Saturday, August 30, 2014

It’s not about you (probably, except for when it is. Sometimes)

The Connoiseur, by Norman Rockwell

David Palumbo

After reading Lauren’s recent post regarding online criticism, I found myself thinking quite a bit about the broad subject of taste.  Beyond art, we all tend to have a quality standard for anything which we are even marginally interested in.  The good, the bad, the forgettable.  Whether music, movies, books, clothes, or even just the best places to get a taco, I believe that we all have a personal dividing line somewhere in that mediocre middle where a things is just plain bad.  Where it has failed at being whatever that thing could have gloriously been, and especially when it has failed to a spectacular degree.  I don’t know if I’m so cynical to believe that most people enjoy witnessing failure (anyone who has ever watched a live performance tip just a bit off the rails knows the feeling of an audience collectively holding their breath and hoping that the performer can pull it back) but, to put it charitably, it certainly seems that people enjoy demonstrating their intelligence and good taste by pointing out where they feel efforts have failed.  I saw a photo series online just this morning which had an interesting premise and then, in my opinion, severely botched execution.  Half-assed concepts woven with bad technique.  I REALLY wanted to point my finger and say “that was 100% terrible!”

I didn’t, but I wanted to.  Instead I read the comments of other people who did it for me.  This only furthered my frustration though as, despite largely sharing my opinion that it was bad, they felt it was bad for all of the wrong reasons!  It was like seeing a movie you were really excited for but then it had massive plot holes which distracted from the story and a horrible third act which didn’t make any sense at all and afterwards your friend turns to you as says “that was an awful movie!  There were almost no musical numbers at all!” This is the realization that not everyone is looking for the same satisfaction.

I think most artists of any stripe come to understand that you really can not please all the people all the time.  Some of us can accept this, some will understand it but struggle with the reality of it, and some will struggle to even acknowledge it by continuing to try to please everyone.  But they can’t of course, no one can, because we don’t all want the same thing. 

The rare things which are generally agreed to be the greatest are always compromises in my opinion.  Not that they were executed as compromises, but their "best of" title represents a compromise of varied opinions.  I don’t think the Mona Lisa is the “best” painting in the history of art and I don’t think that either Pat’s OR Genos have the “best” cheesesteak in Philly.  I also don’t think those are controversial opinions to share because, despite often being cited as such, most people who actually have considered, thought out opinions on either topic will probably agree with me.  But that is the nature of mass-audience favorites: sifted crowd-pleasers which are known, acceptable, and non-offensive.  The “best” song by the “best” band could easily be something along the lines of Hey Jude by the Beatles.  Yes, it’s a good song, a pretty great song, but I’d wager it probably isn’t your (speaking to you!) favorite (all time everything) song.  I am certain that it actually is the favorite song of very many people, but odds are that it isn’t yours.  Whatever your favorite song is, it probably has something about it which many people would dislike if they even know it at all and some people would even find a reason to dislike it that had nothing to do with what it even sounds like. 

And the nice thing is, everyone is right.  We’re all right because we all get to like things and dislike things for our own highly personal and highly irrational reasons.  It’s not about logic, it’s about love.

Oh, but when other people like something we don’t like, that can be obnoxious.  How can people be so stupid to actually like that junk!  Or maybe they’re pretending to like it so everyone will think they’re smart but obviously nobody really likes it!  These are injustices that demand sharing online!  Of course, you can’t really convince someone by arguement they don’t like a thing anymore than they can convince you that you actually do (you don’t).  Never the less, we all too often feel compelled to try.  Or at the least to make it known that we’re not like those fools liking all that idiotic mess.  We have standards.

As a human, I struggle with these things.  As an artist, I am sensitive to the fact that most creative work is the result of an honest effort and I respect courage and labor.  As your average asshole with an opinion, I know that my opinion is the best one. 

To be serious though, this does have a point.  My opinions on certain subjects can be very strong and, no surprise, visual art is among them.  I know what I like and I know what I don’t.  For many years, that was all I needed.  I would be frustrated by the success of peers who clearly did not deserve it or by schools of painting which were transparently unapologetically bullshit (ok, I might still twinge a bit on that one) and lament that others of promise were overlooked.  Even leaving out the larger Art World, I felt the same irritation in the broad spectrum of illustration.  I remember my first time seeing an annual exhibition at the Society of Illustrators which, at a time at least, was generally perceived as, well, not overly enthusiastic on the whole “fantasy art” scene.  “Half these guys can’t even draw!” was probably a fair approximation of my open-minded verdict.  And so my opinions went until, a few years later, I took a position as an art director for an indie publishing company.

My perception did open up a bit right away as I began matching artists to upcoming projects.  Initially I had imagined that I would try and just hire my favorite painters as often as I could get away with, but I realized pretty soon that they often were not really right for whatever the next title on the list was.  The true lesson did not really land for a few months though. 

I won’t name names here, those involved will know, but I had a cover on the schedule which seemed to me an ideal fit for an artist who’s work I greatly admire.  On top of this, I was able to get the jacket design to be handled by a designer who I think is positively brilliant.  We didn’t have much budget so this was pretty exciting, particularly being that both were my first best choices for the job.  The author’s previous books (of a different publisher) had what I would only describe as a consistently dull, uninspired, generic look.  There was an exception that I found which was pretty good but was later told that the author had never much liked that cover.  But that is post script.  At the time of commissioning, I was excited to do something much more visually exciting, interesting, and dynamic which was also a perfect indication of the tone of the story.   No big type and stock photos, but a beautifully painted and designed cover with The Right People hired on to see it through.  When the work came in it was, in my opinion, everything that I’d hoped and expected.  Because I was working from Philly and the publisher was in San Francisco, our communication was all phone calls and emails but the editors seemed pleased and it was job well done.  Then, a bit down the road, the image released online that the authors fans began to comment.  The fans were not happy.  As more and more comments accumulated, the tone grew progressively more blunt and then progressively more offensive.  Of course I stayed out of the discussion, but I read every single post.  I had a handful of tiny victories as an occasional reader would voice their approval, but overall it was very very bad.  At first I was annoyed and then I began to get really angry because the comments were getting rude and half of them didn’t even come close to describing what the cover actually looked like.  I hope with all of my heart that the artist never saw them (though I know the designer did).  Ridiculous critiques were given on technique, unfavorable comparisons were made to other artwork and styles which bore absolutely no resemblance, and in general it felt like they were all insane, small minded trolls.  And then I read one comment which made me completely re-evaluate how I have looked at commercially oriented creative work ever since.  This is not a direct quote, but it was along the lines of:

“I would be embarrassed to be seen reading this”

And first of all, fuck you.  But second of all, ohhhhhhhhhhh.  The clouds parted and I really, deep down in me, understood the importance of all of the different disciplines of illustration.  All the many flavors.  Those boring covers in this author’s back catalog were the sort of covers that the bulk (or at least the vocal contingent) of the authors readers really enjoyed and felt comfortable with.  I would never in my life have wanted to art direct a cover like those until I understood the purpose which it served.  It wasn’t lazy.  It wasn’t because of budget constraints.  It wasn’t even because the publisher had no interest in art.  It was because the people they were marketing to liked it.  They saw something in it which they genuinely responded to and that helped them buy those books.

After this, I began understanding all kinds of illustration styles which I’d previously written off (mostly anything that wasn’t painted realism) and, even more than that, beginning to see their value in the industry.  I was beginning to see their quality as artistic expression.  In some cases, I was even beginning to see their genius.  Art is not Good because it took 200 hours to execute.  Art is Good because it makes a connection with its audience.  And if people are connecting to art and you think it sucks, the odds are pretty good that it just was not created for you.  Get over yourself.

There are still many schools of painting which I have difficulty connecting to.  When I visit museums, I know where I will spend most of my time and where I will likely skip when my feet get tired.  I’m ok with that because it is unreasonable for a person to genuinely enjoy everything.  I do my best to understand and not to dismiss, I look for the entry point so that I can find my own connection if it exists, but I save my enthusiasm for the work that I am passionately head over heels for.  It is a mistake to confuse taste with quality.  The world doesn’t need more small minded haters, it needs enthusiasts who can accept that the whole of art was not created for their benefit.  So the next time we feel the urge to point out how something popular is really just crap, we should have a discussion and try to learn something instead.  Or, failing that, do something useful with our energy like enjoying and supporting the work that we love and leaving others to theirs.

Friday, August 29, 2014

The Wrong Track that Leads to the Right

by Greg Ruth

I was approached by Irene Gallo to do a piece for's WHERE THE TRAINS TURN by Pasi Ilmari Jaaskelainen, and as typical to my previous efforts, (and despite my swearings to be cured of this method) I ended up doing two. Overall I have always railed against this double work as a poor and time consuming way forward. "Why not just thumbnail it first, you dolt?" is the usual refrain when it comes to confessing this as a recurring event. And I thought for a while that it was true. That my impatience to get right to the piece itself was causing this. But as it turns out, this is not the case. So, I have decided to hug this as a legitimate part of the process, and celebrate its necessity rather than try and undo it. So, in full confession mode, here's the deal as representative of deals to come and deals long past, and why it's maybe not such a bad thing.

TRAINS thumbnail
So since this was assignment was also coupled with a second piece for another Cabal installment, and we were in the height and heat of vacation time, I thought sketching an initial notion out would be the best way to make sure I wasn't entirely lost. Really this is the normal way of things, but for Irene and myself, it stood in for my usual approach to either provide a written concept before charging into the final, or simple just going whole hog into the endgame. Sometimes this nailed it right off the bat, other times... well it just didn't. 

Having come back from Maine where I did a series of Panetoid photographs, I was energized to bring this new series into the piece. It all made sense thematically, it seemed right, even the sketch seemed to confirm we had a good way to go. Easy, right? 

TRAINS first attempt final drawing
Sadly... no. I ended up executing the drawing as sketched- and as you can see it was entirely close to the proposed notion. By every measure this should have been a mechanical process locked and on it sway. It was just about doing it right and I quite liked this as a piece. However... there was something not entirely right about it. The composition I liked, the approach to do something very a-tonal was on track... but nevertheless, it wasn't working. Looking at it now I can see the focus was wrong. The drawing is well done I suppose, but what was it representing other than my pre-ordained desire to bring those spherical planetoid images into a project? So much of this story is about the boy's direct experience and fear of the trains that he was certain sought to jump their tracks solely to chase him down. That sense of the story was missing completely here as was any sense of character. This is a fine piece of drawing, but a book cover can't just be whatever we want to draw- it has a function to fulfill: it must grab the reader's attention, be of and about the story without spoiling it. Covers are the frontal face of any narrative, and this first impression is essential. While at the time I didn't know why, I did know it wasn't working... so began to wonder what else to do. I stepped away from it for a day or so and let it sit, when of course as usual a new direction came to me late int he middle of the night. I emailed Irene right away before she even had a chance to chime in on this one, warning her off doing so in lieu of this new direction I was certain she'd also prefer. Stay tuned I said with all the false confidence I could muster. 

Final orignal graphite drawing 
So confident was I in this new approach I jumped full bore into it. Now for the record, these types of graphite drawings are extremely tedious and slower to execute than my usual ink and brush style. And jeez louise... what a self  wounding fool I was to surround this floor of the scene with pebble dash. It literally took me as long to draw all those little rocks, and shade them correctly, as it took to draft the entire rest of the piece. But, I was confident this would work, and never for a moment thought otherwise. The train that was the spooky forest, the moon for its headlight, the boy frightened and hiding on the track, the centralized composition... it had all the singular earmarks of a good and proper cover image. I wanted to make sure that while I intended to add a bit of color to the final piece, I was committed to make the original drawing as fully rendered as possible, if not entirely. This meant making my brain doing a few pretzel twists to provide the illusory sense of space int he woods and keep to the identifiable form of the train itself, and getting the lightening and chiaroscuro right meant really taking it slow. One of the side benefits was finding that in order to exact the right level of darkness where needed, I had to dig my Blackwing Palomino deep into the thick of the paper, causing small grooves and textures to form. Which of course was a total delight, and I think brings a pressure-printed quality to the original piece as a result. Making the graphite or ink do things it's not supposed to do is my latest endeavor, and this struck that bell perfectly.

FINAL cover with title treatment
 And so it ended up being even more than I had hoped. This moment is something I find rarely occurs with a single image piece like this, and is usually reserved for my comics work. With comics there's a built in tipping point when all the images are put together and connected with the words or narrative. I never really know what or how the page may work until I see it working, or not. When it does though it's a sheer delight, as if someone else had done it for me and I get to see it for the first time. Single image work like this just lacks the mechanical complexity to bring this moment out regularly, but when it does, it's pure magic. The sense of space, the setting of the train and woods and most especially making sure to get the boy's fretful expression correct was the axis upon which this whole thing spun, and it came off nicely. To me the moment I can look at an appreciate a piece of work as if I were an outsider is a rarely achieved goal. But when it happens, I can see the thing objectively and without ego.

And here's the thing I discovered at the end: I couldn't have made this piece, without having also fully executed the former go at it. The certainty and wisdom gained from doing it wrong the first time is entirely what informed this final far more successful piece. Recognizing that sometimes, and in my case apparently all the time, the need to get lost in order to find the way home is the most important take away from all of this. That all failures contain a solution within them is a lesson well learned from this. Also trusting the gut of experience doesn't hurt either. I can now look back on the original effort and dissect why it wasn't working, but at the time I couldn't at all. It simply just felt wrong, and trusting that was the smartest thing I could have done. And I now have two drawings where I would normally have one. At the end of the day, the struggle to get there fades and your just left with what you did or didn't do. Way I see it I got a bonus piece out of this, and a reconciling with my nature I couldn't have otherwise achieved. I'm better at what I do and can do for the next job as a result, and by working the previously erroneous method as a vital part of the whole process means I'll know hoe to make time for that in the future. We as a species have a total inability to learn from our successes. Our mistakes thought, are an orchestra of learning. Whether it's a holdover of our survival instincts going back to our monkey times, I can't say. Somethings are best left as mysteries, even though they are as tangible and valid as any lesson learned.

Thursday, August 28, 2014


Cover of Spectrum 21 by Rebecca Guay
by Donato

This past month has seen quite a few announcements come across my desk for competitions to enter artwork within and share what we do with a broader audience.  Most of these competitions require a fee to enter and offer no guarantee of inclusion, even if you spend hundreds of dollars on submissions.  Thus at first glance the decision is easy, why spend money on a chance to advertise when we can take that cash and turn it into a definite form of outreach.  Why go through the headaches of filling out forms and preparing images with arcane submission guidelines and forms and uploading our jpgs with our last_name_first_firstnamelast_title_yearcreated_dropline_not-dash-size-birthdate-creditcardinfo-750pixelswideby800pixelstall.jpg.tif.RGB.CMYK_ARGH!!

Yes, I am put off by some requirements as well!  But, there are many major benefits that competitions bestow upon us even if we never get in.  While at FantasyCon in Salt Lake City this past July, a panel of professional artists touched upon this topic, and I was able to clarify both to the audience and myself why entering competitions has been so beneficial in my career.

Here a few of these thoughts:

1.  Money very well spent.  The relatively low cost to many of these competitions may expose your work to a much larger and diversified audience than what you could have ever pulled off with a similar level of cash outlay.  A basic fee of $20-$30 per image means you may reach 10,000+ viewers.  If you tried that with postcards, the mailing alone would reach $5,000 (mostly postage).  You could of course stay digital, but even emailing 10,000+ individuals effectively would cost you hours upon hours of labor better spent in the service of your studio and art.  In the end the labor costs alone make competitions a great bargain.

2.  You commit to yourself.  I believe one of the greatest benefits to entering work occurs just before you hit the send button or mail out the envelope...that you make a commitment to an image or set of images that represents who you are as an artist and will reflect work in a style or kind which you would like to potentially be commissioned again for in the future.  By preparing work for an entry,  you first need to commit to finishing that piece you've been dying to show off.  Then you have to polish it so that it displays your abilities to their present best.  Which brings up the third reason:

3.  You meet a serious deadline.  Yes we all would like another week or two to make it perfect, but by committing to a competition, you have to send in that art as is and learn to live with all the little mistakes you know are there, but which we see as just a part of your technique.  The more often you make these kinds of commitments, the more confident you become in your decision making process, technical skills, and time management. This allows you to move forward with each project more confidently and speedily, leading to the fourth issue:

4.  You become more prolific.  As you enter more competitions, and meet more deadlines, you will be inspired and confident to produce work which you want to have seen by that larger audience.   This also leads to creating more art of the type you wish to have in your portfolio. Speaking of portfolios, the fifth issue:

5.  You assess the art in your portfolio.  This to me was the greatest benefit I received from entering competitions like Spectrum, the Society of Illustrators, and Communication Arts in the early years of my career.  In the process of deciding what to submit, I was forced to spread out all the art I had created in the past year, the good and the bad, rushed and the slow, inspired and the hated.  There it all was, the productivity of my career as an artist, the results of my passion for art making. And early on I realized most of that art was not me.  It was not reflective of the images I wished I could create, nor knew I had the ability to create.

The greatest benefit in entering was that I had to come to terms with the art I had just produced, which then redirected my future commissions into those forms and types of images which I wanted to create.  I began to become more assertive with my clients and more passionate about projects, pushing my labor and commitments far beyond the expectations of my clients'.  Pay was not an issue on many of these.  My goal was to create images I hoped would make it into exhibitions, be seen by other professionals, and would be the art I wanted to known for and in the end become the art that I would receive future commissions based upon.

Oh, and that last reason you enter competitions:

6.  You get in and get seen.

Some of the forth coming competitions you may wish to enter.  These are a small sample to consider, pending style and genres you feel your art fits within:

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

John Cleese

-By Jesper Ejsing

I recently stumbled on this old lecture or talk, if you want, by John Cleese. He clarifies something I had a vague idea of: That my studio space is extremely important. I think most of us, who paint or draw, realize how fast we get into the right mood by simply showing up at the same spot or table over and over, day after day. When you are all of a sudden forced to draw something out of your everyday environment, lets say at a convention or at the kitchen table or, God forbid, out in nature, it seems harder and strangely off.

John talks about the open and closed mode and how important it is to set a place for yourself in which you can be creative. His talk also very precisely explain to me, why I have a hard time painting great paintings under pressure or stress. Please take the half an hour it takes to listen to mr. Cleese, and I promise you will look different on the way you work after. Or you´ll be self secured in that what you doing is right; win win... Creativity

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Charlie Hardin

-By Dan dos Santos

Here's a piece I did not too long ago, for a book called "Charlie Hardin'. It's written by esteemed SF author, Dean Ing, and is semi-autobiographical. It tells the story of a young boy growing up in Texas post WWII.

The painting itself is a little unusual for me. I painted it much larger and looser than I normally do, and also painted it on canvas (which lends itself well to both large and loose paintings).

Above are some alternate concepts. You can see how all of my concepts revolved around the sense of a vast sky. Even early on, I felt it was prudent to explore the way type treatment affected it.

Aside from being a strong compositional element, the moon was intended as a nod to the Science Fiction books the author would later grow up to write.

I will be displaying this painting, along with several other originals, this weekend at Dragon Con. Come visit me in the Art Show Room. I will have Originals, giclees, posters, books and DVDs.

Monday, August 25, 2014


by Arnie Fenner

I'm working on another slightly long-winded post and pesky old work has gotten in the way to keep me from finishing. So I thought I'd share this video compilation of influential VFX movies as something of a stall: we ran it earlier this year at Spectrum Fantastic Art Live 3 (yes, an announcement about #4 is forthcoming) as a warm up to the working-in-film panel with Wayne Barlowe, Allen Williams, Justin Sweet, Vance Kovacs, and Iain McCaig.

Iain particularly liked the idea of warming the audience up with all the sexy end-results before talking about the realities of the long hours, frustrations, and occasional heartbreak associated with working in the entertainment industry. (Yeah, it was a great panel.)

Anyway, enjoy.

Saturday, August 23, 2014


This video was filmed in real time, with the aid of face tracking and live projection. The results are pretty stunning and open up a whole world of creative potential.

Apparently, if you live in Japan, you can watch them do this in person at a live installation performance. More info on that HERE.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Giant Velles Protecting the Ancient Oak Tree

-By Petar Meseldzija 

Giant Velles Protecting the Ancient Oak Tree, 71X56 cm, oil on panel, 2014.

There is a sad story that goes with this painting. I don’t mean to say that the story of creation of this painting was a sad one. On the contrary, that story knows a happy ending- the artist and the client were happy (ever after) with the result.

I refer to the story that is told by the painting itself. As you might expect, I am not allowed to tell you that story now because it is meant to be published, together with this painting, in my upcoming book of giants early next year.

However, what I can, and should tell you is that the painting’s title is somewhat deceiving. Yes, the giant is trying to protect the mighty tree and save it from whatever this bunch of Viking-lumberjacks plan to do with it, but he is not a sentimental treehugger, nor is he concerned about the greenhouse effect and all the related consequences. His reasons for protecting this big tree are more of a serious emotional nature; this tree just happened to be in the center of the giant’s personal drama, not more and not less. It is rather distressing, and I would not be surprised if more sensitive and emotionally labile readers would shed a tear, or two, after reading about it.

Well, after saying so much, and yet revealing almost nothing, I believe I cannot leave you without some kind of tale that, in one or another way, can be connected to the main theme of my painting, which is (surprisingly) not the tree, but the nature of the giant’s attachment to it. Here is a short piece by J.R.R. Tolkien from his ‘Introductory Note’ to the original edition of Tree and Leaf.

“…The story* was not published until 1947 (Dublin Review). It has not been changed since it reached manuscript form, very swiftly, one day when I awoke with it already in mind. One of its sources was a great-limbed poplar tree that I could see even lying in bed. It was suddenly lopped and mutilated by its owner, I do not know why. It is cut down now, a less barbarous punishment for any crimes it may have been accused of, such as being large and alive. I do not think it had any friends, or any mourners except myself and a pair of owls.”

*Leaf by Niggle

Thursday, August 21, 2014

If You Don't Have Haters, You're Doing It Wrong

-By Lauren Panepinto

In general, I am a technology optimist. I believe the internet is an amazing thing. I truly believe the more connected world today is a more welcoming place for artists, with more opportunities to show your art, break through to a professional career, and to make a living. I love seeing the inventive ways artists have learned to use social media to cut out the middlemen (pesky clients) and tap their fans directly, becoming artist-entrepreneurs. And don't even get me started on the new opportunities from Kickstarter and crowdfunding—that's worth at least a whole post on its own. 
I think the sociological implications of social media are really fascinating—human beings moving further and further towards harnessing the collective unconscious into an actual hive mind. I believe social media most often acts as a force for good—it connects people of like interests, it can make people isolated by geography or disability maintain strong social interactions, and it can very often be used for positive change in the world via awareness campaigns, fund-raising drives, etc.
Unfortunately there is one great evil of the internet, and it is haters. From the casual negative commenters on down to the lowest circle of hell where the true internet trolls reside, negativity on the internet can hurt, and unfortunately, as cyber-bullying has taught us, it can kill. And while I hope none of you reading this is an internet troll, I know each and every artist or creative person reading this has felt the sting of negative and/or nasty comments. They can steal our pride, rob our enthusiasm, and literally ruin a whole day. 

Britt Martin was inspired by all the recent internet troll articles to give us this
accurate portrait, thanks for letting me include it!

Before we get started, let's define terms. By negative comments I don't mean constructive criticism. That's a good thing. I don't even mean people pointing out something that seems wrong to them, or even that they just don't agree with what you're doing. By negative comments I mean nastiness, personal attacks, hating without a reason, and just general negativity.
I am in a position—as a woman, an artist, and an art director for a large and public company—that I am very much in the public eye. I have received more than my share of negativity on the internet. Some of it has been incredibly ignorant, and even violently personal. I've learned not only to not let it affect me, I've even learned to use it as fuel. Here's some lessons I've learned along the way:

1 — Don't Read the Comments
If there was a survival guide to the internet, this would be written in gold foil on the cover, a la "Don't Panic" on the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy. If you make anything and post it in a public place, do not read the comments until you have gotten to a stage where you are only reading them to laugh at them. This is hard, and takes years of practice. If you have not yet reached that Zen-master level of not-giving-a-sh*t-what-people-think and you are tempted to read the comments, read this instead: @avoidcomments, a hilarious twitter feed of all the reasons not to read the comments.
The only place it is safe to read the comments honestly, is here on Muddy Colors. It's the only public site I've ever seen where the comments aren't moderated, and yet they are also almost universally positive and thoughtful. It's a credit to Dan Dos Santos who runs this blog so seriously, but I wouldn't expect this level of positivity anywhere else. Also if trolls ever found us, I'd make it my personal mission to figure out who they were and make sure they never worked in SFF art again. Consider yourself warned.

2 — Negative Comments are Universal
The amount of negative comments is completely irrelevant and in no way relates to the quality of the work being commented upon. Check out this list of classic books and their inane comments.
Honestly the better a piece is, generally the nastier the comments are, and there's a simple reason: jealousy. Leaving a nasty comment makes a troll feel a little bit better about their own insecurities, but it's an empty victory. They can't make something as good, all they can do is lob spitballs at it and hope some stick.

3 — Don't Feed the Trolls
Before I started at Orbit, I was designing non-genre bookcovers for Doubleday. Some fiction, some non-fiction, all kinds of books. In that world, you really only hear feedback from your coworkers during the process—which, although hard to take sometimes, is at least being delivered by professionals, and delivered entirely to your face. You may not agree with the feedback, but you can at least respect it. Once I started at Orbit, I found that every cover I released was a free-for-all for commenting on the internet. I didn't have as much of a problem with the plain old "I hate this cover" and "This is the worst possible cover and the designer should be shot" it was the completely ignorant comments that drove me insane. It was the comments like "They only use photography because it's cheaper" and "That cover is a ripoff of X" (where my cover clearly came out first). 
I wanted to sign onto every blog and argue each and every idiot to prove to them that I was right and they didn't know what they were talking about. But you know what, it doesn't work. All it does it fuel the fire. Trolls don't leave nasty comments to be right, they leave nasty comments to upset you — and if you answer, they win. Read this account of a former internet troll, and see what the psychology is behind trolling. And then stop reading the comments already. Really.

4 — The 10 to 1 Rule
There are some universal laws of the internet and I'm sure it's been scientifically proven: People are 10 times more likely to leave a negative comment than a positive one. Thus, one positive comment = 10 negative comments. Honestly, I think it's closer to 20 to 1.
This is where the ugly side of human nature collides with our inherent laziness for maximum effect. Anger and hate is much more casually motivating than empathy and encouragement. That's why it's so easy to fall prey to the Dark Side of the Force, duh. I believe goodness and honor win out in the long run, in the big battles, but if you're honest with yourself, you know you usually don't take the time to leave a positive comment every time you like something. It is much more likely that a person will leave a negative comment if they are angry than a positive comment if they are happy. So if you really must read the comments (really, you shouldn't) then at least use a factor of 10x to equalize the true worth of those positive comments.

5 — Negative Comments are Fuel for Your Fire
As this article says, If you aren't pissing someone off, you're probably not doing anything important. Once your thick skin is grown, and your confidence has grown iron-clad, then you are ready to not only read the comments, but to see your negative comments as a badge of honor. Let the negativity grow your self-confidence instead of eroding it. Your critics aren't the ones who matter.
Negative comments are often a signpost showing you that you're pointing in the right direction. People are angry about what you're doing. People are scared of what you're doing. People are jealous of what you're doing. Keep doing it.

6 — Your Weapon is Laughter
Trolls are sad. People who exist only to tear down others deserve our pity, and that's the only emotion they should be getting from us. As I said above, we need to see hating as fuel. But let's be realistic, that's a really hard attitude to maintain. We all slip. And here's a confession: It's when I'm feeling the most insecure that I DO read my comments, and start letting those comments reinforce that insecurity. Hey, nobody's perfect. When you slip, you have to remind yourself how ridiculous these comments really are. And how ridiculous you are being for letting some anonymous stranger dictate your self-worth. 

Maybe you should read your comments out loud. I always find a dramatic reading makes things better:

Or you can sing this song every time you read a negative comment:

So go forth! Post things on the internet without fear of what the trolls think, or say! And if you can't yet rise to the point that you can thank your haters, at least ignore them!

And I wasn't kidding about trolling on Muddy Colors. I have hacker friends. I will figure out who you are, and I will wait until you are in a portfolio review with me at Illuxcon to tell you I know. Heh heh.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Rise As One, Conclusion

Greg Manchess

No Man's Land Christmas morning, 1914, after being cleared by German and British soldiers

Finishing the Rise As One series of paintings for Tarras Productions and Budweiser.

Friday afternoon, March 28, while finishing the second set of eight pieces and working the next four, the photographer was in the middle of shooting the paintings when he had a family medical emergency and had to leave immediately.

I finally had to tell the AD there’d be a delay. What’s more, I managed to paint the wrong style of helmet on all the Germans. (They hadn’t changed from the spike helmets until early 1915, after noticing that British sharpshooters could use the spike as a handy target.)

Surprisingly, the art director was calm. He said he thought it would be ok, if I could paint a couple of spiked helmets in one or two of the final pieces. No problem.

Clearly, Fedex was not an option now. And while working out the timing, trying to get a different courier based in New York to make a special overnight weekend pickup on Sunday in Oregon, the AD mentioned that it should all be fine once Gamma One “stretches the canvases.”

“Hold on--Gamma One does photography. They don’t stretch the canvas, they just print it. You need a framer for that.”

“We don’t have time to find a framer.”

Lt. Zemisch oversees the burial of so many soldiers

Again, thinking on my much sore feet by now, I told them, “I know a guy. I’ll get back to you.” The ‘guy’ is my cousin, Adam Carlson, an up-and-coming illustrator, who came to my rescue by saying, “I’ll get that done. Keep painting.”

Christmas morning, both sides face each other without weapons

Adam took over as My Man in New York. He went to the agency to get all the specs for the canvas sizes and raced all over finding stretcher bars to fit. He’d been able to stretch the first few paintings by Friday night.

By Saturday night I had to complete several paintings, as my photographer was still at the hospital all day, but agreed to shoot and print the rest on Monday. And in preparing one canvas, I had miscalculated the size and made it too big. It had the most figures in it, too. That cost me time. It would be really close.

Officers and enlisted meet in No Man's Land, shake hands and share cigarettes, cigars, and chocolates

But by late that night, I managed to complete the last of 20 paintings and just needed the final one to dry by Sunday morning.

It hadn’t. Using wax paper to protect that piece, I rolled the last four paintings of the first twenty tightly into a tube so they wouldn’t move and smear the paint. I had it ready when the courier arrived, on time, 11:45 am Sunday morning.

One of the soldiers brought a football

On Monday, March 31st, the package was delivered door-to-door at Gamma One. After the photographer whipped through the shots and finished printing to canvas, Adam picked them up and shuttled them out to his apartment via cab. He managed to just finish stretching them by Monday evening when a car from the agency showed up to take them to the set, ready for a dawn shoot on Tuesday.

We’d made it, all of us. Only thing for me now was to finish the final four pieces of the entire project. By this time, I’d hit the most critical deadline which was to have as many images ready for the gallery shoot as possible. Twenty paintings in sixteen days. Insanity.

Much laughter ensues while the two sides tell stories and relax over a game of football...Lt. Zemisch joins in

The AD said I could take some time to finish the very last pieces as they’d have a little room to weave those into the film. I finished them over the next week.

I have to say, through it all, everyone at Tarras Productions was helpful, professional, and cool as cucumbers when it came to any sort of problem for the shoot. It felt like we worked well together, even though it may have sounded differently here. I'd work with them again in a heartbeat.

The events I wrote about here show what was going on behind-the-scenes in my studio. While everything nearly unraveled, I couldn't allow my client to see that. No matter what was going on. The professional face is it's own reward when you're on the edge.

Of course, I was exhausted. I’d run around the studio in different coats and helmets, shooting reference, sketching directly onto the canvases, composing as I went, and changing my face dozens of times. I’d weathered lost packages, equipment failure, distractions, and surprises, to complete the project.

It’s as if the universe knows when you need some obstacles in the way. It doesn’t like things moving smoothly. Something about building character, I suppose.

Would I do it all again if another cool project came up?

Umm...”I’ll get back to you.”

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

The Canyon Cat and a Trip Out West

By Justin Gerard

AWOL 2014 : The Canyon Cat
12" x 16"
Oil on panel and Digital

Detail Close-up

Ye Oldte Colour Comp

Earlier this summer Annie and I did a whirlwind tour of southern Utah, which I think has some of the absolute best national parks in America. (They're worth it! Go!)

Often after trips like this I come back and want to do something to try and capture the wonder I felt while I was there.  It rarely ever works out, and often, like the photos you took out there, rarely captures how compelling the whole experience was. 

This is one of those paintings that doesn't operate on a narrative like much of my other work; instead it is a collection of the leftover feelings and impressions of the place.

These images are often really hard for me to explain.
Then again, maybe they don't need much explanation because they are images, and after all they deal in matters that words can't adequately describe, and that's why we tried to communicate them in a picture.

We saw jackrabbits one night. They fled into the brush upon seeing our bright yellow headlights. From the canyon's edge we watched a lightning storm gather in the moonlight. We drove through the desert all night in the starlight.  And somehow I ended up here.

Bryce Canyon 2014

Bonus Post: Annie was also inspired by the adventure. Check out her post here!  

Monday, August 18, 2014

Hugo and Chesley Winners

This past weekend was LonCon 3, the host of this year's World Con, and with it, the Hugo and Chesley Awards.

Muddy Colors would like to take a moment to congratulate all who were nominated, and an extra special congratulations to this year's winners.

First, the 2014 Chesley Award Winners...

Best Cover Illustration: Hardback Book
Todd Lockwood 
A Natural History of Dragons by Marie Brennan; Tor, Feb. 2013

Best Cover Illustration: Paperback Book
Kerem Beyit 
The Scroll of Years by Chris Willrich; Pyr, Sept. 2013

Best Cover Illustration: Magazine
Dan Dos Santos
 Fables #136 Vertigo, Dec. 2013

Best Interior Illustration
Brian Kesinger 
Walking Your Octopus, July 2013; Baby Tattoo Books

Best Three-Dimensional Art
Devon Dorrity
Cecaelia, Queen of the Ocean, clay

Best Unpublished: Color Work
Donato Giancola
 Huor and Hurin Approaching Gondolin, oil on linen

Best Unpublished: Monochrome Work
Ruth Sanderson
 The Descent or Persephone, scratchboard

Best Product Illustration
Julie Bell & Boris Vallejo
 Jeannie's Kitten, IlluXCon 6 promotional art

Best Gaming-Related Illustration
Lucas Graciano
The Last Stand of Thorin Oakenshield for The Battle of Five Armies Board Game; Ares Games

Best Art Director
Irene Gallo
Tor &

Lifetime Artistic Achievement Award
Jim Burns

And the Hugo Awards went to...

Best Professional Artist:
Julie Dillon

Best Fan Artist:
Sarah Webb