Imaginative Realism: How to Paint What Doesn't Exist by James Gurney
Amazon.com describes the book this way:
An award-winning fantasy artist and the creator of Dinotopia, James Gurney instructs and inspires in Imaginative Realism: How to Paint What Doesn't Exist. Renowned for his uncanny ability to incorporate amazing detail and imagination into stunningly realistic fantasy settings, James Gurney teaches budding artists and fans of fantasy art step-by-step the techniques that won him worldwide critical acclaim. This groundbreaking work examines the practical methods for creating believable pictures of imaginary subjects, such as dinosaurs, ancient Romans, alien creatures, and distant worlds.
Beginning with a survey of imaginative paintings from the Renaissance to the golden Age of American illustration, the book then goes on to explain not just techniques like sketching and composition, but also the fundamentals of believable world building including archaeology, architecture, anatomy for creatures and aliens, and fantastic engineering. It concludes with details and valuable advice on careers in fantasy illustration, including video game and film concept art and toy design.
More than an instruction book, this is the ultimate reference for fans of science fiction and fantasy illustration.
Review by John Erickson, February 2010:
The lessons in this book can be summed up in a single word: preparation. Gurney discusses how using preliminary sketches, color thumbnails, models, photos, maquettes, etc. can be used to help translate a fantastical idea into a believable illustration. There is also some very enlightening information in the last section about composition and the use of light and shadow.