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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. Baby Foxes Nursing

(Link to YouTube video) A few days ago, I filmed this family of red foxes at the edge of the wild woods behind my house. The male fox greets the vixen as she nurses five new kits. The mother's lactation lasts for about six weeks.

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2. GJ Book Club: Chapter 4: "Line Drawing"

On the GJ Book Club, we're studying Chapter 4, "Line Drawing," of Harold Speed's 1917 classic The Practice and Science of Drawing.

The following numbered paragraphs cite key points in italics, followed by a brief remark of my own. If you would like to respond to a specific point, please precede your comment by the corresponding number.

John White Alexander (American, 1856–1915) Oil on canvas; 52 1/4 x 63 5/8 in.
1. Attention to line can give a work an "innocence and imaginative appeal" that is often lost in work that is concentrating on "the more complete realization of later schools."

Harold Speed will give us a later chapter on the practicalities of line drawing, but for this short chapter he concentrates on the aesthetics of line. He associates line with the sense of touch, but also with more primitive and stylized perception, and that's the core of what he's exploring here. 

He makes reference to Botticelli and other early artists who used line predominantly. In the centuries that followed, chiaroscuro and form modeling came to dominate the thinking and made people forget about the power of line.

Artists in Asia were not as obsessed with chiaroscuro in the photographic / impressionist side of things. I was reading a book about the history of photography (Photography: The Definitive Visual History), and it said that when photographs were first introduced in Japan, people didn't like them because they thought they missed the essential truth of what they saw. Now, with the ubiquity of photos, we tend to regard a photograph as a true and complete representation of our vision, but people in Japan and China didn't think so.

2. The eye only sees what it is on the look-out for.

Speed makes this point only in passing, but it's something that I think about a lot. We see what we want to see. This was the theme of an episode in Dinotopia: The World Beneath (see previous post on Pareidolia and Apophenia).

Detail from Titian's "Three Ages of Man"
3. All through the work of the men who used this light and shade...the outline basis remained. Leonardo, Raphael, Michael Angelo, Titian, and the Venetians were all faithful to it as the means of holding their pictures together; although the Venetians, by fusing the edges of their outline masses, got very near the visual method to be introduced later by Velasquez.

Line and tonal modeling aren't mutually exclusive, nor must one use a hard edge throughout a picture to have a good sense of line. The Titian above combines a fine sense of line with a sophisticated feeling for edges.

4. The accumulation of the details of visual observation in art is liable eventually to obscure the main idea and disturb the larger sense of design. 

The problem, according to Speed, comes not only from losing a sense of the contour, but also adding so many small details and textures that the larger shapes are lost.

Speed's cautions about the late 19th century obsession with naturalism, and he points to a time in the academies when line drawing fell out of fashion. He says the use of the stump for blending charcoal added to the problem. Does someone out there know why Speed was so negative about the stump? He doesn't really explain his reasons for disliking it.

5. Art, like life, is apt to languish if it gets too far away from primitive conditions.

It's notable that the Fauvists and other neo-primitive movements were becoming active in Western art as he was writing this a hundred years ago. European and American artists were also appreciating the currents of art coming from China, Japan, and India.

Speed says that if you're going to study past movements, "to study the early rather than the late work of the different schools, so as to get in touch with the simple conditions of design on which good work is built."

6. No wonder a period of artistic dyspepsia is upon us.

Perhaps even truer now than it was in Speed's day!

Animation model sheet of Disney's Bambi by Milt Kahl
7. Line as contour vs. line of action

One last thought that I had in reading the chapter is that Speed seems to be talking about line mainly as the outer contour, but I think it's equally important to think of the line of action, the central gesture traveling through the center of all the forms. The great animators carried Speed's ideas forward into a whole new art form, and it is probably in the realm of animation that the art of line was most perfectly developed in the 20th century.

I look forward to your thoughts, and I enjoyed the discussion last week.
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The Practice and Science of Drawing is available in various formats:
1. Inexpensive softcover edition from Dover, (by far the majority of you are reading it in this format)
2. Fully illustrated and formatted for Kindle.
3. Free online Archive.org edition.
4. Project Gutenberg version
Articles on Harold Speed in the Studio Magazine The Studio, Volume 15, "The Work of Harold Speed" by A. L. Baldry. (XV. No. 69. — December, 1898.) page 151.
and The Windsor Magazine, Volume 25, "The Art of Mr. Harold Speed" by Austin Chester, page 335. (thanks, अर्जुन)
------
GJ Book Club Facebook page  (Thanks, Keita Hopkinson)
Pinterest (Thanks, Carolyn Kasper)

Original blog post Announcing the GJ Book Club

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3. Imagining Dinosaurs with Feathers

This month, two Canadian paleontologists speculated about the origin of feathers in dinosaurs. Link


'One thing you can do with really, really simple feathers ... is you can use them as whiskers,' says Scott Persons, PhD candidate at University of Alberta, and Philip Currie, professor and Canada Research Chair in Dinosaur Paleobiology. Whisker-like forms functioning as tactile sensors turn up in many different kinds of animals, including mammals, insects, fish, and birds.

Back in 2011, a paper published in Science showed a variety of feather structures preserved in Late Cretaceous Canadian amber.


The feathers are of all types, from downy filaments to more complex structures. They match up well with the compression fossils found in northeast China.


Since the feathers were dissociated from the animals they covered, it's possible that some of these feathers came from birds living at the time of dinosaurs. Some coiled barbules are similar to the water-absorbing feathers in diving birds, such as grebes.


The feathers show light and dark banding and other coloration patterns. In this example the brown masses are concentrated pigmentation that would have given the animal a dark brown appearance.

It's important to note that not all dinosaurs had feathers, as skin impressions from hadrosaurs and other types dinosaurs have shown.

Feathers associated with Yutyrannus, courtesy Nature


On the cover of the May issue of Scientific American Magazine is my painting of a feathered Qianzhousaurus. The editor told me it's the first time the magazine has showed a feathered dinosaur on the cover. 

The inside spread shows two early Cretaceous dinosaurs known to have had feathers.


I produced a 40-minute video workshop about the making of those paintings, available as an HD digital download from Gumroad (credit cards) or Sellfy (Paypal). (Here's a link to the trailer on YouTube)
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May issue of Scientific American"Rise of the Tyrannosaurs"
Thanks, Greg. Via io9; Images of amber via Science/AAAS


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4. Erich Wolfsfeld (1884-1956)


In 2009, an 83-year-old widower went to clear out his attic and found a trove of paintings

His stepmother had died 20 years earlier, and he completely forgot that he had stored away more than 100 artworks by his stepfather, a German artist named Erich Wolfsfeld.



Wolfsfeld was born in Western Prussia in 1884. He studied at the Berlin Academy of Arts with Konrad Böse and continued with Jules Lefèbvre at the Académie Julien in Paris. He worked in Rome with other expatriate German artists Otto Greiner and Max Klinger.

During World War I, he spent two years in the army, and he took the opportunity to draw portraits of soldiers.

He won acclaim for his etchings of nudes, bound prisoners, and beggars. He taught at the Berlin Academy in the 1920s, but he was fired in 1936 by the Nazis because of his Jewish religion.


He was deeply inspired by a series of travels to Egypt, Palestine and North Africa. When he relocated to England, he often posed his models in exotic costumes to reconstruct scenes he had sketched in his travels. His customary painting garb was a long white Arab robe.


Wolfsfeld died in 1956. The works found in the attic were auctioned off in 2009. Some of his paintings have been exhibited at London's National Portrait Gallery, the British Museum, the Imperial War Museum, and the Victoria and Albert Museum.
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More detailed biography at Stephen Ongpin
Article about the attic discovery at The Daily Mail

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5. Dinotopia World Beneath, Episode 12


It's Tuesday, time for Episode 11 of the serialized audio dramatization of Dinotopia: The World Beneath. You can listen to the track by clicking on the play button below, or by following the direct link to SoundCloud.




A scene of the pod village of Bonabba, where Will is learning more about piloting skybaxes. Arthur tries to sell the locals on the mechanical strutters that he found in The World Beneath.

But they have a way of getting out of control, as these robot dinosaurs have a mind of their own. When I did these paintings in 1993, I had no idea we would see semi-sentient autonomous walkers within two decades. 

This audio re-creation was produced by ZBS Productions.  Audio wizard Tom Lopez and composer Tim Clark created many layers of sound to make Dinotopia come alive to the ears.

The Christian Science Monitor called this production "A dazzling soundscape that does full justice to Gurney’s wondrous lost world… perfect family listening.”

Episode 13 arrives in a week. Each short episode will only be live online for one week, and then it will disappear.

If you'd like to purchase the full two-hour World Beneath podcast right now and hear all fifteen episodes back to back in a feature-length production, check out The World Beneath at ZBS Foundation website for the MP3 download. It's also available as a CD.

The Book
You can also order the original printed book from my web store and I'll sign it for you. (It ships via Media Mail within 24 hours of your order. US orders only for the book, please). The book is also available from Amazon in a 20th Anniversary Edition with lots of extras.

The Museum Exhibition
Many of these paintings are now on view at the Dinotopia exhibition at the Stamford Art Museum and Nature Center through May 25.

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6. Constable's Outdoor Painting Materials

Constable, Dedham Lock and Mill, 1811, courtesy VAM.
John Constable (1776-1837) was one of the pioneers of plein-air oil painting in England. He became convinced around 1802 that he should paint in oil outdoors, believing that Claude Lorrain had done so, even though Claude actually used only water-based media or drawing tools in his outdoor work.

Paint Boxes
Here is one of Constable's surviving oil sketch boxes. The glass vials were a way to carry medium and pigment, as tubed paint didn't come along until 1841. Another way to carry mixed paint was the urine bladders from pigs or other animals, something you could pick up from a butcher.

One of Constable's wooden sketching boxes, 9.25 x 12 inches. 
According to an exhibition catalog of his oil sketches, this paint box "shows the removable panel that fits into the lid, creating a separate compartment, that Constable used for carrying small pieces of paper, canvas and board. Wet sketches were piled in here on the homeward journey. The panel could also be used as an impromptu palette or as a flat surface for standing bottles of oil, turpentine, and other materials during painting."

I don't know if I would agree with the authors that wet sketches were "piled in" to such a box. My guess is that Constable would have used a box like this open in his lap with the lid away from him as he sat on a tripod stool. The sketch would be pinned into the open lid, and kept pinned there until it was dry enough to handle. This was how Americans, such as Thomas Cole, Albert Bierstadt, and William Trost Richards did it.

Constable's Paint Box c. 1837, courtesy Tate Gallery
Here's another paint box, divided into "seventeen compartments and contains a cork-stopped glass phial with blue pigment, a lump of white gypsum probably used for a variety of purposes including drawing and roughening paper, and various bladders with the artist’s own or commercial ready-mixed paint." Try getting this one through the TSA.

Constable plein-air study showing red-brown colored ground

Surfaces
Constable's studies were usually painted on heavy paper or millboard. Millboard was made from a mixture of cotton, flax, wood, and other fibrous material. The priming was a "viscous medium-rich oil ground containing a small amount of red and black pigment." (Source)

The priming, prepared in batches in advance of his painting sessions, saturated and sealed the sheets. I couldn't tell from my research whether he sized his surfaces before applying the oil ground. Later painters typically sized (or sealed) the paper or board with shellac or rabbit skin glue. By the 1820s, Constable was using commercially-prepared millboard or "Academy board," which was specially made for artists.

(With modern materials, I would use acrylic matte medium to size the paper or board before applying an oil ground. You can use the matte medium over brown- or gray-toned paper to keep that natural paper color, or make up your own toned oil-based ground over the sizing. Allow time for it to dry thoroughly.)

Color Palette
One of his surviving plein-air palettes was analyzed for paint ingredients, including vermilion, emerald green, chrome yellow, cobalt blue, lead white and madder, ground in a variety of mediums such as linseed oil mixed with pine resin.

Constable sunset study, probably painted all in one session (or alla prima)
Working Method
At times it can be hard to tell whether a given sketch was done entirely on location or whether he touched them up after returning to the studio. Chemical sleuths have found that some sketches contain slow-drying mediums, such as poppy oil, which would have allowed him to rework his surfaces over extended periods of time, but that doesn't prove anything. To my eye, based on the efficiency and urgency of the paint handling, the ones shown in this post look to be done entirely on location.


Written Notes
Constable often jotted notes on the back of his paper or boards. For example: "Very lovely evening—looking Eastward—cliffs (and) light off a dark grey sky –effect-background-very white and golden light."

Sources and further reading
BooksConstable's Oil Sketches 1809-29, edited by Hermine Chivian-Cobb, Salander-O'Reilly Galleries, New York, 2007
The Painted Sketch: American Impressions From Nature, 1830-1880. Well researched exhibition catalog which focuses on American plein-air practices.
Websites: Constable Sketches Up Close and Personal (Victoria and Albert Museum, London)
Constable's Techniques (Tate Museum, London)
Lines and Colors Blog "Constable's Oil Sketches"
Constable paintings at the Yale Center for British Art

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7. Animated Paper Burlesque Dancers


Legendary toy inventor Mel Birkrant has just posted the story of his years developing R-rated paper burlesque dancers for his company "Boutique Fantastique." 
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8. Circumzenithal Arc

A few days ago I photographed this circumzenithal arc in the sky above the Hudson Valley. These halo phenomena are sometimes called "smiles in the sky" or "upside down rainbows."

Unlike a normal rainbow, which describes a circle centered around the antisolar point (directly opposite the sun), this light effect curves around the zenith. The colors appear on the section of the circle closest to the setting sun.

Whereas the regular rainbow is the result of sunlight bouncing back to the eye in suspended raindrops, this effect occurs when sunlight refracts through plate-shaped hexagonal ice prisms floating in a horizontal position in cirrus clouds. Therefore, it often appears interrupted as it intersects the parallel tendrils of the clouds.
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Wikipedia on circumzenithal arc
More at Atmospheric Optics
Classic book on light/atmosphere phenomena: The Nature of Light and Colour in the Open Air

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9. Question: Drying Time in Oil Paint

Pedram F., an artist who works in Sweden, asks: "Heya James! Big fan and silent watcher of your posts and blog here! I'm going to break the silence tho' this time around because I have been watching your latest video on the Rise of Tyrannosaurus that I bought recently. It's a really simple question that wasn't really touched on, except maybe only hinted at in the video, but I wonder how long it takes for your painting to dry in between the stages/layers. Do you always wait for touch dry before moving on? Since you are using different dryers or mediums that shorten the drying time, it would be interesting to know how long you wait in between sessions. That is, from the moment you put down the paint brush to finishing it."

Hi, Pedram,
Great question! Thanks for asking. When I'm painting on a deadline assignment, I usually want the section that I'm working on to stay workable for a couple of hours. A few hours is usually plenty of time to accomplish any kind of blending or gradation. I typically want it to be dry to the touch by the next morning.

When there's time for slow drying
If I really need more than one day for a given passage—such as a big cloudy sky or a portrait with a lot of edge work—I might use a more normal painting medium (such as damar varnish + stand oil + gum turpentine), or no medium at all. In that case, I make sure to paint that passage early enough in the deadline cycle so that it will have time to dry to the touch in a natural way before I need to deliver the painting.

I have to be careful about thick impastos of titanium white or the cadmium colors, because they dry slowly. The last parts to dry are often the highlights. Those might take days or even weeks to dry.

This particular assignment allowed six weeks from first call to delivery. More than half of that time was taken with research, sketches, and approvals—which is typical for a scientific or historical illustration. As a result, the final paintings had to be done in the last two weeks. Most magazine deadlines allow a few weeks to a month start to finish, but I am sometimes called in on much shorter deadlines.

Eight strategies to speed up drying

1. Working thinly is a third way to get oil paint to dry quickly. I use Winsor and Newton's Alkyd mediumor Gamblin's Galkyd medium if I need medium at all. If the paint is reasonably thin, it will be set up by the next day.

2. Pre-texturing is the method I show in the video to achieve thick paint with impastos, while still getting the paint to dry quickly. The thin oil paint is applied over the surface of the dried acrylic underpainting textures. The oil layer dries overnight, but because of the underpainting textures, it looks like a thick impasto.

3. Another method is a heated drying box used at night between painting sessions. A drying box is an enclosed fireproof volume built to contain the painting, together with some heating element, such as an incandescent bulb.

4. If you don't want to build a box, you can use a light bulb in a reflector clamp lamp to speed the drying. If the heat is coming just from one side, there's a danger of warping the board or damaging the surface of the painting.

5. One solution for such thick paint is the use of chemical accelerators. If I think I might use thick passages of white or cadmiums, I might use just a drop or two of cobalt drier mixed with a palette knife into the blob of white on the palette. As I'm sure you know, these driers should be used sparingly, as they can weaken the paint emulsion and change the color if one uses too much of them. I rarely resort to them, but if I need them, they can be a lifesaver.

6. Another tip that you'll recall from the video is that I can save a day by doing a casein underpainting. Casein is a well established underpainting medium for oils, and the painting can be taken to any stage in that medium with the oil used only where necessary.

7. Sometimes the oil paint just isn't dry the night before shipment or hand-delivery. In that case, I build a gapped box, with cardboard shims around the outer edges, so that the cardboard of the container is not touching paint surface. I also would then put a note in the box to let the art director know that there might be some wet paint.

8. A final expedient is for the artist to photograph the wet painting instead of shipping it to the client. As long as the copy work is done to a standard acceptable to the client, this can save everyone a lot of effort, expense, and time, and then it doesn't matter if the painting is wet. If the lighting set-up is good, the new cameras such as the Canon Digital Rebel can shoot excellent high resolution files that rival what a lab could deliver. Here's a blog post explaining how I typically photograph paintings, and here are two other blog posts by Dan Dos Santos and David Palumbo explaining how they do it.

Hope that answers your question, Pedram. And in case anyone else wonders: I haven't experimented much with water-soluble oils, tubed alkyd paints, or acrylics, mainly because I've got my hands full with oil, casein, gouache, and watercolor. I'm sure they have wonderful properties, but I just haven't had a chance to try them out.

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10. GJ Book Club: Chapter 3 "Vision"


On GJ Book Club, we're studying Harold Speed's 1917 classic The Practice and Science of Drawing.

The following numbered paragraphs cite key points in italics, followed by a brief remark of my own. If you would like to respond to a specific point, please precede your comment by the corresponding number.

1. The photographer's camera and the camera obscura are constructed on the same principle as the human eye.

There has been a lot of scientific research in recent years about the differences between the eye and the camera, as summarized in this recent video "Eye vs. Camera":



(YouTube link) True, light goes through the lens and forms an image on the retina, but who is looking at the retina? In fact, image processing begins happening right away at the level of the photoreceptors. In a way, this new science confirms the fundamental point that Speed is trying to make, which is that we don't see with our eyes, but rather with our brains.

Recent science also tells us that our  perception of edge contours or lines is a basic part of visual processing. See previous post "Lines and the Brain" or Wikipedia on "Edge Detection."

2. The sense of touch vs. the sense of sight.

This notion of connecting drawing with the sense of touch is a powerful one. As I understand it, Speed is making the distinction between the sense of touch and the sense of sight in order to build toward his overarching teaching idea, which is to distinguish line drawing from "mass drawing." By mass drawing, he means tonal, impressionistic drawing.

I've been thinking this week about this idea of drawing as an extension of touch, and it occurs to me that a lot of the things we draw are kind of untouchable: a cloud, a mountain range, the silhouette of a skyscraper—or that cute model at the sketch group.

But for small still life objects, having an awareness of the feel of things can add so much to the conviction of the drawing.



3. The commonplace painter will paint a commonplace picture... 

In this section, he makes an interesting point that you can put two artists side by side painting the same scene, a beginner and a seasoned painter, and the experienced artist will recognize greater depth and power in the same scene. This is not due to technical tricks or better materials, but to their different way of seeing.



4. A. Type of first drawing made by children showing how vision has not been consulted. 
B. Type of what might have been expected if crudest expression of visual appearance has been attempted.

Harold Speed (Dover ed
I love the "A" and "B" diagram! At first I thought he was saying one way of seeing was better or more advanced than another, but I think in the end he's saying that they're just two different ways of seeing, and that we have to cultivate both.

Am I getting this right? Maybe I'm missing something. I look forward to your thoughts. 
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The Practice and Science of Drawing is available in various formats:
1. Inexpensive softcover edition from Dover, (by far the majority of you are reading it in this format)
2. Fully illustrated and formatted for Kindle.
3. Free online Archive.org edition.
4. Project Gutenberg version
Articles on Harold Speed in the Studio Magazine The Studio, Volume 15, "The Work of Harold Speed" by A. L. Baldry. (XV. No. 69. — December, 1898.) page 151.
and The Windsor Magazine, Volume 25, "The Art of Mr. Harold Speed" by Austin Chester, page 335. (thanks, अर्जुन)
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GJ Book Club Facebook page  (Thanks, Keita Hopkinson)
Pinterest (Thanks, Carolyn Kasper)

Original blog post Announcing the GJ Book Club

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11. Preliminary Sketches for TYRANNOSAURS

First off: WOW! Thanks so much for your generous response to my new video "TYRANNOSAURS: Behind the Art," which documents the illustrations I just did for the May 2015 article in Scientific American Magazine.  Here's the trailer on YouTube if you missed it.

In this post, I would like to cover your desktop with preliminary sketches.

The article by scientist Stephen Brusatte mentions a number of early tyrannosaur relatives: Kileskus, Guanlong (both with impressive head ornaments); Yutyrannus and Dilong; and the dwarf arctic Nanugsaurus. Any of these are candidates for the title spread.


I use gouache, a good medium for rapid visualizing in color. I indicate headline and text blocks with a pen to try to imagine the final effect of the page. Everyone likes the idea of the multiple-predator interaction, shown in the sketch at the lower right. 


Freelance Art Director Juan Velasco and SciAm's Design Director Michael Mrak suggest expanding the art to fill the entire spread, with allowance for the headline to reverse out of the art. I do these black watercolor pencil sketches to explore various points of view, almost as if I was a movie director planning a shot. 


I paint this small comprehensive sketch (5 x 7.5 in) in casein to give the art director something more complete that he can use for the layout. We decide to stage the scene inside a forest rather than in the open plains. The art director wants to make sure the little Dilongs don't get too close to that gutter, and also that the back of Yutyrannus isn't tangent to the top of the frame.


Mindful of the risk of getting carried away with too much detail and middle tones, I remind myself to keep it simple. These black and white thumbnail sketches, sketched with a pigmented brush marker, force me to interpret the image to its tonal essentials.

Meanwhile, for the cover, we want to feature Qianzhousaurus, aka "Pinocchio Rex," a strange long-snouted tyrannosaur that happens to be one of the author's most celebrated finds. As fun as any of these would be to paint, none of them are really striking or simple enough in their design.

Design director Michael Mrak proposes that I show the face up close with a simple background, maybe coming into frame from above. I paint these two sketches in casein. The one on the left gets the magazine's approval, with the suggestion of flopping it left to right. 

Dr. Brusatte sends me more photos and drawings of the skull and asks me to reduce the convexity of the ventral end of the maxilla and to reduce the proportional depth of the skull. 


I do the pencil drawing directly on the heavyweight illustration board, using a fairly soft pencil. Note the light indication of the "S" of "SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN" to be sure I've got room for the graphics. The rest of the pencil work is darker than I might usually use, because I want it to show through the thin passages of paint. I seal the drawing with workable fixatif and acrylic matte medium before heading into the final paint. 



And here are the finished illustrations in context. You can watch all the steps up close and in action in the 40-minute full-length video workshop available now from Gumroad (credit cards) or Sellfy (Paypal).
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Yesterday's post with stills from "Tyrannosaurs: Behind the Art"
Be sure to pick up a copy of the May issue of Scientific American"Rise of the Tyrannosaurs"

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12. Tyrannosaurs: Behind the Art

(Link to video) For the last couple of months I've been working hard on a secret project that I can now tell you about.


Yesterday Scientific American Magazine announced its May feature called "Rise of the Tyrannosaurs." The article was written by Stephen Brusatte, one of the paleontologists who discovered the long-snouted Qianzhousaurus, nicknamed "Pinocchio Rex," which I painted for the cover.


The article isn't about T. rex, but about its bizarre lesser-known cousins. Over 20 new kinds of tyrannosaurs have been discovered in the last 15 years. In some cases there were large and small tyrannosaur predators sharing the same environment. 


And they were all feathered. For the opening spread, I painted a scene of a large type of tyrannosaur, the Yutyrannus, threatening to steal a kill from a group of Dilong.  


While I developed the artwork, I thoroughly documented every stage of the process. I edited the 5.5 minute YouTube version for Scientific American to put on their website. 

The short version also doubles as a promotional trailer for the long version. The 40-minute video is now available as a download. More information at Gumroad (credit cards) or Sellfy (Paypal). 


This video has a different emphasis compared to "How I Paint Dinosaurs." I wanted to go more into the materials and methods of oil painting, and the use of plein-air studies for reference.


Tomorrow I'll share the preliminary sketches and studies.

Order the 40-minute full-length version today from Gumroad (credit cards) or Sellfy (Paypal).
Check out the May issue of Scientific American, "Rise of the Tyrannosaurs"
See an hour-long lecture about tyrannosaurs on YouTube by Stephen Brusatte.

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13. Dinotopia: World Beneath, Episode 11





It's Tuesday, time for Episode 11 of the serialized audio dramatization of Dinotopia: The World Beneath. You can listen to the track by clicking on the play button below, or by following the direct link to SoundCloud.


The dino-strutters emerge in the Rainy Basin, which is inhabited by tyrannosaurs.

ZBS producer Tom Lopez extends the story of the illustrated book into the audio dimension, adding layers of mood and emotion, greatly enhanced by the composer Tim Clark.

The Christian Science Monitor called this production "A dazzling soundscape that does full justice to Gurney’s wondrous lost world… perfect family listening.”

Episode 12 arrives in a week. Each short episode will only be live online for one week, and then it will disappear.

If you'd like to purchase the full two-hour World Beneath podcast right now and hear all fifteen episodes back to back in a feature-length production, check out The World Beneath at ZBS Foundation website for the MP3 download. It's also available as a CD.

The Book
You can also order the original printed book from my web store and I'll sign it for you. (It ships via Media Mail within 24 hours of your order. US orders only for the book, please). The book is also available from Amazon in a 20th Anniversary Edition with lots of extras.

The Museum Exhibition
Many of these paintings are now on view at the Dinotopia exhibition at the Stamford Art Museum and Nature Center through May 25.

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14. New Item

There's a new item in the barn—baby chicks in the incubator. 

 

They're posing for their first portrait. Well, actually they don't pose at all. They doze, eat, and poop on a five minute cycle. The sticker is from the grocery store.


My other challenge is Handsome the uber-friendly cat. He keeps wanting to jump on my lap and get patted.


In keeping with the tradition of titling my sketchbooks with the first words that appear in it, this one is called "New Item."
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Materials
Pentalic Aqua Journal (5 x 8 inch)
Schmincke Small Watercolor Set 
Nalgene 2-Ounce Jar
Watercolor Brush Set
Gouache

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15. Baroque Ensemble


Last night we heard a concert by the Bard College Baroque Ensemble in Annandale-on-Hudson, New York.

Dr. Alexander Bonus directs the Bard Baroque Ensemble

During the performance, I painted the director Alexander Bonus seated at the harpsichord. 

I was sitting in the second row, with a small watercolor set clipped to the left side of the sketchbook. I got all the materials ready before the music started so that I wouldn't have to fumble around for gear. 


Guessing that the house lights would be turned too low to judge color accurately, I opted for black and white gouache over a lay-in in ochre watercolor pencil. This detail is about the size of a business card.

Materials
Pentalic Aqua Journal (5 x 8 inch)
Schmincke Small Watercolor Set 
Nalgene 2-Ounce Jar
Watercolor Brush Set
Gouache in tubes

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16. Cult of Velázquez

A couple weeks ago, the Grand Palais in Paris opened one of the largest exhibitions of Diego Velázquez in recent years. The exhibition contains 119 works borrowed from public and private collections around the globe.

Diego Velázquez, Pope Innocent X, 1650
Velázquez held a unique position of reverence among many academic painters, especially Carolus-Duran, who encouraged his students to travel to Spain to see the originals and to make copies from them. 

The reverence for the Spanish master was so great that a "cult of Velázquez" emerged in 19th century Paris, where some artists mystically appealed to his ghost to guide their hand.  


The key to Velázquez, Carolus-Duran said, was strict simplicity of tone and careful attention to half tones, those planes that move the form from light into shadow. 

A book from the period called "The Art of Velázquez" by R.A.M. Stevenson, student of Carolus-Duran, can be downloaded for free at Archive.org.  
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17. Harold Speed, Chapter 2, "Drawing"


John Elliott Burns by Harold Speed, 1907

Today we continue with the GJ Book Club. Together, we're studying Harold Speed's classic The Practice and Science of Drawing.

The following numbered paragraphs cite key points in italics, followed by a brief remark of my own. Your thoughts are most welcome in the comment section of this blog. If you would like to respond to a specific point, please precede your comment by the corresponding number.

1. The expression of form upon a plane surface.

Speed's definition of drawing emphasizes form. That is consistent with most academic training. For the purposes of this chapter at least, he is not focusing on other qualities of drawing, such as the ability to capture texture or atmosphere.

2. Apelles

Apelles was a renowned artist of ancient Greece. His actual original paintings and drawings are lost to history (except for supposed copies), but he is known from his reputation in written sources. More on Wikipedia.

3. Drawing, although the first, is also the last thing the painter usually studies.

Many great artists such as Rembrandt kept drawing central to their practice throughout their lives. Some, such as Adolph Menzel, pursued drawing relentlessly into their old age. For composers like Beethoven and Bach, keyboard or chamber music occupied a similar place. 

4. Colour would seem to depend much more on a natural sense and to be less amenable to teaching. 

As an author of a book about color, I have to disagree with him here. There's a lot to teach about color, especially given what we've learned since Speed's time about visual perception and optics. Even though color can be approached subjectively and personally, the aesthetic aspects of color can be taught. In fact, Speed himself must have changed his mind on this topic, because he includes two excellent chapters on color in his subsequent book on oil painting (Oil Painting Techniques and Materials), which we'll study after we get through this one.

5. To express form one must first be moved by it. There is in the appearance of all objects, animate and inanimate, what has been called an emotional significance, a hidden rhythm that is not caught by the accurate, painstaking, but cold artist. 

Speed's definition of rhythm recognizes how emotion drives artistic choices. Rhythm therefore is not merely a design principle.



Charles F. A. Voysey 
by Harold Speed, chalk, 1896

6. Selection of the significant and suppression of the non-essential.

These choices, so central to a successful work, usually happen unconsciously, driven by the emotion the artist feels at the outset. The challenge is hanging onto that guiding feeling in the labor of making the picture.

7. Fine things seem only to be seen in flashes.

In my experience, I find this to be true not only of the process of drawing, but in my creative life more generally. In the fields of character development, scriptwriting, and world-building, the deeper inspirations come unexpectedly in torrents, separated by periods of steady craftsmanship.

8. Art thus enables us to experience life at second hand.

Through great art, we see the world in a more meaningful or enhanced way. After a visit to the picture galleries, our senses are heightened. This effect is even stronger to a student who makes a faithful copy of a master painting or drawing.

9. One is always profoundly impressed by the expression of a sense of bulk, vastness, or mass in form. 

Later he talks about lightness. It's always good to think about gravity when drawing. Muscles are always pulling against gravity. Wings struggle to lift a bird through the air against the pull of the earth. Drawing someone off-balance generates interest, but balance and imbalance are factors of gravity.

10. In these school studies feeling need not be considered, but only a cold accuracy....These academic drawings, too, should be as highly finished as hard application can make them, so that the habit of minute visual expression may be acquired.

In the French schools at least, there were different aesthetic criteria applied to studies from the model. Student studies were expected to be as accurate and finished as possible, and more interpretive works, which allowed for much more distortion and interpretation. A lot of schools in recent decades, needing to cover a lot of ground, tend to skip over the exacting practice of these coldly accurate school studies. It is like playing scales for the musician, or knowing the rules of grammar for the writer, as Carol Berning mentioned in the comments last time.

11. Drawing, then, to be worthy of the name, must be more than what is called accurate.
Harold Speed (Dover ed.)
This point was illustrated by Sargent's portrait of Carolus-Duran in a recent blog post. Speed concludes that "Artistic accuracy demands that things be observed by a sentient individual recording the sensations produced in him by the phenomena of life." Art, then, becomes life filtered through a consciousness. This is a very idealistic view of drawing, and it sets up for next week's Chapter 3: "Vision"

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18. Cornwell's Gangsters

Dean Cornwell, Saturday Evening Post, 1947, "Night Boat from Havana" 21x58 in. 
At their upcoming May 2 sale of American Art, Heritage Auctions is offering an illustration by Dean Cornwell (1892-1960). 


A car's headlights shine on a group of captured Cuban gangsters at the waterfront. Cornwell "saved $50 in models' fees" by having a group of his illustrator friends—some of the top talent in the business—pose for him as the smugglers.


The models include: Frank Reilly, Arthur William Brown, Gilbert Bundy, Harry Beckhoff, and John Gannam. Cornwell took a photo as a convenience, though in his earlier days he would have worked from life. Cornwell said, "Life models are soft these days and don't like to hold a pose long." Plus, they had deadlines.
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Quotes and photo from the book Illustrating for the Saturday Evening Post

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19. Seb Lester's Lettering Tools

The video begins: "My name is Seb Lester. I'm a designer and artist based in the U.K. The focus of all of my work is letterforms." (Link to video)

 

Seb Lester's calligraphy is best known from a series of videos showing a wide range of calligraphy styles.


A freehand demo of some familiar corporate logos recently went viral. (Link to Video)
On his Facebook page, Mr. Lester has generously shared a detailed description of his lettering tools:

"In terms of broad edge tools, necessary for Gothic and Italic styles of calligraphy, Pilot Parallel Pens are good tools for beginners. These are the pens I have been using for the clips that have recently gone viral on social media and websites like Design Taxi and Buzzfeed. ‘Manuscript’ brand calligraphy fountain pens are widely available and practical beginners tools. As you advance you will probably want to start using traditional metal calligraphy nibs made by established manufacturers like Brause and Mitchell and also Automatic Pens. They can be a bit more difficult to handle but can help achieve finer, crisper results."
'How To Get Started in Calligraphy   Many hundreds of people have been asking me questions about what pens I use and how to get started in Calligraphy over the last few days. This seems like the perfect time and place to help promote the practice and appreciation of this beautiful, ancient art form. Calligraphy has been created with a wide variety of tools over the past 2,000 years or so in the West. This article describes some of them.  In terms of broad edge tools, necessary for Gothic and Italic styles of calligraphy, Pilot Parallel Pens are good tools for beginners. These are the pens I have been using for the clips that have recently gone viral on social media and websites like Design Taxi and Buzzfeed. ‘Manuscript’ brand calligraphy fountain pens are widely available and practical beginners tools. As you advance you will probably want to start using traditional metal calligraphy nibs made by established manufacturers like Brause and Mitchell and also Automatic Pens. They can be a bit more difficult to handle but can help achieve finer, crisper results.  For pointed pen calligraphy, characterised by graceful curves and strong contrasts in line width, I would recommend trying Nikko G nibs. You can use these in either a traditional or an oblique pen holder, it is a matter of personal preference. Iron Gall ink is best for this type of calligraphy. Walker’s Copperplate Ink and McCaffrey’s Ink get good results for me.  Paper is always an important consideration. The paper I often use with Pilot Parallel Pens is Daler Rowney Smooth Cartridge Paper, but any smooth cartridge paper should be fine. When I’m working on roughs for any type of calligraphy I often use layout paper and marker pads. In terms of sketch pads a lot of calligraphers like the Rhodia and Claire Fontaine brands as the paper doesn’t bleed very easily. As with everything the key is to experiment, paper with more texture can produce interesting results too.  In terms of books for inspiration I can recommend ‘Scribe: Artist of the Written Word’ by John Stevens, a true modern master. For instruction I would also suggest ‘Foundations of Calligraphy’ by the brilliant Sheila Waters. ‘Calligraphy’ by Gaye Godfrey-Nicholls was published last year, a good book for beginners. Any of ‘The Speedball Textbook’ series are also inexpensive sources of instruction and inspiration.  The key to producing beautiful calligraphy is perseverance. Progress comes through focused and sustained study and practice. You will only persevere if you enjoy what you’re doing. For this reason I’d personally suggest starting with a calligraphy style you particularly like the look of. When you have a reasonable grasp of that style you will notice many of the skills are transferable to other styles.  I feel so lucky to have found what Hermann Zapf described as “this peaceful and noble art”. My working process as a designer and artist has evolved into a hybrid style blending my knowledge of both traditional and digital tools. There are some things that computers can't do and vice versa, so I think this is a great way to work. I have a broader palette of tools at my disposal than ever before and I find this very beneficial. I feel I am becoming a better artist and designer every day, which makes me very happy. So if you want to try calligraphy just have fun. Don’t be discouraged by early failures, there will be many of those. However, I can say with lots of personal experience that success is built on failure.  Some recommended tools from the attached image. These tools reflect my personal taste and are not a definitive list. Other calligraphers would most likely recommend other tools. From top to bottom: Pilot Parallel Pen, Pentel Colour Brush, Kuretake No. 13 Fountain Brush Pen, Manuscript Italic Fountain Pen, Nikko G Nib with oblique pen holder, Automatic Pen, Copic Wide Marker, Ruling Pen.'
Top to bottom: Pilot Parallel PenPentel Colour BrushKuretake Fountain Brush PenManuscript Italic Fountain PenNikko G-Pen with oblique pen holder, Automatic PensCopic Wide MarkerRuling Pen.
"For pointed pen calligraphy, characterised by graceful curves and strong contrasts in line width, I would recommend trying Nikko G-Pen nibs. You can use these in either a traditional or an oblique pen holder, it is a matter of personal preference. Iron Gall ink is best for this type of calligraphy. Walker’s Copperplate Ink and McCaffrey’s Ink get good results for me."

"Paper is always an important consideration. The paper I often use with Pilot Parallel Pens is Daler Rowney Smooth Cartridge Paper, but any smooth cartridge paper should be fine. When I’m working on roughs for any type of calligraphy I often use layout paper and marker pads. In terms of sketch pads a lot of calligraphers like the Rhodia and Clairefontaine brands as the paper doesn’t bleed very easily. As with everything the key is to experiment, paper with more texture can produce interesting results too."

"In terms of books for inspiration I can recommend ‘Scribe: Artist of the Written Word’ by John Stevens, a true modern master. For instruction I would also suggest ‘Foundations of Calligraphy’ by the brilliant Sheila Waters. ‘Calligraphy’ by Gaye Godfrey-Nicholls was published last year, a good book for beginners. Any of ‘Speedball Textbook’ series are also inexpensive sources of instruction and inspiration."

"The key to producing beautiful calligraphy is perseverance. Progress comes through focused and sustained study and practice. You will only persevere if you enjoy what you’re doing. For this reason I’d personally suggest starting with a calligraphy style you particularly like the look of. When you have a reasonable grasp of that style you will notice many of the skills are transferable to other styles."
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20. Harold Speed, "Drawing" / Preface and Intro

Today is Friday, the first gathering of the GJ Book Club. Each week we'll be looking at a new chapter of Harold Speed's classic The Practice and Science of Drawing (Dover Art Instruction), starting with the Preface and Introduction.

The following numbered paragraphs combine citations of key points in italics, followed by a few of my own remarks. Your thoughts are most welcome in the comment section of this blog. If you would like to respond to a specific point, please precede your comment by the corresponding number.

Preface
1. "The Practice and Science of Drawing"


Baked into the title is the classic dilemma of art instruction. Do you teach the practice or the science? The technique or the theory? The methods or the principles? The hand skills or the thinking behind them? Harold Speed aims to address both. Note: earliest editions of the book reverse the order thus: "The Science and Practice of Drawing."

Pages from J.D. Harding's "Lessons on Art

2. "...the drawing masters of our grandmothers and still dearly loved by a large number of people. No good can come of such methods, for there are no short cuts to excellence."

Speed is probably referring to the drawing manuals of J.D. Harding (1798–1863), such as "On Drawing Trees and Nature." Harding's how-to-draw books were immensely popular throughout the 19th century. Typically his books present the student with a series of drawing lessons, beginning with geometric solids, and graduating to commonplace forms like buckets or stairs or rocks. It's kind of a recipe for drawing, but not a bad one for beginners, in my opinion. I think Speed wants his students to dig beyond these drawing formulas. He proposes to achieve it by examining more fundamental principles. He's also interested in the student acquiring the "artistic" sensibilities of rhythm and unity, regardless of the forms he or she is drawing.

3. ".... having passed through the course of training in two of our chief schools of art..."

The two schools he is alluding to are the Royal College of Art (where he started out in architecture) and the Royal Academy Schools. He also won a traveling scholarship to Belgium, France, Italy and Spain. Source: Burlington.

4. "the long uphill road that separates mechanically accurate drawing and artistically accurate drawing."

The academic education one would have found in the 1890s in England and continental Europe might have seemed superficially similar. Students worked from the cast and from the model in both traditions, but there were differences. According Speed, the English school was more concerned with observationally accurate drawings, while the French schools were more "interpretive" or "artistic."

Does anyone know at which ateliers in France or Europe Mr. Speed studied, and what the prevailing sensibilities were in those schools? Also, does anyone know which teachers he would have had at the Royal College of Art and the Royal Academy? Maybe one of our atelier experts can explain more about the specific differences between the English and French schools in the 1890s.

5. To many in this country modern art is still a closed book.

Modernism's assault on the ramparts of art-thinking was far along in 1917, when Speed's book was published. Europe was torn by the Great War. Russia was in the midst of its revolution. The Edwardian world, with all its assumptions about the nature and purposes of art, was collapsing like an ornate marble edifice. Speed, it seems, is trying to examine his assumptions about art and to remain open-minded.

Contents of Speed's 1936 book What is the Good of Art?

By 1936, when he wrote is much lesser-known book "What is the Good of Art?," The world of art around him must have seemed to have gone completely off the rails. "We have no tradition to guide us," he says in Drawing, almost in desperation.

Speed's later books were even more philosophical, as if he was trying to work out an understanding of modernism that he could reconcile with his academic training. The 20th century illustrator and book author Andrew Loomis went through a similar evolution in his books as he went from "Fun With A Pencil" to "The Eye of the Painter." Loomis's earliest books are basic and practical, and as time went by, his books grappled more and more with serious and philosophical topics.

6. Where formerly the artistic food at the disposal of the student was restricted to the few pictures in his vicinity and some prints of others, not there is scarcely a picture of note in the world that is not known to the average student....It is no wonder that a period of artistic indigestion is upon us."

Wow, what would he make of the massive availability of art on the Internet?

7. The position of art to-day is like that of a river...

As I understand his whole metaphor, he's saying that we can't discard history and start all over again, nor can one pretend to be naive and see like a child again.

Introduction

8. The real matter of art lies above and beyond the scope of teaching.

Speed is aware of the blood-draining effect of too much cold analysis. He recognizes the mystery of intuition, and the idea that in a good painting, a higher power seems to flow through an artist. With a tip of the hat to the infinite, he wants to proceed to the practical matters of the book. But he gives us this introduction to provide an aesthetic context to the material that follows. Encompassed in this section of the book is his search for a definition of Art.

9. Variety of definitions of art

Speed summarizes several classic definitions of art, and ends up favoring that of Leo Tolstoy. I also love Tolstoy's definition, which hinges on the artist intentionally transmitting a felt emotion to the viewer. The great thing about that definition is the way it includes virtually every form of art, including music, painting, dance, and storytelling, but it excludes things like wallpaper or architect's blueprints.

If you would like to read the full text of Tolstoy's famous essay, it's available on Archive.org, and it's a good read, despite his bashing of opera at the beginning.

10. Each art has certain emotions belonging to the particular sense impressions connected with it.

Speed introduces his notion of "rhythm," for want of a better word, to encapsulate the abstract visual power of painting and drawing. He's talking about the effect of the design of the picture, apart from the representational subject matter. Speed was influenced by the English art critic Walter Pater (1839-1898), who said, "All art constantly aspires towards the condition of music." Speed points out that the abstract power of painting contains qualities that are unique to our visual life, and perhaps distinct from other art forms that appeal to other senses.

11. There seems to be a common centre in our human life.

Speed speaks to the universal human emotions and experience expressed in art.

12. The visible world is to the artist, as it were, a wonderful garment, at time revealing to him the Beyond, the Inner Truth there is in all things.

This notion goes all the way back to Plato, and can be found in the writings of the American Transcendentalists. I recommend, for example, Asher B. Durand's essay "Letters on Landscape Painting," which presents similar ideas about landscape painting.

13. Beauty is a state of mind.

Speed regards beauty not so much as a particular arrangement of proportions or a particular kind of object, but rather a state of mind in the observer which allows him or her to find rhythm in anything. He criticize artists "whose vision doesn't penetrate beyond the narrow limits of the commonplace."

Thus, finding beauty in the subject is not the same as altering it to meet some ideal formula. Instead, the artist must cultivate the feeling in the heart, and use the tools of the trade to put that feeling on canvas — while still painting the subject accurately.

14. Art for art's sake or art for subject's sake?

The former is be the guiding idea of the Aesthetic movement, which was in full swing in the opening years of the 20th century. Speed strikes a reasonable middle course between the two classic art theories. He faults paintings that calls attention to surface technique, and he also dismisses the other extreme: artists so caught up in their subject matter that they create only "painted symbols."

15. It also serves to disturb the 'copying theory.'

Speed ends his introductory essay with an admonition to his readers not to fall into the common pitfall among academic students of his time, and perhaps now, to copy the outer surface of things, while missing the more elusive qualities of life and rhythm.
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I invite you to add your comments, as much as possible keyed to the numbers.
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The Practice and Science of Drawing is available as an inexpensive softcover edition from Dover, You can also get the book fully illustrated and formatted for Kindle. Or you can read it online in a free Archive.org edition. Finally, there's a Project Gutenberg version

There will be additional discussions and postings related to the GJ Book Club on:
Allen Morris's Facebook Group Page
Pinterest page by Carolyn Kasper.
GJ Book Club Facebook page  organized by Keita Hopkinson

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21. Streaming a Plein-Air Painting


On Thursday, April 2, Jeanette and I web-streamed a plein-air painting to viewers around the world using ConcertWindow.com. We webcast from the parking lot of the Beekman Arms Hotel in Rhinebeck, NY using public wifi from the hotel.



Here's the painting in gouache, which took about an hour from start to finish. I streamed with an iPad2 using BUSK, Concert Window's streaming app for iOS smart phones and tablets.

This is the prototype iPad holder that I built. It's made of plywood and a piece of picture frame. But it's not adequate because it doesn't protect the iPad enough from a fall risk. I'll build an improved prototype and share that with you.

iPad holder for a camera tripod
Having the iPad on a tripod allows for a lot of flexibility of camera angles, letting me tilt the view down to the palette and up to the painting and the subject. I also had the option of switching the view from one side of the iPad (the sketch) to the other (me talking).

We were just testing this out, really, so we didn't announce, schedule, or promote the show. But the word mysteriously spread, and 53 viewers magically found their way to the stream. There were viewers all across the USA and Canada, and also in Ireland, Switzerland, Germany, as well as fellow artists watching from work at Hallmark Cards, ILM, and Pixar. The interactive quality of the show was fun for all. People could ask us to change the camera angle or ask any question about the process.
Thanks to all who watched. We appreciated your comments, questions, and generous tips.


(Link to YouTube video) Here's a random clip from the webcast to give you the flavor of it. Streaming an on-the-spot painting is filled with unexpected risks and surprises. We had motorcycles revving up around us, trucks backing, beeping, and blocking the motif. While we were painting, several passersby came up and interacted with us, and they became part of the webcast.

A few people told me this was the first ever web-streamed plein-air painting. I'm not sure—was it really? At least I'm pretty sure it was the first stream on a monetized platform of an outdoor painting using a public wifi connection. About the monetization: Shows can be set to be free, "Pay What You Want" ($1 minimum) or performers can set ticket price. Viewers can tip while the show is in progress. Concert Window splits the revenue: 70% to the artist / 30% to Concert Window.

Jim and Jeanette Gurney sketching. Photo by Susan Daly Voss
It helped to have an extra laptop so that Jeanette could be moderator and read the chat stream aloud. I tried to answer questions as I painted, or if I was concentrating too much, she answered them.

If you want to be sure you don't miss my next plein-air webcast, be sure to check Concert Window's James Gurney page and press the "Follow" button. They'll email you next time I go live.

If you're thinking of doing a webcast, I recommend it. It's free to sign up and do a show. You could stream your demos, connect with your gallery clients, and be on the cutting edge of new technology. And you can webcast using your smart phone from anywhere there's cell coverage, or from a laptop anywhere there's wifi.

Here's more info about Concert Window:
What can you earn? How does Concert Window work?
My first Concert Window show was in August 2013.

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22. Happy Easter

Happy Easter! Here's a drawing that I did about 30 years ago of the Church of the Messiah in Rhinebeck, NY. 

I drew it with pen and ink on scratchboard. The style is an homage to Franklin Booth (1874-1948), whose work was in turn inspired by the look of wood engraving.

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23. How Sargent Interpreted Carolus-Duran


In 1879, at the dawn of his career, John Singer Sargent painted his teacher Carolus-Duran. Soon after, Carolus-Duran sat for a photograph.

Since the two images share a similar pose and lighting, it's possible to compare them for some insights into the subtle choices that Sargent must have been making.



1. Values of the skin tones are simplified and organized.
2. The principle highlights are reserved for the forehead and the nose.
3. The values of the hair are greatly simplified.
4. The mustache is twirled into up-facing points.
5. The face is slightly slimmer.
6. The eyebrows and eyes are drawn with more definite angles.
7. Throughout, there's a visual theme of the heart- or chevron-shape.

People who watched Sargent paint a portrait marveled at the process: "The lightness and certainty of his touch was marvelous to behold. Never was there any painter who could indicate a mouth with more subtlety, with more mobility, or with keener differentiation. As he painted it, the mouth bloomed out of the face, an integral part of it, not, as in the great majority of portraits, painted on it, a separate thing. He showed how much could be expressed in painting the form of the brow, the cheekbones, and the moving muscles around the eyes and mouth, where the character betrayed itself most readily; and under his hands, a head would be an amazing likeness long before he had so much as indicated the features themselves. In fact, it seemed to me the mouth and nose just happened with the modeling of the cheeks, and one eye, living luminous, had been placed in the socket so carefully prepared for it."


The painting won an Honorable Mention at the Salon, and an observer noted, "There was always a little crowd around it and I overheard constantly remarks in favour of its excellence."*

Adapted from "John Sargent" by Evan Charteris (New York: Scribner's Sons, 1927).
* from John Singer Sargent, Complete Paintings, Volume 1: The Early Portraits (Vol 1)

Previously: A similar comparison with his portrait of Coventry Patmore

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24. Dinotopia World Beneath, Episode 10

It's Tuesday, time for Episode 10 of the serialized audio dramatization of Dinotopia: The World Beneath. You can listen to the track by clicking on the play button below, or by following the direct link to SoundCloud.




As they search for the legendary treasure of King Ogthar, Arthur, Oriana, Bix, and Crabb find a mothball fleet of biomechanical walkers, whose design is based on trilobites and dinosaurs.  

Back in the early 1990s, when I was painting these images, not many people called such things "steampunk," but they were definitely inspired by Victorian mechanics.  

The Podcast Series
This acoustic adventure was produced by Tom Lopez, mastermind of the ZBS Foundation, with an original music track by composer Tim Clark.

The Christian Science Monitor called this production "A dazzling soundscape that does full justice to Gurney’s wondrous lost world… perfect family listening.”

Episode 11 arrives in a week. Each short episode will only be live online for one week, and then it will disappear.

If you'd like to purchase the full two-hour World Beneath podcast right now and hear all fifteen episodes back to back in a feature-length production, check out The World Beneath at ZBS Foundation website for the MP3 download. It's also available as a CD.

The Book
You can also order the original printed book from my web store and I'll sign it for you. (It ships via Media Mail within 24 hours of your order. US orders only for the book, please). The book is also available from Amazon in a 20th Anniversary Edition with lots of extras.

The Museum Exhibition is now on view
Many of these paintings are now on view at the Dinotopia exhibition at the Stamford Art Museum and Nature Center through May 25.

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25. Interview in Main Street Magazine

Main Street Magazine just released an interview in connection with the Stamford Museum show. The interview was by artist Brandon Kralik.

Kralik: It seems to me that by working in a representational style, by "breaking the rules," it goes to follow that we are actually operating under different rules, an alternative aesthetic criteria for judging what is good and what is valuable. Would you agree with this, that Illustration is something different than what we see in Post Modern aesthetic?

Gurney: I don’t think that painting representational images or telling stories with pictures necessarily breaks any rules. Who would make such rules? Telling stories and representing nature is what artists have been doing all through history.

Kralik: What are your "rules" that decide if a picture is good or not?

Gurney: My appreciation of art doesn’t follow any pre-set rules. I find myself moved by great works in all sorts of categories—landscapes, comic art, adventure illustration, landscape painting, portraiture. There’s good and bad art in every category, and I'm always ready to be surprised. I don’t spend much time evaluating what’s good or bad, because I’m a painter, not a critic. The best cure for bad art is good art.

Kralik: Do you make a distinction between Illustration and Fine Art?

Gurney: No, I don’t, because both terms are impossible to define. By fine art, do you mean gallery art? For some people the term "fine art" suggests a branch of art that's supposedly free from commercialism. Having been in the trenches in all sorts of art-making, I can attest that gallery art can often be the most commercial form. Gallery artists are always reminded of what's selling, and what's not, and are pressured by the marketplace to repeat successes more than any other kind of art. It's possible for a gallery artist to be unaffected by such things, but it's not easy. The least commercial art form I've ever experienced is magazine illustration, where the individual work of art has little influence on the ultimate commercial success of the larger work, namely the magazine. So if any art is fine in that sense, it is illustration.

If “fine art” means art that is created at the artist’s own initiative, then that would include illustrated books that the artist/illustrator creates.

“Illustration” is a term that means different things to different people. It can mean work that’s commissioned, work that tells a story, or work that is reproduced. Those are very different criteria, and there have been great works of art that fit one, two, or even all three of these measures.

A more meaningful distinction for me is between observational work and studio work—or you might say outdoor work versus indoor work, the outer eye versus the inner eye. Both aspects of the artistic life are essential to me, and always have been.

Kralik: Something that you have said, and which Mort Kunstler reiterated in his talk was that in part the goal is to create something, a painting, that cannot be photographed. You have done this with your Dinotopia series and in your numerous illustrations for National Geographic. Is this a primary concern or thought behind your work? What is the greatest benefit that realist painting has to offer us? To show us what we cannot see any other way, or to copy nature, or both?

Gurney: I agree with Mr. Kunstler—painting the things that we can only imagine is one of my favorite challenges as an artist. I did a lot of work for National Geographic, including pictures of the the legendary voyages of Jason and Ulysses, and reconstructions of the kingdom of Kush in Nubia and the civilization of the Etruscans in Italy. Each project was a stimulating chance to travel for research and to work directly with experts to recreate a world that could never be photographed.

I like to call this kind of painting “imaginative realism.” Imaginative realism is different from what we usually think of as fantasy. It’s a broader term, including any scene that can’t be photographed or observed directly.

Imaginative realism comes into play when reconstructing a scene from ancient Rome, a dinosaur in its habitat, a battle from the Civil War, or a portrayal of the Titanic on the sea floor. These are modern versions of what used to be called history painting.

Most wildlife art falls into this category, too, because wildlife artists can’t just snap a photo and interpret it in paint; they have to develop a scene first in their imagination and use their knowledge of nature to create a believable composition. What all these kinds of pictures have in common is that the artist begins with an imaginary idea, and then works hard to make the resulting picture as realistic as possible.

But I have also always painted and sketched from life at every opportunity. I’m currently working on a series of instructional documentaries on painting on location. The first one is called “Watercolor in the Wild,” and the next two will cover gouache and casein.

Kralik: What is the role of representational painting in our society?

Gurney: I can’t speak in general terms about what painting means for other artists or for society as a whole. I only know what motivates me to paint, and that’s the excitement that comes while making an image come to life out of the physical materials that I move around with my hands.

Whether it’s an imaginary scene or a portrayal of something I’m observing, each picture is a kind of conjuring process, and an illustrated book like Dinotopia combines my love of writing, lettering, book design, storytelling, and painting into a larger act of creation.

Kralik: For myself, I am interested in what connects us, as human beings from different cultures but also as societies and cultures existing in different times. Rockwell once said that he was not concerned about this. "Let future generations create their own artists," he said. Is timelessness something that you think about? Do you think about communicating with future generations through your work?

Gurney: I remember reading that statement about Rockwell, which suggests that he didn’t care about his legacy. Perhaps that was true early on. But once he realized that his paintings were taking on a life beyond their function as magazine covers, I believe he did care a lot about his legacy. Why would he bother to set up the Norman Rockwell Museum, and why would he write his autobiography and teach in the Famous Artists School? I think what he was saying with the quote about future generations was that artists should create their own art for their own times, and not copy him or anyone else. Rockwell was certainly concerned with connecting with his public. He painted the Four Freedoms completely on his own initiative, and it became a decisive factor in the war effort.

We live now in an age of transient technology and passing fads, but at least two things have the capacity of lasting: books and original paintings. Personally I’ve always preferred making art that has a physical embodiment, such as a drawing or painting, as opposed to digital art. I have no way of knowing whether my paintings will survive fires or floods, or whether they’ll speak to future generations.

Kralik: The idea that an artist must express themselves is paramount in Post Modern ideology and with representational painters it seems that it is partly this but also that it is important to "connect" with viewers using more universal symbols than purely subjective imagery. How much of your work is for yourself and how much is for your viewer? As if that were a measurable thing.

Gurney: Expression plays a role in my art certainly, because I have strong feelings that I bring to my paintings, and I like my art to communicate them. But expression isn’t as important for me as observation.

I love to capture the world around me, and I do that for my own pleasure, though more and more I’m sharing my sketchbooks through video and other new media.

I have literally dozens of pencil sketchbooks filled with studies of people that I’ve met and places that I’ve traveled. My studio is crowded with boxes full of small oil studies from faraway places and local vistas from the Hudson Valley. Sometimes the goal in an outdoor study is to capture a particular atmospheric effect or a color relationship, or to document the rapids in a stream or the unique quality of a sunset.

Kralik: How do you view the changes within the representational art world in the past 25 years or so? Realist painting seems to definitely be making a comeback it could be said. Do you agree? Why is that?

Gurney: Realist painting is certainly making a comeback, but I’ve also noticed a huge rise in interest in animation, graphic novels, and concept art when I visit art schools. Along with the return of realism as a mode of painting, popular forms of art are finding their way into academia and museums.

The Museum of Modern Art had huge successes with the exhibitions of Pixar and Tim Burton, and we’ve been fortunate to have had over 25 one-man museum shows on the art of Dinotopia. More and more people are realizing that illustration, comics, and animation are the mainstream story of twentieth-century American art. You couldn’t talk about 20th century music without telling the story of jazz and rock 'n' roll. The same is true in the visual arts.

That’s why we’re seeing more and more popular-culture college courses, not only on Bob Dylan and the Beatles, but also about children's literature, animation history, and the history of comics. All of these popular forms have dealt with the big topics—love and death—often with wit and humor.

Kralik: You have given a number of talks at universities and high schools. How can we, as painters, best encourage and educate students interested in representational art and, against the apparent rules of the art world, convince them and patrons who might support them, that it is ok to work in a realist or illustrative fashion?

Gurney: There’s no need to convince art students of any of this. They’ve grown up with the Internet, where they follow their own eyes to stuff they like. There are no rules in the art world. Old-school tastemakers and gatekeepers are getting swept away by new forms—and forums—of patronage and criticism. It’s not like it was in the old days, where you had to hope for the approval of the Pope or John Ruskin or the Salon Jury or Clement Greenberg. Art is wide open now, and there’s no single kind of art that’s dominant. The important trend is that for the first time ever, artists can connect directly with their audience and paint whatever they want to paint, supported by the people who love what they do.
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Dinotopia exhibit at the Stamford Museum and Nature Center through May 25
Brandon Kralik has an exhibit of his work at the Hotchkiss School in Connecticut, and will be giving a talk there on April 27.

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