Monday, December 27, 2010

Review - Imaginative Realism by James Gurney

"There is no line between fine art and illustration; there is no high or low art; there is only art, and it comes in many forms."

I knew I would love this book the moment I read this line from the section "Art in the Twentieth Century" detailing the shift from demand for original art to printing and publication.  There is a progressive attitude here that treats all forms of art as a means to an end, tools to aid in the expression of a vision.  Leave all your doubts and fears at home because you are here to create, not quibble over what's better or pays more or what art form is more worthwhile!

I just adore that.

For those who don't know him, James Gurney authored the masterfully illustrated series of Dinotopia books, which show what life would be like if humans and dinosaurs lived together in a world much like our own.  Having penned and illustrated adventures in his own fantasy world, Gurney shares his extensive experience in doing just that - depicting believable worlds that do not exist through a variety of illustrative methods.

Gurney explains a brief history of illustration, how industry focus has changed, and what drew him personally to become an artist.  The following sections detail his workspace, developing styles, and identifying artistic influences - all useful for expressing our own unique takes on imagery using the tools and strategies of those who came before.  There's a constant emphasis on developing the idea over the technique in this book, such an important philosophy I wholeheartedly agree with!  For if the seed of a creative idea is there, then it's only a matter of having the patience to train yourself to realize it.  The toughest part of creation has already been achieved!

There are so many moments while reading this book where I felt a sense of awe and enlightenment.  Gurney put words to concepts I have never been introduced to, even being a college-trained artist!  His sections on composition and tonal development are some of the most golden nuggets of wisdom I've read.  This book is what my college education should have covered.  Everyone knows Line, Shape, Form, Texture, Space, etc...but do you really understand how it applies to creating a successful artwork?  I feel that Gurney helps to bridge the gap between these esoteric theories by giving us real examples of his working process from conception to realization.

Other techniques that really struck me are Gurney's utilization of maquettes to serve as references for his images, which allows him to bring a level of realism to his lighting and placement that would be difficult to glean from the mind's eye.  For characters that appear in multiple paintings, he suggests using a head maquette for achieving consistency in depicting those characters again and again.  What a novel idea!  Sometimes it takes a good book like this to make us start thinking in simpler modes.

The final sections briefly cover Gurney's painting process and suggested career paths for artists with tidbits of advice from someone who has been there and done that.  This forthcoming advice is the kind of gold that makes this book priceless and a must-have for any artist.

While the majority of this book is not presented in a step-by-step manner, I found his examples illustrated his points eloquently and Gurney's philosophy on art and work methods in general to be just as helpful.  His philosophy and conceptual advice make this book relevant to digital artists as well, even if most of his specific techniques are traditional.

This one's a must-have for any artist's collection! I'm looking forward to adding the rest of Gurney's books to my library as well after the inspiration and motivation this one has given me.