Thursday, December 4, 2008

Sousse Harbor

Here is a watercolor painting of some small fishing boats in the harbor of Sousse, Tunisia. What attracted me was the bright light coming from behind, which made the gunwales white.

I also liked the foreground boats: one with a yellow tarp over the hold, and the other blue one in the extreme foreground.The bright sunspot at the center of the picture was so strong that it bleached out the dark tones of the the gunwale of the dinghy at center.

You can see the bleaching effect of the bright sunspot in this little video as I pan across the dinghy. The video makes another point: nothing holds still for the plein air painter! Just as I was halfway finished with the picture, the old man started up the boat in the foreground and pushed aside all of the others.

Here's one last video capturing the moment when I was painting the yellow tarp. This is very low-tech video, and something of an experiment. I'm just using a Canon Powershot 400 held in my left hand. It's kind of hard to concentrate on everything at once, and I was afraid of dropping the camera into the water.


Erik Bongers said...

Tarp, dinghy, gunwales...?
What I learned today may be less of an artistic nature.

Sean U. said...

Mr. Gurney,

First off, congratulations on your award. Much deserved. And welcome back from your trip. I love the sketches.

Secondly, I was wondering if you have any tips, exercises or books to read to better my color theory. I feel my paintings really struggle with color and I cant seem to completely grasp the subject (especially colors in shadows) I use acrylics and I know they say acrylics dont hold a candle to oils but I've also heard that if you know your use of colors really well it's an obsolete argument. If you have any ideas I'm all ears

Thanks in advance.

Super Villain said...

the videos are a great edition!

i'm hoping to see some home movies of tron goggles man in action!! you got to do it!

jeff said...

Wonderful sketch.
The video is great.

Sean check out it has a lot of great information on color it's history from Newton to today.
One of the best color models is Munsell, I would buy The New Munsell Student Color Set. You can get this on Amazon.

Roca said...

Cool- must take some coordination to film with your left and paint with your right though. I know some of my pilot friends video their flights by attaching a small video camera to their helmets with velcro, leaving both hands free to fly. You'd look pretty silly painting in a helmet, though!

Brian said...

The added videos are insightful. I also make videos with the same camera. (Have a Power-Shot SD450 Digital Elph.) Recently attended an annual caricature convention and made some documentaries I posted on my blog.

Sean U. said...

Thanks for the info Jeff.

I just went to amazon and purchased The New Munsell Student Color Set. I went to that website too. There seems to be a lot of information on there.

Thanks again.

James Gurney said...

Brian, I checked out your video of the caricature convention. It was great fun to see how everybody works.

Sean, color is such a huge topic--maybe you've looked at back posts from GurneyJourney under the "color" category. The comments are just as useful as my pontificating.

A great book that addresses color in illustration from the 1940s is Andrew Loomis's Creative Illustration (check online at ""). Also, Walter Sargent's "Enjoyment and Use of Color" from the 1920s.

Acrylics are just as good as oils for color, but I think it's good for any painter to switch back and forth between opaque and transparent color, say from watercolor to oil and back. Thomas Moran, Alfons Mucha, and John Sargent--all great colorists--did that, and their color sense benefitted as a result.

Super-Wu...I didn't bring the Tron goggles on the trip, but I just saw Iron Man, and as you say, the bad guy has a pair!

Unknown said...

I am enjoying the little videos that are accompanying your finished works - its great to see the process. Your voice has a soothing Bob Ross-quality to it - a new career path?

Thanks for sharing.

James Gurney said...

I may have his kind of voice, but I don't have his kind of hair, so I guess I'd better stick to plain old painting.

Daroo said...

Excellent edges and value control in the water -- Being able to control your edges using watercolor while sitting in the bright (hot?) sunshine seems like the real feat to me -- nicely done.

Sean U -- There are a lot of complicated color systems out there with lots of specific rules -- the simplest thing that helped me most with color was the axiom "warm light produces cool shadows and cool light produces warm shadows" (sometimes called the rule of opposites of color temperature).

With this in mind you look for the right "relative temperature relationships" (ask your self how warm or cool is a color relative to those around it?) when mixing colors -- instead of just being fixated on the "exact color".

On a sunny day the light is warm, so everything in the light will be of a warmer color temperature than those things in shadow. On an overcast day (cool light)the relationships are reversed.

If your temperature relationships are consistent and your values are good your painting will probably look "right". From this generalized starting point you can then pursue more complicated color theories and get more specific about your color. Plenty of painting from life will speed this up -- Photos are a horrible source for color temperature.

An exercise you might try is limiting (or graying back) two of your three primaries. I like using Zorn's palette: Cadmium Red (its a pure red -- I think he actually used vermilion) Ivory black (a very grayed blue) and yellow ochre (grayed yellow). You'll be amazed at what you can do with these 3 colors plus white (and then look at Anders Zorn's paintings and really be amazed).

Michael Pieczonka said...

Great little painting, and the vids only add to get an idea of the whole experience.. thanks man!

Andwew said...

I love your blog. Absolutely fantastic.

Nick said...

Thanks for the vid James, it was great to year your voice, more personal somehow, please keep them coming. Sean, great to see you're going to get Munselled. Check out "Rational Painting".

Dan Gurney said...

Your videos are great. Keep them coming. I've always enjoyed watching you draw and paint and hearing you talk about the process as you do it. The videos are the next best thing to being there in person. And I agree with Jeremy: your voice adds warmth and comfort to the posts.

I like the new mug shot.

Anonymous said...

I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don't know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


theresa said...

Great work as usual, James! Glad to see you're keeping up the blogging- I visit here regularly and I've learned an awful lot. Here's the thing- there's a watercolor painting thread over at and I was thinking you'd be a fantastic contributor if you had the time! It's over at

James Gurney said...

Thanks, Theresa, I'll check out that link. I've visited Concept Art before, and it's an awesome place for sharing art ideas. Dan and Ruth, I appreciate your nice compliments and I'm glad you like the photo. Can you tell which one is the monkey?

Jen Z said...

The videos sound like a good way to cut your time with the blog entries, if you just yodel into the camera. :} I do agree with everyone that hearing you talk is more personal and much like standing looking over your shoulder as you work, but one does tend to notice that you're more concentrated on the work, but you did say you were distracted by not wanting to drop the camera into the water. I always use the wrist strap and the five years I've had my little canon I haven't experienced any maleurs. Thanks also go out to Daroo for the colour theory in a nutshell. I'll be paying more close attention to shadow temperatures from now on.

James Gurney said...

Jen, what do you mean you "go out to Daroo for color theories in a nutshell?"