New Blood

Aug. 18th, 2017 02:00 am
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Posted by Howard Lyon

by Howard Lyon

New Blood sounds like it could be the title of a WB show where a clique of teenage vampires looks for new and worthy recruits for their brood, all while dealing with unrequited love, math finals and looking fabulous. So I must apologize, because this post is about a new piece of art that I created for Magic: the Gathering Commander 2017.

Within the Magic: the Gathering universe, among the many worlds I think that Innistrad is my favorite. Any chance to paint something in that setting is a treat. Gothic spires and tri-corner hats with baroque sensibilities and dramatic lighting. Please sir, I'd like some more.

Mark Winters was the Art Director on this piece (thank you Mark!) and I jumped at the chance to revisit Innistrad.

The idea was to show the vampire Olivia Valderan stalking a victim. The hapless young man enjoys his drink, not knowing that he is being eyed by the powerful woman behind him. She gently raises her hand to his neck, hungrily eyeing his jugular. Good times were had by all.

The sketch


Painting steps


The final - Mark made the good call to crop in a little bit to bring more attention to Olivia's face and her hand on his neck.


Here is the final image on the card:



Thanks for taking a look! Come and join me on Instagram and Twitter to see various sketches and paintings in progress.

Howard

A Note on Confidence

Aug. 17th, 2017 02:00 am
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Posted by Lauren Panepinto

By Lauren Panepinto
  
It's funny how sometimes trends will happen in conversations, and I think it's the universe (or at least the Muse of Muddy Colors) trying to tell me what my next post should be. Recently I've been having a ton of conversations about confidence. People seem to think I am a confidence expert, and I think they assume my ability to be silly and geeky and loud and have green hair has to do with an abundance of confidence...when in reality they're mixing up the chicken and the egg a bit. The more weird shit I do, the more people love it and the more positive reinforcement for my decisions — that's what gives me the confidence to go do more weird shit like dye my hair and wear leggings and be walk into rooms full of strangers and get up an speak in front of heaps of people. But even more than the wins, it's the fails that reinforce my confidence, because nothing builds your confidence more than surviving something you were afraid of, and finding out it really wasn't that bad. You pick yourself up and keep going, even more secure inside.

By the way, this isn't the first column I've written on the topic, so definitely check out Confidence 101 in The Con(fidence) Game, then come on back.

In that article we talked about Imposter Syndrome, The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck, and Power Poses. Now we're going to fine-tune the conversation a bit.

When we talk about confidence, what we're really talking about is fear. What's the opposite of confidence? Insecurity. And all insecurity comes from fear—generally fear of rejection. Rejection sucks and feels horrible. There have been studies that prove being rejected actually physically hurts. And there's a reason for that. Back in the caveman days, when we were all huddled together in tribes,  we had to work together to stay safe and fed. If you got kicked out of the tribe's cave, it was a toss-up whether you were going to starve or become a sabertooth tiger snack first. Rejection equaled death, and rejection still feels, instinctively, like pain and dying.


But we are not cavemen anymore, and you are not going to die from rejection. Embarassment is not fatal, or none of us would have made it out of high school. Fear exists to warn of us risks. Your goal is actually not to never feel fear, but really to embrace fear and choose to do a thing anyway. That's risk-assessment. And that is the way to gain confidence.

So we fear rejection. That's evolutionarily valid. The fear is there to warn us of a possible risk. But we have to dial the fear back down to match the real-world risk. You shouldn't have getting-eaten-by -a-sabertooth-tiger-level fear for a situation where the worst thing that could happen to you is embarassment.

Confidence is not fearlessness. Confidence is acknowledging that you do feel fear, telling yourself that's a rational response to a scary situation, but then adjusting your response to the actual risks. It's saying I know there is a chance, at worst, that X might happen, but the payoff is probably going to be worth it. And if the worst thing happens, you know you'll be ok. It's saying I know the risks, but I'm going to do it anyway.

Confidence is also not arrogance — It's not I AM THE BEST HERE. It's I AM WORTHY OF BEING HERE. And that's a big difference.


Here's a list of things that people I've talked to lately have said they wished they had the confidence to do:

—The confidence to post sketches and process online, not just the perfect final image.
—The confidence to email art directors their work.
—The confidence to go to a networking event that you don't know anyone at.
—The confidence to go to a new convention.
—The confidence to ask an art director for a portfolio review.
—The confidence to start a big crowdfunding project.
—The confidence to walk up to a group of strangers and work your way into a conversation.

So, ask yourself...what's the worst case scenario? But also remember to think just as hard about the BEST case scenario, because it's at least as likely to happen, statistically. And is generally more likely to happen, in my personal experience:

—The confidence to post sketches and process online, not just the perfect final image.
Worst Case Scenario: people post mean comments about how your art sucks.
Likely Scenario: some friends will like it, no one will say anything bad, maybe some people will say something nice.
Best Case Scenario: It gets a bunch of shares and new followers and nice comments.

—The confidence to email art directors their work.
Worst Case Scenario: an AD will write back and say your work doesn't fit their needs, and ask to be taken off your list.
Likely Scenario: you will get no answer.
Best Case Scenario: An email hits an AD just at the right moment and you get a job out of it.

—The confidence to go to a networking event that you don't know anyone at.
Worst Case Scenario: You stand around awkwardly and don't talk to anyone.
Likely Scenario: You'll make some perfectly fine smalltalk, some awkward smalltalk, you'll make a new friend or two. No one remembers the awkward bits but you.
Best Case Scenario: You end up meeting some art friends, strengthen your peer network, and maybe meet someone that leads to being hired.

—The confidence to go to a new convention.
Worst Case Scenario: you hate it and people are creepy and you go home.
Likely Scenario: You'll meet a ton of new people, get a little tipsy in the hotel bar, and spend the rest of the year on social media keeping up with the new friends.
Best Case Scenario: You make a new art bestie or meet an AD that leads directly to a dream job.

—The confidence to ask an art director for a portfolio review.
Worst Case Scenario: they say they're too busy and walk away.
Likely Scenario: they'll give you a time to meet them later or they'll give you a business card and ask to email your portfolio to them.
Best Case Scenario: They say yes and you guys have a great in-depth review

—The confidence to start a big crowdfunding project.
Worst Case Scenario: it won't get backed.
Likely Scenario: it'll get backed and you'll have to spend way more time than you expected figuring out shipping to all your backers.
Best Case Scenario: It will get 500% backed and be a career launcher.

—The confidence to walk up to a group of strangers and work your way into a conversation.
Worst Case Scenario: everyone stares at you when you try to join the conversation, acts awkward and conversation dies until you leave the group.
Likely Scenario: the conversation will expand and you'll feel a little awkward at first, but settle down and have a nice conversation.
Best Case Scenario: You exchange info with the group, expanding your peer group, and maybe get a job out of it.



Look back up at all the worst case scenarios. Not such a big deal, right? You'd survive any of them and move on. In most cases the potential reward with beat the potential damage by multiple times over. 

And that's how you build confidence. You realize most things fall into the "likely" or "best" case scenarios, and you survive a few "worst" case scenarios and realize they're not actually so life-threatening. Keep flexing that confidence muscle, and after a while that insecurity voice inside you will slowly start to starve and lose volume. And poof, like magic, you too are a confident person, and people will talk about you in that wistful tone of "If I was as confident as you I could...X" and you'll smile and send them the link to this post.






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Posted by Gregory Manchess


--Greg Manchess

To pull a person into your image for the split-second opportunity you have to capture their attention, you need mad skills to do it. Skill is not automatic and must be learned. Learned through hard training.

And training takes focus.

My SmArt School online class starts up again this September 13th! For 15 weeks we are going to focus on just how that’s done. Over and over again, on each of your paintings, I will guide you to understand depth, value, contrast, line, overlapping, light, and lots more, including paint mixing, and application. Building an image a level at a time, working your way to the finish. With every piece.

I’m not talking about technique either. I’m talking about learning to use each of the principles above to build powerful composition, and composition, used well, will give you concept. Not the other way around.

That’s right. I doubt you’ve ever heard that before. Learn to design good concepts by understanding powerful composition first. In my class, over the course of the Autumn semester, you will learn more about composition than you even thought possible. It takes 100% focus, but the simple principles are easy to understand.

It’s just the massive dedication you might stumble over. But then, you knew that…right?

Join me this Fall and we’ll step our way through it together. We have a great time, and if you want more of an idea about my teaching, listen to what this student said about my class. (scroll down)

Find out how focused training can give you the skills to produce the paintings you want.

Toned Paper Drawings

Aug. 15th, 2017 05:00 am
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Posted by Cory Godbey

by Cory Godbey


As I've been working my way through my 2017 sketchbook, one facet I'm particularly excited to show is the toned paper and white charcoal drawings.

While I've been putting together yearly sketchbooks since 2008 it's only been since 2015 that I've included toned paper drawings and studies in those sketchbooks. Why only since 2015? I have no idea. I really should have been doing this all along because they are a joy to create.

They are relatively quick to do and when that white charcoal hits the paper they really come to life. 

One of these days I'll to do a post on the how and whys of creating annuals sketchbooks on a theme but until then here's a look at some of the finished toned paper drawings from my upcoming 2017 collection. If you're going to be in town for New York Comic-Con I hope you'll stop by and take a look! I'll be debuting the sketchbook and related work at the show in October.


If you, like me up until pretty recently, haven't gotten around to exploring what this medium has to offer, the materials list is nice and simple. Low stakes entry point, well worth experimenting.


I start most all my work with a brown Prismacolor Col-erase. From there I'll lightly work up the drawing switching back and forth between a BiC 0.5 and General's Kimberly 2B. For anything darker I'll go with a General's Kimberly 8B (or 4B). A blending stump can be useful for rendering. Lastly, the white charcoal.

As for paper I usually work with a Strathmore 400 series. I'm sure there are others but this one has always done the trick for me.

And here's a quick look at the progression:



I've found that doing these pieces are great for studies or just taking a thumbnail and working it up into a more respectable idea. This might sound simple and obvious but somehow or another it took me years to get around to putting any real time into the medium. Again, I say all this to say if you, like me until relatively recently, haven't given toned paper a shot, go for it. It's a delight.

These can make for great pieces for collectors and they lend a nice visual variety to a sketchbook.





2017 marks my tenth annual sketchbook. 

Over the last decade I've gone from collecting random drawings done throughout the year to creating an intentional series on theme. One of the major things I've learned in that time is that by creating a framework for yourself, by creating works on theme, you give yourself a world to explore. It's concentrated development. When you take one main idea, one theme, and turn it around in your mind you begin to uncover new possibilities and directions that you might not have thought of otherwise. 

I know that's been the case for me over the last ten year's worth of personal work and toned paper drawings have become an integral part in my creative process.

Arahbo, Roar of the World

Aug. 14th, 2017 08:24 am
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Posted by Ejsing

-By Jesper Ejsing


I love Magic the Gathering. I play with the cards every week, and the time I am not playing I am sorting out teh decks and try to come up with different new combos for playing. So I was extra thrilled when I got an assignment for a magic card for an upcoming Commander card. Commander is a special format within Magic and is my favourite format.

Mark Winters, my art director at Wizards, ask me to do a huge cat lord, an elephant size cat looking like a mix between a lion and a snow leapoard. He is roaring and surrounded by snow leopards in a snow canyon. “Great!”



I had a complete pure image in my head and sketched it out right away, loved it and submitted it for approval and got a green light a couple of days later.

And then I started looking at it... And my evil mind started to doubting it.

The sketch was too static. He looked moaning rather than roaring his pose was passive and the weight was weak and he was looking away from the camerea. “This is a Commander, Jesper. You cannot let this weak illustration be the Commander”, I said to myself, and started all over again. But I couldn’t go completely back to scratch, I had approval, so I needed to stay within the same angle, zoom and so on. But I could make a better Lion. I changed its face and posture. I raised him up so that he was rearing back, as if in a mid jump, roaring and showing teeth. I gave him horns, one broken to show how old he was. I even sketched in an ethereal glowing crown hovering above his head, but abandoned the idea because it would collide with my plans for the lightsource.


I was super happy with the new drawing and started painting a color comp. I tried 2 version. My ususal purple and blue, and a bluishgreen with a hint of warm brownish. I knew I would like to paint the purple one, but the card was a Green/White card and the second rough would do that way more justice. So I chose the more difficult one.


I painted it and sent it to Mark.


When I got the mail asking for some minor revisions my heart sank. First off, the horns was making him look too much like a demonic creature. “ Argghhh, Jesper. You should have known, he is right”, I cursed at myself. And painted away the horns. The second revision was harder. Mark was really liking the more stoic lion from my first sketch, and he asked if I could put his lifted foot down to make him less attacking and more regal? “I know, Mark” Palm to forehead. “ I went to far from the first sketch. Actually I looked at the old one again and found that what I liked about it in the first place was the regal pose…

I sucked up my nervousness, tightend the belt and painted the whole leg away. Mind you, this is acrylic paint on top of a complete final painting. Lets just say I held my breath a lot. I repainted a new leg pulled in under him a bit, added a cliff and some rock to rest on, and painted some the leopards in the background so they would match the new leg. Also; after I removed the horns the weight of the movement of the whole body seemed a bit shifted, so I removed a couple of fur strands. I am super happy with the final result. And a bit embarressed that I had to go through so many changes of heart. But it was mainly because I was nervous of not doing a great job.
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Posted by Arnie Fenner

-By Arnie Fenner


I think a simple truism about being an artist is that, regardless of stature or status, regardless of the number of years spent sitting at the table, easel, or monitor, regardless of degrees from universities or from the School of Hard Knocks...you're always something of a student. And always will be.

As an artist, you're never (or should never be) entirely satisfied with "where you're at" and, essentially, are always practicing—striving—to get better at the craft. Every doodle, every scribble or sketch is part of the process, part of being an artist. It doesn't stop: you're always experimenting and exploring and observing and thinking. You're always trying to learn or master techniques; you're always studying color and composition and light and gestures and character and, above all, anatomy. Regardless of personal style or career direction, the ability to draw a convincing human figure is truly the core of being an artist. Continuing to practice at it helps artists maintain their visual and spatial abilities: it's almost a form of calisthenics of skills. Every time the model moves their arm or tilts their head, every time they change their pose, there is something new to see, to understand, and to learn.

And, because drawing the figure is fundamental, successfully communicating with and connecting to an audience as a creator—whether the approach is realistic, distorted, cartoonish, or abstract, whether the subjects are people or animals or monsters or landscapes—rests firmly on that foundation. It is the beginning for anything you want to do artistically. As Donato said in his post last year on MC, "I find that life drawing is an important way to reconnect with the main subject in much of my work, that of the human figure. The varied forms of expression and the enlightened discovers which occur while drawing helps to fuel my imagination and inform my eye as to what is possible for shape design within characters."


Above: A figure drawing by Andrew Loomis.


Above left: A late-1950s drawing by Frank Frazetta. Above right: Drawing by Willy Pogany.

A highlight of Spectrum Fantastic Art Live has been the late-night figure drawing party (with several nude models) generously sponsored by Kansas City's The Illustration Academy. Even with pizza (graciously provided by the Aladdin Hotel) and a cash bar, it is a surprisingly serious party; there's relatively little chatter and what there is tends to be in whispers. The focus is on drawing, on getting the most out of the opportunity. I've heard that some have been somewhat intimidated by the intensity of the room, but I've also heard that others were absolutely giddy to be sitting and sketching next to—and getting feedback from—Justin Sweet or Donato or Iain McCaig or Android Jones or Mark English.


Above: John English conducting a figure drawing class during The
Illustration Academy's 2017 Summer Workshop. Photo by Timmy Trabon.



Starting clockwise above left: George Pratt, Bill Sienkiewicz, Mark English, Jeffrey Alan Love.
Figure drawing classes, led and critiqued by the teachers, are an important part of
The Illustration Academy's annual workshops. At the conclusion, the instructors' originals
(like the samples shown above) are given to the students via a raffle. 

Drawing from life whenever possible should be high on any artist's list—and, of course, the knowledge obtained through the process is applicable to everything you do, whether you work digitally or in traditional media. I talk often about The Illustration Academy because I know them well (they're local, after all), respect the hell out of what they do, have had the opportunity to sit in on their workshops, and have spent time with their instructors over the years. They're devoted to not only helping artists improve their skills but also in helping them achieve their professional goals. Besides actively emphasizing figure drawing in their curriculum—and hosting drawing events as they have at SFAL as a part of their outreach mission—the Academy hires models and sponsors semi-regular sessions open to all artists at the Interurban Art House (in one of KC's suburbs) throughout the year. Watching IA's Facebook page is a good way for people to stay abreast of dates. Naturally, there are similar gatherings all over (like the Sketch Nights at the Society of Illustrators in New York every Tuesday and Thursday) and it shouldn't be a surprise that I encourage everyone to take advantage of these opportunities whenever and wherever they're offered. (The social and networking aspects of such gatherings are extremely important to career growth as well.)


Above: George Pratt (on the right) oversees the give-away of the instructors'
figure drawings to students. As an aside, let me talk about George for a moment:
A renowned comics artist, illustrator, and Fine Artist, his graphic novel
Enemy Ace: War Idyl has been translated into nine languages and for a time was
required reading at West Point. Besides teaching at the Illustration Academy,
George has taught at Pratt and the SVA and is currently an instructor at the Ringling College
of Art and Design. The IA's Summer Workshop lasts five weeks (students can sign up for
one or all) and features a different group of instructors each week: George and John English
teach during all five. And, yes, there are on-line classes available, too. Anyway, readers
can learn a bit more about The Illustration Academy and other great workshop
opportunities in my "Summer School" post some weeks back.

Depending on location, finances, or other circumstances, I know it can be difficult-to-impossible for some to take part in a figure drawing get-together...but that doesn't mean you can't still practice. Use family members or friends as models and if even that doesn't work out, you might recall that I've previously pointed out various video resources via YouTube that you can use at your own time, pace, and convenience. Like this:


Jon Foster says, "Students will ask me, 'When do I know it all? When does it get easier?' And I tell them: Never. It never gets easier. You have to work to make a career and work to maintain it."

So the Word of the Day is...well, the same as it is everyday: Draw! Or better, the three Words of the Day are: Draw The Figure!

The Art of Motion

Aug. 12th, 2017 06:00 am
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Posted by Ron Lemen

-By Ron Lemen


Motion and sound are very difficult to paint, which is why I think I am so drawn to them.  I'm not saying that I do not enjoy painting "easy" subject matter, whatever that means, but rather, I like as difficult a challenge as possible, something that wakes up every corner of the creative space in the brain, tempts and challenges everything you know and understand, and then letting it all go and allow mishaps, mistakes, other means of guidance to intervene where normally we would never allow ourselves to do such things.

A few big influences on me artistically came from all the cool magazines my grandparents had lying around the house.  Popular Mechanics, Popular Science, National Geographic, Road and Track are the first that come to mind, especially Road and Track for all the amazing car art that I remember staring at for hours.  I was in awe of how someone could "paint" something to look like it was in motion, and also make it look so real.

As I start to push my imagery towards the problem solving of sound and motion, I look more and more to my collection of favorites from the magazines.  What I take away from this group of artists is a bit more abstract than straight forward, I think their art will speak more efficiently than any words I could assemble together in attempt to describe what it is they have done for me.

Keep in mind that when I found these artists in my youth, they were a different form of inspiration and of spirit than when I found them later on in my "career" when I was actually in need of their expertise.  Regardless, what I have taken away from them in whatever stage of my intellectual or technical growth has been forever beneficial to how I think about and stage motion and movement in my work, albeit, what I still have struggle with is to achieve exactly how I feel about what I see in my mind.

To help me combat this mental battle I have a few artists I fall back upon to help reinforce the objectives I hope to achieve in my work as successfully as they did in theirs.   Here are many of my favorites that help influence my approach to the way I tackle such abstract subject matter.  You don't have to like automotive art much to appreciate the amazing things these artists have done to try and trigger the other senses in our heads when we look at and experience the art they have created.  Here are a few of my go to artists for this needed inspiration.



At the top of this list for me is Dexter Brown.  This artist pushed the limits of motion in painting, stretching rendering, abstraction, graphic design, and color to the limits.  Here is a few of his tricks I have noted from studying his work as much as I have.   He uses the diagonal, a design element the old masters found worked well to convey something in motion.  Within the diagonal striping he also breaks up the space with pattern, very well controlled pattern.  Within those patterns he controls the color depth by systematically stepping down the chroma and the hues used to create a visual motion much like a color wheel gives our eyes.

In his book there are many examples of his sketches prior to the completed canvases which in my opinion are far superior to the finished works just out of the innocence of what he is designing and his brave mark making that has no preliminary drawing to fill in the way the finishes are developed.










William Motta was the art director for Road and Track, and a very good artist.  While he did not always test the boundaries of motion, he certainly created excitement in his pieces with his textures,  his slick design sense, and his fantastic placement of color.  I tried to find a few pieces of his that show motion but like many of these artists, the internet was not around during the height of his career so the only places where any body of work can be seen is from the galleries that collect his work or fans that have set up fan site pages so I could only find a few.  But I included several other images to show his design sense and his virtuoso use of color.

I love the psychadelic waves in this piece.








Walter Gotchske was the go to artist for Porsche during the mid 20th century.  He painted elegant stand alone pieces for their catalogs, as well as painting these amazing racing images, pushing gouache to its limit with all the complex variations of motion he experimented with.








Alfredo de la Maria is a fantastic painter, pushing sunlight to its limit with his oil pigments.  He is also extremely good at creating what look like the after effects of motion photography, and giving the designs he uses for that motion amazing personality and vivacity.









Juan Carlos Ferrigno was also amazing at painting motion.  Many of his pieces are cropped in very close to the vehicles, but even so, his use of pigment and the brush strokes he commands really gives a sense of movement to the subject matter.







Also to mention but not at the top of my list are George Bartell, Gordon Crosby, and Michael Turner are all also good at painting movement, but I find more of their works to be decorative than kinetic.  George Bartell in my opinion is better at figurative movement than when he paints vehicles in motion, but still very influential in that subject matter.



George Bartell







Gordon Crosby









Michael Turner





As much as I like these last few artists, I have learned from my favorites that sacrifice is a necessity and that rendering is less of the objective and concept is far more important.  Manipulating the materials and finding the strengths of each of them is also important when searching for these abstractions.

Many of these artists can be found in this book that is long out of print but can still be found on Amazon or elsewhere on the internet.  In it are also included 4 Berkeys that are almost worth the purchase of the book to acquire.  Although the art is older art, it is a fantastic source of inspiration for painters, especially tech painters.  I hope you find this art inspiring to your art whatever the subject matter might be.

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Posted by Greg Ruth

by 
Greg Ruth
Author portrait for MEADOWLARK
Art Directors are usually always people, and as such they vary wildly as people do, and succeed and fail as people do. Like many artists some are right and great for their jobs and sometimes also, not so much. You never really know what you're going to get with a newly met Art Director/Editor (as sometimes they are one in the same or the editor takes on this role depending on a number of factors), but there are telltale signs early on to help you properly grok who or what you are in for going forward. There's a lot of ways a project can go south, some are via outside sources far beyond anyone's control, but a lot of the time these relationships go sour because of poor communication, egos run amok, or simply because one of you is bad at their job. I've had far more successes than failures and made deep lasting friendships with Art Directors I love like family, so below is a guide to navigating this part of our business in a way that serves the only real purpose that matters: making good work that helps the project achieve it's best possible success. Ready, steady go:



1). REMEMBER, IT'S A RELATIONSHIP

Loretta Johnson from MEADOWLARK
Some places let their ADs run their departments without much oversight and interference and that means a truly professional and talented AD to have been given such a long leash, and a concise and aidfully streamlined experience for you. Some Editors and Publishers ADs as mere messengers to relay input and communication between the artist and whatever department oversees the project- be it an editor, the author, the publisher or the marketing department... and that will mean a more circuitous route for you and a sloggier more complicated process overall. Cultures in various publishers change with each house, and so even an AD you had a great easy time with in one place can be a different creature in another. Not everyone can through force of will dominate their culture against an overall company one, and those that do tend to stay where they've already established their kingdom. It helps to know what the dynamic is before going in, but with a new publisher, this isn't always possible. If you can get input and advice from a fellow artist who's worked with this new publisher, I heartily recommend you reaching out. This is one way having a peer group or community can really support and strengthen you as an artist. Do so knowing that it will always be apples and oranges and one person's experience will differ from another's... that said there are lessons to be gleaned from any experience. But the point here is that sage rule that pretty much applies to everything all over" It's about relationships. No one I know who is successful in their career, sandbags and destroys their ADs. Ultimately it's these folk who can make or break a job you will or will not get, or navigate the brambles of their company or situational culture. it is simply in your interest to be communicative and understanding and open minded and above all PROFESSIONAL when dealing with them. But also not doing so negates the potential you have for making friends and growing your art community. Many of my closest pals are AD's and frankly it makes a job a million times more fun when this is the case. You can be less guarded and more open. There's a baseline respect already there and an understanding of each other's foibles. And if things go to the crazy place, and they always do, it helps to have a close relationship as they will make navigating the rough seas better, and will have your back more should things get really rough. ADs can be your shield walls against a kooky author or a domineering editor/publisher, or they can be the tip of the spear of those factor's intentions. It's your call. Call it well.


2). KNOW YOUR ROLE

Rejected first swipe at cover for THE FIRST LAW TRILOGY
You may be an artist, but this isn't fine art.  You are being hired to serve a purpose, and while using your finely honed talents and artistic vision absolutely and should be brought into this passion play, never let one's artistic desires to overtake the purpose of the job before you. If you're doing a book cover, your job is to grab a passing potential reader and bring them in to give the book a chance to be bought and read, and hopefully shared with others. if it's ad work or a movie poster or something else, know what the goal is and keep your compass pointed always in that direction. This will go a long way to lay ground for the emotional distance you need to navigate the ups and downs of the process as well as make your decisions line up with the goals of them that hired you- which makes for a smoother run for everyone. It doesn't matter of the job is below your rate or a favor to a comrade once you agree to the terms and get going on the job. Just because they're only paying you $200 for a cover does not give you permission to phone it in- that only cheapens you and your work to think that way, and more often than not, these smaller underpaid jobs can lead to huge benefits later that more than compensate for whatever meager cash you saw upfront. Art Directors and Editors are often seen as an enemy of sorts to your artistic freedoms. This is not the case more often than not, and even more often than not is the case due to the faulty of the artist- usually because they enter the relationship from this mistaken viewpoint. Ideally, the AD is there to make you make your best work that suits best the project at hand. If you are hired to provide art for the front of as book, your role is to serve that end to the best of your abilities, and the AD can be the referee to keep you on course and within the margins to see that best effort become a workable reality.



3). PLAY THE LONG GAME

This is life coach kind of advice, and can and should be applied to all things from marriage to your personal health. But in our realm today, I mean it insofar as it concerns the very essential talent you should develop to both devote yourself entirely to the job at hand and to look beyond it. It sounds oxymoronic, but being able to do both doesn't have to be.

When you're on your job, that really should be your whole monogamous focus. Even if you're juggling a few different jobs, when you're on a thing, you should put EVERYTHING into making this thing the best thing you have ever done ever. And about half the time, the job itself may not warrant this devotion, but damn it all you gotta find a way to surpass it and bring your A game. Both because it will surprise you how much you can grow as an artist by accident. You want to give yourself room for that to happen whenever you can. But also you need to show that even if the job is dumb, or the author is terrible or whatever poopy thing is going on, that you can rise above its downward drag and bring the goods when it ain't easy to do so. That's a sign of true professionalism and strength for yourself and your own artistic confidence, but moreover your behavior and attention will be noted by the editor/AD, and may if you're magnificent great at pulling this off, get you a quick second job out of sheer pity or impressiveness. But really digging further it's going to endear you to the people you want to notice it, that means when a gig come sup, you end up staying on their upper list because you've shown through proof, that you can bring home the bacon AND fry it up in a pan. They don't forget that, and you know what? ADs and Editors move between companies ALL THE TIME, so even if your AD is excellent but the job is terrible due to the culture or whatever at the house, don't be surprised if they show up at another, better place with work that you two can have ice berg sized levels of fun on.

As for the long game, that's a big piece you've put towards that. It can mean the difference between the spasms of the moment and what the kids these days call "A Career". A lot of the long game thinking happens and informs even saying yes to the job that comes to you. be prepared to eat a little crow today so it;s caviar and champagne five years from now. Whether your steering this towards creator ownership projects over work for hire gigs, or simply taking on something that maybe you don;t love, but it serves a tactical purpose that can bring you to a gig you do love later. I've often... oh so very often... been called on to be Johnny-On-The-Spot for a crisis gig. Whether the artist thet originally hired went koo-koo, vanished or was fired. Whether a problem was found right before press only you can fix, or something else fell through, I have a reputation for being this guy largely because I was this guy when I first came up. I had a job to do a 8 page comics story for The Matrix Comics and had less than four days to invent, write, draw and letter. Insane by any measure, but I did it, it landed well and led me on to doing four more stories with them before doing similar things even as recently as a month ago. (see here for the full tale on that one). It's not a brag but merely a fact purposefully cultivated. If my in was to rescue a gig, it worked as an in and if it maintains the gift of a surprise last minute gig, then that is also good. Yes, it does likely mean a hellaciously truncated experience and working through the weekend and some mild-to-severe cry-dancing, but that's the moment that will pass. The endearing gratitude and success of sticking it out and delivering in these circumstances will make whatever hellscape it took to get there, a wistful anecdote at best. Tomorrow should in theses trump today. But while you're in it and suffering, keep focused on the work and the need at hand. If you're what's keeping your boat from sinking into the sea and drowning all of you, sabotaging that survival because getting wet makes you feel icky, well thjat's just not going to work for you and you really should probably think about what you might do for work after or beyond this kind of thing. There's good times and bad times and if you wait long enough you'll get hefty doses of both. The point isn;t avoiding the bad times, it's taking away from them, whatever wisdom you gain and use that business to make the next time a good one. Welcome to life.



4). NEVER SAY "NO WITHOUT A "BUT..."

Psitticasaurus for SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN
It's an old sage rule from actor's improv techniques. Always contribute even when you disagree with a direction. (Any of you out there with kids know the silent hate we parents feel when we offer them food to keep them alive that they reject without SAYING WHAT ELSE THEY MIGHT HAVE). It is despite what you may feel in your deepest bones, to decline a direction or a solution to a problem as proposed by your AD/editor. You are after all a FREElancer and thus presumably free, not a slave. That said of course you are obliged, often contractually, to solve issues. That is your job really. But sometimes you will get asked to say, make TOO many sketches, or do something weird like get a note about needing more boobs, or give Bilbo a codpiece or something frankly, you do not want to do. It is okay to decline, but I have found more that it is better received that any declination get turned into less a "no" and more a "but what about this idea...". Essentially given them a solution if you can. it may not work, and it does require you to be present and be able to come up with one based on the need. Not all ADs are terribly visual minded people (seriously I know this sounds nuts, but you'll see... you will see...). Sometimes they are given commands from a committee that reall has no idea what they want, so the worst idea gets made into an order passed down the chain to you. As I said, you can say "no", but try following that up with a solution. It will actually endear you a bit more and show you are committed to the solution rather than just being a new problem... and if you're lucky, they will agree with your "but...", and instead of their booby solution, you get to make it better with one you directed. Everyone wins.




5). BE ON TIME

GOLIATH by Neil Gaiman for The Matrix Comics
  This is a no brainer, But what I have found surprisingly, is that many up and comers don't quite fully grok how essential this one is. While yes, most ADs and editors pad their deadlines by necessity of the world being an insane and unpredictable place, and you probably have a bit more time than you think- unless it's a Johnny-On-The-Spot gig as mentioned above, this is a business with deadlines for a reason. Practical real world calamity making reasons. Being on time helps avoid such a calamity, but moreover it shows you know how to show up, get the work done and clock out without costing them overtime or a missed space in the press queue. It means you're a Steady Eddy, and again being reliable and professional gets you more work. Yes there are certain artists who have careers that excel despite being notoriously late, but those are rare birds and despite their ongoing success, they make everyone on the other side absolutely bonkers. They get hired at that point for their craft despite themselves, and you don;t want to proudly enshrine yourself in that particular ethic. Remember, it's all about relationships, and a damn fine way to blow a good relationship is to miss your dang deadlines.




6). KNOW HOW TO SPOT THE BAD ONES

from COMING HOME
I'm just going to be honest and say it. ADs and Editors are not all awesome. Like the spectral scope of humans, not everyone you get linked with will be a great time, and some might even have no idea what they are doing. But you need to be able to work with them anyway. I have found it really helps to develop a lot of early warning systems to spot these folk early. Like sonar beacons giving islanders a heads up before a tsunami strikes, this can save you from drowning in their crazy, and you becoming crazy and angry and start behaving like a do-do. A key component of this exercise is forgiveness and tolerance. Sometimes other people are just running a different current than you and conflict derives from that. Just be accepting of others' weirdnesses, and spot those conflicts early and bend like the reed, Young Grasshopper. You are there to do your job and if you can form a new lasting relationship with your compatriots in that exercise that is the ideal. If that doesn't come, well that's okay because the job is still why you're there. It does not serve the job to pick up fights, to be combative or overly resistant or arrogant. It certainly does no good to provide the good people of the interwebs with an after action report of your struggles. That is NEVER a good idea. Avoid later, even warn your peers of such places



7). DON"T ASSUME THE WORST AS TRUE

from RED KITE, BLUE KITE
ADs are office-folk- and as such are answerable to their various agencies within the office they work in. That dynamic can change and does, depending on the company they work for. Sometimes long silences from your AD are simply due to their being busy working on selling your vision within the framework of their office structure. or they're wrestling with an editor or standing tall on your behalf with a difficult author. I had a job recently that finally concluded only after my AD spent 90% of the time and work put into the project, mocking up dozens of different layouts and designs using my art as a base, and then waiting overlong for some approval or direction. On my end it was months of silence follwoed by rejections or approvals garnering a bit more work and then more waiting while things worked out. Simply put: sometimes they're absent because they are busy fighting for your cause. Sometimes they have to wrestle with a marketing department that lacks any kind of artistic vision and want simply to follow a current trend counter to what you are all doing... like Pink is in this season, so make your cover pink! (This sounds like a joke but is a real thing that happens more often than you'd imagine). Sometimes an AD is simply processing what you're doing and trying to figure the best approach or notes to give so they aren't being flip, or unhelpful towards the goal of getting it right. Sometimes it serves your interests to take these periods of silence to re-examine your work to be certain it's doing it's job correctly. The point is most of the time the silence is coming from a place that is supportive of what you're doing. It's fine to inquire, but patience is also important to your cause. And your cause should always be servicing the needs of the job first and foremost.

All of the above stuff should come together to negate the need for this step, but really what drives this is a little thing called CONFIDENCE. A lack of it, and let's face it we all have lacks in this department in various degrees. Even mighty artists like Scott Fisher can starfish their way in front of a crowd, or Dan Dos Santos or Greg Manchess can paint in front of an audience like it was a simple thing, but that doesn't mean when it comes to their work they don;t struggle with confidence about what they';re making what;s next where's it all going. This comes from the terrible conflation of Time + Passion. Passion raises the stakes and the passage of time puts those stakes into jeopardy. Some can saunter through like zen masters and be at peace with the rollercoaster, other more vocal neurotics like myself will let you know how scared they are all the time by saying so... all the time. But anyonewho gives a rats ass about what they're doing gets nervous about how it will turn out. That's fine and a normal thing and not really something you should try and fix. If it's getting in the way or leading to some level of non-functionality, well then certainly fix that. But don't set a bar for excising the internal strife at all. Definitely make it smaller and manageable... fear can be a tremendous resource for creativity, and doubt it's foil, so being an artist without these means you're A.) not really and artist, or B/) You;re playing it safe and thus, doing it wrong. But let it overtake you and it can backfill little worry babies throughout your whole interaction. You'll read emails wrongly, you'll be so certain you'll be fired you end up making sure it happens. Even illustrating a cover for Superman can be an act of going deep, and going deep into yourself and finding what's down there you can use for whatever it is you are doing is the game entire. So go be the best psychonaut that you can be, and I guarantee you, you will surprise yourself and those working for you.


Just remember it's always about the next piece, and to get there, it has to be all about the piece in front of you. Worry about the shape of the road in your retrospective at MoMMA in your sunset years. For now, brick by brick you're way into you're own path forward, and look back only if it leads down the road further.













On Collaboration

Aug. 10th, 2017 06:00 am
[syndicated profile] muddycolors_feed

Posted by Muddy Colors

-By Charles Vess


For over 40 years I’ve been making a living from my art and in that time I’ve done my share of cover art:



As well as a seemingly endless amount of interior comic book graphic narratives:





But in the last 10 – 15 years I’ve fallen head over heals in love with the idea of The Book. That is, a complete package for which I’ve not only designed the cover art but a title page with hand lettering:





As well as all the interior art with perhaps even individual chapter headings.





All these individual elements give me my own private book-world, where I’m in complete control of both the horizontal and the vertical. They also give you an object (the entire book) that feels more permanent than the fleeting appearance of a piece of cover art. And that makes me very happy indeed.

I’m glad to say that these days adult illustrated books are making a determined come back. Sam Weber’s ‘Dune’, Jillian Tamaki’s ‘Irish Fairy Tales’ (both for the Folio Society) and Angel Dominquez’s lovely ‘Wind in the Willows’ (published by Books Illustrated LTD out of the UK) are beautiful new editions of old classics. But there are others with original stories to tell, including Todd Lockwood’s ‘The Summer Dragon’ and our own Greg Manchess with his gorgeous new book, ‘Above the Timberline’ (both of these books are written and illustrated by the author-artist). And to this list I’m happy to add my own edition of the collected Earthsea stories that will be published by Saga Press in 2018.



Okay, so now you're thinking you might like to try your hand at illustrating a book.

Hold on.

First you’ll need to consider the intricacies of a process that can help you make the aesthetically pleasing book that you want to make. Of necessity it is a very collaborative process and sadly many artists want to just be left by themselves to work up what they see in their mind.

But consider this. You’re in a room and it’s filled with your best friends. Everyone is relaxed and maybe some of you have had a drink or two. A random comment kick starts a conversation. Someone follows that vocal outburst with another. More spontaneous comments fly across the room. And round and round the idea bounces, from one person to the next, and suddenly the collective ‘you’ has arrived at a joke or a play on words or a creative idea that you, sitting in that same room but by yourself could never have articulated.

At its best, the collaborative process involved in the creation of a book is much the same.

You will, of course, have to work in collaboration with the text itself and, if they’re still living, with it’s author. Be careful though, the friction of two creative minds rubbing hot and heavy against each other can just as easily produce a torched field, empty of life, as it can burn away any barriers that either creative mind may have tried to erect around their fragile egos. If you’re both lucky though, that fire will leave in its wake a brand new aesthetic persona that will inherit the wisdom of two lives, two experiences rather than simply one.



And we shouldn’t forget that out in the real world of commercial publishing you’ll also have to pay attention to various editorial voices and the needs of your art director with their marketing department as well.

However, with any illustrated book or for that matter cover art or an extended graphic narrative, there is another and perhaps an even more important collaborator involved: the reader of the book: the reader.

Respecting your reader’s imagination is I think one of the most important tasks at hand for any book artist and only when you allow them to become an active participant in the story you are trying to tell will your images have the impact you need.

To that end I try to balance the visual elements that can be clearly seen with those that exist only in my reader’s imagination.

Because it seems to me that any image that is solely consumed by minutely rendered detail from corner to corner has very little to offer its viewer in terms of their actively participating in its story. So, rather than risk the possibility of trapping my reader’s imagination in a multitude of detail I want my image making to set it free.

Picture this then: the shadow of an unseen tree just beyond the picture plane is cast across a field of grass.


Or, there is a figure staring directly past the viewer, at something unseen.


Or, there is a rising mist that obscures a portion of your land or cityscape.


Each of these simple visual tropes can help activate the alert reader’s mind and without their realizing it, make the story flourish in a more complete world than what they actually can see on the page set before them.

Those unseen element exists only in the reader’s imagination, as does the world that lurks softly behind the mist that rolls across the hills in one of my paintings.



But looking at the images above, you might say, “What about all that minute detail. Isn’t Vess doing just what he was warning me against?”

Maybe. But I think that my chosen method of rendering the finish on this or any of my illustrations produces yet another collaboration between the art and the reader’s mind. By using a pen outline, which I’ll later fill in with multiple washes of color (FW colored Inks), a style that is directly inspired by a number of Edwardian book illustrators such as Arthur Rackham and Edmund Dulac…


I offer a look that is decidedly not highly finished or minutely rendered. Faced with my stylistic choice, the viewer must complete for themselves the conceptual space left unfinished between my hard outlines and the color within. In the best of all possible worlds they in effect, render the image into three dimensions for themselves.

This collaborative process, this pact between writer, artist and reader are, I think essential elements that when combined correctly, will produce a book that can be read and enjoyed again and again and again for many years to come.


Note: all of the pencil art used here are selections from the over 60 illustrations that will be in the collected Earthsea stories that Saga Press will be publishing in 2018. All of this work has been conceived and executed in a tough but fair minded collaborative process with its author, Ursula K. Le Guin and it is an experience that I will very much miss once its over.

Choosing to be Different

Aug. 9th, 2017 12:16 am
[syndicated profile] muddycolors_feed

Posted by Donato

-By Donato

Compassion - More Human Than Human      Oil on Panel   24 x 18"  2017

Being really different is initially very easy to pull off.  If you've ever shaved your head, painted your face or worn clothing so far out there it shocks nearly any audience you engage with. The real challenge is finding a way to live with those choices and make them a part of your new lifestyle and community without burning every bridge you've built, social or otherwise.

The same is true when it comes to art, it's easy to make up a new style, arrange patterns drastically different, or flex some new material muscle.  The telling is in who will now 'buy' what you are selling, both figuratively and literally. Tapping into an audience that wants to consume what you have to offer is one of the greatest difficulties most artists strive to overcome.

Some artists prefer critical consumption of their work - images appearing in exhibitions/shows/venues where they are socially validated, others prefer the financial success commissions, sales, and notoriety brings.  There is no one path, nor valuation structure, which tells us when someone has successfully achieved their goals.  This is why we hear of artists who we may look to as 'top of the crowd' who then abandon their rocketing success, withdraw from the limelight, or change style just when everything was looking so great.  So great to an outside observer, maybe not so great for the internal motivators for that particular artist.

The Fellowship in Hollin       65" x 34"    Oil on Panel   2017    
Those choices that appear to cripple and steer away from success, to chose a different direction, may actually reflect a deeper path the artist is following, one that runs more true to the artist's intent. Thus a choice that may come off as different, may in fact be one that is attempting to be closer to 'the same' than an outside observer could discern.

I bring up this issue about choosing to be different because we all feel that pressure at various points in our artistic development.  Be different to stand out, be different to say something in your art, be different to stay relevant, be different because it remakes you.  What ever the voices are, I find the greatest challenge is to be different while staying the same.  Getting to know what it is that motivates you and learn to see into the deeper current that you are plying.  When you do this for yourself, you can then recognize it in others.

Fumble!      11" x 14"   Pencil and Chalk on Toned Paper    2017
I want to be different, but keep reaching that audience which respects my voice.  I want to be different but still play with the tropes which define who I am and where I came from.  I want to be different so I can grow from where I now stand, and reach a further shore.

These are not impractical thoughts or desires, but rather approaches that require introspection into who we are as people and artists, and path building which allows for the continuity of experience and artistic expression. What are the outward representations of all of these differences?  I really do not know. I attempt to create art that feels 'true' to what I feel and who I am, regardless of the client or audience I am creating it for, and not bound by some restriction on approach, style, nor content.

I have been grateful for the chance to bring these practices to bear in my recent works, and look forward to seeing where they will carry me.

Portal II     36" x 24"   Oil on Panel  2017
Whispering Woods     18" x 24"   Oil on Panel  2017



Be the Sponge

Aug. 8th, 2017 06:00 am
[syndicated profile] muddycolors_feed

Posted by Scott M. Fischer

-By Scott Fischer


Thought I'd take you folks on a little quest for subtlety.

If you caught my last Duralar demo for Muddy Colors, you may remember me doing some painting on the back of the Duralar with a make-up sponge. The act was really just to get a middle value on the reverse of the material with a few smooth transitions. But it looked kinda interesting in and of itself, and we pondered doing more with it.

I've been wanting to have things 'emerge out of the fog' a bit more in some paintings. More lost edges. More blurriness. But retaining some honest to goodness SNAP just where I want you to look.

You can only be so accurate with a sponge, so my theory was if I stayed with the tool as long as I could before I went for the brush, I could sneak up on it. I think the more accurate the tool, the quicker we are to resolve everything. When sometimes a slow evolve would be better.

So here we go, step by step.

You can get a sense of the whole thing start-to-finish in this vid. Then scroll below for the blow-by-blow explanation.




I did a quick road-map for what is to come in FW acrylic ink. In case I got lost I wanted to get back to my drawing with a wipe of a cloth. These are pretty standard make-up sponges. I am using Gamblin Fast Matte oil paint here which I think is a big factor in the success, because as its name indicates, it is pretty matte stuff. Especially if you don't use medium (that comes later) so it doesn't move around much once it is down. We are working on Stabilene, which is an old school Duralar. In this case we are ONLY working on the front of the surface.


I attack the surface with my lethal sponge. Death by fuzzy bunnies. I am keeping this piece monochromatic for ease of the demo. You can see the first thing I did was establish a middle value over the entire piece. Then we started going thicker and darker with the sponge, putting the whole drawing in fog.


Though a am surprised how accurate you can get with just the sponge, by pinching it, stamping it, sliding it- I wanted a bit more edge control. To do that I use sculpting scrapers and torn paper as a mask, protecting areas I don't want to get paint on. Again because Fast Matte oil paint is so stout, it doesn't rub off as effortlessly as oil paint would.


 All right, time to choose some more accurate weapons. First a Robert Simmons White Sable filbert. I chose the filbert because the tapered edge lets you feather the paint much more than my usual flats. And this is all about some feathering. Trying to resolve a bit more, but not too much too soon. Remember I want to sneak up on this.


A q-tip (or in this case a far superior, medical cotton tipped applicator, which is much firmer.) is another fine choice for sneaking up on something. Not only can I lift up the oil with a wipe-out technique, you can also apply paint in fuzzy strokes.


Pretty big jump here, but you can see the tools have gotten smaller cause we are firming things up in the upper values. (By just adding titanium white to the slurry.) We are keeping things in the fog in the shadows, which was my whole challenge in this piece. I wanted those transitions to shadow to get totally lost in areas like the eye on the right.


Only now do we add some medium to the paint. I want to be able to hammer some accent marks. I don't want to be subtle here. I want to bring the snap back over the fog. Again one of the pluses of Gamblin Fast Matte paint it that it doesn't move around much when down. So if you fat up that paint with some medium, it tends to sit nicely on top of the lean underpinnings without lifting much with your stroke.

(You can also see above where I carved some cool lines into the hair mass with the medical q-tip, and drew some of the straggly hair around the edges with the same implement.)


Cool, now time to lose some of that accuracy again. I used a dry,  fat 1" white sable and hit some of the harsher edges to blur them out. I also brought back the sponge to do the same thing.

But while we had the big boy out, we dipped it into the medium soaked pigment and knocked in the fabric. We also used the separated bristles to make drag marks in the hair and other places.


Spatter time! I use a cheap stencil brush to spatter paint into the hair, contributing to that fog I want.

And that is all she wrote folks! Some parting detail shots.




Art Tip of the Month

Aug. 7th, 2017 06:00 am
[syndicated profile] muddycolors_feed

Posted by Muddy Colors

-By Jeff Miracola


There’s so much to learn when you’re slinging paint and pencil, so today begins a new monthly segment here on Muddy Colors... 'Art Tip of the Month, with Jeff Miracola'.

Each month, I will create a short video with a handy tip to help you create magnificent art.

My art tip this month is 'How to restore paint-hardened brushes'. We artists are a distracted bunch. It’s easy for us to forget to clean our brushes, sometimes leaving paint sit for days at a time until the paint has become so hard that we’ve destroyed the brush. But Is that brush truly ruined? In this video I’ll show you how to restore your brush to useable condition.

This Month In Covers: July/August

Aug. 5th, 2017 06:00 am
[syndicated profile] muddycolors_feed

Posted by Muddy Colors

-By Dan dos Santos


Science Fiction and Fantasy is a robust genre, and there is no shortage of beautiful covers that come and go each month. So I've decided to start a new monthly segment here on Muddy Colors, called 'This Month in Covers', which will highlight some of the best covers of the past 30 days.

Even though many us here are focused primarily on producing (or wanting to produce) cover work, it's sort of astounding at just how uninformed many of us are about what is actually ON THE SHELF at any given moment.  Yes, we see our friends post images on Facebook and Instagram, often times months before the book is actually released. But that is usually a pretty narrow view of what the current marketplace actually looks like. When was the last time you walked around a real bookstore and explored the covers there the same way the general populace gets exposed to them? When was the last time you visited a comic book shop?

That said, let's take a moment to enjoy some of the exceptional art that is on the shelves right now.



Frostbite
Art by Jason Shawn Alexander




A Song For Quiet
Art by Jeffrey Alan Love





Dark Sky
Art by John Harris





Heroine Worship
Art by Jason Chan




An Echo of Things to Come
Art by Dominick Saponaro




The Five Daughters of the Moon
Art by Anna and Elena Balbusso





By Chance or Providence
Art by Becky Cloonan


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