Paint­ing An­i­mals From Life

PAWS FOR THOUGHT Master il­lus­tra­tor James Gur­ney tack­les a de­cep­tively dif­fi­cult sub­ject, as he re­veals his tips for cap­tur­ing the essence of an­i­mals

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Through his di­nosaur work in par­tic­u­lar, an­i­mals have be­come one of James Gur­ney’s spe­cial­i­ties, and he shares his ex­per­tise at paint­ing them in his lat­est video.

Usu­ally, James fea­tures more projects of shorter du­ra­tion in his videos, but this time he’s opted to present just two projects: a study of Smooth, his son’s husky-cross as he looks out the win­dow; and a paint­ing of Princess, a horse en­joy­ing a wash.

The main prob­lem with paint­ing an­i­mals from life is that un­less they’re asleep, they’re un­likely to stay still. A bonus seg­ment after the two main videos of­fers some prac­ti­cal tips for get­ting an­i­mals to co-op­er­ate with your mod­el­ling re­quire­ments, but your main weapons are keen ob­ser­va­tion and a good vis­ual mem­ory.

For Smooth, James es­tab­lishes a set pose early on, then looks for mo­ments when at least part of Smooth (such as his head po­si­tion) is in a sim­i­lar pose, or uses his mem­ory when Smooth is be­ing un­wit­tingly un­help­ful. James makes it look easy, but there’s some se­ri­ous skill be­ing ap­plied to make this work: you’ll likely need plenty of prac­tice be­fore you can pull this off.

Princess is en­joy­ing her wash so much that she keeps fairly still, but the staff milling about her at the sta­ble are an­other story. Here, James as­sem­bles a com­pos­ite im­age based on the poses that the sta­ble­hands adopt at dif­fer­ent times. He ends up with a mo­ment that didn’t hap­pen as it’s pre­sented, but rep­re­sents a broader pe­riod of time in one im­age.

Both projects are as ab­sorb­ing as you’d ex­pect from James. There’s plenty of ad­vice on colour, val­ues and mak­ing cor­rec­tions with phys­i­cal paint me­dia, as well as lots of lo­cal char­ac­ter from the lo­ca­tions that he uses.

This paint­ing is ac­tu­ally a com­pos­ite that shows what dif­fer­ent sta­ble­hands were do­ing at dif­fer­ent times.

In Paint­ing An­i­mals From Life, James shows how he works in co-op­er­a­tion with an­i­mal be­hav­iour so he can cap­ture them on paper.

With the basics of the horse and en­vi­ron­ment laid down, James chooses one of the po­si­tions that a sta­ble­hand adopts and starts paint­ing his scene.

James Gur­ney knows that Smooth the husky-cross has a favourite spot by the win­dow, so he sets up his paint­ing kit nearby.

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