Friday, December 31, 2010

2010 In Review

2010 was a year that started and ended with death.  My family and I have had to say goodbye to several close friends, and it has not been easy.  Those who we have lost were epic figures in our collective memories and the losses are felt deeply.  Just knowing that they are gone, makes the world a little less interesting.  Until, that is, I remember that while they are gone, the spirit of who they were remains.  A story here.  A joke there.  Advice long forgotten, now remembered.  Though silenced, the sound of their voices and laughter live on in my heart and mind, as will my memories of the little town in Pennsylvania where we all used to live.

It has been a strange year of constant transition.  Amy and I have spent more time apart this year than we ever have in the fourteen years we've been together, and so we have been settling in in this place or that, all year.  Our respective careers have opened doors that lead to more time in airports than either of us would care to think about.  But, the opportunities have been great and we have done our best to seize them.  The net result was that I spent a month cloistered away drawing for forty hours a week for almost a month, and Amy was doggedly pursued by New Balance, her new employer.

And so we found ourselves in Boston.  New location, new lives, new possibilities.  One of the odd things about this transition is how few friends we left behind in New York.  In the eighteen months prior to our own move, the vast majority of our friends left the city.  Some even ended up in Boston.  Though we did leave a few good friends behind, it was mostly the set that had changed, while cast had remained eerily the same.

Professionally, I've been banged up a few times this year.  I've had a few nightmarish jobs that should have lasted a month or two, but dragged on — one lasting almost nine.  I've gotten dropped by two conventions.  And my critics have been the most vocal they've ever been — one even going out of his way to email me about how much he disliked my work.  I have doubted myself, and I have felt like calling it quits at times, but my friends and compatriots have encouraged and supported me throughout.  And it is clear that it was a mistake for me to worry about those things or take them to heart, especially because I've done so much that I am excited about and can't wait to share with you all in the coming year.  Hopefully, you'll find it as exciting as I do.

And so, 2010 is wrapping itself up.  2011 waits in the wings and will sadly begin again with still more death.  2011 will mean even more time apart as Amy's new job requires still more travel, representing a fundamental shift in our lives and lifestyles.  We will attempt to sell our house in New York and possibly begin to search for a new one here.  It will be stressful and aggravating, no doubt.

Nevertheless, I look forward to 2011.  Sure, it's not going to get off to the greatest of starts.  Sure it'll mean a lot of headaches and heartaches.  And so it goes.  It will not be all bad.  I will paint lots of cool stuff.  I will get to do lots of cool things.  Go places I've never gone before.  See things I've never seen before.  There will be opportunity.  And there will be fun and laughter!  And my lady will be by my side all the while, which is all I could ever ask for.

To you all, I wish a safe, happy, healthy, and prosperous New Year.  May it bring promise and joy.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

From the Flat Files 9

And so, here it is, the last of this series for now.  It is an image for Stephen King's Dark Tower book, The Drawing Of the Three.  It's oil on primed illustration board, measures 9.5"x14" and was painted in Spring of 1998.  It is one of my favorite pieces I did in college.  I'm not sure that it would be accurate to call it my best, but it certainly is my favorite.

Now, don't get me wrong, I have serious problems with the piece, but it was in many ways a breakthrough and had elements built into it that I still shoot for today.  A graphic, simple composition.  A mix of the real and surreal.  A touch of beauty.  A touch of horror.  And maybe a little intelligent problem solving (when available).

Redone (as one of my professors suggested I do at the time), it could be a pretty sweet piece.  I'd probably incorporate the water into the composition more completely (after researching which side of the door it should actually be on), maybe articulate some details in the beach itself.  I'd probably lose the blood, as I don't think it's necessary.  Maybe make the door a little bigger.  Still, it's a fun piece and was one of only a handful of pieces from college that indicated that I might just end up doing some sort of fantasy work.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

From the Flat Files 8

And now for something truly awful.  It's oil on primed illustration board and is approximately 18"x24" or so.  I believe it was done my senior year in college, though I'm uncertain of which semester.  Likely early second semester, making it '98.  I've said before that my portfolio out of college consisted mostly of book and editorial work.  This piece would be an example of the latter.

After I graduated, I began pounding the pavement in New York, trying to get in to see folks and interview.  There were cold calls, there was phone tag, there were drop-off days (designated days for dropping off your portfolio at publishing companies for the art directors to peruse).  It was a difficult slog.  One of the biggest problems I faced was that voicemail had really taken off at this point.  Long gone were the days of people actually answering their phones.  But, it was also before email became the norm.  Sure, we had email addresses, but getting a hold of an art director's email address was damn near impossible, and you could forget about sending attached images because the series of tubes that is the internet just couldn't take that kind of pressure.  So, you made your phone calls, you left messages, you waited, and hoped for the best.

One of the few art directors who still answered his phone was Steven Heller, then the art director of the New York Times Book Review.  He was notorious for giving green illustrators their first job, and so I gave him a shot.  As he answered his phone he was easy to contact, and was also pretty easy to see...provided you could be at the New York Times offices at the ungodly hour of 7 am.  For a kid just out of college, that was not the easiest thing in the world to do.  But I did it.

So, one morning during the summer of 1998, I found myself bleary-eyed amidst the fluorescent hum of the New York Times offices.  It was one of those places where you get out of the elevator to find yourself trapped in this room that only people with keys can get out of (unless you want to get back on the elevator).  Next to one of the doors was a phone, and I used it to call Steven's desk.  No answer.  So I waited a while and tried again.  Still no answer.  I was likely there for only ten minutes or so, but it still felt like an eternity.  I wanted to give up, and I decided that if I called one more time, and he didn't answer, I was going to chicken out and head home.  I called one last time, and he picked up.

He came to the door and let me in and led me directly into a conference room.  We never sat, which was bad for me as I was so nervous my legs were shaking.  Still, we exchanged quick pleasantries and got to business.  He flipped through the pages of my portfolio silently, looked at every piece, then went back to the beginning and began his critique.  To be honest, I wasn't expecting a critique.  I was there for work, and so I wasn't fully prepared for what he had to say.  I saw his lips moving, but could hardly hear his words over my heartbeat.  It was not at all what I expected.

Still, he wasn't harsh.  He wasn't mean.  He had some positive things to say.  And he used the piece above to make his main point.  "How good would this piece be, if you actually knew how to paint?" he asked.  "You've got a lot of good ideas in here, but they're completely undone by your inability to do them justice.  Learn to paint...then come back and see me."  He shook my hand, I thanked him, and I headed home.  It was clear that I had a lot of work to do.

It was only after the fact, that I'd heard that during an interview, Steven had encouraged a friend of mine to reconsider his future career as an illustrator.  I believe the line was, "I don't want to tell you to quit, but..." (or so I've heard it told).  I realized that not only had I gotten off easy, but got something valuable out of experience.  Sure, it was the same advice I'd been hearing for a year, but there was also encouragement in there.  If I put my nose to the grindstone, I might just find my work in the pages of the New York Times.

As fortune would have it, I never got to meet with Steven Heller again.  I wasn't making any income and blew through what little I had saved fairly quickly after college.  I was forced to get a temp job, which lead to a full-time job and I never again revisited editorial work with the ability to paint.  Eventually, as you know, I got into fantasy and sci-fi imagery and I never looked back.  Still, a part of me wonders what my editorial work might have become, and I wonder, too, if I would have made it that world.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

From the Flat Files 7

No title.  Painted in the last semester of my senior year.  Oil on primed illustration board, measuring 9.25"x14.5".

This was the image on the very first postcard I ever sent out for self-promotion.  Now I look at it and cringe.  On the other hand, I'm encouraged.  This was done twelve years ago, now — almost thirteen — and represents the top of my game at the time.  This was just about the best I could do.


It is a good thing we grow.

I wonder how I'll see my current work in another twelve years.

Monday, December 27, 2010

From the Flat Files 6

"Heart Of Darkness."  Joseph Conrad's book is something I've repeatedly visited over my high school and college years.  In high school, I did a triptych of 24"x36" oil paintings that garnered me an award or two.  If I manage to get back to my high school (where the paintings hang to this day), I will be sure to take a decent picture.  For now, you'll be stuck with this piece which I did during my senior year in college.  Sometime in fall of 1997.  It's in oil on primed illustration board and measures 9.5"x16".  It was done in a few nights.

About this time, I really started to fall in love with a secondary color palette.  To this day, I have a soft spot for orange, green, and violet.  A lot of my love for the color scheme was based on the success I felt I had with this piece and one other (which has since been damaged pretty severely).  I did several more, but found out the hard way that a secondary palette isn't always appropriate for every piece.

If I recall, this was the only piece that was even remotely usable for my portfolio after college that wasn't produced in my last semester or after graduation.  Even so, it wasn't always in my portfolio, which changed greatly depending on who I was showing my work to.  That being said, I didn't get any jobs with the body of work that I'd produced in school or shortly thereafter.  Part of it may have been poor self-promotion, but I really believe that it was mostly because the work wasn't ready.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

From the Flat Files 5

Santa.  Tired and weary.

"The Day After."  12"x16.5" oil on primed 4-ply Strathmore Bristol paper.  I painted it after college to supplement my portfolio and use as a Christmas card.  Though it did get added to my portfolio for certain clients, it never became my Christmas card.

No real story behind it, but it was the first non-pet portrait that I recall painting after graduating in 1998.  It's the day after Christmas (Boxing Day for some), so it seemed an obvious one to put up.

That's all I have the energy for today.  Like St. Nick, I am wiped.

Until tomorrow...

Saturday, December 25, 2010

A Christmas Story

As a child, I always associated Santa with my father.  Pop, being a pretty big guy, seemed the right general size and shape for Santa.  The right amount of strength to lift those heft bags of presents.  But, the way I saw it, Santa had to have some of my Grandfather Briegel thrown in somewhere.  My Grandfather was older, first of all, as Santa was likely to be.  He was a character, and he tended to smell a lot like the beer we'd leave out for Santa on Christmas Eve, along with some cookies and a carrot for the reindeer.  Given that the beer was empty every Christmas morning, I knew I had Santa's scent pegged.  So there he was in my mind, a weird chimera of my Dad and Grandpop Briegel.

Aside from the gifts under our tree, there was little actual physical evidence of Santa save for a handful of scrawled letters thanking us for the beer and cookies that my older sisters insisted were written by my left-handed father using his right hand.  Because the FBI was too busy dealing with more important things, and our own handwriting tests were inconclusive, there was never any real proof of the jolly, old elf's existence.  Except one year.  A year that will live on in infamy.

That year, there was snow on the ground — a rarity for Christmases in Morrisville, Pennsylvania — and my father made a point of opening the front door so we could take in what was likely our first white Christmas.  The front door of our house looked out onto a small porch, and sitting there on that small porch were boot prints, sled prints, and a pile of feces.  Now, I must confess that I can't be sure about the boot prints being there, or the sled prints.  I find that my mind often fills in blanks, or augments stories from time to time.  It is entirely possible that the boot prints and sled prints weren't there, or were from a different Christmas, entirely.  But I do know for certain that there was poop on our front porch.

My father, upon seeing his besmirched porch began ranting and raving about Santa's reindeer relieving themselves on his property.  He cussed Santa and vowed revenge, promising to greet Santa next year with a shotgun!  His theatrics sold the ruse, and that Christmas is one that none of us will ever forget.

I admit to you, dear reader, that it was a fraud.  A fake.  What had actually happened was that one of the neighborhood cats had gone to the bathroom on the front porch, and not being junior woodsmen, my sisters and I could not tell the difference between cat and reindeer scat.  Knowing about the poo, my Dad used it to sell the magic of Christmas and the existence of Sana to his children.  So, it would seem to me that my association between my Dad and Santa Claus was more astute than I could have guessed at that young age.

But there is more to this story that I don't wish to burden everyone with, for it is sad.  If you want your happy Christmas story, stop reading now and enjoy your holiday.  Otherwise, read on.

You see, I associate the cats in our neighborhood with two of our neighbors.  Mrs. Liwacz and Mrs. Phillips.  At this point, I want to focus on Mrs. Phillips.  Mrs. Phillips lived across the street from us.  Her daughters and my sisters grew up together.  She was the keeper of the spare key to our house.  She was a good friend to my parents, and she was kind of a backup Mom.  In case of emergency, break glass and Mrs. Phillips would be there to tell you if the cut you got from breaking said glass required stitches.  She was good people.

Mrs. Phillips passed away a few days ago after battling cancer.  I've been trying to find a way to mention her without shoehorning her into some unrelated post.  Christmas with the cat crap on our front porch was my way in and I kind of think Mrs. Phillips would have appreciated that.  It may have been her cat, it may not have been.  Either way, the association is there.

It was also on this porch that Mrs. Phillips and my Mom would spend long summer evenings with wine glasses in hand, talking and laughing, a bottle of Carlo Rossi sitting between them.  I think of their laughter in the still, humid air and I smile.

Outside it is cold.  Once again, there is snow on the ground.  I am a long way from where her memorial service will be held, my heart aches and I wonder who will be my backup Mom, now?  Still, she is at peace.  She is at rest.

Merry Christmas, Mrs. Phillips.

Merry Christmas to you all.

Friday, December 24, 2010

From the Flat Files 4

Here's pen and ink on bristol paper that measures 7"x12" or so.  Pretty straightforward.  No high concept.  Just Radio City Music Hall's Christmas display, and some of the worst typography I've ever done in my life.

There is a great debate as to when I actually did this piece.  If anyone who knew me back then can fill in the blanks, feel free to do so below, but I believe it may have been sometime during the first semester of my senior year, which would make it a vintage drawing from '97.  But it could have been from as early as the first semester of my junior year.

There's no real story behind it.  I just thought it was topical given that it's Christmas Eve.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

From the Flat Files 3

Day three in my attempts to embarrass myself.  How am I doing so far?

For the life of me I cannot think of the assignment.  It's a weird little piece, to be sure.  It was done either at the end of my junior year or the beginning of my senior year at Pratt, which would be 1997.  It measures 11"x14" and is on illustration board.

This piece was the at the beginning of the wave of work that I did when I finally had decided on oil paint as my chosen medium.  I'd done a bunch of work in high school in oils and enjoyed the medium quite a bit.  Then, I went off to college and during my freshman year continued to paint in oils.  However, in my sophomore year, I had a class called "Methods and Media," and my professors for the course were Rebecca Guay and George Pratt (in consecutive semesters).  In this class I was exposed to different techniques using various media.  We worked in acrylics, oils, collage, watercolor, and then mixed many of these media in various techniques.  For some reason, I latched onto the mixed media technique that I used to do the pieces in previous days' entries, and it's the technique I used on the vast majority of projects I did until a point in the second semester of my junior year.

As I recall it, I was assigned a self-portrait by Dave Passalacqua and as a change of pace I chose to do it in oil.  When it was finished, my friend, Jeremy, took a look at the piece and asked, "why don't you do all you're work in oil?  I mean...your work in oil always looks...well it's better."  (Jeremy has always had a way of getting to the point).  I took a long look at the body of work I'd done in mixed media, then looked at the few oil painted projects I'd done, as well as the oil figure paintings I'd done in my painting classes and realized that he was right.

So, I switched to oils.  Permanently.  The really strange thing, though, is that my oil illustrations were really thinly painted to begin with.  A lot of the drawing still showed through.  This is something I had not done before.  I mean, look at it — this one is really unpolished, and this piece and other work I produced like it constantly garnered comments like, "this is a cool piece, it's just a shame you don't know how to paint." 

If I could have, I would have argued with them.  But they were right.  Still, I never gave up.  I'm still illustrating and I'm still using oils, and I think my work is better for it.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

From the Flat Files 2

So, another piece from the flat files.  This one was done during my sophomore year at Pratt which spanned 1995-'96.  One of the big stories of the time was the government shutdown.  I won't bore you with the details, but suffice it to say that I did this piece for class with that story in mind.  It's 12"x16" and is mixed media (mostly acrylic and colored pencil).  I'm not saying it's brilliant, but I was pretty happy with it at the time.

After my sophomore year, this piece found itself in my parents' basement (along with all my other work), where it suffered from the damp air.  Consequently, it stuck to the back of another piece and was damaged beyond repair.  Physical repair, anyway.  Photoshop to the rescue!

While I'm at it, here's another one I did that's completely unlike what I do today:

The assignment was to do an advertising piece.  I chose Volkswagen.  This decision was made because I had the idea of incorporating a logo into a crop circle before I had decided on a product.  I needed a product with a graphic, circular logo, and Volkswagen came to mind.  This is obviously putting the cart before the horse and is not actually solving the problem.  In fact, it's kind of cheating.  But, I got away with it and decided to share the piece, anyway.  This one is also mixed media (mostly acrylic, ink and colored pencil) on illustration board, and is 14"x16".

The piece was painted during my junior year which spanned from 1996-'97 and was done for Dave Passalacqua, a legend at Pratt.  He and I didn't always get along very well, and he actually gave me a lot of antiquated advice that wasn't relevant to today's market, but I still have to say he taught me quite a bit and inspired many stories that my friends and I still tell to this day.  Sadly, he passed away in '04, but he's one of those guys that I'll never forget.  His voice, which I can still hear in my head, won't let me.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

From the Flat Files

These are my flat files.  Flat files are excellent at crushing fingers.  In fact, I think that they excel at doing that that anything else.  A distant second to crushing fingers, flat files are also good at storing art.  While unpacking, I came across a bunch of stuff and decided I'd go ahead and share some of it each day until the end of the year.  So, here goes...

This first piece is a self-portrait I did in August of 1996.  It is mixed media on illustration board and measures 9.25" x 12".  It was done in about two hours (which I think is pretty obvious).  It also comes with a story and a very important lesson.

I was 19, and was just about to begin my junior year at Pratt Institute and had a few spare hours to do something amid my various responsibilities as a new Resident Adviser in Leo J. Pantas Hall.  The dorm's freshman occupants had not yet moved in, so it was serene.  The halls were empty and the only sounds were the birds singing on the branches of the tree just outside my fourth floor window.  I felt inspired, so I grabbed a spare piece of board and painted this.

As I said, it was a pretty quick piece.  At the time, I worked in a sort of mixed media technique that relied heavily on acrylic paint and this piece is no different.  It's done in a far less methodical way than I usually worked, but contained many of the same ingredients: a pen and ink drawing with water soluble dye washes followed by some acrylic paint.  It was quick and dirty, and there was liberal use of a hair dryer.  I finished it, signed it, and set it aside.

Once classes had started, I took it to a professor of mine, George Pratt.  I was pretty happy with how it had turned out and was pretty hopeful that he would be, too.  I arrived at George's class early to find him playing chess with Richard Clark, a friend of his.  George took a look at the painting and immediately critiqued it.  Though I don't recall all he had to say about the piece, I think I can now guess at a lot of the things he pointed out.  He was his usual, constructive but brutally honest self and was nothing, if not thorough.  I took his criticisms in, thought about them, and thanked him for taking the time to look at my "piece of crap" painting.

George immediately jumped on me.  Why, he asked, was I being so hard on my work?  Why would I refer to this painting as a "piece of crap?"

Because it is, I replied.

While I don't remember his words exactly before this point, I remember his next ones verbatim.  "Man," he said, "don't ever refer to your work like that.  Ever.  If you keep calling your work crap, then eventually you'll believe it's crap.  And once that happens then crap is all it'll ever be."

There are a variety of reasons why I have kept certain pieces over the years, while allowing others to be lost, destroyed, given away, or thrown out.  This piece I keep because of George's words.  Words that have gotten me through some tough times.  This piece is a constant reminder to never give up on myself, and to believe in what I do — two things without which I would be nowhere.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

The Art Of Rejection

If my Mother taught me anything, it is that life isn’t fair.  I know you probably just read that, rolled your eyes and began to consider hitting the “back” button.  The last thing you need is some preachy blog entry to remind you of this kind of thing.  I agree.  It’s just an opening line.  Stick with me here.

This year, I got squeezed out of two conventions that I’d been regularly showing at: New York Comic Con and, just recently, Illuxcon.  In both cases, it was explained to me that demand for the number of slots was just too great, and that there simply was no room for me.

That this bothers me should go without saying.  The fact is, while I understand that such decisions aren’t personal, they often feel like they are.  It is very difficult to be left on the sidelines while almost every one of your friends and peers get to show off their wares.  The feelings involved are not unlike being the last kid chosen for a team in gym class.  Put simply, it stings.

When faced with rejection, you tend to immediately seek to try to understand the reasons behind it.  Was it because I’m not good enough?  Is it a political decision?  Did I say or do something wrong?  Has my personal hygiene gotten in the way?  Questions like this run through your head and the pain tends to turn to anger pretty quickly.  Anger that gets directed either at yourself for being inadequate in some way, or directed at those who made the decisions that brought on the situation to begin with.

Whether or not those questions have any validity in the long term depends on the circumstances.  In the short term, however, such questions are moot.  The answers do not change the situation (my Mother’s lesson rears its head).  There will always be time down the road for analysis and analysis is always better done when you’ve got a clear head.  So, the first thing you have to do is come to terms with where you’re at.  Once you’ve done that, it’s all about figuring out what to do.

I’m not saying this is easy, mind you.  Sure I can neatly sum those steps up in just two sentences, but how to actually get your mind to that state of acceptance varies wildly from person to person.  Some folks might just shrug it off.  Others might have to find some way to vent the pain and anger through exercise or crying into their pillow.  Still others just need some time alone, or need a distraction to get their mind off of things for a while.  You see, I can’t really say how you get to the point where you can begin planning your next move rationally.  The important thing is to find a way to get there at all.

For me, being excluded from the conventions in question resulted in the following decision: do I suck it up and go to the convention or do I take my toys and go home?  In New York Comic Con’s case, it was a simple answer.  They had free badges for professionals, and the convention itself was a mere subway ride away.  I got to hang out and chat with my friends and have a laugh or two without a whole lot of time or money invested, and at the end of the day had a good time despite the rejection.

Next year’s Illuxcon is a tougher decision — not because it’s a more bitter pill to swallow, but because of the financial state I’m in.  If nothing else, I want to go and support my brothers and sisters in the field.  After all, they have supported me in so many ways, and if my going could encourage them even a little it seems like a worthy way to spend my time.  On top of that, it’s a blast!  Being in a room full of illustrators is a nice reminder that you’re not alone in the grander, meta scheme of things.  It’s a reminder that everyone’s at least as crazy as you.  It’s a good feeling.

But, as luck would have it, the decision to go has to be made sooner rather than later, and I’m currently at a point where I need to be super aware of where my money is going and how much I have to play with.  Right now, it’s not much.

So, naturally (or unnaturally as the case may be), a new fear starts to kick in.  If I don’t go, will people perceive me as a petty jerk?  Will they talk smack about me behind my back?  For me and my part, I have to let that fear go.  Everyone has to make the right decisions for themselves.  If these decisions cause folks to think lesser of you, so be it.  You have to do what you have to do under the circumstances you are in at the time.  You can’t carry that weight.  If they feel that way, and it results in getting snubbed again then it would seem you dodged a bullet, no?

The decisions you make in the face of rejection are never easy ones, but what I’d like to stress is that it’s important to at least try and take the high road.  I could have spent the last day writing nasty emails to Illuxcon’s organizers and raising a big stink.  I didn’t.  Even if I wanted to, it wouldn’t do me any good and would damage any chances I might have in the future.  Instead I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about it, then painting to keep my mind off of it, and doing laundry (that last one is mostly because we just got a new washer and drier and things had piled up).  Then it was all about whether or not to go, and now it’s mostly about whether of not I even can.

Anyway, when rejected, it’s important to tread cautiously and not do anything rash.  Don’t lash out or become confrontational.  The reactions you get from such actions will not be the kind you want, I assure you.  At best you will be shut out further, at worst you will permanently damage your reputation.  The best thing you can do is find a way to keep your cool (at least publicly), and buy yourself some time to process things.

One last thing to consider is that the folks on the other end are people, too.  In regards to my own predicament, the organizers who had to make the decisions that resulted in my not making the cut didn’t do it lightly and had a difficult time even deciding that they needed to decide.  No one wants to leave people out.  Okay, maybe they want to leave them out over the personal hygiene thing — but apart from that, they don’t want to do it.  They have feelings, too.  They feel bad about it — maybe not as bad as you might feel as the rejected party, but that’s life.  And if my Mother taught anything, it’s that life isn’t fair.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

My New Studio

The studio is dead.  Long live the studio.
So, my new studio.  Though it has a couple boxes cluttering it up, they will disappear soon.  Painted a tasteful, muted green, it sports two windows and two electrical outlets - making it twice as awesome as my old studio.  It also features more square footage and only one door that leads to the upstairs hallway (which is convenient as the studio is upstairs).

The room measures just over twelve feet by eleven feet, minus a small closet in the corner which juts out into the floor space.  The closet features an interior that is painted a rather loud shade of pink, and is decked out with the poorest excuse for a "storage system" I have ever seen.  The room's ceiling is rather low, with just seven feet, three inches of clearance.  But, as it's unlikely that I'll be working on anything larger than a few feet tall, this seems like a minor quibble.

The extra space allows me to keep my large easel set up at all times.  Currently sitting on this easel is a book cover I have been dealing with for the last eight months.  In fact, the final alterations to this cover will be my first painting done in my new environment.

Also allowed by the extra space is an additional table (which I use to keep things off the floor), and a bookshelf which is just off camera.  For the first time, all of my art books are in the place that I actually need them.  No more walking into another room to get a book for me.  No, no.

The view out my windows is of the back yard of our house, the garage, and the tool shed.  Beyond that are the backs of several other houses.  There are trees and grass, a parking lot for all the folks who live in the surrounding houses, and some picket fencing that has seen better days...or at least I hope it has.

At present, given that it's winter, my studio is filled only with the sound of my radio or TV, and the occasional hiss and clanking of the radiator.  If I really concentrate, I can hear the faint drone of traffic on the Mass. Pike, and the commuter rail line that passes nearby.

The curious thing about moving is that you get to see your belongings in a whole new context.  My new studio contains the exact same contents as my old studio, and they are even arranged similarly.  But, they look and feel very different.  Perhaps this is because there's more space overall.  Perhaps it is because there's far more light.  Perhaps the addition of a few extra pieces of furniture has thrown off the vibe entirely.  I don't really know.  Either way, the newness represents promise to me, and I'm pretty excited.

So, this is where the best work of my life will be produced over at least the next eighteen months.  No pressure or anything.  Perhaps a mantra.  No matter what, that will be my goal.  To do the best work of my life.  May I shock and surprise with the work that is yet to be.  May I fill people with wonder.  May I inspire and be inspired.  May this studio be as good to me as the last.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

My Old Studio

It served me well.

My old studio in Jackson Heights, Queens.  As I recall, it measured eight feet by ten feet.  The filing cabinet at the right of the picture was a mere six inches or so from the right wall which is just out of frame.  It wasn't a big space, but it was a huge improvement over my previous dwelling where I was forced to work in the living room, which meant that I could never close the door on my work.  By that standard, this space was a luxury.

The room itself was railroaded, by which I mean that there were two adjacent doorways in and out of the room.  One doorway lead to the hallway, the other directly into the kitchen.  This made the trip to the sink for brush cleaning rather convenient and it's a feature I'm not likely to find again anytime soon.

There was exactly one electrical outlet in the room.  Plugged into it were two power strips that gave me enough outlets to plug in my various lights, radio, TV, DVD player, and computer.  As the building was built in 1935, the electrical system was less than ideal and every time Amy had her hair dryer on the high setting, the breaker would trip and my studio would go dark.

My view was a small courtyard and the opposing side of the building which mirrored my own.  The building's super lived across from me, and he and his family often waved while I toiled away.

On summer days, with the window open, my studio was filled with the sounds of the building's children playing in the courtyard, the opera singer from my building practicing her arias, various birds chirping, and the hum of the building's many air conditioning units.  In winter, only the sounds of my TV or radio could be heard against the occasional hiss of the radiator.

The largest painting I did while there measured three feet wide by two feet tall.  The smallest was a five inch square.  This is where I did my first book covers.  It is where I did the best work of my life to this point.  Work that I cannot show yet, but am very proud of.

This space was very good to me.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Frequently Asked Question 3: Signatures

Would you mind signing cards for me?  Or a variant thereof being: how much do you charge to sign cards?

The answer to the first question is no.  If I’m at an event or convention, I’ll happily sign your cards.  I don’t mind doing it at all.  However, what can be an issue is when folks give me stacks of cards several inches thick.  In these cases, depending on whether there’s a line to talk to me, I may be forced to decline or will ask that the cards be left with me to sign at my leisure.  I just don’t like forcing someone to wait to have one card signed because I’m busy signing 200 for someone else.

Other artists I know will refuse a tall stack of cards outright.  I don’t blame them — my hand cramped so severely at GenCon this year that I had to leave my table for an hour to get some ibuprofen and rest.  At this time, however, I choose to sign as many things as I can.  That’s why I’m at the event in question.

I’m also happy to sign cards sent to me through the mail.  I ask only 2 things.  First, I ask that a self-addressed, stamped envelope be included.  Second, I ask that you email me before sending the cards.  Catch that?  I said “before.”  Why?  Simple: I travel a lot.  While traveling, cards don’t get signed and people are left waiting.  I don’t want folks to have to wait, so if contacted beforehand, I can tell folks to hold off due to travel.  The other problem with travel is that my mail piles up.  This wouldn’t be a big deal if I had a door with a mail slot, or a big old mailbox.  But, as things are now, I live in an apartment building and I have a mailbox that makes a shoebox seem like a spacious mansion complete with indoor pool and 10-car garage.  One weekend’s worth of mail could fill the box and my mailman isn’t bashful about cramming stuff in there.  The last thing I need is to have someone’s cards get bent in half because my mailman decided to ram home my mailbox’s contents with a rolled up copy of the latest Vogue.  (My wife’s subscription — I swear).

I think the above are minor requests, personally.  Especially because — to answer the question’s variant — I don’t charge to sign things.  Signatures are free.  Pretty straightforward, I think.  Now, there are others who have a tip jar at their table.  This is something else I understand.  Pens cost money and with few exceptions, we sign with our own pens.  It’s nice to have the money to replace said pens when they run dry, so we can keep signing.  Personally, I don’t have a tip jar.  If people feel compelled to give me money for signing their cards or books or playmats, I’m happy to take it.  It’s always nice to receive a tip.  I just don’t feel the need to have the jar there.

Truth be told, I get a real kick out of giving autographs.  It’s never gotten old to me.  I remember being a kid, waiting in line to have comic artists sign my comic books, never dreaming that I would one day be the guy behind a table doing the same thing.  Fans are a big part of what I do, and taking the time to sign one or two things is the least I can do for all the love I’ve gotten from them.  So, my pen is ever at the ready.