Thursday, November 29, 2007


I was shooting photo reference for a series of games in Dinotopia: Journey to Chandara, and I had some young friends of mine posing for a game called “graces.” This was a popular game in early America. It involves launching a wooden hoop from two dowel rods.

After I shot a bunch of photos of this hoop game, the girl told me she was pretty good at making faces. Yeah, sure, I thought. Every kid likes to make funny faces, but how many are truly gifted at “gurning?”

Gurning, by the way, is the art of using your face to look completely ridiculous. I’m something of an expert on this. Being a Gurney I come from a family with genetic advantages for making silly faces (although I'm waiting to lose all my teeth to achieve the truly championship-level gurns).

My young friend demonstrated a few of her best gurns, and I realized I was in the presence of a master.

Then her brother, no slouch himself, launched into a few of his best gurns, including the famous “pig nose,” “mouth-stretch,” and “super-pucker.” These take more than just practice. They take instinct and artistry.

I had no choice but to change my idea for the picture. I discarded the idea of graces and went for a gurning contest instead. Since this was Dinotopia, there had to be a dinosaur gurning as well. I believe this is the first painting in history of a “Gurnasaurus.”


James H. Fullmer said...

You have got to be kidding me! The competition to make funny faces is called, "Gurning?" And it's REAL?

Now all I have to do is take this new found knowledge and find a way to work it into a conversation to impress my friends.


As a side note - The game of Graces is a favorite around our house.

Amy Stegner said...

That's one of my favorite paintings from the book. The dinosaur is amazing.

Also, you can see Graces (though I can't recall if they call it that, or by another name) being played at Greenfield Village (in Dearborn, MI) in the spring. They have peope in period clothing outside the farms and buildings playing this, and some other games, and they'll teach people how to play and everything. It's pretty cool.

gail said...

I keep stopping by your bog since I found the link during the Robert's Snow featured illustrators blast. It's always such a treat! Plus, so much great information. We can learn a lot by just following your process.

Got to love that Gurning!
Fun piece.

Kactiguy said...

Hilarious. You found some true talent there.

Frank Gardner said...

Amazing, You should suggest to the art schools you visit to add Gurning poses to their life drawing classes. Usually the poses are just done with a serious face.

Nathan Fowkes said...

Hi James. It was fantastic to have you over to dreamworks today! Most of us artists have followed the dinotopia saga enthusiastically and so it was nice to meet you in person. I look forward to following the blog.


blob said...

Hey that was amazing to finally see how you were working !
I had never heard that there were some other books after the first story of Dinotopia that i had read so long ago . It was an excellent surprise to discover that you had produced so many works of such good quality !

So, thanks for the little drawing!
Time to go read that book... :)

Per H said...

This blog is so great. Thank you for sharing.

Stephen James. said...

Oh yes.

A friend and classmate of mine at the LA academy totally despises that painting! She thinks it's gross. Between wondering about this and how any sane parent would let their kid sit on a Stegosaurs tail we had a good time looking at the book.

Tracy Wall said...

What a hoot!
Thanks for making me smile (and trying other poses) this morning!!

tlchang said...

Before clicking on your links, I had assumed that 'Gurning' was a play on your last name that you had made up to describe your very mobile features. :-) What a kick to learn more bizarre, obscure facts in reading your blog...