Gurney Journey | category: Sculpture


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.

Wind in Stone

One of the joys of the art of sculpture is conveying invisible forces with the medium of solid rock.

Wind in Stone

With his sculpture "West Wind," Thomas Ridgeway Gould (American, 1818 – 1881) achieved the impression that thin fabric is stretched over a human form and blown by the wind. 

Wind in Stone

According to Wikipedia, "His West Wind, originally sculpted in 1870, stirred controversy in 1874 when it was denounced as a copy of Canova's Hebe (below), with the exception of the drapery, which was modelled by Signor Mazzoli."

Wind in Stone

"Animated newspaper correspondence followed this charge, and it was proved groundless. Gould declared that his designs were entirely his own, and that not a statue, bust, or medallion was allowed to leave his studio until finished in all points on which depended their character and expression."

"West Wind was later shown in the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition in 1876, and all told Gould subsequently made seven copies in two sizes."

Sculpting a Bobble Head Dog

I made a little bobblehead sculpture of Smooth to give my son for his birthday. (Link to YouTube)


There are basically two types of bobble head designs: 

1) Head on a loose, bouncy spring, which works for upright human characters.
2) Head on a counterweight, which works best for animals.

With type 2, the trick is to make the head light enough to balance against the lead weight, so I used craft foam for the head. You also have to sculpt the hollow body with enough space for the counterweight to swing freely up and down and side to side. 

All the materials are linked in the description of the YouTube video. 

Vinnie Ream's Statue of Lincoln

To get a healing break from the images of chaos and violence in public spaces, I've been trying to take a minute to focus on the beauty of the art in the Capitol building, which I remember making a pilgrimage to see with the same kind of reverence that I have experienced in cathedrals.

A full-figure marble statue of Abraham Lincoln is one of the large sculptures in Statuary Hall, and there's a remarkable human story behind it.

Vinnie Ream's Statue of Lincoln

The sculpture was commissioned by Congress from an 18-year-old young woman named Vinnie Ream.  According to the Capitol campus's art curators:

"Ream had previously shown her ability to depict the president in a bust that she created from life in Washington. Her selection, however, was accompanied by controversy because she was young, female, and had friendships with members of Congress."

She developed the sculpture first in plaster as was the practice. In the sculpture, Lincoln's right foot is forward and he's holding a copy of the Emancipation Proclamation. His head is tilted forward with a serious expression. 

Vinnie Ream's Statue of Lincoln

But Ream's sculpture was almost destroyed. During the impeachment trial of Andrew Johnson in 1868, her family played host to Senator Edmund G. Ross. Ross was the Senator who broke with his party to vote against the removal President Andrew Johnson after he was impeached by the House. 

According to Wikipedia, "she was almost thrown out of the Capitol with her unfinished Lincoln statue, but the intervention of powerful New York sculptors prevented it."

Ream was a prodigious talent. She had trained with sculptor Clark Mills and with Luigi Majoli in Rome and with Léon Bonnat in Paris. She brought the Lincoln sculpt in Rome, where it was carved from Carrara marble with the assistance of Italian stone carvers. The finished statue was brought across the Atlantic and unveiled in 1871. 

After her early period of sculpting she had a 40 year gap in her productivity as she took on the obligations of being a wife and mother.

"When she married Lieutenant Richard Hoxie in 1878, he imposed restrictions on his wife's work as a sculptor. Their son, also named Richard, was born in 1883. In addition to her work in the U.S. Capitol, Ream's sculptures include her statue of Admiral David G. Farragut (1881) at the well-known Washington landmark, Farragut Square. Ream died in 1914 in Washington, D.C. Her grave in Arlington Cemetery is marked by a replica of her sculpture Sappho."

Wikipedia on Vinnie Ream

More from the Capitol campus's art curators

The White Rabbits

Sculpture of Columbus by Mary Lawrence
Sculptor Lorado Taft needed assistants to help him carry out the decorations for the Horticulture building at Chicago's Columbian Exposition in 1893.

Horticulture building at the Columbia Exposition
Unfortunately all the qualified male sculptors were already occupied with other work. The deadline was approaching and he needed to complete the project in time.

Taft realized he had plenty of talented women among his students at the Chicago Art Institute.
Lorado Taft and his students at work, 1899
He asked Daniel Burnham, director of public works, if he could hire women to help him on the official project, a practice virtually unheard of at the time.

Burnham told Taft he could "hire anyone, even white rabbits, if they can get the work done." (Link to video)

The team of women promptly dubbed themselves "The White Rabbits," and successfully completed the work. They became some of the leading women sculptors in America, including Julia Bracken (1871–1942), Carol Brooks (1871–1944), Ellen Rankin Copp (1853-1901), Helen Farnsworth (1867–1916), Margaret Gerow, Mary Lawrence (1868–1945), Bessie Potter (1872–1954), Janet Scudder (1869–1940), Enid Yandell (1870–1934), and Zulime Taft.
White Rabbits on Wikipedia
Online article on the White Rabbits

Chinese Tomb Guardians

Tomb guardians in ancient China from the 7th to 9th century A.D. served to protect the living from wandering spirits of the dead, and to protect the tomb from robbers.

Chinese Tomb Guardians

Some of these molded earthenware sculpts were composite figures that included qualities of human and animal forms.

Chinese Tomb Guardians

According to Wikipedia, the earth spirits had animal bodies "often including wings sprouting from the tops of the forelegs.

Chinese Tomb Guardians

"The heads are often different, with one semi-human and another perhaps based on a snarling lion. Both have horns and crests like flames or huge cockscombs."

Chinese Tomb Guardians
Unglazed face of an earth spirit of the semi-human type
Read more on Wikipedia: Tang Dynasty Tomb Figures

Making a Hollow-Mask Illusion

The "Hollow-Mask Illusion" involves tricking the viewer into thinking a negative form is positive.

Creating this effect involved:
1) Making a negative mold from the face of the original sculpt (which is by Jake Hebbert). I used Magic Sculpt for this.
2) attaching that to a positive sculpt of the base
3) Lighting everything in the scene - except the hollow face - with a light from the upper right. I used a gobo on a wire to block light on the hollow face.
4) Lighting only the hollow face with light from the lower left, using an oval mask to shield everything else.

A computer generated version of this is called the "Rotating Mask Illusion."

You can make your own interactive version of this out of paper. 
Magic Sculpt

Richard Teschner's Puppets

Richard Teschner (1879-1948) was an Austrian puppeteer who adapted the Indonesian rod-puppet tradition for European audiences.

His puppets were briefly featured in this British Pathé video. (Link to video)

The puppets are operated from below by rods rather than from above by strings. According to Brittanica, "The puppets were controlled by a central rod and had a network of internal strings to manipulate hand and leg movements, bending to the front or back, and sensitive facial expressions.

Teschner was also a gifted illustrator. Here is his character Zipzip.

Zipzip as a rod puppet
Teschner was inspired by a trip he took to the Netherlands, where he saw Javanese puppets brought back by Dutch traders.

Wassermann from "Prinzessin und Wassermann," 1913
Teschner believed that human voices interfered with puppet drama, so he performed his puppet shows in pantomime, with music box scores that he composed to match his exquisitely crafted characters.

"Bologneser Hündchen," 1929

A dog character with lots of fringes that would move with the main action of the puppet.

The Red from "Nachtstuck" 1913
An exhibition of the work of Richard Teschner took place a few years ago at the Theater Museum in Vienna.

Learn more online
Monster Brains (blog post with a lot of his illustration work)
50 Watts (with more info about his puppet theater)
Clive Hicks-Jenkins Artlog
Britannica on Teschner (biography)
Indonesian rod-puppet tradition (Wayang) on Wikipedia

Queen Catherine Statue Scrapped

Queen Catherine Statue Scrapped

Audrey Flack, now 86, had nearly finished working on a gigantic bronze statue of Queen Catherine for public display in Queens, New York. But protesters blocked the project, associating Catherine with the British slave trade. Sadly, the sculpture was ultimately stopped and the bronze casting melted down.
“I was crushed — it really just killed me,” said Ms. Flack, who said she had devoted nearly a decade of work to the statue, the most of any piece in her career.
“I researched her, and if she was a bad, evil person, I would not have done it,” she said of the queen. “She was a good human being.” Ms. Flack added, “She had dark Portuguese skin and was made fun of for that.”
Ms. Flack said she had visualized a prominent memorial to a strong woman in a city with very few female statues.
“I was told at the time that it would have been the largest public art statue made by a woman in the world,” she said, “and second only to the Statue of Liberty in height.”
Ms. Flack went on: “As a woman and an artist, I wanted a beautiful, intelligent female out there. Queens has the greatest ethnic diversity of any borough, and I wanted her to be a healing force bringing people together.”
Read the rest on the New York Times website

Paint a Monument Results

A few weeks ago, I announced the "Paint a Monument Challenge," inviting you to sketch an outdoor sculpted statue or monument. Many of you faced challenging conditions — including 15 degree Fahrenheit temperatures with blobs of snow landing on the sketchbook!

You came up with some wonderful results. I loved reading not only about your plein-air experiences, but also about the fascinating stories behind the statues. It was really hard to choose the winners, but here we go:
Grand Prize Winner
A stylish and expressive solution that's in keeping with the subject.

"The subject matter is not exactly what you would call a monument in that it is not a single sculpture erected in a public space in order to commemorate an event or a person. Rather, it is one from a pair of statues sitting at the entrance of a famous shintō shrine in Kyoto, Kitano Tenman-gū. (As a side note, I was actually married in Kitano Tenman-gū.) Such pairs of statues, representing two semi-fantastic creatures, the shishi, or lion, and the koma-inu, or ‘Korean dog’, are found in every shrine throughout Japan, and are thought of as guardian protectors, usually situated at any threshold outside and inside the shrine." 

"What is striking with this particular pair is how ‘untraditional’ it is. Traditional lion and dog pairs are usually smaller than human-size, carved out of stone or wood, and retain a more traditional appearance. Here, both statues are made out of bronze; at a huge scale; and while the shishi is thought to have derived from actual lions, its traditional iconography was handed down from Chinese models, as an actual lion was never seen in Japan before the 19th century. Here, it seems that the traditional shishi was fused with western examples of lion monuments."

"My sketching tool is a yatate, a portable inkwell filled with sumi ink ground on an ink stone, and paired with a calligraphy-style brush that is kept in the handle. This tool was used as far back as the 15th century, but nowadays yatate are generally thought of as antiques more than anything else. They still offer one of the most compact sketching kits imaginable, and allow to safely carry an expensive brush that would normally not leave the house. This was only my second attempt at sketching using a yatate and I cannot say that I took advantage of the versatility and expressive potential of the Japanese brush and ink."
Breno Macedo
Superb handling of light and interesting color gradation between warm and cool. I like the way he bleached out the lights. I also admire the variety of the edge around the vignette.

"For my entry, I picked this statue in front of Trianon Park in São Paulo, Brazil. I walk by it almost everyday and there is always an appealing light striking it in the afternoon. My medium of choice was watercolors which I find the fastest to work with. I thought it would be interesting to work with the cool and warm shades, which is always a tricky thing to do because I wanted to avoid muddy colors (my previous attempt was a mess D: ). The hot pressed paper won't allow much margin for error so worked on those lights in a single layer, from the blue hues at the top."

"The challenge was a great excuse to paint this subject and it was a lot of fun. I look forward to the next ones!"
Silvana Rusan
Carefully observed forms and textures, with a sense of setting and time of year.

"For my monument painting challenge, I've picked a wooden totem sculpture outside the Richmond Art Centre in Richmond BC. I used gouache paints and synthetic brushes on 7x5" black 80lb acid free cover stock."

"I really enjoyed this painting, as it was interesting to notice how from top to bottom the tones of the wood became more cold, since the bottom of the sculpture is more exposed to moisture."
Susan Otten
What a sad story, and at the same time, what a tribute to the devotion of the parents. 
"Here is a painting I did of the George Blount Memorial. It is a headstone of a five year old boy that died falling from a second floor bannister in his parents hotel in 1876. His parents, a prominent family in Columbus, were devastated by the loss of their son and created this monument in his likeness."

"It is located in the Greenlawn Cemetery in Columbus, Ohio and "Georgie" has become a popular fixture in this park-like cemetery."
Rozene Janette
The watercolor and gouache technique gives you a good range of descriptive options for the bronze and marble. The bust seems to be a respectful tribute from one artist to another, and you've added to the chain.

"This memorial to the artist and architect Richard Morris Hunt was designed by the sculptor Daniel Chester French. It is installed in the wall of Central Park across from the Frick Museum on 5th Ave. and 70th St. Hunt designed the facade of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I sketched it in watercolor with white gouache."

Diego Fishburn
This rendering captures the weight and power of the bronze.

"The stars aligned, with this challenge. I travel to Barcelona often for work and have always wanted to paint the lion statues around the Christopher Columbus monument. It has a constant flow of tourists, and on the day after Catalonia declared their independence, I only had this beautiful, sunny Saturday. Painted in Gouache with Cobalt Blue, Burnt Sienna, a bit of Cad Yellow, and Titanium White."

"Incidentally, it was the video of the painting Mr. Gurney made a few years ago, of the horse and rider statue, that made me decide gouache was worth a try. Thank you James for your generosity and inspiration. Best spot was on the floor with a little shade from a light post. Luckily, I never got stepped on."

Honorable Mention: Video
I love the video and the art you did, as well as the story of the way your son joined you on the adventure.

(Link to YouTube)

Alexandre Magnin
"The statue I sketched for the challenge is called "The Secret" by an artist called John McKinnon. I chose this one because it is a statue I see almost every day going to the playground with my 2-year old son, he likes it a lot and he was excited to see it painted in my sketchbook :-) To make the challenge even more fun, I put together a short video (1'40") documenting the process: I used mostly watercolour in my Moleskine watercolour sketchbook (8.25"x5") and added a touch of gouache at the end to suggest a few leaves."
Be sure to see all the entries on the Paint a Monument Challenge page on Facebook. Thanks to all who entered.

Attention Winners (and Honorable Mention), please email me your mailing address (gurneyjourney at Gmail) so that I can send you a "Department of Art" patch, and let me know what video download you want. 

Sculpting from the Inside Out

Brazilian sculptor Juliana LePine creates a tiny figural portrait of singer Freddie Mercury. She builds the forms from the inside out: putting teeth on the skull, flesh on the bones, and clothing over the flesh. (Link to YouTube)

Juliana has a whole series of tutorial videos grouped into playlists. You can get her supplies from the JLS Store, including plastic vitrox (PV) clay, skeletons, and eyes. You can even get molds for making your own skulls and figures.
Juliana's website
Wind in StoneSculpting a Bobble Head DogVinnie Ream's Statue of LincolnThe White RabbitsChinese Tomb GuardiansMaking a Hollow-Mask IllusionRichard Teschner's PuppetsQueen Catherine Statue ScrappedPaint a Monument ResultsSculpting from the Inside Out

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