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As a child Gurney taught himself to draw by studying the works of Howard Pyle and Norman Rockwell. His father Robert was a mechanical engineer and encouraged James to tinker in his workshop, adding another dimension to James' artwork.
He studied archaeology at the University of California Berkley and received a BA in Anthropology in 1979. After graduating he studied at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena California before traveling cross country to coauthor The Artist's Guide to Sketching in 1982.
Written and Artistic Work
In the 1980's Gurney turned to freelance artwork and created more than 70 covers to science fiction paperback novels. In 1983 he was commissioned by National Geographic to illustrate and recreated ancient Moche, Kushite, and Etruscan civilizations. These archaeological reconstructions influenced his 1992 work Dinotopia: A Land Apart from Time, which made the New York times bestseller list and won numerous awards and accolades. These include the Hugo, World Fantasy, Chesley, Spectrum, and Colorado Children’s Book awards. Sequels to Dinotopia that are written and illustrated by Gurney include Dinotopia: The World Beneath (1995), Dinotopia: First Flight (1999), and Dinotopia: Journey to Chandara (2007).