Friday, February 29, 2008

The Delicate Approach

Some things that you want to paint are beefy and chunky, and they call for a broad handling with hefty bristle brushes. (Below: detail of a rocky waterfall).

But other forms are feathery and delicate. Think of the leaves of a willow tree, the wispy texture of a cirrus cloud, or the waving tassels of a wheatfield. These call for pianissimo painting.

Here’s the view past my easel. I was standing at the river’s edge near Clonmel, Ireland. It was an unusual vista, with intricate foliage framing a light sky. There were no simple blocky masses of tone. Instead there were lots of slender twigs, and there were layers upon layers of leaves.

After a thinly stated preliminary lay-in, I painted the sky with just a thin veil of pale whites and blues. For the willow leaves (detail, above) I dragged a large bristle brush very lightly over the sky to suggest a lot of leaves without actually painting them one by one. I then added a few small strokes at the edge of the mass using a round sable.

The same is true of the upper fringe of foliage. I blocked the big masses of foliage with a large square brush and then added a fringe of individual leaves with a smaller brush. The goal is to give the impression that you’re seeing more detail than is actually stated.

The final painting is 8x10 inches, painted in one session of about three hours. Most of the detail is hinted at. The key to this kind of painting is to use the biggest brushes you can, but to use them very lightly, dragging and scumbling. Then in a few areas, you can use tiny brushes to suggest the most delicate forms.

P.S. Thanks to Kim Barker of LakeTrees for listing GurneyJourney as the #7 Artist's Blog and thanks to everybody who has linked.

Tomorrow: Matania—Without a Net


Erik Bongers said...

Bristle brush is that a fan brush ?

(hey, this post popped up right now, and it's...a quarter to 6 a.m. in NY ???)

Patrick Dizon said...

All I can say is that you find such beautiful compositions from nature.

Anonymous said...

This post brought back one of the reasons why I really loved my Dinotopia puzzle -each piece was a little window into the way you work. At 1000 pieces, you really get a good look at the brush strokes and areas where you used the thicker brushes and those where the fine details come into play. It's a shame they aren't still available, but that also makes them more special.

ppg said...

Well painted, but to me it is a boring painting because it looks like a picture taken by a camera. And there is no real scence of light in it!

James Gurney said...

Hi, Erik,
The bristle brushes are made from Chinese hog bristles in the filbert shape, ranging in sizes.

Jen, thanks for that about the puzzles. At the moment we've just got the smaller size puzzles at the Dinotopia store.

Per, I understand that this kind of painting is not for everyone. It's more along the lines of Asher Durand's idea of "transcripts from nature," which he developed well before photography was invented. To me it becomes immediately apparent that anything approaching a copy of nature is completely impossible, but the goal is to make as faithful a representation as possible.

Victor said...

Great study! Did you use a board with a pre-painted sky or did you wait for you sky to dry before putting in the veils of foliage?

And totally off topic, but the villain in the new Iron Man movie trailer has the same funky goggles that you have!

Kim said...

what a magnificent vista and painting James !!
I love the shot of the painting on your looks as if your landscape is a continuation of your beautiful surroundings...bravo !!
and thanks for your clear and detailed interpretation of the process involved...wonderful !!

Lynda Lehmann said...

Yes, I agree with Kim. This is a wonderful expose on you method of painting. While I prefer abstraction for myself, I love to look at well exectued realism. Your scene is beautiful and how you have rendered it with your brushes, equally so.

Shawn Escott said...

YIKES!! Amazing painting! Beautiful!