Thursday, February 21, 2013

The Artist - Developing that "Signature Style"

Supposedly, this is what sets you apart from everyone else.  What can get you noticed instead of blending into the crowd.  007 has Style. has Style.  Heck, even Peewee Herman has style...but it's not the kind of style that most people feel comfortable being around.

Style happens in art as well.  Most people can pick out a Picasso from Van Gogh..there are obvious differences that make each unique.

Young artists are obsessed with this.  I know I was.  This comes from a couple of different places:
1. You are young and don't know much about yourself.  You're still inventing and experimenting, not sure what you want to become or exactly how to get there.  This stretchs on for decades for some people.
2. If we have a formal art education, we are taught HOW to do art.  Hold your brush this way.  Use these colors.  Don't use these materials. (And don't forget the "THAT's not ART!" thinking).

So, the combination of not knowing anything much about yourself AND being told to do art the way someone else is doing it pretty much fills your head with uncertainty.  You are inspired by other artists, so you wind up doing art that looks just like theirs.  Until you find someone ELSE who inspires you....and you change again.  When will it end?  When will you find your voice?  When will you know WHO YOU ARE and WHY.....

...wait.  I've got you covered.

First of all, you DO have a style.  No matter how much you are forced into some other mold, you are a different creature than anyone else.  The way you sign your name is different from someone else's just as much as your fingerprint is different from another's.  It's in there, trust me.

But how does it come out?  What can you do to foster that smoldering ember until it bursts into a raging flame of Style?  Well, it's a two-step process:

1. Do Art.
2. Do Art again.

See, two things are happening if you follow those steps.  First, you're becoming comfortable with material and technique, and second, time is passing.  It takes both of those things.

You see, if time is passing and you AREN'T doing art, you never gain mastery of the medium so that IT is doing what YOU want it to do.
Similarly, if you are doing TONS of art but now allowing TIME to pass, then you aren't allowing yourself to reflect on the experience and to assimilate what you have learned.

So, what I recommend is that you build a HABIT of practicing art....every day, if you can.  You don't even have to make lightning progress...just sit down and do something.  Pretty soon, WHO you ARE will show through the materials and process, and instead of someone saying "Oh.  It looks like he's trying to be like...." people will be saying "Oh!  I THOUGHT that was X's work!"

Try to think of each piece as a step toward discovering who you REALLY are as an artist.  Because you'll be also discovering who you REALLY are as a PERSON.

That's Style.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

The Broken Boy

Recently, I was approached by Jay Jenkins, the editor of Valancourt Books to re-create the cover of a 1959 novel called "The Broken Boy" by British author, John Blackburn.  Here's the 1959 cover:
(Click for larger view)
It's a novel that starts like a murder mystery (dead prostitute found in a river), evolves into a spy novel (she's a Russian spy?) and then shoots off into Weird Mystery (..part of a satanic cult!).  So, pretty cool...kind of like a Scooby Doo mystery gone haywire.  Right up my alley. :)

Jay wanted an homage to the original cover.  Something that had the main elements of girl, statue, and skyline, but with my own take on it.  "Maybe she could look more dead?" and "Can the statue be more evil?" were his only requests.  I like publishers that ask those kinds of questions. :)  Here's how the cover art turned out:
(Click for larger view)
I thought, "heck, it's an homage piece, all of the elements are tough could it be?"  Stupid, stupid Dave.
It was tough.  First off, there are plenty of images of tribal fertility statues out there on the web...and they're all silly looking.  Well, maybe some are kind of creepy, but in that "weird guy on the subway" vibe, not "creepy-evil" way.  So, I took another look at the original art, and did some reading on how the story describes the statue.  Turns out, the statue is supposed to have arms and legs with joints the bent the wrong way (hence the "Broken Boy" title), so I started thinking "deformed-creepy-evil" and worked with emphasizing that.  The woman was easier as there are plenty of pictures of drowned people on the internet (BLEH!) to help out regarding reference.  Like that creepy, skull-like reflection in the water?  I do.
So, there you have it.  My interpretation of a weird, 1959 cover done in watercolors, grayscale markers, and colored pencil.  It took about a week of evenings to finish.

Oh yeah, he's got a penis.  That was a bit weird, too.  I mean, the 1959 cover has a penis as's just not very noticeable, and I am not one to back down from a challenge.  It's a fertility statue, for crying out loud, and that part HAS to be there.

When I showed the mock-up to Jay for approval, he sent me back a reply that said "The dead hooker looks great!"

Life as an artist is weird sometimes.  But, it's better than not being one. :)

I'll let you know when the book is available for purchase and when the original is available as well.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

The Artist - Sell or Show?

I think I've mentioned before that, as an artist, your job is to see the world, react to it through art, and then sell the dang thing.  Maybe you're one of those artists who envisions filling their home with beautiful pieces of their own work, but for me.....I can't stand the stuff.  I get maybe 3 days of delight out of a finished piece and it needs to go.
Because of this drive to produce and sell art, I've been pretty focused on moving things as quickly as possible.

Then, for some reason, I decided to do a one-man show at a local art gallery.

Now, in my opinion, an art show serves two purposes:

  1. To back up your claim of being an artist, and
  2. To sell art.
Okay, okay, it could ALSO be to enrich the local community by having cool art up for display.  That encourages other artists and creative activities, but if you focus on the two reasons I listed above, it creates a bit of a problem for the artists.

Namely, if you're selling all of your art as quickly as you can make it, you don't HAVE any art to put up for a show...or, you've sold all of your best pieces and all you have left is crap.  Who wants to see that?  
The only alternative that I can see is to create a bunch of awesome pieces and sit on them for months until the show comes around.  Ugh.  So, let me see....I'm not selling a bunch of work in the hopes that I CAN sell the work later....after the percentage the gallery takes and the framing, and the expense of food and drink at the opening day.

Seems like a bit of a loss every way around, doesn't it?  I mean, if I could sell a piece online, and just have the cost of shipping to cover....isn't that better?  Wouldn't I have that money NOW to buy more art supplies so that I can keep doing art instead of investing in framing?

Well...yes.  If money was the only thing you were going for.

You see, I spend my days working with a group of people doing one thing, and spend my nights making art. In most cases, the people I work with have NO IDEA that I am an artist.  They may not CARE, but they don't see the stuff I put online to sell.  I'm just that nice guy who can help them with their online class.

But, being an artist matters to ME.  And nothing says "I'm an artist" like standing somewhere and being surrounded by your art.

I suppose it is a bit like being gay and in the closet.  Being in the closet is just fine, but there must be times when you just want to stop pretending to be something and show the world what is most true about you.  People may not like you, or they may not care, but at least you're being HONEST.

So, after debating about it, I've decided to go ahead and have the show this October.  I've also kind of found a way to keep my art AND make enough money for art supplies and framing.

It's called illustration.

See, there are tons of folks out there who would really love to have a piece of cool artwork for book covers, magazines and so forth, and they are willing to PAY...just a little...for it.  Fortunately, I have a nice day job that covers expenses like rent, food and utilities, so I can afford to be picky about who I choose to do illustrations for.  That's the joy that the day job brings...the power to say "NO".

You saw the "Black Monk" book cover I did recently (if you didn't, scroll down a bit..I'll wait), and maybe the "Dene Hollow" book cover I did way before that?  Well, I get paid to do those AND I still have the original art.  Imagine going to a show, seeing the framed, original art with a note that says "If you buy this painting, you get a signed copy of the book FREE!"  Ooo...that's added value!

So, doing illustration work gets you paid up front, with a nice piece of art you can sell later WITH an added incentive to buy.  Not too shabby.

Of course, it's not too shabby IN THEORY.  I'll let you know how it works out when the actual show comes around.

So, I consider an art show to be my "coming out" party for all of my friends and coworkers.  I'll stand in the gallery with a brave face on and inflict my art on whoever comes through the door.

Maybe they'll turn up their noses.  Maybe I'll sell a few pieces.

But, at the end of the day, I will have been HONEST about who I am.  I will have had the guts to say I AM AN ARTIST.

And if I never do another show, maybe that will be worth it all.