Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Art Student's Questions

An art student named Ross asked to interview me on a few topics to help him write an artist statement.

How did you get started?
I grew up in a creative family, but they were engineers more than artists, and I didn’t take art classes because no one seemed intense enough about it. I wanted to figure it out for myself and I went to the library to dig up the way they did things decades earlier. All through my youth, I never got to watch anyone else drawing or painting from life (somehow I even missed the TV show artists). Once I arrived at art school and started meeting other artists, I was completely captivated with how other people made a picture. I was fascinated with how they moved their hand and brush, but more than that, I wanted to learn what they were thinking as they worked. I believe that drawing and painting are an intensely magical act, like a form of conjuring. What I’m trying to do with my art, books, and videos is to try to explore the source of that magic.

What do you expect from your audience? 
Social media has put us in contact with people who follow our work. I think that's a good thing overall, but I'm not sure. That contact is certainly very stimulating for someone of my generation who was accustomed to singing in the dark. We can't help but recognize that our followers support us both emotionally and financially. No question, the internet has forever changed the art business by making us accountable to our audience. 

Should a professional artist learn about business?
Yes, if you're going to be independent, you've got to know something about business: marketing, contracts, accounting, publicity, graphic design, and video production. In this age of the creator-producer, it’s important to know about distribution, and sales. If art schools don’t offer this, you can pick it up on your own. I’m always trying to learn new things about how to make what I love to do pay for my living. That said, I try to keep business considerations or audience considerations from driving what I do or how I do it. I just want to have fun doing the very best quality work I can. I’m glad that the internet lets me share what I produce and what I learn with others. I have faith that enough people will support me to keep me doing it.

What artists influence you?
The artists who influence me the most are the ones who combine observational work with their personal imagination. Sketching from life definitely builds my visual vocabulary, which helps when I’m trying to conjure a fantasy world from thin air. I often dig into my sketchbooks for poses, rock formations, trees, landscape effects, or other details. That’s one of the reasons I like to draw everything. As Adolph Menzel put it: “alles Zeichnen ist nützlich, und alles zeichnen auch" (“All drawing is useful, and to draw everything as well.”)

Which artists inspire you?
Continuing from the last answer—there are the usual favorites: Golden-Age American illustrators such as Norman Rockwell, Tom Lovell, John Berkey, plus a lot of the Academic painters of the 19th century. I also love the painters who combined academicism with impressionism, such as Sargent, Sorolla, Krøyer, Repin, and others. There are also the landscapists such as William Trost Richards, Ivan Shishkin, and Peder Mork Mønsted. I also admire cartoonists and animators, such as Winsor McCay, Milt Kahl, so this list could go on forever: I love them for their process and philosophy as much as their style. None of them took shortcuts. I think the best advice for a student is to forget about style. Try to learn from the real world with close observation and humility. Make master copies from time to time, and go to museums, but put truth to nature first. And don’t model your work after any living artist, illustrator or animator. Ignore current trends, or your work will look like everyone else's. If you must study the work of other artists, pick ones from the past, and look at many different ones, not just one.

How do you use color to speak to your audience? 
Just about any subject needs to be simplified if it is going to communicate an emotion forcefully to the viewer. That's true of tone, line, detail, light, and color. Your color schemes start to communicate emotions when you leave colors out of the color scheme. That's the basic approach of gamut masking, which is especially important in color scripting in animation and comics.
John Berkey fan site
Rockwell on Rockwell: How I Make a Picture
Tom Lovell—Illustrator
Previous Post Series: Gamut Masking Method


Pierre Fontaine said...

I think this is the first time I've seen you mention Jon Berkey as an influence. He certainly was to me as an avid Sci-Fi enthusiast. I really enjoyed his impressionistic approach to space scenes where just a flick of the brush could imply so much detail.

Lovely interview by the way. I wish when I was a student studying animation so many years ago that they would have better prepared us to face the business side of film production. Your advice certainly rings true.

Rich said...

Not at all!
I still remember James Gurney in an older blog - mentioning Jon Berkey as
"one of his heroes";-)

Haven't forgotten that...

Linda Navroth said...

One of the things I admire most about you as an artist is your dedication to painting from nature and recognizing that it is such a great teacher. You can paint anything you like if you spend enough time outdoors observing and sketching. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and insights. I count you at the very top if my list of artistic influences, as much for your philosophy as for your work.

Unknown said...

James, I have learned a great deal from your videos about painting media such as gouache, water color, and casein. I know you have preferred oil paint when doing studio and commission work. Have you given any thought about a doing a video on oil painting? I'm sure your knowledge and experience with oils would be of interest to many of us.



Tom Hart said...

Of the many gems in this post, the one that rang the the truest for me is to "forget about style". When I was studying illustration, we students focused on personal style to an unhelpful degree, in my opinion. I don't think the instructors were necessarily to blame for this, as I think they were trying to impress on us one way to stand out from the crowd. But as a result, coming up with a stylistic hook was seen as at least as important as exploration of various media, techniques and approaches, or even to developing a high degree of competence.

James Gurney said...

Tom, yes, I remember the wiser teachers saying not to chase styles or trends, because by the time you get them in your portfolio, they'll already be over. The the word "end" is built into the word "trend."

Rich and Pierre, John has always been an inspiration, and I was lucky to meet him in his studio when I was starting out. Here's the best fan site for Berkey: https://johnberkeyart.com/

Thanks, Linda!

adriano mazzanti said...

Hi James, thanks for this interview.

premise that I agree with you on drawing a lot from life to find your own "voice" and not to copy any trendy style, I would have a question about the study of works of the masters.

When you say that it is better to study an old master work (agree on this point, too) I guess that you probably mean that works is valuable because has resisted the passage of time, but don’t you think it should be important to understand why the artists of the present, them who are judged the best in their field, are deemed to be such? Why their work “works” ?

thank you

Jen Drummond said...

The Berkey influence shows through clearly in James's 'Skysweepers' and 'Starriggers' paintings!

James Gurney said...

Adriano, yes, I agree with what you say. It's good to learn from individual artists from the past and also from the present. What I was cautioning about when I mentioned artists from the present is to avoid having your style match the style of a large group of people who all think in the same way. I'm thinking, for example, of animation character design. Anyone who looks at portfolios seems the same indistinguishable heads and figures, but there are so many other, fresher ideas that no one is pursuing. The artists of today who really stand out, such as Peter de Seve or Kim Jung Gi or Carter Goodrich have individual styles that result from their deep study of artists of both present and past, and more importantly, the study of the real world around them.

Tom Hart said...

James, I love that you mentioned Peter de Seve and Carter Goodrich, two giants in my personal list of current artists. (No slight intended against Kim Jung Gi; I just don't know his work that well, though I really respect his talent.)

adriano mazzanti said...

James, I agree with every words. You named three of the new "giants" (i loved so much the Carter Goodrich illustrations for " A Christmas Carol" )

It seems to me, for example, that most of the work of a new digital minimalist illustrators is akin, even if they are trend anyway and i find that the most important part of their job is the concept, the ideation and not the technique, the mood.

about Peter de seve and learning, i am quite sure you already know that, but anyway:


adriano mazzanti said...

and i think that James Jean could be in the list, too