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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."

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.

(There are more pictures of the book on my blog. Just visit my Amazon profile for the link.)
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on 23 October 2009
This is a fantastic book and will be a wonderful addition to anyones collection who is interested in developing fantasy art, or even just improving general drawing and design skills.

The information is broken down into manageable bitesized chapters, so you can read the whole book as a whole, or just dip in and out. The illustrations are lovely, and I love reading about how the artist develops ideas and gathers information.

The cover of this book does not do it justice, as it could put some artists off if they are not really into fantasy work, but there are some great illustrations, and the influence of some past masters are evident in some of the work.

The book is a good size and there is plenty to read and lots of information. The book is printed on good quality paper and is really good value for money. A breath of fresh air in the art book format. If you like fantasy art, or are interested in reading about how other artists work then buy this book, you won't be disappointed.
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on 20 January 2010
I joined Mr.Gurney's blog having received this book. I am an illustration and print student and bought it as I thought it may be useful for a project on mythical beasts. I only got it yesterday, but so far it's looking like a really valuable resource, and seems to cover a lot of areas that will be really helpful in this and future projects. The book is thicker than I thought it would be, due to the usual standard of 'how to' art books. But this surpasses that group by far in my opinion. It feels nice to have it in my collection. Thank you JG.
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on 22 February 2014
As a budding fantasy artist myself, this book is pretty much exactly what I needed to give me the motivation and techniques to improve my work. The book isn't so much a step-by-step guide to painting, more a general explanation of the methods and thought processes behind his work and the work of other great painters. As you might imagine, the book focuses on giving you a foundation for painting things that you can't directly reference, so it's a goldmine for fantasy/historical/concept artists; but the knowledge Gurney has will help anyone interested in painting/drawing, whether you're a digital or traditional painter.
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on 26 October 2016
This book is great, magic. The kind of book that takes me back to when I was about 15 and what made me want to be an artist/designer in the first place. The book is still relevant if you are using digital processes, I use both traditional and digital. Its the imagination, not the tool.
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*Overview--Western vs. Eastern art techniques.
**Contents
***A question about technique
****Conclusion

*James Gurney, the creator of the fantasy series, Dinotopia, as well as a commercial artist for several Fortune 500 companies has created a blueprint for artists of any age and ability to follow in this book, Imaginative Realism: How to Paint What Doesn't Exist. This is a broad survey of Western/ Occidental Art and it's influence on the contemporary Western aesthetic. It is, indeed, a fresh look at Western art.

I've been very fortunate as of late to be able to get my hands on some priceless books on the subject of art. The first, Elemental Magic: The Classical Art of Special Effects Animation, is a look at illustrating natural elements and phenomena (water, fire, icebergs, shattered glass, pixie dust, i.e.) by capturing the movement or in author, Joseph Gilland's, words the "energy" of the object. This is the quintessential Oriental approach to Art.

Imaginative Realism, on the other hand, is an intimate conversation from a master artist to students of art about capturing art by the physical senses. In other words, "What do you see?" The question of what is better or what is the definition of Art, are not questions that either of these books attempt to answer nor are the authors particularly interested in engaging in a culturally-divisive debate.

As a fellow artist (illustrator, painter and now graphic artist), I find this book captivating. It's very easy to get lost in the hundreds of glossy pictures, from trucks to people to dinosaurs to futuristic battles. It's all here. He offers poignant tips and instructions-- many I know and use, but there are quite a few that I hadn't "discovered" -- which makes this book an indispensable reference book to have.

Imaginative Realism is a text book on the various ways European and American artists went about constructing images, from the early 19th century up to and including the present. This, however, is not an art-instruction book. It doesn't offer instructions on how to draw or to paint, for example. It is squarely addressed to the artist and/or art lover about the mechanics and the building blocks of creating art.

**The book is broken down into several categories:

A brief history of Western art.
Setting up (a workstation)
Tables, easels, lights.
Tips on loosening up for inspiration.
Preliminary sketches
Thumbnail/ Storyboard/ Charcoal/ Corrections and Tracings/
Eye level/ Perspective Grid-- and, perseverance.
People
References, sculptures (busts)
Dinosaurs
Creatures/ Aliens/ Cyborgs

Plein-Air Silhouettes
Creating a "Scrap File"
Vehicles
Architecture.

***One of the things that Mr. Gurney recommends for capturing authenticity is the use of maquettes or clay sculptures. This is handy for a number of reasons, according to him.

1. It keeps a consistent model available for the artist. Creating a human bust, for instance, allows for a familiarity, a stasis personality where there's no wrestling or competing interference with other mental images intruding on the work-in-progress.

2. You can experiment with hundreds of different poses and light situations from a single maquette.

I did have one question, however, as it concerns the use of maquettes. In the time it takes to buy the materials, decide the right model and facial expression and the creation of it, could it be simpler to just use high-resolution shots of a model and import it into a 3D modeling software where one may digitally control external factors on the model, at a fraction of the cost and time?

I decided to ask Mr. Gurney, himself. Here's his response:

"I was aware of many parallel digital tools that solve many of the same problems that I do with physical maquettes, but since I don't use them, I felt I couldn't write knowledgeably about them.

I often speak to artists who do use Z-Brush and other programs for reference maquettes. From what I gather, the digital techniques take about the same amount of time, or even longer for an organic form like a creature or a tree. What I'm after are usually the subtle textural effects and reflected light, which the more low-end programs have a harder time capturing.

I expect that a lot of my book's readers will use a combination of traditional and digital techniques, both for the reference tools and the final rendering, but hopefully most of the basic messages of the book will apply in either instance."

****Imaginative Realism is truly an art-lovers book. There are many, many detailed clues to unblock artist fatigue, be more creative and going deeper in the psyche to access one's vision. This book should be the first place to look when starting on any project.
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on 22 March 2017
The answer seems to be to make a model for reference... not something thats always practical to do but there is also plenty of other interesting insights in the book as well and I found it an interesting read. His book on colour and light is the more useful of the two for me though.
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on 12 September 2012
This book takes you through Gurneys career and projects and explains in depth how he achieves his results with plenty of surprises along the way. I dont think studying this book will allow you to perform miracles of your own but it will usher you in the right direction and help you out of creative ruts. What surprises with this book is that it offers alot more than the title implies, exploring composition, structure, classical techniques and many more tricks of the artistic trade. A better name for this book would be Imaginative realism and an extensive guide to art concepts and more, ok its not as catchy but after finishing both of Gurneys books i just hope that in the future he publishes more work which i would order without hesitation. Geeky, extensive, informative, fun.....
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on 14 May 2012
As an artist, I am always looking for new ideas and techniques to apply in my own work.
I had already purchased Jim Guerney's book "Color and Light" and read all the articles he had published in International Artist Magazine, so was already a big fan.
Although entitled "Imaginative Realism" (painting what doesn't exist) it is not just for the fantasy artist; it is an indispensible tool for any realist artist.
The book is packed with valuable information on a wide range of subjects and techniques. It is at the same time very entertaining and shows Jim's amazing artistic skills, creativity and passion for what he does.
A must for any realist artist or anyone interested in fantasy worlds or dinosaurs.
And go and buy his other book - it is just as good!
Richard Harpum ([...])
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on 7 December 2015
This book completes the other (Color and Light). It has a lot of art, examples and it explains well the process of creating an object/sculpture in order to create a painting after ( the figure that is represented on the book cover). He explains that we can paint the imagination by creating it first, then it's a matter of setting the light correctly on the studio and paint what you just sculpted or composed on your table.
If not, this and the other book are amazing to keep as a collection, because of the amount of full page art.

It might be a little overwhelming for beginners.
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