Monday, September 19, 2011

My $450 cab ride to Iowa

Since the 2011-2012 School Visit Season has officially begun, I thought it would be fun to share an adventure from a few years back.

“Well, this is our tenth year. Something had to go wrong sometime.” sighed the librarian before she hung up the phone.

Not on my watch! I thought. But this was my fault. I had been more than halfway to the airport in Hartford when I realized that I had left my wallet back home in Vermont. I had week of school visits scheduled in Iowa. I had obsessed over packing everything I might need, but apparently my wallet had not been on my list of essential items.

I caught a later flight to Chicago, but there were no more connecting flights to Davenport, Iowa. And none Monday morning that would get me there early enough to give a school presentation. I was gnashing my teeth and pulling my hair out, but once I accepted the notion that Monday’s visit was not going to happen, I had a revelation. If I could spend Monday’s honorarium getting to Iowa, I could still make Monday happen. My speaking fee would be gone, but at least the kids wouldn’t be disappointed (sounds hokey, but that’s how I think).

My first thought was to rent a car, but I realized I would look like a zombie the next day if I drove all night. Might scare the kids. I would have to cab it. When I asked the Ethiopian cab driver if he could take me to Davenport Iowa, he smiled and said “Yes, Milwaukee!”. At some point there was a consultation with a map. The fare would be $450, I forget if that was before his tip, or including. Either way, I had a few dollars to spare.

So, I got to Iowa in time to sleep for an hour or two, shower and present. And all week the lovely librarian and her husband enjoyed referring to themselves as my Ethiopian cab drivers as they drove me around.

A year later in a similar situation (not my fault, the Atlanta airport was covered in ice) I rented a car and drove all night from Cincinnati to Birmingham in order not to miss a school presentation. If I was a zombie, the kids didn’t seem to mind.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Mother Goose Game

A few months ago I received an assignment from Patch Products: Illustrate a Mother Goose Game. A fun project, the only problem was that I had about 15 minutes to create the artwork (I'm kidding, I had a few weeks, but it felt like 15 minutes). A box cover illustration and 12 different scenes from the classic nursery rhymes for the game board. In order to meet the deadline I painted the the art to a certain level of completion, making the cover a priority, and with two days to go I had the work scanned and finished everything in Photoshop. Luckily the designer at Patch patched it all together. Should be in stores soon!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Highlights Puzzle Poem Illustration of the Year!

This morning I heard the UPS guy drop something off on my porch. I'm always ordering used books on Amazon, I figured that must be it. I opened the box and. much to my surprise pulled a shiny metal plate engraved Highlights High Five Puzzle Poem Illustration of the Year, John Steven Gurney, "Spider Shoes", 2010. I went back to my front porch to see if any paparazzi were lurking about, but no.

Well, media circus or no, I'm delighted to get any kind of positive recognition. "Spider Shoes" was an illustration I made for Highlights High Five magazine sometimes last year. One of the fun things about it was that it was one of the first true oil paint/photoshop hybrid. I like the way the oil painted underpainting texture carried through to the finished illustration.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Hans Holbein and me

My friend and fellow caricaturist Phil Herman emailed me a photo of me from a party we were working at together (we were instructed to wear berets, not my idea). The photo gave me a flashback from art history class of Hans Holbein's painting of Thomas More. So, I found the painting online, and created a morphed image of the two of us. The most remarkable thing is that me and old Tom have the same squiggly mouth.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

This guy has no sense of scale!

It's always a challenge to decide which pieces to feature in your portfolio. I was proud of this illustration. When I'm working in this style I aspire to be a second rate Norman Rockwell, but I was really pleased with how the characters came out in this piece. I featured it on my website, I put it on a promo card.
After it was circulating for years I had two different people tell me they didn't think I had a grasp of human proportion, that the man is too big in relation to the kids. Well, duh, I thought, he's A GIANT! The book is Giants Don't Go Snowboarding! But, when I display the piece I usually show it without the type, so how would anybody know that? Another problem is that he is just a little bit bigger than is probably possible. Since its a Bailey School Kids Book, one of the underlying premises is that this character might possibly be an oversized human rather than a giant, so I can't go too extreme.

So, if I had made him 20 feet tall, people would have known he's obviously a giant, if he was 7 feet tall, they would think he's a large human. As it is, I look like I have no sense of scale!

Friday, January 7, 2011

Blast from the Past

I thought it might be fun to periodically post some of my favorite illustrations from over the years with a brief explanation. This was a cover for a book of Sci-Fi Fantasy stories entitled "Betcha Can't Read Just One". This also is the only time in my 25 year career that the book company lost my art. Ace Berkeley used to commission a lot of fantastic cover illustrations, so I guess its a compliment that mine was the only one that disappeared from their office. That's one thing good about illustrating in the digital age, there is no original. Nowadays illustrations only exists as files.