Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Ascent of the Mesozoic Mammals

Scientific American's online magazine has just released a new article about the mammals that lived during the time of the dinosaurs. 

For the cover of the magazine, we needed a dynamic image that showed how capable and specialized some mammals were. So we decided to show the flying squirrel-like Volaticotherium.

There were a lot of choices for the inside spread. Mesozoic mammals weren't all little shrews and mice. There were all sorts of amazing forms. I sketched up a lot of options in thumbnail form using watercolor and colored pencils.

One of my favorites was the badger-like Repenomamus. The fossil was found with the bones of a baby dinosaur inside its rib cage. Here are some black and white gouache sketches to help work out the composition.

I documented the making of the artwork in a free YouTube video called "The Mammal that Ate Dinosaurs. I also produced a comprehensive 35-minute digital download that you can get from Gumroad.

I show all the development stages, including thumbnail sketches, color comps, maquettes, field research, and the final painting in oil. My voiceover explains all the methods in practical terms, along with the thinking behind them.

This video reinforces some of the concepts and methods in previous videos, but it also includes new material, such as:

• The use of an air-dry clay for quick maquette building
• Techniques for rendering fur textures
• Ways to suggest rainy day conditions
• How to render whiskers and veins on an oil painting.

The production is packed with useful information that will interest not only the dinosaur artist, but anyone who paints creatures of any kind. The edit is fast-paced and entertaining enough to be worth watching again and again.

The Scientific American article appears in the June issue, but you can purchase it online now.

The Mammal that Ate Dinosaurs: Behind the Art 35:51 minutes run time, downloadable 1080p HD mp4 file.
For more info about how you can own the full video, follow the links below:
Sellfy: Buy now
Gumroad: Buy my product


Tobias Gembalski said...

Great! I enjoyed your Tyrannosarus documentary very much, so this new one is another must have for me. Thanks.

Steve said...

Looks wonderful! Always a treat to see your meticulous, yet thoroughly homemade process. Though the edits were quick, my mind combined two fleeting images; sharpening a colored pencil with a box knife and a band-aid on your thumb. I hope these are unrelated.

Fabio Porta said...

Another great video, thanks! :)
Downloading the full length now!

Linda Navroth said...

Another great video--just got done watching and it was, as always, fascinating and informative to watch you at work. I'll be on the lookout for a copy of the magazine, too, as that looks like a great article.

Jared Cullum said...

Terrific! Thank you!

gyrusdentus said...

Hi James
do you sometimes mount Canvas on cardboard so that Shipping to the respective publishers is easier?
or would that be not practicable?

James Gurney said...

Gyrus, I sometimes mount canvas to plywood, which is extremely strong. For these paintings, I used heavyweight illustration board.

Thanks, Linda, Jared, and Fabio. The article by Stephen Brusatte and Zhe-Xi Luo is fascinating reading.

Steve, I appreciate your concern, but no worries on the band-aid. My finger tips get dry and cracked in the winter, and I wanted to keep the oil paint and solvents away from them.

gyrusdentus said...

Thanks James. Would you send an unstretched Canvas to a Customer or is that uncommon among Professionals like you?
That is the Reason, i thought you sometimes use cardboard first.

James Gurney said...

Gyrus, I don't paint on canvas, stretched or unstretched for my illustration work. However, Greg Manchess, an illustrator who works both in New York and Oregon, and who paints large, often paints on unstretched canvas, and finds that way much easier to ship.

Linda Navroth said...

James--I just saw your comment about dry cracked fingers in winter--I have the same problem, and have found excellent relief and fast healing by using something called O'Keefe's Working Hands (you can get it cheap with free shipping on Amazon). It's the only thing that I've found that works and it heals them up fast if you are diligent in using it!

gyrusdentus said...

Thanks. I just thought about how that goes down in practice. Amazing work like usual.

Al Skaar said...

Another incredible video. Thanks very much for producing these. I'm really looking forward to "Portraits in the Wild".
In your edit you mentioned using a projector to transfer your sketch to the final size you needed to provide to the client. What type of projector do you use?

James Gurney said...

Al, I used an Epson digital projector hooked up to my laptop. I still have my old Artograph opaque projector, which I used a few times to blow up a sketch, but I haven't used that thing in a long time.

Tom Hart said...

I'm loving this video. Thanks for another great addition to the library. I like your longer videos too, like the "In the Wild" series, but this half-hour (-ish) length is nicely compact and a little easier on the pocketbook. Maybe therefore making it more available to more folks (?).

Question: I'm understanding more about the value of using a casein underpainting for oils, thanks to this video. Am I right that the main advantage is the quick drying time, as well as what I assume to be a time-tested compatibility with oil overpainting? Are there special issues that using casein on canvas, as opposed to a smoother surface like illustration board, would present?

Thanks again!

James Gurney said...

Tom, glad you like the shorter length. good question. Casein has a solid heritage as an underpainting paint under oil, and as you know it's the oldest paint known to humankind, going back 50K years. You're right: the chief advantage is that under a deadline you can get through the underpainting stage in a couple hours rather then waiting overnight. I'm using casein thinly for this. If you used it thick you'd want to be on panel.

Carole Pivarnik said...

Another informative and excellent video! Your attention to detail is truly remarkable and inspiring.

Since there was some discussion of video length in earlier comments, I'll say that I prefer the longer videos (although the downloads are more painful on satellite internet!) and particularly footage of you actually painting. The prep and planning stuff is fascinating, but watching your process of drawing, mixing colors, and applying paint and pencil marks is really interesting and helpful. I also enjoy when you include footage of actual painting delivery and seeing the reactions of your clients when the work is unveiled. You do such a great job. I'll buy whatever you publish!

One of my favorite "lazy day" activities is to put a bunch of your videos on my iPad and binge-watch for a few hours. Thanks for sharing your expertise. So many of your tips and suggestions have helped make me a better painter!

Tom Hart said...

I totally agree with you about the longer videos Carole. My earlier comment about liking this half-hour length wasn't intended to be a vote for shorter versus longer, but rather in addition to. Like you, I love to see long stretches of James painting.

James Gurney said...

Carole, thanks for the feedback. What I'm hearing is that people would love a painting video that is more real-time and comprehensive. I'll keep that in mind as I develop new stuff. The 72 minute limit makes sense for me because it's hitting the max for my DVD creation software and I'm assuming that downloads over 2G get a big heavy as you say on the server. By the way, has anyone tried playing my DVDs outside Region 1 (Canada and USA)? I assumed they were Region 1 encoded, but I got another message that said they're supposed to work in all regions.

Linda Navroth said...

I'm about to try my first maquette after watching several of your videos. I'm primarily a wildlife artist (birds in particular) and have come to see the value in using this tool for lighting effects and also to have a 3-D model to work from when the real thing isn't available or practical. I was going to buy the medium Sculpey and some .032. armature wire. Is that type of Sculpey easy to model with (my hands aren't as strong as they used to be) and is that size wire a good size of maquettes up to 12"? I don't have any reference as to the size of the wire and don't want anything too large.

Also, how do I determine the right eye sizes to buy? I can't seem to find a reliable scale for them online so I can see the relative sizes.

James Gurney said...

Hey, Linda. The medium Sculpey should be pretty easy to work. They also make a soft Sculpey. I'm not really sure about the size of the armature wire. It depends on the size of your maquette and how strong it needs to be to hold up that mass.

James Gurney said...

About the eyes, Van Dyck Taxidermy publishers a printed catalog that shows the eyes very clearly.