Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Four Kinds of Preliminaries

I admire artists who can dive into a blank canvas and pull off a great picture without any preliminaries, but most of the time I'm not so lucky. I have to do lots of sketches to try to solve different kinds of problems.


Here are some of the sketches for “Song in the Garden” (scroll down to see finish). On the upper left is the first concept, taken as far as possible without reference and used as a placeholder in the storyboard (see last post).

The second scribbly drawing is a “placement thumbnail.” The goal is to try to place elements in the scene and experiment with different compositional ideas. The heads can be simple ovals, and it’s OK to keep trying different positions for some of the figures, like the head of the Styracosaurus. It may take ten or more of these until the size and placement of elements feels right.

With that locked in, and with the other references at hand (photos of models, miniatures, scrap—all of which I’ll talk about in later posts) I try to establish a quick “tonal thumbnail,” (upper right). This serves as a map for the light or dark tones of the picture. It occurred to me during this step to make the background dark, rather than light, as it was in the original storyboard concept.

Not every picture gets this step, but I wanted to take a couple hours to paint a “color thumbnail,” (lower right). This step gave me assurance that the whole picture would really work out the way I was hoping before I committed myself to the labor of the final painting (below).

5 comments:

Jamin LeFave said...

Beautiful work. It's always a pleasure to visit your blog to learn and be inspired!

John Ward said...

I always love your pictures of dinosaurs in garden settings. For some reason, they always remind me of Lawrence Alma-Tadema's paintings.

I wanted to ask what medium you used to paint the color preliminary? Is it gouache?

Thanks. I really enjoy posts like this one.

James Gurney said...

Thanks, Jamin and John for your generous compliments.

You're right that I'm inspired by Alma-Tadema's work. I discovered him when I was in art school around 1980, but back then there weren't any color books on him that I could find. Thank goodness that's changed!

I love gouache, but actually the little color preliminary is in oil on illustration board, which has been sealed with acrylic matte medium.

K_tigress said...

That sure is beautiful. Makes me feel like joining in, smelling the roses and the rest.

As for me it really depends. On some projects I know what I want, how to do it, just need to grab the right reference materials and let the environment paint its self so to speak. Then on others there's a lot more planning that goes in to it similar to the techniques you use.

"Maggie" said...

Your work has always fascinated me. Many years ago while vacationing at our summer home I came across Dinotopia in a gift shop and purchased it. It was and still is one of my most cherished books. Your paintings are incredible and the technical way that you approach them amazing. I am delighted you've started a blog so that I can continue to study your work first-hand and be inspired.