Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Rise As One, Conclusion

Greg Manchess

No Man's Land Christmas morning, 1914, after being cleared by German and British soldiers

Finishing the Rise As One series of paintings for Tarras Productions and Budweiser.

Friday afternoon, March 28, while finishing the second set of eight pieces and working the next four, the photographer was in the middle of shooting the paintings when he had a family medical emergency and had to leave immediately.

I finally had to tell the AD there’d be a delay. What’s more, I managed to paint the wrong style of helmet on all the Germans. (They hadn’t changed from the spike helmets until early 1915, after noticing that British sharpshooters could use the spike as a handy target.)

Surprisingly, the art director was calm. He said he thought it would be ok, if I could paint a couple of spiked helmets in one or two of the final pieces. No problem.

Clearly, Fedex was not an option now. And while working out the timing, trying to get a different courier based in New York to make a special overnight weekend pickup on Sunday in Oregon, the AD mentioned that it should all be fine once Gamma One “stretches the canvases.”

“Hold on--Gamma One does photography. They don’t stretch the canvas, they just print it. You need a framer for that.”

“We don’t have time to find a framer.”

Lt. Zemisch oversees the burial of so many soldiers

Again, thinking on my much sore feet by now, I told them, “I know a guy. I’ll get back to you.” The ‘guy’ is my cousin, Adam Carlson, an up-and-coming illustrator, who came to my rescue by saying, “I’ll get that done. Keep painting.”

Christmas morning, both sides face each other without weapons

Adam took over as My Man in New York. He went to the agency to get all the specs for the canvas sizes and raced all over finding stretcher bars to fit. He’d been able to stretch the first few paintings by Friday night.

By Saturday night I had to complete several paintings, as my photographer was still at the hospital all day, but agreed to shoot and print the rest on Monday. And in preparing one canvas, I had miscalculated the size and made it too big. It had the most figures in it, too. That cost me time. It would be really close.

Officers and enlisted meet in No Man's Land, shake hands and share cigarettes, cigars, and chocolates

But by late that night, I managed to complete the last of 20 paintings and just needed the final one to dry by Sunday morning.

It hadn’t. Using wax paper to protect that piece, I rolled the last four paintings of the first twenty tightly into a tube so they wouldn’t move and smear the paint. I had it ready when the courier arrived, on time, 11:45 am Sunday morning.

One of the soldiers brought a football

On Monday, March 31st, the package was delivered door-to-door at Gamma One. After the photographer whipped through the shots and finished printing to canvas, Adam picked them up and shuttled them out to his apartment via cab. He managed to just finish stretching them by Monday evening when a car from the agency showed up to take them to the set, ready for a dawn shoot on Tuesday.

We’d made it, all of us. Only thing for me now was to finish the final four pieces of the entire project. By this time, I’d hit the most critical deadline which was to have as many images ready for the gallery shoot as possible. Twenty paintings in sixteen days. Insanity.

Much laughter ensues while the two sides tell stories and relax over a game of football...Lt. Zemisch joins in

The AD said I could take some time to finish the very last pieces as they’d have a little room to weave those into the film. I finished them over the next week.

I have to say, through it all, everyone at Tarras Productions was helpful, professional, and cool as cucumbers when it came to any sort of problem for the shoot. It felt like we worked well together, even though it may have sounded differently here. I'd work with them again in a heartbeat.

The events I wrote about here show what was going on behind-the-scenes in my studio. While everything nearly unraveled, I couldn't allow my client to see that. No matter what was going on. The professional face is it's own reward when you're on the edge.

Of course, I was exhausted. I’d run around the studio in different coats and helmets, shooting reference, sketching directly onto the canvases, composing as I went, and changing my face dozens of times. I’d weathered lost packages, equipment failure, distractions, and surprises, to complete the project.

It’s as if the universe knows when you need some obstacles in the way. It doesn’t like things moving smoothly. Something about building character, I suppose.

Would I do it all again if another cool project came up?

Umm...”I’ll get back to you.”


  1. Greg, thank you for the great post! The sense of time involved and the problems that crop up that you have illustrated here give one a view of the business that is almost never seen by anyone other than the artist. What a great insight and lesson for those looking to make illustrating their life's work.

  2. This is probably a dumb question, but why didn't you work in New York since the client was in New York? Don't you have a studio there?

    1. Wanted to, ces, but I had already made airline reservations to return when the job came through. And there was a very stout chance that I wouldn't have gotten the job anyway.

      But yeah, I cursed my luck many times thinking that I could've had better costume reference, or even taken a chance on some models in NYC.

      Aw, well. So it goes. Had to roll with it.

  3. hot damn Greg, what a saga. Congrats on pulling through!

  4. Great story, amazing you're still on your feet. Loved the thumbnails you shared. I've been working on improving mine for a project I'm working on. Can you point me in the direction of a book reference posting that might provide some guidelines for improvement?

  5. Holy shit, 20 paintings in 16 days! I can't imagine anybody being able to fit in so much figures (and they're even in motion and interacting with each other!), and being able to gather all the necessary reference in that amount of time. Kudos to you sir!

  6. Dude. I've got an ulcer just reading all this. Amazing professionalism and amazing art. Beautiful work Mr. Manchess.

  7. That's just a mind-boggling amount of adapting and overcoming for a project, and a huge number of paintings! It's not just heroic, that would be legendary difficulty... well done!

  8. Wow Greg....quite the saga, this job! You sound so good natured and resilient through it all. I admire you tons.


  10. Thanks, you guys! It means a lot to me to hear your comments. (keep 'em comin'!)

    It was close to the most intense job and schedule I've ever had, but remember: I spent a lot of years building to the point where I could handle it. I'd discovered short cuts and ways to manipulate information, and small tricks. There's also the very real notion that we learn to work with ourselves over the years, anticipating our failures and planning ahead to outwit our possible screw-ups.

    Honestly, I thought you'd get a kick out of 'how things fall apart' even in the face of our best efforts, and even in the face of a seasoned pro. I can say that because, well, y'know, I've been at this awhile. But I share it because if you so decide to be a sought-after illustrator or just flat-out artist, you will encounter these things sooner or later. And if you don't....bravo! you beat the odds!

    Glad you guys stuck it out reading through these. Any questions you want to throw my way, I'll try to answer. Just know this: keep pushing your work and learn the effort it takes to make good pieces.


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  12. Absolutely amazing. All of it.

    I love the way you paint. Between the colors, loose brushwork and exciting compositions, you manage to create pictures with a very tangible excitement and atmosphere!

    But above all, what a story! Not only is it invaluably rich in information and experiences about illustration as a career, but also written in a very engaging and witty way. I had a blast reading through it, and I must say, I don't know how you kept your sanity through all that. Hats off!

    Thank you for documenting your process - it was a very inspiring read.