Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Skeleton Pirate

A new edition of a classic fantasy horror novel by Tim Powers called “On Stranger Tides” is now available through the Dinotopia Store.

In this post I’ll tell you a little about how I did the painting. I originally bought this skeleton model as a general studio reference tool, just to be able to check what a person’s bones would look like from a particular angle.

When I received a cover assignment for a story that actually featured skeleton pirates I knew I could offer a starring role to my little actor.

The sketch above shows how I set up the skeleton, along with an actual human skull, next to my drawing table.

I tried various color sketches until I arrived at the muted color scheme. Then I found some photos of sailiing ships, treasure chests, and cannons to toss around on the deck.

A cannon shot has broken through the railing at right. His right leg is held together with a strip of cloth, and his missing left leg is replaced with the end of an oar, whittled into a simple hinge for his knee. He is a skeleton that refuses to die.

The new edition of the book, with this painting on the dustjacket, and signed by me on the title page, is available through the Dinotopia Store for $18.95 plus $3.50 shipping.


Super Villain said...

so...where does one get an actual human skull?...nevermind...i dont want to know...lets just say i'll be a lot nicer in my posts on here from now on, haha!

this is the image from the shirt you had on the other day too right? cool.

i love your book covers, i didnt notice you have them on your portfolio site, this is proably one of my favorite paintings of yours...

Avian at the Gate

also i wanted to mention that using a good 3d software program would really be a great tool for you. you could have a skeleton rig set up to do any pose you needed, and you could get great perspectives if you were to build 3d models of your buildings and towns, it would take time to create but i think the precision would work great for you...

keep up the great blog and work!

James Gurney said...

You're a keen observer, Super-Wu—and thanks for the compliment on "Avian." I ordered the human skull from a biological supply company back in the late 70s when you could get a skull from India for $35.00. Now they're harder to come by because India has been trying to discourage the practice of robbing graves for skeletal material to export to art and medical students.

I was going to do a post on this grisly subject, but here's the link anyway:


Shane White said...

Anytime I see a canted angle with a pirate on the deck of a boat...I think of Pyle's flying dutchman piece.


Nice execution, and I dig how you really filled out the scene with story markers.


Sean U. said...

Hello Mr. Gurney,

I just wanted to say I love your work and really enjoy the Dinotopia series.

I'm an aspiring illustrator and just recently have stumbled upon your blog. I've been trying to go back and read all the posts you have, gleaning whatever tips and information I can from them.

I was wondering what your process of reproducing the artwork is and how you get the best results. I figure you probably work on canvas a lot but wonder if there are other supports that you tend to work with as well.

I'm illustrating a series of Grimm's Fairy Tales currently to build a portfolio and can never seem to get good quality prints. If you already have a post about this that maybe I just haven't read yet you could just point me in the direction as well.

Thanks for all your information. I love reading the blog every day. Keep up the great work.

James Gurney said...

Shane, yes, it's definitely a tribute to Pyle!

Sean, the original on this one is only 10 x 15 inches on canvas mounted to plywood. It was shot on a large transparency and reproduced by the book publisher. Good luck with your work. Grimm's tales are great material to work with.

Anonymous said...

Argh, I knew I should also have brought my copy of "Stranger Tides" for you to sign, but I didn't want to over do it :)

It's great to look into the process that led to this cover art. At least you got the correct brief, unlike the guy who did the French cover(I think the editor simply used whatever he could find). There's a space ship on that cover... if you've read that book, you'll know how silly that is.

Moai said...

Awesome work as always, James. I love his "repairs," like the cloth wrapped around his ulna and broken radius. It's little details like that that truly make a character.

Randall Ensley said...

Hi James,

I am currently reading another Tim Powers book, "The Stress of Her Regard", and the book cover was painted by none other than James Gurney!