Wednesday, April 25, 2012

RISD Nature Lab Workshop

Jeanette and I had a great day yesterday at the Rhode Island School of Design. This art school is famous for its Nature Lab, a collection of 80,000 study specimens. Neal Overstrom, director of the collection, told me that this is not really a natural history museum. The specimens are here to be studied by the art students.  

For our workshop, each student checked out an item from the lab: stuffed chipmunks, a squirrel, sheep skulls, beaver skull, fox skulls, insects, fish, an owl, and a wild turkey. Each of them drew a study of their specimen in watercolor pencils, and then drew them again with an imaginative transformation, either anthropomorphism, a scale change, or a vehicle design using biomimicry.

Most of the students were in Jean Blackburn's scientific illustration class or Lars Grant West's creature design class, so they were primed for this sort of thing.

In the evening, I gave an illustrated talk about the steps I use for making scientific and imaginative illustrations, followed by a 10-minute demo portrait sketch of Jesse.
Thanks to everyone who came to the workshop and the presentation, and to the students and faculty who hosted.
Previous post on RISD, with a tour


docnad said...

I took a course there called "Nature and Figure Drawing" in the summer of 1979. The nature lab was an incredible resource to have. Funny, but the place looks a lot tidier now!

Janet Oliver said...

What a great idea for a class. Maybe I should go back to school . . .

kamal hatami said...

It was amazing to fianlly get to hear you speak. Thanks so much for your time, and spending your aniversary with us.

jeffkunze said...

Does drawing from life have more value? I know this is nothing new but I feel that if you draw the gesture of the animal to get the pose then carefully observe the animal to fill in the anatomy, you can learn a whole lot more about an animal.

Drawing from dead animals it would seem there is more a chance you will just draw with your eyes and not really know the animal as well.

James Gurney said...

Kamal, we both can't think of a more fun way to spend our anniversary.

Jeff, yeah, there's no substitute for drawing from a combination of live animals, stuffed specimens, skeletons, and nature videos. Each one gives you a different kind of information. What we were trying to do was to internalize our observations so that we could generate forms and poses from our imaginations.

Jordan Walker said...

Your presentation was excellent (you are a very entertaining speaker), and it was great to see a couple of your paintings in person - especially the Titanoboa. I really enjoyed looking through your sketch book, and I thank you for taking the time to view my moleskine!

I would have liked to attend the workshop, but I am not yet a RISD student... oh well, I enjoyed being there in the evening just as well, and I really appreciate all that you do to aid and inspire other artists like myself.

Nick said...

Mr. Gurney,

Thanks for your blogging! I've been looking at art schools recently, and seeing as how you have visited and lecture at so many I thought I would ask you this question.

I'm interested in the work coming out of the contemporary atelier movement, and have considered applying to the Gage Academy in Seattle; however, I would love to one day work in the entertainment industry doing design/concept work, and there seems to be some debate in the online forums as to whether the training one receives in an atelier setting is good preparation for this kind of design work.

The debate seems to center on how one learns to draw. In my understanding, an atelier will teach you a more "optical" approach to drawing, verses a more "abstract/constructive" approach taught at other schools that focus more on design.

Do you have any guidance/advice/opinions on atelier training and design work?


Anita Tung said...

Wonderful lecture and demo, thanks so much! It's always so interesting to hear how different artists find their inspiration and motivation. And thanks for the book signing too... Dinotopia was part of my childhood and it meant a lot to get it signed!

Ymedron said...

Even though my post will blend into the mass of other fans telling you these same things...

I have been a fan of your work ever since I was a small child. We only had the first dinotopia book, and I read it over and over again. You could spend ages just examining the minute details.

Thank you for making these books, and inspiring people to take up art/illustration/paleontology/anything! :D You are probably the most influential artist in my life.

(and apologies for the very awkward ending of this post.)

James Gurney said...

Ymedron, I really appreciate you saying that. Believe me, I said the same exact speech to Tom Lovell when I met him--I grew up with his paintings, and they got me into what I'm doing. So I'm a link in the chain and one day someone will come up to you and say that! All my best wishes to you and to everyone who was at RISD and MassArt.

Nick, first off, I should say there are several different approaches among traditional atelier training programs. As you suggest, some are more observational or Bargue-based, where you really learn the methods of drawing and painting patiently, carefully, and accurately.

Most ateliers/academies also include structural and anatomical insight, such as sculpting the figure from the skeleton outward, and other constructive and analytical approaches. I think every artist can benefit from ALL of these approaches.

What I personally would make sure to add to this foundation is imagination, character development, and storytelling, which are the heart and soul of Howard Pyle's teaching, and really, the heart of the work done by students of the Ecole des Beaux Arts. Many ateliers now offer this, but it's hard to teach. It's really a different set of skills. Learn it all. The more skills you can internalize, the farther you can travel.

James Ball said...

Hey! I work in Providence at 38 Studios. We actually have a couple of kids from RISD as interns. If you're ever back in town again I'm SURE we could arrange some kind of a tour or something