Sunday, September 2, 2007

Compositional Speed Dating

What’s the first step in planning a Dinotopia picture? I like to fill a few pages with doodles or scribbles.

Here’s one made with a fountain pen. Don’t ask me what kind of dinosaurs those are. I don’t know yet. What time of day is it? What is the color scheme? Who knows at this point?

These drawings are smaller than a business card. Eight or ten of them fit on a single sheet of paper. Here’s one drawn with a blue fountain pen and a dried-out gray marker to give a little tone. This one won’t work because the dinosaur would be cut in half by the gutter of the book. So I leave it and move on.

Here’s another quick sketch done in pencil. I’m after the soft, moody lighting of a narrow street at night. I don’t know yet what sorts of figures are standing by the door.

These sketches pile up like leaves in the autumn, and I rake them together and pick out one that might have a spark of life. Which of these marker doodles of a throne room works best? Maybe none of them are quite there yet.

This is the artistic equivalent of speed dating. You have to maintain a balance of interest, detachment, and restlessness—always ready to try something else before getting married to one idea. Howard Pyle used to say that he had to do fifty thumbnail sketches for every illustration. Even if he felt confident of first one, he had to do the other 49 anyway just to be sure.


Raluca said...

''always ready to try something else before getting married to one idea.''-wonderful sentence!I was looking with big eyes at your sketches:all of them so good(in my eyes)could have been a great finished composition!I have a big admiration for artists who are able to release a whole laboratorium with experiments before they find the right one!Me,I´m always scared with my sketches:if by coincidence look good-I´ll be not able to repeat the´´performance´´on the real composition!:)))

Zachary Madere said...

Hey James ! I'm confused and interested by this process even though I try to practice it myself; whats the point behind making so many thumbnails? Do you try something completely different each time or keep revising the last one? At what point do you feel comfortable to move on to the next step?


James Gurney said...

Hi, Chips. Basically the idea is to stay loose and keep doing variations. You're only spending a few minutes on each one, and you're working fairly intuitively. What happens is you come up with ideas you didn't expect, and you can build on those in later stages. It also confirms in your mind which are the good ideas and the ideas that aren't working.