Book Review: Imaginative Realism: How to Paint What Doesn't Exist

Imaginative Realism: How to Paint What Doesn't Exist

If you are a regular reader of James Gurney's blog, Gurney Journey, you would expect nothing less. This book is as good as I expected. He dispenses his knowledge as freely as he does on his blog. Here's what he says about his own book from the introduction:

This is not a book about figure drawing, anatomy, or perspective. It's not a step-by-step guide on how to draw dinosaurs. It's also not a recipe book for a particular paint technique, although all these topics are addressed in passing. What this book contains is a distillation of the time-tested methods that I've found to be most helpful for achieving realism in imaginative pictures. — James Gurney

If you haven't got the hint from the title, this book is about making your art real and believable. In every chapter, James Gurney shares with us what he learned when creating his paintings. There are topics on people, dinosaurs, architecture, vehicles, composition and his step-by-steps (not techniques but process). The tips he gives can be applied on other subjects as well.

The importance of research is emphasized and the amount of research he does really shows. While creating an illustration on ship wreckage for National Geographic, he talked to survivors to get an accurate account. He found out there's a drummer boy who used his drum as a float and drew that in. He also acted out the various poses of sailors in distress, rather than drawing them from imagination. The result is a painting that tells its story convincingly. The same goes for many of his other paintings.

Another interesting read is the story of him trying to design a Dinotopian fire engine. When he presented his concept art to a professional fire engine designer, it was critiqued to have form but not function. There's lack of heat protection for the dinosaur, lack of understanding on how water hose works and a complicated water pump design. The revised concept is a huge improvement in believability that I thought it actually might work.

He has provided lots of photos and his own work in the book. You'll get to see how he stages the props for reference, sketches and drafts, plenty of commissioned work (especially from National Geographic), the bird on his shoulder while he's drawing, the lousy-art incinerator he created from mirrors and other entertaining stuff.

Imaginative Realism is an enlightening and fun read. Highly recommended to professionals, beginning art students and those who wish to push their art to the next level in terms of depth.

Be sure to check out more work and writing from James Gurney at gurneyjourney.blogspot.com. On his blog, he talks about his work, art theories, insights and news from the creative field.

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