I'm a big believer in the value of personal projects. Though not every experiment or personal series which I've explored has lead to a lightbulb moment, every lightbulb moment I've experienced owed a great debt to the time which I had invested in personal projects. I know for certain that I would not be the painter that I am without having set aside time for experimental work.
My most recent series that I'm particularly excited about is the Re-Cover Project. Basically, I have been finding old hardcover copies of some of my favorite books and creating new cover images for them directly on the book itself.
The series started in an almost accidental way. Some years back, a fellow artist (hey Bill!) was generous enough to send me a couple drawings of apes which I really liked but he refused to take any payment for them. The best I could get in the way of reciprocating was he said, if I really felt like sending him something in return, I could send some books to read. For the next two or three years I tried my best to collect a good group of books but really didn't know what he had already read or what his taste might be, so the books went unsent. Finally, earlier this year, I knew we'd be seeing each other at SFAL and wanted to finally bring something after all of this time. Looking back through the box, one of the books I'd set aside was a 1963 first American edition of Planet of the Apes. Tying this to the ape drawings I'd been given, I thought it might be fun to paint an ape onto the book as a new cover.
It was one of those moments where I wasn't sure if this idea was good or terrible, but figured it might be a fun experiment so I ditched the dust jacket, gessoed up the front board, and jumped right in.
Like any experiment which turns itself into a series, I really enjoyed myself on that first one. I had the end papers of N.C. Wyeth's treasure island in my mind as I worked and so ended up limiting myself to a similar palette of black and white with one "spot color". The thing that I really enjoy about this limitation is how much it focuses my attention on design.
I began thinking up other books which might be fun to re-imagine. I started reading books I'd always meant to read but had never found the time for, which meant I started making more time to read in general.
One of the wonderful things in a personal series is exploring processes or visual solutions which you would not turn to on a job. It seems that is the sacrifice needed when appeasing the angry volcano gods called deadlines and client expectations. Without those pressures, however, I've had fun pushing graphic ideas into places I normally might shy from. It's too early to tell how this might filter in to my illustration work, but I'm certain that it is already having some effect.
Another thing about this series which has been really enjoyable for me is the conversations which it sparks with people when they see them. People who know the stories will talk about the choice of cover image while people unfamiliar with the stories might be interested to finally pick it up. Of course, that is besides the number of recommendations which I've been given for books I've yet to read (and so they are added to the ever growing list...)
The books are all vintage copies when I can manage it. Some have been too rare for me to be able to use an actual first edition, but finding re-printings and book club editions from decades ago are just as good to me.
I think of each cover as a puzzle in a way, which is why these are shown mostly head on and without titles. If you are curious to know what each book is, I'm listing the spoiler sheet at the end ;)
Books shown, from the top:
The Man in the High Castle by Philip K Dick (1962 book club edition)
Planet of the Apes by Pierre Boulle (1963 1st American edition)
The Right Stuff by Tom Wolfe (1979 1st edition, 2nd printing)
The Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester (2003, SFBC 50th Anniversary edition)
The Shadow of the Torturer by Gene Wolfe (1980 book club edition)
The Call of the Wild by Jack London (1931 reprint)
Casino Royale by Ian Flemming (1953 1st [?] edition)
The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkein (recent printing)
The Time Machine by H.G. Wells (1927 reprint)
The Great Escape by Paul Brickhill (1950 1st [?] edition)
The Shining by Stephen King (1977 1st edition)
Neuromancer by William Gibson (2004, 20th anniversary edition)