Gurney's Shanghai Journey

You have to be eternally dissatisfied with your first efforts, because there is something better waiting to be discovered. - James Gurney
James Gurney & the IB Art Year I class on our mini field trip.
When I first wrote this post about James Gurney's book, Imaginative Realism, I had no idea where it would eventually lead me and our classes here at the Shanghai American School.  As you might notice, that post is actually just about my intrigue with the concept of the book.  Since then, I've read devoured both that book and its follow up, Color and Light.   Imaginative Realism: How to Paint What Doesn't Exist is an absolutely critical text for any aspiring artist that is looking to create a realistic and believable things that don't exist.  In this book, Gurney goes into great depth in helping artists develop strategies for creating believable fantasy through combining careful planning, research and observation with a playful and creative approach in re-imagining the world around you.  Color and Light: A Guide for the Realist Painter is a remarkably accessible resource for understanding and translating visual perception into actual painting.

Well, shortly after reading these books, the art department was in discussions about the possibility of bringing in a guest artist.  I immediately emailed James to see if there was any possibility that he'd be interested in coming to China.   To make a long story short (and it is a long story), James was indeed happy to come, and spent the last 6 days of school on our two campuses with a bunch of our students.

In the three days that he spent on our campus, he engaged our students with fascinating demonstrations, presentations, and conversations about the art of creating rich imaginative worlds through careful observation and thoughtful research.  His discussions focused on his the creation of the world and inhabitants of his Dinotopia books.  As he demonstrated for the students, he responded to their questions.  The quote at the top of this post was one of the great bits of advice that he imparted.

One of the most exciting days for the students (and myself) was on our first day, when our IB and AP art classes spent the day painting with James.   The morning started out with his presentation on painting what doesn't exist, and we spent the morning working on various painting projects and working from still lives.  James walked around giving advice and kind praise to the students as they worked.  As the day went on, it felt like we needed to get out and get some fresh air, so we headed over to the wet market across the street to sketch from life.  Here are some highlights from the day.  Click to enlarge and chose the 'titles and description' option for more info:

One of the tools James uses is the Niji water brush pen.  The IB Art students absolutely loved this tool. He often sketches in water color pencil (he recommends Caran D'Ache) and then goes over it with the water brush pen.  Its a convenient way to water colors on the go- and as he mentions, you don't often get stopped in museums with this method. You can read more about the tools he uses here.

On the first day that I met James and his wife Jeanette, we went out to the Water Town Zhu Jia Jiao. Joining us were a number of digital art students from Beijing University, with their professor, Mr. Wei Wang and his wife who is the editor of Fantasy Art Magazine.  They were so amazingly friendly and the students were so thrilled to talk about their own artwork.  Mr. Wang even offered to come back down to talk to our art students (hopefully that will be another post in the not too distant future). Below is a slideshow of James' sketchbook from his Shanghai trip, including a bunch of sketches from that day.  Click to enlarge and chose the 'titles and description' option for more info:

On the first day out, I have to admit that sketching with James, Jeanette,  and Wei Wang was, at first, intimidating to the point of paralysis. However, after three days with James I can say that in addition to being an incredible artist and author, he and his wife Jeanette are simply some of the nicest people I've ever met.

As for the students, they are excited to receive the copies of James' books that we ordered,  excited about the water brushes that that he introduced us to (we're doing a bulk order now), and excited to have had the opportunity to work with and learn from James.  I can't really say it better than one of my IB Art students did after their day painting with James.  "I wish every day could be like this".

Be sure to keep up with the further artistic adventures of James Gurney on Gurney Journey.


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