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Viewing Blog: Gurney Journey, Most Recent at Top
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Creator of "Dinotopia"! This daily weblog by James Gurney is for illustrators, comic artists, plein-air painters, sketchers, animators, art students, and writers.
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1. Amazing Progress

I was really touched and impressed by a letter I received a couple days ago from blog reader Edward Morris, who was kind enough to allow me to share it with you. He says:

Edward Morris, before and after

"I discovered you a few years ago while reading an article in an art magazine about the color of the sky that you penned. I wound up buying your book Color and Light. When I started reading your blog two years ago, I discovered sketching. I tracked down your book you coauthored many years ago and learned that sketching is really more than just sketching!"
 "Since then, I have found that the more I sketch, the better my paintings get. But, I also found that my volume of finished paintings also went way up...go figure. Thought you might like to see a "before" 2012 sketch compared to the sketches I do now. For the past 6 months, I usually work from sketches now for my studio work which seems to be more painterly and artistic to me. All of this is due to your blog and books. I recently branched out into color as well for my sketches."
"I look forward to my daily dose of you everyday to see what's on your mind. Thanks again, Ed."

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2. Traps on the Coal Cabin

Yesterday we went out to visit John Finley's cattle ranch, a half hour drive down a remote dirt road on the east fork of the the Wind River here in Wyoming.

John is a working cowboy and a scrimshandler whose grandfather established the farm over a hundred years ago, not far from Butch Cassidy's spread.

I set up my watercolor rig next to an old log cabin which was festooned with rusty coyote traps.

I was attracted to the way the traps were reflected in the window against the bright sky behind us. Since the reflection of the clouds was the lightest value, my first step was to run a wash over all the other whites, including the window mullions, the mortar, and shelf of mildewy old magazines seen through the window. 

(link to Soundcloud audio track)

The traps speak to the constant life and death struggle of ranch existence. John told us a story of having to shoot a mountain lion as it was devouring one of his bottle-fed calves.

A week ago, a surveyor was found mauled to death by grizzlies not far from here.  None of us artists are allowed to venture off without a bottle of bear spray.

The authorities relocate the Yellowstone man-killers in this remote area, on the fringes of the Wind River Indian Reservation. As another cowboy, John Phelps told us, "Grizzlies are no joke."
Biography of John P Finley
Painted in a Pentalic sketchbook with Schmincke watercolors using a Richeson travel brush set
Download Watercolor in the Wild video

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3. School Bus

Yesterday the high school in Dubois, Wyoming sent a group of their art students out to join us on a ranch to learn plein-air painting. They were mentored by the scholarship students attending the SKB Foundation Workshop here.

Most people were painting old wagons or log cabins or picturesque bends in the stream, but I decided to paint the school bus. I love school buses. This is a beautiful brand new vehicle, built in January of 2014. 

I used a ruler to get those windows straight in my little gouache painting. Press the "play" button below for a quick audio greeting from the driver.

(Link to the voice of the driver) To me, the bus represents the pride of this town and their dedication to getting young people excited about art. That's what the day was all about, as far as I was concerned. 

I made friends with the bus driver when I asked her to help me get one of my paint tube caps unstuck. She brought out a pliers, saying, "We western women have a whole tool kit in our purse."
Read about the SKB Foundation Workshop, a unique week-long gathering of landscape and wildlife painters.
If you're a young artist who wants to be a part of this, check out the SKB scholarship program.

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4. Constructing with the Brush

Here's a little sketchbook study I did yesterday at the CM Ranch in Wyoming. It's about 5x8 inches, painted in casein.

This detail is about the size of a credit card. I knew when I started that the horses would be moving around. None of them were going to pose for me. Groups of them came and went from the corrals as the cowboys did their daily rounds.

Given those dynamics, and given the many layers of detail in the middle ground, I constructed the entire scene with the brush, without a detailed preliminary drawing. I worked from background to foreground, overlapping detail. Below is how the painting looked partway along.

At this stage there are no horses or fences yet.

Because of its opacity and quick drying qualities, casein is very well suited to this sort of approach, but it wouldn't work so well in watercolor or oil. Watercolor demands more careful preliminary drawing, and oil can get messy if you try overlapping too many wet areas.

I fully documented the process for my upcoming video "Casein in the Wild," which I'll start editing in a month or two. So please ask me any questions you might have about this way of painting, and I'll be sure to address them when I record the voiceover.
I'm at the  SKB Foundation Workshop in Dubois, Wyoming.
Previous video Watercolor in the Wild
CM Family Ranch in Dubois, Wyoming

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5. Painting a Saddle in Watercolor

Yesterday I did a watercolor demo of a Western-style saddle at the SKB Foundation workshop here in Wyoming. (Direct link to YouTube video)

Here are two stages in the hour-long painting. On the left is the painting halfway finished, with the large color areas blocked in.

I then defined the smaller details and textures using water-soluble colored pencils and just a few touches of white gouache for highlights.

The time lapse is shot with a GoPro Black set at a two-second intervals. The GoPro is mounted on a DIY rig that uses two kitchen timers for a compound (pan and tilt) move.
For 72-minutes of watercolor demos with voiceover, check out my video "Watercolor in the Wild":
HD download: (Credit Card)  from Gumroad
HD download: (Paypal) from Sellfy
BONUS FEATURES (a half hour of additional bite-size inspiration)
DVD: (NTSC, Region 1-North America) 
If you like painting workshops, the SKB Foundation has an emphasis on landscape and wildlife painting, with a half-dozen instructors in a beautiful setting and a congenial atmosphere.
Thanks to Hunter at the CM Family Ranch in Dubois, Wyoming and to artist Lee Cable for the info about the saddle.

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6. John Seerey-Lester

 Portrait sketch of Sir John Seerey-Lester, fellow instructor at the SKB Workshop in Dubois, Wyoming.

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7. Video of the antique boiler

Here's a short behind the scenes look at the gouache painting of the antique steam boiler at Fairplay, Colorado. (Direct link to video)

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8. Rolling Studio

William Sidney Mount (1807-1868) devised an itinerant artists' wagon in 1852. He wrote: "A Design for an Artist waggon to sketch and paint in."

"During windy and rainy weather, no time is lost on account of the hot or cold air. This vehicle with glass windows can by drawn by hand, or behind a waggon if the painter should not wish to keep a horse. I believe the true painter should have no home," but should wander instead in search of subjects to paint.

Here's a more recent equivalent. It's a 1957 delivery van customized as a rolling studio. In bad weather you can paint through the picture window, or you can set up on the spacious back porch. You can pick it up on Ebay

(Thanks, Edward O'Brien.)

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9. New Hat

Got a new hat for Wyoming.

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10. Product Review: Travel Brush Set

Yesterday I did a painting using the Richeson Travel Brush Set, a collection of short handled brushes that come in their own stiff protective case.

The case opens to display the brushes while you're working. Each brush tucks into its own elastic holding strap. I like to drape the case over the left page of the sketchbook while I'm working. Turned inside out, the case can also set up on the ground like the letter A, with the cord holding it open at the desired angle. When it's closed up in travel mode, a magnet clasp secures it.

Here's the painting I did with those brushes, using gouache (opaque watercolor). I thoroughly documented the making of the painting on video, and it will be one segment of the next DVD/download called "Gouache in the Wild."

The brush set includes four rounds (sizes 2, 4, 6, and 8) and three flats (sizes 1/4", 1/2" and 3/4"). The combination of brush sizes gave me everything I needed, even for the fine details of the neon supports and wires. The close-up detail above is about an inch and a half square.

I have used the brushes for several paintings now, and I've tried them with watercolor, gouache, and casein.

They're are all made of synthetic fibers, which is what you want for casein especially (the ammonia in casein is hard on brushes). The flats don't hold as much liquid as an equivalently sized sable brush. These are more chisels than mops. They have just the right amount of spring, and so far, they have held their points and edges.

You can get the Richeson Travel Brush Set from a variety of art suppliers, including Daniel Smith, Cheap Joe's, and Dick Blick. 

The set of seven brushes, complete with their case, retail for $79.95, but on Amazon the set is discounted to $38, which is an amazing deal. 

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11. Painting a Mountaintop View

High above Salida, Colorado is a lookout tower with a grand view of the town below, so I went up there to try to cram four square blocks into my little paintbook. (Direct link to YouTube video)

I'm using casein with flat brushes, and diving in directly without an underdrawing. Even though the view is infinitely complex, I try to pin down a few landmarks and view it as a set of basic shapes in perspective.

The time lapse sequence of the early stages of the painting uses a GoPro camera set to two-second intervals attached to a slowly rotating kitchen timer.

The easel is a new super-light pochade system that I built. When it's folded up, it's small enough to fit in my belt pouch, and it uses magnets to hold the water cup and mixing tray. The wind was so strong that I had to ballast the tripod with my backpack.

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12. Abbott Color Wheel

Russ Abbott is launching a Kickstarter campaign for a gamut mask tool that lets tattoo artists select exactly the color scheme they want from the wide range of available ink colors.

Abbott Color Wheel on Kickstarter
Color and Light: A Guide for the Realist Painter, #1 on Amazon/Painting

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13. Social Media

Alone together. People doing social media at a café in Colorado Springs.

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14. Portable Boiler

We spent Monday morning at the South Park City historical museum in Fairplay, Colorado, a place where Jeanette and I sketched over 30 years ago.

I liked the Steampunk spirit of rust, rivets, and spokes of this portable boiler, used by 19th century miners to operate the rock crushing machines.

I painted the study in gouache, with a few accents of colored pencil and fountain pen. Gouache is well suited to this sort of detailed study of a machine, because of the way you can paint light details over dark.

The dried paint surface of gouache also accepts touches from the water-soluble colored pencils, where casein doesn't so well.

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15. Manual Typewriter

My son Frank has a collection of manual typewriters. I painted a portrait of one of them, an Olympia SG-1, the industry standard for office typewriters in the 1950s.  

As I painted, I had the following thought:

Here is the sound of that very saying being typed on an Olympia SM-9, a portable version of the SG-1. You can hear the warning bell at the end of each line reminding me to return the carriage.

And here are links to my new video on watercolor painting:

"Watercolor in the Wild" HD download: (Credit Card) 
"Watercolor in the Wild" HD download: (Paypal)
"Watercolor in the Wild" DVD: (NTSC, Region 1) 

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16. Complementary Shadows

Arbi asks: "Could you please explain about 'complementary shadows?' Some attribute complementary shadows to the Impressionist habit of painting the reflected color of blue sky in shadows, and others attribute it to simultaneous-contrast. Is it real? Do you use it in your painting, and how do you implement it?"

Maxfield Parrish

Arbi, it's a little of both. In most sunny conditions, shadows really are in a complementary color range compared to the sunlit surfaces because they're lit by the relatively blue skylight.

By contrast, the sunlit surfaces are lit by the sum of the sunlight and the skylight, with the sunlight dominating. It's easy to demonstrate this with a camera that is color balanced to sunlit white paper. When you take the same white paper and photograph it again in shadow, it's clearly bluer.

The effect is heightened late in the day as the sun is lower in the sky. More of the short-wavelength is scattered out of the sunlight, leaving more orange or red light, and making the color contrast between light and shadow more obvious.

(A brief caution on the above: the shadow side of any object receives not only skylight, but also reflected light from other sources, so if those sources of reflected light are very warm, and the sky is blocked by trees or clouds, the shadow might be very warm, too.)

These are all from the shadow side of a white building. From the post "A White Building in Shadow"
At the same time, our visual system is set up in such a way that exposure to any color causes adjacent colors to appear complementary, so a yellow square next to a gray square will make the gray square look bluer.

This is an effect I like to use a lot, not only to simulate the "Golden Hour" time of day, but also in small ways, to alternate relatively warm and cool colors throughout a picture.
Previously on GJ:
Golden Hour
Induced Color
Warm and Cool Colors
A White Building in Shadow
Color and Light: A Guide for the Realist Painter on Amazon

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17. Kickflips

Killer kickflips in Colorado Springs. Thanks, Zachary Warren Madere.

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18. Overpass, Colby Kansas

Overpass over the I-70, Colby, Kansas, 7:30 AM, gouache
The spaces have opened up. Big empty vistas and long, long drives.

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19. Modulating Greens in Watercolor

Blog reader Diego Conte says:

"I am a young self taught artist in Spain, and your books are probably the best resource I have ever found. And your watercolour video is amazing. I'm recommending them to every artist I know."

"I don't know if there is any article in your blog on this matter, but since there is a chapter on your book Color and Light: A Guide for the Realist Painter, I think it is not a bad idea at all to ask this question. How could I establish a good green harmony using watercolours? My mixes always end up looking muddy on the paper when I try to use green... it always look too cool If I need it to be warm or vice versa. I see a lot of great watercolor masters simply avoiding it using ochre or brown colour schemes instead. But I want to be faithful to my subject harmony. I don't know if it is an interesting topic for such a thing as an article, but any short tip or direction would be great."

Martín Rico y Ortega, watercolor
Thanks, Diego. Good question. Greens can be wonderful in watercolor, and it's a good goal to be faithful to nature.

The Spanish painter Martín Rico (1833-1908) is good to look at for how he uses greens. In this one he moves toward the blue-green hues. But it's not the hues, so much as the values that makes it work. He avoids muddiness by organizing the picture into three basic tonal areas: 1. light sky, 2. dark trees, and 3. middle-tone stream bank.

Simple, strong value schemes never look muddy. This is something Rico learned from Daubigny, one of the French Barbizon painters. 

Here's a small detail of the same painting. He uses a variety of greens, including blue greens, grey greens, and yellow greens. That doesn't mean he necessarily had a lot of separate green pigments on his palette. It just means he was conscious of varying the chroma and hue of the mixtures. Rico was also interesting in the way he left little white dots on the picture, which gives it a little sparkle.

Some artists leave green off the palette altogether and mix their greens from yellows and blues, because that way there's always variety in the mixture. In foliage there is variety of green in each leaf, variety in each small group of leaves, and variety from one tree to another, and variety from foreground to background. 

But all that variety must happen within those simple tonal areas, and that's what's a bit challenging.

Here's another watercolor landscape, this time by an English watercolorist named Harry Sutton Palmer (1854-1933). Even though his range emphasizes yellow-green, he uses a subtle variety of colors, which would be more evident in the original.

One of the secrets to both this painting and the last one is that they chose not to paint a bright blue sky. A bright blue sky behind bright green leaves might look good in a photo, but it can often be deadly in a painting. However, green foliage against sky filled with a high white cloud layer can be very attractive.

Here's one last watercolor by Harry Sutton Palmer. Those greens are all composite mixtures, and none of them are too high-chroma. They're probably muted quite a bit from what he actually saw. And he obviously worked hard to simplify his values to the general midtone of the leaves, the light sky and distant area, and the dark areas of the tree bases.

Diego, I hope that helps. Good luck with your greens. Enjoy them while they remain before autumn and winter come.

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20. Gurney Casein Exhibit

(You can slide through the images on your trackpad or use arrow keys to navigate the embedded feature above. Click on an image and zoom in, or play the video. If it doesn't work in the embedded form, just link directly over to my exhibition website.) 

A while ago I received an invitation from Google to help them test a new toolset for artists and museums called "Google Open Gallery."

The online tools let you share your paintings in a scalable format, so visitors can zoom into the finest details. You can also combine your images into exhibits and enhance them with video and audio. I like the way a sound recording or a short video shot on location can bring a painting to life and make you feel like you're there.

I put together an exhibition of 20 of my plein-air casein studies, accompanied by 14 videos and 4 audio captures. To get the full experience, please follow this link to the James Gurney Casein Exhibit on Google Open Gallery.

Google is currently giving out the tools to artists for free, but it's by invitation only. If you would like to request an invite, or just explore other exhibitions, check out the main page at Google Open Gallery. Both my exhibit presentation and Google's design interface is a work in progress. Let us know how it's working on your player—or what questions you might have—in the comments.

I made a watercolor exhibit, too, and I'll show you that in a couple of days.

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21. Your Roving Arts Reporter

We're on our way to Colorado and Wyoming, ready to cover events as they unfold. Our little car is packed full of gouache, casein, watercolor, fountain pens, coffee, and peanut-butter-flavored granola bars.

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22. Kent, Ohio

This morning we took a walk around the campus of Kent State and then I did this gouache painting at the corner of Water and Main Streets.

Colors: White, Cadmium Yellow Medium, Venetian Red, and Burnt Umber. In this set of colors, a tint of Burnt Umber looks like blue violet.

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23. Four Ways to Combine Audio With Your Artwork

Yesterday I showed you my "Studies in Casein" exhibit, created with the new Google Open Gallery toolkit. Now, here's the link to my "Studies in Watercolor" Exhibit.

I set up this exhibit with the "immersive layout" option. This mode presents the art full-screen, with the video and audio on autoplay (adjust your volume). Clicking on the image thumbnail opens up the scalability feature and pauses the video/audio.
For sound recording, I use a Zoom H1 Digital Recorder. If you're interested in adding the dimension of sound to your artwork, you can bring this lightweight unit into the field when you go painting. It records stereo sound in MP3 or WAV formats, and gives you automatic or manual level control. 

Imagine being able to let your collectors hear the actual sounds of the crashing surf alongside your seascape painting. Or imagine letting your painting students know what you were thinking while you did your on-site demo. As artists, we can create not only paintings, but also various packets of other media: text captions, step-by-step photos, video clips, and audio samples, which we can reconfigure on various platforms, some of which are not even invented yet. At its essence, art is about lived experience, and an audio clip can add an evocative real-life resonance to what you've captured visually

There are at least four ways to combine audio with your artwork. 

1. You can add audio to your artwork by uploading the audio file to Soundcloud, and then embedding the Soundcloud file in a blog post. For an example, see my blog post about England

2. Or you can combine sound with your plein-air in a YouTube video, as with my 'Talking Portrait' above. This was edited in iMovie on a Mac laptop using "Ken Burns" camera moves. 

3. Or Apple's Keynote presentation software lets you add an audio clip.  Here's how

4. Finally, you can combine audio with an online exhibit using Google Open Gallery's toolset. 

Google Open Gallery is currently only offered by invitation, but you can apply here, and tell them I sent you.

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24. Indiana Theater

Yesterday I was standing on the sidewalk of Terre Haute, Indiana painting this watercolor of an old theater sign, when a gentleman came up and identified himself as Rob Lundstrom, the owner.

I recorded his greeting. Hopefully this audio will play for you.

(Link to Soundcloud File)

It took about two hours to paint the image, and while we stood there, we met three other people, all artists. Two of them said they like to draw with their sons.

Here are four stages in the process: the pencil drawing, the big base colors, the shadows, and the finer details.

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25. Ribbon Designs

from Ticket Writing and Sign Painting, 1916
Ribbon designs were popular design motifs in illustration and sign painting a hundred years ago. 

The book "Ticket Writing and Sign Painting" from 1916 advises to make sure to use them only when you have plenty of space to devote to them, and to use a little shadow to show which parts project forward.

Ribbon designs lend a grand storybook feeling. N.C. Wyeth uses them on this title page to give a feeling of heraldry. The continuous wrapping ribbon combines nicely here with the mix of capital and lower case letters of the lettering.

Maxfield Parrish uses them here as a boundary device and even a platform for the model, and he curls the ends rather than letting them flap away like a flag.

If you've got a dollar bill in your pocket, you've got a fine example of a ribbon design. Note how the parallel lines describing the edge of the ribbon give it dimension as it folds over itself.

Ticket Writing and Sign Painting, 1916

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