Friday, July 31, 2015

Entrance Ramp

At sunrise I'm standing at the bottom of an entrance ramp leading down into a parking lot in Kingston, New York. It's not a place that tourists would ever think of going.

Entrance Ramp, casein, 5 x 8 inches. 
Instead, ordinary people come here on their daily routines. At this hour it's mainly older guys arriving for fitness sessions at the YMCA and patients showing up for appointments at the nearby radiology lab.

Off in the hazy distance is a tangle of street lights, utility poles and cell towers. The sun is coming up hot. A few pools of cool air settle in the shadows around my ankles.
I limit my casein colors to three (plus white): raw umber, golden ochre, and cobalt blue. The underpainting of tinted Venetian red adds a contrasting hue. (By the way, using a contrasting colored underpainting is a legal way to sneak in an additional color in the "Outdoor Market Challenge.) 

Halfway into the block-in. The blue-yellow limited palette mixes with the red of the underpainting.

Covering the surface with grayish opaques is like putting out a fire. A few red embers still glow. 

Now I can concentrate on the close value contrasts and the oppositions of warm and cool colors.

I'm glad I've got my night-painting Department of Art shirt on, because I'm standing a little ways into the road. 

As I paint, I wonder about strange stuff, like why poles are never vertical, and who chose those ball-shaped street lights, and what the sounds would have been like here 100 years ago. I think this sunken parking lot was once the basement of a bustling factory.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Diner Portrait in Gouache

This guy eats his bacon at a diner table near me. 

Gouache, 4 x 5 inches
There's a soft light from the right, and a bright edge light from behind. He has a dark mustache, dark eyebrows, graying hair, no teeth. Maybe he's on his way home from the Hemingway Lookalike Contest.

Art Sperl Disposal: "You propose it, we dispose it."
I lean over my coffee and shoot a glance from under my hat brim. This is portrait painting in the wild. The guy never looks up. He doesn't notice me painting him.
Previously: Portrait Noir

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Joy Ride in a Paint Box

After leading the Allies to victory in World War II, Sir Winston Churchill (1874-1965) became an ardent outdoor painter. Never has painting had such an enthusiastic and eloquent champion.

"Painting is a companion with whom one may walk a great part of life's journey."

"When I die and go to heaven, I want to spend the first million years painting – so I can get to the bottom of the subject."

"We must not be too ambitious. We cannot aspire to masterpieces. We may content ourselves with a joy ride in a paint box. And, for this, Audacity is the only ticket."

"Painting is the same kind of problem as unfolding a long, sustained interlocked argument... It is a proposition commanded by a single unity of conception."

"Without tradition, art is a flock of sheep without a shepherd. Without innovation, it is a corpse."

"Armed with a paint-box, one cannot be bored, one cannot be left at a loose ends, one cannot 'have several days on one's hands.'"

"Painting is complete as a distraction. I know of nothing which, without exhausting the body, more entirely absorbs the mind. Whatever the worries of the hour or the threats of the future, once the picture has begun to flow along, there is no room for them in the mental screen. They pass out into shadow and darkness. All one’s mental light, such as it is, becomes concentrated on the task. Time stands respectfully aside, and it is only after many hesitations that luncheon knocks gruffly at the door."
Most of these quotes are from Churchill's slim but inspiring book Painting As a Pastime, and many of them can be found on the website Art Quotes

Prehistoric Times Reviews "Tyrannosaurs"

Prehistoric Times, the magazine of all things dinosaurian, reviewed my recent tutorial video Tyrannosaurs: Behind the Art. 

"Jim's new video tutorial gives you front row seats at the creation of two Tyrannosaur paintings for Scientific American magazine, including one. Super talented illustrator James Gurney fully explains his process as he reconstructs two recently discovered relatives of Tyrannosaurus rex, as if you were sitting right there with him. Working closely with scientist Stephen Brusatte, who discovered one of them, he shows his process including thumbnails and color comprehensives. He shows how he uses photos and models, as well as outdoor studies, as he moves ahead to the final oil illustration."

"He explains both his methods and his thinking with an emphasis on the techniques for portraying feather and foliage textures, thereby creating a believable reconstruction of a scene that is imagined based on scientific evidence. Jim Gurney shows how he chooses his colors, what brushes he uses at each stage, and how he prepares his board for painting. The production is packed with information that will fascinate dinosaur artists as well as all other artists. I promise you will be most impressed."

—Mike Fredericks, editor, Prehistoric Times
Available as an HD download from Gumroad (credit cards) or Sellfy (Paypal).
and as a DVD from the manufacturer Kunaki, or on

Tuesday, July 28, 2015


Do you do Pinterest? If so you might want to check out my Pinboards on Gouache and Casein painting.

Co-op Truck

"Co-op Truck," black and white gouache, 5 x 8 inches.
I have a half hour while they unload the food co-op truck, so I set up my sketchbook on a garbage can. The driver waits in the shade, leaning against the truck.

The preliminary drawing has accurate measurements, but it is very rough and incomplete, just a map of the big shapes.

I lay a light wash over most of the scene (lighter than it appears here), using some warm and cool colors from my watercolor set. This is to lower the tone just a bit from white so that I can come back up to white with the gouache.

I begin to define the dark values. I want to push the values to very light and very dark, not too many middle tones.

The driver comes over to take a picture of the sketch with his cell phone.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Embodied Cognition

Embodied cognition is an emerging idea in neuroscience which explores the connection between the mind and the body.

Contrary to the older view dating back to Descartes that the mind and body occupy separate realms, and that aesthetic activity is a largely disembodied experience, embodied cognition holds that the body is not only intimately connected to brain activity, but that it plays a strong role in shaping it.

Tom Lovell, 1949 illustration for Redbook, courtesy Jim Pinkoski 
The implications for practicing artists are profound. Recent studies have shown that the act of observing a painting of people participating in an action engages mirror neurons in our own brains. That activity in turn is greatly influenced by similar experiences that we have had.

"Performing an action requires the information to flow out from the control centers to the limbs. But observing the action requires the information to flow inward from the image you're seeing into the control centers," says science writer Kat Zambon. "So that bidirectional flow is what's captured in this concept of mirror neurons and it gives the extra vividness to this aesthetics of art appreciation."

The act of drawing or painting engages the brain in even deeper ways. Lora Likova, PhD, of the Smith-Kettlewell Eye Research Institute in San Francisco, is working on art-based interventions with blindfolded and sight-impaired subjects to better understand the integrative process between the body, the mind, and the perceptual system. 

She says that drawing is “an amazing process that requires precise orchestration of multiple brain mechanisms, perceptual processing, memory, precise motor planning and motor control, spatial transformations, emotions, and other diverse cognitive functions.”

It's no wonder then that talking while drawing requires such mental effort—unless a person is practiced enough at it that the neural pathways have had time to develop in the more automatic centers of the brain.
Auditory mirror neurons
This is true not only for artists but for musicians. Appreciating the art of another artist practitioner engages our brains in deeper ways, especially if you are an experienced practitioner. 

My son is an accordion player, and I've noticed that when he listens to another accordionist playing, my son's fingers are twitching slightly.
Previously on GurneyJourney: Brain Scans of Artists While Drawing
Irish Music from the Hudson Valley by Dylan Foley and Dan Gurney

Sunday, July 26, 2015

New Painting Challenge: Outdoor Market

Eugene Galien Laloue (1854 - 1941) Paris, le marché aux fleurs 
Gouache on board, 8 1/4 x 13 1/4 inches
We had such an enthusiastic response to our last Gouache Challenge that many of you asked for another opportunity.

I hesitate to call it a "contest" because there's no entry fee and the spirit is more about cooperation, community, and camaraderie than competition. We're all at different levels of skill and experience, but we're all out there braving the elements and trying out new painting ideas.

Helen Allingham Market Stall in Venice, watercolor
The August Challenge
Paint an outdoor market on location with a limited palette of opaque water media. The limited palette is just three colors of your choice plus white.

Norman Price, Eastern European Market, gouache
What kinds of outdoor markets?
Any outdoor place where people are selling things: fruit or flower markets, farmers' markets, roadside stands, craft fairs, flea markets, yard sales, swap meets, sidewalk sales, fish markets, Chinese wet markets, Latin-American mercados, and Arab souks.

On Location
It must be painted on location and it must be a new painting done for this challenge. In addition to a scan of the final painting, your entry must include a photo of your painting in progress in front of the motif.

Alfred Glendening Parisienne Flower Market
Any of the opaque water media are acceptable: casein, gouache, Acryla-gouache, or acrylic. Sorry, for this challenge there's no oil and no dry media. You can combine with transparent watercolor and watercolor pencils as long as they're the same colors, but there should be at least some opaque passages. 

The Limited Palette
The reason for the limited palette is to keep your painting harmonious, which can be difficult with such a kaleidoscopic subject.

Here are some suggestions, giving equal time to different companies: 
Holbein gouache: Viridian, Cadmium red deep, and Yellow ochre plus white
M. Graham gouache: Ultramarine blueCadmium yellow deep, and Burnt umber plus white
Winsor and Newton gouache: Perylene maroon, Cadmium yellow, Cobalt blue plus white
Richeson casein: Cobalt blue, Light red, Golden ochre, and white
Feel free to come up with your own, you don't have to follow these suggestions.

It's free to enter. You can enter as soon as you finish the piece, but no later than the deadline: Monday, August 31 at midnight New York time. Winners will be announced on Wednesday September 2. 

Edward Seago, Moroccan souk
What and How to Enter
Just shoot two image files: 1. Your finished painting and 2. A photo of the painting on the easel in front of the subject. Your face doesn't have to be in the photo unless you want to.

Upload the images this Facebook Event page (This way I don't have to deal with email, and you get to present your images your way). If you don't have a Facebook account, please ask a friend with an account to help you. Please include in the FB post the list of the three colors you chose (plus white), and if you want, a word about your inspiration or design strategy, or an anecdote about your painting experience. 

I'll pick one Grand Prize, three Finalists, and six Honorable Mentions. Those 10 will be published on GurneyJourney. The Grand Prize winner and Finalists will receive an exclusive "Department of Art" embroidered patch. In addition, the Grand Prize winner receives a video (DVD or download) of their choice. Everybody who participates will have their work on the Facebook page, too.
Own the 72-minute feature "Gouache in the Wild"
• HD MP4 Download at Gumroad $14.95
• or HD MP4 Download at Sellfy (for Paypal customers) $14.95
• DVD at Purchase at (Region 1 encoded NTSC video) $24.50

Saturday, July 25, 2015

GJ Book Club Chapter 16: Proportion

On the GJ Book Club, we're looking at Chapter 16: "Rhythm/Proportion" in Harold Speed's 1917 classic The Practice and Science of Drawing. The following numbered paragraphs cite key points in boldface. If you would like to respond to a specific image or point, please precede your comment by the corresponding number.

Speed begins by introducing the idea that mathematical proportions may lie behind the design principles of older artists. He says:

1. There appears to be no doubt that the ancient sculptors used some such system.
Speed doesn't mention which system, or which proportions, whether phi, pi, square root of 2, Vitruvian or what? I, for one, am skeptical, and would want to see proof beyond the superimposed diagrams; I'd need to see actual texts from the artists themselves that specifically discuss the question of which system they supposedly used. There's more in my series "Mythbusting the Golden Mean." Speed himself says that art probably shouldn't be reduced to a mathematical formula. Then he asks a key question:

2. The question we are interested to ask here is: are there particular sentiments connected with the different relations of quantities, their proportions, as we found there were in connection with different arrangements of lines and masses? Have abstract proportions any significance in art, as we found abstract line and mass arrangements had?  

Speed answers his question in a simple way that makes sense. In his words: "unity makes for sublimity, while variety makes for the expression of life." Here I don't think he means "sublimity" from the point of view of Edmund Burke's concept of the sublime as apocalyptic or terrifying, but rather more as calmly reverential.

3. Nature seems to abhor equalities, never making two things alike or the same proportion if she can help it. All systems founded on equalities, as are so many modern systems of social reform, are man's work, the products of a machine-made age.

Pepsi headquarters building, 1960

I wonder what Speed would have thought of modern architecture, which made a virtue of even repetition of forms. Speed says, "although you often find repetitions of the same forms equidistant in architecture, it is seldom that equality of proportion is observable in the main distribution of the large masses."

4. Diagrams.

The remainder of the chapter discusses the many diagrams of even spacing (reverential, sublime) versus uneven spacing (life and variety).

Feel free to offer your comments on any of the points mentioned above, or other points I may have missed.


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)
3. Free online edition.
and The Windsor Magazine, Volume 25, "The Art of Mr. Harold Speed" by Austin Chester, page 335. (thanks, अर्जुन)
GJ Book Club on Pinterest (Thanks, Carolyn Kasper)

Friday, July 24, 2015

The Artistic Revival of Austin Brigs, Part 2

Yesterday we read how Austin Briggs took time away from his busy illustration career to spend four months in the Gaspé Peninsula painting from nature. In this Part 2, he'll tell us how this sabbatical paid dividends when he returned.

"My landscapes became more alive and convincing and I knew that I was no longer dependent on other artists for a point of view. In a way, that landscape painting trip to Canada was my declaration of independence."

"While on the Peninsula I used my camera a great deal to record information which I believed I could use later. I was right as you can see here. I painted this sample illustration upon my return from Canada with a feeling of confidence. In painting this picture, I relied entirely on my personal reactions to a subject and on my stored up experience in actually observing and painting from nature."

"My studying began to pay off handsomely because many assignments I received required some landscape in the background. In doing this job for the Woman's Home Companion, I felt that I could see the actual sunlight and shadow on the men as they advanced through the jungle."

"The sky pattern in this Cosmopolitan illustration is one remembered from my Gaspé trip."

"Here is another example of the useful information you can store away in a photograph and eventually use. The shadow pattern in the photograph served as a springboard for the structure of this illustration for The Post. Notice the manner in which the figures follow this pattern. As a result, the picture appears to be 'of a piece.'"

"Here is one illustration from a serial done for The Post. The locale was Charleston, South Carolina and for a long time I struggled to illustrate the story with the help of photographs and studio props The job just wouldn't come off, so I went to Charleston and in a short time had plenty of information as well as a personal knowledge of the countryside."

"This picture was planned with the landscape of a nearby hill in mind. After I had worked out my arrangement, I moved my easel and the model to the hill and painted directly from nature. The sky is as it appeared on the day I painted it and adds much to the mood of the picture. I heartily recommend painting on location whenever circumstances permit it — particularly if the picture is predominantly a landscape. Keep in mind, however, the necessity of integrating the figures into the landscape, rather than slavishly copying the landscape as it appears.
We'll do the Harold Speed Book Club tomorrow.
The Artistic Revival of Austin Briggs, Part 1
Quoted from Famous Artists Course (1954 Edition) Lesson 16.
Austin Briggs Flickr set by Leif Peng