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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

The Laundromat & the Non-Motif

I welcome being stuck at a laundromat because it means finding a “non-motif.”

You know how it is when you’re driving along looking for a picturesque subject to sketch. You never find it. Everything rushes by too fast as you look out the car window. Being plunked at a laundromat forces you to make the most of wherever you find yourself. Instead of a typical artistic motif, like a barn or a fishing boat, you have the chance to paint a non-motif, which is always more interesting.

The Laundromat & the Non-MotifYesterday we spent a couple of hours at Benny’s Coin Laundry in Geneva, Ohio. All sorts of magnificently ordinary subjects presented themselves. Jeanette did a pen sketch of the Hong Kong King Buffet across the street.

The Laundromat & the Non-MotifThe Laundromat & the Non-MotifI followed the ninety degree rule and faced toward a cell tower and a telephone pole. A guy came out of the laundry and said, “I’ve lived here 25 years, and I’ve never seen an artist painting the CVS.” He told us about how the old dance hall above the general store still has its parquet floor and gas lamps, but it is going to be cut up into apartments.

The Laundromat & the Non-MotifI used a Kuretake water brush pen. It comes in several sizes and has a tip of nylon fibers. I filled the clear plastic handle not with water but with the same Waterman brown ink that I use in my Waterman fountain pen, which I used for the line work. A second Kuretake holds a lighter tone of ink.

The Laundromat & the Non-MotifI had never really studied a cell tower before. This was the self-supporting kind, unlike the monopole or the guyed tower.

The Laundromat & the Non-MotifAs we drove away, everything looked paintable, and I had to tear myself away from this one, a fast food sign in front of an abandoned Carnegie library. Non-motifs are all these candid vistas we take for granted in our everyday surroundings. They're attractive not because they are ugly or beautiful, but simply because they're there. They are the ubiquitous universe that we look at but rarely see.

Gallery One

Gallery OneHere I am on my way to a day’s work at Gallery One in Mentor, Ohio, one of the premier galleries for art prints and originals. I gave my Magic Marker presentation to a very smart group of young people. Last night I shared the behind-the-scenes PowerPoint show.

Gallery OneThis is Kyle, who told me, “I want to be an illustrator by day and a boxer by night. In the afternoon I can rest.” I drew a picture of a T.rex versus a strutter in his book, while he sketched up the clash betweeen Godzilla and Space Godzilla.

Gallery OneA fun surprise was meeting the one and only Azonthus (of the Dinotopia Message Board) and her husband Greg. They showed us great photos of their wedding album.

Gallery OneAnd why do you suppose I'm smiling? Because Sue gave me a beautiful fossilized animal dropping, known as a coprolite. It was about 20 million years old, so it had turned to stone, but it looked as real as something you'd find in the park, and a lot of the kids didn't care to touch it. Of all the kinds of direct evidence of dinosaurs and ancient mammals—bones, footprints, even skin impressions—coprolites really make them come to life. Thanks, Sue!

Dead Air Syndrome

Dead Air Syndrome
We stopped at a breakfast place along U.S. Highway 20 called the Country Table. It was filled with guys with plaid shirts and women with dyed hair. Whenever there was a booth occupied by a group of men or a group of women, they were always huddled close, chattering happily away.

But whenever a husband sat with his wife, silence prevailed. There were no words, just dull chewing. It's the same everywhere, not just here. How is it possible to share a whole meal with someone without talking?

Before I got married I used to worry that after a few decades my wife and I would run out of things to say. But so far that hasn’t happened. Our conversation probably isn’t that interesting. We repeat ourselves endlessly. But so far at least we don’t suffer from "dead air syndrome."

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

Oshkosh Opening

Today the Oshkosh Public Museum opened its exhibition of 49 original paintings from Dinotopia: Journey to Chandara.

Oshkosh OpeningHere’s the sign outside museum. There were also buses with Dinotopia banners, local school events, a signing at the Apple Blossom Bookstore, and reading lists at the library, thanks to the tireless organizing efforts of the museum’s assistant director Mike Breza and members of the community here in Oshkosh, Wisconsin.

Oshkosh OpeningPerformers from the Cirque du Soleil were present in costumes that matched the “Liners” illustration from the Dinotopia book. Here they are posing next to the original painting “Spotters and Liners.”

Oshkosh OpeningThe stiltwalkers made an impressive sight as they walked nimbly up and down the grand staircase, while jugglers managed up to five pins in the lobby.

Oshkosh OpeningThanks to everyone at the museum and to all of you who came to say hello and have your books signed. I’m especially grateful for those of you who drove from far away to attend the opening.

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 Laundromat & the Non-MotifGallery OneDead Air SyndromeSouth Bend to Three RiversValparaiso ViewpointsGrey Hair or None?Oshkosh OpeningRoad KillRest Stop VisitorHappy Halloween

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