Friday, July 1, 2016

Saying No

Greg Ruth

It's the hardest thing to ever do as a freelancer, and probably the most important than any "yes" you'll give all year too: simply knowing when to say no. Often these offers will be obvious on the surface, and as with all things will be good or bad depending on when you come to them in your career. But not every opportunity that rolls into your inbox is one you should take, the ones that arrive when you're hurting financially, or the ones that seem like tremendous opportunities for exposure and a new relationship- these are the hardest to decide over. The rough part? That you really can only develop this denial kung-fu by doing it wrong first. Mostly it will be due to uncontrollable forces like timing and schedule, and learning how to recognize a job will put you through hell to make the deadline, and could negatively impact the quality of that work is the more common and also the hardest no you will ever have to give. Saying no can also mean you get back benched in an editor or AD's eye. I've largely found this not to be the case myself, but it does happen, and it is a real risk you run in denying a job. But better to walk away from a mess than make that mess yours. Learning how to weight the realities is the stuff success is made of.

Look at any building and you'll notice sprinkler systems, fire escapes, outward opening doors... And know that each and every feature that's there to save your life only came after their absence allowed others to perish. As creatives we are used to skillsets, techniques and mastering tools, but learning when to avoid a project requires a level of insight and understanding that is less tangible, and often cautionary. War stories are a shared tradition in freelance work. Take a bunch of freelancers out to a bar, and within ten minutes tales of darkness and survival, AD conflicts, marketing fails and more unfold like sea captain's songs explaining peg legs and mermaids. It is how we cope and survive as a species. however, no matter how terrible another's tale of woe is, none can much forewarn and teach like having a canon ball hit you in the chest yourself. It's simply how we learn: We can't repeat a mistake without having made one in the first place. And we don't know for sure we did it right until after we had to decided to do or not do.

 I'm not an overly mystical person when it comes the the synchronicities of the universe- but each and every time I have had to make a hard call and say no, even when it was impractical and risky to do, I have been rewarded by another one I really wanted that arrives after- and one I would have had to decline if I had said yes to the wrong job. These moments are like karmic reassurances to me- an affirmation I have chosen well. Sometimes that realization doesn't come until much later. I had one gig I wanted to do very much, but it didn't pan out and I had to decline under their insisted terms only a year later to find the guy that replaced me on it taking heat for deeply scandalous publicity missteps having nothing at all to do with his work, but tied to him because he was the face of the car crash that unfolded. Ultimately I find the only time I feel like I really blew it is when I dabble in regret, which I don't recommend anyway. Regret assumes a different path you had the power of choosing, and the assumption that by wishing for it enough you will get the chance to redo it again someday. Every choice you make builds you forward in some way, and the bad ones probably service this the most. You don't get to cherry pick the good paths of your life or career without robbing you of the lessons the bad ones had to teach you. Be philosophical, learn from the wrong turns and the right ones will come. I promise.

Ultimately the two of the three variables that have helped me steer clear of most of the calamities, were this: Good advice from my close confidants, and listening to my gut feeling. The second one gets sharper and more acute with experience as I've said, the former, well... I could not paint the need for outside advice more strongly no matter the hyperbole. Your community of peers, or your spouse, or your manager/agent... whomever the resource is, use it and get it. I am blessed with all three and tap into those resources weekly. I could not guide myself through my working life without them. An agent or manager can help you navigate the realities in ways unparalleled by anyone else. I am fortunate enough to have the reverend Allen Spiegel on my side in this way, and have been for more than 20 years so far. He never tells me what to do except in rare occasions where I have insisted he help, but he has never steered me wrong nor could I have avoided half the land mines along the way without him. You community is another essential resource. In many professions people working in the same field are enemies- fellow jackals chasing after the same felled antelope/ There are many who see and operate in our field with that attitude, but I don't ascribe to that outlook at all. I think it's a warped way to see fellow artists and frankly is largely what fuels my skepticism of trophies and art awards. While yes, I guess technically you are in competition with your peers for work, it's not a race your usually aware of. You may be in contention for a job with your best friend, but like as not, unless your editor or AD is manipulative or just unprofessional, (highly rare cases and a lot less frequent than legends may elude to), you'll never know it. The other thing that cuts against this competitive garbage is to make sure that if you pass on a job, do your best to recommend friends you think would be good for it. I do this all the time, and it comes back to me as it will you. Don't think of it as jackals barking over a single meal, but a community that shares supports and stands up for each other. It's a happier place to be and one that will reap untold opportunities for your own career, and others as you rise together.

The third one is your personal ethos. This is definitionally individual and the sooner you get a grip on what your red lines are the better. If I hadn't said no so often to Conan based on how the book traditionally depicts women,  I would have never had the opportunity to do Conan in a way that made me proud. And it remains to this day one of the most important professional experiences of my life as a result. The no in that case led to a much better yes later. Find your moral line, and hold it. You will be rewarded for it believe me, and conversely, you will be punished for violating it. Remember that the things you do for publication will be published, seen by many and one of my favorite Jeff Jones warnings he ever gave was this: "Careful of what the jobs you say yes to, when you should really say no. Those will be the ones you'll be asked to repeat doing again and again".

Bottom line is, you're going to chose the wrong door sometimes. If you're lucky, those wrong turns will be low impact and few and far between. But no matter what and when they are the most important thing is to make sure you Monday-morning quarterback the hell out of it. (Do this for the successes too). Understanding why a choice was wrong or right is the best defense against repeating the mistake again later. And life is a bitch about not paying attention to lessons you should be learning: you will face them again and again until you get it right. So the sooner you learn, the better you'll be. I'm 45 years old and the choices aren't easier, they're harder. Wisdom helps immeasurably, but when you get older the stakes are much higher and the consequences and risks infinitely more powerful. Unless you know it's a slam dunk, take a day or a breath to really let it sit and see if your ambivalence is based on something real, and not just a leftover from a fight with your girlfriend, or something else polluting your clarity. Ultimately in the end, whatever I say here won't matter because no one can tell you how to ride a bike well. You got to do it and you got to fall and skin your knee while doing it. It's okay and we all go through this and no matter the station of anyone in our field, we all go through it still. This is why you drink with your friends at cons because that's where the war stories are best heard and told. SO get out there, bruise your head, scrape your knuckles and get knocked on your ass. That's how you learn to stand back up, that's how you learn to rise.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

San Diego Comic-Con

San Diego Comic-Con 2015 (Allen William's booth to the right)
by Donato

The San Diego Comic-Con International is coming up in three weeks and the summer/fall convention season is beginning to gather steam.  From San Diego you can move onto GenCon, WorldCon (World Science Fiction Con), DragonCon, IlluxCon, New York ComicCon and World Fantasy - just to name a few of the heavy hitters.  You are guaranteed to run into scores of professionals, artists and art directors alike at any of these events as well as hang with serious fans of the genres numbering into the thousands.

Stephan Martiniere's walls are blank because he sold all of his large framed prints!
Over the years I have met and made friends with a wide range of attendees, and created deep lasting bonds with fellow professionals like Stephan Martiniere, Cathy and Arnie Fenner, Dylan Cole, Greg Hildebrandt, and Kirk Thatcher to name but a few.  Others I have been lucky enough to shake their hands and begin to know them better - John Howe, Roger Dean, Joe Haldeman, Moebius and George R.R. Martin.  The list is huge, and all began because I attend these events first and foremost as a fan.

Signing the 2015 A Song of Ice and Fire Calendar with George R.R. Martin in San Diego
Being sincere about what you are interested in and love will trump any need to be a completely 'successful' professional to engage in compelling conversation before the eyes of other professionals.  I know I would much rather talk with an excited and educated fan or young talent than feel the pressure to look at someones work, pro or amateur, who is trying too hard to 'make it' at that event.  There is so much more to a convention than just making sales/acquiring work in the moment.

Here are a few thoughts on how I approach a show like San Diego Comic-Con, which will be my 18th straight appearance this July.

I typically bring a wide range of materials to a convention/tournament event.  This includes not only artwork and items for sales, but images which I feel are major, recent pieces and offer insight into my aesthetics and direction where I am proceeding in my art.  

Booth at 2015 San Diego Comic-Con
I avoid bringing weak pieces to an event, as these impact negatively on the perception of my body of work.  Not to say I never miss the mark, but I prefer not to have that work out in a public forum.  With that in mind, I do not attend events to only focus upon sales/recouping my expenses.  I look at a convention as a gallery exhibition, I am there to make a statement, to show accomplishments and themes with the art.  

Justin Sweet at IlluxCon in Allentown
I am also at a convention to socialize and make myself available to other fans, professionals and artists. I tend to not focus upon sales and intensive sketching, locking me into place, seated, disengaged.  I prefer to keep open and be willing to engaged in discussion on various topics and enjoying the moment.  Check out Justin Sweet here and how he is painting so he can face outward and engage anyone who comes by his booth.  Brilliant!

To facilitate open discussions, I often have an assistant at events like the San Diego Comic-Con, Spectrum Live, and Illuxcon.  As you can imagine this is wonderful help for sales, as assistants can handle a transaction while I am in heated conversation. But they can over cover my back side so much – most fans would prefer my signature than my assistants’! 

2015 IlluxCon in Allentown Art Museum

As for specifics, my booth involves numerous logistics beginning with a complex back exhibition wall, display structures, print racks, tables, and signage typically taking 2-3 hours to set up. Items for sale at this coming Comic-Con convention ranged from $5 oversized Magic Print Cards (set of three),  to $25 - $60 giclee prints, $30 books, $45 DVD's,  $100-$1200 original drawings, and lastly $750 - $9,000 original framed oil paintings.  I offer something at nearly any price point, and I have numerous free postcards and brochures for even the cashless attendee.  I make sure that if you like my art, you can take home an experience with it, or with me.

Bob Self's Baby Tattoo at San Diego Comic-Con

Wednesday, June 29, 2016


-By Jesper Ejsing

Here is a dragon painting I did together with Even Mehl Amundsen.   It is for packaging of Protective sleeves by Arcane Tinmen. This is only the first of many dragons Even and I did for them.

The process was quite fun, and not very organized. I did a rough sketch of a dragon gliding through the air. My idea for this one was a dragon that never lands. The legs are small and almost gone. The wings neck and especially the tail is long and aero dynamic. I gave it a huge fin-like ridge, to make the mind think of a sail fish gliding in the water.

thumb sketch

Then Even took over and refined the sketch. He added values and details and cleared up all the rough unclear areas where I, to be honest had no idea what was happening, and then he gave it back. I was surprised with the more scale-like face, almost like a bone/dinosaur face. In my mind the dragon had a slick skin, like  a dolphin, but even apparently saw something else. It is great to be put out of your ideas and have to go with the ideas of someone else. I pushed the smile of the mouth and added loose skin and texture. To be able to be used for packaging the image needed a whole lot of background: Even if the actual front is only the cropped dragon face and wings, the wrap around of the box forced us to do a lot of sky and clouds.

roughed in cloudscape

I wanted to jump some fences here and slashed down some clouds with a cloud brush. It dawned on me that I would have to render these clouds a lot and it would take forever. I tied to do a Radial Blur of the sky just to blur it up before rendering, but was really surprised at how much motion it gave to the flying of the dragon, AND the background seemed almost done. A couple of more minutes of rendering and it was done. because of the big empty area of sky we suggested to the Arcane Tinmen that they should perhaps consider doing this image, and the rest to follow, as playmats also. They were super happy about the idea and we only noticed late rthat this would ofcause mean a lot more work for us...dammit.

But the pictures are better that way. "So Jesper, Stop complaining and do some dragons."

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

The French Insider

Few things are more fun for me than going to a good art supply store and checking out all the cool stuff I wish I had in my studio. One of the unexpected benefits of attending the IMC is that I get to check out everyone's supplies, and am constantly introduced to a variety products, paint colors, stools, and all sorts of things I've never seen before.

One of our students had this great little insert for his French Easel that I thought was really clever. Most palettes that come with a french easel are frustratingly small, allowing for very little mixing area. This palette fits in the back of the easel, and unfolds into a larger palette, complete with jar holder, brush holder and greyscale bar. It also has a recessed lid which floats above the surface, meaning you can close it and still save your paint for future use.

I like to design a lot of my studio furniture, and had actually been designing something similar to mount in front of my regular studio easel, but after seeing this one, I may alter my design.

This palette is specifically designed for use with a standard french easel,  but there's no reason you couldn't implement it for regular studio use as well. In fact, you could easily install a 1/4" mounting bracket to the underside, allowing you to stick the unit onto a tripod. With the height and angle adjustability of a tripod, you would have yourself a very simple, and very versatile palette.

You can find more info on this palette, including ordering info, on the manufacturer's website:

Monday, June 27, 2016

Summer Matinee

by Arnie Fenner

Above: Frank McCarthy's painting for The Valley of Gwangi movie poster,
which I had shared in a previous post but it's too nice not to look at again.

Going to a monster movie double-feature at the local independent indoor theater because it was air conditioned  (I frequented the Aztec, the Dickenson, and the Tivoli) or the drive-in used to be a summer ritual. Classics or crud didn't matter much as long as there were monsters and special effects involved. Now there are a lot fewer independent theaters (and they almost never include two movies for the price of a ticket) or drive-ins and most of the double-features at those are devoted to current action/disaster/superhero films. Which is okay: there is still plenty of eye candy. Everything goes in cycles and it's only a matter of time before there's another Godzilla or Kong or something stomping across the screen.

For many of my generation, one of the things we used to really look forward to—and which helped inspire many of us to become artists of one sort or another—was any movie Ray Harryhausen [1920-2013] provided stop motion visual effects for. Whether featuring flying saucers, dragons, skeletal warriors, or dinosaurs, we could always count on Ray to deliver. If some of the effects work seems clunky or dated today, well, it was all state-of-the-art way back when. His movies not only nurtured our sense of wonder, but also influenced much of the visual effects work created by others that has followed.

Ray Harryhausen casts a long influential shadow and I've written about him here on MC in the past, but what prompted today's post was my accidentally stumbling across a 2009 short documentary devoted to Ray's film The Valley of Gwangi [1969], which was based on an unrealized project with his mentor, King Kong animator Willis O'Brien. It's a nice peek behind the curtain and features interviews with Harryhausen so...what's not to like? Enjoy.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Face to Face

I recently visited the Museum of  Shenandoah Valley in Virginia to see an exhibit on the work of Alphonse Mucha. While I was there, I was surprised to see that running concurrently is an exhibit on classical American, British and Dutch Portraiture called 'Face to Face'.

As I was looking through the art, I was struck by just how soft some of the edges on the facial features were. The added softness really helps emphasize the overall shape of the face, whereas over-emphasized features tend to flatten the appearance of the underlying form.

I took a few snapshots to help remind myself of this, and thought I would share them here for you.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Do You Have a Forgotten Master?

Update: My friend Micah Christensen (the one behind the lectures I shared in the two Exceptional Art History posts and Bearded Roman) actually started this conversation about forgotten masters. He is compiling a great list that you can contribute too. Go here to read more about it and the upcoming lectures.

After you read this post, I would love for you to leave a comment and share a great painter from the past that you feel hasn't received the attention they might deserve.

I love that every few months, I seem to stumble across a new painter from the past that I have not heard of before, but whose body of work inspires me.  Just when I think that I must be familiar with the greats of the past centuries, another one comes out of the woodwork.  As more museums are digitizing their collections and people travel into places with their phone cameras, the obscure comes to light.

Here are some examples.  I am sure you will be familiar with some, if not all of these artists, but they haven't had top billing for sometime or aren't mainstream (of course I could be ignorant of them, or they might have greater awareness in other countries or regions).  For some artists, we might only have a painting or two out there, but there must be more.

Antonio Ciseri (1821-1891) - Ciseri was a remarkable painter and teacher who must have had a decent body of work, but there are only a handful of images of his out there on the net.  The most famous of them is Ecce Homo, 1871.  I had the pleasure of seeing the painting in the Pitti Museum in Florence.  It is as elegant and exquisite in its rendering as nearly any other painting from the academics of the 19th century.

Ecce Homo

The Entombment

Albert Maignan (1845 - 1908) - There isn't a lot of work out there on the of Maignan's but in his life, he won a Gold Medal at the Universal Exposition in 1889, a Medal of Honor at the Salon in 1892 and was named as a Knight in the Legion of Honor.  He was highly regarded in his time.

Just look at this masterpiece below.  Wow.

Dante Meets Matilda

La Repudiée

The Disturbed Mass

Pompeo Batoni (1708 - 1787) - Batoni is an artist for whom there is a lot written, and lots of images out there, but I don't see his name or work passed around much, but he is worth looking at.  His color and paint control are really wonderful.  Unfortunately, the books on him are pricey.  He was one of the most prominent painters of his time, prized as Italy's very best.  He painted many portraits that are great, but I really enjoy his larger scale history and religious works.

The face of the man in the middle is as well painted as any other, and Susanna's flesh is gorgeous.  Best of all might be the hand on the outstretched arm of the man climbing over the bench.  I also love the compressed value range in the foliage of the near background to help exaggerate the atmospheric perspective.
Susanna and the Elders
 If you have been through the Met you have probably seen this one.  Such a wonderful painting and classic composition.  Diana's face is lovely and the profile of Cupid is so well done.

Diana and Cupid
 A great portrait, typical of the work that pushed him to the top of his day.  I think this is a great composition, shoving the painting off to the right, and leaving all the black space behind his head.  Also, that hand is awesome.

Philip Metcalfe

William Llewellyn (1858 - 1941) - The most recent of the artists listed here, but still not very well known.  According to Wikipedia, he has 67 paintings in the British national collections.

I love the softness of her eyes, the intensity of the light in places and the variety of both brushwork and edges found here.

Girl with Pigtails

Henryk Siemiradzki (1842 - 1902) - A painter from Poland that created some absolutely epic and stunning works.  He is borderline forgotten as I have seen more of his works being shared around lately, but I look forward to the day where we get a massive, heavy coffee table book on his work.

Some of the images below are quite large, so be sure to click on them, or download them in full size.

This piece certainly reminds me of Tadema, but also looks like early Klimt and some Poynter images.  It is a macabre piece, showing people being prepared to burn to death.  The variety of faces and detail is incredible.

Nero's Torches
 This painting just speaks to me.  The beautifully rendered landscape and sense of light provide the stage for two excellent figures.  I hope to see it in person someday.
The Talisman
 I think Henryk would have loved painting Tolkien. :)

Burial of a Varangian Chieftain

Phyrne at the Poseidonia in Eleusis

Slave's Song
 Another amazing epic painting.
Christian Dirce

If you know all of these artists already, forgive me (I have shared from some their works before), but if you have some to add, I hope you will do so in the comments!

Thank you,
Howard Lyon