Artist James Gurney Issues A Grave Challenge

By: LaRinda Chapin | Date: Wed, October 7th, 2015

What do dinosaurs and graveyards have in common? Aside from reduction to skeletal remains and inspiration for Halloween costumes, the surprising connection is famed artist James Gurney and the latest art challenge that he has posted on his blog, Gurney Journey. Appropriate for this spooky time of year, artists are asked to paint plein air in that scariest of places: a graveyard.

Artist James Gurney

Artist James Gurney (Photo Source: The Delaware Art Museum)

Best known for his award-winning Dinotopia book series, Gurney has amassed a large online following on his blog. He frequently shares articles teaching both art history and skills, along with creating various challenges and contests to encourage reader participation.

Gurney’s previous challenge was to paint an outdoor market on site (plein air is the French term for painting outside). The challenge was so well received that it prompted Gurney to consider places for another outdoor painting contest. And what could be more appropriate for October than autumn leaves swirling around the ultimate memento mori—tombstones?

Gurney himself often paints on location and he has created a video series focusing on the process. Several of his cemetery pieces are featured in the blog post that talks about the contest. Gurney is not the only artist to find inspiration in the land of the lost. Artists such as Chagall, Sargent, Friedrich, Turner, El Greco, and Courbet have all painted tombstone-riddled landscapes, and even actual burials (that is not including the numerous paintings of religious subjects involving burial). Ranging from spooky to reverent, these works of art evoke emotions that other subjects often miss.

So far 168 artists have indicated interest in participating in Gurney’s challenge. If you are an artist who wants to try your hand, the basic rules are to find a cemetery and paint a scene using a palette limited to three colors, plus white. Complete contest rules can be found on the event page on Gurney’s blog and on Facebook. Be sure to take photos during painting and of the finished artwork, then post it to the Facebook event page created for the challenge.

James Gurney: A Grave Challenge

West Clare Graveyard, Kilnaboy, Ireland, by James Gurney. Source: Gurney Journey)

If you are not an artist, don’t feel locked out of the graveyard. Follow along on the Facebook page as artists share their new work through October 27. Winning entries will be announced and posted on the blog on October 31. Maybe one of the participants will combine another recent post from Gurney Journey about painting nocturnal scenes and brave the graves at night… Cue the spooky music!


More detailed instructions can be found on Gurney Journey for more information on the October challenge.


James Gurney Resources

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