Oh, my.  Yes, painting old buildings in watercolor not latex. You’ll want to see illustrator and fine-arts painter James Gurney dash off a plein air urbanscape — before the time’s up on his parking meter.

Former National Geographic illustrator of archeological/historical subjects, author-illustrator of books for children and adults and an exquisite, if occasionally quirky teacher of drawing and painting, James Gurney is an inspiration to artists everywhere.

He wields his humble tools like your proverbial neighbor, puttering over a project on the workbench in his garage. The results are joyful jewels of color, light and interlocking value pattern. Marvels of aesthetic precision, achieved by imprecise means.

Painting, easy as 1, 2, 3…

Let me try to step it out here.) He uses a straight edge to grid his paper and determine the two key lines in his scene — 1.) the horizon or eye level line, and 2.) “the most extreme, steep line.” That’s the roofline of the nearest facade, angled because it’s foreshortened. Starting with these perspective prompts, he blocks in (a good term in this case) the rest of his pencil sketch, in rough outline.

Next he covers the surface with “a wash of some color.” Drippy, “juiced-up” washes applied with his 1″ and 1/4″ flat brushes. But he leaves a few spots of untouched white paper. He does a little drybrush to create brick texture.

By painting a darker-than-you’d-expect cerulean blue sky, he pops out the old shopfront facades. They’ve now become the composition’s big light shape.

At the end he adds a few detail lines with a Waterman fountain pen (brown ink.) He finishes the painting in under two under hours. We assume he did not receive a parking ticket.

Do yourself a favor. Subscribe to Gurney’s YouTube channel, Gurney Studiowhere you’ll find many more of his delightful video tutorials, including Watecolor Kit for Urban Sketching.

Calling all children’s book illustrators and authors to the Austin SCBWI conference

Children's book agent Jill Grinberg Literary agent  Jill Grinberg answers some questions and offers her single best piece of advice for aspiring children’s book authors and illustrators in this short interview.

Grinberg’s part of the terrific faculty being assembled for the 2015 Austin SCBWI Annual Conference — set for March 7-8. The big event will also feature Chronicle Books design director Kristine Brogno. Registration opens December 8. We’ll keep you posted.