Friday, May 22, 2015


by Greg Ruth

 When you make art for a living, the act of making art can and does become at times, drudgery. I found myself waking up Monday mornings groaning as anyone would going to work, (ridiculous as that sounds). One of the most diabolical side effects of achieving the rare feat of working as a professional artist, will inevitably have to contend with wrestling with the encroaching ground of work and money and other compromises that will encroach into your once verdant and isolated landscape. It's just going to happen and I have found instead of trying to fight off the hurricane, it's better and more effective to learn to surf it. One of my favorite means by which I do this  surfing is The 52 Weeks Project- which is basically publicly committing to making a new drawing each and every monday. Sort of the art equivalent of eating dessert before the meal.

 As is per usual of the very broad scope that is the cornucopia of The 52 Weeks Project, this is anti-assignment, anti-work. It's the one protected sandbox of pure play, and as I have become more and more familiar with my new graphite drawings, I thought it a perfect time to really push them to see what they can do, and what they cannot. Typically these weekly drawings have been executed in sumi ink- which makes perfect sense. It's quick  free and gestural. Getting the graphite to not gobble the whole day up (there's a point when one does actually have to get back to work), has been tricky to try and discover. this series is an attempt to do so.

As always I am a HUGE fan of portraiture. There's something about the task reduced to a human face that is forever compelling and captivating to me as a drafstman. It's a drawing that looks back at you, and so much of where the character lies, is in not just the usual areas of eyes and mouth, but everywhere throughout the face, the garb, the way the subject holds his or herself... I've had an ongoing fascination with old coal miner photos, and especially the through line they all share. That same sooty face, that same determined focus in their eyes. Throughout the whole of photo-documented miners, they all seem, no matter what country they're from, to possess a common gaze, look and feel. They are of a people together and represent the frontline of our relationship with this heating/energy/fuel source of ours since the ancient Greeks first began to record its effect and its potential. Coal has shaped our world, driven our societies, and stood invisibly behind nearly every major epoch in human history from the advent of the iron age, through the locomotive and today's sophisticated electrical grid. it as a rock made from decomposition, and its exploitation has given rise to empires and now threatens to alter the very environmental structure of our planet. From Asia to Europe, to our Americas and over to India, Africa and the Middle East, Coal has dominated and permeated itself into nearly every human society on earth. Rich and fertile ground for exploring it in an apolitical anthropological way, and I can think of now better locus point around which to learn more than through the faces and hands of those who burrow deep and pluck it from the heart of the earth.

So here's the tools of the trade. I tend to begin with the lightest underdrawing using the Staedtler all-graphiter HB, and then progress towards the final Blackwing Palomino for the darkest and most detailed bits. Basically erasing and smudging maniacally with my thumb along the way.

Here's the very first portrait, which when it was done grabbed me by the top of my head and utterly against my will dragged me into this project. I had intended instead to spend a few weeks exploring the images of Weeping Maidens, but instead this fellow came in and overturned the tables. It took around an hour to execute- more than twice as long as a typical 52 Weeks style image- but there was simply something undeniable about him, and about the potential of this series.

For the second piece, I decided to go back a bit and focus on the 1800's area and England specifically. In a given coal family it was entirely typical to find every male generation working the mines alongside each other. The process of going in and coming out after a day inside the sleeve seemed to beg trying to do something a little different this time. Instead of going in with a full on attended coal-face I wanted to draw the piece clean at first and apply the soot as part of the finishing of the drawing. The technical aspects aside the thing that struck me the most was how it ages this fellow.

And finally to the end. I felt like I had taken it a bit over far with the soot and dialed back a bit here. One of the really wonderful aspects of working with these graphite pencils is their ability to erase and reapply. a bit like paint in this way as you can see below.  

As an artist, it's a chance to explore the idea of a face, the smudges and smears that both hide and mask it but also define and carve it into what it is. It is the leftover of interacting with it. Dark and filthy and sooty as a moonless night. A perfect arena to take the graphite pencils out for a good and long term spin.

First rough underdrawing. 

So. First up is the basic underdrawing. I tend to take the Staedtler allXwrite HB out for a spin for this one. A very light and dense all graphite pencil that let's me block out all the basic forms and shapes and areas of shadow I have in mind. The rough nature of its application, and the texture of the paper are perfect for this subject as you can see, like smears of charcoal, rough and filthy. 

Next up is the furthering of the basic light and dark work. My thoughts for these drawings are to keep the darkest and most intensely drafted areas around where the coal is, the face and the eyes and to let the rest fade into a foggy light around the subject. 

Finally, this Bolivian fellow is complete. One of the aspects that has come from these unique to portraiture and essential to these is how they look back at you. We are afforded a special permission to stare when it comes to portraiture we don't get to exercise with real live everyday folk. The relationship is therefor deeply intimate and I have found the more sharp and real and reflective a portrait is the longer and more worthwhile it is to stare at one. There's a world and a day in the face of a man or woman and so much in the faces of these people who dig deep into the bowels of the earth and pull out the pressurized decay that has fueled and continue to fuels the path of our entire civilization. 

While it takes far longer by centuries to generate coal, our use of it outstrips its production by a longshot. Even so, according to recent estimates, there is enough coal in the earth presently to attend to our needs for 300 more years before it runs out. Regardless of what it does to us, to our environment and all the rest, its highs and lows, coal is not going anywhere. not anytime soon, and that means more and more generations of miner to pull it from the earth. And perhaps a few more portraits of them to keep the company. 

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Spectrum Live 4

Spectrum Fantastic Art Live 4!

May 22-24, 2015

Kansas City Convention Center
Kansas City, MI

Arnie and Cathy Fenner are once again hosts to one of the fiinest gatherings of professionals in the genre of science fiction and fantasy art. Art directors from various publishing houses, owners representing galleries, and numerous art collectors will walk the floor, mingle with exhibiting artists and attendees alike to make this an event well worth participating within. All forms of professionals will share their thoughts through lectures, presentations, and live demonstrations.

This is not an event staged around museum works or academics, but rather a place where comrades slogging their way through the extremely competitive freelance marketplace share their stories, advice, and work with a like and sympathetic audience. This is a place to nurture the artistic soul and charge the inspirational batteries of creativity and a time to pick the brains of talent, mature and fledgling, for they all had information relevant to expand their artistic awareness.

With dozens of panel presentations, hundreds of booths, and thousands of pieces of art, you are guaranteed to be inspired from the moment you step through the door. The Fenners (as well as their host of volunteers) has put on a top rate professional convention the past three years, and I am sure this will follow suit. 

Be sure to attend the Spectrum 21 awards Saturday evening to celebrate the best of what our field creates.

Visit for information about attending, panels, exhibitors and the incredible gathering of artistic professionals.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015


-By Jesper Ejsing

I have a series of paintings eating up all my time these last 2 weeks. Today I have only a couple of Giants to share with you. They are the front figures for an adventure series from Paizo, called Pathfinder - Giantslayer.

They were all penciled out on paper and then painted in Photoshop. 

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Final Stages

By Donato

Beren and Luthien in the Court of Thingol and Melian
110" x 60"
Oil on Linen

With the painting of Beren and Luthien in the Court of Thingol and Melian now completely covered in structural detail, I now am entering into the final phases of repainting/correcting/color balancing the entire work. I equate this aspect of painting similar to what must be accomplished while directing an orchestra. To ask all the musicians to play their best would result in a cacophonous assault on the senses as each performed their favorite notes and in such a manner which called attention to their unique skill and instruments special qualities, all at the same time, all unaware of the style of their adjacent performer, and all at discordant volume levels.

Rather what is required for a symphony to be enjoyed by all, is that the musicians in a large orchestra must work in harmony with each other, taking turns and gracefully accept the chances to stand out and moments to suppress their instruments into near silence. The compression and expansion of information is a style I enjoy in my music and therefore reflects my preferred organization of elements within my art!

What I have after a first pass is the orchestra all paying fairly well together, but not in total harmony. It is this phase of managing a large canvas that I enjoy so much - glazing over swaths of figures, repainting a face here and there, recoloring a dress, adding color to a shadow, suppressing details here while pulling out more there. It is the difference between accepting the work because you could get all the pieces to fit and comparing that to the integrity of the final work as the various elements compliment each other and coalesce towards a grander, unified message greater than the sum of the individual parts.

I hope to have the final image to share with you all on this project in a few weeks hence.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Gate of Fire

by Arnie Fenner

Allen Williams, photo © Greg Preston

The concept of "community" is one I've discussed frequently through the years. When it comes to artists, well, it really isn't an easy idea to get across. By their nature, artists are...different. Yeah, sure, we've always heard the "arty types" description (often accompanied with an eye roll) applied to us and it's hard to not entirely disagree sometimes. Artists are unique and they're not exactly predictable. They see things, think things, do things in ways that non-artists often have a hard time comprehending. They're sometimes outsiders, sometimes introverts, sometimes gregarious party-hardy alpha dogs, but always individualists.

And as an independent lot…well...they're rarely joiners. That's one of the reasons why, though there are a number or artist organizations in existence (some decidedly more reputable than others), their membership is only the tiniest of fractions of the number of creatives working today. The old Groucho Marx line, "Any club that would have me as a member, I wouldn't want to join!" seems to apply.

But there are also exceptions—there are always exceptions—as Iain McCaig, Karla Ortiz, Christian and Andrea Alzmann proved last week as they reached out to the community on behalf of Allen and Vicki Williams and their family. I'll let them explain:

On February 23rd, 2015, Award-winning Illustrator, Concept Artist, Writer, Husband and Father of two Allen Williams posted on Facebook: 
"I feel a little like I'm naming Voldemort here but...I need to say I have recently been diagnosed with HPV related squamous cell carcinoma. The two-month cure will surely be hard, but it will be the cure that causes difficulty, not the actual disease...somehow, I just have to get through this gate of fire." 
Physically, Allen is hanging in there. But as he predicted, it's the cure that is causing difficulty. As well as fighting cancer, he and his wife Vicki are having to battle insurance companies to pay their hospital bills. And it is not a fight they are winning.
The price tag for surviving the cancer lodged in his neck is $50,000. It includes a tonsilectomy, radiation and chemotherapy. An ER visit for an unexpected fever and a dangerously low white blood cell count. Out-of-pocket expenses for a speech therapist for Allen's 'swallow exercises' so he doesn't lose the ability to eat. The list goes on and on. 
In his Facebook posting, Allen said, "I spend most of my days drawing and painting and I've included everyone in that aspect of my life. I would feel somehow dishonest if I didn't share this as well." 
Now, Allen needs your help to get him through this ordeal and back to his drawing board, without his having to haul a debt the size of a small house with him.
As an artist and human being, Allen Williams is beloved. He has given so much of his art, inspiration, friendship, and time to us all. Let's return the favor and help him now when he and his family need it most. 
Strength and honor.
—Iain McCaig, Karla Ortiz, Christian and Andrea Alzmann

No matter how much money any of us make in our lifetimes, no matter how well insured we are, dealing with an accident, an illness, or a disease is horribly expensive and often financially crippling. The worries about paying the bills that arrive like clockwork from unsympathetic healthcare providers add to the stress and impede recovery. The Go Fund Me account that Iain, Karla, Christian, and Andrea started for the Williams family is an attempt to alleviate some—just some—of that stress.

Of course there are many in today's world in need. Of course we can't help everyone. Wouldn't it be nice if we could? Allen and Vicki did not ask for our aid: his friends stepped up of their own volition. That's what friends do; that's what a caring community does. If one family can be helped—if we can render even the smallest amount of aid and comfort to a single member of our tribe—then the community as a whole is strengthened. The entire Fantastic Art community—and, yes, we are one—is enriched and grows.

If you're unfamiliar with Allen or new to his work, I encourage you to visit his website to discover all manner of art as wondrous as those samples I've posted here. And if you should fall in love with an original or print, all the better: every purchase helps, too.

We're planning on doing something at Spectrum Fantastic Art Live 4 this weekend to add to the goodness. Our Event Organizer Shena Wolf (as if she didn't already have a lot on her plate) will be coordinating with all the guests, exhibitors, and attendees to "do our part." Once it's completed, I'll share the details with everyone here.

In the meantime, to contribute to the "Gate of Fire" fund—any amount is helpful and sincerely appreciated—merely hit the link and help members of our Fantastic Art Family. And if your finances are stretched too thin to allow it, an encouraging note means a lot, too.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Artist of the Month: George Watts

-By William O'Connor

The nineteenth century was the era of "isms".  From Classicism to Impressionism, Realism, Orientalism, Aestheticism, Romanticism and Pointillism only to name a few.  Art was fracturing into camps becoming an extension of philosophical and aesthetic ideas as much as it was about picture making.  Many of these movements, and the artists in them were fluid, evolved and changed as new ideas and artists flowed through them.   One of the most influential art movements of the late nineteenth century was Symbolism. 

Growing out of the Romantic Movement and artists like Delacroix, Blake  and Goya, adopting concepts from the Pre Raphaelites such as Rossetti and Ruskin, as well as using the ideas of the Arts and Crafts movement like William Morris, the Symbolists placed emphasis on the personal emotions and expression of the artist, that art could communicate deep emotion and spirituality through images without being confined to academic representations.  The Symbolists like Moureau, Klimt, Burne Jones and Bocklin would use fantasy and dreamscapes to create images of otherworldly environments having a profound effect on later artists such Picasso, Dali, The Expressionists and the Surrealists.

One of the most famous Symbolists was the English painter George Frederick Watts (1817-1904)  Studying at the Royal Academy Watts' 50 year career traces the second half of the nineteenth century's fascinating exploration through all the many "isms"  with his paintings being influenced by Pre Raphaelites, Arts and Crafts, Classicism and Realism, as well as Darwinism and Aestheticism, using mythology and classical motifs to explore modern concepts.

Although ridiculed after his death in the early 20th century, (like most Victorians) today Watts' paintings are proudly displayed in the some of the worlds most famous museums.  The largest collections of his paintings is in the Tate Gallery London to whom he donated many of his works late in life.  In today's post-modern fantasy art I see a deep influence of the Symbolists like Watts as artists grapple with contemporary social and spiritual struggles of man vs. technology which in many ways parallel the challenges of artists of a century earlier.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Exploring Palettes

I have been exploring various arrangements of a simple flesh palette lately.  It is remarkable how many different colors you can get with just a few colors.

The basic palette is:


I have posted about it before with some of my other sketches.  It is sometimes referred to as the Zorn palette.  It gets interesting and fun to try putting in different pigments into those 4 color slots.

In the image above I used a palette of: 

Flake White
Cad Red Light
Cad Yellow Medium
Van Dyke Brown (Gamblin)

The Gamblin brand is unique to other brands I have used as it is much less brown in town, almost a neutral warm grey.  It is a great pigment for neutralizing the reds and yellows and the warmth compliments the skin, but you can still get a sense of blue and green.

Here is a progression of the sketch as a gif.  Give it a moment to load:

It is was painted quite thin and done over a few hours.  I used a medium of 5 parts turpentine, 1 part damar varnish and 1 part stand oil.  

Here is another sketch, taken a little further over about 5 hours.

The palette for this painting was:

Flake White
Yellow Ochre
Charcoal Black

Here is a GIF progression of this painting:

The vermillion in this palette is warmer than the cad red light in the first palette and the yellow ochre is a little easier to bring into the range of flesh tones than the cad yellow.  Charcoal black gives a much bluer grey than Van Dyke brown too, which means you can get stronger greens from this palette.  Both the Van Dyke brown and charcoal pigments are a bit transparent which is a plus in the shadows.

I have tried about a dozen different arrangements of this palette using raw umber, lead tin yellow and bristol yellow for the yellow slot.  Terra rosa, Alizarin Crimson, Pyrol Red and English Red have all worked well in the red slot.  Ivory black will give you stronger blues and greens and mars black offers similar tones as charcoal black.  

Just swapping out one color makes a big difference and doing so has helped me understand color temperature and harmony better.  Mixing the same color, but with different sets of red and yellow has been a valuable exercise, making me mix similar target colors from a different palette.

I haven't been particularly scientific with the whole thing.  I should really paint the same subject with different palettes, or make a range of color charts... but it is much more fun to keep doing new sketches and throwing different palettes together.

If you have had similar experiments or do so in the future please let me know what you learn.  Until then, thanks for giving this a read.

Howard Lyon