Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Wet Glaze? Painting Disaster!

Things don’t go as planned as I paint a cake display at the diner. First the primer (acrylic latex house paint) makes the gouache bead up. Then I try covering the background with a blue-colored glaze, and everything melts. It’s a race to rescue the painting before the omelette arrives.

Tuesday, June 29, 2021

Mass Tone and Undertone

The appearance of a watercolor pigment as it comes out of the tube may be rather different from the way it looks when it is thinned with water.

Mass tone and undertone demo by Winsor & Newton

The tube color is called the mass tone (or masstone), and the color when thinned down is called the undertone.

For example, what inspired the color treatment on this sketch was the strange behavior of Azo green watercolor. It has a dull olive-green mass tone but the undertone is a rather strong yellow.

If you're not too familiar with the difference between mass tone and undertone, here's a short video by Winsor & Newton that demonstrates the difference.

Monday, June 28, 2021

Arbitrary Color Shift

Here's a house in Philmont, New York, with an arbitrary color shift from cool to warm gouache.

The time lapse from Instagram shows the sequence. 

Sunday, June 27, 2021

Painting Challenge: Outdoor Dining

Joaquin Sorolla, Cafe in Paris, 1885

Outdoor dining has always been a favorite subject for plein-air painters, and I'd like to suggest it for the next painting challenge.  

The restaurants around here are all set up for outdoor dining. Is it that way where you are, too?

Peder Krøyer, Breakfast in Sora with Eillif Petersson, 
his wife Nicoline Peder Severin Kroeyer, and unknown

• Free to enter. Anyone of any age can enter.
• The scene can show an outdoor café, a picnic, barbecue in the backyard, or white-tablecloth restaurant dining.

• Five finalists will each receive a "Department of Art" patch and a free Gumroad art tutorial download. 
• It must be painted on location, or at least started on location. You can finish it from photos.
• All painting media accepted, such as oil, watercolor, acrylic, gouache, acryla-gouache, alkyd, casein, water-soluble colored pencils, or pastels. The painting can be bound in a sketchbook or on a separate panel or canvas.
• Take a photo of the work in progress on location, and another photo of the finished painting.
• No limit on the palette of colors.
• Please post your entries on Instagram or Twitter with the hashtag #outdoordiningchallenge. Or if you're on Facebook, you can post it on the group page called "Painting Challenge: "Outdoor Dining"
• Enter just one piece. If you do two pieces, please upload your favorite one.
• You can enter as soon as you finish the piece, but no later than the deadline: sunset, Eastern Time, Sunday, July 31, 2021.
• Winners will be announced on this blog on Tuesday, August 3, 2021.

Check out some of our previous challenges:

Paint a Cell Tower Challenge Results

Storefront Challenge Results

Dead Vehicle Challenge Results

Saturday, June 26, 2021

Arthur and Oriana Fire up the Strutter

Arthur, Oriana, and Bix climb into a strutter left over from Dinotopia's ancient times and figure out how to get it going. From Dinotopia: The World Beneath.

Friday, June 25, 2021

Hooker's Green

BDSuits asks: "Why is it called Hookers Green? I don't see the connection."
The Dutch Codlin by William Hooker

Answer: It's named after a botanical illustrator named William Hooker (1779–1832). He created the pigment to capture a certain green leaf color.

Thursday, June 24, 2021

Pollarding and Coppicing in Art

Pollarding is the practice of cutting back the smaller branches of a tree to a certain point each time and allowing them to regrow for future harvest. Pollarded trees show up in plenty of historic paintings. 
Pollard Willow at the Side of the Broo by Cornelis Vreedenburgh (1880-1946)

Farmers would pollard willows to produce flexible rods; they'd cut back beeches to make charcoal; and they'd pollard hazels to produce nuts. 

Emilio Sanchez-Perrier

It was practiced in Europe and Asia, and among the indigenous populations of the new world.

Pollarding was commonly practiced for tens of thousands of years until it fell mostly out of favor in the industrial revolution. 


Vincent van Gogh

By allowing a tree trunk to grow up to the height of a standing person before it bears tender shoots, the shoots and leaves are above the browse line of deer, sheep and other animals. 

Vincent van Gogh

The small branches can be cut back again to the same point after two, four, eight, or ten years, to be used for animal feed, firewood, tool handles, or building materials.

Sir George Clausen, The Return from the Fields

Many of us have assumed that this practice disfigures trees, but it's quite the opposite, providing reliable raw materials for people, and a healthy renewing cycle for the trees. A pollarded tree can potentially live for a thousand years.

William Fraser Garden, Willows on the Ouse

According to author and arborist William Bryant Logan, it's not only healthy for the trees, but it expands the environment for a variety of other plants and animals.

Pollarded Willows, 1887 by William Fraser Garden

Pollarding is still practiced in Europe, but it's less common in the USA. 

A pollard oak near West Hampnett Place c.1660, by John Dunstall

The place you tend to find it these days is in cities, where trees receive more attentive care than they do in the untended forests.

L. Birge Harrison November

Coppicing is a similar idea, except that the trees are cut back close to the ground rather than at head-height.

Ivan Shishkin, Coppice (Noon) 1872

If you're interested in this topic, I recommend the book: Sprout Lands: Tending the Endless Gift of Trees by William Bryant Logan, which is beautifully written and full of fascinating information. 


Previous post on William Fraser Garden


Wednesday, June 23, 2021

Experiment with Chunky Strokes

Here's an experiment with unusually broad handling—big, chunky strokes in oil made with large brushes and lots of paint. I also pushed the shadow values, warm and cool colors, and rim lighting.

The technique draws attention to the play of shapes and colors, but the tradeoff is that we lose scale, atmosphere, and realism. Everything in painting is a tradeoff. You gain one thing and lose another. I enjoy exploring many different strategies of seeing and painting, so that I have a variety of approaches ready on my tool belt to meet a given challenge.

Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Bernard Garbutt's Animal Sketches

Bernard Garbutt (1900-1975) was an animator and teacher at Disney during the studio's golden age. He taught animal drawing during the production for Bambi, when everyone was trying to understand the structure and movement of animals.

Bernard Garbutt grew up in southern California, where he worked as a staff artist for the L. A. Times, producing sketches of horse races and county fairs for the Sunday edition. He also wrote and illustrated children's books about dogs and horses.

Veteran animators Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston said that when he worked at Disney Studios, Garbutt would help the other animators figure out how a certain animal should move.
"Garbutt would perch on the edge of the table, more like a bird than a draftsman (he never seemed to sit in a chair), and start explaining, and while he talked his pencil would start making a thin line that seemed to meander aimlessly across the paper. We would turn our heads first one way. then the other, trying to see what he was drawing, but the lines resembled a tangled cobweb as much as anything else. Then, suddenly, we saw a deer in the precise phase of the movement we had described; only Garbutt was drawing it upside down so it faced us."

"While we were blinking and trying to absorb that combination of rendition and explanation, he would continue: "Now with a camel, he'll put this leg out first and keep his head down. ..." When he had finished drawing a camel getting up, he would go on to the buffalo, just so we would have a thorough understanding of what was unique about the deer in this particular action."

Thanks, Paulo

Monday, June 21, 2021

Menzel Question

The Artist's Magazine asked about my favorite artist when it comes to draftsmanship, and you know who I had to spotlight!

Sunday, June 20, 2021

Painting a Gravel Road

For this informal sketch of a gravel road crossing a stone bridge I use transparent watercolor because of the sparkling qualities it offers.

(Link to YouTube) In the middle of the video I demonstrate a simple “salt and pepper” exercise to practice leaving random light spots in a dark background, and dark spots in a light background. 

Saturday, June 19, 2021

Signed Bookplate

If you ordered a signed bookplate from my online store, chances are it's one of these. (Link to webstore)

Friday, June 18, 2021

Hand-Printed Bookplate

International fans have said they wish they could get something hand signed, so I came up with these hand-printed and signed bookplates which ship free worldwide.

Each one is unique, printed on a self-adhesive sticker with a backing sheet using two different linoleum blocks, inked with a gradation that gives the logo a 3D effect.

Stick one in your sketchbook or your Dinotopia book and own a unique hand-made original. Available only at the James Gurney website.

Thursday, June 17, 2021

Ramón y Cajal's Drawings of Neurons

As far back as Leonardo da Vinci, artists have propelled our understanding of anatomy. 

One artist named Santiago Ramón y Cajal (1852-1934) contributed to our conception of the neurons of the brain with his exquisite drawings.

Before his time, anatomists believed that neurons were like a network of connected pipes and tubules that conveyed liquids throughout the brain. 

But Ramón y Cajal believed neurons were separate, individual structures and that he could see tiny gaps between them that came to be known as synapses. Together those two insights are known as the "neuron doctrine," and that understanding is fundamental to neuroscience.

Ramón y Cajal shared the Nobel Prize for his discovery with Camillo Golgi, who developed the special staining method that allowed the neurons to be individually visible. 

But even Golgi didn't agree that synapses existed, for they were so tiny that they were almost impossible to see through the microscopes of the time.

Learn more:

Wikipedia on: Santiago Ramón y Cajal

Quanta Magazine: Why the First Drawings of Neurons Were Defaced

BBC Science Focus podcast: Your Brain Chemistry and You

Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Arthur and Melanie


Melanie and Kalyptra, a Dryosaurus, take Arthur Denison on a tour of the plant world, from Dinotopia: A Land Apart from Time.

This looks like watercolor, but it's actually transparent oil over a pencil drawing, with just a few touches of opaque white.

Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Lutheran Church


Lutheran church, Ancram, NY, pencil and gray wash, 9 x 12 in.

The gray wash is diluted ink that I carried around in a plastic jar. It works nicely for a quick shadow value, but it's light enough to allow the soft pencil lines to stand out.

Monday, June 14, 2021

Erik Theodor Werenskiold

Erik Theodor Werenskiold (1855 – 1938) was a Norwegian illustrator and painter. 

He traveled to France, where he studied with Léon Bonnat. He also befriended Charles-François Daubigny, who convinced him of the value of painting outdoors from nature. 

Fridtjof Nansen (1861-1930) and Erik Werenskiold (1855-1938)

At first he was skeptical about Impressionism: "declaring that he had seen things that made him wonder whether he or the artist was suffering the effects of delirium. He was also surprised to see pictures with red grass and green skies, blue trees and yellow water, and astonished by compositions in which only part of the subject seemed to have been included." (Source)

He is best known for painting a country girl in a regional costume leaning on a fence.

On the Plain (1883)

Blog reader Jonny Andvik says: "He did several version of the motif and this one with only one girl hangs in the Gotenburg museum. It was painted at Gvarv in Telemark, Norway.

September (1883)

Jonny says that the landscape hasn't changed much since he painted it, and still looks a lot like the painting. He also told me that "the people are proud of the dress, now a national symbol called a beltestakk."

Wikipedia says: "In the spring of 1880, Werenskiold was paralyzed in the right arm. 

After half a year of hospitalization and recreation in Switzerland at Oberbayern and Tyrol, he finally regained his health."
Peasant Burial

Blog reader Bill Wiist says: Werenskiold was a very skilled artist with a romantic but still realist view of life. His paintings are among the best storytelling about life of the farmers in his days. 

Erik Werenskiold, The trolls had only one eye together all three, and they took turns using it (1878).

"But he also had a very lively imagination and did some amazing skilled drawings - both for fairytales and for the Snorri Sturluson saga of the kings." 
Erik Werenskiold on Wikipedia

Sunday, June 13, 2021

Drawing a Chimp Portrait

This wild-born male chimpanzee named H.N. noticed that I was drawing his portrait.

I was careful not to stare at him, just glance respectfully. Every ten minutes or so he wanted me to show him how I was coming along on the sketch. 

I held up the book and he looked over casually. His buddies came over and he consulted with them. A couple of them came over to check me out, too.

The keeper told me that some of the chimps and gorillas are "very interested in people, especially children," and they're fascinated by the way pencils make marks on paper. 

Whether he recognized it as a representation of him, who knows?

Saturday, June 12, 2021

Fantasy Art Exhibition Opens in Massachusetts

After a year's delay, the exhibition "Enchanted: A History of Fantasy Illustration" opens this weekend at the Norman Rockwell Museum. 

Standing: Laurie Norton Moffatt, director of the Norman Rockwell Museum, Scott Brundage, Sara Frazetta, James Warhola, Charles Vess, Thomas Blackshear, Ruth Sanderson, Scott Fischer, Alessandra Pisano, James Gurney, Jeff Echevarria, Mark Zug, Bob Eggleton, Scott Gustafson, Gary Gianni, Tony DiTerlizzi. Front row: Tyler Jacobson, Curator Jesse Kowalski, Greg Manchess, Donato Giancola, and Rebecca Guay.

For most of us, it was our first time venturing out of our lockdown isolation, and it felt good to be able to shake hands and see old friends again. 

Here I am with James Warhola, who painted the paperback cover "Magic for Sale" below.

Rather than setting up the exhibit chronologically, curator Jesse Kowalski arranged it thematically, with rooms full of new and classic paintings devoted to mythic themes, such as dragons, faeries, mermaids, and monsters. 

Abbott Handerson Thayer (1849-1921), Winged Figure, 1889, Oil on Canvas, 51.5 x 37.75 in.

Artists also include Arthur Rackham, William-Adolphe Bouguereau, Gustave Doré, NC Wyeth, Herbert Draper, Howard Pyle, Maxfield Parrish, Frank Frazetta, Winsor McCay, Jessie Willcox Smith, Joseph Clement Coll,  Willy Pogany, J. Allen St. John, Dean Cornwell, Virgil Finlay, Hal Foster, and many more.

The catalog produced by Abbeville, includes 180 images, mostly in color, with essays by Alice Carter, Stephanie Plunkett, and others.

Exhibition "Enchanted: A History of Fantasy Illustration" will be at the Norman Rockwell Museum through October 31, and then will travel to two other locations in the USA.