Alfons and Adrie Kennis

Alfons and Adrie Kennis
Dutch artists Alfons and Adrie Kennis are twin brothers who work professionally under the studio name of Kennis & Kennis.

They are highly regarded in the field of paleontological reconstruction art, where their paintings and sculptures portray prehistoric mammals and pre-humans.

What delights me about their paintings in particular is the blending of rendered images of the foreground subjects with graphic background elements, and a more daring sense of design and composition than is usually expected within the field.

In addition, their use of texture is just wonderful — neither slavishly realistic nor deviating from reality. They manage to convey a tactile sense of an animal’s fur or hide, or the skin of proto-humans, within the framework of an expressive technique that has a great deal of visual appeal.

Keep in mind when viewing their work that as artistically vibrant as the paintings are, like all scientific illustration, they must conform to the task of representing their subjects with scientific accuracy.

[Via National Infographic]


Dinotopia: Art, Science and Imagination at Lyman Allyn Art Museum in CT

James Gurney, Dinotopia: Art, Science and Imagination
Long time readers of Lines and Colors will not be surprised that I am an admirer the work of illustrator/writer/painter James Gurney. (Let’s see.. beautifully painted illustration with influences from great 19th century artists and Golden Age illustrators, fantastical adventure stories with lushly imaginative settings, Hudson River valley landscape painting and plein air painting, and of course.. terrific dinosaurs — what’s not to like?)

I was pleased back in 2010 to have the opportunity to see an exhibition titled Dinotopia: The Art of James Gurney at the Delaware Art Museum at which I got to see many examples of his original artwork.

In addition to surprises in scale, his work reveals characteristics up close that are not always evident in reproduction, much of it, for example, is surprisingly painterly. Another aspect that comes through in person even more than in reproduction is the degree to which Gurney’s experience as a plein air landscape painter informs and enlivens his fantasy art.

Gurney also works from life in the form of models for his compositions, and a new exhibition that opens at the Lyman Allyn Art Museum in new London, Connecticut this Saturday, September 22nd, Dinotopia: Art, Science and Imagination, not only showcases Gurney’s original art for the well known series of illustrated adventure stories, but delves into the creation of the works and the science behind them. The show includes sketches, preliminary versions, maquettes, photos used for reference and plein air studies.

This show is more extensive than the already large show I saw in 2012; it features 135 works, most of which are not the same as in the previous exhibitions and much of which has not been on public display before.

Unfortunately, the museum’s website, as is usually the case with museum websites, is not good at generating any visual excitement about the show.

Fortunately, as is also often the case, artist and blogger Matthew D. Innis steps in and does a superb job of just that, with an extensive post on his blog Underpaintings that includes links to much larger versions of many of the images I’ve shown above.

You can also see more of Gurney’s work on the Dinotopia website, as well as Gurney’s own website and his blog, Gurney Journey.

The latter has developed over the years into one of the best go-to destinations for art instruction on the web, much of which has been condensed into two superb art instruction volumes (so far), Imaginative Realism: How to Paint What Doesn’t Exist and Color and Light: A Guide for the Realist Painter (links are to my reviews, the books can be purchased directly from Gurney’s shop).

Two volumes of Gurney’s classic Dinotopia adventure stories have been rereleased in deluxe, expanded 20th Anniversary editions by Dover Publications’ Calla Editions imprint. I reviewed the Dinotopia: A Land Apart from Time 20th Anniversary Edition in 2011.

The new Dinotopia: The World Beneath 20th Anniversary Edition has just been released this month and I was delighted to receive a review copy from Dover.

James Gurney, Dinotopia: Art, Science and Imagination
In themselves, these Dinotopia editions have reframed my impression of Dover books, which used to be “terrific because they were inexpensive art books with fairly decent reproductions”. Now they are making inexpensive art books with very good reproductions.

The new version of The World Beneath, in fact, is better looking than my copy of the original edition — the colors richer and more vibrant, and, according to Gurney, truer to the original artwork.

If you’re not familiar with these books, they are wonderful adventure stories, profusely illustrated (I love that phrase) with Gurney’s lush and imaginative portrayals of a fantastical city atop a waterfall (which served as an uncredited inspiration for the the city in Star Wars: The Phantom Menace), adventure heroes, engaging steampunkery and, of course, a cornucopia of dinosaurs.

Adventure stories, yes — but heavier on illustration than text, they also serve as coffee table art books, showcasing Gurney’s terrific paintings in large spreads.

The new edition, in some ways analogous to the current exhibit a the Lyman Allyen, features an additional 25+ pages of behind the scenes drawings, painted sketches, photo reference, maquettes, and other goodies. The book also features an introduction by noted paleontologist Dr. Michael Brett-Surman.

I will take some consolation in this edition for the fact that I don’t know if my schedule this season will let me get up to the exhibition, though it runs to February 2, 2013. For those who can make it, you’re in for a treat.


Dinosaur Art: The World’s Greatest Paleoart

Dinosaur Art: The World's Greatest Paleoart:  Raul Martin, John Sibbick, Douglas Henderson, Mauricio Antón, Raul Martin, John Sibbick, Mauricio Antón, Douglas Henderson, John Sibbick, Raul Martin
Dinosaur Art: The World’s Greatest Paleoart is a new book edited by Steve White and with a foreward by Phillip J, Currie and an introduction by Scott D. Sampson. It is published by Titan Books, who were kind enough to send me a review copy.

The premise of a book like this is relatively straightforward — assemble lots of dazzling paleontological reconstruction art by top names in the field, add commentary in the form of interviews with the artists, print it as a deluxe oversize coffee table book, and everyone will love it, socks knocked properly off.

In reality, though, the process is not so simple, and the application of a subtitle like “The World’s Greatest Paleoart” (even with the understanding that the book is about contemporary artists) invites reaction from paleo art aficionados, who as a rule hold strong opinions about the subject — myself included.

Because of the expectations created by the subtitle the first thing I noticed was the glaring lack of some of the names that I would have immediately expected under that banner — notably John Gurche, James Gurney, Robert Walters, William Stout, Mark Hallet and Michael Skrepnick.

However, I also understand the reality of publishing this kind of book. While it is generally considered an honor and good public relations within the field to be included in compendiums like this, the artists are asked to prepare their images and supplementary material for inclusion, and publishers rarely give the editors funds to even compensate the artists for their time, let alone have them share in profit on a book for which they are supplying the basic material.

Having been asked to contribute to a number of books on webcomics and digital comics creation, I can attest to the work involved; and after asking around, I’m not surprised that some artists who were asked to participate in this particular project felt they had to decline.

The editor, then, was left to compensate, and the result is mixed. Here is where my differences of opinion with the editor’s curatorial choices come to the fore, both in terms of artistic values and the concern for scientific accuracy.

Amid the dramatic presentation of these fantastic prehistoric animals, next to which most fantasy monsters pale in comparison, it’s easy to forget that these are real, if extinct, animals.

The images are more than illustrations, they are meant to be scientific reconstructions, akin to botanical or medical illustration, except that for prehistoric animals and plants, the information the artists must work from is based on fragmentary evidence and scientific inquiry that is incomplete and subject to controversy.

To create paintings and drawings that are dramatic, work well as artworks and are still true to the science involved is quite a challenge, but those who do it well do it exceptionally well.

So, while there are some artists the editor has chosen that I would not have included, I will emphasize those on which we agree — and that I certainly consider worthy of placement under the banner of “World’s Greatest Paleo Art”.

Notably, these include:

John Sibbick, whose detailed, textural portrayals of dinosaurs and pterosaurs are one of the high standards in the field,

Douglas Henderson, whose atmospheric landscapes put the animals in a real world context better than almost anyone,

Raul Martin, who brings a high level of drama to his interpretations of the animals, without feeling the need (as some do) to defy the laws of biomechanics and gravity in the process

and Mauricio Antón, who is a bright light in the often overlooked portrayal of prehistoric mammals.

Regardless of my difference of opinion with the editor on some of his other choices, the inclusion of these superb artists, and the fact that their chapters make up a significant portion of the book, make it well worthwhile in my eyes.

The book itself is beautifully produced, with nice book design and good reproductions (despite a few less than sharp examples). Impressively, given the production values, Titan has kept it very reasonably priced ($35 U.S.).

Don’t let my griping about who’s who discourage you from checking this volume out, or detract from the fun of holding a big book in front of you with lots of gloriously large images of what is indeed some of the world’s greatest paleoart.

(Images above: Raul Martin (cover), John Sibbick, Douglas Henderson, Mauricio Antón, Raul Martin, John Sibbick, Mauricio Antón, Douglas Henderson, John Sibbick, Raul Martin)


Audubon’s Birds of America

John James Audubon, Birds of America
If your impression of the paintings of French-American naturalist, ornithologist and artist John James Audubon is based on small reproductions of some of his more subdued bird images, you may be surprised by the views afforded in this terrific online resource.

The University of Pittsburgh, which owns a rare complete edition of Audubon’s Birds of America, has digitized and made available online high resolution reproductions of the over 400 plates.

Birds of America was the culmination of Audubon’s quest to paint every known bird in North America. Though he fell short of that goal due to reaching the limits of his personal finances, he painted 435 beautifully detailed paintings, from which he created a most remarkable book.

Engravings made from his paintings were the basis for the plates, and the final pages were hand colored by assistants using Audubon’s paintings as a guide.

Audubon insisted that the birds be represented life-size, and the edition was printed on the largest mold made paper available at the time, known as “double elephant folio” size (26 x 38 inches, 66 x 96 cm). This is also why many of the larger birds are portrayed in somewhat contorted positions to fit the limits of the page, and why many of the smaller species are are shown in tableaux that fill the large spaces with multiple animals and surrounding environment.

The University of Pittsburgh’s online resource for Birds of America includes a history of the book and the digitizing project. They have also digitized his related text, Ornithological Biography and its accompanying plates as well.

The plates for Birds of America can be browsed by name or by thumbnail. You can choose thumbnail browsing options at the upper right.

The plates themselves come up in a viewing box that allows you to zoom way in on the detailed, high resolution images. What’s not obvious, and is key to enjoying the high res images, is that the zoom box has small adjustment grippers on the right and bottom edges that allow you to open the zooming window as large as your monitor will allow. In addition to the plus and minus controls, there is a triangular slider above them that allows for finer control of the zooming. Click and drag to pan.

Many of Audubon’s images involve more complex compositions and more visual drama than you might expect, particularly in cases where he has illustrated their relationship to natural predators or prey.

The details are also eye-opening. The anatomical details of talons and legs in particular will be notable for those interested in paleo art, and the backgrounds are surprisingly rich and varied, interesting in themselves as artworks.

Audubon, though he was creating a scientific treatise, was concerned with the book as a work of art. The plates were arranged for the esthetic impact on the reader rather than then being presented according to taxonomy, for which he was criticized by scientists at the time.

I don’t think that Audubon had to worry too much about his critics. After his remarkable achievement, and its enthusiastic reception worldwide, he could just flip them the bird.

[Via MetaFilter]


Dinotopia 20th Anniversary Edition

James Gurney's Dinotopia 20th Anniversary Edition
Originally released 20 years ago, Dinotopia: A Land apart from Time was the first of artist/author James Gurney’s acclaimed and popular illustrated adventure story books placed in the same mythical land.

Presented as an adventurer’s sketchbook, which the author has “found”, the story resonates with some of the sense of wonder and discovery to be found in classic 19th Century adventure stories.

The original edition has been out of print for some time. Dover books has released a new 20th Anniversary edition, with images digitally scanned from the original transparencies and 32 new pages of material, including sketches, photos and unused plates and a discussion by Gurney of the creation of the original book.

Those in the U.S. can order signed copies directly from the author.

Here is Gurney’s post about the new edition on his blog, Gurney Journey.


William Stout: Inspirations

William Stout: Inspirations
I am unabashed in my enthusiasm for the work of William Stout, and I’ve written about him previously several times here on Lines and Colors (links below). In particular, I take great delight in his beautiful drawings in pen and ink with watercolor.

I’ve been looking forward to the release of William Stout: Inspirations from Flesk publications since it’s companion volume, William Stout: Halllucinations, was released back in July (my review here).

Stout has been prolific in his career, and there are a number of illustrations and other drawings that are difficult to find in print. Much to the delight of Stout fans like myself, the two books have collected a number of these from various sources and presented them in the kind of beautifully produced and printed art volumes that are Flesk’s specialty.

The two collections are arranged thematically, the first focusing on monsters, trolls, dragons and creatures, the new one on women from fantasy and fairy tales.

In both volumes we see Stout having fun, gleefully drawing on his inspirations from traditional stories and pop culture as well as paying tribute to some of his artistic roots.

In Inspirations, we find Stout working with subjects from Edgar Rice Burroughs, Shakespeare, The Wizard of Oz (Baum’s not MGM’s), Wagner’s Ring Cycle, Rima the Jungle Girl, The Bride of Frankenstein and even a humorous take on his own dinosaur illustrations; in the process creating playful homages to late 20th Century artists like Frank Frazetta and Dave Stevens, and Golden Age masters like Arthur Rackham, Edmund Dulac and the great but under-appreciated Gustav Tenngren and John Bauer (links to my posts).

In fact, in his Foreward, Stout outlines what he calls his “Rackham/Dulac Technique” in a step-by step walkthough of the process that many illustrators will find enlightening.

Stout has been influenced by a number of great Golden Age pen and ink illustrators, with a variety of approaches, and in his own style he has managed to distill a balance of linework, rendering and application of color that I find particularly appealing. Combined with his accomplished draftsmanship and fervent imagination, he serves up a smorgasbord of visual treats in these collections.

There is a small gallery of preview images on the Flesk site (click on the image to pop up the gallery), along with more detail about Inspirations and the companion volume Hallucinations, as well as the other Stout titles from Flesk: Dinosaur Discoveries and New Dinosaur Discoveries A-Z.

The titles can all be ordered directly from the Flesk online store (or the old way via mail).

The limited edition signed hardback version of William Stout: Inspirations is already sold out from the Flesk site, though you may still be able to order copies of the hardback directly from William Stout’s site.

You can also find more of Stout’s work, in a variety of media, subjects and approaches, in the galleries on his site.