Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Titanoboa, Part 2

The next step in the painting of the giant fossil snake was to make a maquette of the snake and the croc out of Sculpey, painted in acrylic. It only took a few hours to do this rough model, but without this step I never would have understood how the forms needed to wrap around each other.

I set up the maquette in a tiny diorama, with a rock and some sticks that I found in the backyard.

The wrestling reptiles are sitting half submerged in a take-out food container which I painted black inside and filled with muddy water. The background is a piece of mat board.

I lit the maquette with a theater spotlight and shot it with a Canon Digital Rebel single lens reflex camera and printed out several variations.

With that information, combined with many photographs of living snakes, I proceeded with the final pencil drawing and then the painting. For more info on this procedure, check out these earlier posts “Technique Nuts and Bolts” “Utopiales Line Drawing.”

Here’s the painting in progress. The pencil drawing shows through in the lower area.

And the final painting, 14 x 19 inches, finished five days after starting the maquette. By contrast to the Cumberland painting, this painting went together pretty briskly. Inset in the painting is the page layout as it will appear in the October issue of Ranger Rick magazine.

I find that the greatest value of the maquette in a case like this is in providing little accidents of cast shadows, like the hand of the dying croc on the snake’s neck, and the tail’s shadow crossing the snake's body farther down. It also helped in the placement of the highlights, something that can be tricky to guess at on an organic form.

Those little unexpected nuances are almost impossible (for me) to invent out of pure imagination but they give the ring of truth that I believe is vital in a piece like this.

18 comments:

K. W. Broad said...

When I saw the first image of the maquette, I thought it must've been 10 to 12 inches tall, but the second makes it look around 6 inches. Do you bother with armature at all or just make them small enough not to need them?
Definitely looks like an excellent technique for getting the light down. I'll have to give that a try!
The painting came out amazing, by the way!

karlsimon said...

Nice painting! You got the texture of the snake skin spot on. Thanks for sharing your technique. Ill defenitively try to get hold of your book! (although I live in London UK)

James Gurney said...

Thanks, Karl. Kyle, yes, I ran an armature wire through the neck of the snake and the hand of the croc. Probably didn't really need to. I made them small just so they didn't use up much Sculpey.

gallymathias said...

Tremendous!! Thanks for sharing with us the steps of making such an image.
It is really interesting.

sirfrancisdrake said...

Ya those shadows look real good. I was dubious of maquette building, but this post totally sold me on it. Spinning around the model under the lights and looking for the best shadow configuration seems really useful.

jeff jordan said...

Great painting! As a person who does a fair amount of reptillian based critters, I'm always interested to see how other people deal with scale patterns, which can be tedious but seem crucial. As usual, you make it look easy.

Also, as a person whose house is stuffed with books, paintings, etc., I was wondering if you save all of your maquettes. Like do you have a dedicated maquette closet/area, or do they end up in some variation of Gallery Flambeau?

Jeff Zachowski said...

Absolutely beautiful. James - what are you using for a piece like this? Canvas? Board? Thanks!

Kendra Melton said...

Mind has been blown. The sheen on the snakes scales made my day. LOVELY!

E Colquhoun said...

Hi Jim,

Ranger Rick has a history of hiring really good art.

E Colquhoun said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Daroo said...

Great panting.

Speaking of texture -- it even looks like the maquette has some texture to it.

One good way to get different textures is to take some liquid latex or casting rubber and paint it on different objects, like an orange peel for instance. After it dries, you can pull it off and then press it into the areas of your sculpture that you want to texture.

Jesus Estevez said...

I love the painting,I was going to ask you how did you do the skin of the snake, fine brush? lots of patients? any way seems that the crocodile didn't have much chance with such a snake

tanaudel said...

It's really fascinating to see your process!

Shawn Escott said...

Stunning! Absolutely stunning.

Björn said...

I really love these progress posts! The result turned out really amazing.

I get the feeling that you do a lot of experiment with technique and approach -- it woulf be fun to see a progress where you did something unusual, like the post about bringing all the children in the neighbourhood for a shooting. It's always a pleasure reading your blog ~B

Ginger*:) said...

This is so inspiring.... and you RECYCLE!

Russ said...

Thanks for posting your progress on the snake image. I did a number of interiors of a giant snake last year, and it's great to see how another artist approaches the same problems. For some reason, despite doing sculpture too, I've never combined the two ideas. Thanks for the inspiration!

Markus Bühler said...

This painting is really fantastic! Nice to see that such great life-restorations exist from this comparably recent discovery. Is the caiman in the painting a special species? I am actually not exactly sure which crocodylians lived alongside Titanboa, but in later times there were a lot of amazing species at South America, like the giant Gryphosuchus, a 10 m long gharial, or the monstrous Purussaurus, which was one of the largest crocodylians ever and came among all reptiles during the last 65 Mio years probably closest to the giant theropods of the dinosaur era. And Purussaurus was even a comparably young species of the Pliocene, as well as a contemporary and nearly same-sized species, the extremely bizarre Mourasuchus. This giant crocodylian evolved to some kind of filter-feeder (similar to the much earlier african Stomatosuchus)and had a really strange skull with extremely flat and thin jaws. Sadly the amazing crocodiles of the last 65 Mio years get often much too less attention, despite the fact that there were various spectacular spezies.