Amazing artists I discovered this week #8

Today I am going to talk about an artist most of you old farts already know, and you young art maggots should know (or already know). For those who don't know this artist, you probably are going to be very excited! Even when you don't like illustrators but you do like dinosaurs, you should continue reading. This is one of the artists who bring you back to your youth and inspire you as an adult on several levels. Of course I am talking about James Gurney.

James Gurney Teaching.

Where it all started

For me it all started when I saw Jurassic Park for the first time. I always loved playing with dinosaurs and I had a fascination for all the fossils  and theories about how these huge (and small) animals moved and had a social hierarchy. He made all this visible in his Dinotopia series.
When you don't like fantasy type of things you can always look at his scientific based illustrations for National Geographic and more as you can read below.
James Gurney is the artist and author best known for his illustrated book series Dinotopia. He specializes in painting realistic images of scenes that can’t be photographed, from dinosaurs to ancient civilizations. He is also a dedicated plein air (outdoor) painter and sketcher, believing that making studies directly from observation fuels his imagination. 
Born in California in 1958, the son of a mechanical engineer, he taught himself to draw by reading books about the illustrators Norman Rockwell and Howard Pyle. He studied archaeology at the University of California at Berkeley, receiving a degree in anthropology with Phi Beta Kappa honors. Prompted by a cross-country adventure on freight trains, he coauthored The Artist’s Guide to Sketching in 1982. During the same period, he worked as a background painter for the animated film Fire and Ice, co-produced by Ralph Bakshi and Frank Frazetta. 
His freelance illustration career began with paperback book covers, where he developed his characteristic realistic renderings of fantastic scenes, often using posed models and handmade maquettes for reference. His has worked on more than a dozen assignments for National Geographic magazine, painting reconstructions of Moche, Kushite, and Etruscan civilizations. The inspiration that came from researching these scenes of ancient life led to a series of lost world paintings, including ”Dinosaur Parade” and ”Waterfall City.” With the encouragement of retired publishers Ian and Betty Ballantine, he committed two years’ time to writing and illustrating Dinotopia: A Land Apart from Time, which was published in 1992. 
Solo exhibitions of his artwork have been presented at The Smithsonian Institution, The Norman Rockwell Museum, The Norton Museum of Art, The Delaware Art Museum, and other venues. He is a popular lecturer at art schools, movie studios and game companies, and he teaches occasional workshops. His most recent book, Color and Light: A Guide for the Realist Painter (2010) was Amazon’s #1 bestselling book on painting for over 52 weeks and is based on his daily blog

Is he really that important?

Yes, yes he is. At least to me he is. He is one of those artists who loves to share his knowledge. When we are open to learning new techniques and to become a better artist you should read his daily blog and follow him on everything. He is one of those artists who is not only trying to motivate you to make beautiful things in your own way but also by telling you how things work. You are going to be surprised by how much you still need to know.
I know some of you are rather hard to reach with all this because they think they already found their style. But the truth is, you don't have that perfect style. You are doing things in a certain way. You can always improve your skills or the way you are seeing things. Mr. Gurney still does art studies to improve his skills and he already makes fantastic paintings and drawings.
There are some others who get scarred by seeing images like this. "I will never reach that level of skill!" STOP, that is not an excuse, of course you are not going to do the same thing as he or someone else does. You need to find your own way and practice for years and years to produce art YOU are okay with. There are enough drawings I did and don't really like.
It is true that James Gurney has some intimidating skills in painting and drawing. But I never got scarred of his art. He is inspirational to me because he takes your hand and walks through a problem with you. He teaches you how to solve things. Why are things the color they are? How does that work? What color is smoke? it is not per definition white or grey or whatever. It is more something towards blue and so on. Don't be afraid to learn. They are all challenges and he helps you with all your challenges.

Civil War Ironclad Comparison
By: James Gurney.

Study, study, study...

As you can see his work is not the free spirit weird or happy illustration work you see a lot these days. He is one the few masters who handel their material like it is their weapon in this visual battle. But what makes him special as an artist? We probably know some artists at platforms as instagram or Facebook who draws those amazing portraits or landscapes with pencil, ballpoint pens, color pencils, acrylics or whatever you can think of. But to be honest, how impressive their level of skill is with that material, I don't see any surprising stuff. It still is a really good realistic portrait. But drawn with pencil or a other material. You could also have made a picture in black and white or something like that. 
Gurney really uses his talent in a creative way. We know the portrait but what is the setting? What is happening? And most important, what do you want to communicate with your drawing or painting? It might not look like  it but even the image above asks for creativity. These cutouts of a battle ship without losing the feeling of the ship are asking for a high level of creativity and skill. The artist wants you to have that feeling of stepping into this ship and look around. This is why illustration still is important.
But when you are really good with the medium you work with and want to reach this level? That is the same road you have to take as you did with your technical skills. But I think this is a way more interesting, scary and exciting path to take. You have to see, read and experience everything. Everyone can learn the technical stuff but what makes you that artists you are? What makes you more special than a photograph. You have all the freedom of the world! A lot of people envy a life like yours!
Poster for Utopiales Convention in Lucca, Italy
By: James Gurney

This is something James Gurney doesn't really teach you in the first place but he does teach you this without saying it. He has things in mind and creates them. We build worlds, he even builds the scene he wants to draw to get things on paper or canvas the way he has in mind. It is a creative journey and most important, a lot of fun to do. But you don't get ideas by closing your eyes and waiting until the idea pops up. Just looking at other artists is not always enough. Please people, read! Read books form Oscar Wilde or Nellie Bly. Whatever that grabs your interests. You can expend your horizon with this even when it is not actually making art. Everything you see or read and even how the letters look like of what you are reading can be useful in the near future.
Be a sponge and get all the information you need to complete you. For those who are scarred to not reach completion, you are not going to reach that anyway. That is why we walk the most interesting road you can ever imagine. That is what James Gurney tells you with his art and on his blog and other social media too!


I can hear some people shout from all over here that these type of images are old-fashioned. But I completely disagree with that. I agree with you when  you are saying these are outdated for news papers or some movie posters. But this is not his audience. Why I am showing you this is not to say these type of things are better than what is made today. I am showing you this because I think it is important to look at how knowledge is your friend in this world of design. There goes a lot behind a drawing especially when they are as detailed as these. So this is not old-fashioned, people are (hopefully) going to use the same proces of making visuals forever and ever. Also, there are things to be illustrate this way. 

Temple of Mut in the Kingdom of Kush
By: James Gurney

We can't draw stick figures or funny birds who are doing weird things for historical correct images. So for those who are interested in scientific drawings, please pick up every bit of information and skill you can find. Your future clients have high expectations! Also, the step to fantasy art is quickly made. The Dungeons and Dragons books are illustrated by fantastic artists and some of them have made art for these type of scientific magazines and books. So now you have a whole new field to explore. Something you probably haven't heard of at art school.

This entry was more focussed on the technical side of illustration and to motivate you to aim high. You can be this good too and James Gurney is one of those people who helps you out with a lot of problems. Don't fear people like this but take them as a master and learn. Check out blogs like Muddy Colors and more. Feel motivated and enjoy your proces of making it. When I see art like this, my fingers are starting to itch and I just want to do some studies or draw even more. One day I will be one of those artists where people want to learn from! 

Hope you liked this read, slightly different but maybe another interesting way of looking at a artist who I really like.

Hope you will be back in my next entry.


James Gurney. Official website.

his blog!

Follow him at Facebook!

You can check out videos on youtube too.

And finally the Dinotopia website where you can find more of his dino related art.


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