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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.

gurneyjourney.blogspot.com

Watercolor Humidor

Do you have a drawer full of dried-up watercolor tubes? I do.

Watercolor Humidor
Here’s an idea to protect your newer tubes from suffering the same fate. Store them in tightly sealed canning jars, or if you’d rather, Tupperware. You can use one jar for warm colors and another for cools. This way they stay fresh forever.

Maybe someone out there has an suggestion for what to do with those dried up tubes. Someone once told me you could rehydrate them with a large hypodermic needle. I tried that but it didn't work. Maybe you could cut them open to regrind them. Hmmm. Any ideas?

Don’t miss a big Color Sunday post tomorrow….

Tomorrow: Is Moonlight Blue?

Color: Warm and Cool

This is the second in a Sunday series on color. It introduces the most basic color relationship: warm and cool.

Color: Warm and Cool
As I suggested last time, most books or classes discuss color in an abstract, theoretical sense. But I’d like to concentrate on the pictorial application of color. Why, for example, did John Singer Sargent choose to emphasize those browns and blues in his plein-air painting of a wrecked sugar refinery, above? I'm sure if you had taken a color photo of the same subject, it would have looked nothing like this painting.

Color: Warm and Cool
And why did Alphonse Mucha choose this particular blue and gold palette to express his deepest feelings about his homeland?

I’d rather give you useful tips about color that you can apply to your own pictures. So please forgive me if I don’t approach the subject comprehensively. Instead I’ll just fast-forward over the concepts that most of you are already familiar with.

Let’s assume that you already understand the foundation terms:
--the color wheel
--primaries and secondaries
--the concepts of hue, value, and saturation (aka chroma)
If you’re not sure about these ideas, you’ll find answers on Wikipedia or on the website Handprint (thorough and techical) or in most any book on color.

Color: Warm and Cool
Here’s the color wheel I like to use. It has the various full-chroma hues arranged around the outside margin. Neutral gray is at the center. As each color approaches the center, the chroma decreases until it arrives at neutral gray.

Color: Warm and CoolTo get started, let’s take the color wheel and chop it in half. On the bottom half are all the warm colors: from yellow-greens, to oranges, reds. On the top half are the cool colors, the blue-greens, blues, and cool violets.

Someone might argue about where to divide the wheel. The greens and violets seem to have divided loyalties. But if you consider the “heads of the families,” blue and orange, there seems to be some basic psychological difference between them.

Color: Warm and Cool
The cool colors seem to evoke feelings of winter, of night, of death and sleep. They remind us of quietness, restfulness, and calm.

Color: Warm and CoolThe basic feelings suggested by the warm colors are completely different. We associate the warm colors with fire, sunlight and blood. (Above, The Burning of the Houses of Parliament, by J.M.W. Turner.) They make us think of energy and passion. Orange and yellow are ephemeral colors. We see them only fleetingly in nature: at sunsets, in flowers, or in autumn leaves.

This basic perception of the two families of color seems to be woven into the fabric of our human existence. The anthropologists Paul Kay and Brent Berlin have studied the evolution of color terms in languages around the world. In European languages we have about 11 or 12 basic terms to describe colors.

But some so-called “primitive” languages, like the New Guinean language Dani, have only two basic terms. Kay and Berlin write: “One of the two encompasses black, green, blue and other ‘cool’ colors; the other encompasses white, red, yellow and other ‘warm’ colors.” (Link for full story in Scientific American).

Primitive peoples didn’t have poor vision; far from it. But rather, anthropologists suggest that as language evolved, it developed its first word-concepts around the most psychologically important divisions or groupings.

I think a lot about “warm and cool” when I’m painting. The moonlight painting of Khasra from Dinotopia shown earlier is painted with colors primarily from the cool side. I wanted to suggest mystery, calm, and night.

Color: Warm and CoolIn a painting of one predominant family, an accent from the other side of the spectrum adds a lively contrast. Here’s a painting by Richard Parkes Bonington where he has enlivened his warm colors with a few accents of blue. Notice that there’s no green or red in this one. It’s painted almost entirely with blue and orange in various value ranges and degrees of saturation (mostly its duller cousins in the ochre and sienna ranges).

Color: Warm and Cool
Warm and cool colors bring each other to life by these adjacent contrasts. This quick sketch of Venice by Sargent has a lot of areas where warm and cool are played against each other.

Color: Warm and CoolMany of Sargent’s best watercolors were painted primarily with two colors, probably ultramarine blue and raw sienna, exploring the dance between the cool and the warm. He must have been looking at other colors, like red and green, in the scene before him, but he was ignoring them.

Please let me know if this kind of stuff is useful, and if I'm pitching it to the right level.

Albino Frogs & Occlusion Shadows

Here’s a study from life of a giant albino bullfrog from an aquarium. The creature was the size of a plucked chicken, and about the same color. He held still for twenty minutes while I did this study.

Albino Frogs & Occlusion ShadowsI drew him in pencil on gray mat board, and then laid a milky wash of opaque watercolor over his whole body, saving the brightest whites for the accents and highlights. When the overall light wash was dry, I added the dark accents in pencil. These include the pupil of the eye and the places where forms push together in the folds and wrinkles.

Lighting specialists in the 3-D CG animation field call these dark places “occlusion shadows.”

Albino Frogs & Occlusion ShadowsWherever two forms touch each other, or a form touches a floor, a dark line or accent results. You can see the effect by pressing your fingers together and looking at the little dark line where they touch. Not much light makes it to that point of contact. You’ll also notice it gets darker in the inside corner of a room where the walls meet.

Computer lighting programs don’t create this dark accent automatically. Until recently it had to be added by hand. But software pioneers have recently made lighting tools that can anticipate when the light will be occluded and such an accent will appear.

As a traditional oil painter, I'm fascinated by such new terminology and visual analysis developed my brother artists in the CG arena. I wonder if one of you who is familiar with 3-D CG lighting might be willing to comment on the challenges presented by occlusion shadows.

ILM and California Highlights

It's been a flurry of visits to art schools and movie studios over the last two weeks. I'm way behind on the blog!

We started off by giving the presentation at Rhythm & Hues, DreamWorks Animation, LA Public Library, Sony Pictures Animation and Imageworks in southern California.

ILM and California HighlightsThen in northern California we've had the privilege of visiting PDI DreamWorks and Academy of Art University. Today we went to Industrial Light and Magic in the Presidio region of San Francisco. We arrived early with an hour to kill, so we both did watercolor sketches of the Palace of Fine Arts, a remnant of the 1915 Pan-Pacific Exposition.

ILM and California HighlightsThen we entered the ILM complex. We blithely passed beyond guards, gates, cameras, flashing red lights, magnetic barriers, and a gurgling fountain surmounted by a bronze Yoda. I felt a little like Luke entering the Death Star. We set up the laptop in a cavernous state-of-the-art theater, and soon artists started arriving for the talk.

It was an honor to meet so many ILM legends, like Erik Tiemens, Carlos Huante, Darin Hilton, and many more whose work I greatly admire. Thanks to our host Josh Kushins (below with our folding hand truck), and to everyone who attended. And for those of you blog readers who are art students, ILM is an amazing place to work, justly famous for its Oscar-winning legacy, its spirit of innovation, its vast talent pool of about 1200 professionals, and its spectacular location.

ILM and California HighlightsAnd I haven't even mentioned the bookstores: Storyopolis, Linden Tree, Booksmith, and Cody's, where I got to meet Austin Madison from Pixar.

The full report on all the other studios and schools will have to wait a while until we catch up. Tomorrow: San Jose State!

Radio Interview

Yesterday morning the rain kept pouring down as we endured the rush hour traffic into Albany, New York for an interview on public radio. We got to the station 45 minutes early, with plenty of nervous energy to burn off.

We parked Trusty Rusty in view of the WAMC headquarters and its performance hall, a retrofitted old bank building on Central Avenue. I started a watercolor sketch of the streetcorner, while Jeanette cast on another knitted sock onto her bamboo needles. I had to fire up the defroster and wipers every ten minutes or so to keep the windshield from fogging up.
Radio InterviewI take back what I said yesterday about watercolor being impossible on rainy days. The comforts of the car interior is better than getting a steady soaking outside. Here’s the sketch in my mini-Moleskine, using the Schmincke sepia, light red, ultramarine, and yellow ochre.

We suddenly remembered to tune the radio to WAMC. As I put on the last touches to the sketch, the hosts Joe Donahue and Julia Taylor introduced the segment: “Next we’re going to take a journey into a world of fantasy with artist and author James Gurney…” I rushed in to the studio with a cup of coffee and my sketchbook still in my hand.

Radio InterviewThe on-air room was lined with foam waffles, and the microphones swung out from spidery arms. Even though the show is called “The Roundtable,” the table is actually elongated. The engineer behind the glass flashed a hand with five fingers—was that five seconds or five minutes? Joe and Julia were completely relaxed and friendly, but intensely focused, always in the moment. They write the intros, segues, and questions the day before, Joe told me. But they depart from the written script on a whim.

It’s the interviewer’s job to get the guest beyond his prepared answers, and the guest’s job to get the interviewer beyond his prepared questions. They were fun to talk to, and got me thinking about aspects of Dinotopia that I hadn't touched in an interview before.

Here's the link to the MP3 podcast of the interview.

Today I do two more interviews: an in-studio chat at WKZE and a phoner from LA to plug the Art Center gig.

South Bend to Three Rivers

Yesterday morning was ideal for sketching, with fleecy clouds rolling in. We set up our chairs on the front lawn of a medical office and got to work with the watercolors: Jeanette with her Lukas set, and me test-driving a new Schmincke mini set (thanks for the recommendation, Dennis Nolan).

I was trying to capture the effect of contre-jour lighting, which meant painting around the little sparkly bits of edge lighting. I probably could have used Maskoid or Liquid Frisket for this task, but didn’t have any.

I tried to blend various colors into the shadow areas, while keeping the intensities muted. Colors are more saturated or vivid when the sun is at your back, and more neutral when you're looking toward the sun. I also avoided putting too much detail or linework in the picture, which would weaken the simple backlight effect.

On the drive up old highway 31 from Indiana into Michigan, there were plenty of gloriously tacky roadside artifacts, like this classic motel sign.

Up in Three Rivers, Michigan, I did a presentation at the Carnegie Center for the Arts, which hosted a Dinotopia original art exhibition ten years ago. Tom Lowry of Lowry’s Books arranged this booksigning event. The great thing about a road-trip book tour is that you can visit towns like Three Rivers that just don't get visiting authors because they're too far from the big city airports.

Readers of this blog will be interested to know that Amy (above, center left) and her family came all the way from Dearborn. Amy was one of the two winners of the “Art History Simplified” contest a few days ago!
I also was honored to meet Sean, who started writing me fan letters more than four years ago. We’ve exchanged quite a few letters since then. Sean’s copy of the original Dinotopia book gets the prize for “most loved.” Thanks, everybody for coming and making the event a success.

Valparaiso Viewpoints

Jeanette and I paused in Valparaiso, Indiana to recharge our art batteries. Valparaiso is the county seat of Porter County, but not many tourists come here. The library has a fabulous collection of art books and there’s an art museum on the university campus of that we’ll check out tomorrow. Today it’s time for sketching.

Valparaiso ViewpointsWe picked this streetcorner: a shoe store in a brick building with a round turret. Here’s how it looked to the camera.

Valparaiso Viewpoints

I tried a sepia sketch in the mini-Moleskine watercolor book, using a few washes of tone and then some brown Waterman ink sketched with a fountain pen. Then I added a wet wash here and there to melt the linework, releasing its inner red tone.

Valparaiso ViewpointsHere’s Jeanette to describe her painting: “I did a pencil sketch in my sketchbook (laid-finish paper), then put down some watercolor. I went back in with a ballpoint pen when the color was dry.”

Our fingers got cold from the November weather, so we tucked into a wi-fi café for soup and coffee. An elderly fellow sat near me and hauled out his laptop. Sitting duck, thought I.


Valparaiso Viewpoints

Postcard from Georgetown

Before we left Washington D.C. today, I did one last watercolor in the mini Moleskine.
First, here’s the street corner of 31st and M as it appeared to the camera.

Postcard from Georgetown
Inspired by all of your kind comments on the October 15 post (grazie, Maurizio, mi fai tanti complimenti), I thought I’d try the idea of accentuating the lighting contrast to simulate the look of old photos.

So I laid in the broad shadow masses a bit darker than they appeared, and kept the light sides of all the forms a bit lighter than they actually appeared. The only pure white is the central building. White shapes in the center of a composition are a sure-fire eyeball magnet.

Postcard from Georgetown
This time I remembered the fountain pen with the brown ink. It’s an old Waterman with a pump mechanism inside that slurps fountain pen ink right out of a bottle. The ink is water-soluble, so the line work has to be done after all the washes.

Postcard from Georgetown
Jeanette uses a brown Micron with permanent ink so she doesn’t have to worry about dissolving her lines if she needs to add additional washes. But we both like to add line work and details last to avoid a “coloring book” look. Lines defining the light side of the form aren’t really necessary, and leaving them off gives a nice touch.

Mini Moleskine

We had the day off in Baltimore yesterday, so we spent most of the day in the Walters Art Museum. This is a must-see collection if you like 19th Century academic painting, and they also have a vast collection of Asian, Egyptian, and Roman stuff on display. And it’s free! Check out this gem “Figaro’s Shop” by the Spanish genre painter Jose Aranda 1837-1903.

Mini MoleskineI also inaugurated a new Moleskine mini watercolor sketchbook. The view is of Vernon Square Park from the steps of the Peabody Conservatory.

Mini Moleskine
As usual, I picked a motif that was way too complex, so I was boggling my brain trying to sort it all out. I took a couple of shots in progress:

Mini MoleskineI tried to simplify things by using a limited palette: lampblack, ultramarine blue, yellow ochre, vermillion, and sepia. After a quick pencil drawing, the first step was to block in the main shapes with a ½ inch Winsor & Newton series 995 flat.

Mini MoleskineAfter this rough block-in I like to add the finicky details with a brown fountain pen. But I left it in the hotel room, so I used an Escoda 1212 Kolinksy round #4 instead. The water supply is from a clear 35mm film can. Remember film cans?

Don't Wake the Rooster

Don't Wake the Rooster
If you’re going to sketch an animal, it had better be either sleeping or hypnotized.

I went to the chicken house yesterday at the Dutchess County Fair looking for a sleeping rooster. I’ll need some practice painting feathers if I’m going to make those feathered dinosaurs look right.

The chicken house has long rows of cages stacked on top of each other. The air smells like guano, and most of the birds are preening and fussing or crowing like maniacs. But there’s this one gorgeous Buff Japanese Cock blissfully asleep. I get right to work.

Out of the corner of my eye I see a kid come in the door holding a giant inflatable blue dolphin that he won at the midway. He’s whacking all the cages one by one, saying “Look at ‘em jump!”

“Please don’t,” I beg helplessly as the kid gets closer. My little rooster rouses and hops up in alarm. The kid moves on, snorting with laughter.
Don't Wake the Rooster
Fortunately a 4-H kid comes up to me and says “Don’t worry, mister, I can hypnotize him.” He opens the cage and says, “He belongs to my sister, and here’s what she does.” With that he cradles the rooster, rubs him under the chin for a while, and puts him back. The little rooster stands stock-still in a philosopical daze for another seven or eight minutes, long enough for me to work up a little watercolor study.
Watercolor HumidorColor: Warm and CoolAlbino Frogs & Occlusion ShadowsILM and California HighlightsRadio InterviewSouth Bend to Three RiversValparaiso ViewpointsPostcard from GeorgetownMini MoleskineDon't Wake the Rooster

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