James Gurney is the artist and author best known for his illustrated book series Dinotopia. He specializes in painting realistic images of scenes that can’t be photographed, from dinosaurs to ancient civilizations. He is also a dedicated plein air (outdoor) painter and sketcher, believing that making studies directly from observation fuels his imagination.
Born in California in 1958, the son of a mechanical engineer, he taught himself to draw by reading books about the illustrators Norman Rockwell and Howard Pyle. He studied archaeology at the University of California at Berkeley, receiving a degree in anthropology with Phi Beta Kappa honors. Prompted by a cross-country adventure on freight trains, he coauthored The Artist’s Guide to Sketching in 1982. During the same period, he worked as a background painter for the animated film Fire and Ice, co-produced by Ralph Bakshi and Frank Frazetta.
His freelance illustration career began with paperback book covers, where he developed his characteristic realistic renderings of fantastic scenes, often using posed models and handmade maquettes for reference. His has worked on more than a dozen assignments for National Geographic magazine, painting reconstructions of Moche, Kushite, and Etruscan civilizations. The inspiration that came from researching these scenes of ancient life led to a series of lost world paintings, including ”Dinosaur Parade” and ”Waterfall City.” With the encouragement of retired publishers Ian and Betty Ballantine, he committed two years’ time to writing and illustrating Dinotopia: A Land Apart from Time, which was published in 1992.