Wednesday, October 7, 2015

New Life for an Elf Alien

Outsider Artist, oil by James Gurney
This oil painting of a frog-like alien artist currently appears in the museum exhibition "The Art of James Gurney." He holds a palette and a paintbrush loaded up with paint, while behind him is a dark fabric background.

But he didn't begin life that way. The earlier version of the oil painting was commissioned for a paperback cover about intergalactic war. It had a tighter cropping on his face, with a row of warriors painted in front of him.

I didn't really like the montage or the tight cropping or the warrior theme. I wanted to explore the little guy's character more. I figured that with those amazing eyes he would see the world differently from the rest of us. Maybe he could be an artist, the ultimate outsider artist.

Luckily I painted him on a white canvas panel with quite a bit of extra margin. So I sanded out the figures and the edge where I had taped off the rectangle.

To understand that froggy hand better, I sculpted a reference maquette out of Sculpey polymer clay over a framework of aluminum armature wire. I also sculpted the half-figure of the creature (below).

I could have just invented the hand from my imagination, and it might have been 95% as good, but it was that last 5% I was determined to get.
"The Art of James Gurney is an exhibition of about 25 original paintings on the UARTS campus in Philadelphia, through November 16.

The finished painting was published on the cover of Imaginative Realism: How to Paint What Doesn't Exist. The original paperback was called The Fleet: Sworn Allies by David Drake.

Previously on GurneyJourney: Elf Alien (Sketches and head maquette study)


Tom Hart said...

Very interesting, especially after all the time I've stared at that "little" guy; I never knew of his beginnings.

I'm curious about the step of sanding out the parts of the original painting that you didn't like. I've wiped off (when the surface is still wet enough) and scraped off, but haven't tried sanding off. I wonder when you find that the sandpaper is called for. Is it a matter of texture - getting the surface smooth(ish)enough, or is it more a question of removing enough (or all?) of the existing paint. Or maybe both?

James Gurney said...

Tom, Yes, both reasons. Having bold light and dark shapes under a repainted passage invite pentimenti if the paint ever transparentizes. Also, I had taped off that rectangle framing in the face of the alien, which left a definite ridge in the paint, so I had to sand out that ridge, or else it would have really showed up.

A Colonel of Truth said...


Bron Smith said...

Since I tweet your column everyday, I've read most of your posts regarding making a maquette as a model for a painting. But my concern is the time factor. I keep a time sheet for every project I work on. If I took time to make maquettes, it would run my time on the project way up, and I might lose considerable money on that project. I wonder if you ever considered the time aspect of making maquettes and how it will affect the budget of your project.

Tobias Gembalski said...

Brilliant! I love the maquettes. It obviously helps to understand a certain shape and on top you have some more art to schow.
I really admire our versatility. Drawing, painting, sculpting, film editing, animating, teaching, riding a unicycle ... I guess I forgot something, what about playing a musical instrument?

Dan said...

"I could have just invented the hand from my imagination, and it might have been 95% as good, but it was that last 5% I was determined to get.".... I love this sentiment.

James Gurney said...

Bron, I've found that making maquettes is a timesaver. When I have a rush job or one that doesn't pay much, I still try to spend 10-20% of my allotted time to make a quick maquette. So for a six day job, I'll spend half a day on a build. The info it yields always saves time on the final painting.

Tobias, I wish I could play an instrument, fix a car, speak a foreign language, balance a checkbook, keep a clean house....or many other things!

Thanks, Dan! Check out Dan Dos Santos's always inspiring posts in the blog Muddy Colors.

Eugene Arenhaus said...

It's rare to find an artist, who also isn't a compulsive tinkerer... :)

Rich said...

Aaahh! Always found it so convincing, that alien hand, holding the brush.

Now I know why!

Wendy Froshay said...

Just a thought... I would LOVE a video on how you make a maquette, a complex one, on applying the sculpy. I've tried and... well... :) so a good video would be so worth the bucks!

James Gurney said...

Wendy, I'm having fun designing some robots, and one of them will be featured in the next video "Fantasy in the Wild," including how to make a posable maquette out of wire and craft foam.

Wendy Froshay said...

I'll be watching for it, thanks James. Your books, blogs and articles are incredibly packed with so much information. I'm in awe of how much you accomplish in your career and how much you share. Thanks for everything!