Monday, July 31, 2017

Visiting Lumber Camps

In addition to riding the freight trains around America, Tom Kinkade and I drove my Austin America around California looking for subjects for our planned book on sketching. The trunk was full of easels and stools and the whole back seat was filled with art supplies.

Between Fish Creek and Coarse Gold, by Tom Kinkade, markers

We stopped at a lumber camp, and Tom did this marker sketch of an abandoned wigwam (or teepee) burner.

The lumbermen invited us in for coffee and we sketched their portraits as they told us about dangerous aspects of their jobs.

Related Topics
In case you missed it, here's the audio journal podcast of our cross-country sketching adventures.
And here's where you can find old copies of The Artist's Guide to Sketching. No plans yet on reprinting, but there's been a lot of interest.
Previous post about riding freight trains with Thomas Kinkade
This is the last day for entering the Dead Vehicle Challenge. Even if you're not participating, check out the amazing entries that have been coming in.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Riding Freight Trains With Thomas Kinkade

Before he was the Painter of Light™, Thomas Kinkade was a hobo. (Direct Link to YouTube).

So was I. In 1980, he and I decided to take a summer off from art school to ride the freight trains across America. Here's a vintage tape recording from that journey. The quality isn't great, but it's a memory rescued from oblivion.

Thomas Kinkade and James Gurney in Missouri
I first met Thomas Kinkade in 1976, when he was assigned as my freshman college roommate at UC Berkeley.

After Berkeley, we were both art students at Art Center in Pasadena. The train-riding idea began after we met a hobo named Bud at a freight yard in Los Angeles. He told us which cars to ride and where to catch them. We decided to give it a try. 

We got short haircuts and we packed our backpacks with sketchbooks, markers, corncob pipes, felt hats, uniform shirts, and a Tupperware full of a mixture of peanut butter and honey. We were inspired by the writers Charles Kuralt and John Steinbeck, and we wanted to do the same thing with art.

All that summer we slept in graveyards and on rooftops and sketched portraits of gravestone cutters and lumberjacks. To make money we drew two-dollar portraits in bars by the light of cigarette machines.

By the time we got to Manhattan, we had a crazy idea to write a how-to book on sketching. We hammered out the basic plan for the book on Burger King placemats.

By night we slept on abandoned piers and by day we made the rounds of the publishers. We eventually got a contract from Watson-Guptill, and The Artist's Guide to Sketching was published in 1982. It is as much about the adventure of sketching on the road as it is about technique.

One effect of that trip on both of us was that we got a healthy respect for how all kinds of different people look at artwork. We set up at the Missouri state raccoon-hunting championships with the goal of doing portraits of everybody’s favorite dogs. The owners were very particular with the dogs’ proportions and markings, and they weren’t going to pay us two dollars unless we got the details right. It was a tougher critique than we ever got in art school.

We never returned to art school. My art-school friend Jeanette and I stayed in touch and we did some sketching trips together. She stayed through school to graduate from ArtCenter, and I learned what I could from her class notes.

But I got my art education from self-teaching and from working with Frank Frazetta and Tom Kinkade on the movie Fire and Ice in the early '80s.

I was always friendly with Tom in later years, but we were both busy and didn't stay in very close touch. Our families went on a few painting excursions together during the subsequent decades, to Colorado, Ireland, and the Catskills of New York State. I was sad Tom died so young, because his fearlessness and exuberance were a big influence on me.

As a footnote, Thomas Kinkade's New York Times obituary in 2012 said that "Mr. Kinkade traversed the country by boxcar with another artist, James Gurney, to sketch the American landscapes that they encountered."

One of the commentators after the obit doubted the veracity of the claim: “Really? Do you believe that a man born in 1958 traveled around the US in a boxcar like some Depression-Era hobo? He must be laughing wherever he is, that someone was gullible [enough] to believe that myth-making."
Previously: Working on Fire and Ice with Tom Kinkade

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Selective Focus

This watercolor study of an ornate church doorway is by Giovanni Boldini. I like the way he decided to focus on the extreme detail of the carved saints and the gothic arch, but he barely suggested the stairway and the lancet windows.

That selective focus makes the detail area even more satisfying.

I'm impressed with how Boldini chose to paint the most difficult part of the scene because that was the part that interested him. You don't have to paint everything equally!

Friday, July 28, 2017

Relative color temperature on skin tones

Mathieu asks:
I have been struggling over the last months trying to understand how to handle the green parts (cool notes) of the flesh in a portrait.

In the Fundamentals of Painting by Mogilevtsev I could not understand the following text: "The light consists of three parts: the highlight and halftone are cold, and the light space between them is warm." I thought only the shadows are warm and all the parts of the light will always be cold. So what does he calls "the light space" between them? 

Gurney—On page 22, Mr. Mogilevtsev implies that the "light space" is the area between the highlight and the halftone (the halftone is the area just before the light side turns to shadow). What he calls the "light space" might also be called the "lights" or just "the light side." 

Within that light side there can be subtle variations in color temperature. 

He is indeed painting the halftones cool, specifically greenish. The halftones are an important area to observe closely for their value, for the abruptness or softness of the edge as it turns to shadow, and for their relative color temperature. 

He makes the point that relative warm and cool tones can give life to a portrait and I would agree with that. His states that the rules he's talking about refer to painting a portrait indoors. Traditionally an indoor portrait would be lit by a relatively cool north-facing skylight. In that case, the lights are generally cool compared to the shadow, because of the coolness of that blue skylight relative to the bounced light of a wood floor or warm-colored rugs, etc.

Charles Hawthorne
However, I would be skeptical of any fixed rules about cool/warm relationships, such as saying "outdoors in sunlight the light is always warm and the shadows are always cool." If there is very warm light reflected back into the shadows, or a secondary light that is very warm, the shadows can be warmer than the light side. 

Or the color of light in the shadow can vary according to the direction the planes are facing, such as a person standing at the beach, with blue sky above, warm sand below to one side, and blue water below in another direction. It all depends.

On the portrait of the woman, I don't understand the logic behind the green parts of the flesh colors. Where to put those greens? Are they at the edges of the planes right before they turn? 

Gurney—Yes, he seems to be placing the greens at the turning of the form. This is something that old masters often did. It may or may not look convincing, depending on how it is handled. Sometimes this cool effect in halftones is the result of the way you glaze color over a grisaille or "dead color" underpainting.

Let's step back for a minute to remember that the appearance of any flesh tone color, whether in light or shadow, is a combination of: 
1) the color of the surface (local color)
2) the color of the light 
3) plus additional factors as subsurface scattering. 

So, warm local color plus warm light equals a very warm color note. 

I try to consider first the local color as it varies across the form. The color across the mask of the face can vary a lot, as any makeup or prosthetic specialist will attest. It's often redder in the cheeks and nose, darker around the eyes, lighter and yellower on the forehead, and bluer or greener in the neck or chin, plus there are effects caused by makeup and sunburn. 

The reflectivity of the skin varies too, and that factor can influence your color and value choices.

Then I consider the sum total of the colors of light shining on each plane. It might help to place a white plaster head near the model in the same light in order to study those influences.

The color you mix for any given plane will be a combination of all those factors. 

Mathieu continues: When speaking about "cool" or "cold" colors in the light areas why do I always feel that the yellowish and reddish color of these parts is warm? On the above portrait by Rubens the light areas doesn't seem "cold" to me.

Gurney—You're right that most skin tones are on the "warm" or orange side of the spectrum, but we're speaking of a relative thing here.

Sometimes it can be hard to judge relative light color when looking at a living model. That's why painting from a white plaster cast can be helpful for understanding both form and light. By removing the effect of local color, you can see what's going on with the relative temperature of the light.

Bottom line: be skeptical of fixed rules, be guided by your observation, and always compare, compare.
Previous Post: Color Zones of the Face

Thursday, July 27, 2017

65K Year Old Ochre Paint Found in Australia

Photo by Dominic O Brien/ Gundjeihmi Aboriginal Corporation, Source
Archaeologists in northern Australia have found evidence for paint-making supplies dating back as much as 65 thousand years. This is some of the oldest evidence for human use of reflective paint, and it suggests that art-making was as central to human life as seed-grinding and hatchet-making.
"We found evidence for the mixing of ochre with reflective powders made from ground mica to make a vibrant paint. Currently the oldest known rock art in the world is dated to 40,000 years ago in Sulawesi (a possible stepping stone to Australia). But the abundant ground ochre and use of mica indicates that artistic expression took place in the region much earlier."

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Berkshire Museum to Sell Norman Rockwells

The Berkshire Museum in Pittsfield, Massachusetts will be selling off Norman Rockwell's "Shuffleton's Barbershop" and 39 other paintings to raise funds for their "New Vision" for the museum.

Shuffleton's Barbershop by Norman Rockwell

The paintings will be auctioned by Sothebys in the next six months and are expected to raise over $50 million. 

Shaftsbury Blacksmith Shop by Norman Rockwell

Norman Rockwell donated the paintings to the museum, which was founded in 1903 on the model of the Metropolitan Museum and the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History. 

The Museum made the decision after consulting with local community leaders, architects, and education consultants. They have announced the new vision for a "transformed museum" with a "radically new interdisciplinary approach....Static museum galleries will be transformed into active teaching laboratories."

William-Adolphe Bouguereau,  L'Agneau nouveau-nĂ© (The Newborn Lamb)

The Museum risks censure from the American Alliance of Museums and the Association of Art Museum Directors for selling its art to raise funds for operations and renovations rather than acquisitions of new artwork. 

“Valley of the Santa Ysabel,” by Frederic Church, 1875

In in its guidelines, the AAMD states that “A museum director shall not dispose of accessioned works of art in order to provide funds for purposes other than acquisitions of works of art for the collection.”

Both organizations have joined in a statement opposing the sale: “One of the most fundamental and longstanding principles of the museum field is that a collection is held in the public trust and must not be treated as a disposable financial asset.”

Albert Bierstadt, Connecticut River Valley, Claremont, New Hampshire 1868

Apart from the loss of the paintings to public view, the decision may lead to other repercussions for the museum. But many museums must make hard decisions of this kind, risking censure sometimes to raise the money they need to operate and grow.
Berkshire Museum to sell works by Calder, Church and Durrie (Berkshire Eagle)

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Tom Kegler's Niagara

Landscape painter Thomas Kegler recently completed a three-year project to paint a panorama of Niagara Falls. He documented the process on an instructional video with a running time of more than 8 hours. 

Thomas Kegler’s painting “Niagara, Psalms 84:11”

It's a big painting, more than 8 feet wide, and the video covers everything from the concept sketches to building the frame. Kegler produced it all, and he took time out to answer a few of my questions. 

J.G. What feelings went through you when you got close to Niagara Falls?

Thomas Kegler:
Having grown up near Niagara Falls and experienced it many times, I frankly was often turned off due to the commercialization and touristy atmosphere. As I embarked on this quest, I began to look at the Falls differently – through the lens of an artist. Once I was able to filter out the human distractions and focus on the majesty of this natural wonder, I was in utter awe. This especially hit home when I began the long-duration drawing and field paintings and got up close and personal with the Niagara River. The sounds, smells and sensations transfer you into a trance when you just sit and watch.

J.G. Do you think those feelings are different from those of someone 100 or 200 years ago?
T.K.  I think the feelings and emotions that Niagara can evoke are likely the same as they were back when the Hudson River School painters visited in the mid 1800s. In our modern society we are conditioned for immediate gratification sustained with a rapid paced life. Thus, it may take a bit more effort on our part to slow down and really experience what the Falls has to offer.

J.G. How did you deal with the precedent of Frederic Church's famous paintings of Niagara?
T.K.  Church had set the bar very high and I certainly was influenced by what he was able to capture. There was a part of me that at first was reluctant to take on this challenge. I intentionally chose a very different vantage, time of day, and emotional charge. This helped me design the painting with a fresh approach.

J.G. How did you decide on the length of the video?
T.K.  The amount of raw footage I had to work with was over 130 hours. My initial goal was to edit this down into a 5 hour video. Half way through the editing I realized that in order to convey all I intended, I did not want to limit the length of the film and jeopardize any pertinent information.

J.G. Were there aspects of the video-making process that turned out to be more difficult than you had anticipated?
T.K.  Since I self-produced the video, my most significant hurdle was to balance the emotional and spontaneous aspect of painting, along with the necessity of managing 4 running cameras. This meant that I would need to adjust each camera every 10 minutes as I moved across the canvas while painting. This took a great deal of diligence and patience to interrupt the creative act to deal with the cameras, and then get right back into it. I did hire some talented videographers to help occasionally, but the majority of the camera operation was overseen by me as I painted.

J.G. Thanks for mentioning me on disc 2! What did you make your maquette out of?
T.K.  The Maquette was made from foam, plaster gauze and acrylic paint.

J.G. You mentioned that you were inspired by Ruskin's view of God as manifest in nature, and you quote scripture in the title. Is the spirit of the divine that you experience when painting landscape distinct from the spiritual life that you encounter in church or when reading scripture?
T.K.  My faith and spirituality are manifested in my everyday life and my work and I try to not separate them. I look at my paintings as devotional works that celebrate creation. Having said that, the spirit I experience when painting is different and often more tangible than when reading. I invite the spirit to bless my hands and work through me. Often I feel my works seem to paint themselves.

J.G. In your timeline you indicated that it took about 1000 days to do the whole project—preparation, painting, frame, and video. How do you feel now looking back on the scale of the project?
T.K.  The first reaction when the final cut was delivered for duplication was a big exhale. I still see aspects that I would change or do differently, but overall I am pleased with the final result. I knew from the start this would be a long term endeavor, and thus I did not plan a final deadline initially. I wanted it to be just right. Nevertheless, it took twice as long as I anticipated.

J.G. Was it emotionally and financially rewarding? Do you want to keep doing other big projects?
T.K.  This project was by far the most challenging and rewarding endeavor I have attempted. The challenges were profound - both from the standpoint of the sustained focus for such a long time, as well as the expenses involved in funding your own publication. Emotionally, I am very gratified. I trust that the financial success of the video will be evident in the long term.

J.G. What will be the fate of the painting? Will it be in a private collection, or will it be visible in future exhibitions?

T.K.  The painting is currently on exhibit at the Castellani Art Museum on the campus of the Niagara University along with about 15 other works related to Niagara Falls. This exhibition runs until January of 2018. There is discussion of evolving this into a traveling exhibition to other Museums. I would like the final resting place for this work to be in a public space...ideally the Castellani Museum itself. We are currently seeking a patron to purchase the painting for the Museum. A portion of the proceeds will go to the Buffalo Niagara River Keeper organization and the Western New York Land Conservancy.
Castellani Art Museum: "Painting Niagara: Thomas Kegler"
Thomas Kegler's website
"Painting Niagara" Instructional video, purchase or watch previews

Monday, July 24, 2017

Sleeping Pigs

These young pigs know how to pass a summer day, sleeping through the heat on the barn floor.
I'm using a graphite pencil with a Niji water brush filled with gray ink for the mottled coloration.

Don't miss the my latest YouTube video "Painting Animals from Life: 7 Tips for Success"

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Animal Painting from Life -- 7 Tips

I make a lot of super-short videos that are only 15-60 seconds long. I think that's too short to put on YouTube individually, so I packaged some of them up a group of them and tied them together with a theme.

So here are seven of my top tips for drawing and painting live animals.

(Link to YouTube).

Note the new title sequence, shot recently in a grassy field near here. I like the way the grass stems disguise the wires.
Answers to your questions about sketching animals from life

Saturday, July 22, 2017


Aposematism is a special coloration designed to scare off potential predators. It also includes other kinds of warning signals such as foul odors or attention-getting sounds.

Lowland streaked tenrec
It's effectively the opposite of camouflage. Instead of blending into the background, the aposematic color scheme reminds predators to stay away to avoid getting stung or poisoned, thus saving both animals from potential harm.

Poison dart frog
Young predators sometimes make the mistake of attacking one of these conspicuous species. If the attacker survives the experience, it learns to avoid them in the future. The system of defense therefore works best against predators who are able to learn.

The coral snake (above) is poisonous venomous, but the harmless milk snake (below) mimics its coloration and derives a benefit.

Aposematic colors in insects are often red, yellow, orange, and black, colors that are can be seen by birds, lizards, and primates, their chief predators. The skunk uses black and white, because that pattern is most noticeable to mammalian predators.
Aposematism on Wikipedia

Friday, July 21, 2017

Guest Post by Jeanette

Hi, blog readers and fellow artists. I'm Jim's wife Jeanette, the lady in the background of the videos. A few of you have asked to see what I'm up to, so here's a look into my recent sketchbooks. 

Remember the scene of the house in the Catskills?  What attracts me is that dark ridge of land brooding over the house. I also want to show the garage next to the house, because the owner keeps going back and forth to deal with his classic cars.

I usually prefer vertical compositions, so most of my sketchbooks are set up that way. I'm working in watercolor in a Stilman and Birn Beta Softcover Watercolor Sketchbook 5.5 x 8.5". 
I paint the Vanderbilt Garden on two peaceful mornings, standing under a shady pergola covered with grapevines and surrounded with ferns

The only interruptions are inchworms falling on my hat. Two sessions are really great to have for finishing a sketch, if the weather stays consistent. Seeing it with fresh eyes helps me to repair the inevitable mistakes.

This house undergoing renovation is lots of fun to paint, and luckily I have two sessions again. I like the contrast between the pile of heavy rocks and the delicate scaffolding. There's a bright red clump of hollyhocks bravely blooming amidst the chaos.

The last two paintings are done in The Perfect Sketchbook, produced by Erwin Lian in Singapore. The 7"x 10.25" hardbound book has Fabriano watercolor paper, which has a "softer" surface than my other watercolor sketchbooks and an ivory color to the paper.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Marker Sketch of Fritz

Fritz is an autonomous, sentient drone called a "hoverhead" based on the design of a ceratopsian, from Dinotopia: First Flight (1999). Note that his trim is dented and he's missing the chrome ring around his right eye.

For those of you who like to paint old, dented things, the "Dead Vehicle Challenge" is going strong with lots of great entries already. Deadline is the end of the month. Check it out on the Facebook event page.
Get a copy of the expanded edition Dinotopia: First Flight  which has a behind-the-scenes supplement for no extra charge.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Mort Drucker: "No Shortcuts"

Illustrators Quarterly is a UK magazine that focuses on historical and contemporary illustration worldwide, kind of a European equivalent of Illustration magazine here.

The current issue spotlights Mort Drucker (born 1929), the movie satirist who worked for Mad Magazine for more than 50 years.

Correction: Ray Walston as Poopdeck Pappy
Robin Williams as Popeye by Mort Drucker
Drucker's movie satires had to capture the look of all the stars from various angles and in various expressions. Even more remarkably, he had to recall the faces from memory, because in the years before the Internet, it was virtually impossible to find movie stills, especially of a movie that was in the theaters.

The article includes about 50 large images of Drucker's work, mostly reproduced from the original, so that you can see the pasted-up text as if it is on the page in front of you.

The article is written by David Apatoff, author of the popular blog Illustration Art. David is a close friend of Drucker and was with him recently at the Society of Illustrators in New York, where Drucker received a coveted Hall of Fame award.

Drucker was self taught in art: "School didn't do much for me," he recalls. "I had no schooling. I didn't know the first thing about drawing and had to learn it all by myself."

He continues: "I wanted to be as good as I could possibly be. No shortcuts. If you had a problem with something, attack it. Like hands, for instance.... Some artists drew hands in pockets or behind their backs and you knew those artists didn't want to have any part of drawing hands. But I always thought that if something's difficult, don't hide, don't run away from it. Learn to master it. That was my philosophy. And so I'd draw hands as if my life depended on it. If you can't draw hands don't look at how somebody else draws hands, study your own hand, do things so that you personally get to know and appreciate hands."
You can get this issue of Illustrator's Quarterly at Bud's Art Books.
Books on Drucker: MAD's Greatest Artists: Mort Drucker: Five Decades of His Finest Works
Familiar Faces: The Art of Mort Drucker
David Apatoff is also the author if the recent book The Life and Art of Bernie Fuchs.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Claus's Grainy Luminism

Emile Claus (1849-1924) conveyed a brilliant sense of light through fine textures of broken color, giving the painting a grainy look.  (Click image to see uncropped composition)

Art historians classify Claus in the category of Belgian luminism, a movement with sources in impressionism and pointillism. 

Some of Claus's paintings resemble those of Claude Monet, who was one of heroes. The color of the bridge is made up of many different component strokes. 

Instead of doing this with tiny brushstrokes (which can get a mechanical look) you can get this effect by dry-brushing one color over a different a contrasting dry layer of color, which works especially well in casein. 

30+ year old Ektachrome movie film. Film by Justin Cary
The look reminds me of analog film, especially when the subject is backlit. This is a frame from a home movie recently shot on old film stock. The textures are full of grain, and the sky burns out the edges of the silhouettes.

The grainy, jumping quality resemble the way our eyes see, too, as the receptors in our retina fire unequally over time.