Lines and Colors art blog

James Gurney's Fantasy in the Wild
In his “In the Wild” series of instructional painting videos, painter, illustrator, writer and instructor James Gurney has previously given us Watercolor in the Wild and Gouache in the Wild (links to my reviews), delving into the use of those mediums on location.

He has followed up with an interesting variation, Fantasy in the Wild: Painting Concept Art on Location (link is to description, preview video and download order form on Gumroad).

I will point out before going further that this video would be of interest to plein air painters and those interested in the mediums of casein and gouache — as well as concept painters and illustrators — so you may want to read through even if concept art is not your thing.

For those who are familiar with concept art, you’re probably aware that there are any number of concept art tutorials available, on the web, downloadable for a fee, and for sale on DVD.

This one, to my knowledge, is unique. The majority of concept art tutorials deal with digital painting in Photoshop, Corel Painter and similar digital art programs. Those few that deal with traditional media still take a similar tack of making up scenes out of whole cloth, or at most, using photographs for reference.

Gurney here is taking the approach of using location painting both as inspiration and reference for fantasy painting, going into the field with casein, gouache and watercolor in search of settings and subjects for fantastic realism.

Starting with an overview of previously painted plein air subjects in the small town of Rhinebeck, NY — comparing the finished paintings to their original subjects — he shows how artistic decisions about changing the reality of the scene lead logically into the notion of taking the scene as raw material for something imaginative the artist creates.

The first painting demonstration is of a street scene, into which the fictional incident of a mysteriously floating car is introduced. Gurney goes through the use of a model as an addition to the location painting reference, matching lighting, position and scale to achieve a composite image. In the process, we follow him as he paints the plein air aspect of the painting, then applies his own variation in lighting as well as the invented addition of the floating car.

James Gurney's Fantasy in the Wild
The other set of paintings involve a giant robot set into a typical franchise-strewn stretch of highway in another fantastical incident. Here, Gurney looks to construction machinery as the source of his imaginary robot, giving the machine a sense of solidity and realism that would be difficult to accomplish without the visual information gleaned from the real world machines.

He augments this with a quickly constructed maquette, allowing him to more accurately visualize lighting for his imaginary giant robot to match the scene.

In the process we again get to follow Gurney as he paints plein air location studies, in this case of construction machinery, in addition to the finished location background for his larger composition. These demos, as well as that of the first painting, include instruction in the nature and handling of casein, notably using the opaque and quick drying nature of the medium to advantage in painting out and replacing elements of the composition.

While in continuity with his other “In the Wild” instructional videos, Fantasy in the Wild is also a continuation of themes Gurney began exploring with in his 2009 book, Imaginative Realism: How to Paint What Doesn’t Exist (link to my review).

If you enjoyed that book, you will likely find the video appealing, and vice-versa. Also, like all of Gurney’s instructional books and videos, there is a wealth of related supplementary material on his blog, Gurney Journey, accessible by search or by the subject tags in the left column.

To me, the approach taken in Fantasy in the Wild — and the general theme of taking inspiration and reference from the study of the real world as raw material for imagined scenes — reveals an appealing undercurrent relevant to plein air painting: the implied freedom of not feeling limited to reproducing the scene being painted, but instead taking nature as a source for painting whatever the artist wishes.

Too often, beginning location painters can feel restrained to be rigidly faithful to the scene in front of them rather than to their own artistic decisions.

At the other end of the spectrum, those learning illustration and concept art may feel that everything has to be “made up” out of thin air, when in fact, artists throughout history have been using nature as a treasure trove of source material for imagined realities, whether Classical, Romantic or fantastic.

In that light, Fantasy in the Wild is actually a more classic and general guide to painting than might be assumed from the title.