Thursday, January 21, 2010

More About the New Book

Thanks so much to all of you for your insightful comments and votes on yesterday’s post about the cover design for the upcoming book on color and light.

In this post I wanted to tell you more about how I came to write the book, and what’s in it.

When I was in art school I took a color class that consisted of painting a lot of flat swatches, cutting them out with a sharp knife, and pasting them down into color wheels and gray scales. I spent months learning how to paint perfectly smooth swatches and trying to get the steps between them exactly even.

At the end of each day I would leave the classroom and look up at the colors of the sky, the trees, and the water around me. The sky was not composed of adjacent flat colors, but rather of an infinite variety of gradating hues. Why did dark colors turn blue as they went back toward the horizon——except in a few instances, such as in the photo below, when a setting sun casts the far vista in orange light? Why did the leaves have a sharp yellow-green color when the light shined through them, but a gray-green color on top?

In school I was learning valuable skills about how to see and mix color, but I had no idea how to apply this experience to real-world painting problems. Color theory seemed more like a branch of chemistry or mathematics, a separate science that had little to do with making a realistic painting. I felt like a piano student who had played a lot of scales, but had never gotten around to the melody.

If there were answers to my questions about how color interacts with light, atmosphere, water, and other materials, I would have to find them in fields like physics, optics, physiology, and materials science. I started digging back into art instruction books from more than 75 years ago, when it was taken for granted that artists were trying to create an illusion of reality. Artists as far back as Leonardo da Vinci were struggling to explain the workings of the visual world around them. Each old book had its vein of gold, but the information needed to be translated and updated for our times, and the old theories needed to be tested against recent scientific discoveries.

I investigated recent findings in the field of visual perception and found that many of my assumptions, even about such basic things as the primary colors, were mistaken. I learned that the eye is not like a camera, but more like an extension of the brain itself. I learned that moonlight is not blue, it only appears blue because of a trick that our eyes are playing on us.

During the last few years, since the release of Dinotopia: Journey to Chandara, I have taught workshops at a lot of art schools and movie studios. I have also kept up this blog, which explores the working methods of contemporary realists, academic painters, and Golden Age illustrators. I adapted some of the blog content into my recent book, Imaginative Realism: How to Paint what Doesn’t Exist. As I assembled that volume, I realized that the information on color and light was so extensive—and so popular with you blog readers—that I decided to save it for a second volume.

This book (Fall, 2010, Andrews McMeel, 224 pages) will begin with an illustrated survey of historic masters who used color and light in interesting ways. Those paintings are a tough act to follow, so I’m a little nervous about using my own paintings to fill the rest of the volume, but at least I can talk knowledgeably about them. Chapter 2 will examine the various sources of light, and we’ll look at how light creates the illusion of three-dimensional form. Then I’ll cover the basic properties of color as well as an introduction to pigments and paints. Chapters 6 and 7 present the method I use called color wheel masking or gamut mapping, which helps the choosing of colors for a given picture.

The last chapters of the book will deal with specific challenges that we face when we paint textures like hair and foliage, and some of the areas where we’ve learned from our digital colleagues, such as subsurface scattering, and caustics. After that we’ll look into the infinitely varied phenomena of atmospheric effects: including aerial perspective, fog, dappled light, sunbeams, rainbows, sunsets, and reflections. The book ends with a glossary, a pigment index, and a bibliography.

The book won’t contain recipes for mixing colors or step-by-step painting procedures. My goal is to bridge the gap between abstract theory and the practical knowledge needed by realist painters. I also want to cross the divide between observational color experience of the plein-air artist, and the imagined color of the fantasy artist. I would like to cut through the confusing and contradictory dogma about color, to test it in the light of science and observation, and place it in your hands so that you can use it for your own artistic purposes.

I believe color and light are the artist’s most fundamental tools. Whether you work in paint or pixels, fact or fantasy, or you’re a non-artist who is curious about the workings of the visual world, I want this book to bring color and light down to earth for you.

Cover Poll Update

If you haven’t voted on the cover design yet (scroll down), the polls will stay open until tomorrow noon. I should add that I just stuck the title typography in there really quickly, and I used the same font on all of them so that hopefully the voting would be based on the images, not the graphic type fonts and colors. That will ultimately be handled by the brilliant graphic designers at my publisher, Andrews McMeel.

28 comments:

Steve said...

It continues to impress me that you could apply all this learning to your own projects without ever going to the time and effort of sharing it on the blog and in the books. Thanks for your generous spirit.

Let us know when we can get in line to preorder...

Milek said...

Fall? FALL? AAAAAAAAAARGH! I want it NOW!!!

...

Okay.I'll wait. But it better be worth it. ;) I love Imaginative Realism, thank you for writing the books. It's so great that all this knowledge will never die thanks to people like you. Imagine that: Today people read A. Loomis, in 50 years they'll be reading J. Gurney! How cool is that, man?

Erik Bongers said...

There's a lot of passion in this 'confesion of an artist'.
It might work well as an 'artist statement' on an introductory page for the book. (at last, an artist statement that wasn't "fabricated", but came from the heart!)

Really looking forward for the book.
I cannot deny that these are the themes I somewhat missed in the first book, but hey - how thick can a book be?

=shane white= said...

When you talk about paints and pigments will you include brands so as to be more specific?

My first in-depth practical guide to color was through Stephen Quiller's book Color Choices where he mentioned brands that gave him the best color harmonies. Up until that book people always talked like color X is always color X no matter who makes it, but it's not the case I've found.

Also some paint colors don't reproduce well in print. It may be off the subject of color & light...but it would be nice to hear more on your experience and what adjustments you've made.

=s=

Felipe Gaona said...

I'd love to buy this new book, along with the old one, your blog is just a tresure chest of information.

However, I live in Chile, so I'll just have to check ebay from time to time.

Chris said...

I'm really looking forward to the new book! Lighting is one of those things I seem to struggle with getting right in every painting and yet never seem to find information that explains it to me in a way that makes perfect sense. You do such a beautiful job with lighting (among many other things!)so I'm sure I'll learn lots from the book.

Love the blog too, by the way.

Jake said...

Fantastic! I can't wait until I can get my grubby little mitts on it. Thank you so much, James, for sharing your thoughts and findings with the rest of us. See you at Delaware Art Museum for some hands-on help! (And thanks for the materials note!)

Sketchius said...

This is exactly the kind of information I've been seeking and attempting to gather myself recently. I can't wait to read it!

John Malcolm said...

I have a full height, full wall set of bookshelves in my study or computer room. One whole section has numerous books relating to art and digital art. Your last book takes pride of place and is by far the most inspirational and informative. I eagerly await this next one. Although your imaginative realism book was anchored in traditional oil painting it contains valuable insights for any media including new-fangled digital stuff.

Chris Beatrice said...

Where was this book twenty years ago when I was struggling to figure all this stuff out myself?!

Seriously, my experience trying to connect light / color theory with practice, and to separate the fact from the fiction, was very much like yours.

This sounds like a great book.

GooGoo Supreme said...

very exciting! also why wasnt that photo of the dinosaur scene and sunset in the voting poll, what a fantastic image and what a great image to have on your cover?

will there be a video contest, haha....

Tracey said...

As a 3D digital art tutor, I find it a constant struggle to make my students realise the vital importance of colour and light when producing renders. (All the stuff, like yourself, I've had to piece together from so many sources and careful observations and imitation.) They often produce wonderful looking 3D models and then fail to take the time to set up the materials, colour and lighting rig. The resultant renders are flat and dull.

I'm so looking forward to the next book and also the valuable addition it will make to College's library and the students' must get/have reading list.s

Brian said...

I don't think I can wait till fall.. I'm really looking forward to this new book.

Charles Valsechi III said...

Very awesome :D
*Linked this on twitter*

jfarsenault said...

Great news! Imaginative Realism is definitely one of my favorite art books of all time and I am sure this one will be right up there. I just hope one day there will be James Gurney School of Illustration Art!

dTb said...

This looks fascinating. I really can't thank you enough for all the information you make accessible to us.

dragonladych said...

How very appropriate! I've started this quest last year, but my aim this year is to understand light better, this book will come in perfect timing. Until it comes out I will be using the first one as much as possible to progress.

I really must schedule some outdoor sketching, I keep meaning to then get caught up with other jobs.
I also noticed that "speed painting" in Photoshop helped me immensely in understanding light and colour. Doesn't replace the real thing but it works.

I voted on the cover but didn't have time to comment. I liked the montage one, but voted for the dino one. I think it's more "you". Even though the book will be more about theory, I would say that your name is what will draw people's attention first.
And the dino pictures sums it all up, who you are and the notions of light and colour. I really love that image by the way

Maybe it's also because it shows what I am struggling to "understand". I get the theory but can't really apply it. I mean all the little things that happen around a subject. Lighting the shapes seems easy enough but the reflections etc are still a bit of a mystery. I need to study reflections and diffraction again too.

Emmanuel Laverde said...

Este libro si que hacia falta!!! El dinosaurio durmiendo es encantador.

kingworks said...

I know, without a doubt, that this is the art book I need far and above any other books I have read on anatomy, perspective, composition or whatever else.

The selection and interaction of color, in the context of blending and lighting a scene, has always proven difficult for me as a mostly self-taught artist.

It's going to be a long wait for me. :-P

SVSART said...

Woohoo! Can't wait! I agree fall seems so far away. Here's an idea how about a "Preview/review" contest/raffle for some of your blog readers to get the chance to read it early to build hype and good reviews.

Anderson Scott said...

I can't wait to buy this book! If it's anything like your blog, it will be truly treasured in my own library someday!

woos said...

YEAY! Can't wait!!

Don Cox said...

"However, I live in Chile, so I'll just have to check ebay from time to time."

Many of the dealers who advertise through Amazon will ship outside the US. Likewise the ones who are linked in amazon.co.uk

You do of course need a credit card and an Amazon account.

Tymko said...

Man, I'm speechless. I've found a blog of the guy who made the book of my childhood (and nearly launched me towards becoming a paleontologist, but hey, I chose linguistics and drawing instead) - AND he's making a book on color theory. In the style of his awesome blog.
You. Rock.
No, I really am speechless. These words are an illusion my happiness projected here.
Cheers!

Rob de Vries said...

Looking forward to your new book. I love Imaginative Realism and i think this one will be just as good.

Mr Atrocity said...

There's a wonderful book by the astronomer Marcel Minnaert called, "Light and Color in the Outdoors" which is a brilliantly enthusiastic investigation into everything that light can do outside. For the theory on why things behave as they do it can't be beat and it's great reading for artists, scientists and artist/scientists alike.

James Gurney said...

Thanks so much, everybody. Mr. Atrocity, I second that recommendation for Mr Minnaert's book, not just for artists, but for observant non-artists who are curious about atmospheric phenomena. I think I found out about it from a blog commentator.

Cadmium said...

fall? come on man