Friday, May 24, 2013

Spectrum Fantastic Art Live 2 By the Numbers

Total number of miles traveled round-trip: 2,431

Total days spent driving round-trip: 4

Total number of times we re-filled the fuel tank: 8

Total amount of gas we had in the tank when we returned home: 3/4 of a tank (11.25 gallons)

Approximate miles per gallon (I lost a receipt so I had to estimate one refill): 27.38

Our car's rating for estimated highway miles per gallon: 27

Total number of Cracker Barrel restaurants encountered one way: 24

Number of deer carcasses seen on the way to Kansas City: 16

Number of deer carcasses seen on the way home: 12

Number of billboards advertising something religious on the way to KC: 15

Number of billboards advertising something adult on the way to KC: 18

Number of billboards advertising fireworks on the way to KC: 24

Number of billboards advertising the sale of cowboy or Western-style boots on the way home: 8 (a number seemingly much smaller than that which we might have have gotten had we kept track of them on the way to KC)

Number of billboards advertising the sale of antiques on the way home: 19

Total number of billboards advertising pie round-trip: 4

Total number of pie pieces consumed by both Amy and me: 3

Of those pieces of pie, the total that were lemon meringue: 1

Of those pieces of pie, the total that were cherry: 1

Of those pieces of pie, the total that were blackberry: 1

Total number of billboards advertising the value of using billboards to advertise: unknown, but easily far exceeding any of the other totals

Number of convertibles encountered on the way to KC: 6

Number of convertibles encountered on the way home: 5

Number of those convertibles with their top down: 5

Number of those convertibles seemingly driven by maniacs: 3

Number of drawings done while at SFAL 2: 10

Number of drawings I was happy with: 9

Number of PopTarts consumed by both Amy and me during the entire trip: 14

Number of PopTarts I was permitted to consume before the age of 18: 0

Number of therapy sessions required to deal with the previous number: 0

It was a crazy show, to be sure, and it was fun to share the ride with my wife, Amy. I would have bet that she'd grow irritated by me at some point during the trip (and I'm sure some of you might have thought the same thing), but it turns out her tolerance for any annoyance I might dish out far exceeds expectations. Always fun, though, to have her by my side, and I suspect my fellow artists find me slightly more tolerable when she's around. I'm more than a little partial to her, myself.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Time and SFAL 2

How it was that a year went by so quickly is beyond me. It feels like just yesterday that I was left to recover from the daze that was the first Spectrum Fantastic Art Live, and here I am grabbing at threads of my normal schedule that were abandoned for that show's sequel. The time, it seems, conspired to blow by me and ignore my pleas for a slower pace. And despite my hoping otherwise, the speed of time's passing did not slow for the days of the show either. It was over in a flash, and I sit here wishing I had had just one more day.

Why? Well, on the surface, it was a really good time. For me, another day of laughs and amusement would not have gone unappreciated. Apart from the merriment, however, were the many good conversations I was fortunate enough to have, and I must confess that I could have used even more of those. As is so often the case, there were many conversations about all kinds of books and films. More importantly, though, I was fortunate enough to share several that were very real and heart-felt and about pretty raw subjects. In fact, I had a couple conversations that I suspect I will never forget for the rest of my life. Among the topics discussed were process — but not the physical process of making art. No, these were real deep looks at the heart of where our own truths as artists lie, where our desires are rooted, and how to tap into them.

While such a thing might seem pretty elementary and straightforward, I assure you that it is not always the case. So much of what I do, for example is at the service of a client's needs. For the vast majority of my career, in fact, I've been ignoring my own needs in order to meet those of the various jobs. And it turns out that the result of suppressing my own needs and not satisfying my own artistic desires has resulted in my being horribly out of touch with both. At this point, given the chance to do whatever I want to do, I tend to find nothing. Nothing to tap into, nothing to extrapolate from, nothing to get my juices flowing. At least that's how it always seems.

Still, I have been discovering a lot about myself of late. But much of what I've discovered are the things I do not want. Very little has dawned on me of what I actually do want. After Spectrum Live 2, however, I think I have a better idea of how to figure that out and the encouragement I've gotten from the vast majority of my fellow artists this past weekend was humbling. It is clear that so many of them see things in myself that I, as yet, do not. But I've gotten encouragement to keep looking, and that is invaluable.

It is an amazing thing that I am fortunate enough to have met so many who can talk about and share very raw and powerful things without batting an eyelash. So many of the artists and illustrators I know (myself included) wear their hearts on their sleeves. By extension, publications and shows such as Spectrum and Spectrum Live wear their hearts on their sleeves, as well. The honesty and simplicity of that is beautiful and is something I will forever cherish, for such vehicles help artists find one another, help us reach out to one another, and help us bond as a community. Having the opportunity for that community to convene once or twice a year is very special and I, for one, am so very grateful for that.

In a matter of just a few days, so much is shared. So much is given. So much is there to be taken in. It's no wonder that the days pass so quickly. After spending so much time preparing and agonizing over small details for weeks before the show, we get there and put up our displays hoping for the best. And then it all ends so suddenly. The clock strikes the closing hour and a cheer rings out. Another show is under our collective belts. And then something truly fascinating occurs: the breakdown. The speed at which our work comes off the walls, our boxes are packed up, and our presence is made to disappear is amazing. Perhaps the inertia born from this is what causes the following year to pass by so quickly. Or maybe it's just the anticipation of getting to do it all over again is the machine driving everything forward. Whatever the case, I somehow will not be surprised should I find myself preparing for the next show on the other side of my very next blink. But hopefully I'll be given the time to start acting on what I've learned and figuring out that which still needs figuring.

Thanks to everyone who made it a great show and thanks so much to those of you who shared so much insight. I hope one day to have such insight and be as brave as you all were in sharing it to the next person in line. In the meantime, I hope to make work that puts this year's wall to shame.

Thanks most of all to Arnie and Cathy Fenner. I remember the very first time I saw Spectrum. I spent hours on the floor of Barnes and Noble leafing through the pages filled with inspiration and a deep feeling of inadequacy. It was that latter emotion that drove me in the vain hope that I might one day make an appearance on the publications' pages. That goal was just a dream for a long time, and I had no idea that I would be fortunate enough to see it become a reality several times over. But even after reaching that goal, I did not in my wildest imagination expect to see the work immortalized in those books covering the walls of Society of Illustrators or trekking out to Kansas City to be a humble part of a show bringing so many of my art and illustration heroes under one roof. I have no idea how you managed it all, but I deeply appreciate all you have done.

If there is a Spectrum Live 3, barring any unforeseen circumstances, you can expect to see my name on the list of exhibitors.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Reap Intellect

This is an image I am unhappy with. That's my feeling about it in a nutshell. I've flip-flopped several times on whether or not to even blog about it given that I would prefer to downplay this piece's existence. But over the last couple weeks I've concluded that sharing the thing is very much in keeping with my warts and all approach. I consider this to be a "wart" much more than an "and all," so I will share it with you.

So, why do I feel the way I do about this piece? Why is it a wart? Well, it's an image I didn't really want to paint. It's the kind of thing I've done before but is something I feel like I've done enough of. It's a straightforward image of torture and pain. While the context provided by the Magic card it's printed on might provide depth in the form of symbolism or metaphor, to me the image itself provides no such thing. It's just a guy burning. I wish I did something different.

I've looked for the art order for the image, but I must have deleted it accidentally. But if memory serves, I was asked to depict a man consumed in blue flame with half of his face burnt off revealing the skull beneath. I also remember that they specifically wanted to be sure that the man's head was almost exactly half skull and half flesh, but asked that the delineation between the two not be a neat, straight line. That's about all I recall.

It's not a very complicated assignment, really. It also happened to be an assignment that I had no desire to paint. Still, I moved forward. I figured I'd give them what they were asking for and would just bang it out quickly and be done with it. This is both a bad attitude and a bad idea.

I should have tried to think of a different idea that I was more interested in painting. I should have taken the time to explore new concepts. I should have talked to my art director in order to find out if there was a way to make us both happy. But I did none of these things. Instead, I did this sketch:

There will undoubtedly be people reading this who don't see the problem. And believe it or not, there's part of me wondering the same thing. This is just another horror image. Horror is horror, right? Well, yes and no. To me, this is more torture than horror. It's a depiction of gore and violence. While that that certainly can be an aspect of the horror genre, I much prefer the tension and mood side of things. I find the latter more intriguing and I feel that it tends to look better on a wall.

This is not to criticize those who prefer the gore and violence, however. I get it. That's your thing. It just happens to not be mine, it turns out. You can like your red velvet cake. I'll keep my chocolate.

The biggest problem with accepting working on something I'm not into is that the time spent painting it becomes agony. The hours are filled with loathing and frustration, and I've found over the years that I end up prolonging the whole process. At the best of times I'm pretty good at avoiding starting my day of painting. When I don't like what I'm working on, I become an expert. Productivity drops to a crawl, thus extending my unhappiness. And so it was with this piece.

Obviously, they approved the sketch and this is how the finish turned out. It's oil on paper on hardboard and measures 14" x 11".

Looking at the piece as objectively as I can, it's by no means the worst thing I've ever painted. It's not even the worst thing I've ever painted for Magic. But I'm still pretty dismissive of it. A good friend of mine has always been fond of saying that not every piece is a portfolio piece. There are many reasons that this is true. It could be that a given piece falls short of greatness or is just not the kind of thing you want to represent you. Or it could just be that you plum don't like the thing regardless of quality or subject matter. For me, this is not a portfolio piece. It falls short of greatness to be sure, but as I've already stated, it's more to do with not liking the subject matter.

Additionally, I keep coming back to the fact that, whether any of us like it or not, our work represents us to a certain extent. Depending on the person and the circumstances, that fraction of the audience may be correct. Or they may be dead wrong. I know that not every artist thinks about their work in such a way — there are certainly folks who just paint whatever they're asked to, and indeed there are even folks who depict things that endorse ideas that contradict their own beliefs for the sake of a paycheck. I can't and won't say whether I think that's a good or bad thing. That's a judgement call each of us may have to make over the course of our careers. I can only speak for myself, and it turns out that painting stuff like this makes me feel kind of icky. I don't want to feel icky. And so I guess I'll be actively avoiding work like this in the future. Or, you know, will try my best to mold assignments like this into something that is more in keeping with the imagery I'd like to create.

Still, clearly this painting turned out to be important. I learned quite a bit about myself and my artistic needs from it. Plus, after rethinking the project long after it was done, this piece inspired the seed of a personal piece that I hope to paint someday. So I guess it was a net gain in the end.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

The Night Prelude, Part 6

I don't have a lot to say about the finished painting for Careless Juja's album. I suppose I can say that it's done, that I'm happy with it, and that it's now at the framer being appropriately adorned for my wall at Spectrum Fantastic Art Live 2. I suppose I could add that it was a fun little ride for such a straightforward piece, and that I'm pretty stoked by how close the painting came to what I originally saw in my head. Maybe that last bit isn't too surprising, though. Like I said, it's a straightforward piece.

Just for a refresher, it started out as this sketch:

After putting this sketch together, I then made this quick and dirty color comp:

Terrible right? But it gave me more information than I had before it existed (if you can believe it).

And so I painted. And I painted. And I painted some more (with a little more painting thrown in for good measure). And then there was retouching. Lots and lots of retouching. A full day of retouching. But it was worth it. All that work to bring you this result:

It's called the Night Prelude. It's oil on wood panel and measures 20" x 20". Thanks a lot for following along.