Monday, October 31, 2016


-By Arnie Fenner

Like one that on a lonesome road
Doth walk in fear and dread,
And having once turned round walks on,
And turns no more his head;
Because he knows, a frightful fiend
Doth close behind him tread.

—Samuel Taylor Coleridge
"The Rime of the Ancient Mariner"

I don't think I'm going out on a limb when I say that most of us who work within the fields of fantasy, science fiction, and horror were inspired by various images and experiences from childhood, including dressing up and going out trick-or-treating. Not to say that the experiences of All Hallow's Eve exclusively determined our interests or career choice, but I think it's safe to assume that as creatives we take delight in—and draw influence from—everything associated with this time of year, macabre or not. Since it's Halloween I thought I'd share some of my early influences and then ask a question at the end.

Above left: We had a print, "All Is Vanity" by Charles Allan Gilbert, hanging in our house when I was growing up. I never asked my parents about it, but in later years it struck me as not really reflecting their tastes (they liked landscapes) so it never quite seemed to fit, if you know what I mean. Regardless, it used to scare the crap out of me. Above right: Others had Zacherley or Vampira, we had Gregory Graves as our Saturday night horror host. He'd tell a few bad jokes then show a monster movie; I first saw most of the classic horror films thanks to his show.

Above: Around Halloween The Wonderful World of Disney would show their 1949 short adaptation of "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow." It was both funny and scary and quite memorable.

Above: After watching the Universal movies on Saturday night, of course I had to build and paint the model kits produced by Aurora. James Bama painted the box art and I wasn't the only one that was disappointed that the actual models weren't as good as Jim's art made them seem.

Above: Rod Serling's anthology TV series The Twilight Zone mixed social allegory with fantasy, SF, and horror stories. There are various TZ marathons on cable channels now so it's pretty easy to see what the hubbub was about. "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet" (based on a short story by Richard Matheson) might seem quaint today, but, believe me, in 1963, scared the poop out of everyone.

Above: "There is nothing wrong with your television set. Do not attempt to adjust the picture..." The Outer Limits was another 1960s series similar the The Twilight Zone, but with a distinctly science fiction bent (two episodes written by Harlan Ellison were inspirations for the film Terminator and subsequently prompted a lawsuit). The photo above is one of "The Zanti Misfits" that were stop-motion animated by Jim Danforth which, because of the expense, was about the only time the special effects process was used in an early television series.

Top: From the same publisher as Famous Monsters (James Warren), Creepy magazine brought together many of the legendary artists from EC Comics.  Mostly written by Archie Goodwin, the horror stories illustrated by John Severin, Johnny Craig, Al Williamson, and others (often wrapped between attention-grabbing covers by Frank Frazetta) were more "illustrative"—more "serious," it seemed—than the majority of the superhero comics of the day. The cover is by Jack Davis. Above left: Famous Monsters of Filmland excited a lot of baby-boomer kids, including Steven Spielberg, Joe Dante, Stephen King, and John Landis. This cover painting is by a very young Ron Cobb who would go on to be a highly regarded concept artist for Star WarsAlien, and Conan the Barbarian among others. Above right: The Wow! page from Frank Frazetta's last full-length comics story—"Werewolf!"—that ran in Creepy #1 was a big influence for my becoming an artist. I didn't discover Creepy till its ninth issue, but I quickly sent my allowance money to Warren Publishing for back issues, including #1 featuring Frank's story. Frazetta's art hit me like a ton of bricks at just the right time and helped nurture my interest in the fantastic.

.  .  .

That's a very few of the bricks, all appropriately spooky for the season: there were other influences, naturally, many that have nothing to do with F/SF/H. But along with all the other types of art I've created or art directed through my career, I did do batches of horror book covers and, while at Hallmark, was one of the design leads for their Boo Bazaar line of products.

Above: A commercial for Hallmark's Boo Bazaar line way back in 1987. It was a giant profit-generator for several years and featured all sorts of cool products, including lawn decorations, window clings, T-shirts, and sculpted pins that lit up and had moving parts. Unfortunately, as is often the case in the corporate world, the creative team was rotated to other projects; the replacements didn't have the same feel for or understanding of the line (and what customers wanted) and within a very short time effectively killed it. Now there's a horror story.

Shoot, I even got to art direct a photo shoot for a line of cards featuring Cassandra Peterson aka Elvira, Mistress of the Dark. (I still have a bunch of outtakes. For research, naturally.) The solutions for many of these projects were at least partly influenced by my early interests. So my question today—no, lets make it two questions—for all of you reading today are these:

1] What art—or films or TV shows or whatever—helped influence either your decision to be an artist or your interest in fantastic art?


2] What was your favorite Halloween costume?

It's been a tad quiet in the comments section lately on MC, so please, chime in: I'd like to know what inspired you.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

The Artist Within 2

Above: If you've seen Greg's first book, you already know
how high the quality is of his portraits.

Extraordinary photographer Greg Preston has a Kickstarter project to produce an all new...well...let's let Geg describe it:

"The Artist Within Book 2 is a book or portraits of Comic Book Artists, Cartoonists Animators and Illustrators.

"The idea for this project came from an assignment I had when I was a student at The Art Center College of Design in Pasadena where I met and had the chance to photograph animator, comic book artist and cartoonist Scott Shaw! I started working in earnest on the project a few years after graduation, and here we are today. Over the past 25 years I have photographed over 200 of these amazing artists.
"With your support I am hoping to publish a new coffee table book of these portraits, complete with the bio's & art of the artists included. In this new edition I've included some quotes from each artist as well. 
"The list of artists includes the 'Who's Who' of the Comic Book, Cartoon, and Animation fields and just for fun, some amazing illustrators & designers who have greatly influenced this genre- I think your gonna love it!"
I think of this as a wonderful type of history book for our field—and besides, Who doesn't want to know what their favorite artist and their studio looks like? Greg's got a ways to go to fund this book, so if you can pitch in and help, please hit this link.

Donato Giancola

Phil Hale

Michael Whelan

Drew Struzan

Friday, October 28, 2016

Radiant Colors and Palette

 by Howard Lyon

I have added a few colors to my palette lately and I have found them to be quite useful so I thought I would share them here.  I really prefer a very simple arrangement (though it might not look like it). 

Some colors are on the palette because they are critical, while others are what I would call "convenience colors".  The Radiant line from Gamblin falls into this category.  The line is composed of 8 colors:

You can mix colors very close to these (though I do think these are a little more intense than what you could get, possibly from the pigment being ground as opposed to just mixed in) but these are awfully convenient.  I arrange them in a similar string as the darker colors on my palette, which is a New Wave Art palette, which I love.  I specifically use the Expressionist Confidant.

The 'Radiant' colors are laid out along the inner ring of colors along with white 

Each of the yellow, red and blue colors come in a warm and cool relative temperature, plus a green and purple.  These colors have been especially nice for flesh.  I can warm or cool my mixes with color that is already closer to my target in value.

The colors are all similar in consistency and seem to have drying times all within the same range.  The turquoise and the purple might dry slightly faster, but I haven't been very scientific in my observations.

You can find the Radiant colors at many art stores.  Here are links straight to the paint:

Dick Blick
Cheap Joes
Jerry's Artarama
Amazon - See the list at the top of the post for links to the individual tubes on Amazon

Thanks for giving this post a read and I hope you found it useful!

Howard Lyon


Thursday, October 27, 2016

Subconscious Inspiration

By Lauren Panepinto

Apologies in advance, tonight's post is going to be a quickie, because I am home sick fighting off a nasty case of con crud I picked up at IlluXcon last weekend in Reading, PA.

Recently I had a conversation in which an illustrator, curious about what Art Directors do, asked me how I come up with ideas for covers. And I honestly had to think about it for a bit, because there's really 2 components: Conscious and Subconscious. Consciously, I think about what genre/subgenre the book is, then what the current trends are for that genre. I think about the target audience for the book and what other media they might be consuming and influenced by. Of course I think about the content of the book, and the author's other works. Budget and schedule have to be taken into account. Consciously I will decide, with the editorial team, whether a cover should be design-based, photo-based, or illustration-based. Consciously I will pick freelance artists to work with, if needed.

All that makes sense right?

The Subconscious side of it comes in not so much as decisions, but more like currents in the ocean that are moving you towards things without you realizing you're being pushed by a current at all. I like to think of the process like a surfer: Your Conscious mind is the surfer on the board, and the Unconscious is the ocean, full of waves and currents. When you surf, you're not sitting there calculating the wind speed and mathematical curves of a wave, you're just trying to move with the wave and hang on.

An artist's subconscious is drinking in inspiration all the time. Ideally every museum you visit, every piece of art you see, every other book cover, all that visual information turns into a soup in the back of your brain. If you keep that soup well-fed, it will affect what you're doing consciously. It's like the old adage that you are what you eat. An artist is often made up of everything they see, mixed into a stew, and left to ferment subconsciously. And when you start to work on a creative project, whatever your medium, then that soup makes waves and currents to affect your work.

Here's a recent example: I was working on a cover for James Islington. It's a big epic fantasy book called The Shadow of What Was Lost. We decided that Dominick Saponaro would be a great illustrator for the cover. We felt he did solid epic fantasy scenes and characters, but in a fresh more modern style. Dominick sent in some great thumbs, we went forward, and he started working on the values in grayscale. Something clicked at that stage, and I got very excited and started playing with the layout at that stage. I didn't know why, but the painting in grayscale was really begging me to design with it.

And after a little playing, then asking Dom to finish the painting as a grayscale piece, we got here:

It's a great package, everyone was really happy with it, and it looks fantastic printed on the final book:

Editor Will Hinton showing off the printed hardcover

We even did the case cover in orange!

And the book has been in house now a few weeks, and then I was at Illuxcon talking to people about our big artist trip a few years back to the Brandywine Museum a few years ago, where I soaked up a ton of Wyeth family art. Especially N. C. Wyeth. And I remembered one of my favorite images from that trip:

I hadn't thought of it at the time, but subconsciously, that image had absolutely been inspiration for the Shadow of What was Lost cover.

And with that having moved out of the dark of my subconscious and into my conscious mind, I came home and was unpacking, and looked up at the poster that hangs right over my bed:

One of my favorite pieces of both graphic design and surf culture: John Van Hammersveld 1964 poster for The Endless Summer movie. This is actually my dad's original poster. (He taught me how to surf.) And I laughed, because of course that totally influenced the book cover as well.

I hadn't consciously thought of either of these images, but they had influenced and directed that book cover. And that's the best way to use inspiration — subconsciously. You're not consciously copying anything, it's just melted into you and comes out through your personal filter and skills, back out into the world in a new way.

So there you go, a little peek into the inside of my brain. Enjoy!

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

The Big 5 Publishers

The "Big Five" is an industry nickname for the 5 large companies that own just about every publishing imprint in the United States. It used to be "The Big Six", but Random House and Penguin recently merged creating 'Penguin Random House'. So, even though as an illustrator you may aspire to someday work for Tor Books, you are technically working for MacMillan Publishing.

Not coincidentally, every one of the Big Five book publishers are based in New York City.

Recently, writer and data scientist, Ali Almossawi, compiled a chart of all the Publishers, and every one of their subsidiaries.

This chart is a wonderful opportunity for artists wanting to promote their work in the book market. Just think, nearly every one of these imprints has an Art Director with a need to hire a professional artist.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Dragons and Other Incidents of Travel

by Cory Godbey

From cliffside encounters to subterranean concerts to magic tricks on sunny hills, Dragons and Other Incidents of Travel, follows a young wizard and his familiar as they traverse a wide and perilous land of dragons.  
Benevolent, dreadful, cunning, or just big and sleepy, I love to draw dragons and I hope you will enjoy the result. 
Dragons and Other Incidents of Travel is my 9th annual sketchbook.

I've put together an annual sketchbook for the last nine years. The first few weren't on any particular theme and, by and large, were just collections of whatever I had drawn in the year that wasn't for any client's project.
Year by year, the sketchbooks became more ambitious and gradually I struck upon the idea of creating a theme for each collection. Nowadays it's usually around the end of the year or the beginning of the New Year, I settle on a theme and then begin planning a new collection on that theme.
What I've found by working this way is that a framework not only helps to focus my ideas, it serves to generate new ones. It felt like a revelation: by working through a series of related images, turning the ideas around in my mind, scribbling them out, actually presented me with new ideas and helped to broaden the depth of the work by letting me see it in a context.

The apparent theme for my 2016 sketchbook is dragons, yes, but in fact, I actually think the theme is travel. 
I've been a reluctant traveler. I mean, I wrote a whole post (concerning Iceland) about that last year. While I felt myself change at the time, I don't believe I realized just how much Iceland changed my mentality regarding travel. In fact, at this very moment I'm writing this post from an airport (coming back from Iceland... again!)

This new sketchbook is, on some level, me working through thoughts on travel (in the context of dragons? I guess so, I can't begin to explain myself). 

I approached the project with the goal of creating ten new pieces. While I ultimately whittled down the collection to the eight strongest ideas, they all began the same way, quick thumbnail scribbled and a digital rough. 

I've talked about the digital rough before but the benefit that I find is that it allows me to think ahead to values and be sure the piece is working in that respect. Also, I enjoy planning my shapes and figures. It's one of my favorite stages in the process. I leave a lot of the elements up to the actual moment of drawing but I want a strong framework on which to build.

Do I still prefer to be at home in the quiet of my studio, fireplace crackling, and ever removing cats from my desk chairs? I sure do. 

But, I've found that much like a certain Bilbo Baggins, I've also got a Tookish streak.

If you find yourself with a copy of Dragons and Other Incidents of Travel I hope that you'll enjoy it!

Monday, October 24, 2016

Surprise: Depicting Harley Quinn

-By Dan dos Santos

I was recently commissioned by a collector to create a small portrait of Harley Quinn for him. The collector, who owns several of my paintings, is already very familiar with my work, so he gave me a price range to work within, and then granted me complete creative control over the piece. I didn't even have to submit a sketch for approval. He said to simply surprise him. This is fairly unusual for most commissions, but one of the great benefits of having repeat clients is that they often show real faith in your abilities.

I didn't want to copy a pre-existing version of the character, whether it was the original cartoon/comic book look, or the now ultra-popular movie version of the character as seen in Suicide Squad. This collector has already commissioned numerous artists to create Harley Quinn portraits, each artist putting their own personal spin on her look, and I wanted to do the same. So I tried to depict Harley Quinn the way I personally see her in my head, if she were a real, living, breathing person.

Because of time and budget considerations, I knew this portrait would probably have to be a head and shoulders shot, similar in size to the miniature X-Men portraits I've recently been doing. So I began sketching simple compositions with that in mind.

Preliminary thumbnails for Harley concept

To me, one of the most intriguing aspects of the character is her toxic relationship with the Joker. I tried to describe this extreme dynamic through the slave collar she is wearing. The marred 'Masterlock' logo is a reference to 'Mister J', Harley's pet-name for her Master.

I also wanted to accentuate this theme of 'submissiveness' by painting her face more like a mime who is always silent, instead of the usual rambunctious harlequin look. The blood splatters and smears on her face are supposed to elude to a painted clown face when viewed at a distance. A transformation, of sorts.

'Surprise', by Dan dos Santos ©2016, 11x12 inches, Oils on Board.

Harley is typically armed with a comically large Mallet as a weapon. But I thought it would feel much more real, and much creepier, to have her use a regular sized hammer instead.

I haven't decided yet if the blood on her face is supposed to be that of Joker's, or not. Perhaps a Lover's spat? Or maybe it's the blood of a unnamed victim, killed at the request of her Master? I think I kind of like it being undetermined, and left up to the viewer to decide the rest of the narrative on their own.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Painting From Life Recap

Thank you to all of our Patreon Supporters for making another Monthly Live Event possible!

Howard Lyon did a phenomenal job during his demo. He took us through the entire process of painting a portrait from life, all while fielding questions and explaining his thought process and materials. Howard graciously decided to do an additional hour for our viewers, allowing him time to really show some of the finer aspects of the painting.

For those who were unable to watch the event live, a downloadable version will soon be available to our Patreon Subscribers.  For everyone else, please enjoy a few snapshots from the event.

If you like what you see, and you'd like to learn more, consider signing up for Howard Lyon's upcoming workshop. Along with fellow illustrator and Muddy Colors contributor, Dan dos Santos, Howard is hosting a 5-Day workshop on the art of the 'Illustrative Portrait'.

As of the writing of this post, there are only 2 seats left for this workshop. More info can be found here:

Friday, October 21, 2016

Stealing Art

Greg Ruth

We live in the Age of the Image, and for we who make and express ourselves through imagery this is a great time to live in. However, the downside of this, with all this image sharing, the line between celebrating or paying homage to, and outright theft can blur... a lot. More often than not, the crossing is obvious, clear and unmistakable. It happens to everyone who makes and shares their art online and in print. It comes from all places and fronts, both high end and low. But there's a common response that can put it to an end, all it requires is that we stand behind each other as artists to make it work.

Part of existing, thriving and growing one's ability to live and pay for their lives as artists today relies heavily on coordinating and exploiting the massive revolution in social media and online exposure. It can and does, mean the difference between 20-60 people seeing your work in a gallery versus hundreds of thousands and upward. There are ongoing arguments of which is the better way to show and see work, but I think that relies upon a false premise- both have assets that can make each other work better. As a student or kid starting to look to a life in art, being able to have access to online images, WIPs, blog posts, FB interactions and information on new work and even live meet and greets is a gift beyond measure. (I would have lost my MIND to have had such a resource growing up as mine was largely rare visits to museums, the occasional art book for xmas, and whatever our Britanica might have offered up). It provides a resource and can help a young person copy practice and study a vast array of work and technique like never before. I get dozens of personal letters with some of my original pieces copied by kids or students of art, tattoos of my art, and more and I love each and every one that comes by. This is homage. It's pure fan motivation, and comes from a place of love and respect in a way that is so blush-warming and encouraging. This is the fantastic push-back from putting yourself out there in the world and especially online. I don't think I know of any artist who does not feel as I do about this.

But there's a dark side too. What can get passed off as homage, is really basic exploitation and outright thievery. And it's dangerous and very bad not just for us as individual artists, but for our entire community. I recently had an episode with a t-shirt company called TEEZILY.COM, who had taken one of my sumi drawings from the online 52 Weeks Project original portrait of Toshiro Mifune from Kurosawa's Seven Samurai. I posted it online and it's available to be seen cleanly on my very own website. This company took this as permission to screen grab the image, and launch a line of clothing featuring this on its front. Despite repeated requests to pull the page down, they continued to list the item and fulfill orders. I've had other poster companies do this and offer up prints of my work in similar fashion and even found one company in China that was mass producing hand painted canvases of some of my originals. I can barely count on one hand the number of professional artists I know who have not had to deal with this at one time or another. The big companies hide behind their massive corporate power to essential use might-makes-right to do what they like and require you, small individual human artist, to somehow wrangle the resources to take them on. Resources like the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund and other groups have been instrumental in helping to inform and assist artists suffering from these events, but it is still an uphill battle at best, and these companies know this. Sometimes even worse, your publisher, or agency may have business ties to the studio or film stealing your ideas for their campaigns or films, and you're cries against the theft are sacrificed for their own larger financial goals. (This has happened to me at least once already and there is no greater betrayal of integrity than having one's own publisher and defender, step over your value and sell you off cheap like this). Other smaller fly-by-night online places... t-shirt shops, poster companies, etc... are working on essentially a smash and grab approach: hit hard and fast and sell as much as they can until they are made to stop. They still win, and they do it enough times as part of a broader strategy and now you have a viable business model.

 So why is this bad?

Unlike say the reverse argument that fuels fan art culture, these companies big and small are not in any way celebrating or even crediting the artist from whom the rob, and in fact are not only standing roughly on their shoulders to save time and money for themselves, they can at worst end up co-opting the imagery so successfully as to make the artist seem as if it was in fact he or she who copies THEM. Despite what many have gone out of their way to tell me on these occasions, even alongside true empathetic expressions of dissent from this practice, this should not be seen as a "compliment". It is not in my view anything of the kind. Art inspiring enough to copy as a fan or to learn is not the same as art that is inspiring theft. If an image is worth inspiring the act, it should inspire honoring the artist. Grabbing someone's original concepts or art to then make money from doesn't mean you're so good you're worth copying, it just means you aren't worth paying and aren't even worthy not to kick over and steal from. For some of who don't make products out of their work on purpose, it demeans their work and commodifies it against the foundational wishes of the artist who may be expressly trying NOT to do this. And god forbid you do run your own shop on your site for prints and shirts, or sell through something like Society 6 or other online retailer sites, because now you're losing actual business to someone else who is grabbing money from your pocket directly. And no, "exposure bucks" still don't buy you poop-diddly in this circumstance any more than they do any other time.

We as individual artists are not large corporate entities, or big pocketed studios for whom this kind of marginal fringe parasitical behavior is simply the cost of doing business, or even beneficial in terms of exposing others to their own shops or properties. It means they taking from you, is having a outsized financial impact upon your ability to make a living as an artist. They are abusing the sharing and open-armed nature of how social media and online communities work. Personally it makes me feel violated when I see this, and I feel it too when I hear it happening to others- and it happens far more often that it should or that we deserve.

So... what can we do about this?

Simple Cease and Desist notices can often work, but really only on small scale violations or other pop-up type business. What these all have in common as a point of exploitation, can be used against them in a more effective and immediate way. But it requires us all to stand together to make it work. These are thefts of marketing and profit, and as such require participation from customers and potential customers to contribute to the theft by buying whatever the thieves are selling. I suggest making that work against them by publicly shaming and calling out such acts of deception loudly and widely. As they use online tools to harvest stolen work for their personal profit, you can use it to poison the well against anyone buying into the scam. By and large I have found that most people when made aware of a stolen piece of art, no matter how much they may want the shirt or poster, will disengage from buying it. If a company is going to steal your work and try and sell it online, stand right next to them and reveal even more loudly, the practice these companies are engaging in to make this sale. Let the customers decide what to do and 9 times out of 20, they will turn on the company. Now you've made what was a profitable effort into one that has become a promotional nightmare and the best dividend from this can be they may think twice next time before ripping off another artist. It's a cost effective community based solution that be a powerful weapon against how our community is exploited.  Even the most selfish and narcissistic of us can reap the benefits of this by being less targeted by this practice in the future. There is no real downside to this approach. More so... by shrugging your shoulders and letting it go, you are in fact giving tacit approval of this practice not only insofar as how it effects you, but your peers for whom it could hit harder.

The community in which we all participate, share, and engage with each other in does require of us at times, to give back to the group in this way. It makes the community a stronger place, it makes the internet a safer place to share and promote work. It simply states to those that would tell us as artists otherwise, that we have a value and we are willing to remind you of how loud that value can sound should we be given the opportunity. The power they acknowledge by stealing from you is still your power, and you can use it against this kind of act effectively.

There will undoubtedly be at times a need to go lawyer- but most cases do get sorted by simple Cease and Desist forms. The truth about lawsuits is that they cost EVERYBODY. So leaping to one as a solution first thing, is not a wise path. For me personally, my goal is to end the practice and see it end. These t-shirt companies and other p.o.d. operations that do this consciously can only do so off the permission we give by our collective shrug. If we're not well known enough, then it seems even more daunting. I propose at least as a first measure, is to take that cause and make it our own as a community. You see someone getting their art pilfered like this, stop, gather folks to the issue and use the social media platform these companies rely upon against them. Make what was a publicity tool for them into a publicity disaster. These folk are not feeding a noble cause- it's about quick money. Take away the money they'll stop this nonsense.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

IlluxCon Alternatives

-By Donato

Lamenting that IlluxCon is running full swing in Reading, Pennsylvania this week and you couldn't make the show for what ever reasons?  Here are some other opportunities to rub shoulders with professionals in the Science Fiction and Fantasy community in the coming weeks.

Admittedly IllxCon is one of the greatest gatherings of traditional media artists in the genre, but that doesn't mean you still cannot have a great experience with a small group of friends and other people at an alternative or smaller venue.  I have made some of my best professional connections with art directors and collectors at events like those listed below:

TusCon 43
Tucson, AZ
November 11-13 with George R.R. Martin

Denver, CO
October 28-30 with Julie Dillon

World Fantasy
Columbus, OH
October 27-30

Lucca Comics and Games
Lucca, Italy
October 28- November 1

And a website with upcoming Comicbook and ScienceFiction conventions:

 Get out there and be a part of the community!