Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Foggy Weather

Most folks like sunny, cloudless days, but artists often prefer fog, rain, and clouds. This sketch in Maine wouldn’t have been half as interesting on a day with a clear blue sky.

The water was glassy, just one semi-tone darker than the sky. Everything was gray except those red details at the waterline. All the color of the far boats dropped out. The distant sailboat is just a ghost.

As with overcast light, there is little modeling of the form, because white light is coming from overhead in all directions.
Related posts on overcast light, part 1 and part 2

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Trost Richards Exhibition in PA

William Trost Richards was a 19th Century American realist landscape painter that we've looked at in various previous posts (Called Away, Trost Richards Watercolor,

The Arnold Art Gallery at Lebanon Valley College in Annville, Pennsylvania will be featuring a new exhibition called "William Trost Richards: Land and Sea," from January 9 to February 15, 2009.

The artist was a native of Philadelphia who continued his studies in Florence, Rome and Paris. In the 1850s, he befriended Frederic Church and Thomas Cole and became a member of the Hudson River School. By the 1870s, the artist became interested in the American landscape movement known as luminism, which explored, among other concerns, the immensity of the sea and the untapped frontiers of America. The show, titled William Trost Richards: Land and Sea, will feature oil paintings, small studies in watercolor, and pencil on loan from private collections, New York City galleries and several regional institutions.

The Suzanne H. Arnold Art Gallery is open at no charge on Wednesdays from 5 to 8 p.m., Thursdays and Fridays from 1 to 4:30 p.m., Saturdays and Sundays from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., and by appointment for tour groups. For more information, please call 717-867-6445.

Arnold Art Gallery Website, link. (Note: I don't know what images are in the show; the picture on this post is just a representative example of his work.)
Metropolitan Museum collection of Trost Richards, link.
Large Trost Richards image database, link.

Really Useful

When the art blog "Making a Mark" handed out the year-end awards, I was thrilled that GurneyJourney was recognized with the "The FAQs and Answers Really Useful Medal."

If you haven't checked out Making a Mark, give it a visit. It is full of practical and helpful information, not only about picturemaking, but exhibitions, art resources, and developing an art career. (Thanks, Katherine)

Monday, December 29, 2008

Dinotopia Map

Treasure Island began with a map that Robert Louis Stevenson sketched for his nephew on a rainy day.

Dinotopia also began with a map—though in the first map I called the island “Panmundia.” Once I had an idea of the overall shape and the kind of physical geography I wanted for the island, I sketched the island quickly in markers. The mountain and canyon relief is accentuated by an imaginary light source from the from the upper left. The original painting, below, was rendered in oil on illustration board.

It’s a good idea to add more place names than the ones you’re planning to use in a given story. This gives the feeling that the world exists beyond the boundaries of what you have revealed so far, and it also sets the stage for sequels.

In the most recent map of Dinotopia: Journey to Chandara, drawn with a dip pen in a mid-19th century style, I added dozens of new town names. More about that process at the previous post on "Place Names."

Sunday, December 28, 2008

How to Sleep in Airports

In sympathy with people who are stuck in airports on their return journeys, here are some tips for getting some sleep if you have to spend the night in the airport departure lounge.

Airport benches are designed with rigid arms to prevent people from stretching out to sleep, so it takes some ingenuity to get comfortable.

I spent a sleepless night in London last month. There was a little community of sleepers sneaking glances at each other to see how their neighbors solved the sleep problem. Some made beds out of their luggage carts or their suitcases.

Even though strangers didn’t say a word to each other, there was an unspoken bond between us as we triumphed together over the little trials of our humanity.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Rain and Watercolor

Rain is the death of watercolor. I knew I was in trouble when the clouds rolled in over the Crateri Silvestri in Sicily last month.

These cinder cones are high on the summit of Etna. I walked around their rims and gazed in, but the clouds closed in.

By the time I started a sketch, a steady drizzle started. The washes in the sky wouldn't dry. I leaned forward to intercept the drops. But you can see from the droplets in the sky that I couldn't block them. I just had to admit defeat and head down the mountain.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Drawing Shadows, Drawing Light

Because paper is white, the substance of drawing is shadow.

Shadow is what we look for when we draw. Once we establish the outline, we begin to shade the drawing. Only at the end of the process are the illuminated areas revealed.

The drawing at the left is a 20-minute study of a costumed model with a brush and black ink.

What if we could reverse that thinking and explore the structure of the light masses from the beginning? The second study uses brown paper and white gouache to define the areas touched by light. After a quick line drawing, I painted in the light shapes, in this case ignoring or downplaying variations in the light.

The shadow side of the form had to take care of itself, unless I placed a patch of light behind the model to define the shadow side contour.

This is a very good exercise for any painter or any student of composition, because the light masses should really concern you more than the placement of darks.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Christmas? Already?!

After all the big buildup, it's here.

This Christmas card, drawn with charcoal on cotton vellum, was from 1987, when our son Dan was less than a year old. Now he's a senior in college. We're happy because Dan, his brother Frank, and three of our nephews are all here with us.

We at the Gurney household wish you all the very best.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Tadema’s Marble Secrets

British painter Lawrence Alma Tadema (1836-1912) painted realistic scenes of the classical world for his fellow Victorians. He loved to paint images with big expanses of white marble.

This was a bit of a fantasy, because the Romans more often used cement and faux painted plaster, avoiding the cost and hassle of real marble as much as possible. But in Tadema’ vision, white marble was everywhere, and he was good at painting it.

What were some of his secrets to painting marble?

He often uses a red-brown iron oxide staining into the structure of the marble along the joins, and grey or black veining in both the surface and deep layers of some of the stones.

The veining works best if it's very subtle. It can be accomplished either with opaque mixtures or glazing, but ideally with a combination of both.

One secret of getting the marble to look translucent is to use lighting from above and slightly behind. This plays up the effect of subsurface scattering along the illuminated edge.

Remember that besides transmitted light, there’s a lot of light bouncing around from all directions, so save the dark accents only for deep hollows or pits in the stone.
See a lot more Tademas at ARC virtual museum.
GurneyJourney post on subsurface scattering.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Sleeping Man

People compose themselves when they are sitting for a portrait. But when they're asleep, anything goes. This businessman was riding home on the Hudson Valley line from New York City.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Seven Inch Figures

How big should you make your figure drawings? When I was in art school they told us to buy 18 x 24 inch paper, and the figures were supposed to be about 21 inches tall, enough to fill the vertical page.

British academic painter Frederic, Lord Leighton (1830-1896) made the case for drawing them about one third that size.

“In drawing a whole figure from nature we should be three times its length from it, to oversee it properly. If we draw normally, we must draw on the scale on which we should trace, if our sheet of paper were a sheet of glass held up, and if, instead of pencil, we traced with a diamond on this interposed pane you will find that a five-foot figure then comes about seven inches high on your glass, or its substitute, your paper.

On this scale the comparison is direct and not proportional. On this scale, and, largely, in accordance with this law, are drawn all studies from nature by masters of all periods. Of course, I am not speaking of cartoons. The studies I speak of could be squared up and enlarged to cartoons on any scale required for decoration in fresco, or on canvases.

Now, if Rubens and Longhi and Watteau and Fragonard and Ingres and Millet and Puvis and Keene, and all the company of the blessed drew on that scale, they probably knew what they were about.”

---As recalled by Walter Sickert, quoted from The Study of Drawing, 1910, reprinted in Apollo Magazine, 1996, page 47

More on Leighton at Art Renewal Center, link.
In reference to the distance to sit from the model, see previous GJ post: "Pyramid of Vision."

Note: "Cartoons" is used by Leighton in the sense of full size preliminary line drawings, not in the sense we use the word to describe small humorous drawings.

Addendum: Blog reader Godo, who doesn't have an account for comments, sent an email with the sketch above, as well as the following interesting discussion:

Since several weeks I am reading your blog, a real interesting publication.
Maybe you are interested in what I wanted to say, so here is my contribution:

This is a problem of elementary geometry. The intercept theorem explains the relationship between the size of the figure (A), the distance of the painter from the figure (B) and the distance of the drawing paper or canvas from the painter’s eye (D) (see picture).

Sometimes I heard my students say: I cannot draw something different from what I see. What does it mean I wondered? In fact it was the case what Erik stated above: it is natural and the easiest way to draw. Sometimes you cannot approach a subject as you want. When I asked to “zoom” the picture they felt uncomfortable as they had to draw bigger than they “saw”.

“In drawing a whole figure from nature we should be three times its length from it, to oversee it properly. … will find that a five-foot figure then comes about seven inches high on your glass, or its substitute, your paper.

From this statement we can easily calculate, that the painter held his drawing paper at a distance (D) of about 21 inches (54 cm); this is approximately the length of the stretched arm.
Thanks, Godo!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Life Before Facebook

Seventy years ago, during the last economic mega-downturn, smart young couples made friends by inviting over their neighbors to play cards.

Advertisers in 1938 pushed products with photo-comics. They didn’t mind harping on our insecurities. They still use the same psychology, but they’re not as obvious about it.
I'll be looking for that fresh, clean pack of Congress Playing Cards under the Christmas Tree.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Gate into Fes, Morocco

The gate into Fes, Morocco, known as Bab Boujeloud, was covered in scaffolding when I sat down to sketch the scene from a nearby café. The first thing I did was delete the construction clutter. The busy tilework would give me enough of a headache.

Created with Admarket's flickrSLiDR.

Donkeys ducked into the arch, carrying loads of of animal hides bound for the tanneries. Red taxis disgorged tourists, but no cars ventured past the portal. Beyond the gate is one of the largest medieval pedestrian cities in the world.

The ornate blue tile work was too finicky to paint with a brush, so I scribbled a suggestion of the detail with a blue colored pencil. I’m no purist in watercolor. I mix in pencils or gouache or coffee stains whenever they serve to capture the something about the scene that doesn’t yield to traditional means.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Guess the Foreign Editions

Here are five new foreign editions of Dinotopia: Journey to Chandara. Can you guess which languages they're translated into?

The first person to guess correctly will receive a free bookplate and a signed dinosaur sketch by James Gurney. One guess per person, please. Employees of Dinotopia publishers not eligible.
ADDENDUM. The answers are: 1. Romanian, 2. French, 3. Bulgarian, 4. Czech, and 5. Hungarian.

Thanks everyone. Vertumno was the winner. As I understand it, Bulgarian and Russian share the Cyrillic alphabet, so a lot of people, including Ruuhkis made a completely reasonable guess right away. Erin McGuire was right, but just a little late.

The publisher of the Romanian, Bulgarian, Czech, and Hungarian editions is Eastone Books, and the publisher of the French edition is Editions Fleurus.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Port of Tangier

The old city or medina of Tangier, Morocco looks like white crystals growing on the northernmost hill of the city, overlooking the modern port facility.

The ferry terminal building looks like a space station in the foreground of the scene. The view is from the rear deck of the ferry. Since the ferry took a long time to load, I had lots of time to do a watercolor painting.

Here's a pan across the scene and down to the sketchbook in my lap, with the sound of the public address system.

All those white mullions in the windows were a bit of a chore to paint around. You can see me fumbling around with the sable round. It would have been bettter to have a small chisel tipped flat brush for those square shapes.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008


In his new book Autophobia, Brian Ladd examines the history of our hostility to automobiles, balanced against the long history of the undeniable triumph of cars, from the Model T to the SUV.
Cars are the scourge of civilization, responsible for everything from suburban sprawl and urban decay to environmental devastation and rampant climate change—not to mention our slavish dependence on foreign oil from dubious sources abroad. Add the astonishing price in human lives that we pay for our automobility—they kill the equivalent of a dozen jumbo-jet crashes every day—plus the countless number of hours we waste in gridlock traffic commuting to work, running errands, picking up our kids, and searching for parking, and we can't help but ask: Haven't we had enough already? After a century behind the wheel, could we be reaching the end of the automotive age?
Do we hate cars more than we love them? Here's a test: Next time you go on a gallery crawl, count the number of car-free paintings you have to walk by before you see a canvas that features an automobile.
NY Times book review of Autophobia, link

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Arab Guard

Portrayals of Arab guards are a staple of Orientalist painting. Kristian Davies, author of The Orientalists, wrote, “a theme grew within Orientalism of depicting guards and sentries dressed in the traditional medieval regalia of the Islamic warrior.”

Austrian painter Ludwig Deutsch (1855-1935) painted A Palace Guard in 1892.

The archetype still exists today, though modern guards lack the colorful garb. Deep in the labyrinth of the medina of Fes, Morocco, I met a man named Hassan whose job was to stand watch over the doorway of an antique store.

He patiently posed for me while I drew his features in brown and black water-soluble colored pencils. (Photo ADF)
More on Ludwig Deutsch, at Art Renewal Center, and a Ludwig Deutsch blog by Enzie Shahmiri, who has commented on this blog.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Digging Machine

This is an unused concept sketch for a paperback cover for the novel Digging Leviathan by James Blaylock. The story involved a kid building a homemade machine to dig down to Pellucidar under modern-day LA.

I love a science fiction premise that mixes the bizarre and the banal, and I relished the opportunity to include a Rambler, a Mobil sign, a fish flag, and a TV antenna.

We didn’t end up using that particular sketch, though, because it didn’t have quite enough immediate impact. Instead we used a design that put the machine more in silhouette.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Art and Influence

A bountiful new art blog called "Art and Influence," has just burst upon the scene. The blog is the work of Virginia plein-air painter Armand Cabrera and Diane Burket.

In less than a month since its inception, they have hit the ground running with dozens of posts on Armand's traditional painting instruction, mainly in oil landscapes. There is also a rich collection of biographical spotlights from art history, focusing on realist/impressionist painters of the 19th and 20th centuries, complete with quotes and bibliographies.

Many of these posts were adapted from material Armand and Diane created for the website Outdoor Painting.
Art and Influence blog, link.
Armand Cabrera website, link.
Outdoor Painting website, link.
GJ post about painting with Armand earlier this year, link.

Rabat Alley

In this quick watercolor painting of a narrow street in Rabat, Malta, the goal was to keep the shadow together as one shape. The edge of the shadow is cool on the upper right, where it picks up the color of the sky.

And the shaded buildings on the left are warm where they receive reflected light from the warm illuminated buildings.

But compared to the light tones in the distance, the shadow is one basic tone, and I tried to downplay the detail in the doorways and windows in the shadow area to keep it simple.

Here's how the little street appeared as I painted it, with bells ringing and car driving into it.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Smith & Wesson

One year after 9/11, I met Joseph in a deli in Kingston, New York. He told me that he believed the end of the world is coming.

"I was a member of a gang," he said, "but I don't do that no more. I don't need to worry about no terrorists. I got a Smith and Wesson next to me all the time.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Atmospheric Study

When you're planning a fantasy landscape painting, it often helps to do a quick atmospheric study. Here's one I did for the painting Waterfall City: Afternoon Light, from Dinotopia: Journey to Chandara.

If you make a 3-D schematic maquette, you can do the study while looking at the model. This study uses white and black charcoal on brown Kraft paper. The goal is to study the chiaroscuro: and to consider which things are light on dark and which things are dark on light.

An atmospheric study also gives you the chance to think about the mist and atmosphere. In a scene like this, not everything should be crisply lit. Some areas should be in shadow, and others half hidden behind veils of atmosphere.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

SF Signal's Top Ten Art Websites

Thanks to illustrator Dan Dos Santos on SF for picking Gurney Journey as one of the top ten art websites of 2008.

Don't miss Dan's website and his complete top ten picks:
  1. Imaginistix - Newly launched blog by Boris Vallejo and Julie. I'm really looking forward to seeing how this develops.

  2. GFX Artist - A great collection of Art tutorials from some of the industry's hottest artists.

  3. Turtle Art - A massive database of SF/F artists... an amazing efficient way to kill time.

  4. Lines and Colors - Updated frequently, with a focus on modern and classical illustration

  5. Gorilla Artfare - A group art blog, much of which is either SF/F based or concept art.

  6. Google SketchUp - Sketch-up is a new program from Google. Not only is it rapidly becoming a staple of many SF/F artist's process, but it is totally free!

  7. ConceptArt - A staple of the art community.

  8. Gurney Journey - James Gurney's blog is still one of the best out there. A must see for fans of illustration.

  9. - My favorite blog for daily art doses.

  10. - Years in the making, any SF/F geek will find Tor's new site hard to resist. Be sure to check out the artist galleries!
courtesy SF

Watercolor Portrait, Tangier

A couple weeks ago I posted this watercolor portrait of Zack, the antique dealer. He posed for me at a cafe in the old medina of Tangier, Morocco.

Here's a new video to show you the atmosphere of the scene. The light was coming from the blue sky above the square where we were sitting, and it made a cool highlight on the top of his head. Film by Alan Dean Foster.

Geneva Church

Here’s a small sketch with watercolor pencils of a church in Geneva. I left out a lot of detail, mainly because of a lack of time, and I gradated the tones of the tower to a light tone behind the two figures.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Art Opinions of Ingres

The French painter Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres (1780-1867) was known for his sensous line and refined surfaces, but he also had strong opinions about art.

Here are ten aphorisms about art. Only eight of them are attributed to Ingres. Two statements hiding in the list are from other people. Can you guess which two statements do not belong to Ingres?

1. Always keep that happy naïveté, that charming ignorance.
2. If I could make musicians out of all of you, you would benefit as painters.
3. Love truth because it is also beauty.
4. A work of art should contain two elements: the element of reality, which is nature, and the element of individuality, which is man.
5. Paint without any model. You must completely realize that your model is never the thing you wish to paint.
6. Anatomy is a dreadful science. If ever I had to learn anatomy, I never would have been a painter.
7. I have always attempted perfection of form.
8. Drawing is everything. It is all of art.
9. People want paintings you can walk around in. I don’t give a fig for that.
10. Don’t waste your time in copying at the museum. Make simple sketches from the masters.
Addendum, December 11
4 and 7 are the answers. Jason's Brush guessed correctly.

#7 is from –Odilon Redon, from his writing "A soi-meme."
#4 is from Emile Zola, Essay on Present Day Art.

The second half of Ingres's quote about use of models was this: "...your model is never the thing you want to paint, neither in character of drawing nor in coloring; but at the same time, it is absolutely necessary to do nothing without the model..."

The source book was "From the Classicists to the Impressionists: Art and Architecture in the Nineteenth Century," edited by E.G. Holt, 1966.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Ted Youngkin

I'm sad to announce the passing last weekend of Ted Youngkin, the revered perspective teacher from Art Center College of Design whom Jeanette and I visited about a year ago (see previous post). His daughter informed me that he died peacefully at home with his family around him.

Born in Hawarden, Iowa, Mr. Youngkin served in the Marines, and then worked in industrial design. He patented several inventions before returning to Art Center to teach. He taught in a rigorous and demanding manner that brought out the best in all his students.

He was the best art teacher I ever had, and his class was the place where I met my wife Jeanette. One of his former students recently recalled to me that "he was scary! I loved the fact that he was so regimented and tough. I learned so much from that class. He was Yoda!"

Trost Richards Watercolor

Blog reader (1833-1905) Daroo asked to see more gouache paintings by William Trost Richards. This 9x14 inch gem, called Lake Squam from Red Hill (1874) is from the Metropolitan Museum's collection, link.

Trost Richards combined the luminous grandeur of Turner with an American PreRaphaelite sense of carefully observed detail. He often worked semi-opaque watercolor over a gray-green tone paper.

Here's a plein air seascape that captures the full range of big waves, ripples, foam, and recoil. WTR is best known for his seascapes and his Adirondack mountainscapes.

You can see a variety of WTR works for sale at William Varieka Fine Arts, link.
Another good website is "William Trost Richards, The Complete Works," link.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Minaret in Tunis

I try not to get nervous when a soldier with a machine gun watches me paint. But this guy in the medina of Tunis was very cool. There was a language barrier, so after I exhausted my pleasantries in French and Arabic, he just quietly watched.

I actually spent two sessions to capture this watercolor of the minaret at the Sidi Youssef mosque in Tunis. The sun was rapidly setting and the moon rising, while the light of the souq was brightening. I used gouache on this one just for the sky, because I couldn't capture the even gradation in transparent watercolor.

Here's the narrow street where I was painting (photo courtesy Alan Dean Foster). The loudspeakers from the minaret resounded with the call to prayer, and behind me in the government square, a brass band accompanied the daily flag ceremony.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Sinterklaas Festival in Rhinebeck

Yesterday me and the missus took a ride into our hometown of Rhinebeck, New York to see what was up.

Just the usual. A dragon was seen flying low over Market Street.

Lenny's draft horses pulled a wagon around the downtown.
The stilt band played New Orleans jazz in front of the Beekman Arms. A dozen Grumpuses stopped traffic at the main intersection.

By nightfall the marching Highland pipe bands and giant snakes marched through the streets. Kids with crowns and decorated branches joined the parade.

And Sinterklaas arrived on a white horse in the old Dutch tradition. The catalyst for all this wonderfulness is celebration artist Jeanne Fleming and Wonderworks, well known for her Halloween Parade in New York City. She got thousands of people to work together for months building giant puppets and performing.

Main website for Sinterklaas.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Styles of Perception

What is the visual world composed of? When we look around us, what do we see? Do we see lines or tones? Do we see discreet objects with definite boundaries or a hodgepodge of indistinct splotches merging and melting into one other?

How you answer these questions lays at the heart of how you approach a drawing.

The first drawing interprets the classic diner still life as separate, rational objects bounded by clear outlines. The salt and pepper shakers appear as distinct shapes that could be cut out from the background.

The second drawing is a bit more subjective. The pepper shaker on the right melts into the background a little more, and tones of shadows blend the bases of the objects into the table surface.

The third drawing, made with a brush and watercolor, interprets the world not as a series of definite objects but rather as spots or shapes that come together to suggest forms. The creamer at the lower left almost disappears into its surroundings; we see only a hint of its handle.

This is not merely a matter of style or technique. One approach is not better than another. There’s no right or wrong way to see the world and no right or wrong way to draw it. Different people actually see things differently.

In fact, new research in visual perception suggests that the human retina is not like a camera, but more like a kind of a pre-brain. Some groups of retinal receptors bundle visual information into packets describing linear boundaries. Other receptors bundle information about tonal shapes. These packets are then processed downstream in the visual cortex. The retina transmits data at a rate of 10 million bits per second, which is about equivalent to an Ethernet connection. (link)

The way you see is probably not the way I see, regardless of our training or tradition. The way your retina apportions its visual processing tasks is as unique as your fingerprint. You may see things more in terms of line and I may see things more in terms of tone.

The way our eyes apprehend the world is infinitely mysterious. As artists we need to yank ourselves out of our comfortable habits of perception. We need to grow beyond the easy tricks that worked for us in the past. We need to strive always to see with new eyes.