As I have pointed out in previous reviews, painter, illustrator and writer James Gurney has in recent years been bringing us a wealth of instructional material in the form of books, videos and his always informative and fascinating blog, Gurney Journey.
Not only has he contributed significantly to the canon of contemporary art instruction (as well as highlighting classics from 19th century sources like the books of Harold Speed and Solomon J. Solomon), Gurney has a keen sense of finding areas of artistic endeavor that have not been traditionally well covered — mediums like gouache and casein, subjects like painting fantasy art from life and advanced topics of color and light.
His latest instructional video takes on the rarely mentioned but important concept of painting Portraits in the Wild. While it may seem to be a specialized approach, in that sketching people on location is more common than creating paintings of people on location, the subject has broader applications than are evident at first glance.
One of the challenges of plein air painting is capturing fleeting effects of light, and in the process, deciding how to handle the changes that can occur over even a single painting session of an hour or two. Frequenty a painter is left to make a crucial decision between painting the “remembered” initial impression of a scene — often what the artist found appealing in the first place — and the scene observed later in the process, as the light has changed.
Painting portraits and figures on location compresses and highlights this kind of artistic decision making to an even greater degree, and the skills involved can be used to advantage in any painting or drawing situation that requires quick observation and compositional decisions about changing conditions or moving subjects.
In his customary casual and friendly delivery, Gurney takes you with him in Portraits in the Wild as he paints subjects while listening to bits of their life experiences, composes complex compositions of figures by utilizing parts of multiple changing figures to construct composites, and delves into portraiture of subjects who are not deliberately posing. In the process, he demonstrates techniques in casein, gouache, watercolor, oil and color pencils.
He also encourages you to be unafraid to drastically change a painting in progress, particularly when using an opaque painting medium — in itself a valuable gem of artistic liberation for those of us who too often become attached to unsuccessful starts.
Portraits in the Wild is 66 minutes long and is available for $14.95 as a digital download from Gumroad, Selify and Cubebrush and as a DVD from Kunaki.com and Amazon for $24.50 (more details on this Gurney Journey post).
On YouTube there is a trailer and two other video excerpts here and here that give you the flavor of the presentation. You can find additional material by doing a search for “Portraits in the Wild” on Gurney Journey.
I find that Gurney’s instructional videos are often multi-leveled — conveying information about painting and the artistic process in ways both overt and subtle. What is on the surface a specific challenge of painting people on location carries insights into materials, techniques and artistic decision making that is applicable to a much broader range of subjects.