Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Chinese Interview about Sketching

"Fantasy Art" magazine from Beijing China has just released a new issue with feature stories about Thomas Kuebler, Tony Hough, A.J. Manzanedo, David Renn, and Young-june Choi.

The magazine also includes an interview with me about my sketching habit. The article was inspired by a trip to Shanghai last fall. I met the magazine's founder, Wang Wei, and went watercolor painting with him on the canals of Zhujiajiao.
Here's the full interview in English:

When I travel, I enjoy sketching from observation. My sketchbooks are an important record of my contact with the world. They are also a source for ideas for me as I generate ideas for fantasy and science fiction pictures.

How many travel you will have at one year in the usually? 
I usually travel on five or six trips per year, usually to lecture at art schools or to teach the artists at movie studios. I always bring a sketchbook so that I can draw pictures of what is around me in the spare moments when I am waiting.

Is every travel you have some unambiguous target? Or you like the randomness? 
I like both kinds of travel. Most of my trips are for lectures or book signings, but I usually take one trip per year just for relaxation and sketching.

(Beara Peninsula--lower left image in the spread above)
11 x 14 inches, watercolor. A few years ago, I traveled to the southwest of Ireland to paint the landscapes and ancient monuments. I used watercolor because it is convenient for traveling. When I paint fantasy landscapes, I look at my observational paintings like this to get ideas for light and color.

Could you tell me when you come to Ireland? No need exactitude. 
I came to Ireland in 2010 in order to paint on location and to enjoy the traditional music..

Why you will painting this landscape? Did you felt some especial? Or just like this landscape. Or something else? 
This is a very ancient landscape, with stone structures dating to thousands of years ago. I was interested in the history and archaeology of Ireland, and also the mythology. I love the mystery of such old landscapes because they are inhabited by the memory of many lives that have passed before.

It seems you stood on a hill that sew those landscape, do you want to tell us how do you got there? 
I drove up a long dirt road to visit an ancient Celtic monument. While searching for the rocky ruins, I was on a hilltop and saw this view. I brought my watercolors with me so that I could paint this scene.

(The Morrocan city of Aït Benhaddou) photograph 2008. In 2008 I traveled to the High Atlas mountains of Morocco for a sketching trip. This mud brick city was where I painted several portraits. This place seemed more fantastic than anything I could have imagined.

Why you made this trip? 
I traveled here with a science fiction writer friend named Alan Dean Foster. We were both interested in learning more about Morocco. It was my first time in Africa.

When you photoed this picture, did you saw something behind this mud brick city? For example, the same style city will appear at the Dinotopia universe? Or some kind of life behind this mud brick? Why you photo it? Just surprised you? 
This is a famous city because it is one of the best preserved of the mud brick cities of the Atlas Mountains. It is also the location where many films were shot, including “Gladiator” by Ridley Scott.

What happened after your photoed this picture? Did you bought something at the booth that in the picture? 
It was at the end of my day in the city. I had done a portrait of one of the souvenir sellers. Afterward I drove back to the town where I was staying.

(Arab Guard) 5 x 8 inches. In the narrow streets of the city of Fes, Morocco, I met a man named Hassan whose job was to stand watch over the doorway of an antique store. He patiently posed for me while I drew his face in brown and black water-soluble colored pencils.

Is that a same trip with when you photoed the picture of The Morrocan city of Aït Benhaddou. 
Yes, this was on the same trip.

Why you want drew Mr. Hassan? Or it just happened when you walked to him? 
I was interested in drawing someone from Morocco. He was a guard, so he wasn’t doing anything. I asked him in French if I could have permission to draw his portrait. He agreed, and he seemed to enjoy posing.

(Morgan) 5 x 8 in, watercolor. This is a watercolor study of a 1931 three-wheeled car from England called a Morgan. Three-wheeled vehicles were classified as a motorcycles in Britain, so owners could avoid road taxes. The Morgan was low to the ground and weighed only about 850 pounds. It could go up to 80 miles per hour. When I need to design a spaceship or a robot, I look through my sketchbooks for vehicles, and that way I can get ideas from the real world.

Where you found this Morgan? 
At the Rhinebeck aerodrome, a museum near where I live where they keep old airplanes, cars, and motorcycles.

When you got this travel? Why? This museum is close to my home, less than 5 miles away. I am interested in all kinds of old cars and trucks.

Did you talk with the owner? How did he get this Morgan? 
I talked with someone who worked at the museum. This car was more than 50 years old. It was given to the museum by a collector.

What kind of vehicle you will painting it? I mean you may not painting a Rolls-Royce when you see one on the street, isn't it? 
I more often paint older, unusual things, not new and fancy things, because older things have more character.

As I know some concept artist had designed some very amazed vehicles, why you want to painting some one in the really world not just see what the other people made? For the first-hand experience? 
All the fantasy and concept art pictures that I do come from my imagination, but my imagination must begin with what I have seen with my eyes. I believe a concept artist will be stronger and more successful if he or she studies the real world very closely, because Nature is full of wonderful surprises.

(Cow Portrait) 5 x 8 inches. This is just one cow, but I drew her head in two different angles, because she kept turning her head. She was restless when I painted her portrait because she was hungry and it was her feeding time. She swung her big head back and forth. I tried to pick two angles that she kept returning to.

When and where you made this images? 
This was painted at a farm which is close to my home.

Why you want to drawing a cow? 
Because I was interested in understanding better its form and movement. Also, I like cows.

What happened when you talk with the farmer you want draw his cow? I don’t always see the farmer when I sketch at his farm. But I have his permission to sketch there anytime. When I see him, he tells me stories about his adventures on the farm.

(Cow Sketching , photograph.) When the cow heard the farmer’s voice, she let out a powerful moo that echoed through the whole barn. I could feel the hot, moist blast of breath. It was feeding time. She was hungry. Bits of hay and drool dropped onto my watercolor sketchbook.

Did you talk with cow? It looks like on the picture. 
The cow was trying to talk to the farmer. She was making a lot of noise hoping that he would come with some food.

Why there have many childrens with you? What happened? Who they are? 
The children help to feed the animals and clean the stalls. They are not my children, but they often see me sketching there.

(Jill the Farm Dog) , 5 x 8 inches. Watercolor and water-soluble colored pencils. Jill was an old dog that lived on a farm near my home in New York. She only had three legs. She held still because she was watching some piglets nearby.

Is that dog was painted at the same farm that you painted the cow? Yes, this was at the same farm. Jill belonged to the farmer.

What kind of particularity that make this old dog attract you? Did the owner told you why she just have three legs? 
Yes, she has three legs because she was kicked by a horse that she was bothering. I admired the way the dog lived cheerfully despite her suffering.

(Chop Suey) , oil paint, 16 x 8 inches. This is a sign for a restaurant near where I live. The picture is painted in oil on location.

Why you painted this facia? Did the light attract you? 
Yes, I was interested in the way the light touched the top of the sign.

Were you will used it, if you think? 
I painted this for myself, but sold it in a gallery, and published it in my newest book, Color and Light, which will soon be published in China.
(Irish Stove) , oil paint, 8 x 10 inches. This 8x10-inch oil study of an Irish hearth was painted on two consecutive mornings in a cottage in County Kerry, Ireland. The cool light from the open doorway and an adjacent window casts soft warm shadows to the right of the black stovepipe, the china dogs, and the plastic bucket of turf.

Is that made the same travel of Beara Peninsula be made? 
No, this trip occurred more than 10 years ago.

Why you made this by oil? 
Oil allows me to control color and value more precisely.

Did you slept at this house? How about this owner? Did they like you painting? Yes, I slept in the house. We rented the house. The owner was not there. I showed them a scan later, and they liked it.

Did this stove have some story? 
It is a typical Irish stove that burns peat or turf, which is fuel cut from the ground.

(Gurney’s sketch of Gorilla) 5 x 8 inches, pencil. If you want to draw portraits of apes, you have to approach them in the proper way. You can’t approach a great ape enclosure and start staring at them, or they will become unhappy and turn their back on you, because staring is a threat to them. When I went to a zoo, I approached the gorilla enclosure with a submissive posture, looking down at the ground and backing up with my hand out. (Link for original blog post)

When you made this portrait? 
I made this in 2009 at the North Carolina (USA) zoo.

How do you know this knowledge of ape? 
I studied anthropology and primate behavior in college, but I really don't know that much about gorillas.

(Gorilla , photograph.) The gorilla loved being approached this way. She had never seen a human act like a polite ape before. She came right up to the glass and posed for me while I did this half-hour portrait from just two feet away.
In the some kind of way, the ape is the animal that most like human, when you draw it. what you felt? 
I was impressed with how much the gorilla seemed to behave like a human, with curiosity and interest in my drawing.

Why is she not he? 
The zookeeper told me she was female.

As we know the New York City zoo had thousands all kinds of animal, when you see them, do you feel sadness? I mean those animals live in the zoo just because they can be saw by human at the safe place. What you thoughts? 
I would be happier to see them in the wild, but perhaps zoos can do some good. Those of us who can’t travel all the way to Africa can see and appreciate these beautiful animals up close. In this way, we learn to understand them so that their habitat can be protected. Also, many zoos have breeding programs that help preserve endangered animals and sometimes release them into the wild. 


kat said...

Wonderful article. I have a question about approaching the gorilla -- you look downwards and walk backwards towards the gorilla with your hand out towards your own front, palm up? I'm not sure I fully understand the methodology. It is very interesting, and information that should be posted at zoos near the enclosure so that the daily stress on the animals is reduced.

By the way, the lesula is a truly magnificent-looking creature.

James Gurney said...

Thanks, Kat. Here's the original post about the gorilla: http://gurneyjourney.blogspot.com/2008/03/gorilla-portraits.html
Basic point was to sidle backward looking down and holding the hand toward the gorilla. It looked pretty funny to my wife, but the gorilla seemed to love it.

Shu-Sin said...

the questions are great. you don't normally see interviews in the west with such an innocent frankness.