Tuesday, January 24, 2017


A praxinoscope powered by a miniature hot air engine.
During the 19th century, inventors figured out that they could create the illusion of movement by presenting a series of related drawings, each seen for a split second.

Praxinoscope from the collection of Mel Birnkrant
Before the era of film, there were several devices that could accomplish this magic, such as the phenakistoscope (spinning vertical slotted disks), and the zoetrope (slotted cylinder). But the most sophisticated was the praxinoscope, which consisted of a spinning circular platform with a series of mirrors mounted on a central drum. The mirrors reflect drawings on a roll of paper set into the inside of the outer drum. 

The moving figures combine with a background, and they seem to float in 3D space. No shutter, eyepiece, or set of slots is required.

In 1888, Charles-Émile Reynaud took this idea to the next level with his Théâtre Optique (Optical Theater).

The device used 36 mirrors, with longer strips of images that went beyond simple cycles. The images were illuminated with an electric lamp — invented just a few years earlier by Thomas Edison.

Reynaud also figured out how to project the images on a screen so that an audience could watch the show, making Reynaud truly the father of animated film technology.
Wikipedia entries on:
Charles-Émile Reynaud
Théâtre Optique
More about the origins of animation at collector Mel Birnkrant's website

Monday, January 23, 2017

Malcolm at the Art Museum

I always bring my friend Malcolm to the art museum. People stare at him at first, but then he charms them with his stories.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Clarence Doore, pulp artist

It wasn't that long ago that men's magazines had covers like this. It takes some mental effort to imagine an elephant as a "killer brute" attacking a scantily clad woman.

The illustrator who painted that cover was named Clarence "Boo" Doore (1913-1988). He's best known as a specialist in pulp themes.

Boo was a distant relative of mine. My great-great grandfather, John Hopkins Gurney, was his great grandfather.

The extended family spent summers in a camp in Maine. That's my grandfather Dan with the hat driving the touring car. Boo is the little blond-haired boy sitting directly behind him.  

Clarence Doore did this cover for a story in TrueWeird Magazine called "Fish with Human Hands Attacked Me." 

Other magazines he worked for included: Cinderella Love, Flyboy, Football Thrills, The Hawk, Kid Cowboy, Romantic Marriage, Space Patrol, Tales of the Sea, Tops In Adventure, Wild Boy, All Man, Animal Life, Battle Cry, Champion For Men, Fury, Male, Man's Adventure, Man's Exploits, Rage For Men, Real Men, and Rugged Men.

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Saturday, January 21, 2017

Extinct Giant Owl

Behold the giant prehistoric owl, Ornimegalonyx.

It was the top predator in Cuba until 6,000 years ago. It was the largest owl that ever lived—about 40 inches tall, weighing more than 20 pounds, with long legs and fierce talons.

Its stubby wings might have extended its glide in a foot-first pounce attack against a giant ground sloth many times its size.

The reconstruction is part of the ¡Cuba! exhibition at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City and the sculpt is by Jason Brougham.

Link: AMNH Website

Friday, January 20, 2017

'The Devil Draws!'

When he tried sketching in Albania around 1849, Edward Lear (British, 1812-1888) encountered some opposition from the local residents.

"No sooner had I settled to draw than forth came the populace of Elbassán, one by one, and two by two, to a mighty host they grew, and there were soon from eighty to a hundred spectators collected, with earnest curiosity in every look; and when I had sketched such of the principal buildings as they could recognize, a universal shout of 'Shaitán!' (Devil) burst from the crowd; and strange to relate, the greater part of the mob put their fingers into their mouths and whistled furiously, after the manner of butcher-boys in England."

"Whether this was a sort of spell against my magic I do not know...[Later] one of those tiresome Dervíshes—in whom, with their green turbans, Elbassán is rich—soon came up, and yelled, 'Shaitán scroo!—Shaitán!' ('The Devil draws! Devil!') in my ears with all his force; seizing my [sketch]book also, with an awful frown, shutting it, and pointing to the sky, as intimating that heaven would not allow such impiety. It was in vain after this to attempt more; the 'Shaitán' cry was raised in one wild chorus—and I took the consequences of having laid by my fez for comfort's sake—in the shape of a horrible shower of stones, which pursued me to the covered streets..."

From Journals of a Landscape Painter in Albania (The Balkans) by Edward Lear

Thursday, January 19, 2017

One-Minute Notan

Here's a challenging exercise for practicing brushwork: Try to paint a scene or object within one minute, interpreting it in a notan design, using black gouache and a big brush. 

A minute goes by very fast, as you can see in the video. (Link to video on Facebook)

Not only is there no undo button, but also there's no time for hesitation, and you have to use a brush fully loaded. Materials used: smooth bristol board cut into a 5-inch square, black gouachesynthetic round brush size 12.
You can watch the video looping on Instagram @jamesgurneyart
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Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Where should I dump my waste water?

Mike Simpson asks:
I have a question about what you feel is the hazardous effect, if any, of disposing watercolor waste water onto the ground or plants, etc.?

I guess the best answer I can give you is to bring along a big container to dump the wastewater in and then dump out the water responsibly when you get back home or back to your hotel.

The same goes for cleaning the palette, by the way. My wife makes me clean out my palette in the shop sink because if I do it in the kitchen, no matter how neat I try to be, a speck of cadmium yellow always shows up in the sink or on the pot scrubber.

Although some pigments such as titanium white are relatively inert in watercolor our gouache, it's hard to know what hazardous materials might be in an actual jar of wastewater. If you use cadmiums or cobalts, etc., there are going to be some toxins in the mix.

Some pigments can also stain a sidewalk, stone, or a ground surface, and that's not good. And appearances matter. Even if you know what you're dumping is innocuous, it may not look like that to someone walking by, or someone organizing the event. One artist in a group who accidentally drops their palette or dumps their wastewater in a sensitive location can wreck it for every other painter who comes later.

Also, some institutions such as colleges have to follow very strict OSHA rules. They get in major trouble unless every artist follows very strict clean-up practices, which involves designated buckets for wastewater. All this is even more important for oil painters who deal with solvents. So it's a good idea to ask around to find out what's OK.

Please be sure to read the comments, which has some expert insights about what happens to toxins after they enter the waste stream.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Woodcarving a Seated Figure

This video (link to YouTube) shows how British sculptor Guy Reid (b. 1963) uses photographs shot at different angles to find the silhouettes of his sitting model. He cuts the shape out of wood with a band saw. Then he refines the 3D form with wood carving tools.

The video itself is remarkable for the way it eschews voiceover and music, letting the visuals explain the process instead.

Monday, January 16, 2017

How I start a casein painting

I often approach a casein or gouache painting with two passes: a semi-transparent lay-in of the big shapes, followed opaques, going for the details last.

The surface is a Pentalic watercolor journal. Here's a big blowup of the page so you can see the finished sketch up close. Note that "PALACE HOTEL" is painted dark over light.

The limited palette of the Gurney 6 Pack is enough for this subject: Colors include titanium white, ivory black, Venetian red, yellow ochre, and cobalt blue. The cobalt blue mixed with Venetian red makes a nice near-black that I use as a base for the shadow. Note the partial mixtures in the shadow..

(Link to watch video on YouTube)
My Gumroad tutorial: Casein Painting in the Wild
On Amazon: Casein 6 Pack
Casein six pack with travel brush set

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Painting in an Age of Apps

A photo with a low pixel count via Tech in everyday life
After reading the recent post about the photograph technique of cross processing, John Tija asks:

"On the subject of cross processing, in addition to Instagram and Photoshop effects, there are also apps on the smart phone. I recently came across Prisma for the iPhone, and have found that the app can transform my ordinary looking photos into some pretty spectacularly different renderings, both in the color scheme and also in the details of the subject itself (e.g., photos become line drawings, or mosaics, or even Mondrian-line canvases, all with color schemes I could not have dreamed up)."

"My question in all this is where the "artist" is in all this. If I paint a scene based on how this app has transformed it, am I "cheating"? I guess it comes down to my starting suspicion of how much I can rely on a photograph (a "ready made" scene) as a start to my painting? And if I start relying on some color scheme produced by an app algorithm, do I then lose more of my originality, since I become, step-by-step, nothing more than a copier?"

"As a funny aside, I used this app to run a photo I took of a painting I did based on another photo I had taken, and I came out with a pared down digital rendition (koi in a pond) that had strangely alluring colors and was pretty good. So what kind of an artist am I in this? This has puzzled me!"

Head painting detail by Frank Brangwyn
John, that's a very thoughtful question. You're right to ask about these powerful tools, including photography, digital processing, and apps. And we're just beginning to arrive in the era of machine-learning algorithms. They all challenge our idea of what makes us an artist.

Let's consider what we do when we paint. You could look at all painting as a form of altered—or even degraded—vision. It's the opposite of the usual way we regard representational painting. Typically people talk about painting as a way of representing exactly what we see, or even enhancing what we see. 

But really, in terms of detail at least, paintings and drawings nearly always reduce the amount of information, and I've found that the more they do, the more they people talk about them as "artistic." Think of monochromatic paintings, notan drawings, limited palettes, and paintings made with big brushes. All images follow processes that reduce information. The Brangwyn at left looks a lot like a low resolution photograph.

Of course there are highly resolved, detailed, color-enhanced styles of painting, too. But even those are usually simplified, flattened, or reduced from our genuine stereoscopic, dynamic visual experience in some way.

So the question is: what aesthetic and practical criteria should guide us in the interpretation of reality, and how should we employ all these new tools in this process?

Photography presents us with another way of seeing, another way of mapping the 3D universe into 2D. There are so many forms of lenses, films, and processes before you even get into digital manipulation. Cameras and computers have expanded our vision. We can see infra-red images, we can stop action, we can see through things with x-rays, we can see wildlife up close. Photography has really given us new eyes. 

That doesn't mean we have to project and copy the random detail of a single given photo, though that's OK, too, if that's what you want to do.

But the more we understand how cameras see, the more we appreciate our eyes, the little "meat cameras" in our heads. The more we know about photography, the more we realize our eyes and our visual brains are not like cameras at all. That's been a big subject on this blog. 

So where does that leave us? How can each of us find the best way to use the tools to make our art? It's going to be different for each person.

In my case I'm usually either trying to interpret my experience of reality directly into a sketchbook, or I'm trying to visualize a scene from the ancient past or from a science fiction future. In some cases I want my paintings to incorporate photographic effects so that they can fit into a magazine presentation that's mostly comprised of nature photos. To get that effect, I try to learn the theory behind photography, and I also surround my easel with a lot of different reference photos, taking a little from one and a little from another to make something new.

For what I do, I find the old-school methods of drawing and painting are the most efficient and they produce the best results. But I'm always open to learn more and to try new things, and if there's any tool that helps me make better art, I'm willing to try it.

As the tools give us new ways of seeing and new ways of producing images, they also challenge us to create things that machines can't create. They make us ask what is truly the human component of our vision. There's no moral right or wrong about what tools you use. No tools can directly bring your dream world to life. That's up to you. As long as your work is original and it communicates your own experience, it's not cheating. It's a gift.
Previous posts about:
Computer Graphics
Visual Perception

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Young Ladies Visit Coney Island, 1905

In this vintage 1905 motion picture, a group of young ladies in white dresses visit Coney Island in Brooklyn, New York. Some of the amateur gags involve the girls outrunning their chaperones.

They climb onto a big horseless carriage, open their parasols, and visit Dreamland, with its thrill rides, the Steeplechase, and the beach. The film captures the spirit of buoyant fun and playfulness of that era. (Link to video on YouTube)

Incidentally, the title cards seem to be made of felt letters. A set of flimsy letters cut out of white wool felt can be repositioned on a black or green felt background. It sticks to itself like weak Velcro, with no need for glue, tape, or pushpins.

I still remember these felt or "flannel" boards when I was in grade school in the early 1960s. If a kid was good in class, they would be allowed to make the felt sign in the front of the classroom that might have a seasonal message. You can still buy educational flannel boards, or better yet make your own out of Merino wool felt, which would feel much nicer in the hand.
Previously: The story of Coney Island's Dreamland
Thanks, Kay

Friday, January 13, 2017

The Power of Cropping

In his concept sketch, Oscar Björck (Swedish, 1860-1929) shows a fisherman hastily putting on his gear, responding to a distress call. 

Sketch for A Signal of Distress "Et nødskud" by Oscar Björck
His wife and kids anxiously peer out through the window. We can see the shining horizon and the dark sky. Evidently a ship is in desperate need of rescue, because the title tells us that a shot has been fired to call the alarm.

Et nødskud by Oscar Björck
In the final painting, the artist decided to crop the scene tighter. The fisherman is gone, his meal is uneaten, his chair is pushed back, and the door is thrown open. The focus is on the family's reaction. Only the baby is unconcerned and unknowing.

Less action sometimes yields more drama. Tighter cropping sometimes opens up a story. 
Wikipedia: Oscar Björck
Previously: Krøyer's Hip Hip Hoorah!

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Cross Processing

Cross processing (also called x-pro) is an experimental form of photography where one kind of film stock is deliberately processed in chemicals intended for another kind of film. The resulting color schemes are weird and unnatural, offering traditional painters some interesting inspiration.

via crossprocessing.info
Here, slide film has been processed in C-41 print film chemicals. The result is a high contrast image, with a hue shift toward greens and yellows and a boost in saturation. There's also a considerable amount of vignetting at the edges, a result of the lens.

 Negative film processed in slide chemicals via crossprocessing.info
When negative film is processed in slide chemicals, the results can go many different ways, but this one is lo-fi, contrasty, and grainy, with a saturated warm color bleaching and infusing all the lights.

Photo by Chick Dastardly-JennR.Williams, via EpicEdits 
With X-pro, you never know how it's going to turn out. This one gets contrasty, with a green-red split in the midtones.

Photo by Laurent Butre via The Darkroom
The colors aren't always saturated. Sometimes they're relatively muted, but still with the high contrast and the hue shift. In this link the photographer describes the process he used.

If you want to check out more examples, check out any of these galleries:
Epic Edits: Ten Reasons to Love Cross Processed Film
The Darkroom: Cross Processing examples

The effect can also be simulated digitally with filters in Instagram in or with Photoshop. Here's a link to a Photoshop tutorial.

How can we use this as artists?
Traditional painters can use cross-processing as a jumping off point for exploring color schemes. One way is to use a strongly colored underpainting. The second example in this post of the guy riding the bike could be painted over an orange base color, leaving that color as the stand-in for all the light values. The scheme in the lower scene of the little kid on the Harley could be simulated with a green-red-yellow limited palette, taking care to bleach the lights, sink the darks, and vignette the edges.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Lucas Museum to Locate in Los Angeles

Los Angeles has been chosen as the home for the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art.
More on Cartoon Brew.
Related Story on Bloomberg News: "George Lucas Can’t Give His $1.5 Billion Museum Away"
Previously on GurneyJourney: Lucas Museum Hoping for a Home

Animated film "Scavengers"

Scavengers from Joseph Bennett on Vimeo.

"Scavengers" is an animated short that presents human explorers dealing with a strange alien biology on a foreign planet. (Link to Vimeo) Part of the effectiveness of the film comes from the decision not to use spoken language and very little music, focusing instead on concrete sound effects.

Via Cartoon Brew

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Using maquettes to experiment with lighting

One of the first things you can do after sculpting a maquette is to rotate the maquette to see how the silhouette and the foreshortening actually look. Here's an excerpt of my tutorial video "How I Paint Dinosaurs." (Link to watch video on Facebook).

It's easy to explore variations in lighting, too. By moving the light from one side to the other, I can completely change the value organization and the way the elements read. I can also discover cast shadows that I never would have imagined.

I start by trying to match my sketch, and then I look for ways to improve on it, as in the case of this illustration of a Teratophoneus attacking a fallen Gryposaurus for Scientific American Magazine. 

I do the first two sketches out of my imagination, then do the third one after looking at the maquettes. The shadow side dark predator frames the light head of the prey.

I can also fine tune the lighting on a given element.

It's important to be open to any possibility that makes for a better picture. And in the case of a physical maquette, those possibilities often arrive completely unexpectedly.

To get the full, detailed presentation on video, check out my Gumroad tutorial: How I Paint Dinosaurs.

Monday, January 9, 2017

RIP James C. Christensen

I'd like to acknowledge the passing yesterday of artist and teacher James Christensen (1942 – Jan. 8, 2017), who created images of myth and magic that were infused with meaning. I met him several times in early 1990s, and he was a pioneer of bringing fantasy art to a mainstream audience.

He wrote: “Vision without action is merely a dream. Action without vision just passes the time. Vision with action can change the world.” —A Journey of the Imagination: The Art of James Christensen

Casein in International Artist Magazine

The new Feb/March 2017 issue of International Artist magazine has an article on casein painting with facsimile pages from my sketchbook reproduced nearly full size.

It also includes the following answers to frequently asked questions:

Yes, but first it’s worth considering leaving the casein unvarnished. The matte surface can be very attractive, and it photographs well. The value range can be extended in Photoshop after it’s shot. You can also buff the surface with a T-shirt to give it semi-gloss. For a shinier surface and deeper darks, there are two choices. First is the liquid varnish, applied with a brush. Wait at least a week or two before varnishing. Brush it on lightly to avoid disturbing the dry paint.

A spray varnish can also work. Both brush-on and spray-on varnishes require several coats because they tend to soak into the surface, especially if the painting is done on absorbent paper or illustration board. For those substrates, it can take over four coats before you start seeing much gloss or darkening of the darks. A surface primed at the beginning with gesso, or a thick layer of casein that fills the paper’s pores allows the varnish to float on the surface more.

Drying time depends on the heat and humidity, as with other water media such as acrylic and gouache. It will dry to the touch anywhere from a few seconds to a minute or so. You can slow the drying time of the paint blobs on the palette by squeezing out the tubes on damp paper towels. A spritz of water from a spray bottle can also keep it alive a little longer. Casein is unusual in that the proteins in the milk emulsion continue to strengthen after the paint has dried to the touch. So after a few days or weeks, the paint will be more durable than paint that has just dried.

Casein can be used semitransparently, but it has great opacity when you need it. The paint has a unique, unforgettable aroma. The milk-based binder seals each layer enough so that the paint won’t reactivate with later application. The paint dries to an attractive matte surface that photographs very well, particularly in saturated tints, which is one of the reasons it was so popular with early illustrators.

The issue has features on Linda Gendall, Geoffrey Johnson, Mark Harrison, Robert Brindley, Jacqui Grantford, David Kitler, Amanda Hyatt, and Tiziana Ciaghi.

Links and resources
"Casein Painting in the Wild"
HD Digital download on Gumroad (Credit cards)
HD Digital download on Sellfy (Paypal) Buy now
DVD at Kunaki (ships worldwide) or Amazon
Casein Explorers Pack (12) (A good introductory palette that gives you pretty wide gamut.)
Casein 6 Pack (On its own, it's a rather muted palette. It makes a good supplement to the 12 pack.)
Casein 6-pack with travel brush set (Same set as above with the short-handled set).

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