Lines and Colors art blog

James Gurney's How I Paint Dinosaurs

James Gurney's How I paint Dinosaurs
Long time readers of Lines and Colors will know that I’m an admirer of the work of illustrator and painter James Gurney. I also love dinosaurs and paleontological art, an area in which Gurney is one of the foremost artists working today, so I was delighted to receive a review copy of Gurney’s instructional DVD How I paint Dinosaurs.

In the hour long DVD, Gurney goes through his process of creating two dinosaur illustrations for Scientific American magazine, from initial concept and composition thumbnails through to the finished paintings.

He discusses and demonstrates the process of working out compositional variations, developing them from thumbnails to initial sketches to be submitted to the art director for approval. From there, he details the process he uses to create a maquette, or clay model, of his subjects for determining lighting. He moves on to the initial block in of the painting, refinement and development of various stages, and the eventual finish. He goes through this process, emphasizing different points along the way, for two different paintings.

As is sometimes the case with good art instruction videos, the techniques he presents go beyond the specific subject, and would be of value to nature and natural history artists (of which paleo art is a subset), as well as concept artists who base their work on realism, and illustrators in general.

If you’re familiar with Gurney’s other instructional material, particularly his books Imaginative Realism: How to Paint What doesn’t Exist (Amazon link, my review here) and Color and Light: A Guide for the Realist Painter (Amazon link, my review here), you will find examples of the same kind of fundamental principles here of methods he has found successful. For example, the use of a limited gamut (color range) to achieve a certain kind of color harmony, and the advantages of pre-mixing piles of some colors in ranges of variation in value and chroma, to allow less distracted focus during the painting process.

Illustrators who have never worked from three dimensional models may wonder at the time devoted to constructing and painting the maquettes used as reference for the paintings here, but when you see Gurney searching for the best value arrangement in his composition by turning the models in the light, you’ll easily see why he and others at his level of expertise often find it worth the effort.

There were places I wanted to ask for more detail — to run the video back and say “Wait! Wait! How did you make the wrinkles on the dinosaur’s neck look so convincing?” or “Let’s hear more about that brush-pen you’re using to block out the thumbnail sketches!”; but there is plenty of detail to be had.

Like many of the best instructional art videos, on a second viewing, you’ll find little nuggets that you may have cruised over on initial viewing (like doing a pencil drawing on illustration board with the pencil held horizontally, so the point doesn’t indent the board, making it easier to erase and move lines). Much of the detail is visual, beyond the verbal instruction, in good close-ups of brush work and paint application.

Depending on your inclinations, you may also find some helpful examples in Gurney’s studio practices.

The video includes a short mini-feature on brushwork (that I would like to see expanded on in the future), and the DVD version includes a beautiful little print of one of the finished paintings.

There is a video trailer on YouTube, and additional information about the video (and a treasure trove of fascinating material in general) on Gurney’s blog Gurney Journey.

James Gurney’s How I Paint Dinosaurs is $32 for the DVD, available from Kunaki or Amazon, and $15 for a digital download through Gumroad.


One response to “James Gurney's How I Paint Dinosaurs”

  1. Jose Rola Avatar


    as i belive you may receive some modest fee for each time we use a amazon link to do a purchase, i suggest you use also links to the UK amazon shop for us that live in Europa can help this wonderfull blog of yours
    Regards and keep the good work