Friday, May 6, 2016


Greg Ruth

Allright, full disclaimer. I was seven years old when Star Wars first came to our theaters- essentially the perfect age for it. If any of you out there were around for this you'll remember it was at a time when our culture was much more unified as a whole and our media far more limited than it is now. Star Wars landed like a hammer and sent reverberations across every aspect of the culture at the time. It was an epic phenomena unlike anything that came before it, really, and so at the tender age of seven, it left a mark on me. I will always have a soft spot for the universe that was created then and am excited to see my own boys grow up in a time where they too can get the same experience, and do. For my youngest especially his Star Wars has been THE CLONE WARS show and now REBELS and THE FORCE AWAKENS and is chomping at the bit for ROGUE ONE this coming December. My seven year old self is envious of the amount of content he gets to digest and the ubiquity of toys and Legos and everything to keep his interest in this sci fi world. (I had to send in $3 to subscribe to wait six weeks as one at a time they would mail you a new action figure. This was the only way to get on then).

So last year when I was experimenting with this new graphite technique it was a natural fit to test it on some Star Wars portraits. I had been invited to participate in a group show about it and of course was thrilled with the excuse to dive back into my deep genre DNA and make drawings for these folk that were like my imaginary family from childhood. I managed to execute four pieces originally and promised to return for more when time could be made for it. I rarely do thumbnails or sketches, but did some for at least some of these to send over to the gallery. Funnily all were rejected save for "PiLOTS" here on the left.

Stubbornly I decided to ignore that and make them all anyway, starting with "Darth, Anakin & Luke", a portrait of this through line that spans the core trilogy and beyond. While I never put any of these in the show, I never made prints of them either. The idea was, akin the the full 52 WEEKS PROJECT spirit, to make original work for its own sake and for its own ends. I also wanted the challenge to trying not to rely on headshots or likenesses to carry the pieces. While they were indeed portraits, I thought it'd be more interesting to tackle them in a different way.

And in the end one more was added to the roll call that simply could not be unheard from, Princess Leia.

I  had always intended to return to the series, and expected to have done so mere weeks after this last one was sorted out, but alas, life and work conspired against it. Until now. Committing to a year long project given what's coming in the next few months seemed impossible to stay loyal to, but a short run of a series seemed perfect to scratch my project itch I get. And then I remembered I never did get back to those previous Star Wars pieces. Perfect. Storm.

The first one had to be the last one I intended but never found an opportunity to execute: our Old Man of the Dune Sea himself, Obi-Wan Kenobi. And the first actual likeness of the series, because like Christopher Reeve will always be my Superman... Alec Guiness is Obi-Wan for me entirely. 

 And Greedo, depite having almost no substantive screen time, has shot his way into our hearts, even though he never ever shot first. I posted this as a special edition to celebrate May the 4th.

Han Solo who was my first pirate and will always be my favorite. On this one I crossed into three films by invoking his Episode 4 self, with an Episode 5 portrait tweaked with a vanitas nod to what comes in Episode 7.

And of course, Master Yoda on Dagobah pondering past present and future,,,

And a sneak peek at Monday's drawing  featuring a couple of droids whose name I can never remember.

After this there are least seven more portraits coming, one every Monday by noon until the project runs it's course. So I hope you follow along. Until then, I'll see you after weekend trench run!

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Portal - Eyes of the World

Portal   IlluxCon 9 Commission  Donato Giancola    60" x 40"   Oil on Panel   2016
by Donato 

A little over a year and a half ago I was approached by Pat and Jeannie Wilshire to create a new work of art to help promote IlluxCon 9, the gathering of artists and professionals begun by the two of them which has become a go-to place to jump start and maintain a career in the fine arts of science fiction and fantasy.

Needless to say this is not a project I could undertake lightly. Not only do you wish to impress a client of such stature in the collecting field as the Wilshires, but the eyes of every artist in the genre may fall upon such an image as well as that of countless other professionals, art directors, collectors, and fans. I could not deliver a mediocre work for such a commission and all the burden fell upon my shoulders, for Pat and Jeannie gave me free rein to produce anything which I deemed appropriate in subject matter, mood, or content.

 'Give us your best,' they said, making it sound like this was a freeing of the artistic process. But what damning pressure such words can be! I could blame no other person or aspect of the commission if it resulted in failure.

Some Fun 'Easter-Eggs' in Portal   IlluxCon 9 Commission  Donato Giancola  
With this hanging over my head, I spent months processing through what content could be a signature representation of my work, as well as hold its own with hundreds of professional artists gazing at it, and work as an advertising image which could reach out to fans and speak to people outside of the genre.  'Give us your best'  started to sound more like 'don't blow this Donato, we have the world riding on you!'.

Let me make clear, the Wilshires did not request any of these conditions for the art, they just wanted a nice painting to showcase at the event, and have been wonderful clients to work for. It is I who has generated all the stress in this project!

IlluxCon 9 Commission   Roughs   11" x 8.5"   Watercolor Pencil and Chalk on Toned Paper

Luckily, some how, I was able to pitch a few concepts to Pat and Jeannie which seemed to hit many of these notes.  I was never sure if these images could indeed speak to so many audiences, but being a professional artist I knew I had to place my best foot forward and try.

The final results were a surprise and great relief and hopefully exciting for my clients.  Every major commission sends shockwaves through my artistic being, and somehow I find a way to pull through each time, alive and hopefully better off.  I have to credit my years of service as a book cover illustrator meeting deadline after deadline, and diving into content I was unfamiliar with, for providing me with the testing grounds so that when major projects like these come up, I have a method and approach which helps me stay the course through the greatest of challenges.

Thank you Pat and Jeannie for another chance to share my a passion about art with a larger audience!

If you are interested in attending IlluxCon this coming October in Reading, Pennsylvania, you can register here:

Portal    Framed by Gala Frames of Long Island City, New York

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

There be Dragons

By Jesper Ejsing

This is one of those dream jobs that once in a while drops down your hat. By a series of coincidental events, I found out that the guys who have one of the biggest companies in the world that produce protective sleeves for magic cards, happens to be the same guys I played roleplaying games with in my home town when I was young. I approached them and said that it was downright stupid that I hadn't made a single dragon illustration for them ever, and they could only agree. At the same time I was starting to do some collaborations with the ever so wonderful artist Even Mehl Amundsen, and him and I was looking for some projects where we could test our work process together and find out a way we could work together. He lived in LA at that time, and I was still in Copenhagen but over dropbox we could share files and work at the same time.

I suggested the company with the sleeves, Arcane Tinmen, that they should let me and Even design some dragons for the display boxes, and all of a sudden we were fully deployed into recreating a whole lot of dragons. I gotta tell you. Having almost free hands to do lots o dragon illustration is really really a fun day at work .

So; we did 3 thumbs each and had the guys choose. The first one we did was one of mine, the screaming roaring dragon face bottom middle. But they also choose one of Evens, so none of us had hard feelings.

I added some colors roughly and didn't like it. The red was too classic, so I chanced it to purple/yellow, then passed the file over to Even. Since he worked from LA it was a matter of him painting on it while I slept and visa versa. When I got up the next morning he had fixed all my errors and added tons of details I would never have thought of. We talked over skype about what we should do.

When I looked at the anatomy I thought this is not right," said Even. "Nothing works like this, these horns are all wrong and the way the form and bent and comes out of the face is not possible...but it looks so damn cool". So what he did, was look at what I had thrown together and found a way that it could work without breaking the silhouette or dynamics of the original sketch. The file went back and forth a couple of times. It was always fun to get it back and while you were rendering details here and there you noticed cool details and strokes that you did not remember doing or cleaning up areas that the other had left unsolved. In the end I learned a lot from Even about working more efficient and simple on this picture and also to appreciate the groundwork of drawing it right from the beginning (Not my favorite thing. I usually stab and scratch at a drawing until I have a suggestion of something and then starts painting. Evens more controlled way, takes a lot of the frustration out of painting. I can really learn something from that ).

I would recommend any artist to start or try a collaboration. It is something you can learn so much from, since it is happening all in one picture. It is not you trying to copy someone else's work it is your painting being worked on. Seeing the choices directly on the image by another artist is a super way to learn.

We have made about 10 dragon pieces this way so far, that I will be happy to share further down the road.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Artist of the Month: Artist as a Brand

-By Wiliam O'Connor

"Working out the vision night and day.
All it takes is time and perseverance,
With a little luck along the way,
Putting in a personal appearance,
Gathering supporters and adherents...
The art of making art, is putting it together."

S. Sondheim. Sunday in the Park With George 1984

Today we hear a lot of discussion of "branding". There are even classes on how to brand yourself and your art. This is nothing new however, the tradition goes back as long as artists have signed paintings. Some artists were better than others and the myth of many artists have grown into legends. Whether by underground, anti-establishment tactics, advertising and marketing campaigns or grass roots social media strategies, the art of selling artists is as old as art itself.

Here are a few of histories most famous artists, famous for being artists.

The Renaissance was the dawn of the artist as brand. Artists began to self promote their work using self portraits and other masterworks. Impressing their clientele as creative geniuses, artists began to become as important as the work they did. Albrecht Durer (1471-1528), was one of the pioneers to use print making to widen his market, boldly signing his works and portraying himself as a Christ-like figure.

In the age of the celebrity artist Benvenuto Cellini (1500-1571) literally wrote the book on self branding. Writing his eponymous autobiography the Italian artist regales his readers with swashbuckling adventures of romance and intrigue that delighted his patrons and helped establish the legacy of the roguish, cosmopolitan artist.

The Romantic Period produced some of the most memorable characters in the history of art. The of the earliest examples of the revolutionary, passionate, self sacrificing political activist artist is Eugene Delacroix (1798-1863). Delacroix embraced the romantic notion of being an artist, producing scandalous paintings throughout his career that would routinely get him banned from the Salon (Death of Sardanapaslus 1837) and making outrageous political paintings (Liberty Leading the People 1830) all with an artistic bravado that made him notorious in the art world. Delacroix knew that the only thing worse than bad reviews was no reviews.

James McNeill Whistler(1834-1903) was one of the first true modern art personalities. Bringing his American Twain-esque flamboyance he entertained the Victorian British art scene with scandalous work and behavior. Always dressing in foppish clothes he presented nearly abstract, tonal paintings that infuriated the public and art critics a like. When the famous art critic John Ruskin repudiated his 1875 painting TheFalling Rocket, he sued the writer for libel. Although Whistler won the suit he was bankrupted by the process, but it made him a household name.

Early 20th century art was about deconstructing the traditions of the past. No artist was more iconoclastic than Duchamp. Flipping every established tradition he could on its head he mocked form, meaning, technique and materials, going as far as placing a urinal on a pedestal and calling it art. He so upset the academic establishment it made him one of the most renowned and infamous artists of the past century.

When you ask someone to name an artist, the most famous and well known is Pablo Picasso(1881-1973). Part of Picasso's fame comes from the caliber of his work, but another aspect is the Picasso brand. Embodying the image of the modern Bohemian, Picasso crafted his image very carefully, balancing between reclusive savant and cosmopolitan socialite. Try picturing the quintessential artist (beret, cigarettes, womanizing, misunderstood genius), that’s Picasso.

The mid-century abstract-expressionist art movement created a pantheon of famous artists, none more so than Jackson Pollock (1912-1956). Unlike many other artists, the reclusive Pollock was not the force behind his own success. Lee Krasner, a successful artist in her own right, promoted Pollock to all the most influential people in NYC. In 1949 Pollock was on the cover of Life Magazine being heralded as "The greatest painter in the United States".

"Everyone has 15 minutes of fame." Art as a branded commercial commodity was the great legacy of Andy Warhol (1928-1987). Intentionally making mass produced art of mass produced products Warhol promoted himself ironically as a mass produced artist, even labeling his studio "The Factory" creating art that blurred the line between "high-art" and "pop culture" inventing PopArt and the concept of the artist as art. Even Don Draper would have been impressed.

In the 1980's art went underground, literally. The power of the galleries and collectors had become so overwhelming that anti-establishment artists had to take to the streets to be seen and began the guerrilla art movement. Stemming out of street art, Punk music and graffiti Keith Haring(1958-1990) started painting murals in NYC subways, eventually building a following that placed his style onto t-shirts, posters, coffee mugs and merchandise in dorm rooms all over the world. (Including yours truly).

Art in the 21st century has gone global. With an international audience on the interwebs anonymous artist Banksy (??-??) is perfectly branded to be viewed, shared and copied garnering millions of likes and views all over the world creating memes as art. Using simple graphics of universally ironic juxtapositions his images work equally well on alley walls, t-shirts, billboards, or an Instagram feed.

So as you build your brand and your portfolio, remember that this process of salesmanship has been going on for hundreds of years, and do your research to see how many more of history's famous artists branded themselves into trending topics during their careers.


Monday, May 2, 2016

Audrey Munson: America's Venus

"What becomes of the artists' models? I am wondering if many of my readers
have not stood before a masterpiece of lovely sculpture or a remarkable painting
of a young girl, her very abandonment of draperies accentuating rather than
diminishing her modesty and purity, and asked themselves the question,
'Where is she now, this model who was so beautiful?'"
—Audrey Munson

by Arnie Fenner

As artists we all tend to reuse our favorite models, someone with the "right look," with the proper emotive skills, who can help us solve problems and provide inspiration. James Bama (and other illustrators of the 1960s and '70s) used Steve Holland extensively, Bettie Page was the Muse for Dave Stevens (though he was never able to draw her from life and used her pin-up photos for his reference), Andrew Wyeth repeatedly painted Helga Testorf, and Frank Frazetta...well, Frank used himself as the model for Conan, Tarzan, and John Carter of Mars. (Don't believe anyone who says he didn't, Frank included, or that Ellie was his Muse: she wasn't.) My wife Cathy posed for a number of book covers I painted in the late 1980s and early 1990s and she was also the model for illustrations by Terry Lee (for Analog and Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine) and Robert A. Haas.

I just finished reading The Curse of Beauty, James Bone's new biography of artist model and (briefly) actress Audrey Munson [1891-1996]. Though she was one of the most famous women of her time and the subject of many famous sculpted and painted works—including 15 iconic statues in New York City—I had never heard of Audrey before buying this book. Despite being routinely characterized by various contemporary writers as "unknown"—which you'd think would justify my ignorance prior to reading her story—there seems to be a plethora or articles, essays, Youtube videos, Wikipedia entries, and even a previous book about her available. Who knew? (Not me, obviously.)  

"I detest false modesty. For my part I see nothing shocking in our unclothed bodies."
—Audrey Munson

Dubbed "America's Venus" and "Queen of the Artists Studios" during the height of her popularity, she's described by pundits today as the "supermodel" of The Gilded Age. Uninhibited and outspoken (and, sadly, her outspokenness included anti-semitic attacks on people in the film business who she felt had cheated her), Audrey dated millionaires (without ever capitalizing financially from the relationships as others did as a matter of course), supported the Women's Suffragette Movement, was a controversial star of the early cinema (flummoxing the censors), became the centerpiece of a notorious murder, attempted suicide, and was ultimately committed by her mother to a mental institution, where she remained until her death at the age of 104. Though her face and figure adorn some of the most famous monuments and memorials throughout the United States—and reportedly even appeared on the Walking Liberty Half Dollar that was in circulation from 1916 to 1947—she was buried in an unmarked grave. As told by Bone, it's a fascinating—if ultimately tragic—story. I recommend The Curse of Beauty highly. 

Above: Audrey was the model for A. Stirling Calder's "Star Maiden"
which was sculpted for the Panama-Pacific Exhibition of 1915 in San Francisco.
The piece currently resides in the Oakland Museum.

Above: As "Beauty" on the exterior of the New York Public Library.

Above left: Audrey as "Descending Night," sculpted by by Adolph Alexander Weinman;
this was also created for the Panama-Pacific Exhibition. It was such a popular work that
he sold reduced versions cast in bronze. Above right: As "Pomona" in front of the
Plaza Hotel at the entrance to Central Park.

Above: Audrey—sculpted by Carl A. Heber—guards the Manhattan Bridge.

Above left: A smaller casting of "Spirit of Life," sculpted by Daniel Chester French.
The original is the centerpiece of Congress Park in Saratoga Springs, NY.
Above right: Audrey also posed for French's "Mourning Victory," a memorial in
Concord, MA to honor the three Melvin brothers who were killed in the Civil War.

Above: Audrey appeared in a silent film very loosely based on her career, Inspiration,
in 1915; she was the first woman to appear nude in an American motion picture.
Audrey is seen in the still above with Thomas A. Curran. She appeared in four
movies before her career collapsed, but only one—Purity [1916]—has survived. 

Above: James Bone, author of The Curse of Beauty, talks about Audrey's legacy.

Above: A quick biographical sketch.

Above: Audrey is even in Kansas City. One of Adolph Weinman's
"Day and Night" statues that were originally flanking the clocks in New York's
now-demolished Penn Station was turned into a memorial fountain honoring
Eagle Scouts [!] at 39th and Gillham Road.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

The Importance of role models

By Petar Meseldzija

Anima the Dreadful (Conan) - Oil on wooden board, 70X50 cm, 2015. Private commission.

Back in the eighties, when I was studying art at the Novi Sad Art Academy in Serbia, we had a teacher of Art History, an elderly lady who told us that, once in her youth, she had met Picasso, and even had got from him one of his famous painted vases as a present. She mentioned this little anecdote often, and not without a certain amount of pride and self-contentment. This little lady used to say: “No one is born without a mother and a father”. The message of her saying was obvious - every person, creator and artist, has his own roots, his creative parents, his springboard. We all had teachers, mentors and role models at the beginning of our art career who helped us and showed us the way, motivated and inspired us. Nothing comes out of nothing! As human animals, we begin the process of learning by mimicking others from our surroundings.

People often asked me how, or where, did I learn to paint. Well, as mentioned above, I did study painting at the art academy, but although the time I spent there was not wasted – on the contrary, it was extremely important for my artistic development - I can’t say that I have learned how to paint there. The prevailing approach to art and painting at that time was still very much based on and driven by the modernistic dogma that favored free expression above the technical skills. Therefore we were not encouraged to spend time and energy on learning the technical aspect of painting, but rather to open ourselves to free expression. Focusing on learning and developing the technical skills was not exactly prohibited, but many did look upon it with a contemptuous eye.

I learned to paint mostly by studying the works of my favorite artists, my role models, and by trying to learn from what I was able to see and understand. Some of my most important role models included Rembrandt, Johannes Vermeer, Gerard ter Borch, Ilya, Repin, Paja Jovanvic, Uros Predic, John Singer Sargent, Viktor Vasnetsov, Ivan Bilibin, Aksely Gallen-Kallela, Walt Disney, Arthum Rackham, Norman Rockwell, Frank Frazetta, Alan Lee, among many others.

Conan by Boris Vallejo and Frank Frazetta

When I was about 12 years old, I began spending more time on drawing. I copied works of various artists, mainly comic artists ( I was at that time very much into comic art, and wanted to become a comic artist). My mother used to drive me crazy by criticizing my urge to copy other artist’s work. She would say: “You copy too much! Why don’t you try to do something out your own imagination”? Her remarks were disturbing to me and have often hurt my feelings (hence I never forgot about it). It was frustrating. On one hand, I knew she was right. On the other, I felt I had to copy in order to learn. I was so unsatisfied with what I could do from my own imagination. I did not like very much the results - my own drawings seemed to be so imperfect, lacking in all sorts of things and qualities. The copies of other people’s work which I did looked much better, more convincing and mature. Little did my mother knew that I would later become quite myself and unique in my artistic expression. Somehow I managed to escape a dangerous trap of becoming somebody else’s epigone. I don’t know when, or how it happened, but it did happen – gradually I found myself. Moreover, I even became a kind of “preacher” of the importance of going after your own uniqueness, and becoming utterly yourself in your artistic expression.

However, I never forgot my role models. From time to time, I revisit their art in search of inspiration, motivation and consolation. Sometimes, I do cite them in my own work, or, now and then, even paint a homage to some of them. But I never copy their work anymore. I just allow myself to be inspired by their creations, but then let this impulse go through my own artistic inner prism, and try to create something uniquely mine…. as much as I am able to.

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Digital Tutorials

For the digital artists, here are some solid video tutorials by—and a Q&A about education & careers with—Stanley Artgerm Lau. Have fun!