Friday, February 22, 2019

Sketchbook Flip Through: "Court Report"

Lisa Jong asks on YouTube: Do you plan on making a video where you flip through your sketchbooks? I’d love to see it!

Here you go, Lisa. (Link to YouTube) This video tours you through one of my recent painted sketchbooks, "Court Report." We go you court-side to an NBA game, then beside a frozen pond, to the Portrait Society conference, and to the showroom of a Mazda dealer.

Volume 3: Court Report. It's a cross-platform app that lets you experience a sketchbook with scalable art, audio commentary, background info, and behind-the-scenes videos. It's now available for both Apple and Google devices.
• iOS link:
• Android link:

Collect them all:
Vol 1: Boyhood Home•iOS: 

Vol. 2: Metro NorthiOS: 

Praise for previous Living Sketchbooks 
“This app is outstanding! One of my favorite aspects of James Gurney's videos is getting the opportunity to hear his thoughts about the pieces he is painting. I love that I can get that same experience while enjoying the detailed views of the high-resolution sketches in the app.” —Jon Schindehette, Art Director, Art Order

“It’s as nice as having James’s sketchbook in my hands! Only with the added bonus of actually being able to see him manipulate the image. Having followed many of these pieces and seeing the originals in some cases, I find that this is a really helpful tool to see how he paints in real life and being able to examine the images at my leisure to see the way that the final brushstrokes are put down. I hope that James adds more sketchbooks and/or pages so that I can get even more inspiration from his work.” —Michael Mrak, Design Director, Scientific American 

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Civil War Panorama "Battle of Atlanta"

Atlanta has restored a significant Civil War cyclorama. It's painted in the round, with sculpted figures in the foreground.
"It’s a colossal oil painting: 49 feet high, as long as a football field, and conceived as a cyclorama, a wraparound environment for 360-degree viewing...Produced in 1886 in Milwaukee by a commercial outfit called the American Panorama Company, in a workshop staffed by immigrant German and Austrian artists, “The Battle of Atlanta” was one of dozens of cycloramas traveling the country at the time. (Only two survive intact; the other depicts the Battle of Gettysburg.)"

Plein-Air Studies by Laurits Tuxen

Here's a group of plein-air studies by Laurits Tuxen (Danish, 1853-1927)

Like most artists of his era, he painted studies during his travels to the Holy Land. He kept these studies as possible reference for his studio paintings.
Previously: Valdemar by Tuxen
Wikipedia on Laurits Tuxen

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Watercolor: Wet and Dry

Here's a 4-minute video showing how I paint the snow pile behind the supermarket where I demonstrate more of the wet wash vs. dry brush techniques. (Link to YouTube)

The basic strategy is to combine both wet and dry passages in a single painting. I place the big wet washes first with a flat brush, and then add the drybrushed branches and small details second.

To prepare the brush tip for drybrush, I load the tip with plenty of pigment, pinch it to splay out the hairs, and test it to make sure most of the moisture is out of the brush.

Detail (about 1" wide and 3" tall in the final painting)
In the detailed slice above, you can see the variety of kinds of strokes, including some dragging of a brown colored pencil. A certain amount of randomness is more convincing than being overly methodical with each branch or twig.

You can also see that I use a little gouache at the top and the bottom of the snow pile.

Paint is M. Graham gouache: Ultramarine, terra rosa, cadmium yellow lemon, and white.

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Betty Ballantine, 1919-2019

Legendary publisher Betty Ballantine died last Tuesday at age 99. She also served as my editor for Dinotopia: A Land Apart from Time, and my model for the character Norah. (Her middle name and her mother's name was Norah.)

She and Ian have been hailed for their contribution to popularizing paperbacks and for nurturing science fiction. But they were also champions of visual books for adults. They were responsible for the Peacock Press series of art books in the 1970s, featuring the work of Frank Frazetta, Froud/Lee's FaeriesCarl Evers, Frank McCarthy and James Bama.
New York Times obituary of Betty Ballantine
Wikipedia on Betty B.
Entrepreneur article about the Ballantines contribution to publishing
Previous posts
Ian Ballantine
Origins of Dinotopia: The Illustrated Book and the Ballantines
Deleted Scene from Dinotopia

Monday, February 18, 2019

When is a Painting Finished?

Ruji asks: "I was wondering do you have any advice for someone who can't seem to make their art look finished? Seemingly no matter how much time, effort, or detail I put into an image I can never seem to make my art, from gesture to final, look done. I'm unfortunately self-trained and this is a huge problem that has vexed me for the past 11 years that I can't seem to find an answer for by myself, no matter how much I study the fundamentals."

Left: Mary Cassatt, detail (link to full image)
Right: Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres, detail (link to full image)
It's impossible to give you a personal answer, since I don't know anything about you, your art, or what your goals are. So let me address the broader question of finish.

Finish is a very subjective quality in a painting. One artist may want to make the painting appear like an illusion of reality. To that artist, a painting is finished when the illusion betrays no visible brushstrokes. Another artist, wishing to preserve the energy and dynamics of the surface, may regard a work as finished with a lot of loose brushstrokes preserved.

But both of those qualities are superficial. Finish is more than facture. What really matters in making a work finished is whether your inner conception is fully realized. Does it communicate the feeling you wanted? Is it convincing, disturbing, exciting, restful, or compelling?

If not—if it's sort of ordinary looking—it may be that your problem is not how the painting was finished, but how it was started. Maybe you need to spend more time in the early stages sketching and planning the work, getting the reference lined up, and knowing exactly where you're headed. The resulting painting may still take some struggle to be born, but hopefully with that preliminary work accomplished, the final painting will come together and it will tell you when it's done.

Charcoal study by Sargent for "Heaven" mural
in the Boston Public Library.
Efficient, concise, and a means to an end.
You also mentioned that you can never seem to make your gesture sketches look finished, either. That seems like a contradiction in terms. Isn't a sketch unfinished by definition? We owe this predicament to our contemporary art culture, which makes a fetish of the sketch, and elevates preliminary studies as completed works worthy of exhibition. We've all seen those drawings from contemporary ateliers that are very laborious, but deliberately leave a foot or an arm in the linear construct stage, which strikes me the same as a carpenter leaving the clapboards off one side of the house.

If you're doing a preliminary study, move fast, capture the essentials, and leave it. Like the study by Sargent above, a study should be a means to an end, not an end in itself.

There's nothing wrong with exhibiting your sketches, but I would caution against being overly conscious of making "sketchy" gestures, and instead focus on capturing as much truth of nature as you can in the time available and let the strokes land where they may.

Sunday, February 17, 2019

John Banvard's Mississippi Panorama

In 1840, John Banvard was obsessed with the idea of painting the largest picture in the world, so he got to work on it.

"He acquired an open skiff and began making sketches of the entire Mississippi River, shooting game for food, and painting and showing pictures en route. Finally when he had finished his sketches he retired to Louisville where he transferred them to canvas, making a panorama. The picture required three miles of canvas Surely this was the largest picture in the world!"

Banvard's panorama was made up of paintings stitched together into a long scroll that could be advanced by a set of cranks and gears on the side. He took his work to London, where it inspired other artists to create panoramas.

Saturday, February 16, 2019

A Snow Pile Behind the Supermarket

There's a big snow pile behind the supermarket, with a view down John M. Clark Road in Kingston. The sun is rim-lighting the white snow, and the shadows are blue.

I like this view because it includes the deep perspective of the road going back to the vanishing point.

(Link to video on Facebook)

Here are some questions on Instagram and Facebook:

Noa Katzir asks: "How do you keep the water and colors from crystallizing and freezing?"
Luckily it was nearly 50 degrees Fahrenheit, well above freezing.

M. Hopper asks: "How do you choose what you're going to paint?
All my supermarket parking lot sketches are done under a strict time constraint of about 50 minutes. That's the time it takes my wife to do the food run. I look for a subject that I can paint in that time, and one suited to the visual ideas I want to explore. For the previous painting, I was interested in conveying a smoggy atmosphere. This time I was interested in the light on the snow. 

SpaceLion asks: "What kind of sketchbook did you use?"
Gurney: It's a Pentalic Aqua Journal, which has good paper for water media.

ValeoftheRose asks: "In Color and Light you say it's better to mix grays using only opposite colors rather than black and white, but that just makes brown. By grays did you just mean browns or is it because I'm using only CMYK and white of low quality gouache? I think you mentioned in the book CMYK is not great for painting?"
There are a lot of different issues raised by your questions. The colors packaged as CMYK (cyan, magenta, yellow, and black) in paints are usually convenience mixtures, which means they're made up of a couple different pigments. They can be helpful for painting color wheels, but for actual paintings I think you're better off just using the pigments individually and getting to know their properties, because in painting we're not limited by four printer's inks or by the graphics displays on our computers. Instead we're limited by the actual chemical pigments we're using. In this case I used ultramarine blue, lemon yellow, and terra rosa, plus titanium white.

Grays and browns are both fairly neutral in chroma, but browns are usually warmer. The reason for mixing grays out of complements instead of black and white is that you end up with interesting variations and partial mixtures. If you mix your colors with two or three tube colors, you can get exactly the color you want, as long as it's within the gamut. I would suggest that you use a small number of tube colors on a given painting excursion, and that you experiment with new combinations.

Charley Parker says:  "One thought: speeding through the drawing and wash phases with time lapse doesn't leave that much out, but It might be helpful if you would slow down to normal speed for things like the split-bristle brushwork — a less common technique — to give a better idea of how it's done."
Good point, Charley. I'm limited here by the 1-minute constraint of the video for Instagram. But I'll be doing a somewhat longer version for YouTube, and I can slow some of the clips down a bit to show more of that split brush technique.

Friday, February 15, 2019

Bouguereau Exhibition Opens Today

A major exhibition of William-Adolphe Bouguereau (1825-1905) opens today at the Milwaukee Art Museum.
"Bouguereau and America showcases more than forty masterful paintings by the French academic painter William-Adolphe Bouguereau (1825–1905). The exhibition explores the artist’s remarkable popularity throughout America’s Gilded Age, from the late 1860s to the early 1900s. During this period, owning a painting by the artist was de rigueur for any American who wanted to be seen as a serious collector: the artist’s grand canvases brought a sense of classic sophistication to newly formed collections. Their chastely sensual maidens, Raphaelesque Madonnas, and impossibly pristine peasant children mirror the religious beliefs, sexual mores, social problems, and desires of that period. Moreover, the exhibition offers an opportunity to examine how society’s perspectives can shift over time."

Catalog: Bouguereau and America
192 pages, Yale University Press, 10 x 12 inches----

Exhibition: "Bouguereau and America" at Milwaukee Art Museum: February 15–May 12, 2019
The exhibit continues in Memphis (June 22—Sept. 22, 2019), and San Diego (November 9—March 15, 2020.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Creating People Who Don't Exist

Have you ever seen this person before?

There's no chance of it because she was just created by a computer.

A new website called "This Person Does Not Exist" uses generative adversarial networks (GANs) to make a new face from scratch, a face that no one has ever seen before. 

Each time you refresh the page on the website, an entirely new face appears. The software outputs a variety of ages, ethnic backgrounds, settings, and lighting scenarios, and the faces are specific, not "average" or generic looking. 

And each one seems relatively consistent and logical, but if you search long enough you'll find problems with ears, jewelry, hair, or glasses.

The creator of the page is Phillip Wang, a software engineer for Uber, who wanted to demonstrate the potential of GANs.

This technology will transform many aspects of computer graphics, such as video games, visual effects, and 3D modeling, and it has more unsettling implications for generating convincing false news, sham celebrities, and fake art.