My painting for the Magic: the Gathering card Ashcloud Phoenix was released!
This blog represents the work and thoughts of Howard Lyon, Artist and Illustrator
My clues are up for today (there will be another drop tomorrow). Go find them, then send me a picture. There are instructions with the drawings and print!
Art Drop 1 - Found!
Art Drop 2 - Still out there
Art Drop 3 - Found!
September 2nd is now officially Art Drop Day. This is the brainchild of Jake Parker and sounded too fun to not participate. I will have a few items that I am placing around my town. They include one of my initial sketches for the Magic: the Gathering cards "Seek the Horizon" and "Selesnya Guildgate" as well as a sketch of my painting "Light of the World"
I will post photos that give you a hint (they will be pretty clear) as to where the drawings are. All you have to do is go find it, then take a selfie with yourself in it and either send it to me (there will be a paper with info with the drawings) or tag me in your own post along with the tag #artdropday
Here are scans of the sketches I will be dropping:
I am excited to announce that my painting Body Language will be used for the cover of the upcoming release of Word Puppet, and collection of short fiction by Mary Robinette Kowal. I originally created the painting to go with her short story Body Language that was published in the Intergalactic Medicine Show quarterly.
I loved the original story, which makes me all the more excited and honored to have my painting on the cover of this collection of work (and to get a copy when it comes out this fall. Thank you Mary, Paula and Prime Books!
Stop by and see me at FantasyCon in SLC July 3-5. I will be at booth 229.
For the first 1000 people that stop by and sign up for my newsletter, I will have a free 5x7 print of my mermaid painting, "Underneath it All."
I have not exhibited at many conventions. I have attended several, but really Phoenix Comicon was my first real attempt. I was at Comikaze Expo a few years ago in L.A., but I don't really count it. I was comped the booth and the whole thing as a blur. I have also done a Magic: the Gathering Grand Prix, but that is a different kind of beast. Much lower attendance than something like Phoenix Comicon but with areally focused and dedicated fan base is in attendance, which makes success much easier.
Phoenix Comicon has grown a lot in the last few years. The first time I attended in 2008, there were 5,200 people in attendance. This year, they hit 77,000. Pretty fantastic growth! It is a big time event now, drawing in people from out of state and attracting some pretty big celebrity names. It has been neat to see it grow in my backyard. Next year they are anticipating attendance around 100k.
I hope that as it grows, I will see more familiar faces manning booths. Michael Hayes and Mark Winters were there to also represent fantasy illustration, but really the focus is much more on comic/pop/anime art. Having said that, anytime you get 77k comic fans, you are going to have a good number who like fantasy art.
I spent a little time walking around and talking to others about what was working well. I will share my observations and also tell you what I think worked well and what didn't.
This might seem obvious but if you want people who don't know you are there to notice you, you need to go up with your displays. I had one large vertical banner and a large framed piece, but in the future, it would be much better to go higher and with more. Michael Hayes had a great booth backdrop to show this.
Big colorful banners with his name well above head height so that fans could find him and see his art, and new fans could see his work from a long ways away and be drawn in. Michael also did something that I did at the last minute, and that was order an end table. This cost another $100, but was well worth it. I will talk more about that later.
A Personal Connection
A friend of mine introduced me to Charlie Bink, a great local designer/illustrator/animation. His booth, The Ink Patch, did something different. Rather than sit behind the table, he had two big walls put up right at the edge of the table and he and his friend spent the con on their feet meeting and talking with lots of people, making it feel really personal. I like that alot. Here is a shot of his setup.
Not only could he be close up and personal, but all the art was very accessible and easily seen. It would take a little more work, but I think this is something I am going to have to try. One of my favorite parts of getting out there is getting to know new people and learn about them. Standing and shaking hands and connecting with customers sounds like a good way to spend a day. It wouldn't work if I were signing Magic cards all day, but if there were space to sign prints, I can see this being a great option.
The Middle Ground
Jake Parker's booth landed somewhere in between. Where Michael's booth was double wide with an end table, and the Ink Patch above was a corner, Jake's booth was in the middle of an isle, and a single table wide, but Jake made the most of the space.
Jake had what might be the best of both worlds. Big, easy to see signage, mixed with smaller vertical towers at the front of his table. People could easily see where he was at, but also come right up and see the art up close and personal.
Of course, all the booths I mentioned had great art to back them up and draw people in. Fan art seemed to be a big draw at this convention, and this was a common response to those who I asked. Chrissie Zullo had a beautifully done tribute to Hayao Miyazaki, and was kind enough to do a print trade with me.
I was lucky enough to have a corner table, and also to have my wife there to help. She purchased an additional table (not a space, but a second table, so it formed an L shape, like Michael Hayes' booth) and that was a good call. I didn't have good vertical displays, so I needed the space to spread out the prints I had.
I essentially had 4 printed products to sell:
1. Artist Proofs for Magic: the Gathering - these are the white back cards that Wizards sends out to artists when they finish a card. I sell mine ranging from $5 - $20, without a drawing on the back and $20 to $30 with a drawing.
2. 8.5 x 11 prints. I sold them for $10 for one, $35 for 4 and $50 for 6 - This size at this price definitely make for easy sells. If people were interested in my work, it was usually an easy call to buy a print at this price. I have my prints done through 4Over. They do a great job and I order 1000 at a time and it gives me a good margin.
3. 13 x 18 limited edition canvas giclee prints for $100 - $150 - I sold more at this size than I anticipated. I had a selection of them laid out on the table, but sold them rolled in a tube. I think I need to upgrade this part of my display. Getting a vertical wall up, like the Ink Patch booth would have been a great way to display these prints.
4. 26 x 36 limited edition canvas giclee prints for $450 - I had one of my images framed up in a beautiful frame on a tall easel behind me. This was a good draw. I didn't sell it, but a lot of people could see it from far away and said they came over because of it. I also helped to sell some people on the 13 x 18 prints.
Several people wished that I had something in the $40 range that was the size of my limited edition prints. They wanted posters that had some dimension, but not the cost of the larger canvas prints. I think it is probably a good item to add into my inventory, but a concern is that it might cannibalize sales of my canvas prints. Getting a large run of posters also represents a significant investment, but I might have to make that leap.
Because I didn't have enough vertical display space, it limited the number of people that could comfortably see what I had to offer. On several occasions, when a busy wave would come through, I am sure I lost some people because there was a wall of people humanity in front of my table at times blocking the view (they weren't even always looking at my work, just pressing through like meat through a grinder).
1. Sketchbooks - I love collecting artist sketchbooks. It seems like a low cost way to provide a nice collectable for fans and would provide something in the $15-20 price range.
2. Posters - I mentioned my hesitations for posters possible stealing sales from my higher end products, but I will have to try it and see what happens. If I did posters, I would put them in the $25-30 range if possible.
3. Stickers/postcards - I want to have a very low cost item for people to take away and keep my name in their mind, less than $1.
4. Freebies - Everyone loves a freebie. I had business cards, but I think it would be a good move to have something for anyone who stops by the booth to take home. Maybe the sticker or postcards would fill this gap.
A Solid Victory
Probably the best thing I did the whole convention was install MailChimp's Chimpadeedoo app so that people could sign up for my newsletter. I had several hundred signups over the course of the Con and I didn't even push it much. In the future, I am going to fabricate a stand to make it that much easier for people to sign up using my iPad. Looking at the long term, building up a solid email list will help me sell directly to those who are already interested in my work.
Even without much experience, it was financially worthwhile and I met a lot of new friends and fans. Take my newbie observations for what they are worth and I hope to see you at future event!
Who's headed to the Phoenix Comicon June 5-8?
Howard will be there, in Artist Alley! Come say hi!
Bring your MTG cards and anything else you'd like signed and we'll bring some fun prints to sell. We hope to see you there!
I love things that are made by hand. You will see me feature work from many different artists here, like this post.
Here is a very quick little video about a sign painter, Mike Langley. When I walk by a shop and they have a hand painted sign, I am automatically more interested. It says a lot about a company when they go through the expense and effort to have something like their name and brand represented with tradition, skill and class.
I am often asked by students or parents of young artists what tools I use or if there are books that I recommend, so I put together a page on my site with links to the tools I use and the books I have found to be indispensable.
You can find the 'Books and Tools' page in the 'Store' section of the top navigation bar on this site, or follow the link below. I hope you will find it useful. I have more to add, so check back in periodically!
*this is a repost of mine from the Muddy Colors website
What is more important to you, great ideas or killer skills? I am not saying that it is either/or, or that you shouldn't aim for both, but asking you to consider that if at the end of your career, if you had to choose, would you rather be known for expressing profound and compelling ideas, or painting with incredible skill and dexterity?
It is hard to imagine a great piece of art without a large measure of both, but I have pieces that I admire more for one than the other and will present some of those later in this post.
While I don't subscribe to the thought that if someone says it is art that I have to agree, there are pieces that I admire more for the idea than the skill involved in the creation. The overall quality of a piece of art is also a little slippery to quantify due to the subjective aspects of art. There is no scale upon which measure the 'artiness' of a piece. So, keep in mind that I will be offering my opinions and asking for feedback to help round out my thoughts.
I would say that "found object" art can be purely 'idea' art. Marcel Duchamp's "ready-mades" were pieces that Duchamp took and declared were art. There was not any personal execution of skill involved on the part of Duchamp, other than maybe arrangement, just his attempt to change perception and pose an idea.
Just today I saw a post about Jeff Koons copying a Dark Horse figure of Popeye, but making it shiny and rebranding it as high art. He had permission to copy it. I am sure there was some real expertise involved in getting casting the figurine, though not as much skill as the original sculptor. He took something that existed and reformulated it. By the way, he sold it for $28 million dollars... I wonder how much the original sculptor made? Here is the story. I see this as the selling of an idea, not skill.
On the other end of the spectrum, I would place work done solely for beauty's sake. Paintings that are purely done as an exhibition of skill, done to such a degree that the patron admires it regardless of what it may or may not be expressing. It is hard to say that there is no 'idea' or 'concept' being expressed, but I think it is fair to say that some paintings the idea definitely takes a distant back seat to the execution.
Above is a Godward painting titled "A Grecian Lovely". This is not one of my favorite paintings by him but I chose it because I think it is a piece that doesn't have a big concept behind it, but lives essentially on the merits of how skillfully it is painted. I am not aware of any great symbolism here, or underlying motif, just a well painted "lovely". While I admire this painting, I do find myself wanting a little more from art.
I think that as artists, and especially illustrators, we are inclined to appreciate paintings that exhibit technical skill. We can appreciate the effort that went into the painting, even if it doesn't connect to us. I also find that most artists wince a little at the feedback of "this looks like a photograph!" I enjoy any compliment, my ego loves a good meal, but I think my most successful paintings are those that connect with the viewer through the concept or meaning first and then the technique.
Skills and Ideas
Much of the 20th century was spent beating skill out of the art schools. In my college experience the illustration students had separate classes from the fine art students. We both took life drawing but the goals stated were completely different. The illustration students were trying to learn accuracy and refining observation while the fine art students were all about expressing an idea, drawing inspiration from the model in front of them. It was even referred to as 'conceptual figure drawing.'
I was talking just a month ago to one of my professors and he said that he was in a class of one of the other teachers. This was on the board:
Art should not exhibit:
I find that rather shocking and disheartening. The art I love has a lot of at least one of those things, and often a good dose of both!
There has been a resurgence of academic training with great schools like Grand Central Academy and The Florence Academy of Art. Artists can once again find the rigorous training and similar structure to that which produced so many great artists in the past. However, the ability to render accurately will not produce a Rubens or Waterhouse alone.
Walking through galleries I see many incredible paintings with a similar theme "figure with fabric". I admire them, and they have a valuable place in any artists work, but I hope that we soon see a bigger emphasis on expressing a bigger idea or narrative.
*side note: James Gurney accurately states that "narrative" is not a very good term because a narrative needs a sequence of events. He suggests that Detective Storytelling is a more descriptive term. I like it.
That thought is alive and well in the illustration world. It is what we are asked to do with most commissions. It is expected that illustrators have skill but also be able to express concepts. It is why I am proud to call myself an illustrator. If you read about the Prix de Rome contests held in the French Academy, you will see that the winner was expected to express both a clear and impactful idea but also paint with exceptional skill. It was a brutal process, putting students through a series of exercises intended to extract the very most out of each entrant.
I was talking about this last week with Peter Mohrbacher and Samuel Flegal on their webcast One Fantastic Week. Pete and Sam had some good thoughts. You can watch the video here: One Fantastic Week, episode 25. If you want to skip to the part where we talk about this subject, jump to the 48 minute mark.
As a student, I think it is important to focus on skill. I am going to call on William Bouguereau to back me up. Here is a quote:
"Theory has no place in an artist's basic education. It is the eye and the hand that should be exercised during the impressionable years of youth. It is always possible to later acquire the accessory knowledge involved in the production of a work of art, but never -- and I want to stress that point -- never can the will, perseverance, and tenacity of a mature man make up for insufficient practice. And can there be such anguish compared to that felt by the artist who sees the realization of his dream compromised by weak execution?"
I agree, but I think that at some point in a students education, we need to learn how to inject ideas in our work. Without it, I think a piece can be artistic fast food, quickly consumed without lasting intellectual nutrition.
So why did I write this post? I feel like my primary focus has been developing my skills thus far. Each morning I wake up, I ask myself "what am I going to do today to improve." I currently preparing work for a gallery show. I am still in the sketch stage, working out ideas. There is no commission, no brief, just my ideas. Ideas ideas... This topic has been at the forefront for me lately. Do I want to aim solely for beauty, trying to sell on technical merit, or tell a story or inspire with some grand thought?
I don't have a definitive answer to my initial question of skills vs. ideas. I don't know that there needs to be an answer, but I think that asking yourself, what do I want others to get out of my work, is a very valuable question that only you can answer.