How to successfully draw dinosaurs

Illustrator James Gurney reveals how to master drawing prehistoric creatures in his downloadable video, Tyrannosaurs: Behind the Art.

dinosaurs doc

Dinosaurs have been extinct for 66 million years, however, we're still discovering new species. Twenty types of Tyrannosaur, all cousins to the iconic T. Rex, have come to light in the past decade-and-a-half, for example.

When the magazine Scientific American commissioned James Gurney to create a cover and interior illustration of these 'newcomers', he decided to film his process. The resulting production joins a small but high-quality series of videos Gurney has built up over the past few years.

james dino

James bases his drawings on real life, using photo and model reference

Tyrannosaurs: Behind the Art is less a training video, more a fully fledged documentary – though there are plenty of techniques to glean. Gurney covers themes that 
will be instantly familiar to devotees of his books and other videos.

Watch the Trailer

Chiefly, the challenge of taking an imagined scene, whether from ancient history or purely from your imagination, and convincing the viewer it could be real.

You'll see, for example, how James refers to modern animals to deduce how long-extinct creatures might have looked. More dinosaurs than we'd previously thought had some feathers, so Gurney makes a detailed comparison of fur and feathers in today's world to establish where they might have been and how they may have looked.

dino thumbnails

Thumbnail and value studies lead to a colour study James can show to the art director

Gurney has perfected the trick of packing in lots of information without ever making his presentation feel heavy. Given that his various videos cover broadly similar ground (this is his third about painting dinosaurs), anyone who's bought all his videos to date will inevitably find less new information here – although it's frankly so enjoyable to watch that it's debatable to what extent this matters.

dino sketching

An extensive catalogue of reference helps James to achieve more realistic results

If you're less familiar with Gurney's work, you'll gain invaluable insights into making colour and value studies, painting with oil- and water-based media, researching your scene and much more – and have fun doing it.

The video is available now to download here.

About the Artist: James Gurney

james studio

After a plein-air study of a nearby tree, James adds edge lighting to the woods in his picture

James Gurney specialises in painting realistic images of scenes that can’t be photographed, from dinosaurs to ancient civilisations. He’s also a plein air painter and sketcher, believing that making studies from observation fuels his imagination.

Gurney taught himself to draw by reading books about Norman Rockwell and Howard Pyle. He received a degree in anthropology at the University of California, but chose a career in art. Gurney has written the instruction books Imaginative Realism and Color and Light.