Wednesday, August 4, 2021

What Was It Like to Pose for Norman Rockwell?

In this YouTube video from the Norman Rockwell Museum, former models of Norman Rockwell's painting "The Recruit" describe his sense of humor and his approach to directing models.

Tuesday, August 3, 2021

Outdoor Dining Challenge Results

Thanks to everyone who entered the "Outdoor Painting Challenge" on our Facebook group and Instagram. Entries were posted from all around the world, with both experienced painters and some people who haven't painted outdoors before.

It was a difficult challenge, but you rose to the challenge and tried some bold experiments and braved the elements. It was fun to go through the entries and hard to choose the five finalists. Here they are:

Pritesh Rangole says he did this painting near his college canteen. 

It's oil on canvas, 9x12 inch. Check him out on Instagram. He really gets out there and paints a lot.

Dylan Rabe aka Prosomania posted this on Instagram, saying: "Started on site at @chicagoinrecess with watercolor pencils; rescued in the studio by iridescent inks🦄"

Catherine Cervas Heaton said "Local ice cream crowd at a really far social distancing, more like shy distancing, from my car!"

"Majority of this took 1.25hrs until I couldn’t see color mixtures. Finished at home. Realized I was rushing the telephone wires and I didn’t have to, I could have waited to add those in later. The people are still blobs and need refining but I’m calling it finished."

Zoungy Kligge brought his sketchbook to a July 4 family picnic, and created a montage of observations in the style of classic mid-century American illustrators. He says: "For my #outdoordiningchallenge I wanted to depict the July 4 activities of my family, using a muted red, white, and blue palette. This was the first gathering we all had since prior to the start of the pandemic in early 2020."

Zoungy continues: "I moved the easel wherever the people were, including here on the deck, after the meal. I quickly discovered that it's hard to sketch people in motion, while trying to eat and socialize! I decided to enjoy the time with everyone, and to capture moments before and after the meal with a page of little vignettes. These included: Our grill in the woods, by the Antietam Creek, made from loose bricks and recycled parts of our old chimney. I started sketching my sister at the grill, but replaced her with the daisy bouquet my mother made for the table."
An empty cup and plate, except for the corn cob someone had enjoyed. And, an arrowhead from one of several collections of arrowheads that were shared, dating to many thousands of years ago. My youngest sister found this one in a farmer's field."

"The small, written notations are reminders of things that happened: The remarkable, multi-level rainbow that lasted an hour. The duck food stored in a plastic coffee can, under an upside-down, metal pot. And my father sharing part of the 1832 pension application of Jonathan Vail, my 6th great-grandfather, who in his old age recollected seeing General Washington on July 1, 1776, at Brooklyn."
At Brooklyn, Generals Washington, Putnam, Greene, Sullivan, & Sterling were pointed out to me.
"A note on materials: I used my newly-built 'Gurney easel' and a Pentalic watercolor journal (8 x 5 inches). The sketch was first done in diluted Noodler's gray ink in a water brush, plus line work with an eyedropper pen, same color. Winsor & Newton watercolors in Light Red and Indanthrene Blue, which mix to a nice neutral, and DaVinci white gouache for opacity. Notations written in Noodler's Polar Brown ink."

Bill Wiist says: "A concession stand at R.B. Winter State Park, PA on the 4th of July. Watercolor (with a bit of titanium white acrylic) in my 5.5"x5.5" sketchbook."

Thanks to everyone who took part. I thank each one of you for entering. Each finalist receives a "Department of Art" patch and a free tutorial download. Please email me with your mailing address, and your download preference, and I'll get those to you.

...and just to remind us of how high the bar is for us to try to jump over, feast your eyes on this watercolor and gouache painting of a morning breakfast by the incomparable Anders Zorn (Swedish, 1860-1920).

Monday, August 2, 2021

Floating Carousel

A floating carousel, sketched on location in fountain pen and gray markers on smooth paper.

I begin this sketch one afternoon, leaning against a wooden rail of the boardwalk in Coney Island, New York. I finish it months later atop a stack of fish crates in Morro Bay, California.

When I sketch the carousel, I have no idea where or how I would eventually use it. I just have a feeling that if I leave enough blank space around it on the page, I might later find some strange setting to put it into.

From this experience I have learned to take along several half-finished sketches whenever I go to a new location, in case I get an idea to add an unusual context.
From The Artist's Guide to Sketching by James Gurney and Thomas Kinkade, Watson-Guptill, 1982.

Sunday, August 1, 2021

Article on Brain Science and Art in IA#140

Currently in (#140 / August / Sept) of International Artist Magazine, the first of a two-parter about what artists can learn from neuroscience. 

I explain how new discoveries in neuroscience can help us to see better and paint better. Learn about top-down vs. bottom-up processing and how the eye is different from the camera.

Signed copies available on my website

Saturday, July 31, 2021

Yuri Volkov's Painted Studies

NOTE: If you get my blog posts by email, you should know that Google is taking away Feedburner email subscriptions next month. If I'm unable to replace it with another service, you'll just have to click over to the blog to see new posts.

Yuri Vasilyevich Volkov (1921-1991) was a Russian painter who painted field studies to understand light effects for his studio paintings.

From the water's edge, he painted the transparency and reflectivity of the shore waters.

He was interested in how you could see the pebbles through the shallow water and the way the far planes of the water reflected the sky colors.

He also painted studies of models posing outdoors in natural light to aid him in his battle paintings.

His studio paintings include seaside scenes with lots of people playing and bathing... 

...and joyous scenes of home and harvest. Presumably these composition were "built" from studies made on location. But Volkov is best known for his battle paintings.

Volkov was injured in World War II, captured by Germans, and escaped three times from POW camps.

He dropped out of art school, having completed only two courses. He studied directly with military painters to learn their methods. 

According to the Russian Wikipedia page, "he painted from life, made mannequins himself, for which he studied anatomy." 

"He compiled an extensive collection of military props, uniforms, and trophies, which he began to collect at the front."

Journalist B. Sluchanko, who visited him in 1956, wrote: “Everyone who entered the workshop could involuntarily think that he was in the defeated German headquarters."

"Overcoats, black German uniforms, helmets lay in bulk, the silver of the officer's shoulder straps glittered dully, the barrel of the machine gun was threateningly darkened ... ”

But Volkov's memory of the war didn't always match with the official interpretations, so he passed up many opportunities to create official history paintings. 

Read more
Thanks, Shane White
NOTE: If you get my blog posts by email, you should know that Google is taking away Feedburner email subscriptions next month. If I'm unable to replace it with another service, you'll just have to click over to the blog to see new posts.

Friday, July 30, 2021

Tex, Square Dancer

I sketch this guy at a square dance. Some call him Smiley and some call him Tex. 

I ask if he's from Texas. "No sir, I'm from Louisiana," he says, but I'd rather they call me Tex than Louise

Thursday, July 29, 2021

Sensor Fusion Problem

One of the mysteries of visual perception is how the information all binds together into a singular experience after raw sensory data is decoded. 

Light enters our retinas, and the optic nerve feeds information back to the visual cortex. After that, the signal follows neural pathways to various areas scattered throughout the brain.

For example, the dorsal stream interprets movement, while the ventral stream decodes information about shape, color and object recognitions.

In addition to the visual streams, other streams of sensory information arrive via sound and touch. Those signal pathways also appear distributed around the brain. 

For a long time, neuroscientists supposed that all the various streams of sensory impulses must converge or fuse together at a central location, but it doesn't happen that way. 

Given the scattered nature of that neuronal activity, how is it that we feel that our perception is a single experience? 

According to neuroscientist Jeff Hawley's new conceptual model of the brain, the various areas in the cortex arrive at a preliminary conclusion of what they're looking at. They appear to form a consensus in a manner very much like voting. To do that they don't need to be in the same place.

Read More:

Sensor Fusion on Wikipedia

A Thousand Brains: A New Theory of Intelligence by Jeff Hawkins

NOTE: If you get my blog posts by email, you should know that Google is taking away email subscriptions next month. I'm trying to figure out a way to replace Feedburner for getting you your daily feed. Otherwise, you'll just have to click over to the blog to see new posts.

Wednesday, July 28, 2021

How to Begin a Drawing

NOTE: If you get my blog posts by email, I'll need to set up a new mechanism, because Google is taking away email subscriptions next month. I'll send you a special email sometime next month to let you know where to subscribe if you want to continue receiving a daily feed.

Which of the following is the best way to start a drawing? 

A. Simple straight lines. B. Sketchy lines leaving the exact contour unclear, and C. Short, indefinite strokes. 

In his 1916 book Practical Drawing, E.G. Lutz suggested that students should follow the first method. The other two lead to "vacillating" and "characterless" results.

He suggests you look for the longest and most prominent lines first and sketch them in lightly, but to keep them simple and straight, rather than drawing curving lines. 

It's easier to measure the other lines and slopes after you have the big, straight lines worked out. You can hold up a plumb line to judge the vertical lines or just use a pencil, which is also useful for measuring slopes. 

You can also trace the line invisibly in the air with your finger before you actually draw it on the paper. Lutz says "It may look odd to a spectator to see you make mysterious gestures in space, but what of it? The practice serves its purpose of giving you a better notion of the subject and making pictorial rendering easier."

After you're sure the big lines are right, you can begin placing the secondary and tertiary lines. Draw them lightly and be willing to erase and correct them early in the process. It's hard to fix mistakes later.

Once the drawing is accurately established, the next task is to begin shading. Lutz discusses the following methods:
—"An even tone put on first, nearly that of the half-tint. Try to work this way; in in continuing, keep the shadings in simple, unbroken tones.
—Shading reduced to an aggregation of flat areas of flat areas of tints from the darkest to the lightest. A good way to work if not overdone or carried too far.
—Trying to get the exact effect of roundness with the first strokes of the pencil or charcoal. This way of starting will result in uncertain and vague forms, looking less like the subject than a drawing made in flat tints. Not a good way to start."

In my experience, whether you're painting or drawing, you have to organize values. That means classifying the tones in your mind. Group together the parallel planes and simplify them into a finite and recognizable group of tones. This gives more force and clarity to your drawing or painting.

I have copies of Practical Drawing plus Drawing Made Easy in my web store, and would be happy to sign them for you or a young artist you're encouraging.

NOTE: If you get my blog posts by email, I'll need to set up a new mechanism, because Google is taking away email subscriptions next month. I'll send you a special email sometime next month to let you know where to subscribe if you want to continue receiving a daily feed.

Tuesday, July 27, 2021

Gold Bust of Almestra

Gold bust of Almestra, a Chandaran queen who married a king of Poseidos. Oil wash over pencil on illustration board.


From Dinotopia: The World Beneath, signed copies available at this link, and you can also get it on Amazon.

Monday, July 26, 2021

When Did the Golden Age End?

A friend of mine who teaches art history asked for my view on this question:

"How and when did the "Golden Age of Illustration" end? Did it end, or just shrink? Has there been a revival? Do you have thoughts on this, as an illustrator working with traditional media, in an imaginative realist genre, in the 21st century. How do artists now, relate to a golden age of illustration that supposedly ended? I would prefer to offer a hopeful analysis!"

My answer: A lot of illustrators who lived through the Golden Age years (from 1890-1920) complained that the great era of story illustration ended as the 1920s settled in, as a result of advertising, photographic illustrations, and other distractions such as radio, movies, and later TV. 

But if you look at magazines from the late '40s and early '50s, they were bursting with great illustrations, in creative layouts and strong storytelling. 

The 1940s and 1950s were a time of remarkable creativity under Coby Whitmore, Al Parker, and the other innovators. The '60s, '70s, and '80s was also a creative, productive era for story illustration, especially in paperback covers, movie posters, album covers and National Geographic illustrations: Consider Tom Lovell, Drew Struzan, James Bama, Frank Frazetta, and Mort Drucker. Big corporate accounts were still buying illustrated advertisements and annual reports all through the '70s and 80s.

When I started doing book covers and Nat Geo illustrations in the early 1980s, it sure felt like the Golden Age was still alive in my little corner of the profession. I didn't pay much attention to the famous illustrators that were popular in my time, but instead I oriented to Rockwell, Loomis, and Pyle and built my reality around their ideas. The art directors I was working with were giving me a lot of freedom, and there was a small but loyal fan base.

But there was no doubt that illustration has been far less mainstream for the last half century than it was in the days of Pyle, Wyeth, Rockwell, Leyendecker, and the illustrators of the "slicks." That difference is reflected in the fees illustrators receive. For instance, Charles Gibson was regarded like a movie star. The pay he would receive for a single pen and ink drawing would be equivalent to about $45,000 today.

Sunday, July 25, 2021

Using "By James Gurney" as a Style Prompt

A couple weeks ago I shared the results of some text-to-image experiments

Code wizards have been using machine-learning tools such as VQGAN + CLIP and BigSleep to create novel images that grow spontaneously from word prompts. 

Erfurt Latrine Disaster (Twitter @ErfurtLatrine) Prompt: "Towers" #VQGAN+#CLIP

The prompts can be simple, such as "Towers."

jbusted @jbusted1 "Forbidden Lands 5"
....Or the prompts can evoke a particular role-playing game, such as "Forbidden Lands."

The results develop a unusual style if you add a descriptor naming a studio, portfolio website, or rendering software, such as "from Studio Ghibli" or "trending on ArtStation" or "rendered in Unreal Engine"

  "The Grand Hall of the Sacred Library by James Gurney"

To my fascination and delight, some of them have gotten interesting results by including the phrase "by James Gurney." 

dzryk @dzryk
 "The tech bubble bursting by James Gurney"

Twitter user Ryan Moulton @moultano created a set of related images starting with the phrase 'The Hermit Alchemist’s and varying only the style cue: 

'The Hermit Alchemist’s Hut by James Gurney'

'The Hermit Alchemist’s Hut rendered in Unreal Engine'.

'The Hermit Alchemist’s Hut by Van Gogh'

"A castle built on the skeleton of a dead god by James Gurney"

Ryan Moulton @moultano "In the Woods, Gouache Painting." 

Using the phrase "In the Woods + Gouache Painting" (without an artist's name) yields something that appears painted in water media, like a Mary Blair concept painting, but with something weird about the kids' faces. 

Ryan Moulton @moultano "In the Woods by James Gurney"

All of the results have issues of basic logic and perspective. They never make sense or seem fully coherent, at least not yet. 

But some of them do suggest a recognizable style. Does this look like my style to you? I'm not sure; it feels both familiar and alien. It almost looks like something from a long lost sketchbook. 

Saturday, July 24, 2021

If you don't have much time, skip the pencil and draw with a brush

With only a few minutes to paint a man in a diner, I have to decide which tool to start with tool to start with, a pencil or a brush?

In this new YouTube video, I opt for the brush and dive right in.

The advantage of drawing with the brush is that you can get lines or tones of any lightness or darkness.
The #6 round brush I start with is by Richeson / Quiller

Friday, July 23, 2021

Ask your question about on-location sketching

Hi, I'm gathering recorded questions to answer in a future YouTube video about Painting or Drawing on Location.  

The widget above lets you record a question on audio and send it to me. Please think about your question (keep it very brief) and give it a try. Be sure to include a name (real or made up). You get to review your question before it is sent. I may not get to all of the questions, but I'll try.


If you don't want to ask your question with audio, you can write it in the comments.

Thursday, July 22, 2021

Reflections in Shallow Water

Reflections in shallow water follow definite laws. Look first for the edges of dark forms against the sky. These strong contrasts break up in a loose, painterly way. 

Riverbank in Clonmel, Ireland, oil on panel, 8 x 10”

Subordinate edges and details are usually blended and lost in the reflection. In this painting the smaller masses of foliage are swept together with vertical strokes. The color of the reflection is warm in the foreground because the light bouncing off the surface is mixed with the warm colors of the illuminated river bottom.

Wednesday, July 21, 2021

Gouache Seascape by Trost Richards

William Trost Richards, Rocky Coastline, gouache, 1878, 29½ by 43¼

In this large gouache painting by Trost Richards, the sun is centered in the composition. 

The sunlight is echoed in the reflections, which are tucked in the small space between the rocks directly below the sky, and there are even smaller dots of light on the wet pebbles below that. 

Tuesday, July 20, 2021

Pyrocumulonimbus Clouds

The Bootleg Fire in Oregon has spawned tornadoes and has generated plumes of smoke that rise to the altitude of jet aircraft flightpaths. 

Image from

The rising currents of air create clouds resembling cumulonimbus formations, but because they're generated by fire, they're known as pyrocumulonimbus clouds.

According to the New York Times, the pyrocumulonimbus cloud over the Bootleg Fire is "similar to a thunderhead. 'It likely reached an altitude of about 45,000 feet,' said Neil Lareau, who studies wildfire behavior at the University of Nevada, Reno. Like a thunderhead, the huge cloud spawned lightning strikes, worrying firefighters because of their potential to start new fires."

Monday, July 19, 2021

Fog in the Harbor

Harbor Fog, oil on board, 8 × 10 in.

The water in this Maine harbor is glassy smooth, just one tone darker than the sky. Everything is gray except the red details at the waterline. All the color and detail of the far boats drops out. The distant sailboat is just a ghost.

From Color and Light: A Guide for the Realist Painter