Last week I was home Thursday from the studio because my daughter was sick, so while I was sitting on the couch with her all day I had time to browse through the blogs that I subscribe to and found out that James Gurney was going to be at the Norman Rockwell Museum that Saturday. James Gurney is the author/illustrator for the children's book series Dinotopia (which was made into a tv miniseries in 2002) and writes the most amazing art blog out there today: Gurney Journey. His blog is so good that his newest book (an art how-to book) Imaginative Realism borrowed a lot from his blog posts. He writes about the methods he uses for his illustrations which include everything from drawing lessons to lessons learned from past artists to his many sketching adventures and the people he meets along the way.
The reason I was so excited to go see him was that I had just recently done a 3 part lesson with many of the grades I teach based on Mr. Gurney's book. Often Gurney constructs sculptures/models of the creatures in his books so he has a model that he can look at from many angles, light to see highlights and shadows, and even populate models of cities etc (that he also constructs) in scale. From there he can start drawing and painting his amazing imaginative illustrations. So we did the same - we built clay models, sketched the model from 3 viewpoints, chose a view we liked and created a finished painting with background of our subject. From an art teacher/artists point of view I find it very exciting for my students to see the mechanics and hard work behind these illustrations. I think it is important to know that to paint a subject that looks real, even if it is imaginative, that you will get much better results having something to see and manipulate than to completely make up in your head. Especially lighting and foreshortening.
SO back to the happenings at the Norman Rockwell Museum. It started off with a lecture by Mr. Gurney who very delightfully geared it to appeal both to adults and children. I had my two girls with me who are 11 and seven and they both enjoyed it (especially the story about sketching a certain mischievous monkey). He talked about many of the things that are in his book and blog that I was familiar with but added stories and anecdotes that brought it more to life. Another highlight of the lecture was gaining an appreciation for all the research that Mr. Gurney did for his illustrations of dinosaurs; meeting with scientists, visiting museums etc.
After the lecture he signed books and then we all went into the education room at the museum where we all could sit down and draw from plastic toy dinosaurs while James Gurney walked around and talked with everyone. He did a quick drawing demonstration of a dinosaur up in front showing the kids how to look for the large shapes in the animal and then work towards details. Mr. Gurney's example was simple and really got the point across. One thing that I noted in his demonstration was how he wasn't afraid to change things as he went... he started out with a simple oval for the body, added one for the head and then started placing the legs. Then he went back and checked the negative space between the legs to check if the legs were right (they weren't) so he moved them over until that space in between was correct. This may sound simple to my artist friends here on my blog but this is something I often forget to show when I am working with my young kids at school. Often I find myself just going through and showing them the steps to make the shapes of a dog for instance, but when my lines are in the wrong spot, I'll often just leave them instead of taking the time to fix them. That's wrong though... they need to see that drawing is not just a series of steps, it is a series of decisions... any of which can be wrong along the way and fixed, and that is okay.
All in all it was a great experience for me and my children - so thanks Mr. Gurney! If anyone is near the Delaware Art Museum he has an exhibition right now that I wish was here in New England! Hmph! Enjoy.
Thanks to Jeremy Clowe who was sweet enough to email these pictures of my kids and I at the lecture... as silly old me forgot her camera. :-) & thank you to the Norman Rockwell Museum for bringing Mr. Gurney to the museum.