Monday, February 22, 2016

James Gurney, a review of his new video

James Gurney sent me a copy of his new video and I enjoyed it. This is not really a basic how-to video, his books cover that. If you haven't read those, they are excellent and have been best sellers for years now. Here is a link for those. James Gurney is a best known for his Dinotopia books. I don't care much about fantasy illustration, for me, James is interesting because he draws so well. He lives with a sketchbook in his hand and can explain clearly how he works. Almost everyone who paints can learn a lot from his two books, "Light and color" and "Imaginative realism".
I was introduced to James at a party in Connecticut by Thomas Kinkaid ( of all people) before either one of them was particularly famous. James referred to me as a plein air painter, I had seen the word in print, but it was not in common usage, in fact I had never heard it spoken aloud. In those days we just painted outside. He had with him the first painting for what would become his Dinotopia book. I was impressed by his draftmanship. There were very few people doing "realist" art in those days, and fewer still operating at that kind of level. The party was full of New York illustrators who were trying to figure out their next move as that market was rapidly contracting. I had just opened my first gallery in Rockport a few years before, so it must have been in the mid eighties.
James has a long running blog called Gurney Journey, and within that he has posted an exhaustive explanation of his painting technique and nineteenth century academic art. Many of you have already found it, but if you haven't you need to go have a look. James has given away a nearly boundless amount of information. His interests reach into cutting edge science, robots, and lots of Paleontology. But if you search his archives there is every sort of advice on how to make paintings. Here is a link to that.
Blogging is, as I know from experience, not a paid effort. One blogs, at least in this part of the art world, to be useful to your fellow artists. It does build reputation and name awareness, but compared to the massive effort involved it would be easier to promote your art in the press and galleries. Those of you have read my blog may have noticed I never blanket recommend that starting a blog is the way to artistic success.

Back to the video. It is divided into two chapters, the first has James on location painting a street scene. He adds a flying car, and shows how he uses a small toy on location to do it. I can't imagine putting a flying car in one of my pictures, but who am I to say, having featured the occasional burning phone booth? The value of this is watching a master of drawing slice up a location picture like a roast. It is an excellent demo of outdoor painting skill, done with a bit of humor.

The second part of the video is where the best information lies. Gurney takes an idea, a typical science fiction kind of idea, a giant and malicious robot visiting the modern suburban landscape with unpleasant results. He shows how he develops the idea through sketches. With a few false and subsequently rejected ideas, James shows how he builds an imaginary scene. He shows his rejected ideas and explains why they aren't working the way he wants. He then makes studies of construction machinery out in the field and uses their aesthetic and engineering principles to design an enormous robot that looks as if it was built by the same makers. Which is probably how it would happen should we decide we need such machines. Again, I don't care much about the fantasy genre, but the way that Gurney goes about this is the same way that illustrators like Rockwell or academic painters like Gerome approached the same problems. How do you make a convincing representation of something that doesn't exist? Gurney makes sketches, little models that he can study, and eventually several sketch versions leading to the final painting.There is a lot to be learned from this. I always think that knowledge in this art is so hard won and attaining it so time consuming that anytime you can spend a little money and shortcut some of that labor it is well worth it. There is a lot to be learned from this, particularly if you are interested in painting history pictures or want to construct paintings based on your ideas, rather than scenes you can set up in front of.

The annual dreaded Snowcamp workshop returns to the Inn on Sunset Hill, above Franconia, New Hampshire. I will be teaching on Saturday the 5th through Monday the 7th of March 2016. This is my favorite thing I do every year. You can join the group for an intense ( to say the very least) workshop overlooking the White Mountains. The views are enormous and we will paint from the grounds of the hotel itself. That means no caravanning around in cars. I teach all the aspects of landscape painting besides just snow painting and in the evenings I do a power point presentation on designing paintings and the history of landscape painting. This is a breakfast till bedtime workshop. We do nothing else for three days. I will work you like a borrowed mule.
The 150 year old inn is as New England as can be, it is under new ownership and is the ideal place to do a workshop. We will take our meals there. I generally park my car in the lot and leave it there until the workshop is over.

If it is actually snowing there is an enormous covered back porch that overlooks the mountains on which we can paint . The camaraderie is wonderful and many students repeat year after year. I limit the class to about a dozen, so if you want to come, sign up using the button below. I is required that you stay in the inn to participate in the workshop. Before you sign up you probably want to call them first and book your room. Their phone number is 603-823-7244, they have a special package rate for my students. The total cost of the workshop is 300 dollars, the button below will allow you to pay the deposit and the balance will be due at the event.