Sunday, December 31, 2017

Vintage New-Year's Postcards

Let's welcome the new without forgetting the best of the old. Thanks for joining me on the GurneyJourney. There are lots of good topics coming in 2018.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Willard Mullin and Sports Cartooning

In the 20th century, sporting events were often covered by cartoonists, who captured the action in exaggerated poses. 
This series shows what happened when featherweight
Willie Pep's dislocated shoulder stopped the match.
One of the greatest was Willard Mullin (1902-1978), who worked for the New York World-Telegram. He is best known for creating the "Brooklyn Bum" character, a reference to the Brooklyn Dodgers.
Mullin often attend the games, sketched key poses, and worked up the drawings for publication in his studio. 

His cartoons are fast, loose, and relaxed, often created under intense deadline pressure. But beneath the surface was a solid understanding of drawing and anatomy.
Flickr set by Leif Peng on Willard Mullin
Animation Resources: Willard Mullen on Animals
Cartoon Snap: Willard Mullin Goes to the Races
Website for Willard Mullin

Friday, December 29, 2017

Alaskan painting residency welcomes applicants

Lisa Grossman, a painter from Kansas, traveled to the wilderness in Alaska for a six-day camping, kayaking, and painting excursion.

She says, "I was determined to use my favorite media, oils, though it presented challenges. I pared down my painting gear to fit into two dry bags stuffed into the kayak hatches, and created a dozen small sketches from about eight locations, plus a few watercolors." 

"The ice was absolutely enthralling and I could have painted 'bergs and glaciers endlessly. It was thrilling to witness glaciers calving in person, but also unsettling. The effects of a warming planet finally felt real to me in a visceral way. Never having experienced tides, any effects of sea levels rising also became easy to imagine. Seeing and hearing whales spouting, catching glimpses of harbor seals and porpoises while kayaking, and so many sea birds, was so moving.”

Lisa was part of the Voices in the Wilderness program, which selects painters, photographers, and other artists to participate in a unique artist residency. Applications are now being accepted for the 2018 season. Coordinator Barbara Lydon says that many of the successful applicants have come from GurneyJourney. 

You can find out the details at the website of Voices in the Wilderness, or email Barbara Lydon at [blydon [at]]

Thursday, December 28, 2017

North African Landscape by Fortuny

Spanish artist Mariano Fortuny (1838-1874—also known as Marià Fortuny) traveled through Morocco in search of material for paintings of battles that had taken place there.

Inspired by the work of the Italian impressionists, he sought to capture the vast spaces and bright light and North Africa. This was one of his studies he did there. I love the grand, empty silences of this picture.
More information about this painting

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Winter Pond, Behind the Scenes

Painting snow scenes in gouache can be a challenge, especially when the temperatures dip below freezing. 

There are at least four solutions: 1) Vodka in the water, 2) Hand warmers under the palette, 3) Painting from inside a car, 4) Waiting for a day that gets above freezing, or 5) Painting next to a bonfire.  

I used the last strategy for this painting of the pond in our forest. (Link to YouTube) I built up the bonfire earlier in the day and it was throwing off a lot of heat. I wanted to paint it during the last 45 minutes of daylight, when the sun gets low and glimmers off the bronze-colored water.

There are so many ways to start a painting in gouache. The opacity lets you find your way back if you need to restate or lighten a passage. This time I started wild and loose, trying to get the big tonal areas worked out early on.

There was a lot detail in the scene, but I figured I could find it with the brush.
Gumroad tutorial: Gouache in the Wild

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Winter Pond in Gouache

Yesterday I painted this gouache of a small pond in our forest under four inches of new snow. The air was below freezing, but a bonfire next to me kept the paint from freezing.

Here's another blog post showing behind the scenes of the making of this painting.
Thanks to everyone who follows me @jamesgurneyart on Instagram. We just passed 80k followers! If you do Instagram, please check out my feed. I often share additional images and videos than what you see here.

Monday, December 25, 2017

Video Games on Christmas

My sons Dan and Frank Gurney play Nintendo "Rocket League" on Christmas.
(link to video on Facebook).

Nintendo Christmas, gouache, 5 x 8 inches.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

A Visit from the Boon Sloth

The Boon Sloth is an absent-minded Megatherium who visits on midwinter’s eve. He brings gifts for all—if he can remember who gets which one. Merry Christmas and happy winter holidays to all.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Halsman's philosophy of portraiture

Photographer Philippe Halsman snapped his picture of Einstein just after the scientist had recalled his regrets about contributing to the development of the atomic bomb.

Photo of Albert Einstein by Halsman 
Halsman created hundreds of portrait photos for Life Magazine. Each one was a different challenge.

What he said about the portrait photos applies equally to painted ones:
"If the photograph of a human being does not show a deep psychological insight it is not a true portrait but an empty likeness. Therefore my main goal in portraiture is neither composition, nor play of light, nor showing the subject in front of a meaningful background, nor creation of a new visual image. All these elements can make an empty picture a visually interesting image, but in order to be a portrait the photograph must capture the essence of its subject."

Woody Allen by Philippe Halsman, 1969

"Herein lies the main objective of portraiture and also its main difficulty. The photographer probes for the innermost. The lens sees only the surface. Most people hide behind a socially attractive mask. Others lose their composure in front of a camera. Lighting and photographic equipment are less important for the portraitist than psychology and conversation. If he uses them effectively, sometimes in the short span of a sitting a miracle happens. A fragment of evanescent truth is captured and instant eternity (simply add hypo!) is born. The end result is another surface to be penetrated, this time by the sensitivity of the onlooker. For it is now up to him to decipher the elusive equation between the flat sheet of photographic paper and the depth of a human being."

Friday, December 22, 2017

Project Puppetron

Recently Adobe unveiled a new artificial-intelligence technology that can render your face in any art style.

At left is an African wood carving, and at right is a a subject's face translated into that style. All the metrics and the surfaces match the target art style. 

Here, the same person's face is translated into a bronze statue. This process harnesses machine-learning techniques for style transfer, which we've seen before on the blog. 

The system is not daunted by the complications of reflective surfaces and multiple light sources.

Doing this with still images is amazing enough, but what if you could animate the avatar in real time as your face moves? In this video, the still images come to life with character animation software. Link to YouTube (Start at 5:20 for the animation)

The software is called "Project Puppetron," part of "Adobe Sensei," which harnesses AI to assist graphic designers, illustrators and animators.

Adobe took pains to assure the creative professionals in the audience that tools like this won't replace artists, but instead will introduce new forms of expression. Do you agree?
Previously: Style Transfer
Read more in Wired: "Artificial Intelligence is Killing the Uncanny Valley and Our Grasp on Reality"

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Portrait of Travis

I had breakfast yesterday with Travis Louie, who paints a menagerie of fantastical creatures and curious people.

(Link to video on Facebook) I knew he wouldn't mind if I exaggerated him a little and made him into a slightly fictionalized character himself.

With a gouache sketch like this, I start off with big brushes, visualizing of the head as a mass of clay. I'm looking for the forms beneath the features. Once that's all roughed in, I can drop in eyebrows and other details.
Travis Louie website.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Helck Recalls the Famous Artists Course

The grandson of American illustrator Peter Helck (1893-1988) has published his grandfather's memoirs online. Helck was a founding member of the Famous Artists Course Lessons, and he recalls the formation of the school and his role in it:

"In 1948 that remarkably successful illustrator, AIbert Dorne, created the home study institution known as the Famous Artists School. It was flattering to be among the dozen chosen to be founding faculty members. Dorne and Fred Ludekens prepared the Basic Course, a 24 lesson textbook, intelligently organized and beautifully printed, which remains the foundation of the enterprise. For the Advanced Course the twelve of us wrote our own books of instruction, each designed to attract students believed to have personal interest in our particular and singular working methods. The best part of a year was given to writing and illustrating my course."

"The published courses won wide acclaim for their layout and typography quite aside from their merit as means of instruction. Enrollments in the Basic Course were immediately forthcoming on a level with Dorne's anticipation. However that brilliant fellow's judgment as to similar appeal for the Advanced Courses had been overly optimistic. Only Norman Rockwell and Al Parker had great numbers of starry-eyed student admirers. The egos of the rest of us were somewhat deflated by the modest enrollments for our Courses."

"For four or five years I corrected the work of my students. As this meant graphically-demonstrated means by which their works could be improved plus typed analysis and criticism, teaching via correspondence was time-consuming, on occasion six or seven hours on a single assignment, but also very enjoyable. In time the Advanced Course was merged with the Basic and the later Painting Course."

"At the time of the school's founding, teaching art by mail was viewed by many as suspect, and with cause. One nationally known school had not revised its course for 27 years. When our Basic Course Lesson No. 16 brought drop-outs and other evidence of fading student interest, Dorne concluded that this lesson, not the students, was the cause. No. 16 and others later were reorganized for improved clarity."

"Our humble beginning in a little cottage on Boston Post Road has become an institution having about 115,000 students in art, writing and photography. The School's instruction fostered the traditional art fundamentals: sound drawing, perspective, representations as offered by nature, most of which is scorned by the avant-garde."

"My personal work for exhibitions continued traditional and was thus recognized by one of the few remaining art bodies unaffected by the radical movements, the National Academy, to which I was elected in 1950. At the present there is slowly emerging a return to recognizable subject matter in painting. The astounding success of realist and traditionalist Andrew Wyeth may be viewed as significant."
Online resources:

Mrs. Basher Poses

Mrs. Basher takes no guff!

Here are a few of her animation poses. Each figure has a range of actions with posable and replaceable arms and legs held on with magnets.

Monday, December 18, 2017


"Mezza-macchia" (literally half spot) was the term for a kind of a sketch taught in the Florentine Academy during the period when the Macchiaioli (Italian Impressionists) were getting their education.

Giovanni Fattori, Black Horse in the Sun
"The idea was to "study an object in just two tones, one for the light areas and one for the areas in shadow. According to the testimony of [Giovanni] Fattori himself, this exercise, which trained the eye to see in terms of broad tonal oppositions, eliminating details and indeterminate tonal values, was part of the standard procedure of instruction in academic studios at the time when he and other Macchiaioli received their training."
Quote: is from Baccio Maria Bacci, Preface to Telemaco Signorini's Caricaturisti e caricaturati al Caffè Michelangiolo
Book in English: The Macchiaioli : Italian Painters of the Nineteenth Century
Webpage: "Who were the Macchiaioli?"
Wikipedia: on Giovanni Fattori (1825-1908)
Previously on GurneyJourney: Two Values

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Sargent's "Signet" Palette

Curators at the Harvard Art Museum have completed their study of one of John Singer Sargent's palettes, which was given to the Signet Society.

The palette still contains a lot of paint, and it's arranged in the normal way for a 19th century painter. The colors start with a large amount of white forward of the thumbhole, and proceed through the yellows, reds, browns, blues, greens and black at the back, or far left in this photo.

UV illumination reveals two kinds of white paint: lead and zinc. It also shows "numerous droplets of resinous material which fluoresces orange in UV, scattered predominantly around the white paint, and one reasonably large blob of wax on the palette surface."

The colors include vermilion, red lake, red ochre, yellow ochre, cadmium yellow, a green containing chromium, Prussian blue, cobalt blue, ultramarine, and umber. Observers watching him work said his colors were piled in "miniature mountains," and they were the ones in ordinary use, the earth colors predominating.

Although Sargent kept his brushes meticulously clean, he was not as scrupulous about keeping the colors on his palette separate from each other. The paint is mixed in the areas where the paint was squeezed out, rather than keeping the edge-colors distinct, as some painters do.

The palette was re-used without full cleaning, as revealed "by a darkened paint layer underneath the top layer, especially visible beneath the white paint."

Some of the paint is flattened from having something put on top of it before it was fully dry. One of the red pigments has a surface of paper applied to it, presumably to keep the paint active longer.

Julia Heyneman, a contemporary of Sargent, wrote that his palettes were weighted. The weight (probably lead) appears on the underside of the palette (lower left of image above), which is made of a double-thick layer of wood. There is also a metal fence made of zinc clipped to the edge of the palette that would touch the artist's left sleeve, preventing the paint from getting on Sargent's sleeve.
2017 Newsletter of the Signet Society of Harvard College
Pall Mall Gazette, 1907, Volume XXXIX, pages 643-651
Previously on GJ: Palette Arrangements
See Also: Another palette Harvard collection reputedly used by Sargent.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Disney's 'Tricks of the Trade'

(Link to YouTube Video) The decade of the 1930s was a pioneering era in animation. Artists at Disney Studios developed the new art form all the way from Steamboat Willie to Pinocchio.

The animators had to figure out the principles of character animation for themselves. As Disney says: "We took you into a unique schoolhouse where the pupils were their own teachers. They had to be because no one in the world could give them the answer to what they wanted to know."
The Art of Animation: The Story of the Disney Studio Contribution to a New Art This is one of the early books the Disney Studios published on animation.
The Illusion of Life: Disney Animation This book by two of the "Nine Old Men" is one of the standard reference books on the history and art of Disney animation.

Friday, December 15, 2017

Digging in the Front Yard

When I was a kid growing up in Los Altos, California, I dug holes in my front yard looking for a lost civilization or a new dinosaur. My friends’ mothers wouldn’t let them play with me after school because they came home with their pockets full of dirt. I went on to major in anthropology at UC Berkeley and joined real archaeological and paleo excavations. My childhood dreams came true when I was sent on assignment by National Geographic to travel to dig sites with archaeologists to help them reconstruct life in the ancient world.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

I'll be teaching next summer at IMC

Art by Kent Williams
Join me in the summer of 2018 for a workshop in Massachusetts called IMC, (also known as Illustration Master Class) 

At IMC you spend the week painting with instructors from the realm of Imaginative Realism: Julie BellDonato GiancolaBoris Vallejo, Greg ManchessScott M FischerDan Dos Santos, Irene Gallo Tara McPherson Kent Williams and me, James Gurney! There are just a handful of spots left.

IMC (aka Illustration Master Class)

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Curvature Blindness Illusion

A series of paired lines passes through areas of white, grey, and black. The lines remain the same throughout. They have a consistent wavy (sinusoidal) shape. 

The difference between the sets is the placement of light and dark segments: one set has the tone change at the bottom of the curve.

As the sets of lines pass through the grey area, some of them seem to take on an angular, zig-zag quality. The effect is extremely compelling.

Psychologist Kohske Takahashi of Chukyo University of Japan discovered the illusion. He suggests that when the brain's visual system is faced with ambiguous cues about whether it's seeing curved or straight-segmented lines, it favors the angular cues:

"The underlying mechanisms for the gentle curve perception and those of obtuse corner perception are competing with each other in an imbalanced way and the percepts of corner might be dominant in the visual system."
For a high level discussion, read the comments after the Discover Magazine blog post.
Thanks to several of you who let me know about this.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Animation Tests

(Link to video)  Here are a few animation tests — Sprocket runs,  eats paper,  and Clement grabs some power ups.

Here's a still frame showing the motion blur and live-action dynamics captured in-camera.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Image Translation

A new machine-learning algorithm can take a photo of a street scene and translate the image to another time of day or another weather condition. 

For example, the photo on the left shows is taken from a car on a rainy day. On the right, the computer translates the scene into a sunny day with a blue sky. 

Here the algorithm does the opposite, translating a photo of a sunny day (left) into a virtual image of the same scene in rainy conditions (right).

The night-to-day translations are impressive because there seems so little information to start with in the photo at left, and the change is so radical.

The system can also translate a photographic street scene into a graphic that looks like it comes from a video game — or it can take a still from a video game and make it look more photographic. 

It can also change the hair color of a person, or alter a dog from one breed to another. 

This machine-learning technology, driven by generative adversarial networks, is progressing very quickly, so any weaknesses or limitations we see in the results now will be overcome rapidly.

We can no longer say "Photos don't lie." 
Read More:
Google photo collection with lots more pairs of examples.
Scientists' paper as a PDF
Video Game Graphics To Reality And Back

Related Posts
Text-to-Image Synthesis
Generative design resembles Art Nouveau
Morphing Celebrities

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Gurney Art on Instagram

If you do Instagram, please check out my daily feed. It includes pages from my sketchbooks, behind-the-scenes process art, Dinotopia illustrations, and just plain fun.

Here are the top nine posts from 2016.