Jewish Captives in Babylon, sketch and finish

Evolution of a Picture, Part 4 of 4: Refining the Idea
Studies of Hands by Adolphe Menzel
Part 4: Refining the Idea
"It may be said that an artist never finds a model which corresponds exactly to his ideal, and he is obliged to make changes of form and expression in making his studies. Certain characteristics may be accentuated and others suppressed, while others which the model may not possess are supplied from memory, imagination, or from other models.

"The ways of using studies when they are made are as various as the ways of making them. If a study is in the form of a drawing it may be copied directly in the picture, or it may be transferred either in its actual size by tracing or pouncing, or on a larger scale by "squaring up." In squaring up, lines are drawn over the drawing to form squares and corresponding squares of a different proportion are drawn on the canvas where the picture is to be made.

"All of these processes admit of a certain amount of refinement, correction, or simplification of the original study, and anything which gives an artist an opportunity to prolong his preparations and shorten the time of the actual painting of a picture is of great benefit, as the result will be more spontaneous, fresher, and more vigorous than if it is puttered over and shows traces of experiment.

"The artist's studies are the ammunition with which he loads up for a final effective coup, which makes a hit or a miss, as his aim has been true or not. That such studies are requisite for good work is the universal verdict of all who have essayed to teach the art of painting.

Evolution of a Picture, Part 4 of 4: Refining the Idea
Study by Friedrich August von Kaulbach, 1878
Planning or Improvisation?
"'It is undoubtedly a splendid and desirable accomplishment to be able to design instantaneously any given subject,' says Sir Joshua Reynolds in his Twelfth Discourse. 'It is an excellence that I believe every artist would wish to possess; but unluckily, the manner in which this dexterity is acquired habituates the mind to be contented with first thoughts, without choice or selection. The judgment, after it has been long passive, by degrees loses its power of becoming active when exertion is necessary. Whoever, therefore, has this talent must in some measure und what he had the habit of doing, or a least give a new turn to his mind.'

"Great works which are to live and stand the criticism of posterity are not performed at a heat. A proportionable time is required for deliberation and circumspection.

Evolution of a Picture, Part 4 of 4: Refining the Idea
Oil-painted studies by J.C. Leyendecker
"However extraordinary it may appear, it is certainly true that the inventions of the pittori improvisatori, as they may be called, have notwithstanding the common boast of their authors that all is spun from their own brain—very rarely anything that has in the least the air of originality. Their compositions are generally commonplace and uninteresting, without character or expression; like those flowery speeches that we sometimes hear, which impress no new ideas upon the mind.'


Evolution of a Picture, Part 4 of 4: Refining the Idea
Alphonse-Marie-Adolphe de Neuville Defense of the Gate
"It is said of a celebrated French painter, that a visitor called upon him one day and found him busily engaged making studies for a new work—studies in posture, in facial expression, in drapery, in suggested action. A considerable length of time elapsed, and the visitor again called upon the painter and found him still engaged in the work of making studies for the same composition. The painstaking, plodding methods of the painter provoked some exclamation of surprise from the caller. 'There is no occasion for wonderment,' returned the artist in justification of his multitude of studies. 'This is the main part of painting.'

"Illustrations such as those accompanying this article present no element of novelty to the practiced artist. There are who have essayed creative work who have not well-filled sketches of similar character and equal interest. To those, however, unfamiliar with the methods of the studio they give an insight more convincing than words could furnish into the way in which artists have produced the disjecta membra, so to speak, of their finished compositions. It would be interesting in the case of some noted picture to reproduce the finished work together with all the studies that entered into its composition."
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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.

Sources and More Info:
Evolution of a Picture: A Chapter on Studies by Edgar Cameron in Brush and Pencil Magazine
Vol. 8, No. 3 (June, 1901), pp. 121-133

The Academic Method Series:
A Dinosaur-Eating MammalLebedev's Oil StudyMore Etruscan SketchesGérôme Study of an AngelWalter Shirlaw's StudiesSaul Tepper ThumbnailEmil Hünten's PreliminariesStudies for Dagnan Bouveret's "Breton Women at Pardon"Herbert Draper's Prospero MuralEvolution of a Picture, Part 4 of 4: Refining the Idea

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