8 Jan 2017

Art, Lemons, and Plans

I AM EXCITED. Something pretty astounding happened last week. How often does a person get to hear that the work they’ve been doing for decades is truly respected and appreciated? Not just in ones and twos, but a veritable chorus of love and respect for my work, my art, and my contributions to the gaming industry and the hobby we share?

Really, I didn’t know. I knew I had some fans of my work, and maybe fellow professionals remembered me from the old days, but … 

Thanks, thank you, you like me, you really like me, you love me, Oscar, speech, pop culture

Sally Field is consistently misquoted for her Oscar acceptance speech from 1985.

With that awareness made manifest, I am going to ask a favor of you. (For the tl,dr version, you can go straight to my Patreon page.)

LEMONADE BEGINS WITH LEMONS
Wednesday evening I got an email from the GenCon Art Show: “We regret to inform you that your submission was not among those chosen for inclusion in the 2017 show.”

Oh how I’m dating myself here.

For the non-gamers who read me here, GenCon is bigtime game convention that has been around since 1968. What started as a wargame convention on a college campus in Lake Geneva (WI), the four-day convention now takes place in Indianapolis and draws more than 60,000 attendees.

I attended as a professional pretty much every year from the mid-70s until the late 90s, when “life-in-progress” swept me away. Each summer I would go to Origins first (another big game convention) where I reconnected with my friends and professional peers, talked shop and upcoming projects, shared dinners, drinks, and parties. A few weeks later at GenCon, I’d seal the deals for projects discussed at Origins. That one-two rhythm pretty much defined my worklife from one year to the next.

When things changed, I spent too long down that “life-in-progress” hellhole. Slowly I got my act together again, announcing my return by “rebooting the freelancer” six years ago. I have climbed steadily upward ever since.

update reboot life Universe restart

With the show’s 50th anniversary celebrating gaming’s past, I thought “Well, I was not an insignificant part of that history. No better time than now.” I submitted samples of my work to the art show’s jury, and hoped they would recognize my signature, my style. I hoped they would like my work enough to bring me on board.

original art, painting, mage, magician, Tunnels & Trolls, beautiful, wizard, elephant, Iron Crown, MERP, ccgs, inkwork, illlustration, elegant, fairy

Samples submitted to jury. The presentation was more orderly.

So I was disappointed by the rejection, of course, and somewhat surprised. Honestly, I was not particularly upset. I’d been MIA from the show for many years, and hey, maybe the judges just prefer digital art or newer artists.  Still, I had Facebook open in another tab when I got the email, so I posted that Wow, I wasn’t accepted. *blink*

To swipe a headline from those ghastly clickbait websites, I had no inkling what would happen next.

O BOOK OF FACES, YOU SURPRISED ME
The immediate replies were overwhelmingly some variation on “What the fuck??” and “Are they insane?” A friend texted me to ask if I was okay. Another artist messaged me privately, hoping I wasn’t taking it too hard.

These bemused me. I was fine. I didn’t like it; of course I didn’t. But I was okay. Except… the comments just kept coming.

People asked who they could contact to make a stink about it. Some went to the GenCon Art Show page and expressed their grievance with the show directly. Others posted their amazement and shock on their own pages, and their friends chimed in. They said things like “legend in the industry” and “it would be like ComicCon rejecting that Kirby fellow.” I got more messages of concern and support, from “Come out for coffee with me” to “Come to my favorite convention instead.” Three different people on the main dealers’ floor offered to share their exhibit space with me if I wanted to attend GenCon anyway.

I cautioned moderation: “There are ‘way more important things to get your adrenal glands in an uproar over.” I corrected assumptions: GenCon uses an anonymous panel of judges to decide who gets into the art show and who does not. We should assume judging was fair and balanced. This being the 50th anniversary, competition was fierce. No, I wasn’t going complain to anyone; everyone gets rejections and a professional rolls with the punches.

When I finally toddled off to bed, I felt warmly respected, loved, and appreciated for my years in the the business, by my professional peers and my fans alike. I was amazed and awed and grateful and humbled by it all.

AND THEN
When I woke up at oh-dark-thirty (as one does), I thought “The judges are wrong. I am that good, and all those people commenting on that post believe I am. And if I’m not good enough for the judges, I’m good enough for them.” For the ones who care.

For you. You are the ones who actually matter.

Insomnia, my old friend.

WHAT NEXT
So it’s not actually about GenCon at all. It’s about the work I do and those of you who appreciate it. I want do more, much more. This old Maker has a few drops of awesome left.

When I left IlluxCon last October, I had Oh Such Plans! Some started immediately:

  • I prepped boards for paintings that already had sketches, and did thumbnails and value studies, and puzzled over color schemes
  • I made sketches for entirely new paintings and sketches just for the hell of it
  • My list of “ideas for paintings” grew longer, mages and sages and beyond
  • I sorted old works I might recreate as coloring pages
  • I found the life drawing classes in town
  • For NaNoWriMo, I returned to the graphic tale I started years ago (with a picture worth 1000 words in the NaNo count), a hybrid thing neither graphic novel nor illustrated book but something between.

I was thinking about new possibilities even when I wasn’t at the art table.

  • Art books long neglected got reopened, re-educating my eye and my mind
  • Library books on WordPress design and productivity held out promises
  • Crowdfunding websites and marketing best-practices fueled my dreams
  • Websites offered guidance for working creatives
  • I watched videos of living masters I respected, and made plans to get back to the local art museums to see the original works of those who were gone

…. and all the while, I did my best to Make Wonderful Things.

trolls, monster, warrior, combat, medieval, fantasy, sword

An illo for Group SNE who publishes Deluxe T&T in Japan.

NECESSITY, YOU MOTHER
Of necessity, my assignments and commissions took most of my time. I don’t lack for work and regular assignments usually keep the bills paid. They also keep me too busy for anything else. Those blue-sky plans are all long-term things, projects I’m not getting paid for at all until who-knows-when (if ever). 

Then, eleven days into November, the whole thing got knocked ass over teakettle. The shape of current events suggested any long-term plans I made would be pointless, fruitless if I couldn’t even afford to see a doctor without health insurance (for just one example). I’ve been without insurance before, and went to freakin’ Thailand to get my gallbladder taken out. (That saved me $7000. First world care; third world prices.)

A NEW YEAR
Eventually I decided to move forward just as if I can make plans and hope to see them through from where I am, right here, right now. I signed up for the Illustrators Master Class (IMC) in June. I know my work will grow magnificently from that experience. I submitted art samples to GenCon (August) and IlluxCon (October). And oh yes, I was invited to the IlluxCon Showcase again after their jury reviewed my work.

HERE’S THE THING
I could use some help here. (That’s a stupidly difficult thing to write.) Throwing no shade on the patrons and clients I depend on, I also want to show people what I can do beyond the boundary fence, beyond the Fields We Know… or at least beyond the fields you and I have travelled across in the past.

I struggle to get there on my own. I have shied from going on Patreon, Kickstarter, or Indiegogo because, really? Who cared about my work, my history in the gaming hobby, or what higher quality of art I aspired to create? Even putting a Donate button on the website seemed presumptuous.

That post about GenCon on Facebook told me that a lot of people cared. And that’s why I found the courage to ask for help now.

THE ART OF ASKING
Someone suggested I raise crowdfunding to attend GenCon. It makes for a simple, finite equation: you want to see me, I’d like to see you, let’s make that happen.

Except my purpose is not to attend conventions. My aim is to make more art, something special that no one envisions yet but me.

MAGES AND SAGES
I want to undertake a series of paintings on a single theme: Mages and Sages. I’ve been thinking on this for at least a year, so this is where I want to start.

I have drawn and painted a lot of magicians in my time: studious mages, musical mystics, necromancers, fairy-slaying summoners, and of course the conjurers of “Hymn to Tourach.” That mythic type intrigues me — the wise and the sometimes not-so-wise, the wizards who reshape reality by force of will and the power of their minds.

My painting of “Frost and Fire: Tales of Winter” stands out as a pre-existing example. I had no restrictions when I was asked to create a painting for The Gathering art book. I wanted to paint this portal-shaping, world-walking, too-sexy-for-his-shirt rogue-er-I-mean-mage for a very long time. When given an opportunity afforded me by Full Steam Press, I did just that.

magician, rogue, wizard, spellcasting, magic, bearded, bare-chested, sexy

“Take my hand. Come with me. We will go magical places together.”

Now look at this next piece, below. Maybe you recognize it? When I wrote about the original drawing a few years ago, I said “It isn’t quite the piece I wanted to do, but it is nevertheless a piece I’m proud to have done.”

I’m still proud of The Summoner–very much so. But imagine that image revisited as a full-blown painting! That ghastly scene executed in powerful lights and darks, something I couldn’t deliver in ink alone. It gives me goosebumps thinking about remaking the image closer to the way I wanted to create it 38 years ago.

Just another room in an ordinary dungeon crawl, right?

Then there’s this next picture. Another necromancer with clothes being shredded and blown by the “winds of magic“. The drawing has already been transferred to board, and I’m eager to start when I get the chance.

“Dang. I appear to have missed a few bones.”

THIS IS HOW YOU CAN HELP
I am launching a Patreon page. I lay out goals, rewards, patronage tiers, but I suspect this will be something of a work in progress. I’ve been thinking about crowdfunding my more eclectic projects for awhile, but setting up the lemonade stand hasn’t been on my OMG To Do Rite Naow list… until now.

You let me know you value the work I’ve done. An associate of mine once said “Value is not determined by the people who set the price; it is determined by those who choose to pay the price.”

In the end, you will have become a wizard in your own right. Sign up for Patreon at any level, and you begin to change reality. You bring new art into the world that would not otherwise get a chance to be seen.

Let me show you what I’ve still got in store.

Become a Patron!

ONE LAST THING
If a recurring committment to Patreon does not appeal, you can still make a one-time donation via the PayPal button below. Every dollar in the tip jar helps.

For a one-time PayPal donation:

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3 Responses to Art, Lemons, and Plans

  1. I am so pleased that you have a Patreon page.

  2. Cathy Jacobus says:

    Still laughing (ruefully) over, “necessity, you mother.”
    Thanks for asking, Liz, or — better said — for giving us this opportunity.
    ❤️

  3. Stefan Jones says:

    Good news! Will get word out.

    I am waiting on my first paycheck of 2017 to see what my discretionary budget is like. I actually have a budget line for “Patreon!” and you’re first in if I can bump it up.

    (Or I might drop a podcast creator who produced one episode last year . . .)