Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Fees, Social Media, and Working with Clients

On YouTubecreekkidart asks: "I’d love to know how you quote for these kinds of projects. Do you include the time it takes to create the maquettes and sketch paintings, and do you tell your client that you’re making them?

Yes, I share the maquette building process with the writer, the art director and the scientist as I develop the illustration. 

Making maquettes is just part of my process. It seems like a lot of extra work, but it save me time in the long run and gives me better results. I don't get paid extra for making them. 

How do I quote fees? A small magazine like Ranger Rick pays relatively modest amounts compared to some other clients, but I still want to provide them with as much quality and extra value as I can. 

Keep in mind that a painting can have a life and a potential for earning you income beyond the initial commission. If you own the copyright, then a few months after it appears in print, you can use it in your own books, prints, tutorials or whatever, plus you can sell the original. 

I share the videos and social-media posts because it's just fun. More than that, the coverage raises awareness both for me and for the client, so it's a win/win all around. As long as the illustrator lets the client lead off and be the first to share, most print clients are grateful if you can generate social-media buzz, because very few clients could afford to pay a video team to produce content like that. I believe in the mission of a wildlife magazine for kids, and I want them to win.

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Monday, March 29, 2021

Imagining a Hatchling

Scientists found a skull of a baby sauropod dinosaur that was about to hatch out of its shell, and my job was to imagine the moment it was emerging from its shell. 

I made a quick maquette of the little hatchling out of Sculpey and made the two halves of the shell using Magic Sculpt, a two-part epoxy sculpting compound. Photographing the setup in a bed of moss gave me plenty of visual information to incorporate into the oil painting. 

If you haven't already watched it, here's the YouTube video about the whole process.
The painting appears in the April 2021 issue Ranger Rick magazine.

Sunday, March 28, 2021

Creating a Maquette to Visualize Borealopelta

Having an actual three dimensional maquette, even if it’s crudely sculpted, allows me to determine viewpoint angles, foreshortening, cast shadows, and highlights—all of which can be difficult to imagine without references. 

I use a hot glue gun to piece together a cardboard base for the maquette, then surface it with Model Magic, a children’s air-dry modeling material. I add the spikes later with a two-part epoxy modeling compound called Magic Sculpt. Then I paint the maquette with acrylic so that it looks more real when I photograph it outside in the sun. 

Here's a video of the process for this painting.

Saturday, March 27, 2021

Early Thoughts on NFTs

There's been a lot of talk lately about NFTs (non-fungible tokens) and the art world. In this post I'll share some preliminary thinking and some resources in case you're researching the topic. 

The basic concept has been around for a few years, but it has been in the news after an image by "Beeple" (the social-media moniker of Mike Winkelmann) was auctioned for $69 million at Christies, making his work the third highest price auction result by a living artist.

Below is a good introduction of the phenomenon on NPR's "Planet Money" podcast.

Basically the idea is that you can take a digital file, such as a JPEG, a movie file—or even a tweet—and assign it a unique code verified by the blockchain. 

A collector can purchase and own that file, even though it doesn't exist as a tangible object. The file itself can still be copied indefinitely by other people, and the buyer isn't necessarily receiving any reproduction rights, just bragging rights that they own this digital entity. 

This creates a new way for artists to offer their work to collectors, but it has many other implications. One is that you can grant token-holders access to certain clubs or events, and in this way you can build a following. 

Here's Beeple again explaining his artwork and how he got where he is. He works with 3D programs to create digital art of surrealistic, topical ideas, and he's been doing a new image every day for about 13 years.
Even Beeple himself says there's a lot of irrational exuberance surrounding NFTs right now. As with the "dot-com" bubble around 1999-2000, a lot of investments are overvalued. 

But the backers are sophisticated people who recognize that there's something truly revolutionary emerging that will trickle down to most artists in the future.

To some marketers this might appear to be a quick way to make a buck. There's a gold rush feeling to the market for NFTs, and there's already a lot of junk appearing, such as toilet-paper NFTs and potato-chip NFTs. Do such offerings have any real market value, and if so, will they hold their value?

Keep in mind that minting an image as an NFT doesn't automatically add value to it. And be aware that many of the NFT marketplaces charge minting fees, buyers' fees, and seller's commissions. So getting into this field isn't free.

What the technology promises is not only that fans can support artists and own a piece of what they create, but there can be new ways to build a loyal following, something akin to Patreon. I would regard this as a potentially new career direction for some artists, particularly digital artists. Many of the same principles to building an art career still apply: namely that we would need to develop a long-range strategy for this, rather than doing it as a one-off. 

And there are environmental costs. There's a lot of concern surrounding the carbon footprint of NFTs, because the blockchain draws a very large amount of electrical power to encrypt the code. 

This online essay "The Unreasonable Ecological Cost of #CryptoArt" makes an effort to quantify the environmental effect of a typical NFT work. It has a serious carbon footprint at every stage of the process, from minting to reselling. Some NFT artists have bought carbon offsets to try to mitigate the backlash. 

Where is this all headed? Beeple shares some of his long-range thinking in Kara Swisher's interview  on the podcast Sway: "What the Heck are NFTs? Let's Ask Beeple." One of the things he's working on is to make actual, physical embodiments of his digital paintings so that the buyers feel they're getting something they can hold in their hands. 

Some recent auction offerings by other artists have included both the original painting and the NFT at the same time. There also have been NFT drops of art created by a robot. We're in a disruptive phase with new paradigms emerging. The New York Times says it's neither a miracle nor a scam.

Does it make sense for every artist to leap into NFTs right now? I don't think it make sense for me—not yet anyway, until there's a better solution to the environmental issues.

In the comments, I welcome your insights, thoughts, and links. If you've had a good or bad experience creating an NFT, please share. 

Friday, March 26, 2021

Painting the "Reaper of Death"

This dinosaur is called Thanatotheristes, which means “reaper of death.” 

Before launching into the finished painting I try out various background treatments on a small preliminary sketch—the sketch in the upper left of the array of four color sketches below. 

The sketch lets me try out color combinations before launching into the finished painting. 

By the time I’m ready to start the final, I feel more confident about my color choices.

Here's the page in the next issue of Ranger Rick. I left that arbitrary dark shape for a background to the type.


And here's a new video that takes you behind the scenes. Link to YouTube video.

GUMROAD VIDEOS about dinosaur art: 




GurneyJourney Blog:​ 
JamesGurney Website:​ 

THANKS TO: Ranger Rick: John Gallagher, Kathy Kranking, Susan McElhinney 
Paleo consultant: Stephen L. Brusatte Music by Kevin MacLeod, 

Additional Sculpts by David Krentz  and Mike Trcic 
More info about Ranger Rick magazine at their website

Thursday, March 25, 2021

Sentient Insect Spaceships

Here are some sentient insect vehicles for a 1980s video game.

I looked through lots of photos of insects, trying to dream up different ways to use the body plan of a beetle or a fly as a starting point.

A vehicle has a lot of the same features as a natural creature—optical sensors, landing gear, external armor, wings and wing covers, fuel intake tubes, and weapons systems.

The goal was to give them a personality. I comparing them to a dog with wagging tail or a pesky housefly.

  More on creating concept art in my book Imaginative Realism: How to Paint What Doesn't Exist.

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Sylvia and Bix

Sylvia and Bix, the Protoceratops, transparent oil wash over pencil drawing on illustration board, from Dinotopia: A Land Apart from Time.

Monday, March 22, 2021

Janus la Cour

Janus La Cour (1837 - 1909) was a Danish painter who specialized in landscape.

Janus la Cour, Summer day on the beach near Aarhus, 1901. Oil on canvas

He studied at the Royal Danish Academy and traveled to Italy where he pursued plein air painting. This study was from 1871. 

Janus la Cour, Party from Helgenæs with Mols mountains in the background, 1875

Janus la Cour, Morning in the High Alps, 1900

He was inspired by the theatricality of the landscapes of Italy and the Alps, and most of his paintings are either observational studies painted on location or dramatic scenes developed in the studio.
Janus la Cour on Wikipedia

Sunday, March 21, 2021

Why Do Mushrooms Appear Overnight?

One puzzling characteristic of mushrooms is how they're able to pop up overnight, apparently fully formed. 

Ivan Shishkin, Amanita 1879

To understand how that happens, it's important to recognize first that mushrooms aren't the whole organism. They're just the fruiting bodies of extensive networks known as mycelia

As fungus expert Merlin Sheldrake explains in his new book Entangled Life, "When you look at mushrooms, you're looking at fruit. Imagine bunches of grapes growing out of the ground in their place. Then imagine the vine that produced them, twisting and branching below the surface of the soil." 

Mushrooms "rapidly inflate with water, which they must absorb from their surroundings—the reason why mushrooms tend to appear after rain. Mushroom growth can generate an explosive force. When a stinkhorn mushroom crunches through an asphalt road, it produces enough force to lift an object weighing 130 kilograms."

Merlin Sheldrake, Entangled Life: How Fungi Make Our Worlds, Change Our Minds & Shape Our Futures

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Saturday, March 20, 2021

Farmer vs. Artist

Cartoon by J.R. Williams 

This gave me a chuckle. A farmer confronts an artist, who is painting at the edge of his field. “Git off this farm!" he says. "I’m tryin’ to learn my boys to WORK!”
Original cartoon drawing available from Taraba Illustration Art.

Friday, March 19, 2021

Let's Paint a Snowscape One Last Time

Here's a new video with some suggestions for painting snow. 

I paint a campfire in the snow, some snow melting on a smooth rock (below), and the last snow clinging to a cloverleaf bypass. 

I use watercolor and gouache and focus on three variables: color, light, and shape. (Link to YouTube)

Thursday, March 18, 2021

Banksy and Bob Ross

Banksy creates a painting on the theme of escaping from prison, with an oddly-appropriate voiceover from Bob Ross. It's audacious...and it fits nicely. (Link to YouTube)

In another Banksy video, an artist sets up a series of paintings during the Venice Biennale, an event that Banksy has never been invited to (Link to YouTube). 

The paintings add up to an uncomfortable reality of life in Venice, and the artist apparently doesn't have a license to display, so it's not long before the cops shut him down. 

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Sarah's Questions about Costumes and Writing

Sarah, an art student at East Tennessee State University, asks: "How did you get inspiration for the costuming that the people in Dinotopia wear? And as someone that has difficulty in creating objects that don't exist in real life, how did you create the accessories used by the dinosaurs?

To answer your second question first, I made maquettes of dinosaurs and built little saddles for them out of thin leather.

Good costumes for humans can be expensive to buy or rent. And they can be difficult to make. But looking at a real costume makes a huge difference in your finished work. You can tell right away if an artist just made up a costume or went to the trouble to get a real one.

1. You can find costumes at thrift stores or junk shops. Almost every garage sale has a Halloween costume or an unusual hat that you may want to use later.

2. Many smaller communities have a local theater company with costume collections. They are sometimes willing to loan their costumes to illustrators.

3. Renaissance festivals have vendors with an assortment of hats, cloaks, corsets, gowns, breeches, and doublets. Example: Moresca Clothing and Costume. That’s where the blue and red jacket came from, and I’ve used it in many Dinotopia pictures.

4. People who work in living history museums wear very authentic costumes. I've found they're glad to model for a sketchbook study. They may also be willing to pose for photo reference, but be sure to get their written permission first. Examples: Plimouth Plantation, Old Sturbridge Village, and Colonial Williamsburg.

5. Big cities like New York, London, or Los Angeles have rental agencies serving theatrical or movie productions. Sometimes they will sell off their older, worn-out costumes. That’s where the doublet with the slashed sleeves above came from. Examples: Palace Costumes, Adele's Costumes.

6. Large museums, like the Metropolitan Museum or the Victoria and Albert in London have costume collections which can usually be sketched or photographed. Examples: Metropolitan Museum Costume Institute (NYC), and Victoria and Albert Museum, (London).

7. You can improvise a lot of costume details with samples of fabric combined with old clothes from your closet. It doesn’t matter if the color matches or if it looks good enough to go on stage. You’re just looking for information about folds and drapery. 

8. If you can’t find the right costume, don’t worry! Remnants of leather, satin, brocade, or velvet from a fabric store can provide you with helpful information about the behavior of the fabric. Steel bowls from the kitchen can give ideas for how armor would look. 

9. For simple togas and capes, you can drape and pin fabric samples over your artist mannikin or dressmaker’s dummy. For the fabric to scale down to a miniature size, it should be a very light weight. Cellophane scales down really well over a miniature figure, and can be spray painted to give it opacity. 

10. Don’t be shy to ask for help. If you know someone who is clever with a sewing machine and can think laterally, they might be able to help you improvise a few basic things.

11. Once you get your model (or yourself) in costume, you can take reference photos in a variety of poses. If it’s an easy pose to hold, you can work directly from the model. That's how I did the painting of Oriana, which appears in Dinotopia: The World Beneath. I put pieces of tape on the floor to mark where the model's feet should return between breaks. The whole session only took about an hour and a half, which saved time over shooting reference or doing drawn studies. 

12. If you attend a sketch group, ask if your fellow artists might enjoy sketching from a costumed model. If so, everyone can pitch in a costume or two, or the models may come with something. You can usually pay the model to stay after the sketch session to work with you for reference.

2.) How was the process of building the world of Dinotopia different in text vs. the paintings that accompanied it (or vice versa)?

The text is just as important to me as the paintings, but as you suggest, the process is different. As your question also suggests, the pictures sometimes drive the accompanying text, rather than always being subservient or secondary to it.

Each picture, as they say, is worth a thousand words. The pictures convey mood, atmosphere, a sense of place, and character. But the writing communicates everything else. Only the writing can deliver narrative sequence, continuity, backstory, dialog, interior thoughts, names, sounds, smells, and feelings. That’s a lot of work for a few words to do.

It’s a challenge to subordinate the written text to the pictures. It would be very tempting to give over more space to the writing, because writing is much faster to compose than artwork. A Dinotopia book could be finished up in half the time if the writing were allowed to take up the majority of the page space. 

But I think picture books work best when they sustain us primarily in a visual, dreamlike mode. Like graphic novels or movies, picture books suffer if they are too text-heavy. I end up writing about five times as much material as I have space for, and have to cut most of it out.

With words and pictures balanced in this way, there isn’t the novelist’s luxury to indulge in rich layers of motivation, backstory, and extended conversation. It’s a sacrifice I gladly make in exchange for the glories that only pictures can provide.

Although I have the plot worked out fairly carefully in the early storyboard and outline stages, there’s plenty of room for improvisation during the final art stage. The idea for the old musical conductor character named Cornelius Mazurka, for example, emerged while I was creating the paintings.

The running text comes last, so ideas that come up during the art stage can freely enter the story. I write the final text in a page layout program, with all the page elements in place. In this way I can be sure that the text comes to a full stop at the end of every layout. I want the reader to be able to pause and enjoy the artwork without being tripped up on the page turn. And I want the book to be as inviting to the casual browser as to the reader who takes the full train ride.

Monday, March 15, 2021

Character Maquettes

A maquette is a miniature or scale model of a building, creature, or character constructed as a reference tool to explore form and lighting.

I made a bust of the explorer Arthur Denison because I couldn’t find a real person with exactly the features I was looking for. 

I used polymer clay, a modeling compound which can be shaped like clay and then baked hard in the oven. 

With that maquette in front of me, I could explore a variety of different angles and lighting ideas, while remaining true to the character model.
On Amazon: 

Sunday, March 14, 2021

Motion Dazzle

What is the purpose of the bold black and white stripes on a zebra? They don't seem to function as a camouflage in the ordinary sense of making them invisible. 

According to David Attenborough's new "Life in Colour" series, the stripes protect them from large carnivorous enemies such as cheetahs or lions, In a fast-running attack, the stripes can create just enough confusion to frustrate the predator, who must make quick decisions on where to sink their claws or teeth.

They're like ordinary dazzle camouflage, but set in motion.

Stripes can also protect zebras from small attackers: flies.  Biting flies can be a real menace for zebras on the African plains.

Scientists have learned that the stripes interfere with the ability of flies to land on them. According to New York Times, once the flies get close to the zebra, the stripes "seemed to dazzle the flies so much that they couldn’t manage a controlled landing. Flies zoomed in too fast and either veered off just in time — or simply bumped into the zebra and bounced off."

Scientists have found that the stripes can reduce the number of flies by a factor of four.

Previously on this blog: Dazzle Camouflage
NY Times: "Why Do Zebras Have Stripes? Scientists Camouflaged Horses to Find Out"Inverse: "How motion dazzle works and why it matters to a zebra." 

Saturday, March 13, 2021

Happy Birthday, Al Jaffee

Al Jaffee has made a lot of people happy with his "fold-in" illustrations for MAD Magazine. Let's wish him a happy 100th birthday today. He was born March 13, 1921. 

Here's how he creates his fold-ins: "Jaffee starts with the finished "answer" to the Fold-In, and then spreads it apart and places a piece of tracing paper over it in order to fill in the center "throw-away" aspect of the image, which is covered up when the page is folded over, using regular pencil at this stage. Jaffee will then trace the image onto another piece of illustration board using carbon paper. At this stage he uses red or green color pencils, which are distinct from the black pencil of the original drawing, in order to discern his progress. Once the image is on the illustration board, he will then finish it by painting it. Because the illustration board is too inflexible to fold, Jaffee does not see the finished Fold-In image until it is published." --Source: Wikipedia

 Mad: Fold This Book! A Ridiculous Collection of Fold-Ins

Dean Morrissey (1951-2021)

It's sad to hear about the passing of Dean Morrissey (1951-March 4, 2021). He was a kind man and a talented painter with wonderful dreams. Obit

Friday, March 12, 2021

Should Art Museums Sell Artwork to Keep the Lights On?

After a financially challenging year, the Metropolitan Museum has announced that it is considering selling pieces from its collection to cover some of its losses, making an exception to its normal rule against deaccessioning for operating expenses. 

The Association of Art Museum Directors relaxed their rules on the practice, making it OK to do so without censure.  

This decision will have long range consequences, affecting the willingness of collectors to donate. When donors offer their collections, they often require museums to accept a lot of works that are of lesser quality or inauthentic. 

The Met in particular has a huge number of works in storage that it will never show, either because the works are on paper or they're not authentic or they're out of fashion. 

Which works should be prioritized for sale? Some museum curators, such as the Indianapolis Museum of Art, have assigned letter grades to all the works in their collection to decide which ones are first in line for sale. 

Read more: 

New York Times: Facing Deficit, Met Considers Selling Art to Help Pay the Bills

Clean House to Survive? Museums Confront Their Crowded Basements

ArtForum: Met Contemplates Deaccessioning to Cover Def

Thursday, March 11, 2021

Polish Artist Jan Matejko

Jan Alojzy Matejko (Polish 1838-1893) was a portrait artist who also painted historical scenes.

Here is a painting of Copernicus, the Renaissance astronomer who proposed the heliocentric model of the universe.

Wikipedia says 'his works include large oil on canvas paintings like Rejtan, Union of Lublin or Battle of Grunwald, numerous portraits, a gallery of Polish kings, and murals in St. Mary's Basilica, Kraków.' 

During World War II, "Nazi Germany planned to destroy Battle of Grunwald and the Prussian Homage, which the Nazi authorities considered offensive to the German view of history (those paintings were among many that the Germans planned to purposefully destroy in their war on Polish culture; both were however successfully hidden by the members of Poland resistance)." (Source)

This 1861 painting is called Stańczyk during a Ball at the Court of the Queen.

There's a Jan Matejko House set aside as a museum in Kraków.
Book (Polish Edition): Jan Matejko

Wednesday, March 10, 2021

Why Put Impastos in the White Areas?

Walter Wick asks: "Why [do you put] impasto in the highlights and not in the shadows?"

Light hitting the surface of the painting at an oblique angle hit the up-facing planes of the impasto and reflect a highlight that's higher in value than the same white that's in the plane of the painting's surface. Of course that introduces some darker planes too, but the effect can be worth it.

This effect of impasto texture works better when you're looking at the original painting under the right lighting conditions.

You do occasionally see impastos in the darks or overall in a painting. Norman Rockwell occasionally did it, and Lucian Freud often did it. It's an interesting effect, introducing highlights into dark areas, which can create a weird effect.