Looking at your path and the paths of other artists you know, it’s easy to realize that unexpected turns are often what lead people to where they’re meant to be. Such is the case with the renown artist James Gurney, who is famous for painting realistic images of subjects that aren’t real themselves. You may know Gurney from his groundbreaking book, Color and Light: A Guide for the Realist Painter, and his Dinotopia series.
Gurney kindly took the time to share with us the story of how he became a professional artist. It’s pleasantly surprising, as you’ll see below.
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“I had to drop out of art school because I got a job working in the movie industry as a background painter,” says Gurney. “Here was my situation: I was broke; my fiancée wanted to finish art school; and I already had a college degree (in archaeology). My plan was to find an art job to pay off her loans, while I would just crib off of her class notes. It wasn’t so easy! I couldn’t find work in the freelance world. So I made cold calls to all the animation studios I could think of: Disney, Bluth, and Hanna Barbera. None of them wanted to hire me, and my portfolio was not too impressive anyway. I was OK at drawing, but had never really painted. I thought my art career was over at age 21.
“Then I stumbled into Ralph Bakshi Productions. The studio was staffing up for an animated sword and sorcery film called “Fire and Ice,” with Frank Frazetta co-producing. Bakshi gave me a chance as a background painter, even though I didn’t know much about the business. It was like art school under a shotgun–with a paycheck. I had to produce about 600 paintings in a little over a year, at a rate of about 11 per week. Paint or die! It was a great education, much better than I would have gotten at an art school.”
Gurney is proof that diving in head-first is one way to become a master artist. But following certain guidelines is also a helpful way to learn techniques, such as Gurney’s “BLAST rule.” “This rule consists of five general pointers that lead to happier results in just about any kind of painting,” says Gurney.
James Gurney’s BLAST Rule for Painting
1. Use the Biggest brush possible for a given passage.
2. Paint Large shapes first, followed by small shapes.
3. Save your tonal and chromatic Accents until the last.
4. Try to Soften any edge that doesn’t need to be sharp.
5. Take Time to get the center of interest right.
Got it? Now put it to work! Start with the Watercolor in the Wild collection, which includes Color and Light: A Guide for the Realist Painter, and Gurney’s Watercolor in the Wild instructional DVD. These are offered as a pair only at North Light Shop, so get your set today.
Until next time,