Imaginative Realism by James Gurney (book review).

No, that’s not James Gurney on the cover but as you catch up with the painting inside his 2009 book, ‘Imaginative Realism’, he does make clay and material models of the creatures he uses in his paintings.

I bought this book a couple years back but only now finding a spot to read it in after seeing some of his ‘Dinotopia’ paintings. Some of them are in here as well, including his work painting real dinosaurs with co-operation with palaeontologists and a desire to do them doing normal things other than running after a meal.

This book covers all aspects of how he prepares and creates a painting in all manner of subjects. I can understand his need to prepare models of his cities as with ‘Dinotopia’, he has to be able to draw the same place from different angles and perspectives but it doesn’t necessarily follow that all artists have this expertise although it might inspire some of you to experiment with graphic software in making 3D city block models.

Understanding how things work is also another problematic area. It’s interesting seeing him discussing his mistakes in turning a long-necked dinosaur into a fire engine and being told the problems by a fireman of getting that much water that high and how he remedied them. If you want to add believability to whatever you draw or paint, get some basic science, design and research at your fingertips as you never know when it comes in handy. He emphasises having a wide knowledge base so any of you budding artists don’t neglect other subjects.

Gurney shares my concern that you shouldn’t rely on photographs on-line for your morgue of reference because other artists are doing the same thing and you’re bound to see the same designs turn up.

Amongst his travels, Gurney has visited the UK and based one of his bridges on one in Bath with houses along it. We have all manner of bridge types across the UK, built to cover all kinds of different problems and styles of transport so I hope he has a chance to explore them one day.

I did find it amusing that his city design is based on the American way in lines whereas on this side of the Atlantic, many of our streets were built more haphazard before settling down with recent decades. We’re less keen on straight roads and streets over here.

Where this book is exceptionally handy is looking at composition and how the viewer looks at it. Hands up those of you who don’t look across a picture from left to right and centre on the many part of the screen. However, what Gurney shows are all the little tricks to ensure you cover everything. Well, except on one. I have to confess that when I looked at his ‘Camouflage’ painting I missed the disguised man because I was focused on the dinosaur.

He demonstrates how he builds his oil paintings up from pencils and research into full paintings, explaining some of his choices along the way.

Beyond this being a good book for artists, there is enough of his completed art for you just to jaw-drop.

GF Willmetts

January 2021

(pub: Andrews McMeel Publishing, 2009. 225 page illustrated software. Price: I pulled my copy for about £15.00 (UK). ISBN: 978-0-7407-8550-4)

check out website: www.andrewsmcmeel.com


Geoff Willmetts has been editor at SFCrowsnest for some 21 plus years now, showing a versatility and knowledge in not only Science Fiction, but also the sciences and arts, all of which has been displayed here through editorials, reviews, articles and stories. With the latter, he has been running a short story series under the title of ‘Psi-Kicks’ If you want to contribute to SFCrowsnest, read the guidelines and show him what you can do. If it isn’t usable, he spends as much time telling you what the problems is as he would with material he accepts. This is largely how he got called an Uncle, as in Dutch Uncle. He’s not actually Dutch but hails from the west country in the UK.

One thought on “Imaginative Realism by James Gurney (book review).

  • Good morning Geoff

    Saw your review of’Imaginative Realism’ by James Gurney. I too have had this excellent book for several years. Lovely to dip into from time to time. Full of bright, lively images and provides lots of ideas.

    Keep safe.




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