This is a post long in the making. A post I have been in the process of writing for a long time. A post highlighting the work of the greatest animator of our time: Hayao Miyazaki and his wonderful Studio Ghibli. A man who has brought more tears to my eyes than any other movie creator. I can’t adequately explain how his movies make me feel, but anyone who has ever watched Spirited Away or Princess Mononoke or any of his epic masterpieces… well. You understand.
Who is Hayao Miyazaki?
“Hayao Miyazaki is a Japanese manga artist and prominent film director and animator of many popular anime feature films. Through a career that has spanned nearly fifty years, Miyazaki has attained international acclaim as a maker of animated feature films and, along with Isao Takahata, co-founded Studio Ghibli, a film and animation studio.” – Wikipedia.
He is best known for his strong female characters, his simple line art but elaborate background paintings, and his love for nature and magic and the belief that children are the most remarkable and courageous people on this earth. All of this shines in every one of his works.
In honor of The Wind Rises arriving to the US, I thought I would do a showcase of some of my favorite Miyazaki movie fanart. I absolutely love seeing how different artists bring his characters to light. Because he’s done so much amazing work – I’m breaking this up into 2 posts and we’re going to focus on the work he directed under Studio Ghibli. On with the show!
Of all the illustrators alive today, there has been one man whose work has been a constant fixture throughout my life. I was one of those strange girls that would rather be outside excavating dinosaur bones in my backyard, getting my hands and knees dirty, than inside with a dollhouse. I spent countless hours pretending to be a world-famous archeologist, discovering hidden temples and pretending I had stumbled upon portals to other worlds. My favorite book reflected this: Dinotopia by James Gurney. I poured over those books, taped print-outs of his paintings on my wall, and I still have my first copy of The World Beneath on the bookshelf – now with the spine taped together because of the many times that book accompanied me into the woods. When I graduated high school, as my gift, my parents drove me hours away to a tiny museum in Oshkosh, Wisconsin where James Gurney’s Dinotopia paintings were on display. They are even more incredible in person. My favorite painting? The Black Fish Tavern from The World Beneath. The use of light and detail in that painting is incredible and I remember walking around the last corner of that gallery and there it was, sitting on an easel as you walked out the door.
For those who don’t know him, James Gurney is a writer and illustrator, best known for Dinotopia and his work for National Geographic Magazine. “He specializes in painting realistic images of scenes that can’t be photographed, from dinosaurs to ancient civilizations.” In fact, one of my favorite art guide books is Imaginative Realism: How to Paint What Doesn’t Exist, an excellent book for anyone interested in fantasy illustration. You can learn much more about James Gurney and his work by visiting his website, which was recently redesigned by his talented son, Dan. Check it out and take a look at his gallery. Thank you again to James for this fantastic interview. Enjoy!
On with the Dinosaurs! …I mean Interview!
As a kid, dinosaurs played a huge role in my everyday imaginary adventures. How were you first introduced to dinosaurs and the different civilizations that make appearances in Dinotopia and when did they begin to appear in your sketchbooks?
I was bitten by the dinosaur bug as a kid, thanks to the Zdenek Burian illustrations in the Time/Life book on evolution and a few trips to natural history museums. I was also fascinated by lost civilizations. I grew up with a bound set of old National Geographics outside my bedroom door. I’d tiptoe out in the hall at night to read about great explorers like Hiram Bingham discovering Machu Picchu. My ambition in third grade was to find a dinosaur or a lost city. I started excavations in my backyard and had my friends helping me until their mothers told them they couldn’t come over anymore because they always came home with their pockets full of dirt.
I majored in archaeology at UC Berkeley, and then worked for many years as an illustrator for National Geographic. They put me in an early grave, you might say, by sending me on assignment to Etruscan Italy to poke around some recently discovered tombs in Tarquinia. They also sent me to Rome, Athens, and Jerusalem, and I worked with a lot of archaeologists and paleontologists. Around 1988 in my spare time I started doing big paintings of lost empires and I came up with the idea of drawing a map of an island and telling about it through the journal of a Victorian explorer named Arthur Denison.
Does your artistic process differ when you’re working on paintings for your fictional books in comparison with work for instructional art books or commissioned pieces?
Not really. Both my Dinotopia paintings and my scientific illustrations are imaginative work, meaning there’s no photo to copy. The idea is to do a realistic painting of something that isn’t visible in front of me. For both science and fantasy paintings, I have to do lots of sketches, and maybe pose models or build maquettes. If it’s a commissioned illustration, I might have to resolve the sketches a bit more than I would if I was doing a Dinotopia painting. The artistic process does differ of course for my plein air work, where I work on oil primed panels, drawing the subject directly with a brush.
In your experience, what was more beneficial in helping you grow as an artist: formal art education or your personal travels and learning on your own?
For me the most beneficial thing was learning on my own and traveling, simply because most art schools weren’t teaching the good stuff 30 years ago. You had to dig it out from the old art instruction books that were 50 or 100 years old. Doing that felt like having Norman Rockwell or Harold Speed or Andrew Loomis as your teacher. Many art schools are better now, and are offering a good skill-based foundation. Still, I’m a real believer in learning through direct observation of nature, which means carrying a sketchbook around constantly, and painting outdoors.
Imaginative Realism is a fantastic book, but for those who haven’t read it – how do you go about creating your paintings of creatures that no longer exist? What steps must you take for the creatures to look as real as they do?
I work completely in pencil and oil. My studio is upstairs in my house, and it’s crammed full of art books, maquettes of architecture, old theater costumes, and sculptures of dinosaurs. My method is based on the nineteenth century academic approach: thumbnail sketches in black and white and color, studies or photos from costumed models, plein air sketches, and lots of reference photos filed away in a set of filing cabinets. The really elaborate paintings can take as long as six weeks, but an average painting goes together in about six days. During my lecture tour this fall I’ll be doing presentations at several different art schools and studios in LA and Ohio. People can find out the list on my blog under “Upcoming Appearances.”
Your blog is an amazing resource for all sorts of traditional artists. What is the biggest piece of advice you could give to a blossoming illustrator?
Thanks for the compliment. As far as advice, I’d start by saying: don’t worry! Professionals in the business often complain about the headaches of stock art, photo-illustration, lousy contracts, and disappearing clients. There’s no doubt: it’s a tough time right now to make a living as an illustrator. But it has always been a changing business, whether you were working in 1905, 1925, or 1955. In many ways, this is the best time ever to enter the field. We live in a more visual culture than ever, and never before has fantasy and science fiction been so central to our culture.
I’d also recommend balancing imaginative and observational work. Sketch from life and sketch from your head. And don’t worry about developing a style. Just observe nature faithfully when you’re young. The style will come naturally.
We have more resources at our fingertips—tools, references, printing technology—than any of our artistic ancestors ever dreamed of, and there are unlimited opportunities if we can just try to rise to the high ideals and standards that they stood for. Illustration is a proud calling. We should never forget how lucky we are to be able to conjure dreams out of thin air.
And finally… in one word, what “fuels” your illustration?
Probably the same thing that has fueled artists all along—the desire to tell a story, to bring a character to life, to create a doorway into a world that no one had ever imagined before. I’m constantly reminded of the impact that still pictures can have over us. I got a letter last week from a young woman who is an art student in Germany. She said she found her old copy of Dinotopia after it had been misplaced for many years, and she remembered something her father said about it. He told her that it was a magical book, and that every time she opened it up, there would be a new picture hidden somewhere in its pages that she had never seen before.
You can learn more about James Gurney here:
I love Tumblr – it’s one of those addicting websites that I get trapped in. I log in to post one thing and five hours later I’ve done nothing but look at superhero illustrations and cats. It happens. So, to spread the addiction, I’m showcasing five of my favorite illustration tumblrs. Sorry – no cats. This isn’t the Tumblr Cat Addiction …. though I like the sound of that!
ANYWAY. On with the showcase (of illustrations… not cats).
Tiny Post Offices
I just discovered this one today and it’s what inspired me to write this post. How lovely and whimsical is this tumblr? It makes me want to sketch every single building I see. Sometimes it’s the most normal things that end up being the most magical to an artist like Kyle Durrie with nothing but a pen and paper.
I spent hours at a time on this tumblr and tend to “heart” every image that comes up. So many talented illustrators are showcased here and so many more beautiful images. Countless amounts of inspiration, countless amounts of reminders that I need to kick my butt in gear and draw so that one day I’ll be on this blog too.
Oh my gosh, I could just gush continuously about Yaya’s gorgeous illustrations. She’s one of those artists that’s painfully good – as in it’s a painful reminder that some people are so incredibly fabulous at drawing that they make everyone else look bad. But I like pain apparently – her latest Mononoke Hime fanart is my desktop. So good!
F*ck Yeah Illustrative Art!
I pretty much love all tumblrs that start the same with the same two words, but this one has got most of them beat. Illustrative Art! Not only is it a showcase of awesome talent, but you also find some great tips and tutorials among the pretty pictures. From comics to fanart to epic fantasy paintings, it’s all here.
Show & Tell
Show & Tell is the illustration tumblr of Meg Hunt, one of my favorite illustrators. I adore her colors and her textures and how she can make these complex images look so simple. Her work is a constant source of inspiration to me and I’m constantly wishing I could fill my whole studio with her art. Meg Hunt wallpaper anyone?
What are you favorite illustration tumblrs? Comment and let us know! Share your addictions!
Forgotten Colours is a beautiful and inspiring iPad app that is filled with stories and illustrations by a very talented group of people. The colors are vivid and the stories filled with wonderful morals and happy endings. I was lucky enough to get a chance to interview the folks behind the magic and bring you some insight into what went into creating such an interactive app. Many thanks to Teo, one of the behind-the-scenes magicians at Play Creatividad, creators of the app, for translating the interview questions and answer for us. Enjoy! And make sure to check out the Forgotten Colours app!
Give us a little background on Forgotten Colours and the idea to turn it into an iPad app.
Desiree (Illustrator): We love technology! Working for the iPad is a delight because you can bring characters to life and create atmospheres, moving eyes, playing music, a surprising movement, interact… make a complete book of feelings.
How long did it take to make this app, from preliminary ideas to the full version it is now?
Francesc: From the first tests to the publication in the App Store… about 4 months.
Desiree: This never ends, there are always things to tweak and even more in the iPad world where new possibilities appear every day.
I read in the book that Silvia was originally an accounts assistant. How did it happen that you found your love and talent for writing?
Silvia (Author): Actually, I wrote short stories and scripts as a teenager that I let my friends read. But as I grew older I put my studies and work before, and I forgot what I loved so much. Until Desiree, illustrator and designer of the agency, challenged me to write these stories. I do small copy works in the agency, but writing about what you want is much more stimulating. While writing I remembered how much I enjoyed it, and have since resumed this path in which I hope to go on and contribute with my imagination.
Carmensina is a very unique character. Where did you get her inspiration from?
Silvia: Carmesina was born an afternoon of genuine inspiration, thinking a crazy idea that came that day at the agency: a one-eyed designer. So I started typing her story with that image in mind. A story as a fable of the world we live in: a gray and disenchanted society. But where with our attitude and imagination we can help to make a change. I also added the presence of Black Cat – inspired by the real cat that we have in the agency – and lots of imagination. And there was Carmesina, a character with a great story and still a lot to tell. Of course, then came David’s work, drawing her, giving her charm… but he will tell you better about that.
David (Illustrator): True, Carmesina is a very unique and peculiar character. Not only by herself but her creation process was as well. Usually when I draw a new character do a lot of sketches until I find what I was looking for. For Carmesina there are no preliminary sketches, when I read the story I picked up the pencil and drew her holding Black Cat in her arms. When I finished I showed it to Silvia and her reaction was: “It’s her!”… Just like that sometimes magical things happen; the character finds you. Obviously in the colouring process some features, were improved but essentially the early sketch is the Carmesina that the readers know now.
If you were given the choice to be any character in the book, who would you be?
Silvia: It is very difficult to choose just one character, they are like my children, my small creations, and I am very fond of all of them. But perhaps I would choose Carmesina, she has a great personality, or Griselda, because she is a free spirit, positive and cheerful.
Marta (Illustrator): Griselda, without hesitation.
Francesc: Black Cat, definitely.
Desiree: In this book I like Bella and Griselda because they were able to rebel and be different. We can all change our lives if we are not happy, even if there is a writer who tries to define our destiny.
David: Hmm… Difficult… I guess that, for the impression made on the audience and being the main characters of the second book we are preparing, I prefer the Black Cat – Carmesina tandem. But being a guy, and that answer would be a bit weird, I’ll say the Master Chew Wang.
The illustration styles in the book are so diverse. What are your favorite media styles? Pencils, watercolors, digital, etc?
Marta: Pencils and digital :-P
Desiree: I choose the media according to what the illustration suggests. I have no favourite, sometimes watercolour, pastel, pencil drawing, directly on the computer…. It is certain that everything ends up on my screen, where I retouch colours, shapes, illustrate and paint. I personally like the illustrations to have an artisan feel; it’s nice when the textures exceed the paper and make you want to touch it…
David: For the book we worked with pencil and coloured digitally, adding watercolour and colour pencil textures. It’s the cleanest and quickest way… but I have worked many years with watercolour and gouache, the truth is that sometimes I miss using these more traditional techniques.
I love the colors in this book! What are you favorite color schemes?
Marta: Even though the book has a bluish – greyish colour scheme, I normally tend to use colours that help the illustration to express its mood and not fixed schemes.
Desiree: In my case it is intuitive, I don’t think, I let go and just do it, enjoy it… but sometimes I don’t like it and I get angry. But the good thing is that with the computer you can change colours and compare. Sometimes you have to let a week pass to resume the picture and find what you were missing, including a colour for example.
David: I have no favourite colour scheme; I think the colour helps a lot to convey the atmosphere and the mood that the story requires. Anyway this is one of the advantages of working digitally. I really admire Guarnido Juanjo (illustrator of the comic book Blacksad) who works in watercolours and does about 3 or 4 coloured sketches for each frame prior to finding the tone that fits. Working digitally you can change hues until you get what you were looking for.
Was it difficult matching the design of the website and the HTML layout with the feel of the book?
Francesc: The main difficulty was to resolve the differences between the physical book’s square format and the iPad’s rectangular one. We decided to use the vertical view of the iPad and pretend that the book was displayed on a surface thus maintaining the original format. The rest was relatively easy, we have respected the original spirit, tweaking specific details and giving a bit of life to some illustrations with small effects and sounds.
What was it like collaborating with so much creative talent in the illustrators and the writer and all the people who worked on this app?
Francesc: We are a team that has spent several years working together every day: designers, programmers and illustrators as well as our own writer. Many of us participated in the development of the App. It has been an exciting experience to learn to move through the world of the AppStore and see how our project crosses boundaries every day.
Desiree: A very nice experience! Creativity calls for creativity, someone’s idea is a spark that makes everyone contribute with theirs. It’s a book that had no other claim than to amuse those who worked on it and I think that’s the key to our success.
David: Teaming up with such creative people makes your work improve much faster and the final product is something that could not be achieved individually. It is a joy.
And finally… what “Fuels” you in life?
Silvia: Life itself is inspiration, although sometimes our mood doesn’t allow us to see the beauty it hides, I certainly find my inspiration in the small things, in human relationships and everyday stories. Carmesina and all stories were created this way. In my case, literature and film is also of great inspiration.
Francesc: We are currently focusing our energy on our own projects, the second book that we are finishing and new Apps that we expect to launch soon.
Desiree: The inspiration has been different in every moment of my life, now my daughter is my new muse. Children allow us to play and require us to be fun and create!
David: Life itself! There are lots of things that happen everyday that is the fuel to enjoy it… and if you finally manage to draw them, it’s great!
I would like to introduce you all to one of my new favorite blogs: Creature Spot. It’s basically a blog for a bunch of different concept artists to come together and share their sketches and creations and I am in LOVE with it. Amazing work and extremely inspiring to someone who once dreamed of joining Weta Workshop as a concept artist (I have no given up on that dream – someday it will happen!).
A Few Favorites:
Go check them out and much more over at Creature Spot!