Interview with James Gurney, Illustration West 52 Judge


James Gurney, respected illustrator, author, and prolific blogger is one of the distinguished Illustration West 52 judges.

Illustration West Show Chair, Santosh Oommen was able to interview Mr. Gurney recently about his history, practice and inspiration.


Can you tell us a little bit about yourself or how you got started?

Me in less than 50 words: Graduated UC Berkeley as an archaeology major, left art school for job as an animation background painter, meanwhile writing a book on sketching. Freelanced book covers and Nat Geo until writing Dinotopia, all the while plein air painting. Recently active in art instruction books and videos.

What’s your daily routine look like?

No two days alike. But basically I wake up at 7:00, have oatmeal, take a walk, and get working by around 9:30. A trip to the post office before lunch, more work and a half hour of outside chores. In the evening, books, magazines, or computer (we have no TV, smart phones, or game systems). That’s basically it, unless we’re on tour.

Who are you inspired by?

Let’s see. Lately by the drawing of Adolph Menzel, the writing of E.B. White, the animation of Hayao Miyazaki, and the music of Schubert.

Do you have a mentor or teacher that was influential on you, while you were studying in college?

Yes, Ted Youngkin was the greatest ever perspective teacher. Very demanding and a bit scary while the class was going, but as I followed up with him for all the years until he passed on, he really loved his students and wanted them to succeed. 


What has been one of your favorite projects to work on?

The latest one (released today) of the Australian dinosaur stamps. Worked with some great people and had the privilege to hold some of the fossils in my hands that I reconstructed as living animals. |


What medium do you work with predominately now? And do you use the digital painting medium?

My main media lately are oil, casein, and watercolor, plus an assortment of pens and pencils. I love digital photography and video and non-linear editing, but am only interested in handmade artwork.

How important is social media for an illustrator now? And how are you using it?

I don’t know about other illustrators, but I do a lot of blogging and YouTubing. Love the feedback and the shared expertise. I’ve learned as much as I’ve taught. Recently have had a blast with Concert Window Open monetized live stream demos.

How important is a blog? How often do you update your own blog and what can illustrators do to get more traffic to their sites?

The GurneyJourney blog has been the key to everything I’ve done over the last five years.It was the proving ground for all the ideas in my books Color and Light and Imaginative Realism. I update every day. Helps clear my head while the coffee is brewing. Tips for traffic? I don’t know, just be yourself and stay curious.

Where do you think the field of Illustration is headed in 5 years or 10 years?

No one knows. But one thing’s for sure. The ecosystem of art publishing won’t look like it did 1993 anymore. The changes in publishing, from largely print to largely digital empowers creators to be their own publishers, keep 95% rather than 10% of the profits, and communicate directly with those who support them. This places a burden of responsibility upon content creators to maintain quality in everything they do, but at the same time to take risks and experiment, not only with subject matter, but with delivery systems and monetization.

This new world is full of paradoxes. Here are a few: Free content builds paid content; You give stuff away so that you can sell it later; Let people set their own price, they will support you; Promote others, and you will be promoted; Share your trade secrets and you will learn from others.


What advice do you have for illustrators beginning and pro?

Unless you’d rather work for someone else, where being a specialist is probably necessary, I’d recommend developing a lot of skills. That includes drawing, painting, writing, video editing, photography, accounting, marketing, lettering, sculpting—it all helps. Also deliver on time and give more than you promise. be nice to everyone because it will come back to you. And if you can’t say something nice about someone….

Where can we see more of your work? And watch your informative videos? Where can we purchase your books?

Thanks for asking. You’ll find it all on my blog, GurneyJourney, my YouTube channel, and the website.

Thanks for your questions, Santosh.

 James Gurney’s blog and his instructional books and videos are highly recommended.




Illustration West 52 is open for submissions at

The submission Deadline is October 15th, 2013