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Zero2Illo Challenge: Week 1

April 9, 2010

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m participating in the Zero2Illo 12 Week Challenge, and week 1 started on Monday! This week’s task might at first seem easy, but I’ve spent all week thinking about it off and on and still haven’t come up with anything entirely concrete. I’ll try to fix that now, and I warn you, this is going to be very long and rambling…

If I could illustrate anything and get paid for it, what would it be?

Well. There are all sorts of things that I love to draw! My favorite is probably the human figure, though I enjoy most anything with an organic feel to it, and over the past few years have come to enjoy drawing weapons and things like that as well. I realize that this week’s challenge isn’t addressing specific subject matter so much as theme/genre, but different genres of illustration are composed of different subject matter, so I think it’s a valid point.

In the end I keep coming back to fantasy. As a kid, my favorite movies were always things like The Neverending Story, The Dark Crystal, The Last Unicorn, The Labyrinth. And you know what? I still ADORE those movies and have watched them all within the past year, hehe. 🙂  As I got a little older, I was drawn to fantasy-themed video games, and in college I started playing D&D. That was when I really got hooked on fantasy illustration. I would look at the 3rd edition D&D manuals and just drool over the illustrations – especially Todd Lockwood’s! In high school I had always planned on going to college for marine biology, but right before my freshman year I changed my major to ‘undecided’, and after a few months of playing D&D I again changed my major to Art. Fine Art, unfortunately, since my school didn’t have an illustration program. But at least I got to sneak in a little fantasy stuff here and there.

So yeah, as much as I would someday like to try my hand at medical illustration and children’s books, I think my main focus has been – and will continue to be for the foreseeable future – fantasy illustration.

What type of work suits your temperament? Would you be happy working on a year long graphic novel project or do you prefer to work in the fast paced world of editorial illustration?

My first instinct is to say that I prefer to work on fairly small, quick projects. I sometimes get bored with very involved, elaborate paintings… Well no, that’s not necessarily true. I think it’s not that I get bored with them so much as I’m not satisfied with the end result. Looking through my folders of work, the pieces I’m still the most happy with tend to be those with lineart. Which brings me to something I realized recently: I ADORE inking. It is by far the most enjoyable step of an illustration, and if I don’t get to do it, I always feel a little cheated. ;P

It took me several months to realize this. Since the end of 2009 I’ve been really artistically… constipated, hehe. I wasn’t happy with a lot of the stuff I was producing (even though I look back on some of it now and kind of like it), I was thinking that maybe I should just get out of illustration all together, and I couldn’t seem to put my heart into anything I was drawing for myself. I had been pushing myself for months and months, doing sketches and still lifes and studies almost every day, posting on CA.org, giving and receiving critiques, and downloading/purchasing lots of educational material. I really burned myself out, I think. I was so focused on attaining that ConceptArt.org look that’s all the rage these days, that I never stopped to think if that was what I actually wanted to do. So I kind of crashed, and hated art for a while.

And then – and this is supremely dorky, so feel free to run away screaming now – I started drawing fanart from Tessa Stone‘s comic, Hanna is Not a Boy’s Name. Hehe… It doesn’t sound like that should be this career-changing event, but somehow it was. I was so fed up with all the pressure I had put on myself every time I even looked at a computer screen or a piece of paper. I couldn’t even draw in my sketchbook anymore, because every time I tried, I either gave up before making a mark, or hated what I drew because it was so forced. And eventually I just said, “Screw it, I’m drawing what I want to draw, how I want to draw it. And if that means silly lineart of someone else’s (admittedly awesome) characters, then that’s what I’m going to do, dammit.” So I did, and I suddenly realized that, holy crap, I was enjoying myself again!

Over the past couple months of slowly coming to this realization, I’ve found that I’ve been able to inject some of the fun I have when I’m just goofing off and drawing HiNaBN stuff into my other work. And with the recent ArtOrder Discovering a Muse Challenge, I decided to work on a full illustration that will include lineart with digital painting underneath it. Because that’s what I want to do. It sounds so simple, really, but it’s taken me more than 2 years to understand that.

Heh, I’m not really sure if that made sense to anyone but me! 😉

To get back to the original question that sparked that ramble, though, I think it’s less about the length/complexity of the work and more about the style in which I work. Which, wow, I guess means I have my own style? Huh! I didn’t think I did, but… I’m just having epiphanies all over the place lately!

Is your idea commercially viable?

I think so. There is a big market for fantasy illustrations of all kinds. I think the tricky part might be that, as I said before, the current trend is toward ConceptArt/Massive Black-type work – fully-rendered, fairly realistic paintings. Lineart isn’t something you see all that often, though I can think of a few exceptions. Recently, in fact, Mike Faille, an artist whose work I really admire, got some jobs working with Jon Schindehette from Wizards of the Coast! Mike’s work is full of delicious lineart, and I think he’s been making a great impression with it! So obviously lineart over full-color paintings is viable. It’s just not the norm. So I guess I need to work on impressing people!

What are the target markets (publications, manufacturers, brands and companies) currently commissioning this kind of illustration?

Well, mostly gaming and publishing companies, but with the resurgence of fantasy and comic movies over the past few years (I guess LOTR sort of kicked that off, huh?), there seem to be more and more places where I see what I would consider fantasy illustration. You’ve got the big RPG publishers like Wizards, Paizo, AEG, and Fantasy Flight, and then there are dozens of smaller companies, all of whom have websites, products, and publications that need illustrations. Then there are non-gaming publishing companies that deal mostly with book covers and some interior illustrations for fantasy novels. Moving outside of the realm of paper publishing, you have video game developers, and more recently there’s been a bit of an explosion of fantasy-themed games on social networking sites. I’m probably overlooking some other areas, too.

Who are the big players (illustrators) in this market?

Char Reed named some of the biggest players in her Week 1 post: the Massive Black team, Bobby Chiu, Dave Rapoza, Todd Lockwood, Jason Seiler, Boris Vallejo, Julie Bell. I’ll add to that list: James Gurney, Ralph Horsley, Jesper Ejsing… well, so many more, but I could spend forever listing them all.

Why are they successful in this area? Look at their website and other online profiles, search for interviews with them online…How do they promote themselves? If you can break down what makes them successful (other than that they are very talented), you can apply this model to your own business.

Haha, well… As the Ninja Mountain podcast crew has pointed out, you’ve just got to be awesome. In as many ways as possible. And the NM crew as well as the artists I listed above all possess awesomeness!

In all seriousness, this is the most difficult question for me, because, as Char Reed pointed out in her post, none of them seem to follow the same rules. Bobby Chiu might tell you that you have to never give up and keep believing that you can do anything you set your mind to. Dave Rapoza will say that you just have to practice your ass off, every day. Todd Lockwood has told me that one of the most important things you can do is network – talk to other artists, get your name out there, and attend conventions. I feel like the road to becoming successful is such a different experience for each one of these artists that it’s not something you can really quantify or replicate. Haha, that sounds a bit like a cop-out! Really though, I think I have a pretty good grasp of what I need to do, and I am working on many of those things. I’ve got a portfolio site and a sketch blog; I’m in contact with dozens of other artists every day via Twitter, deviantArt, blogs, and other communities; I work on improving my craft almost every time I pick up a pencil (or stylus!). I think the main area in which I need to improve is in building up a specifically fantasy-tailored portfolio. I have work from so many genres that it must look a bit like I have dissociative identity disorder! D:

Well, I think I’ve addressed the main points of this week’s challenge, and I feel a bit more confident having done so. 🙂  I’m looking forward to next week’s challenge already!

*************

Oh, and here’s another recent commission:

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