Thursday, January 21, 2016

266: Review of James Gurney's "Fantasy in the Wild"

MY new year's resolutions include having more fun with art while exploring techniques outside my normal purview. A video that admirably fulfills both goals is James Gurney’s new video download Fantasy in the Wild (also available on DVD).

My first response was the video is fun to watch. Gurney is a master of what he does and it’s a joy to see him immersed in his unique creative process. Plus, he has a lot of fun with the production. His films never make me feel like I’m cooped up in a lecture hall. The video will be of extreme interest to artists studying concept illustration but I learned several tips I can apply to a wide range of my artistic projects.

The video presents two painting sessions–both revolve around painting a sci-fi scene out-of-doors. The first is a neighborhood scene where a Volkswagen is being mysteriously levitated. The painting is done in casein. Although I don’t typically paint in casein (I use it in the woodcut process) most ideas are applicable to any medium.

Gurney uses a brilliant method of laying down color and then restating his drawing by drawing over the dried paint in water-soluble colored pencils. This method inspired me to find a means to restate linear elements in my abstracts–possibly by making some kind of acrylic/chalk drawing tool or using large pastels and then fixing the strokes with acrylic spray. Another great idea was his viewing grid to transfer images in the field. Watching Gurney use models and a wide array of creative solutions was valuable inspiration to surmount whatever obstacles I might encounter either in the field or studio.

I was also inspired by Gurney’s devotion to getting it right by drawing dozens of sketches or repainting sections. I had to reconsider when I saw him repainting significant passages if I had the courage to do the same with my work (I tend to fuss with misbehaving areas usually making it worse. Lesson–solve it in a sketch and paint over it). The video shows Gurney patiently revising his work as often as necessary to achieve the desired effect.

The second painting session is of a robot creating havoc in a suburban landscape. Gurney’s technical abilities come into full swing as we see how he researches and refines the image. I resolved to follow his lead with my woodcuts–an endeavor that requires lots of planning–and a phase I too often shortchange.

Toward the end of the video Gurney explains his reason for his methods–he starts with the confidence that he’s got it right while retaining enough detachment so he can easily evolve toward a new idea. He regards the process as a series of playful near misses tempered by calm resolve to get it right.

I like the idea of playful near misses. That’s an idea I can use in the studio when a painting starts to go wrong and my mood takes a turn for the worse. For that tip, and others, this video earned a permanent place in my collection.

Brad Teare –January 2016


  1. Replies
    1. Thanks, Francis. This entry got a lot of hits which I appreciate.

  2. I bought FITW when it was first released. Excellent review! It reflects my feelings well, especially about the powerful concept of "playful near misses".

    1. That was a great concept and one that takes a lot of the tension out of the creative process. I got lots of great ideas to use with my more abstract landscape which I intend to try out soon.


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