SciArt Magazine - All Issues - Page 18

STRAIGHT TALK with James Gurney By Raphael Rosen Contributor RR: I know you primarily through “Dinotopia”, but I read that you used to illustrate scenes from ancient civilizations. How does illustrating archaeological scenes differ from illustrating paleontological subjects, if at all? Which do you prefer? JG: Yes, I worked for National Geographic as an archaeologist-illustrator, and they sent me on assignment to Jordan, Italy, and Israel. These were dream jobs for me because I was an archaeology major in college. Archaeological and paleontological illustration are very similar in the way they develop from research to thumbnails to line drawings, to finished paintings, with consultants involved at every stage. I like both of them, because I love to paint people as much as I do animals. RR: What is your favorite medium, and why? JG: I can’t pick a favorite any more than I could choose a banana over an apple. Lately I’ve been concentrating on gouache, watercolor, oil, and casein. Switching between transparent and opaque media requires changing over to a very different mindset. Leaving the white of the paper in transparent watercolor takes considerable advance planning, the ability to visualize the finished effect from the start. As with all physi- cal media, there is a sense of commitment and risk that I really enjoy, particularly when painting from life. RR: In one of your YouTube videos, you state that you “come from a long line of mechanical engineers.” Do you feel that that background has influenced your illustrations? If so, how? JG: Yes, because engineers use drawings to plan things they want to build. When I was developing “Dinotopia,” I wanted to include a lot of cutaways and machine diagrams. When I paint a flying machine or a steam powered walking machine, I imagine its entire walk cycle, and I try to figure out its working parts. A lot of the vehicles from “Dinotopia” are based on kitbashed plastic models. RR: In that same video, you state that your father used to say that, “If you can draw it, you can create it.” Can you explain what he meant, and whether that saying has affected your artworks? JG: Most of my paintings try to make the impossible look inevitable. I like to think beyond a single work of art and imagine things from many angles, or imagine how they would look in a thousand years. What would happen if an object were picked up by an alien culture and used in a different way? Such leaps of imagination are what an engineer is doing all the time, and most