Gurney Journey | category: Rabbit Trails | (page 12 of 12)


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.

Road Kill

Whenever I see a road kill I want to look away. But I also want to look.

What kind of critter bit the dust? Did he suffer?

Road Kill
I saw this one on County Route 16. Did a double then a triple take. Something was wrong. Nothing has blue guts.

Close inspection revealed it was a stuffed animal. Cat, most likely.

Road Kill
Which set me to pondering. What was a stuffed animal doing crossing the highway? Was his stuffed-animal family waiting in the bushes, crying for him? Is there a whole village of stuffed animals in quilted calico houses hidden there past the swamp?

Hmmm. Material for a story. You take it and run.

Rest Stop Visitor

A weird thing happened at 6:32 p.m. at the rest stop on the north side of I-90 near Angola, New York. We were stopped to look at a map and we heard someone doing something at the back of the car. We saw a guy with a long brown coat jog off past the dog walk area into the forest.

Rest Stop VisitorWe checked and nothing seemed to be taken from the back of Trusty Rusty, but there was a little note on top of the load. It was kind of creepy—some crackpot stalker apparently trying to take credit for Dinotopia: Journey to Chandara.

Rest Stop VisitorI guess you can expect anything on Halloween, but how would this guy, whoever he is, know where we were at that moment?

The Disaster at Kaaterskill Creek

Blog reader J. Fullmer asked about the disaster I referred to a while ago on the posts called From Endor to Chelsea and White Umbrellas. To recap, my artist friend Chris Evans and my wife and I were up in the Catskills doing some plein air painting.

We staggered down the rocky banks of Kaaterskill Clove in search of a waterfall called Fawn’s Leap, a favorite motif of the early Hudson River School Painters. I found a good vista from the middle of the stream, where a flat rock the size of a kitchen table provided just enough space to set up my tripod, pochade box, and white umbrella.

The Disaster at Kaaterskill Creek
As I worked, the water surged around me from several days of heavy rain. The painting was finished in time for lunch. I left everything set up and hopped across the boulders to join Chris and Jeanette for a sandwich and coffee.

Suddenly there came a blast of cold wind down the clove. I heard a shout: “It’s going over!”

I looked up to see the umbrella fill like a sail and carry the whole rig—tripod, brushes, palette, and painting— into the rapids. Thinking quickly, Jeanette grabbed the umbrella, which had broken free and was floating upside down, circling like a leaf in one of the side eddies. I stood astraddle two boulders to rescue a couple of the brushes as they drifted by. The rest of them had entered the main current and disappeared into the next set of rapids.

The Disaster at Kaaterskill Creek
Chris fished out the tripod and intercepted the painting as it floated downstream. It was cruising half-submerged with the wet oil palette stuck against the backside of it. Amazingly, the painting suffered only minor damage from the water, and only a few thumb prints and scrapes where it had bounced against some boulders.

The only moral to this story is to take down the umbrella when you break for lunch!

Cracking Paint and City Streets

Inspiration strikes in the most unlikely places.

As I was working on the new book, Dinotopia: Journey to Chandara, I was trying to come up with a street grid—a city plan—for the city of Chandara. But I had wasted a whole afternoon making tentative scribbles like this one.

Cracking Paint and City StreetsI had studied maps of some of the greatest cities, like Paris and Amsterdam, and there was some elusive quality of design to each one that appealed to me, but I couldn’t put my finger on it.

That evening, Jeanette and I went out for Chinese food. As we waited for the Moo Goo Gai Pan, the door of the Jade Palace Restaurant caught my eye.

Cracking Paint and City StreetsI was intrigued by the pattern of cracking paint. The big diagonal cracks reminded me of avenues, and the smaller cracks looked like a maze of hidden alleyways, or "snickleways" as they call them in York, England.

I was down on my hands and knees staring closer and closer at the door. People walking by thought I had completely lost my mind.

Cracking Paint and City StreetsEvery city, in its old medieval section, has a pattern of streets that includes broad, straight avenues and little winding side streets. There is some deep law of nature at play in the cracking paint that also governs the layout of cities. I would like to live in such a city.

This was the breakthrough! The design of Chandara fell right into place. I went home and drew the map.

Cracking Paint and City Streets
My fortune cookie said some trite nonsense, like “You will meet an interesting friend.” But what it should have said was “Stay open to possibilities.”

Baa-Man and His Chicks

A while ago I went to a farm to get some practice sketching sheep and chickens. I was off to a good start with some head studies, but the animals got restless. They ran off before I could draw their bodies. Here’s what my sketchbook page looked like.

Baa-Man and His Chicks

That evening I went to a pub to have a beer and listen to some Irish music. A guy and his wife sat down at a table in front of me, perfect targets for a candid sketch. My book popped open to the half-finished drawing. Amazingly, the animal heads lined up with the human bodies. So I just finished the drawing without giving it another thought.

About then his wife spotted me. She turned to her husband and said, “Herb, that artist is drawing a picture of us. You should go take a look.”

Baa-Man and His Chicks

No, I gestured. Don’t bother. But he staggered over anyway and stood beside to me, staring at my picture, grunting and hiccuping.

Oh, great, I thought, I’m dead. He’s pissed off, for sure. How could I possibly explain this insulting portrait? Especially since I made him a ewe and his wife was a rooster.

But Herb didn’t say a word. He toddled back and sank into his chair and took a long, searching look at his beer bottle. Then he pushed the bottle away and never took another sip.

Gallery Flambeau

In the back of every artist’s closet is a stack of failed efforts, the paintings that just didn’t work out for one reason or another. I’ve got my share of clunkers. But an artist should not bequeath too many bad paintings to posterity.

Your reputation rests on your overall average. If you have a lot duds floating around after you’re gone, your grandchildren will be in a tough spot. They won’t want to get rid of your bozos, so you should now.

Gallery Flambeau
That’s why, with the help of my teenage son Franklin, I invented the “Gallery Flambeau.” This solar-powered, environmentally friendly device uses a 4-foot wide array of parabolically positioned, laser-mounted mirrors to magnify the power of the sun over 300 times. Displayed under its unforgiving glare, a painting magically transforms into a cloud of smoke and a shower of ash. Gone forever. Press delete. Your Artistic Average goes up a tiny notch.

Gallery Flambeau
Remember, kids, don't play with fire, and protect your eyes from the intense brightness of the hotspot by always wearing the approved Mongolian Mountaineering Safety Goggles.

Dibble's Quarry

Dibble's Quarry
I find inspiration for future Dinotopia books in the most unlikely places.

The bluestone quarries above Platte Clove were once the source for the slate sidewalks of New York City in the Nineteenth century. Huge piles of broken stones and rubble remain along sections of the mountain trails. Over the decades, nameless people have fashioned strange structures from the stones, kind of a “wiki-vernacular-architecture.”

Along the Pecoy Notch Trail, about a mile away from the nearest road, is Dibble’s Quarry, the most extensive of its type. It commands a fine view of the valley of the Platte Clove, a good spot to munch granola bars and speak in elvish.

There are many stone slab chairs, notably the “Druid’s Throne,” with several Mini-me side thrones nearby. Rattlesnakes commonly sun themselves on these rocks, so you have to look carefully into the cracks and sit down gingerly. What if there were a whole village like this in Dinotopia?
Grey Hair or None?Road KillRest Stop VisitorThe Disaster at Kaaterskill CreekCracking Paint and City StreetsBaa-Man and His ChicksGallery FlambeauPopcorn DogsDibble's Quarry

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