Saturday, March 31, 2012

Part 2: Shanghai Diary -- American School

Our host for the visit to China was the Shanghai American School (SAS), which has two campuses on opposite ends of the city, in the Pudong and Puxi districts. 

Over a six-day period at the two campuses, I gave 22 presentations to groups ranging from pre-K to high school seniors. I offered drawing workshops, dinosaur drawing demos, behind-the-scenes presentations on Dinotopia, and a creature design demo.

At SAS, a lot of the students are children of expatriate Americans and other nationals who are working in China and have brought their families to live there. 
Although the schools offer classes in Chinese history, language, and calligraphy, most of the classes are conducted in English by American expat teachers, and the vibe of the school resembles a well-endowed American private school. 

The Pudong campus, which we visited first, has an indoor Olympic-size swimming pool, a climbing wall, and an art room with skeletons, plaster casts, and an abundance of supplies. The Puxi campus has a film class, with production equipment. The weekend we were there was the annual Student 
International Film Festival, and storyboard artist Daniel Maslen was a guest lecturer.
The collection of the libraries of the combined campuses represents the largest collection of English-language books in all of China.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Part 1: Shanghai Diary -- Getting There

Jeanette and I returned late last night from ten days in Shanghai, China. For the next week or two, I'll share some of the sketches and photos that we brought home. 

We took United flight 87 out of Newark, New Jersey. The flight took nearly 15 hours, never leaving daylight as it went nearly over the north pole.

When it arrived in Shanghai, we didn't need to change our wristwatches, because the time is exactly 12 hours opposite.
Visitors can't rent a car in Shanghai, so everyone uses a driver or a taxi. Here's a sketch from the back seat of our shuttle. Tomorrow I'll tell you what brought us to Shanghai. 

Shanghai Diary Series:

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Expressive Drapery

This drawing by J.W. West from the Magazine of Art in 1895 shows the expressive power of classical drapery. 

Small halflock folds contrast with long pipe folds, which accentuate the gesture of the leaning woman. Some folds lie inert on the ground while others spiral and bunch up.

This sort of drawing is only possible if you observe real people in real costumes enough to get the feeling of what kinds of drapery effects are possible. At that point an experienced pen and ink artist can invent drapery from the imagination, but it never hurts to have a model or a lay figure for reference.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Sofie Eating

I sat on a fence rail at the farm recently and sketched Sofie, the draft horse, as she had her afternoon meal alongside Abby. They shuffled around lazily the whole time, exuding contentedness. 
The only one who wasn't contented was the barn cat, Handsome. Unknown to me, he was right below me when I shook out a big brushload of water. He jumped up like a thing possessed, but he never figured out where the sudden cloudburst came from.

After a quick lay-in, I laid in large tones in watercolor with a one-inch flat brush, then worked in water-soluble colored pencil (red-brown, ochre, and black) to define the forms a bit more. Finally I touched up along the back and the mane with white gouache.

Mick Ellison Talks About Paleoart

(Video Link) Mick Ellison, staff artist at the American Museum of Natural History in New York, talks about his work visualizing extinct animals. 

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Diner Soundtrack

Sometimes in a crowded restaurant or movie theater, I like to defocus my brain and try to listen to all the conversations going on around me at once.

Usually I can't distinguish more than phrases, snapshots. In this case, I sketched one group at one table, but the snippets of dialogue came from other people all around me.

Jotting down actual dialogue is good practice for writers, and it's a good way to get a sense of the zeitgeist.

Monday, March 26, 2012


The term "breadth" was very important to 19th century painters, though it's rarely used today.

An 1847 manual of oil painting explains: “When the lights of a painting are so arranged that they seem to be in masses, and the darks are massed to support them, we have what is called breadth of effect, which is mainly produced by the coloring and chiaroscuro." 

Breadth is related to the word "effet" in French, and "massing" or "shapewelding" in English.

The painting "Blessing of the Young Couple Before Marriage" by Pascal Dagnan Bouveret is a good example of breadth. The white of the bride's dress joins with the table cloth, the shaft of light, and the other women's dresses to make a single large shape. Meanwhile, two groupings of dark-clad figures join to form larger masses.

The painting manual says that the quality of breadth applies to both design and coloring, and that it is indicative of a master. Indeed it's difficult to achieve, because one must overcome the natural inclination to separate and define shapes throughout the composition.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Chroma in the Shadows

Often the shadow side of the form seems to have duller chroma than the light side, but not always. It all depends on the circumstances. 

In the case of this rock formation in Sedona, Arizona, the downfacing planes in the shadow were picking up warm reflected light from the ground.

The warm reflected light bouncing into the orange local color multiplied the effect, and increased the chroma. By comparison, the light side was distinctly grayer, because it was lit by both the white light of the sun and the blue light of the sky.

Saturday, March 24, 2012


The Forevertron is a scrap metal sculpture in Wisconsin made in the 1980s by Tom Every. It's one of the largest found-object sculptures in the world. 

Mr. Every collected unusual castoffs for decades to incorporate into his magnum opus, including Thomas Edison dynamos, lightning rods, power plant components, scrap from an ammunition plant, and the decontamination chamber from the Apollo 11 spacecraft.
The backstory is that a Victorian scientist named Dr. Evermor built the Forevertron to "launch himself into the heavens on a magnetic lightning force beam." 
Thanks, Tim Fehr.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Art Books

I remember when I used to comb through new and used art bookstores looking for anything I could find on 19th century painters or Golden Age illustrators.

Here's a sketch from about 1985 of my wife Jeanette reading to me from a book on John William Waterhouse.

Before computers and the internet, finding a good art book was like uncovering a vein of gold. In those days, you couldn't find much on Bouguereau, Meissonier, Gerome, or Waterhouse. Sargent was just beginning to come into the light. It seemed worth spending $50 for a book, even if it had only two or three good color reproductions. I would stick yellow tags on the best pages, with the name of the artist written in small letters so I could find them again.

The casual availability of images now is both a blessing and a curse. It makes me treasure each image a little less, perhaps because I haven't spent so much effort on the hunt. Still, I'm grateful to be able to find so many digital images in cyberspace. But I have faith that there's much more to be discovered. The internet may be a million miles wide, but it's only an inch deep when it comes to some artists who have yet to arrive from obscurity.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Is "The Hero's Journey" a Tired Cliché?

The film critic who calls himself "The Hulk" argues that the hero's journey has become a screenwriting crutch. 

According to Hulk, Joseph Campbell originally formulated the paradigm to help analyze existing myths and to draw connections between them. Campbell's template was made famous by George Lucas, who used it as the deep structure for the original Star Wars movie. Since then it has become a production template used by screenwriters to create a glut of similar films and video games.

Hulk says it's not the only story plan that works for adventure movies, and it has become a tiresome cliché: "Our society has overtly adopted the book's breakdown of the hero journey as some kind of ready-made app for paint-by-numbers storytelling."

Hulk blog post on the Hero's Journey myth
The Hero with a Thousand Faces  (the book that started it all)

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

"They will never shoot you for what you leave out of a picture."

When Norman Rockwell took on the challenge of illustrating Mark Twain's Tom Sawyer, he went to great lengths for authenticity, traveling to Twain's hometown of Hannibal, Missouri, to research characters, costumes and props.  

Here is his initial charcoal drawing for the scene of whitewashing the fence. Tom Sawyer has escaped his chore by convincing his friends that it's a special privilege to paint a fence. Twain lists the loot that they paid Tom, including: a kite, a dead rat, a cat with one eye, and a window sash. Tom sits on a barrel, chuckling into his hand at his pals, who work hard at the job he was supposed to do.

At some point Rockwell must have felt that his original conception was too literal, too much "on the nose." His finished composition removes Tom Sawyer entirely.

Rockwell once said that "every single object shown in a picture should have its place there because it contributes to the central theme of the picture. Otherwise it simply does not belong and should be discarded ruthlessly."

Or as his hero Howard Pyle once said, "They will never shoot you for what you leave out of a picture."

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Video Gaming Activates Pleasure Centers

A study by Simone Kuhn of Ghent, Belgium suggests that playing video games changes the brain and activates the same pleasure centers that light up when gambling. Even when losing, a player is hooked by the payoffs of hormones and deep neural centers.

But I think that puts video games in an unfair light. I'll bet that a lot of the things we love to do, such as sketching, probably activate the same "reward hub." For me, laying in a watercolor wash feels like pulling a slot machine handle. More times than not, I lose my quarter and come up empty. But something in my brain says, "Pull the handle one more time!"

Monday, March 19, 2012

Dinotopia Exhibition Residency

There are less than three weeks left of the exhibition "Dinotopia: The Fantastical Art of James Gurney" at the Woodson Art Museum in Wausau, Wisconsin.

Earlier this month I traveled to Wisconsin to do a residency there. I had the pleasure of walking through the exhibit with a variety of school groups and museum patrons. Here I'm showing them "Dinosaur Parade" with the tabernacle frame by Troy Stafford.

We had a drawing workshop with several classes of fifth graders and a high school group.

 The snow sculpture of a Triceratops was a little reduced by the early spring weather, but it was still very impressive.

I had a chance to meet one of the Team USA Snow Sculptors, Mike Sponholtz, who I sketched while we had lunch together.

The Woodson Dinotopia show will end on April 7. For those of you on the east coast of the US, there will be another chance to see the paintings "Garden of Hope" and "Dinosaur Parade" at the exhibit opening June 3 called "At the Edge: Art of the Fantastic" at the Allentown Museum in Pennsylvania.

Also, I'm pleased to announce that starting September 22, the Lyman Allyn Art Museum in New London, Connecticut will host a whole different Dinotopia exhibit called "Dinotopia: Science, Art, and Imagination," with about 70 original paintings that haven't been seen anywhere on the eastern seaboard before.
Woodson Art Museum Dinotopia Exhibit

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Charles Knight Book

My illustration of the tyrannosaurid Teratophoneus taking down a Gryposaurus appears in the issue of Scientific American that's on the newsstands now.

One of the inspirations for the painting was this 1897 painting of Laelaps by Charles Knight (1874-1953). Knight was one of the founding figures of paleoart, working more than a century ago.

He started out by drawing living animals at the zoo, then studied animal anatomy and worked at the American Museum of Natural History. Despite obstacles like vision problems, he went on to paint many murals and illustrations reconstructing extinct life forms. His work has influenced several generations of artists and filmmakers throughout the 20th century.

An excellent new coffee table book on Knight by author and anthropologist Richard Milner has just been released. It tells his life story, shows a lot of his drawings, and explains how he developed his remarkable vision of extinct life.

Charles R. Knight: The Artist Who Saw Through Time
Charles Knight on Wikipedia
Previously: Lost Continent video

Saturday, March 17, 2012

The Hills above Clonmel

Happy Saint Patrick's Day, everyone! 

Here's a little plein air painting that I did in County Tipperary, Ireland in 2004.

On that trip I didn't rent a car; I just bummed rides. I had all my painting gear in one backpack and all my other gear in a suitcase. I wandered on foot each day alone in search of a motif while my son Dan was in town studying Irish music and prepping for the Fleadh Cheoil.

This day I walked up a hill road until I found a break in the hedgerow and a place with a big view. I could look way down into the valley and almost hear the fever of the jigs and reels, while the silent sea of heaven rolled overhead.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Art of Video Games Exhibition

Today the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, DC opened an exhibition called "The Art of Video Games."

(Video link) The show contains original art and interviews with designers, developers, writers, programmers, and scholars. Curated by Chris Mellisinos, it is divided into three parts, exploring the "creative process, the mechanics that allowed things to move forward, and the evolution of form over time."

The exhibition will be on view through September 30.
There's also a book called The Art of Video Games: From Pac-Man to Mass Effect
The Art of Video Games Exhibition

Art Order Interview

Over at the blog The Art Order, Randy Gallegos has just posted an interview with me and Randy Asplund (expert at creating medieval manuscripts and illumination).

The main theme of the interview is how to balance your art with other interests.

One of Randy's questions: "It's hard for us to imagine now, but if the whole art-thing hadn't worked out very well for you, professionally, what might you have done instead?"

A: Scary thought. My only job skill was dishwashing. It was paint or starve. I was lucky to marry a woman who was thrifty and willing to go long stretches with no income. We figured we'd make it in art or die trying." Read the rest.

Delta Wing Takes to the Track

The revolutionary new race car called the Delta Wing had its first track test on its way to Le Mans this summer. 

(Video link) The car was designed by Ben Bowlby and built by the team at All American Racers, headed up by Dan Gurney and his son Justin. 

Two time Grand Am champion Alex Gurney had the honor of being the first driver to get behind the wheel and try it out on the Buttonwillow Raceway in California, where it delivered a near flawless performance.
All American Racers press release
Previously on GurneyJourney
Alex Gurney, race driver
Goldsworthy Gurney's Steam Carriages

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Men, Women, and Eyetracking

Have a look at the photos below for five seconds or so. We'll come back to them later.

Scientists have used eyetracking technology to see where people look in a photo. One question they have asked is whether men and women look at other people in the same way.

In one experiment, groups of men and women were asked to look at the picture of baseball player George Brett. 

The eyetracking heatmap shows that both men and women spent time looking at the head, but men also looked at the crotch. This isn't necessarily a sign of sexual attraction. They could be sizing up the competition or identifying with him.

According to Nielsen and Coyne, men also tend to look more at private parts of animals when shown American Kennel Club photos.

Here are the results of thirty men and thirty women looking without prompting at that first pair of photos.

The company Think Eye Tracking observes from the results:

1. Men check out other men, especially their "assets."
2. Women checked out his wedding ring.
3. Guys don't seem to care about the woman's marital status, but looked at her face, breasts, and stomach.
4. If you ask people to self-report where they looked, they tend not to be very honest or they're just not consciously aware.
Read more:
Bathing Suit Photo Study (Think Eye Tracking)
Online Journalism Review
Studio Moh
Related GurneyJourney posts
Do Artists See Differently?
Dog cam: Where do dogs and chimps look?

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Bullseye Interview

BoingBoing's Mark Frauenfelder did an interview with Jesse Thorn on the podcast Bullseye. He describes the Zeo sleep manager, which gives you a read-out on your past night's sleep (I need one!).

And he also recommends GurneyJourney (around the 4:00 mark).

Here are the links to the posts he refers to:
Macro Photos of the Human Eye
Building reference models of dinosaurs
Video of Sketching a Donkey
Portrait of Jehovah's Witnesses
Direct link to interview
Thanks, Mark -- and Heather for telling me about it.

Water Article in International Artist

The upcoming April/May issue of International Artist magazine has a four-page feature that I wrote on reflections and transparency in water. 

It covers the optics of reflection and refraction, transparency, the effects of turbidity, and tips on painting waves and foam. I wanted to write kind of a go-to mini-guide for the magazine's readers to have handy when the subject comes up.   

One of the curious qualities of reflections in still water is that they tend to reflect vertical lines more readily than horizontal lines. This painting by Danish artist Peter Mork Mønsted illustrates the point.

The little branches on the far bank head in different directions, but it's the vertical branches that you see favored in the reflection. 

The effect of elongation is increased with the strength of contrasts of the elements being reflected. Extremely bright lights, for example, are reflected in very elongated vertical lines. As 19th century British writer John Ruskin says, 

"All motion in water elongates reflections, and throws them into confused vertical lines. The real amount of this elongation is not distinctly visible, except in the case of very bright objects, and especially of lights, as of the sun, moon, or lamps by a river shore, whose reflections are hardly ever seen as circles or points, which of course they are on perfectly calm water, but as long streams of tremulous light."

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Man or Atmosphere

Norman Garstin (1847-1926) was an Irish painter who was part of the artist colony known as the Newlyn School in Cornwall, England. 

(Above: "The Rain It Raineth Every Day.") Like his contemporaries, Garstin was interested the idea of painting the atmosphere as well as the object. As Garstin put it:
"We seek to represent not only the man, but, as it were, his very atmosphere, and not only his surroundings but his surroundings under certain specific conditions, and it is in making this atmosphere as much a part of the picture as the mere actualities, that our chief claim to an original view of nature lies."

(Above: "A Steady Drizzle") This idea was current in Garstin's generation, particularly among his contemporaries such as Manet, Whistler, and Bastien-Lepage. Garstin was also a student of Japanese prints and calligraphy.
Norman Garstin on Wikipedia
Newlyn School on Wikipedia
Quote is from the book: Stanhope Forbes and the Newlyn School Pb

Monday, March 12, 2012

Art Institute of Phoenix

The Art Institute of Phoenix is a degree-granting institution in Arizona that focuses on developing professional skills in the fields of animation, visual effects, game design, fashion design, and culinary arts.

It's part of the Art Institute association of schools, which has over 40 branches throughout North America. I visited the school more than a year ago, and I've also visited the Art Institute Inland Empire in San Bernardino, California.

Kevin Hedgpeth is on the faculty of the media arts program. He's showing me paper sculptures of a helmet and a motorcycle made by the students. Kevin has experience in illustration, toy design, character design, and paleoart.

He likened his job as an instructor to giving the students a "Batman's utility belt," with a variety of skills that they can use in an ever-changing job environment.

After touring the building, meeting faculty, and doing a digital presentation, I did a demo portrait of Kevin.
Wikipedia on Art Institute Phoenix
Official website
Previously: Art Institute Inland Empire

Sunday, March 11, 2012

TSA Area

If you're stuck in an airport for a while, and you have a sketchbook with you, a great place to sit is near the security screening area.

People get into all sorts of interesting poses as they're putting themselves back together.

Traveler's Tip: In Chicago O'Hare airport, you can sit at the entrance to the E/F gates of Terminal 2. There's a Starbucks perfectly positioned with cafe tables that have a good view in that direction.

Moebius Redux

(Video link) The BBC has produced this excellent documentary on the life and art of Jean Giraud (Moebius), who died yesterday. The production continues in Part 2, Part 3.

Thanks, BBC and Anonymous.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Jean (Moebius Giraud) 1938-2012

The legendary comic artist and sci-fi / fantasy illustrator Jean (Moebius) Giraud died of cancer today at the age of 73.

Moebius had a unique and influential imagination, shaping the look of the films Alien, Blade Runner, and Tron. His own comics Arzach (later "Arzak"), Blueberry, and The Airtight Garage are full invention, blending a mystical vision with down-to-earth details.

Many of his early works were full of baroque detail and cross-hatching; later, he strove for a simplified elegance. He had a prodigious drawing ability, improvising all sorts of characters in all kinds of angles and actions without any reference.

This news comes right on the heels of the passing of Star Wars film designer Ralph McQuarrie, another huge influence on me when I was starting out.

(Video Link) Here's a vintage film of Moebius drawing together with Hugo Pratt.
Porfolio of his works at io9
Lines and Colors tribute
Previously on GurneyJourney
Moebius and Miyazaki

Color and Light in Japanese

Following their publication of Imaginative Realism, Japanese publisher Born Digital has just released Color and Light: A Guide for the Realist Painter.

From the dust jacket: "アメリカを代表する現代イラストレーターの一人であり、博識で知られるジェームス・ガーニーが、自身のアート制作の経験と知識を分かりやすく語る「A Guide for the Realist Painter:リアリズム絵画の手引き」シリーズ VOLUME 2"
Color and Light in Japanese on
In the USA, get a signed copy in English

Born Digital / Imaginative Realism with sample pages in Japanese.
Color and Light on Amazon internationally: USA | CA | UK | FR | DE |

Microraptor's new plumage

A new study of the four-winged dinosaur Microraptor reveals new insights about the arrangement and coloration of its feathers.

(Video Link) According to Mark Norell of the American Museum of Natural History and his Chinese colleagues, it had an iridescent dark coloration, much like a crow.

More discussion at Dinosaur Tracking
Thanks, Jennifer Miller

Friday, March 9, 2012


We walked down to the farm yesterday, and Turk, the Belgian draft horse, was in a calm mood. He had eaten his morning hay, and stood quietly at the edge of the paddock with the other draft horses, looking across the pond.

He still has a thick winter coat, and like all the animals on the farm, appreciates a good brushing this time of year.

For this impromptu portrait, I used watercolor pencils, black and clear water brushes, and a little gouache in a watercolor sketchbook.