Friday, August 29, 2014

The Wrong Track that Leads to the Right

by Greg Ruth

I was approached by Irene Gallo to do a piece for Tor.com's WHERE THE TRAINS TURN by Pasi Ilmari Jaaskelainen, and as typical to my previous efforts, (and despite my swearings to be cured of this method) I ended up doing two. Overall I have always railed against this double work as a poor and time consuming way forward. "Why not just thumbnail it first, you dolt?" is the usual refrain when it comes to confessing this as a recurring event. And I thought for a while that it was true. That my impatience to get right to the piece itself was causing this. But as it turns out, this is not the case. So, I have decided to hug this as a legitimate part of the process, and celebrate its necessity rather than try and undo it. So, in full confession mode, here's the deal as representative of deals to come and deals long past, and why it's maybe not such a bad thing.





TRAINS thumbnail
So since this was assignment was also coupled with a second piece for another Cabal installment, and we were in the height and heat of vacation time, I thought sketching an initial notion out would be the best way to make sure I wasn't entirely lost. Really this is the normal way of things, but for Irene and myself, it stood in for my usual approach to either provide a written concept before charging into the final, or simple just going whole hog into the endgame. Sometimes this nailed it right off the bat, other times... well it just didn't. 

Having come back from Maine where I did a series of Panetoid photographs, I was energized to bring this new series into the piece. It all made sense thematically, it seemed right, even the sketch seemed to confirm we had a good way to go. Easy, right? 







TRAINS first attempt final drawing
Sadly... no. I ended up executing the drawing as sketched- and as you can see it was entirely close to the proposed notion. By every measure this should have been a mechanical process locked and on it sway. It was just about doing it right and I quite liked this as a piece. However... there was something not entirely right about it. The composition I liked, the approach to do something very a-tonal was on track... but nevertheless, it wasn't working. Looking at it now I can see the focus was wrong. The drawing is well done I suppose, but what was it representing other than my pre-ordained desire to bring those spherical planetoid images into a project? So much of this story is about the boy's direct experience and fear of the trains that he was certain sought to jump their tracks solely to chase him down. That sense of the story was missing completely here as was any sense of character. This is a fine piece of drawing, but a book cover can't just be whatever we want to draw- it has a function to fulfill: it must grab the reader's attention, be of and about the story without spoiling it. Covers are the frontal face of any narrative, and this first impression is essential. While at the time I didn't know why, I did know it wasn't working... so began to wonder what else to do. I stepped away from it for a day or so and let it sit, when of course as usual a new direction came to me late int he middle of the night. I emailed Irene right away before she even had a chance to chime in on this one, warning her off doing so in lieu of this new direction I was certain she'd also prefer. Stay tuned I said with all the false confidence I could muster. 







Final orignal graphite drawing 
So confident was I in this new approach I jumped full bore into it. Now for the record, these types of graphite drawings are extremely tedious and slower to execute than my usual ink and brush style. And jeez louise... what a self  wounding fool I was to surround this floor of the scene with pebble dash. It literally took me as long to draw all those little rocks, and shade them correctly, as it took to draft the entire rest of the piece. But, I was confident this would work, and never for a moment thought otherwise. The train that was the spooky forest, the moon for its headlight, the boy frightened and hiding on the track, the centralized composition... it had all the singular earmarks of a good and proper cover image. I wanted to make sure that while I intended to add a bit of color to the final piece, I was committed to make the original drawing as fully rendered as possible, if not entirely. This meant making my brain doing a few pretzel twists to provide the illusory sense of space int he woods and keep to the identifiable form of the train itself, and getting the lightening and chiaroscuro right meant really taking it slow. One of the side benefits was finding that in order to exact the right level of darkness where needed, I had to dig my Blackwing Palomino deep into the thick of the paper, causing small grooves and textures to form. Which of course was a total delight, and I think brings a pressure-printed quality to the original piece as a result. Making the graphite or ink do things it's not supposed to do is my latest endeavor, and this struck that bell perfectly.


FINAL cover with title treatment
 And so it ended up being even more than I had hoped. This moment is something I find rarely occurs with a single image piece like this, and is usually reserved for my comics work. With comics there's a built in tipping point when all the images are put together and connected with the words or narrative. I never really know what or how the page may work until I see it working, or not. When it does though it's a sheer delight, as if someone else had done it for me and I get to see it for the first time. Single image work like this just lacks the mechanical complexity to bring this moment out regularly, but when it does, it's pure magic. The sense of space, the setting of the train and woods and most especially making sure to get the boy's fretful expression correct was the axis upon which this whole thing spun, and it came off nicely. To me the moment I can look at an appreciate a piece of work as if I were an outsider is a rarely achieved goal. But when it happens, I can see the thing objectively and without ego.

And here's the thing I discovered at the end: I couldn't have made this piece, without having also fully executed the former go at it. The certainty and wisdom gained from doing it wrong the first time is entirely what informed this final far more successful piece. Recognizing that sometimes, and in my case apparently all the time, the need to get lost in order to find the way home is the most important take away from all of this. That all failures contain a solution within them is a lesson well learned from this. Also trusting the gut of experience doesn't hurt either. I can now look back on the original effort and dissect why it wasn't working, but at the time I couldn't at all. It simply just felt wrong, and trusting that was the smartest thing I could have done. And I now have two drawings where I would normally have one. At the end of the day, the struggle to get there fades and your just left with what you did or didn't do. Way I see it I got a bonus piece out of this, and a reconciling with my nature I couldn't have otherwise achieved. I'm better at what I do and can do for the next job as a result, and by working the previously erroneous method as a vital part of the whole process means I'll know hoe to make time for that in the future. We as a species have a total inability to learn from our successes. Our mistakes thought, are an orchestra of learning. Whether it's a holdover of our survival instincts going back to our monkey times, I can't say. Somethings are best left as mysteries, even though they are as tangible and valid as any lesson learned.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Competitions

Cover of Spectrum 21 by Rebecca Guay
by Donato

This past month has seen quite a few announcements come across my desk for competitions to enter artwork within and share what we do with a broader audience.  Most of these competitions require a fee to enter and offer no guarantee of inclusion, even if you spend hundreds of dollars on submissions.  Thus at first glance the decision is easy, why spend money on a chance to advertise when we can take that cash and turn it into a definite form of outreach.  Why go through the headaches of filling out forms and preparing images with arcane submission guidelines and forms and uploading our jpgs with our last_name_first_firstnamelast_title_yearcreated_dropline_not-dash-size-birthdate-creditcardinfo-750pixelswideby800pixelstall.jpg.tif.RGB.CMYK_ARGH!!

Yes, I am put off by some requirements as well!  But, there are many major benefits that competitions bestow upon us even if we never get in.  While at FantasyCon in Salt Lake City this past July, a panel of professional artists touched upon this topic, and I was able to clarify both to the audience and myself why entering competitions has been so beneficial in my career.

Here a few of these thoughts:

1.  Money very well spent.  The relatively low cost to many of these competitions may expose your work to a much larger and diversified audience than what you could have ever pulled off with a similar level of cash outlay.  A basic fee of $20-$30 per image means you may reach 10,000+ viewers.  If you tried that with postcards, the mailing alone would reach $5,000 (mostly postage).  You could of course stay digital, but even emailing 10,000+ individuals effectively would cost you hours upon hours of labor better spent in the service of your studio and art.  In the end the labor costs alone make competitions a great bargain.

2.  You commit to yourself.  I believe one of the greatest benefit to entering work occurs just before you hit the send button or mail out the envelop...that you make a commitment to an image or set of images that represents who you are as an artist and will reflect work in a style or kind which you would like to potentially be commissioned again for in the future.  By preparing work for an entry,  you first need to commit to finishing that piece you've been dying to show off.  Then you have to polish it so that it displays your abilities to their present best.  Which brings up the third reason:

3.  You meet a serious deadline.  Yes we all would like another week or two to make it perfect, but by committing to a competition, you have to send in that art as is and learn to live with all the little mistakes you know are there, but which we see as just a part of your technique.  The more often you make these kinds of commitments, the more confident you become in your decision making process, technical skills, and time management. This allows you to move forward with each project more confidently and speedily, leading to the fourth issue:

4.  You become more prolific.  As you enter more competitions, and meet more deadlines, you will be inspired and confident to produce work which you want to have seen by that larger audience.   This also leads to creating more art of the type you wish to have in your portfolio. Speaking of portfolios, the fifth issue:

5.  You assess the art in your portfolio.  This to me was the greatest benefit I received from entering competitions like Spectrum, the Society of Illustrators, and Communication Arts in the early years of my career.  In the process of deciding what to submit, I was forced to spread out all the art I had created in the past year, the good and the bad, rushed and the slow, inspired and the hated.  There it all was, the productivity of my career as an artist, the results of my passion for art making. And early on I realized most of that art was not me.  It was not reflective of the images I wished I could create, nor knew I had the ability to create.

The greatest benefit in entering was that I had to come to terms with the art I had just produced, which then redirected my future commissions into those forms and types of images which I wanted to create.  I began to become more assertive with my clients and more passionate about projects, pushing my labor and commitments far beyond the expectations of my clients'.  Pay was not an issue on many of these.  My goal was to make create images I knew would make it into exhibitions, knew would be seen by other professionals, and knew would be the art I wanted to make.  And in the end become the art that I would receive future commissions based upon.

Oh, and that last reason you enter competitions:

6.  You get in and get seen.


Some of the forth coming competitions you may wish to enter.  These are a small sample to consider, pending style and genres you feel your art fits within:











Wednesday, August 27, 2014

John Cleese

-By Jesper Ejsing



I recently stumbled on this old lecture or talk, if you want, by John Cleese. He clarifies something I had a vague idea of: That my studio space is extremely important. I think most of us, who paint or draw, realize how fast we get into the right mood by simply showing up at the same spot or table over and over, day after day. When you are all of a sudden forced to draw something out of your everyday environment, lets say at a convention or at the kitchen table or, God forbid, out in nature, it seems harder and strangely off.

John talks about the open and closed mode and how important it is to set a place for yourself in which you can be creative. His talk also very precisely explain to me, why I have a hard time painting great paintings under pressure or stress. Please take the half an hour it takes to listen to mr. Cleese, and I promise you will look different on the way you work after. Or you´ll be self secured in that what you doing is right; win win... Creativity

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Charlie Hardin

-By Dan dos Santos


Here's a piece I did not too long ago, for a book called "Charlie Hardin'. It's written by esteemed SF author, Dean Ing, and is semi-autobiographical. It tells the story of a young boy growing up in Texas post WWII.

The painting itself is a little unusual for me. I painted it much larger and looser than I normally do, and also painted it on canvas (which lends itself well to both large and loose paintings).



Above are some alternate concepts. You can see how all of my concepts revolved around the sense of a vast sky. Even early on, I felt it was prudent to explore the way type treatment affected it.

Aside from being a strong compositional element, the moon was intended as a nod to the Science Fiction books the author would later grow up to write.

I will be displaying this painting, along with several other originals, this weekend at Dragon Con. Come visit me in the Art Show Room. I will have Originals, giclees, posters, books and DVDs.

Monday, August 25, 2014

VFX

by Arnie Fenner


I'm working on another slightly long-winded post and pesky old work has gotten in the way to keep me from finishing. So I thought I'd share this video compilation of influential VFX movies as something of a stall: we ran it earlier this year at Spectrum Fantastic Art Live 3 (yes, an announcement about #4 is forthcoming) as a warm up to the working-in-film panel with Wayne Barlowe, Allen Williams, Justin Sweet, Vance Kovacs, and Iain McCaig.


Iain particularly liked the idea of warming the audience up with all the sexy end-results before talking about the realities of the long hours, frustrations, and occasional heartbreak associated with working in the entertainment industry. (Yeah, it was a great panel.)

Anyway, enjoy.