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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

Search for Bigfoot

Search for BigfootHey! Shrek and Donkey are living in the redwood country of northern California.

Search for BigfootBut where is Bigfoot? It's a mystery. There are lots of rumors, but they're confusing.

Search for BigfootIf I see Bigfoot I will do a drawing of him. Is that Mrs. Bigfoot? With a female like that, the species would never continue.

Search for BigfootMaybe I should ask this guy.

Search for BigfootI'm in despair at this point. Perhaps Bigfoot does not exist.

Search for BigfootHooray! Jeanette found him.

San Jose State University

At San Jose State University, every student majoring in illustration learns how to animate. The four-year program at this public university just south of the San Francisco Bay includes the traditional practice of creating flat illustrations for print, but it also covers acting, lighting, and creature design skills needed for the burgeoning fields of CGI and interactive.

San Jose State UniversityIllustration/Animation chairman Alice Carter, herself a well-known illustrator and author, helped design the new curriculum. “Twelve years ago,” she told me, “we saw the business change. Print was gone, and it was being replaced by video games and CGI animation. We stripped down the program to just drawing.” SJSU began teaching how to sculpt maquettes, how to draw backgrounds, and how to develop a narrative with a storyboard.

San Jose State UniversityWe met John Clapp, (book cover above), one of the professionals from illustration faculty.

Alice "Bunny" Carter walked us through the art building and showed us the impressive senior portfolio booklets, each of which looks like an “Art of” production design handbook. “We teach the exact same thing in every class,” she said, “gesture, construction, anatomy, and technique—in that order of importance. Our emphasis is drawing. We teach figure drawing in every class.” Students have a sketchbook assignment to draw fifty trees and fifty windows. They go to the zoo to draw animals from life.

Students also learn computer graphics skills once they’ve got a handle on drawing, but “we don’t give application courses, except for Maya.” Ms. Carter admitted that graduating students don’t have as much time to spend with painting and color as they’d like, but they’ve only got four years.

San Jose State UniversityThere’s no portfolio entrance requirement; everyone is admitted, but midway through their period of study, students have to pass a review. Once they do, the older students give them a t-shirt and welcome them into the “Shrunken Head Club.”

The big players in the industry, like DreamWorks, EA, and Pixar, have taken notice. We looked into a classroom where students were sharing animation pencil tests via a video link with professionals at Disney. Recruiters regularly pick off the graduates. Almost 100% of them are hired.

Jeffrey Katzenberg of DreamWorks recently announced a six-figure donation to help build the animation program even more. The grant is welcome in a public institution that is a bit strained for resources. Tuition is one of the lowest of the schools we’ve visited. As a result of the tight funds, the computer rooms and cafeteria are crowded.

San Jose State UniversityI shared my Dinotopia presentation with a group of over 200 students packed into a double classroom. At supper later, Alice said she often hears illustrators back east complaining about the declining field of magazine illustration. But she sees the industry with fresh eyes. “We’re committed to visual development, and now we’re known for it. This is the new golden age of illustration.”

Ted Youngkin in Perspective

On the way up Highway 101 yesterday, we decided on a whim to try and visit Ted Youngkin, our favorite art teacher, who taught us everything we know about perspective (and a lot more that we’ve forgotten). I think of him every time I do a drawing.

Ted Youngkin in PerspectiveJeanette and I met in Mr. Youngkin's class 27 years ago. He was tough and scary back then, only because he demanded so much from us, and wouldn't stand for anything less than our best. He has been retired from teaching for a long time now. We have exchanged many letters and photos over the years, and I know that beneath that scariness is a real love for his students, based on a desire to see them do well.

It wasn’t easy to find him. I have never had his phone number, and he’s not listed. He has no email or website. No one at Art Center seemed to be in touch with him anymore. I had his address on a scrap of paper, and a guy in a gas station in Solvang found the street on a tattered map. When we got there, it was a gated community.

Ted Youngkin in PerspectiveI rang the house from the gate, and amazingly he answered. At first he thought someone was pranking him. A minute later he met us in his driveway and I handed him a copy of the new book.

Ted Youngkin in PerspectiveHe and Martha graciously invited us in. Incredibly, he is still working every day, creating complex drawings of architectural facades in Pilot pen and marker, based on his travels all around the world. He has recent sketchbooks full of drawings, not just of architecture, but also of people.

Ted Youngkin in Perspective
He asked to see Jeanette’s sketches, and looked through her sketchbook page by page. An hour went by in a moment, but we had to go.

As we drove on north on the coast highway, Jeanette said something that really struck me, and I think she’s exactly right: “Perspective is the basis for all drawings, even figure drawings.”

Art Center

I must admit that I was apprehensive about my visit to Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California. It has been over 25 years since I was a student there (I was only able to stay for two semesters), and I wondered how it had changed.

Art CenterIn the early 1980s the Art Center illustration program was focused primarily on modern-art inspired “concept” illustration. Students were groomed for painting trendy magazine illustrations and album covers. The emphasis was on style. There was no encouragement for careers in paperback covers, children’s books, wildlife art, comic art, animation, movie production design or landscape painting. A few teachers demonstrated the skills of traditional realism, but they were in the minority, and some of the best of them ended up leaving to teach elsewhere.

Art Center is a different school now, and the changes are all for the better. The school is housed in a long black building set in the hills above Pasadena. But gone is the minimal, sterile look of the 1980s. Glass cases filled with student work now cover walls that once were blank. One display held a group of beautifully-observed paintings made in Gary Meyer’s class based on a live model wearing an interesting clown outfit.

Art CenterBob Kato is one of the new generation of teachers. He was taught by Dennis Nolan (the Hartford teacher). Himself a master draftsman and painter, Mr. Kato leads his students to a high level of proficiency. During the fourteen week term of his Sketching for Illustration class, he starts with line and value, follows with a model lit from a single light source, and ends with costumed models lit from multiple colored light sources. Bob Kato also hosts extracurricular sessions called The Drawing Club.

Art CenterWe visited Gary Meyer’s perspective class, where he was discussing fisheye distortion. Because of its industrial design component, perspective has always been a strength of the school, and Mr. Meyer is ably following in the very large footsteps of Ted Youngkin, now retired, who taught the likes of Syd Mead.

Art CenterMuch of the buzz about Art Center now revolves around its new entertainment design department, headed by Scott Robertson. His students were responsible for the recent book Skillful Huntsman, an exercise in production design that holds its own in print with publications by working professionals. Combining industrial design with illustration, students in this new major learn the skills they’ll need for visual development careers at the nearby movie studios, with classes often taught by instructors from DreamWorks, Disney, and Imageworks.

Art CenterThe school now has a prop room, filled with costumes, mannikins, musical instruments, and everyday objects to use for staging an illustration. Students can check them out to take home, or models can pose with them in school.

Art CenterEvery Art Center student learns how to use woodshop tools. Here’s a display of working pull toys.

Illustration chair Ann Field typifies the exciting new spirit of the school, keeping right up with the times, but respecting timeless tradition. She told me that she respects the school’s duty to provide a strong foundation in traditional drawing and painting skills that can outfit a graduate for success in any career direction. “Some things will forever be true,” she told me. No matter how art and styles change, “you will always need to know how to paint and draw.”

Museum of Jurassic Technology

Museum of Jurassic TechnologyThe Museum of Jurassic Technology in Culver City, California, is a curio cabinet of obscure relics and extinct beliefs. "Jurassic" is metaphorical; no dinosaurs here.

We wandered in late on a drizzly day. No one else was there. A bearded attendant finally appeared from nowhere. He apologized for the smell of a dog-doo and incense (a dog had just had an accident). He directed us to watch an introductory slide show in a shrine-like alcove.

A voice began in sonorous tones describing how the word “museum” should be a place dedicated to the muses. We explored the dark, narrow rooms and hallways, passing through doorways framed with heavy Victorian curtains. The displays included.
  • Micromosaics made from the scales of butterly wings.
  • Stereo floral radiographs of Albert Richard.
  • Vectography (an obscure 1940s technique for overlapping 3-D images)
  • Microminiature figures carved by Hagop Sandaldjian, figures so small they easily fit inside the eye of a needle.
  • A bell wheel, known as an arca musarithmica,
  • And displays of forgotten folk cures, like two dead mice on a piece of toast given to a child to cure stuttering.
The strange exposition that the museum offered had its desired effect, and roused the muses.

“Teaching,” quoting 18th Century museum pioneer Charles Willson Peale, “is a sublime ministry inseparable from human happiness. The learner must be led always from familiar objects toward the unfamiliar - guided along, as it were, a chain of flowers into the mysteries of life.”
Fodor's Review of the Museum

Old Haunts

Old Haunts
Jeanette and I met and fell in love as art students 27 years ago in Los Angeles. Now that we’re here again, we’ve been visiting our old haunts to see how they’ve changed.

When we were engaged, we moved into the Golden Palm apartments in Highland Park. The Golden Palm, or “GP” as we affectionately called it, was a favorite apartment building for students at Art Center. The top floor was occupied almost entirely by art students, and the bottom floor was all working people.

It was no beauty then and it hasn’t gotten any prettier. Our apartment was next to a dumpster. Every morning a mother would lift her son into it to fetch out cans for recycling. They’d then crush the cans at six in the morning by driving back and forth over them with an old Chevy Impala.Old Haunts

When we stopped by yesterday, the grass was tramped to dirt, and we saw broken furniture piled up along Benner Street. There were bars on the windows, and dented vans parked outside with bumper stickers that said “Yo Soy El Army.” Like other places we’ve seen all across America, the rich places have gotten richer and the poor places have gotten poorer.

Old Haunts
In the old days after sketching in downtown LA, we’d grab a bite at Philippe’s, home of the famous French dip sandwiches and five-cent coffee.

We expected it would be erased by time, but it was exactly as we remember it, with the sawdust on the floor, the long communal tables, the pickled eggs, and the circus posters. There were only two changes we noticed. Now they have wi-fi and a website. And the coffee now costs nine cents.

Old Haunts

Home: Jungle Edition

The only downside about being on tour for so long is that home sweet home turns into a spookhouse. We hit the road in early October and just stopped home for a short Thanksgiving break. But the place looks neglected. The leaves are all down. Oak branches have fallen across the driveway. The grass never got its final cut. Small trees have sprouted from the soil in our gutters.

Home: Jungle EditionOur Ankylosaurus keeps an eye on things. He’s looking seedy, too. The sculpt was originally made for an animatronic puppet that appeared in a Dinotopia CD Rom adventure game published by Turner Interactive in the mid ’90s. Remember when publishers had CD Rom divisions?

Home: Jungle Edition
Hiram is our caretaker. He’s supposed to get the chores done while we’re gone, but he’s been spending all day sitting around eating styrofoam peanuts. Here he is complaining about his arthritis. Hiram is actually a full-size puppet I made from an old cardboard box. He’s a nice guy but he tends to scare little kids.

Home: Jungle EditionWe realized we were out of firewood with winter coming on. So I got to work with the chainsaw cutting up downed wood. Franklin got the leaf blower working.

Home: Jungle EditionNeither of us heard Jeanette shout when she saw a seven-foot rat snake sleeping on the top of the bush where she was raking. We let the snake sleep, poor guy. Rat snakes are pretty companionable critters, and aren’t too frisky this time of year. But in summertime when they’re feeling more chipper they’ve been known to climb up the side of the house alongside the chimney looking for robin hatchlings.

Syracuse University

Syracuse University's art school has a long reputation for training artists and illustrators. Two of my heroes, Tom Lovell and Harry Anderson, graduated from Syracuse around 1930.

Syracuse UniversityThe campus adjoins the city of Syracuse in the center of New York State. Its hilly location gives its students lots of exercise as they travel from class to class.

Syracuse UniversityJohn Thompson heads the illustration program. His approach is traditional and realistic. We sat in on a class as he introduced an assignment on the theme of “inside and outside” He showed slides of compositional framing devices ranging from Titian to Bernie Fuchs.

He will lead a group of students to India this winter for a sketching tour. He told me that he was in no hurry for students to learn digital tools. At the undergraduate level, the focus is primarily on drawing and painting.

Syracuse UniversityOur guide Tim Coolbaugh took us throughout the rest of the art building, a modern concrete structure at the edge of the quad. Lining the hallways were huge self-portraits showing faces contorted with laughter.

The walls upstairs displayed the results of a line drawing exercise taught by James Ransome, where students used markers to draw interior scenes with figures. They used white artist's tape to erase parts of the drawings as they reconsidered their lines and explored abstract shapes.

Syracuse UniversitySeniors occupied the tower rooms of the art building, which they customized with their supplies and works-in-progress.

Syracuse University also maintains the Special Collections Research Center, which has an impressive collection of artist’s papers and manuscripts, including cartoonist Roy Crane’s remarkable instructional scrapbook, assembled to guide his assistants in composition.

Syracuse UniversityAfter my presentation, I met several of the illustration instructors including, from left to right: London Ladd, Bob Dacey, and James Ransome, and Roger DeMuth (not in picture) all award-winning professional illustrators balancing their own artwork with their teaching.
Thanks and best wishes to all at SU!

Rochester Institute of Technology

Most people think of RIT as a technical school for engineers and scientists. But it also has an impressive art and illustration program, which offers its students a skills-oriented course of study in a professional setting.

Rochester Institute of TechnologyThe campus consists of rectilinear red brick buildings arranged on a large campus on the outskirts of the city. We arrived at the gallery of the art building, which was hosting an exhibition investigating the design of pop-up books. Each of the basic design principles of pop-ups was illustrated with a giant-sized corrugated plastic model that you could try out.

Rochester Institute of TechnologyIllustration chairman Bob Dorsey toured us through the art building. He told us that illustration students concentrate on basic skills of drawing and painting for the first two years. When they begin using digital tools later in the program, the college insists on staying on the cutting edge, completely gutting and replacing the computer equipment with the latest technology every two and a half years.

Mr. Dorsey described his program this way: "our illustration program is really geared towards full time studio careers. We have a diverse faculty of real working illustrators who all have their own areas of expertise. This includes traditional, digital, and dimensional illustration."

Rochester Institute of TechnologyRIT is one of only two institutions in America that offers comprehensive degree programs in medical illustration (the other is in Cleveland). Department Chairman Glen Hintz showed us tearsheets of alumni (above), and the room where students get artistic training in the area of human anatomy and physiology.

Rochester Institute of TechnologyThe medical illustration program is closely integrated with the university’s biology department, and students have full access to cadavers and head-to-toe dissection.

To my knowledge, no school that I've seen yet offers a course specifically in animal anatomy for the artist—but I believe every art school should! If you know of such a school, shout it out on the comments.

RIT is also the home for the legendary School for American Crafts. For students interested in woodworking, metalworking, glassblowing, or ceramics (textiles were discontinued in the mid-90s), there is probably no better place to learn from modern masters. Illustration majors are able to sample from these resources as electives.

Rochester Institute of TechnologyThere are also programs in animation and sculpture or "dimensional" work. Here is a dimensional major named Matt, with his sculpture called the “Key Keeper,” an alien creature who walks on his fingers and holds his keys with his tail.

Rochester Institute of TechnologyAfter my presentation on Dinotopia, I enjoyed talking with Bob Dorsey, Chad Grohman and Allen Douglas of the illustration faculty. These teachers obviously have great sympathy and respect for each other and a profound regard for their students. We’ve noticed that when all the teachers get along as friendly colleagues, the students benefit from the chemistry and the unity of vision, and they do their best work.

Thanks again and best wishes to everyone at RIT, and I wish I had had more time to visit with you!

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.
Search for BigfootSan Jose State UniversityTed Youngkin in PerspectiveArt CenterMuseum of Jurassic TechnologyOld HauntsHome: Jungle EditionSyracuse UniversityRochester Institute of TechnologyRadio Interview

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