Monday, January 31, 2011

July Lecture in the Catskills

This coming July 8th at 7 pm in the Catskill Mountains of New York, I’ll be a one-day guest lecturer at the Grand Central Academy’s Summer Workshops for a presentation on color and light.

I’ll give an evening lecture during the workshop of Senior Hudson River Fellow, Thomas Kegler (above). His week-long course called “Field Study for the Studio Landscape Painter.” Tom’s work has the rare quality of being closely observed and poetically inspired, and he could have held his own with any of the traditional Hudson River School painters (Kegler's "Buffalo Creek Dusk," below). 

My lecture will cover material from the new book, Color and Light: A Guide for the Realist Painter, geared for plein air painters who want to explore the methods of the pre-impressionist Hudson River School Painters. Besides the digital slide show, I’ll have original paintings to show and books to share. If it’s like last time I visited, there will be plenty of opportunity for camaraderie and shop talk.

The full course will go from July 5 - 17, 2011 (10 instructed days, 1 free uninstructed day). The tuition is $1350, which includes Mr. Kegler’s instruction, park fees, 2 group meals, and my lecture. The class is open and is now accepting registrations.
Previous GJ Posts on the Hudson River Fellowship.
Color and Light on Amazon
Grand Central Academy's Summer Workshops
Senior Hudson River Fellow, Thomas Kegler

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Van Gogh’s Color Schemes Served as Pie Charts

There are various ways to show a color scheme in diagrammatic form. One way is through the color gamut overlaid on the color wheel, as I’ve shown several times on this blog and in my book. That’s best for defining which color types are in and out of your scheme.

But it doesn’t let you know how much of each color is represented in the color scheme. To show that, you can graph the distribution of colors in a pie chart. Here’s one from Arthur Buxton’s blog. It converts 28 Van Gogh paintings into sector graphs showing the percentages of the five most common colors in each painting.

Warm colors in the dark yellow family predominate, often played against deep blues. Van Gogh doesn’t use much green, red or violet.

Working in reverse, from a set of pie chart to a series of pictures, this would be a useful method for film or graphic novel designers to plan color scripts.
Arthur Buxton’s blog
via BoingBoing
suggested by John Harris and Susan Fox

Saturday, January 29, 2011

The Strange World of Albrecht Dürer

I spent the day with Albrecht Dürer’s monsters yesterday.

An exhibition at Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, Massachusetts presents about 75 prints from the museum’s collection of more than 300 woodcuts, engravings, and etchings by Albrecht Dürer (1471-1528), the supreme master of northern Renaissance printmaking.

The emphasis is on monsters, witches, hybrid animals and marauding soldiers. An introduction to a room themed with images of the suffering of Christ and the horrors of war says:
“Just as the media of the twenty-first century—whether films, video games, or comic books—reflect the pervasiveness of violence in our culture, Dürer’s images mirrored his own society’s fascination with human torment..”

The Strange World of Albrecht Dürer will continue through March 13.
Visitor's Information for the Clark Art Institute in Massachusetts, USA Exhibit is free.

Friday, January 28, 2011

"Decoration is a Sin"

In the documentary “Sketches of Frank Gehry,” American architect Frank Gehry (b. 1929) says, “I grew up a modernist. Decoration is a sin.”

A sin, really? Does Mr. Gehry believe that Notre Dame would be better off stripped of its angels and gargoyles? Would he stucco over the arabesques of the Alhambra? Would he delete the ornaments from the Parthenon?

Although I respect some aspects of Mr. Gehry’s work, I disagree with him on this point. In able hands, decoration is a gift, a joy, virtue. Decoration is not a frosting applied to form. When it’s well orchestrated, it meets our fundamental desire for visual rhythm, order, and variety of scale.

Decoration in some form has been central to every visual culture through all history and across all cultures, until it was banished by the priests of minimalism in the twentieth century. The absence of decoration is one cause of the sterility and impoverishment of much modern architecture.

If decoration is a sin, then I’m a sinner. If I’m going out to a concert, I’d rather go to the Paris Opera, which is gloriously decorated.....

.....than Gehry’s Fisher Center for the Performing Arts, Bard College, New York (above), which is not.
"Sketches of Frank Gehry" Documentary--2 minute trailer 
Notre Dame Cathedral
Alhambra on Wikipedia
Parthenon on Wikipedia
Frank Gehry on Wikipedia
addendum: Adolf Loos's 1908 essay "Ornament and Crime" on Wikipedia
Thanks, Digitect and Christoph Heuer

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Homemade and Mail Order

This stove and chair, sketched at a history museum in Fairplay, Colorado, suggest that the family sent away for the cast iron stove, and made the chair themselves out of planks of wood.
South Park City museum in Fairplay, a restored 1880s mining town.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Hyperlink Placement

In the world of print, you can attract attention to a word by placing it in bold face or italics. Or you can underline it. Or you can put a number after it to refer the reader to a footnote¹ or an endnote².

In the world of the Internet, you can also give it a hyperlink. Since the link is usually colored and underlined, it automatically conveys emphasis. A hyperlink is similar to a footnote because promises clarification or contextualization.

The Chicago Manual of Style, drawing upon centuries of established print tradition, suggests rules for using boldface, italics, underlining, and footnotes.

What about hyperlinks? When and where should we use them?

According to prevailing wisdom, providing a link in the middle of a section of text benefits the reader. Like the footnote, it can reveal a source, explain a term, or provide a deeper excursion into a given topic. For example, if you link the “Battle of the Bulge,” your reader presumes that by clicking on the link, there will be some web page waiting that expounds on that topic.

But the reader doesn’t necessarily know where the link leads. Wikipedia, maybe? Or some World War II site? Placing the cursor over the link brings up the URL code at the bottom of the window, and right-clicking it can open it in a separate window for later perusal.

Nicolas Carr, in his recent book, The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brain, argues that links embedded in running text interrupt the flow of thought. Somewhere in the back of his brain the reader must make a few judgments: Where will this link take me? Should I make the jump now or come back later? Should I skip it altogether?

These judgments must be added to the cognitive load of reading the passage itself. It’s like trying to read while someone is tugging on your sleeve. Carr argues that these competing thoughts interfere with comprehension. Even worse, if the reader actually follows the links, there’s a risk of losing him entirely.

One solution to this problem is to resist linking until the end, and then to present an array of choices, like doors at the end of a hallway. That way the reader can sustain attention for the full written piece without distraction.

In a web essay, Carr experiments with placing all his links at the end.

Carr make an interesting point. Why not link at the end of a piece? The reader can recall the key concepts or names when he or she sees them again in the endlinks. Because endlinks don’t need to fit into the syntax of a sentence, they can be composed to suggest not only the topic but the destination. For example, instead of “Battle of the Bulge,” the endlink can read: “Battle of the Bulge on U.S. Army's Official Site.”

Carr’s argument won me over—but not completely. You may have noticed I have generally shifted my linking strategy, putting them mostly at the end.

There’s no need to be a purist. Sometimes you might want the reader to head out through a side door, and that a kind of channel-surf-skim-reading style is one of the pleasures of the Internet. Not all pieces of writing are long rational expositions requiring uninterrupted concentration. And, as several people pointed out in the comments after Mr. Carr’s essay, embedded links can signal the credibility of the writer’s source material, something that a reader might want to establish before the end.

What link-placement strategy do you prefer? Please let me know in the comments.
1. Traditional footnotes aren’t really possible on a Web page, since the “page” is scalable and infinitely long; therefore, on a computer, they’re all really endnotes.
2. Amazon’s Kindle handles endnotes by following the word with an asterisk. That asterisk links within the e-book database to the relevant note.

Battle of the Bulge on U.S. Army's official site
Battle of the Bulge on Wikipedia
Chicago Manual of Style Online (a subscription service with a free trial)
The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brain on Amazon
"Cognitive Load in Hypertext Reading: A Review." by DeStefano and LeFevre, Carleton U.
Nicolas Carr’s Blog Post: "Experiments in Delinkification" (May 31, 2010)
The Scholarly Kitten blog: "Arguing Against Links"
ReadWriteWeb: "The Case Against Links"

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Fitz and Van

Many of the car ads that appeared in the magazines and car brochures in the 1960s were gouache paintings done by a duo named Fitz and Van.

“Fitz,” was short for Art Fitzpatrick. He painted the cars, while “Van,” or Van Kaufman, did the people and backgrounds.

An article authored by Arthur St. Antoine, Editor at Large, Motor Trend has some interesting technical notes. For example:

"To produce his famous “wide” look, Fitzpatrick traced photos of the new car, cut the tracings into pieces, then ‘stretched’ the car into bolder proportions.

‘We wanted pictures that were different,’ Fitzpatrick says. ‘Impact is the name of the game, so we went with predominately front views—even cropping the cars so they looked too big for the page.’

The two artists would then trade the image back and forth, Kaufman (who passed away in 1995) adding the people and the backdrops (often featuring such exotic locales as Monte Carlo, Corfu, and Acapulco), Fitzpatrick painting the car and tying it all together with the color and reflections of the scene.’

Fitzpatrick said: ‘I’ve always maintained that a picture of a car moving doesn’t mean a thing. They all move. You have to convey something about the car psychologically. It’s all about image. That’s the reason people buy cars.’
Motor Trend article about the collaboration
Image from Pontiacs Online article (lots more there)
Thanks, Ed Ahlstrom
Previously on GurneyJourney: Chrysler PersonalitiesCar Names

Monday, January 24, 2011


Damian Johnson reworked this photo of me shooting a maquette to show the “Real Gurney Method.”

The original photo, along with the story of the making of the Tylosaurus painting, is covered in the upcoming February/March issue of International Artist.
Previous Posts: Painting Tylosaurus.
International Artist magazine
Thanks, Damian!

Amazing Powers of the Octopus

David Attenborough narrates this video clip showing how the cuttlefish and octopus can make rapid changes in color, shape, texture. These abilities, in combination with a formidable reasoning ability, can bluff predators or confuse prey.

Such displays of awareness and responsiveness in invertebrates force us to revise our notions of intelligence in the animal kingdom, and they provide fresh ideas for creature designers.
Direct link to YouTube page
Via Best of YouTube.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Jeffrey Catherine Jones Video

A documentary about the fantasy artist Jeffrey Catherine Jones is in the works. Below is a preview (which contains some artistic nudity).

I haven’t seen the finished production, but it promises to explore the life and the difficult choices faced by Jeffrey Catherine Jones. The trailer suggests the theme that art can rescue a person at difficult moments in their life, perhaps something we can all identify with.

Rebecca Guay, Mike Kaluta, Rick Berry, Mark Chiarello, and Moebius all make cameo appearances.

The film is directed by DC Comics art director Maria Cabardo, who is seeking additional financial backing to finish the project.
Link to video
Thanks, Tom Babbey

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Fantasy in Films and Magazines

This week, Variety announced the top ten worldwide films of 2010 (measured by gross box office return):

1. Toy Story 3: 1,064 million
2. Alice in Wonderland: 1,024 million
3. Harry Potter: 895
4. Inception: 824
5. Shrek Forever After: 743
6. Twilight Saga Eclipse: 654
7. Iron Man 2: 623
8. Despicable Me: 542
9. How to Train Your Dragon: 496
10. Clash of the Titans: 494
...and that was right on the heels of last year’s Avatar, which grossed 1,953 million.

All of those top ten are arguably fantasy or science fiction films. Four of them are animated. Since motion pictures are today’s culturally dominant art form, it’s safe to say that fantasy and imagination are squarely in the mainstream of our collective consciousness.

Which is why, perhaps, the art magazines are featuring fantasy more and more. ImagineFX, Juxtapoz, and Hi Fructose are completely dedicated to imagination.

And as Jobot mentioned in yesterday's comments, the new February / March issue of International Artist has a special feature on fantasy illustration, edited by Rebecca Guay. It spotlights the faculty of the Illustration Master Class, including regulars like Donato Giancola and Greg Manchess (above: left and center), Dan Dos Santos, Scott Fischer, Julie Bell, and Boris Vallejo. This year there will also be visiting teachers like Peter de Sève and Iain McCaig (above, right) and I'll be tagging along, too.

If you want to see more imaginative art covered in your favorite art magazine, let the editors know! They will listen to you.
Image ©Disney from "Alice in Wonderland Trailer"
Illustration Master Class
Variety magazine
International Artist magazine
ImagineFX  magazine
Juxtapoz magazine
Hi Fructose magazine
Read about Donato, Greg, and other IMC'ers at Muddy Colors
Boris Vallejo and Julie Bell

Friday, January 21, 2011

Broadcast News

Most of broadcast news consists of guessing what is going to happen or rehashing what happened a long time ago. Is that news?

Dinotopia Originals at Brafa Festival

Two original oil paintings from Dinotopia will be offered for sale at the Brafa art festival in Belgium, which officially begins today, January 21st and will be on show until January 30th.

The paintings include “Arthur and Telescope,” the illustration on page 1 of Dinotopia: Journey to Chandara (2007), and “Imperial Palace,” which appears both on page 132 of Chandara and page 154 of Imaginative Realism.

The paintings will be on view at booth 115, the Daniel Maghen Gallery, which has a select assortment of fantasy and comic art from Europe and America. For more information contact Olivier Souille at Galerie Daniel Maghen at info (at)
Galerie Daniel Maghen 
Brafa Festival

Thursday, January 20, 2011

The Stockbridge Stomp

When the Norman Rockwell Museum in Massachusetts hosted a Dinotopia exhibition in 2006, a small group of Dinotopia fans from all over the world assembled at a mini-convention called “The Stockbridge Stomp.”

I joined them for the festivities and then invited them to my studio a short drive away, so that they could pose for a painting I was working on.

We had a big bowl of homemade soup together, and then they put on costumes, some of which they brought with them. They posed in small groups, imagining themselves standing beside a Styracosaurus and a Chasmosaurus. Many of the figures in the painting were based on that impromptu gathering.

The painting appeared on the title page of Dinotopia Journey to Chandara. The painting also appears in Color and Light, page 116.  

This painting will be one of about 40 paintings from Dinotopia Journey to Chandara, opening today at the The Alden B. Dow Museum of Science and Art in, Midland, Michigan.
The Alden B. Dow Museum of Science and Art/ Midland Center for the Arts
Web article about the exhibit, which includes “Bigger than T. Rex: Giant Killer Dinosaurs of Argentina.”
Exhibit review on
Journey to Chandara at the Dinotopia Store.
Journey to Chandara on Amazon.
Thanks to all the Stompers!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Envelope Sketch

Thanks to J.P. Balmet, concept artist for Trion Games and Lucasfilm Animation for this fabulous sketch on his mail-order envelope.


Color and Light from the Dinotopia Store

Monday, January 17, 2011

Vertical Planes in Shadow

Here’s an illustration of the point, “On a sunny day, vertical surfaces in shadow usually receive two strong sources of illumination: warm ground light and blue sky light.”

The shadow side of this pile of snow is distinctly blue on the top surface. The horizontal plane of the of cast shadow at right is also very blue from the sky above. But the vertical surface in shadow is receiving a combination of that blue skylight and a warmer light reflected from the illuminated surfaces of snow on the ground.

Reflected light influences not just shadowed surfaces, but also illuminated surfaces. Just to the left of the base of the pile, the snow on the ground becomes very light where the reflected light is added to the direct illumination from the sun.

Color and Light, page 67.

Sunday, January 16, 2011


A few days ago, the people of Tunisia ousted Ben Ali, who had been dictator there for more than two decades.

I visited Tunisia two years ago on a sketching expedition. My friend Alan Foster and I took a trip by hired car from Tunis to the Roman ruins at Dougga.

We arrived at Dougga at the end of the day. We had the whole place to ourselves, except for a lonely shepherd and a flock of sheep.

The sun was setting red in the west, and I had to hurry to finish the painting. Just as I was putting on the last touches, a flock of birds l broke free from the peak of the temple and headed up into the sky.

When the current troubles subside, I hope that visitors will return. The Tunisians are a wonderful people, and the country is full of rare beauties for artists to admire.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

WETA Creatures

The digital artists at WETA Digital’s creature department have breathed life into Gollum, King Kong (video below), and the creatures of Avatar.

They are experts in anatomy. They build creatures from the inside out: skeleton, muscles, skin and hair. Then they apply their knowledge of physics and acting to make their creatures move.

Digital creatures must share the stage with live-action actors. They have to perform every kind of movement from a subtle eye twitch to a deadly body slam.

Simon Clutterbuck of WETA’s digital creature department, (click to enlarge/ Photo by Julian Butler planned a fun New Year’s gift for their team: a set of 47 signed copies of Color and Light. They went outdoors yesterday in that fine New Zealand summer weather to take this group photo. These artists been living for weeks in the caves with the dragon Smaug so a little sunlight won’t hurt them.

Since they ordered such a big batch of books, and since I’m such a huge fan of WETA, I wanted to make the gift extra special. So I carved a unique rubber stamp using craft foam glued to a wood block.

Each book got the custom stamp, as well as a one-of-a-kind creature sketch that I made with pens and colored pencils. I imagined them as the “47 Creatures of Whangakokototoi Island,” —a tiny island off the coast of New Zealand that no one has discovered yet.

Here’s a sampling of the sketches, about one third of the whole set. Of course I didn’t know what each of the artists looked like, or what sorts of animals they liked, so I just guessed and drew the whatever popped into my head.

Simon and Rachael, I thank you. And WETA Creatures, I salute you!

If YOU, dear blog reader, are part of a large game company, movie studio, or art school, maybe you can get your department head or club organizer to put together a group purchase of Color and Light or Imaginative Realism. If there are more than 30 books in a single order, I’ll do a some sort of special design for you. Also, with a big order, I can ship internationally.
Color and Light signed from the Dinotopia Store
Questions about group ordering: jgurneyart
Color and Light on Amazon internationally: USA | CA | UK | FR | DE | JP
WETA Digital 
Weta Creature show reel on YouTube (Caution: includes movie violence and disturbing images)
King Kong climbs the Empire State

Friday, January 14, 2011

Meanwhile, at the Printer

The Japanese edition of Imaginative Realism is on its way. It is being produced by Born Digital, one of the finest publishers of science fiction and fantasy art.

Here’s what the cover will look like.

And here’s some of the back cover copy.

Also, the US publisher Andrews McMeel has just announced that the English language edition of Imaginative Realism is going back for its fifth printing. Color and Light is going into its second printing, just five weeks after release. Woohoo!
Born Digital / Imaginative Realism with sample pages in Japanese
Andrews McMeel Publishing / Color and Light
Color and Light on Amazon internationally: USA | CA | UK | FR | DE | JP
Color and Light signed (and doodled in) by me, from the Dinotopia Store

Thursday, January 13, 2011

White Cloud Worlds

New Zealand is sometimes called the “The Land of the Long White Cloud.” It’s a country famed for its epic landscapes, which appeared in the Lord of the Rings films.

The country is also admired worldwide as the home to some of the finest emerging and established science fiction and fantasy artists, such as Greg Broadmore (“Lonelybot,” 2006, above), Thomas Simpson, Jeremy Bennett, Ben Wootten, Nick Keller, and Jamie Beswarick.

The work of 27 New Zealand artists has been brought together in a new book and exhibition called “White Cloud Worlds.”

“Cellar God,” above, is a delightfully creepy resin sculpture by David Meng. He says it represents the new direction his work is heading in, avoiding obvious human/animal hybrids, and instead exploring organic forms that are more unexpected. The specific forms are hard to associate with any particular living creature. “The thing it rides on is crab-like,” he says, “yet again, not entirely. It is an alchemical creation, part animal, part furniture, part vehicle.”

Above: Marshwalkers by Thomas Simpson.

Many of the works were done late at night by the artists after working a full day at WETA Workshop. Paul Tobin, who helped organize the project, described those late night hours with affection: “It’s that quiet time, when most artists actually get some serious work done as the distractions drop off and the next cup of coffee kicks in. For some of us, this is the time we scrimp and save for ourselves to labour over our own projects.”

Some of the paintings in the 128 page book are done as self-assignments, and others are done for game companies or movie studios. The book has a foreword by Guillermo Del Toro and an introduction by WETA’s Richard Taylor, with afterwords by Alan Lee and John Howe.

The exhibition at Dowse Art Museum will run until March 13.
White Cloud Worlds website
Exhibit at Dowse Art Museum
Get the book at Amazon (US)
Weta Workshop
Making of "Marshwalkers" by Thomas Simpson 
David Meng's Post on Cellar God
Greg Broadmore's website
Thanks, Paul Tobin

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Air Jousting

Advanced pterosaur pilots, or “skybax riders” as they are called in Dinotopia, learn the sport of air jousting.

The armor is a lightweight version of horse jousting armor from the Middle Ages in Europe, where the rider can only see through a narrow slit in his sallet, or helmet. The protection for the eyes of the skybax makes him blind during the approach. A dismounted skybax rider must parachute to the ground.

The final oil painting was published in Dinotopia: Journey to Chandara (2007), but it was based on a quick marker sketch that I did much earlier.

Beginning January 20, the original painting will appear along with more than 40 of my other paintings, in the exhibition: Dinotopia: Journey to Chandara, The Paintings of James Gurney, at the The Alden B. Dow Museum of Science and Art in Midland, Michigan. The show is the same as the one recently in Lucca, Italy.
The Alden B. Dow Museum of Science and Art/ Midland Center for the Arts
Web article about the exhibit, which includes “Bigger than T. Rex: Giant Killer Dinosaurs of Argentina.”
Journey to Chandara at the Dinotopia Store.
Journey to Chandara on Amazon.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Howard Pyle: Crux of Instruction

If you like the American illustrator Howard Pyle and you’re looking for something to listen to while you paint, you might enjoy this reading I did years ago about Howard Pyle as a teacher. 

  Howard Pyle: The Crux of Instruction by James Gurney

I’d give anything to have been a fly on the wall of his summer school, as long as N.C. Wyeth wasn't walking around with a fly swatter.
Direct link to Soundcloud file
The Brandywine Tradition by Henry Pitz on Amazon
The exhibition Howard Pyle: An American Master Rediscovered will open November 12, 2011 at the Delaware Art Museum
Image of Pyle from the Howard Pyle Blog by Ian Schoenherr

Monday, January 10, 2011

Spectrum Deadline Looms

Spectrum: Annual of Contemporary Fantastic Art has been going strong for 17 years, and the books keep getting bigger and better.

I remember having lunch way back around 1992 with a couple named Arnie and Cathy Fenner who had this crazy proposal to do a juried book of imaginative painting. I’ve been an enthusiastic supporter ever since that moment.

Arnie and his wife Cathy have put the book together every year, and they’ve done it in their spare time while being fully employed in other design jobs (though Cathy's free now to devote her considerable talents full-time). It’s a monumental task to sort through the submissions, bring the jury to Kansas City, get the files for the accepted entries, and then design and produce the book.

It’s really hard to get work accepted in Spectrum, but it’s always worth trying. The entry fees are very reasonable. If you have a series entry, such as a group of images from a single book, it’s only $40 for up to five entries. And if you get any piece accepted, they send you a copy of the book for free, something that the other annuals usually don’t do. It’s good to have something in Spectrum, because it’s is the first place art directors look for talent. 

So whether you’re a student, pro, or weekend warrior: mark you calendar: The entry deadline is January 28. Download the form, get your stuff together, and do it!
Spectrum Annual on Amazon
Call for Entries and Submission Forms
The Spectrum Blog

Sunday, January 9, 2011

It’s All in the Past

It’s All in the Past was painted by the Russian artist Vasily Maksimov (1844-1911). His friend Polenov described the scene: “An old lady of the manor is sitting by her porch, dreaming in an old armchair...while her housekeeper sits on a step knitting. Two marvelous figures, wonderfully true and alive.”

They’re living in the smaller house made of logs. Evidently it was built when the estate was first established, back when the fortune was growing. Now the mansion is in ruins. The patriarch is dead; the weeds have grown; the trees have died; and the windows are boarded up.

The old woman has a cane and reading glasses. She’s propped up on pillows with her aged dog beside her. But she retains her dignity. She drinks from the few pieces of fine china that remain from the old days. What is the housekeeper thinking as she looks down over her knitting? I don’t know, but she looks resigned.

The painting tells more than just an incident. It reads like an epic novel. It takes an original look at a universal story of our human experience, namely, how does someone respond with dignity to a reversal of fortunes?

Maksimov had a difficult life. He was born a peasant, was orphaned early, and he died in poverty. A.N. Benois wrote that, for Maksimov, “people and villages are not a collection of models and dead objects that only need to be copied carefully. He knew what he portrayed, and for this reason his complex scenes are not by their nature casual snapshots but typical social documents.”
The quotes are from Russia, the Land, the People: Russian Painting, 1850-1910. Smithsonian Institution.
Wikipedia on Maksimov

Plein Aero Space

A painting by Mark Tansey: “Action Painting II”, oil on canvas, 193cm x 279.4 cm, 1984.
From Aphelis via Atompunk. Thanks, John, who coined the post title!

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Hustled by Mickey

So there I was in Times Square last Thursday, dodging tourists, when my way was blocked by Mickey and Minnie Mouse.

I figured they were shills for the tour buses, so I stopped and said hello. They gestured for my wife to take my photo with them. Then I heard Minnie say, “Hay que pagar algo.”

“No thanks,” I said. “I don’t need the tour. I live in New York.”

They stood in front of me and held out long velvet bags. Were they handing out lollipops? I looked into the bag and saw a few wadded up dollar bills.

“Dinero,” Mickey insisted in a low, gruff voice. “Necessitamos dinero.”
All of a sudden, Spongebob and Goofy came out of nowhere and started closing in on me.

What’s the deal? Mickey was dressed as Uncle Sam. Was he supposed to be a weird caricature of a taxman? Or were they all photo hustlers, like the water sellers of Marrakech?

Or is this the new re-branding thing? You probably heard that Disney wants to get rid of the old “Mr. Nice Guy” Mickey. Maybe I had met Edgy Mickey or Extreme Mickey or Epic Mickey or Squeegeeman Mickey or whatever he’s called.

Someone in corporate better look into this.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Predictive Coding

A new study from Duke University revises our idea of how the visual system works. 

Old idea: bottom up
According to the older idea, images are constructed in our minds in a hierarchical fashion starting at the bottom. Data arriving at the retina is sorted into basic features, such as horizontal and vertical lines. These elements gradually resolve as they pass up through the layers of neural organization. Eventually they form into complete images that we recognize as particular objects. The brain’s higher level inferences, according to this model, develop only after this bottom-up process is completed.

New idea: top-down
Experiments using modern brain imaging data show that the process is really quite the reverse. The new idea, called “predictive coding,” proposes that the brain develops predictions about what we’re about to see. It tests those predictions in a top-down, rather than merely a bottom-up mode. The information that we take in is edited to fit the conception. This all happens within milliseconds and is largely unconscious.

Neural storm
Whenever low-level input contradicts the predictions and forces us to change our reading of an object, there is a storm of neural activity. This neural storm is particularly strong with optical illusions, such as the one that began this post. You may have experienced this if you ever, in a split second, mistook a stick on the ground for a snake. The top-down expectations get quickly overwhelmed by bottom-up corrections.

This illustration from Dinotopia: The World Beneath shows this kind mental process in action. An ambiguous cave formation, left, can either be seen as a skull or a woman with babies. Depending on how the mind wants to perceive the form, the details are marshaled to match the perception.

This phenomenon of conjuring faces and other meaningful patterns in apparently random visual data is a phenomenon that’s also called “pareidolia,” covered in an earlier post.

Here are three suggestions for how this new theory may affect us as artists (and I'm sure you'll think of other implications:
1. We mostly see what we expect to see. Viewers come to your pictures unconsciously preloaded in various ways.
2. Much information is lost because of this automatic editing process. It never reaches our conscious minds because it's edited out. Therefore we just don’t see a huge amount (and maybe that’s a good thing at times).
3. Having a wrong search image can actually make us blind to what we’re looking for. For example, if you thought the book you were looking for had a blue spine, you might not even see the correct book with the red spine.
Duke University news release
Another report on predictive coding
First optical illusion from Planet Perplex
Related GJ Post on Pareidolia and Apophenia:
Thanks, Rob Wood and Brad

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Burro Jim

This motel sign appears along the highway west of Phoenix, Arizona.

Note the Old West plank lettering. Color TV and refrigeration were rare enough things in homes that it was worth advertising.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Britain Audio Part 3: Dogs, Cats, and Memories

The final installment of the 1985 audio tour of Great Britain begins with birdwatchers in London’s Hyde Park. Then I ask the perennial question, which is better, dogs or cats?

  Britain 1985, Part 3: Dogs, Cats, and Memories by James Gurney

The sound clip runs about 15 minutes and includes a hammered dulcimer, an early interactive video console in Cardiff, vintage sounds of an ‘80s game arcade, an interview with Krishna devotees, recollections from ladies remembering their childhoods in York, and a sampling of classic American accents.

The pencil sketch shows the Caernarfon harbor in Wales, where at low tide the boats rest on double keels.

Don't forget to vote in the dog and cat poll at left.
Direct link to Soundcloud file

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Britain Audio, Part 2: Paul LaMarque

The second installment of our 1985 audio tour of Great Britain begins with street sounds of London, after which we hear a boys’ choir practicing in York cathedral.

  Britain 1985, Part 2: Paul La Marque by James Gurney
Click on this Soundcloud player to hear the audio.

You’ll hear the voice of Paul LaMarque, weekend manager of the Saint Margaret’s Hotel in London. As I recorded his jokes and stories, I sketched this pencil portrait, so it's a rare chance to have a sketch "talk."

Mr. La Marque wrote in my sketchbook, describing himself: “Mentally a vacuum, physically a waste of skin, socially riff-raff, nevertheless ‘given from God.’”
If the player doesn't work, try the direct link to Soundcloud File
Scroll down for part 1. Tomorrow we’ll finish with part 3.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Britain Audio, Part 1

In 1985, my wife Jeanette and I visited Great Britain for the first time. We left our camera at home, and instead brought only a sketchbook and an audio tape recorder. We traveled by bus and train, recording interviews and sound effects.

  02 England Track 1 by James Gurney
 This is the first of three audio installments, which you can listen to by clicking on this Soundcloud player widget. It may take a few seconds to get started.

The drawing above is by a seven-year-old Welsh boy named John Lewis. He copied the sketch I did in a museum in Cambridge a few days earlier. You'll hear his sisters in the recording. Their family ran a B&B on the Tyddyn Perthi farm in Gwynned near Caernarfon.

If this technology works, and you like it, I’ll launch the other two installments tomorrow and the next day. 
You can go directly to the track at Soundcloud at this link.

Cool Gift

One of the coolest gifts from a GurneyJourney reader was a couple of zippered pouches with this embroidered logo of the “Golden Palm.”

The GP, as it was affectionately known, was the seedy, stucco apartment in Highland Park, California, where I lived when I was a student at Art Center.

Thank you, Steve! And thanks to all you readers out there in Blogland for the fascinating links, comments, suggestions, and ideas that you’ve shared me over the last year. I’ve learned as much from you as vice versa.

I’m grateful to all of you making GurneyJourney part of your internet routine. I’ve got a lot of fun things planned for the new year, so get ready for a fun ride, especially if you’re sitting above the boiler.
Previously on GJ:
G.P. Tape Network
Golden Palm (GP)
Old Haunts

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Goldsworthy Gurney’s Steam Carriages

One of my distant relatives was an Englishman named Sir Goldsworthy Gurney (1793-1875), who built steam-powered carriages more than 50 years before gasoline automobiles were invented. Unfortunately, he had rather bad luck along the way.

Gurney Steamers ran excursions to Edgeware, Barnet, and Stanmore, reaching top speeds of 20 miles per hour.

In May, 1828, a Gurney carriage climbed Highgate Old Hill, which doubters claimed couldn’t be done. On the way back down, the workmen, in their enthusiasm, forgot to lock the driveshaft to the rear wheels. Gurney, who was at the controls, couldn’t stop the vehicle from careening down the hill. It lost a wheel, though no one was hurt.

In 1829, the Gurney Steam Carriage Company served the route from London to Bath, averaging 14 miles per hour, including stops for water and fuel, nearly double the speed of a horse coach.

On a trip to Longford in heavy fog, Gurney almost crashed head-on with a Bristol mail coach. He swerved onto a pile of bricks to avoid an accident, but broke a drive mechanism in the process. Nevertheless, with power to only one wheel, he managed to pass fifty horse-drawn carriages during the rest of the trip.

Gurney tried various innovations to increase the power of his carriages, including a blast jet, which had the unfortunate effect of blowing cinders out of every orifice of the engine. With the huge pressures involved in the steam engine, passengers became uncomfortable sitting directly atop the boiler (#10 in the illustration above).

Although Gurney was careful to maintain safety standards, one of his coaches, operated without his supervision, blew a boiler, killing two people, and provoking the satirist Thomas Hood to write:

Instead of journeys people now go upon a Gurney
With steam to do the work by power of attorney
But with a load it may explode
And you may be undone
And find you’re going up to heaven
Instead of to London.

His solution: The "Gurney Drag," which towed passengers more safely behind the engine.

In 1831, he built a small “one-horse” steam-powered carriage. It weighed about 500 pounds and was just big enough to carry two or three people or a load of parcels. It could run for seven mile stages, consuming seventy gallons of water and twenty-five bushels of coke at each stop. 

But Gurney couldn’t spend much time on such curiosities. In addition to the technical challenges, he had to contend with human obstacles.

On the Bath run one of his carriages was attacked by Luddites. According to Gurney’s daughter Anna, unemployed millworkers from Melksham set upon the carriage, “burnt their fingers, threw stones, and wounded poor Martyn the stoker,” forcing the carriage to be escorted the rest of the way under guard.

Gurney deployed his carriages on paid routes between Gloucester and Cheltenham. In one four-month stretch of 1831, his vehicles carried nearly 3,000 passengers, “including many ladies,” over more than 4,000 miles.

Running a horseless-carriage business didn’t endear Gurney to the horse grooms, horse-carriage builders, turnpike trustees, and railroad men. The magistrates of the Cheltenham district, wishing to block Gurney’s progress, covered a stretch of road with an eighteen-inch-deep layer of rough gravel, which his vehicles couldn’t get across.

Gurney’s biggest rival was the railroad men. They lobbied authorities to hamper Gurney with prohibitive tolls levied on steam conveyances, while railroad developers were receiving government loans. During the time of his experimentation, railroads grew from a single line of track to a 1,500 mile network.

Eventually, stymied by the high tolls, Gurney’s steam carriage business fell apart and he turned his attention to lighthouses and mine ventilation.

If only Sir Goldsworthy had outmaneuvered the Luddites and the railroad men, automobiles would have gotten their start in the 1830s, the Civil War would have been fought with tanks, and we would have been riding "Goldsworthys" instead of Greyhounds, and "Gurneys" instead of Fords. There’s a steampunk novel for you.
Note on the hospital use of the word “gurney.” Another Gurney, Theodore Gurney of Boston, patented a form of horse-drawn vehicle that became known as a “gurney.” According to historian Jean Rigler, unlike the hansom cab, “the gurney was a small scale hack” that could carry two people behind a single horse: “A two-horse hack cost 50 cents, but the gurney was only 25 cents.” In San Francisco, horse-drawn gurney wagons were used by the police for ambulance service, and the term was transferred to the wheeled vehicle used within the hospital.
“Why the Gurney Lost Out,” by Jerry MacMullen, San Diego Union, 1969.
“Gurney: A San Francisco Word Goes National,” by Peter Tamony, The Pacific Winter issue, 1966, p. 15-20
“The Gurney Family from Aaron to Zuinglius: A Genealogical Dictionary,” by Jean Gurney Rigler, Honolulu, HI, 1964.
Wikipedia on Sir Goldsworthy Gurney
The Life and Times of Sir Goldsworthy Gurney, Gentleman Scientist and Inventor, by Dale H. Porter (Amazon)
Porter's book on Google Books
Previously on GJ: "Spokewheeling," showing Dinotopia's Goldsworthy Marlinspike, who was named after Sir G.G.