Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Oblique Pen Holder

The script lettering in Dinotopia: Journey to Chandara was made by hand with a steel dip pen. 

The style of lettering is based on the roundhand scripts of the late 18th century, which were written with a goose quill. The standard reference examples for these forms were engraved in copper plates, giving the style the general name “Copperplate.”

The strokes have a strong slant, and they’re thicker on the downstroke. This requires heavier pressure as you pull the pen toward you. These heavier strokes are called “shades,” so this type of lettering is also called a “shaded script.”

Because of the variation in pen pressure, it’s slower to construct than the later American “Spencerian” and “Palmer” script styles, which are relatively less shaded.

To be able to control the pressure—and therefore the spread of the nib—a such an extreme slope, a right-hander like me needs an oblique or “offset” pen holder, also called an “elbow pen.” The cheap plastic pen holders work perfectly well, but I prefer the one at right, which I carved from a small sapling to custom-fit my fingers.

Lots of pen supplies at John Neal Books
Speedball Oblique Pen Holder
Dinotopia: Journey to Chandara
Previously: By Hand or By Mouse

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Riding a Pterosaur

Sometimes when you're developing a fantasy painting, it's fun to act out a scene, even if the photo reference that you get out of it isn't that useful directly.

The idea is to get into the spirit of the action, feel the wind in your face and hear the screech of the pterosaur.

I think that's more important than getting a photographically real piece of reference to copy. If you can identify with the weight and balance of things, and especially the emotion, you've got 90% of the problem solved.

The painting of "Air Jousting" is from Dinotopia: Journey to Chandara.

Previous and related posts:
Air Jousting
My Preference for Reference
New Use for Refrigerator Cartons

Monday, November 28, 2011

BBC Video on Russian Art

In 2009, Andrew Graham-Dixon produced a marvelous 3-hour documentary on Russian art for the BBC.

Here’s the bit about Ilya Repin.

Watch the full episodes:
Part 1, Out of the Forest (Icons, Ivan the Terrible, and Peter the Great).
Part 2. Smashing the Mould (includes the material on Repin and the Itinerants).
Part 3. Revolutionary Russia (Lenin, Stalin, and more).

Illustration feature on Walt Reed

The new issue of  Illustration magazine has a special feature on the life and career of Walt Reed, author of Illustrator in America, 1860-2000 and Harvey Dunn: Illustrator and Painter of the Pioneer West . He's also the founder of Illustration House, a gallery of illustration originals in New York.

An earlier version of Walt's book on the history of illustration was what first got me interested in the field of illustration when I was still in grade school. He later became involved with the Famous Artists Course. Those were the art instruction books that really formed my self-education, when I found a set from 1954 that included the instruction from Norman Rockwell, Al Parker, and Al Dorne.

The current issue of Illustration also has a terrific feature on Joseph Szokoli (1913-1981), who painted covers for many of the western, romance, and detective pulp magazines.

Here's more information:
Illustration Magazine official website
Illustrator in America, 1860-2000 
Harvey Dunn: Illustrator and Painter of the Pioneer West
Famous Artists Course
Illustration House gallery 

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Headlamp sketching

Union Square in New York City has nice little cafe tables where you can set up for night sketching. Here's one I did last night.

The view is looking west toward the subway stop and the coffee shop.

I'm using a Petzl E91 PL Tikkina 2 Headlampwhich has two LED light bulbs, two brightness settings, and an adjustable angle feature, so that you can aim it where you want it. (Thanks, Frank!)

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Behind Skybax Rider

If you click on this image to make it bigger, it will tell you a lot of behind-the-scenes stuff about the painting, which I did back in 1990.

The image appears in Dinotopia: A Land Apart from Time, which is finally back in print in a spectacular 20th anniversary edition, with 32 pages of new material (including an illustrated afterword that I wrote about the making of the book). You can get it signed and personalized from me at my website.

Or stop by Books of Wonder in New York today and I'd love to meet you and sign your copy.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Across the River

This morning I stopped by the old age home in town and asked if I could meet someone who has no family around and never gets visitors.

They introduced me to Lester. He told me about Kingston across the river, where he spent his whole life. He remembered the milkman delivering glass bottles, the soda shops, the piano factory, and the brickyards. The way he described it, he seemed to think Kingston still has all that.

"Have you ever been to Maine?" I asked. "No," he said. "Someone gave me the hat."

Before I could finish the portrait, a nurse took him away for his medication. He had sensors on both of his shoes to keep him from wandering off in search of Kingston. "He used to have a sensor on just one shoe," an orderly told me. "But then he'd kick off that shoe and escape with one bare foot."

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Thanksgiving Cornucopia


The town of Cornucopia lies just northeast of Treetown in Dinotopia. It's the center of a big farming area, with spectacular harvest festivals this time of year.

The name "cornucopia" means "horn of plenty," and the design motif of the horn spilling over with fruit and vegetables is a common sight in that town. Happy Thanksgiving to you all.

Map detail from Dinotopia: Journey to Chandara.
Wikipedia on "cornucopia."

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Trance States

Trance states seem to be an ancient defense mechanism among prey animals, such as pigeons, chickens, or even crocodilians.

Octopus Walks on Land

Proof that you don't need bones in your legs to locomote on land.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Dinotopia Teaching Unit

Tony Shaw, who presides at a one-teacher school in the bush of Australia, has created a teacher's resource using Dinotopia: Journey to Chandara in the classroom.

He put together a free downloadable document to give fellow teachers ideas on how they might use the illustrated book in their curriculum.

"The great thing about working with literature such as yours is that you always find new ideas, approaches and messages to explore with your students. I will be teaching this unit next term and I expect I will come up with additional ideas as I go along."
Thanks, Tony!
Link to Glen Park School page--click on "Dinotopia" to download PDF 
Order a signed copy of the original Dinotopia book for your classroom
Tony's unit is based on the 2007 book Dinotopia: Journey to Chandara

Monday, November 21, 2011

Viking Raid

There wasn’t much to do last night so I joined a raid on IKEA with the Norse Hollywood Vikings.

One of their customs is the “Valkyrie Pile On” in the sofa department, followed by the “See How Many Vikings You Can Fit into a Shower” gag, and the "Pillow Pillage."

There were about 25 of us at the banquet. Of course we demanded the Swedish meatballs because they were out of Norway rats. No one challenged armorer and ringleader Tony Swatton when he brought his longhorn cup to the lingonberry drink machine for refills.

Tony presented me with my helmet as an amazing gift. Wow! Tacka Dig, Tony!!! He based the design on Arthur Denison’s outfit from Dinotopia: Journey to Chandara. The wings are hammered brass, riveted onto a custom-made anodized aluminum helmet shell.

Then we went on pillage Hooters, where we had to deal with three of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles....but that’s another story.

 Find Norse Hollywood Vikings on Facebook
Tony Swatton's Sword and Stone: Custom-made props and armor for movies
Pick up a signed copy of Dinotopia: Journey to Chandara for a Viking near you!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Character Designer

Yesterday at the CTN Animation Expo in Burbank, California, I had the privilege of sharing the demo stage with character designer John Nevarez. John designs for DisneyToons, where he worked on Tinkerbell and Kronk’s New Groove.

Both of us were supposed to demonstrate what we do in front of live cameras. The only problem was that there was only one drawing table, and somehow I was signed up to do a digital demo. That would have been a laugh. 

So I asked John if he would take the drawing table and let me set up alongside him and draw him at work.

It was a real pleasure to watch John draw. He was completely absorbed in the world of his imagination. He drew figure after figure cascading from the page, just rolling straight out of his head, full of action and expression.

Thanks, John, and thanks to everyone who hung out with us and asked great questions while we drew pictures.

If you’re interested in animation, character design, storyboarding, or concept art, I recommend this expo. It’s a relatively small gathering, but all the insiders from the industry are here. It’s a great place to meet like-minded people.

By the way, I’ve met current and former students here from a lot of the art schools I’ve visited recently: SJSU, LAAFA, CSUF, LCAD, ACCD, A.of A.SF, CCAD, IMC, RIT, RMCAD, Art Institute, Watts, Korpus, 3Kicks, Ringling, Otis, CalArts, and Hartford. (Links take you to my blog posts about those visits.) A shout-out to the students back at those schools: you’ll be creating the next great animated films.

For those here at CTN, I’ll be doing a signing today at noon. And I'll be on a creature design panel at 2:30 with William Stout, Terryl Whitlatch, Greg Baldwin and Dave Thomas from Creature Box, and Sue Nichols.
John Nevarez's blog
Interview with John on Character Design

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Caught looking

A week ago I was in a pizza place in Baltimore, and I saw two young women at the table near me looking at pictures on their iPhone.

Perfect, I thought. They’re preoccupied. They won’t notice me sketching them.

I deployed the Moleskine watercolor book and did a very quick pencil lay-in with a #2 pencil. Then I pulled out two Niji brush pens, one with black ink and one with water, letting everything blur together wet-into-wet. 

Halfway through, one of them looked up, a little alarmed that I was gazing so intently.

This question has come up before: What do you do now? Pretend you weren’t looking? Fold up your book? Stare at something else? That would only make them feel weirder.

Instead, I plucked up the nerve and I marched right over to their table and said, “I hope you don’t mind. I’m trying to learn to sketch, and I was drawing your picture.” I showed them the half-finished drawing, and even though it looked pretty unpromising, they were immediately interested and glad to cooperate. I told them they didn’t have to hold still or pose or anything--just go back to whatever they were doing.

When I finished, I showed them the results and they got a big kick out of it, and they wanted to put it on their Facebook page. Once I told them what I was doing, the awkwardness disappeared. They were happy to be drawn.

Previously: Portable Portraits

A natural position

"Never paint a portrait as though the person were posing. A natural position can only be kept for a few seconds, it is like a flash of lightning. You must just put down a few large marks for the chosen position of head, hands, feet, etc., and keep fitting the sitter into them."

Quote from Charles Lasar, Practical Hints for Art Students, (Duffield & Company, New York, 1923
Drawing by John Singer Sargent.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Booksigning in New York Saturday Nov. 26

For those of you in New York who would like to meet me and get a copy of the new 20th Anniversary edition of Dinotopia signed and personalized, I'll be joining the "Holiday Kickoff" event on Sunday, November 26th from 12:00 - 2:00 at Books of Wonder in NYC.


Books of Wonder is at 18 W. 18th Street. The store's phone number is 212-989-3270.

Books of Wonder's website

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Schoonover Studios

Last Friday we visited Schoonover Studios in Wilmington, Delaware.

This cluster of studio buildings was once the workplace of some of Howard Pyle’s most famous illustration students, including Frank Schoonover, N.C. Wyeth, Stanley Arthurs, and Harvey Dunn.

In this 1908 photo is Harvey Dunn, Henry Peck, N.C. Wyeth and Clifford Ashley.

Frank Schoonover stayed on in the studios until his death in 1965. The studio rooms are still filled with the memorabilia of his life spent painting and exploring: snowshoes, canoe paddles, powder horns, paintbrushes, palettes—and lots of paintings. 

It’s all curated by his grandson, John, who welcomes visitors by appointment. From left: John Schoonover, Jeanette, me, Jean-Baptiste Monge, and Margo. Mr. Schoonover pointed out some pencil portraits that his grandfather did of trappers in the far north.

While John talked and showed us around, I couldn’t resist sketching his portrait in watercolor pencils. He has a lean, athletic face, with a twinkle in his eye.

To do a standing portrait of a moving, talking subject means having your supplies handy in a belt pouch while you’re working, because you have to keep moving around all the time to stay in front of your quarry.

Thanks, John!
History of the Schoonover Studios
Home page Schoonover Studios
Garin Baker took the interior photo and also did a post about the visit
Howard Pyle exhibition, also in Wilmington
Previously on GurneyJourney:
Video of Harvey Dunn
Schoonover on Color 

....and thanks to Charley Parker for the nice blog post on Lines and Colors about the Dintopia 20th Anniversary edition.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Constructing Images of Brain Activity

Neuroscientists at University of California at Berkeley have developed a technique for creating digital images that correspond with neural activity in the brain.

This represents one of the first steps toward a computer being able to tap directly into what our brain sees, imagines, and even dreams.

(Link to video) Every image that we see activates photoreceptors in the retina of the eye. The information is fed through the optic nerve to the back of the brain. There, the information is assembled and interpreted by increasingly higher-level processes of the brain.

In this experiment, subjects watched clips of movie trailers while an fMRI machine scanned their brains in real time. The computer mapped activity throughout millions of “voxels” (3D pixels).

The computer gradually learned to associate qualities of shape, edges, and motion occurring in the film with corresponding patterns of brain activity.

It then built “dictionaries” by matching video images with patterns of brain activity, and then predicting patterns that it guessed would be created by novel videos, using a palette of 18 million seconds of random clips taken from the internet. Over time, the computer could crunch all this data into a set of images that played out alongside the original video.

If I understand the process correctly, the images we’re seeing on the right side (“clips reconstructed from brain activity”) are actually running averages created by blending a hundred or so random YouTube clips that met the computer’s predictions of what images would match the patterns it was monitoring in the brain.

In other words, the right-hand image is generated from existing clips, not from scratch. In this video (link), you can see the novel video that's causing the brain activity in the upper left of the screen, and some of the samples (strung out in a line) that the computer is guessing must be causing that kind of brain activity.

That would explain the momentary ghostly word fragments that pop up in the images, as well as the strange color and shape-shifts from the original.

The result is a moving image that looks a bit like a blurry version of the original video, but one that has been a bit generalized based on the available palette of average images. Evidently, the perception of faces triggers the brain in very active ways, judging from the relative clarity of the computer’s generated images, compared to other kinds of images.

I wonder what would happen if you set this system up in a biofeedback loop, so that the brain activity and image generation could play off against each other? It might be like a computer-aided hallucination.
Article on Gizmodo
Thanks, Christian Schlierkamp

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

“A sheer miracle which defies analysis”

“For sheer skill of workmanship on a tiny scale, this picture by a pupil of Gérôme [Charles Bargue (c1827-1883) has never been surpassed.

(Click to enlarge.) “The notable thing is that, in spite of its small dimensions and the amount of detail involved, neither unity nor atmospheric effect is lost.

 “The painting of the pleated skirt is a sheer miracle which defies analysis. We today do not even know what type of brush or what kind of medium was used in the making of such a passage.”

—R. Ives Gammell, Twilight of Painting, 1946.

Links and More Information
Charles Bargue on Wikipedia
Twilight of Painting Book on Amazon
More Charles Bargue paintings at Inspirational Artworks
Book: Charles Bargue Drawing Course

Original: "Turkish Sentinel" 1877, 11x8.25 inches, at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Monday, November 14, 2011

Armand Cabrera and Garin Baker

Whenever I hang out with fellow painters, I want the moment to last forever. I want to put something on paper as a record of that meeting.

So a few days ago, when I sat down with Armand Cabrera and Garin Baker at a Chinese restaurant, I did these quick watercolor pencil portraits while we waited for our meals.

Of course, they were talking and moving around, not holding still, and I was trying to add something to the conversation. So my concentration was chopped up finer than the Kung Po chicken. But I love drawing under those conditions.

Here's how they really look. They've known me for a long time, so they tolerate my fiendish habit. They put up with being sketched. Garin threatened to get me back next time.

Armand Cabrera website
Armand's blog "Art and Influence" (with a report on the "Howard Pyle" weekend)
Garin Baker website
Garin's blog post "Our Weekend with Howard"
Previously on GJ:
Plein-air Painting with Armand Cabrera
Color workshop at Garin's Studio

Sunbeams and Dappled Light in International Artist

The upcoming December/January issue of International Artist Magazine has the newest installment of my series on atmospheric effects.

My article takes a close look at three related effects: sunbeams, shadowbeams, and dappled light. Once you know the basic optics behind them, you can use them effectively in a landscape or fantasy environment painting.

The issue also has a spotlight on the Montreal-based fantasy painter Jean-Baptiste Monge, and a step-by-step analysis of a new multi-figure painting called "The Toy Peddler" by Mian Situ (left).

The new issue shows the results of the "People and Figures" competition hosted by the magazine. There's currently a "Wildlife" competition with a deadline of November 16.

International Artist Magazine
Mian Situ website
Jean-Baptiste Monge
You can get lots more information in my book Color and Light: A Guide for the Realist Painter

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Howard Pyle Exhibit Opening

The Howard Pyle exhibition at the Delaware Art Museum opened on Friday night in Wilmington to celebrate the artwork of the great American illustrator.

I was excited not only to see the paintings, but also to meet many of the direct descendants of Mr. Pyle. Here I am posing (in a suit from the period) with Howard Pyle Brokaw (far left), Ted Crichton, and Howard Pyle (grandson).

Delaware Online reporter Gary Soulsman and Betsy Price covered the Friday night preview event, and did a little interview with me:
"What I admire most is Pyle's ability to conjure imaginary worlds in such a convincing way, both in his writing and in his art work," said Gurney, who works in fantasy and in historical painting for National Geographic. "Pyle has always been the standard in American illustration for well-researched and well-imagined re-creations of historical scenes."

In Gurney's view, Pyle is an important figure because he bridged the world of art in salons and the world of art used in reproduction. It was through illustration that he reached large numbers of people.

Designers of the "Pirates of the Caribbean" movie series have said Pyle's work was the model for Capt. Jack Sparrow and others.

"It was his reach in publishing that made him a household name," said Gurney, pointing out that Pyle worked in different styles and scales.
He was also a gifted teacher, urging his students to identify with figures they were painting and to bring strong emotion into a scene.

His teaching left his mark on painters, such as N.C. Wyeth. Pyle taught classes at Drexel Institute of Arts and Sciences in Philadelphia, at his own school in Wilmington and during the summer in Chadds Ford, Pa.

"If this was all he did, he would still be heralded as a great American artist," Gurney said. "He was interested in capturing a mood and transporting you through a picture into another world. He wanted his students to live the paintings."
 At the nearby Brandywine River Museum through November 17, there are two associated exhibitions spotlighting Howard Pyle as a Teacher and N.C. Wyeth's Treasure Island Illustrations. Here a group of artists (me, Lester Yocum, Jean-Baptiste Monge, and Armand Cabrera) do the "pirate walk" next to the original endpaper art for Treasure Island.

"Howard Pyle: American Master Rediscoverd" Exhibition
Read the full article at Delaware Online
Interview with curator Margaretta Frederick at
Delaware First Media profile on the team that put the show together

Check out the new book about Howard Pyle, published by the Delaware Museum, with an essay by me on Pyle's working methods.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Painting Demo at MICA

Two days ago, I visited Maryland Institute College of the Arts (MICA) in Baltimore, Maryland to visit the oil painting class of Patrick O'Brien and James Warhola

My old pal James agreed to go under the lights for a portrait demo that lasted an hour and thirty minutes. As the students gathered 'round, I set up my portable pochade easel on a camera tripod.

James took off his glasses and put on an antique beaver top hat. I laid in the basic shapes with a brush on an oil-primed canvas-covered masonite panel, 9x12 inches. I premixed a few of the main colors and blocked them in with long-haired bristle filbert brushes.

With the help of one of the students, Bethany, who loves costumes, we tried to imagine how a high wing collar and a cravat might look, so as to keep to the period flavor.

 I'll do a post about the overall school at MICA later. Thanks to illustration department chairman José Villarubia for your hospitality, and hats off to the students for your attention and great questions, to Patrick for the photos, and to James for posing!

About MICA
Patrick O'Brien's Maritime Art 
James Warhola's website 
Open Box M Pochade Box 
MICA blog post by Patrick O'Brien with another report on the visit
Tone paper portrait of Warhola

Friday, November 11, 2011

Drawing Everything

„Alles ZEICHNEN ist gut,
ALLES zeichnen ist besser.“

Blog reader Christian Schlierkamp has helped deconstruct this quote by the great draftsman, Adolph von Menzel.

"Everything (related to) DRAWING (or drawing in general/over all) is good,
to draw EVERYTHING is (even) better."

Menzel did draw everything, from kings to commoners, all sorts of animals, landscapes, and architecture.

Because of this intense encounter with nature, his insights into human character infuse every work. In this drawing etching, notice how the woman smiles shyly as she contemplates lifting the helmet cover of the man in armor. With her other hand, she fiddles nervously with the end of her beaded necklace.
If you live near Wilmington, Delaware, I hope you can come attend the opening of the Howard Pyle exhibition, where I’ll be giving a digital slide lecture called “Composition: Pyle’s Way with Pictures.” It's free with admission, and it starts at 11:00 AM tomorrow, Saturday, November 12.