Sunday, December 28, 2014

Dinotopia Technique

The technique that I have used for most the illustrations in Dinotopia: A Land Apart from Time is an oil wash method that's quite fast and versatile.

I do a quick pencil drawing on heavyweight illustration board and fix it with workable fixative. Then I seal the surface with acrylic matte medium, applied quickly overall with a housepainting brush. While it's wet, I squeegee the matte medium to a whisper-thin layer using a scrap of cardboard dragged along the surface. Here's a video showing how that step looks.

When that layer is dry, I scrub in the oil colors with a bristle brush, thinning them with a combination of odorless mineral spirits and alkyd painting medium. The resulting layers take a couple of hours to dry to the touch, and they're dry enough overnight to permit additional layers.

What I like about the method is that you can use it entirely transparently, as I did in the painting above, or you can paint semi-opaque or fully-opaque passages, and bridge into a more conventional oil painting technique.
Book: Dinotopia, A Land Apart from Time (on Amazon).
Book: Dinotopia: A Land Apart from Time (signed from my web store U.S. only)
More about Dinotopia techniques and methods in my book: Imaginative Realism: How to Paint What Doesn't Exist
Listen to the latest episode of the Dinotopia audio podcast.
There will be an exhibit of Dinotopia originals at the Stamford Museum and Nature Center in Connecticut from February 14 - May 25, 2015. I'll be giving an illustrated lecture there on Sunday, February 22.


Eugene Arenhaus said...

James, how do you prevent the board from buckling when you apply the acrylic medium? Is it the fixative that does the trick, or is it applied simply to avoid smudging the graphite?

Daniel New said...

I'm so glad you posted this. I've just recently started with oils a year or so ago and have been studying your Dinotopia paintings and trying to replicate your technique. You've talked about this technique before and I've tried very hard to use it. However, I can't get the consistency right in the paint. It comes out either very soapy and runny or the opposite and I have to scrub really hard to get any paint off the brush at all. And if I do seem to get the right consistency for a few strokes, I can't figure out how to do it again. Which of course leads to a picture with a hundred different-looking consistencies of paint in a very bad way. Do you mix the Gamsol and Liquin together first before thinning the paints? or do you have separate containers and dip your brush into each one as needed? Or should you just mix the paint, Gamsol and Liquin together with a palette knife first? I think the problem is that everything just gets so messy and I'm making mixtures everywhere trying to find the right consistency and paint color and so on. I was wondering exactly how you calculate and set this up on your palette, because it's driving me crazy. I'm sure there's no one straight answer, but anything would be helpful.

Also, painting a second coat of Gamsol and Liquin for me, has almost always pulled the first one up, Even with a few days to dry. I started using retouch varnish to seal the layers after hearing that Rockwell used it and that seems to work pretty well. But you haven't ever mentioned using it with (as far as I can tell) the same materials. I assume its because you don't have the same problem, which means I'm obviously doing something wrong.

I apologize if there's something really simple or obvious I'm missing. I've been wanting to ask about this stuff for awhile. And of course if there's anyone else here that has any advice that'd be great too, thanks!


Gavin said...

Thanks for sharing the technique. It's almost like oil paints meet watercolours or gouache.

I'm assuming you're not measuring out the quantity of medium used to dilute the paint in precisely measured quantities, but do you know how thinly you can dilute oils without causing increased problems with longevity? I'm assuming the layered approach helps in this as does the use of quality paints.

James Gurney said...

Eugene, I use heavyweight board. Should have mentioned that. It doesn't warp, and if it did, I would paint water--yes, just plain water--across the entire back of the board, and that would usually do it.

Gavin, I use varying proportions of liquin and solvent, and so far longevity hasn't been an issue.

Daniel, that sounds frustrating. Thinning down the paint is pretty common for a quick-drying lay-in. I use more Liquin when I want it to have more body, but still be transparent. In any event, even if it dries overnight, you have to have a light touch with subsequent layers or the first layer may pick up, especially if you use much Gamsol. Use more Liquin if you don't want to risk picking up previous layers. As with all experimental media, try it out on test scraps first, try a bunch of things until you figure out what it's going to do.

Eugene Arenhaus said...

Thank you for the explanation! How heavy is "heavyweight"? Would 300 g/m^2 work?

playalot86 said...

Hey Mr. Gurney,

Did you ever make a video on how to make a gapped box? Thanks so much.

James Gurney said...

Playalot, I'm not quite sure what you mean by a gapped box. Do you mean a slotted drying box for oil panels?

playalot86 said...

Hey Mr. Gurney,

Yes sir! I can't seem to get my head around how to build it? It sounds silly, but I have always wondered. Also, you are my hero. :)

playalot86 said...

Yes indeed sir; I am having a hard time wrapping my head around it.

James Gurney said...

Playalot, basically it's a box with slots built into the inside that lets you slide panels into it while they're wet. Some easels come with them built in, and they're for sale as special items. You can make them if you know how to use a radial saw or a table saw to cut slots into the end pieces of the box.