Friday, March 7, 2014

My Palette Cups Runneth Over

-By Howard Lyon

Before I start this post, I am going to begin with the points I hope to make by the end of it.

- The art/illustration world is big enough for everyone -

- Life is better when you help others along their path -

- It is important to teach kids that you can work as an artist -

The other night I had the chance to go and speak to a large group of people about my artwork.  After speaking a woman in the audience came up and re-introduced herself.  She was one of my art teachers in Junior High.  She was so supportive of me, even back then when I was a gangly nerdy art kid (not much has changed).  It was great to see her and little emotional for me.  It started me thinking about all the people who have so generously given of the time, energy and feedback along the way.  I thought I would write a few thoughts about this and then, since this is an art blog, share a few things I have been working on over the last couple weeks.

My family has always been incredibly supportive.  My parents didn't blink an eye when at 12 I told them I thought I should be an artist.  My mom took me to visit the studio of an artist shortly after and this artist was kind enough to make me feel important and told me that if I wanted to be an artist that I could, and should.  His name was Greg Olsen.  It was inspiring.  To see that someone could actually make it.  For a kid, my vision of an artist was drawn from cartoons and caricatures that made them all seem a little crazy or poor.  Here was an artist working and normal and kind.  He gave me a full set of slides of about 60 of his paintings.  I still have them.

Sacred Grove by Greg Olsen

Through junior high and high school I had wonderful teachers.  My physics teacher, who makes really high end field cameras (K. B. Canham Cameras Inc.) told me that I should really get serious about being an artist.  He offered to photograph all of my work for me to help me apply for scholarships.

Citrus by J.D. Parrish

While in high school an artist came and did a demo in class and showed some amazing artwork.  A lot of incredible pencil work for Hollywood posters.  His name was J.D. Parrish.  He went to Art Center and did some work with Drew Struzan.  He was kind enough to treat me like an equal and we became good friends.  I still have a roll of linen that he sold to me at an incredible price when I was a poor college student and the strobes that I do my photography he also sold me for almost nothing.

A beautiful painting by Don Seegmiller

Don Seegmiller was one of my teachers in college and then my art director when I worked at the video game company Saffire.  Don would let me come to his home and watch him paint and see his setup.  He sold me a beautiful old Santa Fe easel that I still use for about the cost of a tube of paint.  He also gave me two original oil paintings that hang in my studio.  More than that, he gave me knowledge and support.

Trolls in the Hamptons by Dan Dos Santos

Another important person in my career is Dan Dos Santos (who needs no introduction here of course).  Dan is incredibly generous, as many of you know.  Dan helped me make contact with Greenwich Workshop, who now have a few of my prints in their line up, something I have dreamed of since I was a kid and used to pour over their catalogs.  Those of you who have been to the Illustration Master Classes know that Dan (along with all the other teachers) holds nothing back, sharing everything he can.  Thanks Dan!

CyberDragon by Lars Grant-West

Lars Grant-West also comes to mind.  I was at Gen-Con and signing for a book I had done illustrations for.  I met Lars and showed him some of my work.  He said, "You should meet Jeremy Jarvis and do work for Magic: The Gathering."  Fifteen minutes later, I was showing Jeremy my work and started doing work for Magic a few weeks later.  There were no thoughts of competition, just Lars being Lars and giving me an introduction.

There have been many others along the way that have encouraged, supported and given me help.  I consider myself both lucky and blessed.  I work hard, but wouldn't be where I am at without so many others.  Most artists I have met are generous both with their knowledge and support.  I think it is because so many of us have had others lift us up.  It is part of the common experience to this field of work.

So, now that I am working as an artist, I always say yes if at all possible when cub scouts want to come visit the studio, or parents want to bring their child and talk about being an artist.  If the kid asks if they can make it as an artist, the answer always yes.  Lots of hard work, but most definitely yes.

Take the opportunity to go into schools (by invitation, don't just show up...) and present artwork of the old masters and talk about art.  Here in Arizona they have an 'Art Masterpiece' program just for this purpose.  See if that exists where you live too.

Answer as many questions as you can when those who are a few rungs down on the ladder ask and if you get the chance, mentor someone.  It is both eye-opening and rewarding.

Now, a few videos from some studies and a painting I have worked on over the last couple weeks.

A study:

Another study:
And lastly, this is a painting I did of my brother's dog who died a few months ago.  He was a great little King Charles Spaniel named Charlie.  He was part of their family and a great companion to my sister-in-law.

Thanks for giving my thoughts a read.  My next post (in two weeks) will be "Process: The Academy and Technology".


  1. I think it's really important to try and help everyone you can along the way... even if you haven't 'made it' quite yet. I'm trying out that whole mentorship thing myself by seeing if I can get a few artists at my local college a step-up. I'm not quite a professional myself, but I have to give back since so many artists have put in the time to help me just as much. I try to throw out the phrase "If I don't know it, I'll try my damndest to find someone who does!" :)

    This post is awesome and only furthers the thought that I have to be doing something right. Thanks so much!

    1. Excellent Mathew and thank you for taking the time to comment.

  2. These types of posts are always so foreign but uplifting to read. It reinforces the positive feelings i have towards artists when i hear of everyones kindness and i hope to one day be in the company of these types of people. My parents could of learned a lot from people like this seeing how they did the opposite with me and have only now come around now that I'm almost 30. I have yet to met anyone where i live that is in anyway like this, but its good to see they exist.

    1. I have to admit I was prone to jealousy when I first read the article, because my experiences mirror your own Matthew. My parents were not supportive of me (well, my mother always was, but she's my mom - I have the feeling I could be an axe murderer and she'd still love me.) My father would say things like (and I quote): "More of that scifi shit?!?" when I'd bring him my proudly-rendered picture of the Doctor from Dr. Who, etc.

      My college experience was horrible. I went to a public university (which was all we could afford) and when I switched from Engineering (my dad's idea) to Art, the entire Art Department was run by modern art aficionados. While they taught the basic techniques, beyond that it was all about the "feeling" and "meaning" of your work, much less about aesthetics and technique. I can't remember the number of times my work was called "illustrative" like it was a four-letter word...

      While I've largely gotten over my bitterness about this, it cast a pall over me which lasted for a long time... I acknowledge now that at some point you have to start driving your own bus. When I went to school I was too young, naive, and introverted to realize that particular university was _not_ the place to be and make plans to go elsewhere (anywhere!) that was better for me to develop as an artist.

      However, it's never too late to receive or make a positive impact! After nearly a 20 year hiatus, I'm back painting again - and enjoying it! My wife (also an artist) has been extremely encouraging, as have been my friends, and even my mother (who at the age of 73 has discovered her own desire to draw and paint.)

      As another example, I was lucky enough to get involved after college in the scif-fantasy miniature painting hobby (for D&D, wargames, etc.) These people range from painters who just want to put someone on the table to play with to whose work can be considered fine art. In general I have never run across a more enthusiastic and encouraging group of individuals! I was lucky enough to be present when the advent of the internet in the early 90’s catapulted that hobby across the world. I have myself contributed to the hobby by teaching, critiquing, and providing instructional materials to painters of all levels. One of the top things I’d hear when I taught, though, is “I could never paint like that…” I would stop them right there and explain that yes! you can! You just have to put in the effort and practice, practice, practice!

      This is all a long-winded way of saying if you don’t find the support structure amongst those who should provide it (parents, friends, etc.) go out and find it! The internet is an amazing source for like-minded individuals to gather and help each other out!

    2. We share the same college experience too it sounds like. school never really was for me which is why I'm just kinda doing everything at home now confident i will make it. I'm not able to go to the support, but it comes to me through the net. I take what i can get.

    3. Matthew and Max, I am sorry that you college experience wasn't what it could have been, but it sounds like you are on the right track now. Max, great job with your teaching and helping others believe. Matthew, while it isn't the same as working face to face, the net can provide a great community of support. You probably know that already, but sites like Muddy Colors and Gurney Journey among many others form wonderful pockets of knowledge and sharing and camaraderie. Jump in and stay involved!

  3. She went to an expensive art school - you didn't

    His friends are professional creatives and know people in the industry - yours aren't

    She has parents who care about her talent and buy her art supplies for Christmas - you don't

    He lives in a cosmopolita city - you can't

    She has friends who like art - you don't have such friends

    He's a man - you're not

    She's white - you're not

    He's got a whole extra room in his house for his art studio - you don't

    You have to be BETTER than them.

  4. Thank you for this encouraging post. So many professionals and professors seem to think that they need to scare young artists about the harsh realities of the art world, saying ominous things about how only the very best make it, the illustration industry is dying, you'll never make much money, etc etc etc. And there may be some truth to those things. But it's refreshing to hear a professional say that young artists should be encouraged, nurtured and shown that it's possible to be a working artist who is normal and kind.

    1. Kelley - Thank you for taking the time to read my post and to respond. As I look around, I see more and more that artists have their fingers in, not less. I can't imagine what those pros and professors you mention would be talking about. Between video games and websites, thousands of artists are well employed, and those are new industries and only growing larger and more exciting. The two points that I try to make to aspiring artists is that first, you can do it, and second, it will be a lot of hard work, but anything you do that is worthwhile will be a lot of hard work. I could ramble on. :) Thanks again for adding to the conversation.

  5. Good post. Here in Brazil my parents still resists the idea(I'm 25 now and working on a non-related field), and just last year ago I commited to be serious about art and try a career. There's always this feeling that's too late for art, but I'll try even if all the society here is against and ignorante about the idea to work as an artist. They think only gallery or comic artists exists and all of them are lucky to be doing what they do. Most people here don't even know the name of an artist besides Da Vinci or other master from the past. There is little to no effort to encourage someone to pursue career in this field here. My teacher always said that working with drawings was impossible...

    1. I hope that you can some outlets for your artwork and efforts. I know that not everyone has the same opportunities. I can only speak to the worthwhile nature of the goal, and it is a great one, so keep at it!

  6. I needed this today! Thanks for another great post, Howard. :-D

    1. Thanks Allison, I am glad that it was uplifting!

  7. Great post!

    When discouraging young artists, you may find they end up as artists anyway but are set back because they are always fighting the seeds of doubt, not to mention years wasted due to indecisiveness because of such doubt. It's a maturity issue; hard work, resolve, and creativity have vastly more to do with success than your chosen career path.

    "Make-believe bullshit..." I'm glad you went there, Howard. And I'm a fellow child of the kindly west, being raised and schooled in Utah. Keep getting the word out.

    1. Tyler, my dad was raised in Logan Utah and I did some of my schooling in Utah. Very beautiful. That is an interesting point you make. Hard work is definitely the stuff of which dreams are realized.

  8. thank you for this Howard,
    you were very lucky to have all those positive influences early in life. I was one of the unfortunate ones. before high school everything was great, not much different from yourself; but in my senior year i had one art teacher tell me that painting will only have me living in a cardboard box, and another particularly miserable art teacher ridiculed me in front of my classmates about the type of work i was doing. apparently it wasn't contemporary enough for her tastes, to this day 20 years later her voice still resonates in my mind like a cacophony of screeching blue jays. so when i had a chance to teach life drawing to at-risk youth, nothing but positive encouraging words came out of my mouth. there was no way i'd be like some of my teachers.

    with all the different career paths in my life, what you wrote gives me hope that some day i might be able to call myself an artist/illustrator again.

    1. That is great news Cal. All I know is working as an artist, but I can say that it brings me great joy and I look forward to work every day. Because of that, to hear anyone say that they are ready to give it a go, or work towards that, makes me very happy for them!

  9. I have to admit that posts along this vein spark conflicting emotional reactions... it seems that you were one of the extremely fortunate when it came to the level of support and encouragement found in the pursuit of a creative endeavor such as art. So, while it is a wonderful read and, indeed, very nice to know that that kind of attitude regarding being serious about art as a perfectly viable pursuit exists out there, it also kindles that spark of resentment for those of us who were/are not so fortunate in our experiences and struggle every day to prove that we CAN do this if we could just catch a break or two.

    1. Kitsune - I apologize, it was not my intent to stir any negative emotions, but to express my gratitude and acknowledge that others have helped me and that we all can help others and each other without detriment.

      I don't mention in my post all the rejections and failings along the way. I also don't mention other hardships. Maybe I should have, but I didn't think it was right for this post, and it doesn't suit me to be honest. I am a 'paint tube is half full' kind of person I suppose. I have had struggles to be sure (just one example is I was paralyzed for several months, not able to walk or use my arms and the doctors told me it was permanent... it wasn't), but like I said, I have been lucky and blessed. There are those that have had it better than me I suspect, and of course many who have not. My point in this post though was to express how beneficial it can be to help others through my own experience, since that is the only one I have.

      Is there anything I can do to help you, and I mean that will all sincerity. If you think it would be worthwhile, I would be happy to give you input and feedback on your work. Let me know.

    2. late to the game i know but... Kitsune what you said definitely rings true and mirrors difficulties alot of us are going through, but if anything out there can give you hope it would be Howard's honest response and heartfelt offer of help. it seriously brought tears to my eyes.

      we have to stick up for, and help each other. just keep in mind when whatever obstacle or impassable brick wall you may encounter, we're in your corner rooting for you.

  10. Thanks Howard for the kind mention. Whether this may be inspiring or deflating I don't know but I have found over the years that someone who will be an artist will be an artist. The path may be rocky and difficult but is essentially the same path for everyone. It was only in the last few years that my dad told me that he needed to apologize to me because he did not think I could make a living as an artist. He said he was obviously wrong and was proud of my accomplishments. My father is a rocket scientist....literally. My wife is probably the bravest person I have ever met since she was willing to hitch her wagon to my horse with only a hope and prayer that I could support a family. Anyone who really wants to be an artist....don't give up and you will be an artist. No one has said it will be easy but myself and every artist I know says it will be worth it....

    1. Don - I am happy to see you post here. I had a great time at your parents house when we went to the galleries in Santa Fe. Great people. I will be up in Utah in May, maybe we can get together. I will be in touch!

  11. My first positive influences were Ellen Ellis and Alice Campbell. Ellen was a wild-child Southern charmer. At the green horn age of 15, she put me in charge of composing two large pastel images for a church ladies' dinner 'round Easter time (or was it Thanks giving, aw heck). (Amusing sidenote, Ellen loves to cook, so when ever I worked on an image and turned around, she'd be standing right be hind me with a long knife.) Seeing the images, Ellen declared I should be an artist. Alice is another artist, and at 19 years old she was my first teacher. Though mild mannered and pragmatic in nature, she showed me it's possible to live as an artist (though she does jest to marry rich), and how to really look and move my hands as an artist.
    I'm glad you had both parents and professionals who encouraged you, Howard. Their love shines in your work (and the cheesiest sentence of the day goes to...) To this day I still yearn my parents had encouraged when I was younger. (They support me more so now that I am getting my ba in studio arts soon, and discouraging at this point is stupid.) But I am grateful for these two women for the chances, wisdom, and love they shown me. It's really an nonpayable debt.

    PS -I have a picture of Greg Olsen holding my friend's Parry the Platypus plushy. Really a good sport, that Greg.

  12. I think there's a lot of power in having faith in yourself, being positive, and shrugging off the negative comments. Hold on to the positive experiences and just let the negative ones roll off. I'm sure Howard could have listed off lots of negative voices along the way as well.. he just chooses to not to hear them or believe them. I think most people who give negative responses and try to discourage young talent are themselves bitter about how their own lives turned out.

  13. Wonderful post, and wonderful comments. Thank you everyone for posting! It's a constant battle, and it's nice knowing we all have the same struggles.

    -Amy Lauren

  14. Thank you for a very poignant post. I've been going through a similar path as a few folks here with doubt of family and the lack of resources but luck has been on my side for getting the chances I've had to learn what I have from some great teachers during my time in school. Going and much less affording it had seemed impossible to those around me (my goals seem foolish to a few around me know). I'm at another of those points of uncertainty and taking chances, who knows where I'm going next. Your post and the replies here help in giving me some perspective on the crazy improbable path I've been on.

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