Sunday, April 30, 2017

Descanso Roses

Today we're at Descanso Gardens in Pasadena, where the roses are in full bloom. 

This gouache study takes about 45 minutes. I start with a yellow-ochre underpainting and knock in the darks. Then I paint the cool shadow whites and sunlit whites opaquely. 

The petals have the slightest tinge of yellow, which is multiplied in the interstices as the transmitted light finds its way deep into the flower. 

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Old Town, San Diego

This isn't really a classic Old Town view; it's just a corner of the parking lot, with a passthrough to a walled-off area where they keep the dumpsters. But I thought the palm trees, the tile roof, and the warm, hazy light were so characteristic of southern California.

I did this gouache in the company of about 800 painters at the Plein Air Convention and Expo. And I filmed the making of it as a collab video with fellow YouTuber Stan Proko. I'll share that video in a couple weeks.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Stewart White Demo

Stewart White did a watercolor demo yesterday at the Plein Air Painting Conference and Expo in San Diego.


I did this live portrait as he painted. I was working in rather dim light with the book in my lap, so I used fairly dense mixtures of color and strong contrasts. 


Stewart, who hails from Baltimore, is renowned as both an architectural illustrator and an outdoor painter.  He'll be leading a workshop to Granada, Spain this October, which promises inspiring instruction, delicious food, and unforgettable camaraderie.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

More about Homemade Easels Coming Soon


The ideal easel rig should meet these six objectives:
1. Get the brushes and the paint palette as close as possible to the painting.
2. Get the painting as close as possible to the line of sight. 
3. Make the height and slopes of both surfaces fully adjustable without having to mess with tricky knobs or screws.
4. Free up my left hand so that it's not always holding brushes, towels, or other gear.
5. Accommodate a diffuser and other accessories.
6. It should work on uneven ground and should stand up to any amount of wind.
7. It should be buildable out of inexpensive materials using ordinary workshop tools.

Many of the innovations of my system have developed from the contributions of you, the amazing blog community. I'm trying to keep this design open-source and collaborative so that we can share ideas and mutually benefit. 

My plan is to do some blog posts and free YouTube videos in a month or so about our homemade easel rigs. I'll share my latest round of innovations, and invite you to share yours. 

So if you've been working on your own system, please finish your build, test it out, and get photos or videos. For those who would like really in-depth build tips, I'll release a longer Gumroad video download about how to build one of these lightweight, sturdy easel rigs.

There will be contest, discussion, and prizes! More to come.
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Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Art Rules


Yesterday I listened to a lecture where a professional artist said "You can't paint a landscape without showing the horizon or the sky. Any painting without at least some sky will be oppressive. Stay away from it."



That made me want to go outside and try an experiment to see if I could create a feeling of openness and freedom without showing the horizon or the sky.

I also thought of Sargent's famous Alps paintings, which often don't have any sky. Have you questioned any art rules that you were taught and found them to be untrue for you.?

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Gumball machines in a laundromat



Heres a page from my sketchbook yesterday—some gumball machines in a San Diego laundromat.


I showed the owner a few pages from my sketchbook and she loaned me a stool to sit on. Her daughter is a budding artist and she watched with great interest and then did a drawing of her own. 

I'm using casein as a base layer and then finishing up with Royal Talens gouache, which I'm trying out for the first time. The gouache is very rich in pigment saturation with very interesting thixotropic working properties due to the dextrin binder. More on that in future posts. 

(link to video on Facebook) I'm at the Plein Air Convention and Expo in San Diego. Very inspiring to be among over a thousand outdoor painters.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Dinosaurs on the March

We've arrived in San Diego. Not much wi-fi where we are, but we'll try to keep up. 
This Ankylosaurus is from Dinotopia: Journey to Chandara.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Seven Minute Silhouettes

At Spectrum Fantastic Art Live here in Kansas City, we had a fun time talking about portable sketching setups. 


Then I did a quick demo of a quick paint-sketch technique, thanks to two volunteers who stood looking at their cellphones.


We set the timer for 7 minutes, and I limited my gouache palette to yellow ochre, perylene maroon, and ultramarine blue, plus white. I quickly sketched in the figure with a watercolor pencil. Then, using a synthetic round brush, I painted the silhouette as directly as possible.

Seven minutes were up in no time at all, but that's pretty much all the time you'd get in a real-world situation.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Mark English at the Marriott Lounge

I'm in Kansas City for Spectrum Fantastic Art Live. The artists are all hanging out in the lounge eating tacos and sipping beer. 


It's fun talking shop with some of the legends of the business, such as Mark English (born 1933), who helped define the world of contemporary illustration that I entered when I started out. 

Mark is still painting, mainly for galleries now. He says he still has his gouache paints, but he's using house paint lately. And he's not the only one. If you're painting large and you want a very opaque paint that's not expensive, house paint has wonderful working properties. And you can get any colors you want. 

Marriott Lounge, gouache, 5 x 8 inches
What attracted me to this scene was the cool light coming from the lighted panels behind the bar, contrasted with the warm light bouncing up off the floor. 
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My bestselling video tutorial is Gouache in the Wild
Take a tour of my sketchbooks on my new app Metro North—three versions to suit your device:

Friday, April 21, 2017

Weird limited palette


I love weird limited palettes. This one is purple, cad yellow deep, raw sienna, and white. (Link to FB vid) From the Metro North app.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Bakery Case



Painting the bakery case at a little deli.
(Link to video)
This is another page from my new Living Sketchbook app, "Metro North" Pick up for yourself.

Three versions to suit your device:

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Four Professions Portrayed

Portraits of the professions of florist, writer, musician, and barber, where the faces are composed of the tools of their trades. 
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In the style of Arcimboldo (Wikipedia link)

Chicks, Hens, and Eggs


For this sketching adventure, we start out in the barn, where the young chicks are in the incubator box.


A year later those same chicks have grown up into laying hens.




The pen I'm using for the written notes is a Noodler's Ahab fountain pen with Higgins sepia ink. The Ahab is an excellent low-cost refillable fountain with a flexible nib. 

This is just one page from my new Living Sketchbook app, "Metro North" Pick up for yourself. Three versions to suit your device:

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Controlling White Values in a Still Life



Many subjects have a range of whites, none of them pure white.

In this diner still life, there's the white paper placemat in shadow, the placemat in light, and the white "PEPSI" lettering painted on the near side of the glass.


And then there are white highlights. The highlights are lighter than the values of the placemat, but even still they aren't pure white.

Highlights are specular reflections of the various light sources. As a consequence, they take on the relative color of the source: cool for the highlights of the window light, and warm for the highlights of the artificial indoor light. That's why I mixed a little yellow into and a little blue into my lightest specular highlights.

Controlling the white values in a painting means keeping even your brightest highlights a little down from pure white, and always comparing one white against another. Mixing accurate values is one of the features in which gouache excels.

This is just one page from my new Living Sketchbook app, "Metro North" Pick up for yourself. Three versions to suit your device:

(Link to video on Facebook)

Monday, April 17, 2017

Metro North App is Here


(Link to trailer on YouTube)

The Living Sketchbook, Volume 2: Metro North app is now available. It's a complete immersion into my recent sketchbook, with high-res scalable images of every page, plus audio commentary and behind-the-scenes videos, all for just $4.99.

Here's what customers are saying already:
"So much eye candy and information for the price of a fancy coffee!"
—Carole
"Boom. That was easy. Spent more than that on a beer yesterday!"
—Rock P.
Pick up a copy of Metro North for yourself. Three versions to suit your device:

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Happy Easter

Happy Easter! Here's a gouache sketch of some bunnies at the farm. 


I used a special gouache technique for this one, painting into a wet, dark under-layer, which makes soft edges much easier. The bunny sketch is just one page of the Metro North app, which releases for iOS and Android phones and tablets tomorrow. 


It will include high-res images that you can explore in immense detail, plus custom audio and video elements, immersing you in the adventure of creating each painting.

The first volume of the "Living Sketchbook" series became the top selling new app in Android's Art and Design category, and it's a must for any art lover, painting student, or sketching fan.
Shari Blaukopf of Urban Sketchers says: "There is a lesson to be learned with every sketch in James Gurney's The Living Sketchbook — whether it's about light, colour, materials or composition. Spending time with each sketch and being able to zoom in on them with your tablet allows you to really think about how they were created. And videos that accompany many of the sketches enrich the experience because you see the sketch develop from large colour blocks down to final details. And of course hearing James narrate his thought process — whether it be about his limited palette choices or the characters he meets while sketching — is what makes it come alive for me. It's done with warmth, humour, honesty and a vast wealth of knowledge."
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Check out Volume 1—Living Sketchbook: Boyhood Home
For Apple phones and tablets at the App Store
For Android devices at Google Play

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Car Noir



I'm standing in the bright spring sunshine, painting a moody night scene.



That's because I try to paint both what's in front of my eyes as well as what's behind them.

To me, there's something epic and mysterious about a white Lincoln Town car—especially one parked near a trash can and a basement entrance. I want to make it look like it's lit by a streetlight.


Here's the easel view as I'm starting out. Clockwise from upper left: Pocket travel brush set, watercolor journal with a casein "sunburst priming" and russet watercolor pencil layin, casein paint: white, yellow ochre, raw umber, black, and ultramarine blue.


Here's a 1-minute video that takes you behind the scenes: Link to video on Facebook.
Total painting time: 1 hour.
Info on Casein Painting in the Wild
Get the same paint kit I'm using: Jack Richeson Gurney's Casein 6 Pack with Brush Set
Music by Kevin MacLeod, Incompetech

Friday, April 14, 2017

Sketching in Low Light Conditions

Sketching with an LED hat
Madill Studio asks:
"Hi, James: Speaking of low-light conditions, do you have any observational tips on how to check values in such conditions (think low-lit cafe or similar). Also curious if I get a battery operated lamp for night sketching, what would be a good lumens range?"

You're right. When you're sketching in ultra low light conditions without a light of your own, it's hard to judge values accurately. It's even harder to evaluate subtle color variations.

It's also very challenging if the relative level of illumination varies a lot between the subject and your work. This is a common problem when sketching in a theatrical performance. Your eyes take a while to adjust from the bright stage to the dark sketchbook.

Lecturer sketched in dim light
with a brush pen.
If you're in a place where you can't use a light, here are some tips:
1. Shift to monochromatic colors. You can use black and white or two colors you're familiar with.
2. You can do a "notan" sketch and avoid halftones altogether, using a brush pen.

There are adjustable book lights such as the Lemonbest booklight (200 lm or 450 lumens). Book lights clip to your work and they stay stable.

For a brighter light, there's the Zebralight headlamp, which is good if you need more light outdoors.


I did these shapewelding sketches in a dark concert setting. Light shapes go to white and are grouped with other light shapes. Dark shapes weld together.


I painted these oil sketches after the sun had just set. There was still enough ambient light to see the colors on the palette and the painting.


LED hats illuminate your field of view, but they might be distracting to other people in indoor conditions. You can also get a Light unit with 5 LEDs that clips to the brim of your hat, in case you like to change hats.