To support my blogging habit.
Long answer (adapted from the introduction):
Because it needed to be written. The book explores the question of how to paint a realistic picture of something that doesn’t exist.
It is intended not only for artists interested in fantasy and science fiction but also for anyone who wants to recreate history, visualize extinct wildlife, or simply tell a story with a picture.
Most methods of art instruction assume that you’re drawing or painting directly from observation. When you make a still life, a portrait, or a landscape, you generally begin with the subject in front of you.
That’s how I painted this picture of a skull. (Oil on panel, 12 x 12.5 inches, 1980)
……or this plein-air landscape (9 x 12 inches).
The task is to learn to observe the subject accurately and arrange it into a pleasing design. Even if you’re painting from a photograph, the challenge is essentially the same. You learn first how to see and then how to paint what you see. This kind of observational art training enables you to capture a likeness or to render a landscape.
But it doesn’t help you much if you want to paint a mermaid, a Tyrannosaurus rex, a Civil War battle, or a scene from an ancient civilization.
A NEW APPROACH
For that, you need a whole different approach. You can’t just go out in your backyard and sketch a spaceship or a scene from the Odyssey. You might find some images on an Internet search, but those are just other people’s notions of what your scene should look like.
This problem always puzzled me as a young artist. I liked to sketch from observation, but I couldn’t find many books that explained how to develop my imaginative muscles. For a while I kept two separate sketchbooks, one from life and the other from imagination, and I felt as if they were done by two different people.
The first instructional book I cowrote was called The Artist’s Guide to Sketching (1982). Around the same time I got a job as a background painter in the film industry (Fire and Ice, 1983). Later I painted science fiction paperback covers and illustrated for National Geographic magazine. All the while in my spare time I was sketching and painting from life outdoors.
I started to discover that my separate skills of observation and imagination were beginning to grow together and to reinforce each other. I embarked on writing and illustrating Dinotopia: A Land Apart from Time (1992), which is an imaginary but realistic world shared by humans and dinosaurs, presented in the form of an explorer’s sketchbook.
Along the way, I have researched the art instruction methods from fifty and one hundred years ago, when imaginative art was taught more systematically. I have taken those lessons to heart in my professional approach and have shared them with art students across the country.
I also have shared many of those insights on this blog. Your feedback has pushed my understanding much farther, and your encouragement about doing a book got me started. It was a very long process to compile the information into a 224-page book with 400 illustrations.
WHAT'S IN THE BOOK
What the book contains is a distillation of the time-tested methods that I’ve found to be most helpful for achieving realism in imaginative pictures. They apply equally to professionals and to beginning art students.
It's not a book about figure drawing, anatomy, or perspective. It’s not a step-by-step guide on how to draw dinosaurs. It’s also not a recipe book for a particular paint technique, although all these topics are addressed in passing. You might use a traditional technique such as watercolor, gouache, oil, or acrylic.
Or you might prefer a digital program such as Photoshop. My own art media are traditional: pencil, paper, pens, paint, brushes, cardboard, and modeling clay. Regardless of your medium, there are no shortcuts to research and planning. The methods in the book will save you time in the long run and yield much better results.
This book is designed to show you how by taking you behind the scenes. You’ll see the preliminary steps, the blind alleys, and the adventures that went into the making of various imaginative paintings. Every page spread covers a separate topic that builds on previous material. You can browse it like a magazine or read it straight through. The chapters are organized by subject: sketches, history, people, dinosaurs, creatures, architecture, and vehicles, concluding with a look at the various professions that are looking for artists who have developed these skills.
The section on composition is different from most other treatments of pictorial design, which tend to be based on abstract formulas of line, shape, or geometric proportions. My approach is centered more on tonal organization in the service of a representational image.
Because the art vocabulary in English lacks some words to describe key concepts, I have had to invent several terms such as clustering and shapewelding to describe compositional principles that artists often think about but lack the vocabulary to talk about. You’ll find those terms defined in the glossary in the back of the book.
To keep the price down to $24.99, our publisher, Andrews McMeel agreed with us to produce the book in softcover. But they used the very best paper and printing technology, and the pages are folded and stitched into signatures to make the book extremely durable.
"Jim's book, at once encyclopedic and anecdotal, belongs beside the taboret of every narrative painter. It is a comprehensive step-by-step guide to authoritative painting and visionary storytelling as well as a lively visual testament to a committed artist's life lived fully and passionately. I heartily recommend it to all my students."
—Charles S. Pyle
Director, School of Illustration
Academy of Art University, San Francisco
"Gurney’s Imaginative Realism is a goldmine for artist’s wanting to create images that sing with authority and delight the viewer with rich otherworldly visuals."
Star Wars: Episodes II and III
IF YOU'D LIKE TO ORDER
The books are on the boat on their way to the warehouse, and we expect to get the very first shipment by the end of the month for our mail order store and for the book tour in October.
If you’d like to order a signed and personalized copy directly from me, please visit my website store page. Please mail in a check, money order, or cash. We'll hold your check until we ship. We don't do credit cards, and we regret that our Paypal account is only for donations.
We're sorry to our international customers that because of all the difficulties with paperwork, costs, loss and other logistics, we just can't ship overseas, as much as we'd like to. Instead, we suggest that you ask a friend or family member living in the USA to order the book for you, and then they can transport it to you.