Wednesday, March 22, 2017

March Snow in Kingston

A beam of late afternoon sunlight slashes across the road and wraps over a snowbank. The light is fleeting, and so is the snow.  A tangle of bare branches veils The Governor Clinton Apartments. I want to cram it all into my little book.

March Snow, Kingston, gouache, 5 x 8 inches
I pull the car over next to Academy Green Park in Kingston, New York. It's Saint Patrick's Day, but there's not much green in view. No green on my palette, either. Just a few tubes of gouache: Prussian blue, raw sienna, cadmium yellow deep, perylene maroon, and white.

(Link to video on Facebook)
Check out our new app: Living Sketchbook, Vol. 1: Boyhood Home
iOS on Apple phones and tablets at the App Store
and for Android devices at Google Play
Gouache Materials List

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Guest Post from Codeman Dan

Today let's hear from Dan Gurney, the developer of our new sketching app. This is adapted from his article in Medium called Building the “Living Sketchbook” app

Dan says: "My dad is an artist, and for a long time he’s wished for an app that would let you see every page of a sketchbook in scalable high res, combined with voiceovers and videos about the experience of creating it.

"He couldn’t find authoring software to deliver the full experience that he imagined. So I helped him build a new technology in app form, and we’ve launched it with one of his sketchbooks. It’s available now on iOS and Android as “Living Sketchbook Vol. 1: Boyhood Home.”

"Here’s how we did it…

Research + Planning

"The core idea is pretty simple — a way to look at high-res sketches with accompanying audio and video.

"We first looked at the usual suspects like iBooks and PDFs. iBooks were initially tempting, but the authoring interface was limited and clunky, and distribution was limited to only iOS devices, completely leaving out a large segment of my dad’s fanbase who uses Android. We also looked at PDFs but couldn’t find a reliable way to insert audio and video.

"In addition to having a custom user interface, we wanted to make sure that the app would run well for all users with no formatting issues.

"So I decided to build an app from scratch. Recently I’ve been using a new technology called React Native. It’s built by the team at Facebook, it’s open source, and instead of writing completely separate apps for Android and iOS, you can write one app which works natively on both platforms.

"When I first heard about React Native — after spending months learning Swift — I was skeptical. iOS and Android with the same codebase… it seemed too easy.

"Then I looked into it and realized that not only did it compile to native code, but I could also apply my existing knowledge of CSS and HTML thanks to JSX. Conceptually it was an easy call, so despite my time investment into Swift, I jumped in.

"Boy am I glad I did. Despite a few annoying compatibility errors and other small snafus, I find RN faster, simpler, and more consistent than Swift. The RN documentation online is vibrant and extensive. So when it came time to build the “Living Sketchbook,” RN was the clear way to go.

Design + Build
"After some on-paper wireframes, I did the visual design in Sketch. I kept the UI simple, with buttons for table of contents, voiceover, video (where applicable), and info. I used Google’s Material Design icons which look great and are familiar to people.

"The initial setup and layout for the app went fairly smoothly. We wanted it to run equally well on phones and tablets, so I built an adaptive layout that would expand to fill available screen space. Props to React Native’s handy “Dimensions” feature which lets you detect the screen size upon initial app load and subsequent device rotation.

"The first real roadblock came when I began testing the app on actual devices. These high resolution images are BIG. About 5000 pixels across. And it turns out that older iPads, and stock Android devices, can’t really handle them at all, leading to an app crash.

"So I had to do some combination of optimizing the app for older devices, and/or limiting which devices could run the app.

"I wanted to support as many devices as possible, so my first approach was optimization. Instead of loading 25 high-res images at once (and storing them in the device’s memory), I loaded only the full image you were currently viewing, and used placeholder thumbnails for the rest.

"This helped tremendously, especially on Android devices, but older iPads just didn’t have the processor to handle even one high definition image, so I “gated” the app to iOS devices with arm64 processors and above. To cut out the oldest devices on the Android side, I specified Android KitKat (4.4) and above.

"One other difficulty came with the panning, zooming, and swiping mechanics. Due to the native differences between iOS and Android, as well as some disparities in React Native support, I had to write custom components which targeted specifically iOS or Android using RN’s handy “component.ios.js” and “” convention.

"The iOS component used a native ScrollView with some minor tweaks, including a custom PanResponder to register fast swipes happening during animation transitions. The Android component used “react-native-transformable-image” with some customizations to the touch responder in the “react-native-view-transformer” dependency.

"Optimizing performance, testing on different devices, and writing custom touch interactions definitely took the bulk of the development time – at least 60%. This is one area where writing for two platforms at once can be a headache. But hey, it still took way less time than writing two completely separate apps. I’d estimate altogether, I had about 90% code reuse.

"One thing I loved — it was cool seeing these open source components being updated in real time by the community. React Native is truly a living piece of technology and is improving all the time. That can lead to headaches when it comes to updating software and dependencies, but in my opinion it’s worth the trouble.

"At the end of the day, I used these plugins (thanks to all of the awesome authors):
react-native-code-push, react-native-photo-view, react-native-sound, react-native-splash-screen (for initial loading screens), react-native-svg (to render Material Design icons), react-native-swiper, react-native-timer, react-native-transformable-image (pinch to zoom on Android), react-native-video, react-redux, redux-thunk

"Once I had tested the app fairly extensively on a motley collection of iPads, iPhones, and Androids, it was time to get some beta feedback. There are so many devices out there — especially Android! — that we needed to know which devices simply wouldn’t be able to run the app.

"Luckily, my dad’s fans are really engaged and happy to help provide feedback on new products. We announced a limited beta program on my dad’s blog and used a Google Form to collect responses. Then, I made a spreadsheet with a representative sample of devices and assigned beta testers to cover the range, focusing especially on the “gray area” of older devices which may or may not work. We also asked testers about the interface, overall experience, bugs, and suggested selling price, again collecting responses via a Google Form.

"The feedback was extremely useful and we learned a lot about device compatibility as well as pricing. It was interesting that iOS users seemed willing to pay more than Android users — about 2–3x as much. However, in our case, we didn’t want to charge some people more than others, so we reduced the price to match on both platforms.

"Articles, like apps, always take longer than you think…

"As launch approached, I put together app store screenshots using Sketch, which provides handy size presets.

"The icon was fun, as we wanted something “handmade” to balance out the clean digital lines, and ended up using an original drawing by my dad.

"I uploaded the screenshots, icons, and final app binaries to the app stores, with Code Push included so I could push any updates over the air.

"My dad handled all the marketing, as he has a great process developed through his past art instruction videos.

"And now hopefully you all are enjoying the Living Sketchbook! Thanks for reading. I had a blast building this app, and the process only deepened my appreciation for React Native. Building for iOS and Android simultaneously — with live app previewing throughout — is an amazing tool to have.

"You can download “Living Sketchbook Vol. 1: Boyhood Home” now on iOSand Android.

"If you’d like to inquire about your own app project, you can reach me at gurney.dan (at)

"Thanks and have a great day."
There's a review of "The Living Sketchbook, Vol.1" in today's post on the art blog Lines and Colors by Charley Parker.

Monday, March 20, 2017

The Living Sketchbook App is Live

The Living Sketchbook™ is new technology that lets you experience one of my sketchbooks on your smartphone or tablet. (Link to video trailer on YouTube)

The first in the series, Volume 1: Boyhood Home, is now available for iOS iPhones and iPads at the App Store and for Android phones and tablets at Google Play. (Note that if you aren't able to purchase it, it may be because you have an older model of iOS or Android.)

Praise for The Living Sketchbook
“It’s as nice as having James’s sketchbook in my hands! Only with the added bonus of actually being able to see him manipulate the image. Having followed many of these pieces and seeing the originals in some cases, I find that this is a really helpful tool to see how he paints in real life and being able to examine the images at my leisure to see the way that the final brushstrokes are put down. I hope that James adds more sketchbooks and/or pages so that I can get even more inspiration from his work.”
—Michael Mrak, Design Director, Scientific American

"When I found out about his app, I thought to myself: “Why didn’t I think of that?” It embraces technology and allows users an opportunity to get closer to an artist’s sketchbook...The app was really intuitive and easy to navigate. To go to next page, you swipe the image. To zoom in, you pinch outwards. Last but not least, there are buttons that brings out the voice narrations with occasional videos of how he has painted on-site. Imagine a talking sketchbook with videos.”
—Erwin Lian, The Perfect Sketchbook

“This app is outstanding! One of my favorite aspects of James Gurney's videos is getting the opportunity to hear his thoughts about the pieces he is painting. I love that I can get that same experience while enjoying the detailed views of the high-resolution sketches in the app.”
—Jon Schindehette, Art Director, Art Order
Coding and development by Dan Gurney. 
Living Sketchbook, Vol. 1: Boyhood Home
iOS on Apple phones and tablets at the App Store
and for Android devices at Google Play

Sunday, March 19, 2017

RIP Bernie Wrightson

I'm sad to hear about the passing of horror illustrator and concept artist Bernie Wrightson (1948-2017). He's at the center of this picture, which also includes Pete Von Sholly (far left) and Dave Merritt at Jonas' Studios in 1993.

Menzel's Painting Mediums

"Traveling in beautiful nature" by Adolph Menzel, gouache, 11x15 inches
A question came in: "James Gurney, can you tell us what medium(s) Adolph Menzel used when he painted?"

He used them all: oil, gouache, watercolor, and pastel. His friend Paul Meyerheim observed that Menzel’s technique was always different from other artists of his time because he was not a product of the academy.

Painting in oils did not come easily for him, and he didn’t care very much for technical finesse. He used children’s watercolor pigments, exhausted bristle brushes, and a palette made from a toothpaste dish. After 1887 he declared that he would retire his oils in favor of gouache. He felt gouache was more suited to capturing certain natural effects. 

According to Meyerheim, “It didn’t appear right to him to present dry stone, a sandy path, or a woolen sheep as if all of those things had been drenched in oil and varnish. . . . He expressed his greatest truths in pastels, watercolors, and gouache.”
The painting above appears in color in my recent book Adolph Menzel: Drawings and Paintings, and my answer is adapted from my introduction.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Teaser for Living Sketchbook

Here's a teaser trailer for The Living Sketchbook™ app, releasing Monday, March 20 for iOS and Android devices. (Link to YouTube video)


The app is now available for iOS on Apple phones and tablets at the App Store
and for Android devices at Google Play


Sharon Cullen: "CANT WAIT! What does the app do exactly? Is it video clips of you?"
Hi, Sharon—it lets you look through every page of one of my sketchbooks. You can pinch to zoom to see close-up details, while listening to audio of location sounds and my commentary about materials and methods. Plus for some of the sketches you can watch videos shot on location. It makes a sketchbook come to life in a new, immersive and interactive way.

What devices will the app be compatible with?
Android 4.3 KitKat and above
iOS 9.0 and above
Compatible iOS devices:
iPhone 5s and above
iPad Air and above
iPad Mini 2 and above
iPad Pro and above
iPod Touch sixth generation and above

How much will it cost and what are the plans for the app?
The app will cost $4.99. The sketchbook "Boyhood Home" is the first volume in the series. More sketchbooks will be released later as additional apps.

Sunila asks: "I wonder... are you also using one of these egg timers to activate the dolly?"
The dolly is pulled along a homemade dolly track made of two metal broomsticks that I got from the dollar store. Movement is generated by a geared-down Lego motor at a velocity of 1 inch per minute. The camera hangs below the cart and shoots at 5 second intervals using an intervalometer, which is strapped on top of the Lego cart. 

Johnny Matthias: "I don't know what I was watching, but it looked pretty cool. A Lego rotoscope? Sculpey or 3D-printed figures in a walk cycle? You have all the cool toys."
It was a series of 10 hand-sculpted replacement-animation walking poses of my character Clement. I animated it on a timer, changing the poses every 15 seconds, which results in three frames of video. This method of stop motion animation goes very fast; I shot the whole animation in 40 minutes.

''James Gurney's Living Sketchbook: Vol. 1 celebrates the mobility and charm of gouache, casein, colored pencil, and pen and ink in sketchbook form. This brilliant app is loaded with beautiful high resolution artwork set to a powerful environmental soundscape that brings you there. The narration is full of insightful observations and wisdom to pass on to artists of all levels. Additional layers of video are dispersed in the volume to clearly illustrate approaches by a master teacher and storyteller. An elegant and generous offering that will immediately make you want to sketch out ‘in the wild'!"
—Erik Tiemens -

"Once again, James Gurney sets the bar for showmanship art, inviting you beyond the final image into the mind and imagination of the artist who created it. His 'Living Sketchbook' App takes a classic Gurney Sketchbook and adds audio, video, and written notes on the inspiration, palettes, and thinking behind the art. It's as if you were a friendly ghost watching the creation of every page. Sketchbooks are often described as snapshots of an artist's soul, giving this App an intense feeling of intimacy. Another small masterpiece of art and technology from Gurney Studios.”
Iain McCaig, concept artist for Star Wars, Jungle Book, Avengers
The Living Sketchbook app was designed and developed by my son Dan Gurney.

Friday, March 17, 2017

The Burren, County Clare

Happy St. Patrick's Day, everybody! Here's a view across the Burren near Kilfenora, County Clare, Ireland.
The Burren, Oil, 8x10 inches. 
To give you a sense of scale, those two dark lines at right are stone walls. Note that the clouds get a bit warmer as they go back to the horizon because the blue wavelengths are filtered out of the white light as it travels through all that atmosphere, leaving more warm colors remaining.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Graveyard Scene by Tom Lovell

This 1947 illustration by Tom Lovell for True Magazine was for an article called "Extra Corpse in the Graveyard." It's a good image to study for color and composition.

Color and Value
• You could probably paint this with Venetian red, viridian, and white, maybe with a touch of raw umber and yellow ochre.
• Note the grouping of tones in the white gravestones and the simplicity of the grassy ground texture.
• Tones are also grouped in the dark background trees and in the shadowed foreground grasses.

• Except for the walking figure, all the other key elements are cropped intriguingly: the arm, the gravestone with its fragmentary name, and the white gravestone on the right.
• This design is not an obvious one, and I would guess that Lovell arrived at this composition after doing a lot of tonal thumbnails in pencil.  
• Positioning the hand in the extreme foreground also places viewer in the grave and in the path of discovery. 

App Review from Erwin Lian

Thanks to Erwin "Cherngzhi" Lian, creator of "The Perfect Sketchbook" for his review of the new app, Living Sketchbook, Vol.1.

"When I found out about his app, I thought to myself: 'Why didn’t I think of that?' It embraces technology and allows users an opportunity to get closer to an artist’s sketchbook...The app was really intuitive and easy to navigate.To go to next page, you swipe the image. To zoom in, you pinch outwards. Last but not least, there are buttons that brings out the voice narrations with occasional videos of how he has painted on-site. Imagine a talking sketchbook with videos."
Read the rest 
Living Sketchbook, Vol. 1: Boyhood Home is the first in a series of sketchbook apps. It is now available for iOS on Apple phones and tablets at the App Store, and for Android devices at Google Play

App coding and development by Dan Gurney.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Advance Review of Living Sketchbook, Vol. 1

Brad Teare of the blog Thick Paint had a chance to test out the Living Sketchbook™ app, and he wrote a review of it:

"Imagine being invited to your favorite artist's studio and getting a chance to thumb through his or her sketchbook. That's how I felt when I previewed James Gurney's new sketchbook app Boyhood Home.

"I'm super busy right now–I'm preparing for a major landscape show–and I initially thought I would quickly thumb through the images, perhaps delve into a few I found intriguing and get back to work. However, after experiencing a couple pages of Boyhood Home, I was hooked and retired to my overstuffed chair to linger over each page.

"Surprisingly, the digital sketchbook experience actually was as intriguing as thumbing through a favorite artist's sketchbook. It's a different experience, of course, but has unique advantages.

"The book is divided into three modes: the sketches, which you can zoom into, a video with voice over, and often an additional video feature, like a digital sidebar. The videos are about one to two minutes long and for my taste about right, allowing Gurney to share tips while not slowing down the experience. As you can see in the screen grab above you tap the icons in the upper right depending on which feature you want. Tap the image and the interface fades away. The "i" button gives you information regarding the medium and subject matter–which in one case informed me about a sketching device known as a white gel pen–which I immediately noted for addition to my plein air kit.

"The sketchbook is 25 pages long and includes a page showing Gurney's tools and media (primarily gouache and casein). Be sure to use the pinch and zoom feature on all the images as it allows you to see incredibly close detail. The zoom feature alone makes this well worth the $5 price, but the fusion of video, voice over, and images makes this as close to actually being in a cafe with Gurney, discussing how he created each sketch. The first volume of the Living Sketchbook app will be available March 20 for $4.99 for both iOS and Android phones and tablets.

"For the tips and inspiration alone I eagerly look forward to more sketchbooks."
Living Sketchbook, Vol. 1: Boyhood Home is the first in a series of sketchbook apps. It is now available for iOS on Apple phones and tablets at the App Store, and for Android devices at Google Play
Thanks, Brad Teare. Check out his blog "Thick Paint."
App coding and development by Dan Gurney.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Shot List for Art Videos

Peter Culos says, "I'm experimenting with video now and I was wondering what you use to produce video."

Peter, I shoot all the videos by myself while I'm painting. Sometimes I ask Jeanette to take a couple of shots, but she's usually busy painting. Shooting while you paint is a little distracting, but kind of fun once you get used to it.

My gear is pretty basic, nothing fancy or expensive. Here's some info, broken down into 1. Shot List, 2. Camera Gear, 3. Audio, and 4. Editing.

You don't need all this coverage, of course. This list is just a memory jogger. A variety of shots makes editing fun later.

• Walk into scene (watch 180 rule)
• Motif framed with hands + POV
• Reaction, explaining thinking
• Decision; Set down stuff

Painting in Wyoming with separate camera tripod
• Walk-on, walk-off
• Shoot the local signage
• Overall shot of setting
• Master shot of easel / setup
• 2-shot if I'm painting with a companion
• Super far away in crowd, talking

• Closeup shots of parts of scene
• Long hold of comparison for split screen (be sure action is center frame)
• Steadicam into scene
• Over the shoulder

• C/U of hands and feet for cutaway
• Artistic focus pull (use sparingly)
• Super-closeups of motif (LOCK-OFF)
• Tubes of color chosen
• Paint squeezing
• Paint mixing
• Choosing brush
• Brush POV (specialized shot with camera mounted on brush)

• “Here’s what I want to do”
• “My first step is to...”
• “Now I’m closing in on the finish..BUT”
• “I’m using this tool (show).”
• “I’ve got a problem…HOW TO FIX”

• Passersby
• Expert
• Reaction of owner
• “Tell me about this place”

• Looking over easel
• Looking up and down

• Who might stop me
• Time pressure
• Doubts
• Forgot materials
• Banter with painting companion

• POV of scene during painting
• Set up or takedown
• Dynamics of light, clouds, people

• Extended “room tone" of environment
• Selected sound cues: doors, etc.
• Lavalier mic clipped to drawing surface

• Location
• Step by step

Clockwise from upper left: camcorder, single-lens reflex, 
GoPro action camera, and point-and-shoot
I use a Canon Vixia camcorder for most of my videos, which gives me the necessary manual controls. If you get one video camera, a camcorder is the most versatile.
1. Focus lock.
2. Manual exposure.
3. Custom white balance. 
4. Fold-out LCD screen.
5. Input port for external audio. 

I also use a Canon EOS Rebel Digital SLR camera with the kit zoom lens, plus a 50mm f/1.8 lens (for bokeh) and a Canon 10-18mm wide angle lens. I use this camera for stop motion and occasionally for time lapse with an intervalometer.

I use a GoPro Hero mainly for time lapse. I combine those stills into a video clip using a free program called Time Lapse Assembler.

Canon PowerShot Elph pocket camera in a belt holster when I’m in the field. I rely on it for shooting stills and for getting extra video coverage when it’s not convenient to bring out the other cameras. In a pinch I often use this handheld and apply stabilization in post.
Ideally I put the camera on its own lightweight tripod, held out to the side on an extension bar, which keeps the tripod from getting in my way.

• Zoom H2n digital recorder
I use this both for field recording and for studio voiceover.
• Wired Lavalier microphone
Necessary for any on-camera talking. Don't rely on the camera's onboard mic.
Cuts wind noise. Better to make your own than buy an expensive one.

• WORKFLOW: 1. Visual edit, 2. Color correction, 3. Background audio, 4. Foley if necessary, 5. Voiceover, 6. Titles and Transitions
• Whenever possible, conceive of the piece as a 3-act story: Articulate goals, grapple with challenges, and figure out solutions.
• Use authentic sounds instead of music under time lapse. Use music only at the beginning and end if necessary for mood. Don't use music as an acoustic floor throughout.
• Edit to match the speed of viewer's mind, not real time.
• If you change speed in a shot, tell the viewer that you're doing it in VO.

• Check out my painting tutorials on Sellfy
• You can also get my videos on Gumroad
• Link for all my videos on DVD at Kunaki.
• You can also get my DVDs at Amazon
• Longer post on GJ: How to Video Your Art (goes into more detail about gear)
• Helpful filmmaking tutorials on the older uploads from Indy Mogul (YouTube channel)
• Also some good tutorials on Film Riot and Frugal Filmmaker

Monday, March 13, 2017

Parking Lot Before the Storm

We're at the supermarket early, hoping to beat the crowds before the big snowstorm arrives late tonight. While Jeanette is shopping, I stay in the car and amuse myself with my watercolors.

It's too cold outside to paint, so I sit in the driver's seat and try to capture the view in front of me. I like the low morning light, which casts long shadows. (Link to video on Facebook)

After laying down some basic perspective lines, I start with the car in front of me and work my way out from there. Once I commit to painting a given car, I try to finish it directly, because I know it may not be there long.

Technical notes (with links to Amazon):
• I'm using transparent watercolor from a Schmincke watercolor set for 95% of this painting.
Water-soluble colored pencils and a few touches of white gouache at the beginning and the end. 
• For the soundtrack of the video, I place the digital sound recorder next to the shopping cart return.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Watercolor Tips from Hayao Miyazaki

Hayao Miyazaki, acclaimed director of the Japanese animated films Totoro and Spirited Away, shares some transparent watercolor tips in a charming booklet that was included with a sketching set from the Studio Ghibli Museum. 

Note: I have added alternate translations based on the helpful comments from Sade J and Matthieu in the comments.

"Title: My recommendation. Transparent watercolor is good.

• Transparent watercolor has a strong habit.

• Do not paint stickily and paint after wiping the extra paint and water off. Don't paint with too much pigment and water on your brush, to the point that it's dripping with paint.

• Paint thinly the bright part.

• It's better not use white paint. (Don't use gouache for tinting).

• The other color after under color has dried, let’s mix the color and use it.

• Light the wool which protrudes on a new painting brush. (Use a lighter to singe the frayed ends on a new brush.)

• Anything is fine for a water vessel.

• A retractable knife is enough for the pencil sharpener. "You can also use a [box] cutter knife for a pencil sharpener"

• One 2B pencil is enough for the pencil.

• Divide the palette into seven zones: Bright, Dark, Black, Green 1, Green 2, Blue 2, Blue 1. On the palette, there are actually six distinct mixing zones. From left to right, starting on top: 'bright color zone', 'dark color zone', 'black zone', 'green zone (1)', 'green zone (2)/blue zone (2)', 'blue zone (1)'.

The two mixing areas labelled 'bright' and 'dark' look like they're rather 'warm' and 'cool' when looking at the image.
• Do not use the eraser. 

• Do not draw a guideline for a picture. (Pencil lines will easily show through and excess graphite will muddy your colors) He doesn't mean not using the pencil at all, but doing the underdrawing with confidence, in one go and without using an eraser either.It's the small part in the bottom right corner: "Now, let's draw/paint! First, make an energetic sketch with the pencil. It's not a construction sketch (litt.'underdrawing'). This is the main piece. Draw freely without using an eraser."

• These painting materials are enough for a 2-week trip and preparations for a movie.”

 [Written around the paint tubes]: "I've been using only these for 40 years. I recommend Holbein watercolors, they are inexpensive and easy to use, and you can paint a lot with just a little bit."