Thursday, October 31, 2013

Catskill Ruins

Happy Halloween, everybody. We took a walk in the Catskill mountains and found a ghost town deep in the forest. (Direct link to video)

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Quick-Sketch Portrait Tools

This set of water-soluble colored pencils and water brushes is all you need for sketching people in the wild.

You can order Caran d'Ache Supracolor 11 pencils individually at Dick Blick. The colors shown here are:
035 Ochre 
037 Brown Ochre 
045 Vandycke Brown
063 English Red
159 Brown
009 Black
407 Sepia
155 Blue Jeans

The four waterbrushes are medium or large size rounds, made by Niji, which you can get from Amazon

They're filled with 1. Water, 2. Higgins Eternal Ink, 3. Higgins Sepia Ink , and 4. Sheaffer Skrip blue ink
These inks are non-waterproof, which allows them to be dissolved after they are dry, and they protect the life and flow of your waterbrush.

It also helps to have a kneaded eraser and a pencil sharpener that will catch the shavings. The sketchbook should be something that can take water media, such as a Moleskine watercolor journal

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

School Visit

Drawing dinosaurs yesterday with the students of East Hill Elementary School.

David Smyth, Potter

While driving through downtown Middleburgh, New York yesterday, by pure chance we ran into our friend David Smyth. We sat down together at the Middleburgh Diner for a bowl of chicken soup and a bagel, and we talked about making a living as an artist.

I sketched David's portrait as we ate our late afternoon snack. Some of his friends call him "Nimbus" because of his cloud of white hair.

David is a master potter. His shirt was covered with dried white slip. Lately he has been making coffee mugs and water-dispensing crocks.

The crocks hold 2.5 to 5 gallons of water. They have a filter mounted inside, and they work entirely by gravity. As the water drains down to the spigot at a rate of about a gallon an hour, the bacteria, chemicals, and odors are removed. It's an environmentally friendly alternative to bottled water.

More info at: Smyth/Cid Pottery

Monday, October 28, 2013

Photos from the exhibition

The Arkell Museum in Canajoharie, New York did a beautiful job with the Dinotopia exhibition. I was there yesterday for the opening events, and met a lot of families, art students, grandparents, and fellow writers and artists.

After the lecture and booksigning I went around through the exhibition with the docents telling them some of the behind-the-scenes stories of the paintings. Today I head over to the elementary school to talk about dinosaurs with the K-1, 2-3, and 4-5 students.
The exhibition will continue through February 9

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Dinotopia art museum exhibition opens today

Dinotopia has arrived at the Arkell Museum of Art in Canajoharie, New York. The exhibition of original artwork "Dinotopia: The Fantastical Art of James Gurney" opens today at 1:00.

At 2:30, I'll be in attendance to give a family lecture on the making of Dinotopia, followed by a booksigning.

The exhibition will feature major works from Dinotopia, The World Beneath, and Journey to Chandara, along with maquettes, preliminary sketches, and plein air works that inspired the fantasy world.

To connect Dinotopia to the tradition of imaginative painting, the Arkell will also exhibit J. Georges Vibert's painting of Gulliver on the Island of Lilliput, which is featured in Imaginative Realism. I'll be visiting a local elementary school on Monday to talk dinosaurs.
More info on the lecture

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Hand Blown Glass

(Direct link to video) My son Frank is working as an apprentice at a glass art studio in Colorado called Homegrown Handblown. This studio was the destination for our recent cross-country adventure.

I made this video profile as a thank-you gift to the glass artists Kirk and Katie Howlett and as a snapshot of my son's life.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Video Contest Entries

At the end of August, I invited you to create 1-minute long videos for a contest called "Plein-Air Persistence."

There were five six entries, and they all show wonderful imagination and hard work. Please have a look through them and vote for your favorite in the poll at left.

1. Michael Goldberg
Video Link:

2. Frank Hegyi and Shane Kier
Websites: and

3. Meghan N. Sours
Video Link:

4. Matthew Kalamidas
Video Link:

5. Dominik Litwiniak 
Video link:
ADDENDUM: This last entry somehow fell through the cracks, and was apparently missed because of Gmail's spam filters. Although you can't vote for Nathaniel's video in the poll, tell him in the comments what you think!

6. Nathaniel Gold
Video Link:
The top vote getters will receive a signed book from me, as well as prizes donated by Richeson Art Products and Liliedahl Video Productions and will be featured in Plein Air Magazine. Dominik will automatically win some prizes since his was the only entry in the Animation category.

Voting will continue until Sunday night at midnight, so please tell your friends about the contest. Thanks to everyone who entered.
Plein Air Persistence contest announcement

On the train home

The train brought us home to the Hudson Valley last night, after about 48 hours of travel from Denver. 
We booked a sleeper for the first leg of the trip, and went coach from Chicago to New York. The small sleeper gives you two bunks in a private chamber with a bathroom down the hall and a shower on the level below. You're free to walk around as the train is moving.

We loved waking up to the view of small towns in Iowa.

Views from the Amtrak Zephyr, James Gurney, casein, 1x2 inches each.
I tried to capture some of the landscapes as they sped past the window. The scenes were composites, constructed from fleeting impressions assembled in my short term memory.

View from the Amtrak Sleeper, watercolor and gouache, 5x8 inches.
The train is a fascinating way for an artist to see the country. The route goes right through the center of all the towns and cities. Some of the older towns have brick storefronts facing the tracks, from the days when railroads were the lifeblood of the town.

But now America turns its back to the train, so you get to see our country in its most unguarded, squalid, and at times glorious, moments: back yards, junkyards, abandoned factories, refineries, wind farms, and miles and miles of corn. The views are entirely different from what you can see from a car. I was glued to the window the whole time, except for the meals.

Passage in the sleeper includes meals in the dining car, seated with other passengers. Having a conversation with a stranger can be a surprisingly rare experience in modern American life, so it's a welcome benefit of train travel.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Arkansas River: Painting vs. Photo

Note: I will be posting all of the entries in the "Plein Air Persistence" contest 
late today or tomorrow. I can't do it right now because I'm in transit at the moment.

One of the reasons I love painting directly from Nature instead of just from photos is that I can see so many colors that the camera can't register. 
Here's a study in watercolor and gouache. I was trying to replicate the colors I saw, and I don't think I was exaggerating them too much (OK, maybe I was enhancing them a little bit).

I took a photo at the same time, and maybe I'm a lousy photographer, but it seems that the camera missed a lot of the warm and cool variation at midrange values. So if this photo was all I had to go on, I wouldn't even know those colors were there. 

That said, I'm fascinated by photography, and I occasionally enjoy trying to incorporate certain photographic effects (such as color grading, lens flares, and bokeh) in scenes that I'm painting directly from observation. Also, as a reference tool, the photo has a lot of useful information for form and texture. So really, the ideal field reference is a combination of plein-air studies and photos.

Next up is our adventure homeward on Greyhound and Amtrak.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Mount Princeton

Mount Princeton is one of the "Fourteeners," one of the highest peaks of the Rocky Mountains. I painted it from across the valley, with Buena Vista far below. 

I'm proud of my son Frank for climbing all the way to the 14,197' summit. Even in the valley below at 8,000 feet, I'm breathless after a flight of stairs.

Mount Princeton by James Gurney, watercolor and gouache, 5x8 inches, October 2013
I feel that mountain painting requires a different mindset from other subjects. For one thing, I believe it's essential to draw all the forms as accurately as possible, as if I'm on a 19th century survey expedition, and lives depend on my getting the forms right. 

To get a feeling of scale, I tried to set up an extreme contrast between large and small touches. A barn in the valley is the size of a pinhead in the painting.

Detail of Mount Princeton, about 1 inch wide. White accents in gouache over watercolor.
Gouache and watercolor lend themselves to this kind of subject, because they allow for extremely small accents, contrasted with larger softly modeled forms. One of the keys to achieving a sense of scale and atmosphere in mountain painting is to keep all the values of the distant space fairly high key. 

The way I was set up, with the sunlight streaming directly onto the painting, I had to watch out that I didn't distort the values, because the direct sunlight makes all the painted passages appear lighter and more colorful than they would look in indoor light.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Street scene in Salida, Colorado

Here's a painting I did yesterday on a street corner in Salida, Colorado. You can see the giant "S" on Salida's spiral mountain, just behind the Palace Hotel sign. 

Palace Hotel, Salida, Colorado. Casein, 5x8 inches, by James Gurney
I used casein paint, with the limited palette of cobalt blue, golden ochre, Venetian red, burnt umber and white. 

Here's a detail of the shopfronts and awnings. This represents about one square inch of the original painting. By the time I got to this stage, I was using smaller brushes, mostly flats. With casein, you can build detail by overlapping light over dark and dark over light.

Here's an early stage, about 10 minutes into the 1 hour painting. 

Although there's quite a bit of finicky detail work in the final painting, the beginning stages are really loose, painted with a big brush, a luxury you can afford yourself with opaque painting. But under that loose, transparent lay-in is a carefully measured "pencil map" of the big shapes. 

Additional tip: Whenever you mix a color, think in terms of classifying the colors in the scene. For example, you might think "white in shadow," "bricks in light," or "aspen foliage in light," etc. Once you have that color on your brush for the one thing you wanted to paint, look for other places in the scene that have similar conditions, and repeat that color in those places.
Note: Tonight at midnight is the deadline for the "Plein Air Persistence" video contest. I'll try to have all the entrants up and ready for voting by the end of the 24th or 25th.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Glassblowing in Action

Here's a portrait of my son Frank, who is apprenticing at glassblowing. 

It's fun to watch the process. Propane mixes with oxygen to make a powerful diagonal jet of fire that heats up and softens the glass. The stream of blue-colored flame turns to yellow-orange as soon as the glass touches it.

The warm light from the flame lit the front surfaces. Some cool fluorescents lit his back and the top of his head. 

I used casein in a watercolor sketchbook held up on a camera tripod. Having the work up high, close to my line of sight, makes accurate judgments much easier. I liked where I was sitting because my work was lit by the window behind me. The brim of the hat shields my eyes from the dangerously bright orange light.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

"Homecoming" Original Painting to Auction October 26

An original painting of mine called "Homecoming" will be coming up for sale at Heritage Auctions on October 26. I painted it in 1984 for a science fiction paperback novel by John Dalmas about neo-barbarians encountering an advanced civilization.

Although the auction record doesn't mention it, the painting also appeared on page 140-141 of my book Imaginative Realism, where I also shared some of the preliminary sketches. This is a rare chance to own an important original, since they are almost exclusively sold by auction, and that doesn't happen too often.

Here's a video about the entire auction.
Heritage Auctions October 26

Painting a Husky

We're hanging out with a family of glassblowers in the high country of Colorado. They own a husky named Dea who has a sleeping mat near the wood stove. The challenge was figuring how to get her to settle around us strangers.

We took her for a long walk and gave her a little taste of honey baked ham. Best friends for life!

She got sleepy and comfortable and curled up in husky style, with the nose beneath the tail, just what I was hoping for. Still, I figured I might only have 15 minutes to paint her before she got up and changed position.

I used casein (black, white, golden ochre, and cadmium green), mixing it on my watercolor palette, and painting with a big round watercolor brush. There was no time for a pencil preliminary, and I was working over one failed start where she moved from another position, so I did all the drawing with the brush.

Painting is a sort of drawing. The only difference is that the brush and paint give you much more versatility and control.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Behind the Laundromat

Here's a quick study in casein of a back street in Buena Vista, Colorado, painted while we did our laundry. I like these contre-jour street scenes because they automatically organize the values and they give a feeling of brilliant light.

Here's an early stage, showing the semi-transparent lay-in of big shapes, painted with a half-inch flat brush. I used just five colors: Titanium white, Venetian red, golden ochre, raw umber, and cobalt blue. The smaller details and refinements come last, painted with a smaller brush. Some of the final power lines are drawn with colored pencils.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Gouache in Grinnell, Iowa

Jeanette and I continued our epic drive west yesterday, cruising along old US Highway 6 from Illinois across Iowa. Our goal: to deliver Trusty Rusty, our 1999 Toyota Sienna to our son, where he lives 9,000 feet up in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado.

Alley, Grinnell, Iowa, James Gurney. Gouache in watercolor sketchbook, 5x8 inches, 1.5 hours.
In Grinnell, Iowa, we paused for a turkey sandwich and a sketch. We stopped at a sunbaked alley with view toward a water tower. Here's my sketch in gouache.

 I perched on my tripod stool, while Jeanette, having forgotten to bring a seat, borrowed a recycling bucket.

Here are four stages. After nailing down the drawing, I laid a warm tone over the whole thing, and then went in with opaques using a flat brush. I added some final accents and fine lines with colored pencils. Gouache will take the colored pencils better than casein will.

We then drove on into the night to Kearney, Nebraska. It was a windy night, and the gigantic wind propellers were spinning fast, with red flashing lights, as we pushed on west. The corn harvesters were going all night too, with floodlights glaring out in the endless cornfields.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Popeye in Perspective

(Video link) In the 1934 animated film "A Dream Walking" by the Fleischer Studios, Olive Oyl sleepwalks on a skyscraper's scaffolding, as Popeye and Bluto try to save her. It's a tour de force of perspective, switching effortlessly between one-, two-, and three-point perspective.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Helpful Bear Promo Animations

Some friends of mine at a motion graphics company called Helpful Bear Productions have created some promo animations that I'm very excited to share with you.

Age of Dinosaurs from Helpful Bear Productions Inc. on Vimeo.
The first one (link to video) shows the Australian dinosaur stamp art magically transforming from drawing to painting. 

They also produced this trailer for my video ""How I Paint Dinosaurs".  (direct link to promo video)

Motion graphic artist Vidur Gupta explains the process:

"This was all done using the Adobe suite, (After Effects, Photoshop and Illustrator) along with Cinema 4D.

"I wanted the video to stay in the organic realm and mimic the look and feel of a real camera and everything that comes along with it. The shallow depth of field, slow camera motion that follows the paint bleeding onto the drawing, and realistic lighting to set the mood.

"The “reveals” would ideally have been done by shooting cotton based paper against a light box and then pouring a mix of India ink and water at various consistencies over it and using that as a “mask”. However given that we needed considerably more control over the actual reveal, I decided to try to recreate this effect digitally.

"I discovered that animating the edges of the ink reveal is never smooth as the paper weave isn’t consistent. There is also a thin line around the edge of the ink that first makes the paper appear “wet” before it fills it in with the opaque ink. These observations enabled me to create this in After Effects using built-in plugins.

"The camera motion was achieved via Maxon’s Cinema 4D, using a combination of a target camera and then finessing the motion manually. Subsequentially, the camera data was piped into Adobe’s After Effects, where all the compositing and appropriate titling was done.

"The score was composed by Michael Brennan. He used the primal nature of the dinosaur world as a jumping off point and created something that is absolutely brilliant. It elevates James Gurney’s painting to an even higher level."
Helpful Bear is a great little company that combines the talents of Vidur Gupta, Gilbert Banducci, Terryl Whitlatch, Michael Brennan, and David Bober

Illustration Master Class signup starts today

Illustration Master Class opens for enrollment today at noon, Eastern U.S. time. I just wanted to let you know if you're interested in the weeklong fantasy art workshop, because the 80 or so limited spaces tend to fill up pretty fast.

Illustration Master Class

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

A family eating dinner, 1760s style.

I did this watercolor painting yesterday at Greenfield Village in Michigan, the living history complex established by Henry Ford. 

The costumed interpreters were eating a midday dinner in the fashion of Connecticut settlers around 1760. I asked if I could sketch, unfolded my tripod stool, and got busy in a dark corner of the room. 

A little LED headlamp shining on my work gave me some idea what colors I was using. It created an odd bit of anachronism for the other visitors to see a bloke bobbing his head up and down with an alien light source.  

What intrigued me about the scene was the cool window light flaring into the scene from the left, with another cool window source from the right, creating an interesting split lighting on the man's face. 

To convey the brightness of the window at left, I had to avoid darks anywhere near it. Note how the camera captured the same effect, with window light bleaching and devouring any small forms near it. 

Here's my portable expedition rig for both painting and making videos. I knew I would be walking four or five miles, so I didn't want to drag anything on wheels or lug a heavy easel:
1. Tripod stool
 with shoulder strap.
2. Compact tripod for video camera, Zoom recorder, or LED light, strapped to chair with bungie cord.
3. Paint rag tied to the outside to allow it to dry (looks a bit weird).
4. Belt pouch. Contains: pencils, brushes, water cup, gouache set, mini watercolor set, watercolor sketchbook, and LED headlamp.
5. Flip video camera
6. Zoom ZH1 sound recorder.
7. Still camera.
8. Canon Vixia camcorder

Monday, October 14, 2013

Lecture tomorrow in Michigan

If you live near Detroit, Michigan, and you like dinosaurs, fantasy art, or Dinotopia, please come to my lecture tomorrow at the Cranbrook Institute of Science, where they have a big exhibit of dinosaur skeletons from western North America. 

The event will start at 6:00 with a book signing, and we'll have some Dinotopia books there. Then I'll give a digital slide lecture at 7:00 called "Dinotopia: Art, Science, and Imagination," showing how I paint realistic dinosaurs and ancient civilizations for science publications, and how that work has inspired the fantasy world of Dinotopia. It should be interesting for humans of all ages.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Pleissner's Watercolor Setup

Ogden Pleissner (1905-1983) was an American watercolorist who painted Europe after World War II and became best known for his sporting artwork.

His plein-air watercolor setup was perfect for working large. The wooden tripod easel can expand to hold very large boards, and the angle can be tilted to allow washes to move. The palette has its own tripod to keep it right next to the painting, and it can be tilted as well. A big porcelain bowl holds the rinse water. The umbrella has its own stand, not attached to the easel.
Here's another photo taken the same day with the umbrella removed. He holds his extra brushes in his left hand and dangles a cloth off the right side of the easel.

One of Pleissner's plein-air watercolors: Old Mill, Winchendon, Massachusetts, c. 1960, 16 x 26 inches, courtesy Adelson Galleries.
The second photo is from the Archives of American Art, which has Pleissner's papers.
The Pleissner Gallery at the Shelburne Museum in Burlington, VT has many originals and studio effects.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Gus White's Puppets

Gus White was a traveling puppet maker, ventriloquist, and portrait painter who brought a Punch and Judy show to small town America. 

Yesterday, using watercolor and colored pencils. I sketched some of Gus White's one-of-a-kind hand puppets. White carved the heads from wood, painted them, and applied real hair or wool.  

White based his show on the traditional European Punch and Judy, but he put an American gloss on it. His version included cartoon icons of the day, such as Happy Hooligan, along with various ethnic stereotype characters, such as the Irish washerwoman, the Jewish peddler, the proper Englishman, the Indian, and various African-American types, all very typical for one hundred years ago.

In this vintage photo, Gus White is surrounded by his cast of characters. The Irish washerwoman is visible third from the left in the bottom row, and the Jewish peddler is visible (with a fuller beard) in the clump of characters on the right side.

You can read more about the story of Gus White and his puppets here.