Saturday, May 30, 2015

SmArt School Enrollment : OPEN

SmArt School enrollment just opened yesterday.

SmArt School is a 3-month, interactive, on-line mentorship program that lets you study with some of the industry's best artists.

Enrolling for a class gets you 12 weeks of 1-on-1 instruction with the mentor of your choice, the ability to watch every other instructor's class, AND a personal review from some of the best Art Directors in the genre.

Each class has EXTREMELY limited seating (usually less than 12 students!) so don't wait too long to sign up.

Here are some of the amazing instructors you can study under:
Anita Kunz
Todd Lockwood
Donato Giancola
Scott Fischer
Dan dos Santos
Greg Manchess
Rebecca Guay

You can also take classes like 'Illustration Boot Camp' with Marc Scheff,  and 'Intro to Oils' with Teresa Fischer.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Magic: the Gathering Grand Prix Las Vegas

-By Howard Lyon

This weekend I am attending the Magic: the Gathering Grand Prix in Las Vegas.  If you aren’t familiar with an event for Magic: the Gathering (MtG), it is kind of like GenCon or DragonCon, but focused down to a smaller number of attendees, all of whom are very strong fans of the game. 

Shot of the east hall - this shows about 1/10 of the space for the event

A typical Grand Prix might have 1500 attendees.  It could seem like slim pickings compared to something like San Diego Comicon, where 130,000+ people attend, but everyone at a Magic Grand Prix is already a fan when they walk through the door.  It translates in a great opportunity for MtG artists to meet some great people, sign cards and sell lots of prints.

Some of the original sketches I brought to sell from cards I have done artwork for

It is becoming the norm now for a Grand Prix to have 3-5 artists in attendance.  The Las Vegas Grand Prix is not a normal even though.  It smashed the previous record for attendance at a MtG event by more than double.  This weekend there will be 12,000+ fans (there was room for 10k to sign up, but more are in attendance to buy from vendors and artists) and 32 artists!  Here is a list of the artists:

Willian Murai
Thomas Denmark
Raymond Swanland
Drew Baker
Dan Scott
Yohann Schepacz
Yeong-Hao Han
Ryan Alexander Lee
Jeff A. Menges
Eric Deschamps
Chuck Lukacs
Chris Rahn
Howard Lyon
Kieran Yanner
Bryon Wackwitz
Jung Park
Steve Argyle
Thomas M. Baxa
John Severin Brassell
rk post
Jason A. Engle
Ken Meyer Jr
Lucas Graciano
Christopher Rush
Zack Stella
Karla Ortiz
Aaron Miller
Jeff Miracola
Richard Kane Ferguson
Pete Venters

I am looking forward to meeting in person many artists that I have only connected with online and also seeing some old friends that have purchased from me before and hopefully connecting to many more fans of the game.

Shot of Steve Argyle at his booth (you can see him over towards the right)
Today was the first day.  For much of the day, I (and from what I could see all of the other artists as well) had a line with about a 30 minute way and was signing cards for about 9 hours straight with a break for lunch.  I also did sketches on the back of artist proof, or white back cards and drawings on playmats and alters on the front of the cards. 

With a Square reader handy and tip jar out, the MtG fans are always generous and make the trip out worthwhile!

Signing some cards for a new fan of the game
When I get back home, I will update this post with more shots from the event and any interesting experiences I can share so check back in a few days.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

SFAL Portfolio Review Stars

-By Lauren Panepinto

So if you've been anywhere near social media this week, you'll have seen that most of the contributors on this blog, as well as most of the "Fantastic" Art community were all at Spectrum Fantastic Art Live this weekend in Kansas City. As I explained in an earlier post, I volunteered (and volunteered Marc Scheff) to take over the Art Director Programming, including the Official Portfolio Reviews. 
(Since it's a bit hard to judge these things while you're also participating, I'd love to hear from anyone who attended Spectrum about what you thought of all the Art Director things—the meet & greet at the Opening Party, the Panels, the Bootcamps, and the Official Reviews. Let me know what you thought in the comments!)

This is my portfolio review face. Photo by Jerry Trapp.

I experimented with the official portfolio reviews a bit this year. Instead of relying on the fastest mouse-clickers to fill up spots, we took more of a survey and I tried to match the reviewer's intent and skill with the needs of the Art Directors who were reviewing. From what I can tell from casual reports back, I think most people were pleased. Many of the ADs said they noticed a big jump in the quality of the portfolios over previous years and other cons. While I can't take credit for that—and I do believe the base skill level is absolutely rising due to things like SmArt School and Drawn + Drafted and everyone sharing good info — I do also think everyone was better matched Artist to AD this year.
Since I'm still trying to make up for lost sleep and con exhaustion, I thought a great post would be to highlight some of the new faces (and familiar faces with new work) that I saw this weekend. This is just a handful of the great reviewees I had, and whether your work is here or not, remember to follow up over the next few weeks so I'm reminded of your work and can bookmark it in my files.

Matthew G. Lewis

Kind of creepy and disturbing, but also abstract enough to imply horror without grossing viewers out, I can definitely see this kind of style making a cool abstract book cover.

Ben Zweifel

How did I not know Ben's work before now? I was recently in desperate need of some environment & ship guys…there's never enough.

Love the way she incorporates strong graphic elements (like these tigers) into more painterly work. Definitely can see her doing kids book covers as well.

Zach Nienhuser

Definitely more on the hip side of SFF art, I love the pops of color in the work…and the mild creepiness in all of his paintings.

Love the strong graphic shape of this one, dying to work some type design in and make a piece like this a book cover. 

Really great mix of rendering and rough texture in the best of his works. The eye is really drawn to the contrast immediately.

This piece is so disturbing but cute at the same time, I love it. She'll definitely will find work in editorial more easily, but could be great on the right book cover.

Adrian Majkrzak

The floating spacemen have a bit of a Jeremy Geddes feel but would be fun on book covers.

Mary Ancilla Martinez

Gorgeous expressive work, definitely feels more like gallery right now, but will be perfect for book covers once a bit more narrative is brought in.

Good compositions, a little busy but tell a lot of story. He really loves the special effect lighting here and it works for his piece.

Although definitely more of an editorial or comic style, sometimes I love to use a more graphic illustrator on a cover, especially if the book is a genre-bender.

I also got to meet some people whose work I already knew but had never met in person, and that's always fun. 

I love Sam's work - definitely perfect the next time a good creepy but literary manuscript comes along.

Kelly is definitely a case of someone whose work I know very well (I used this piece as a hair color reference with my stylist) but had never had the pleasure of meeting. So glad she got to come out to Spectrum. I'm not sure what book her art nouveau watercolor style will be right for, but when it comes along, I'll know it.

Goñi Montes

I've been a big fan of Goñi's work with other Ads for a while (Irene Gallo's covers and this poster for this year's Society West show art directed by Marc Scheff) but I had never had the chance to talk with him. Definitely looking forward to working with him in the future. I love the way he makes these really complicated compositions very visually legible.

So that's a completely non-comprehensive sample of work I looked at this weekend at Spectrum. Thanks to all the artists brave enough to ask for reviews — you can tell all the others that we really DON'T bite.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Tripping the LIVE! Fantastic

Greg Manchess

Just returned from the fourth Spectrum Fantastic Art LIVE! held in Kansas City.

This year was one of the best yet with so many attendees, and packed with artists. But the real difference this time was the quality of art. Especially the level of skills presented in all of the portfolios I looked through over the weekend. Good. Really good.

Amazingly good.

Took a quick shot of one of Spectrum's masterminds, and Muddy's own Arnie Fenner (Cathy was there, too!) on the Iron Throne.

I usually give portfolio reviews throughout the event not only because I make myself available, but because I want to see what upcoming artists are thinking about. There was a marked advance in skill and insight evident across the range of books.

I felt that last year showed a bump in progress in the samples. Handling of practical skills like value, color, composition, and concept advanced away from the typical feeling of a young professional’s post-graduate offerings. Far less figure studies for example. An art director needs to see much more than just the capability of handling a figure. They need to know that an artist can manipulate figures into scenes and concepts.

Reviewing Sasha R. Jones' portfolio together...

I don’t know what happened between last year and this, but there’s definitely a disturbance in The Force. Maybe it was Spectrum 21 coming out and being so incredibly good. Maybe it’s that far more genre artists are really paying focused attention to their progress and taking bigger risks. It just seemed that the level of understanding of how to engage the viewer had risen to a place where talking with young artists felt more like guiding them toward their goals than pointing out problems and explaining how to fix them.

Besides doing portfolio reviews at my booth and around the hall, I gave a painting demo on the main stage. I had sixty precious minutes to knock out a portrait demonstrating the way I go about structuring a head. This year: Furiosa, from Mad Max (because Irene Gallo made me).

Saturday evening’s gala awards event was as dramatic and encouraging as ever. The Folly Theater sparkled with an aire of old show biz, with energy rivaling the Academy Awards. Nowhere in this industry is there an event anything like it.

Bill Carman, above, and the front row reserved seating for nominees...things were a little EXCITING....

Everyone on stage, from introductions to eventual winners, spoke with such a relaxed confidence in front of an audience made invisible by bright lights that it seemed the whole genre world was watching with loving support for each and every one of them. We all laughed, some came to tears, but all were cheered to happiness. And then Gary Giani gave the most theatrical introduction for Scott Gustafson being presented the Grand Master Award it was worthy of an Oscar itself.

Pre gala, l to r: Irene Gallo, Zoe Robinson, and Cynthia Shepard

There’s never enough time to get around to see all the booths or hang with all the folks I want to chat art with. From seeing old friends to making new ones, meeting bright-eyed graduates, or seasoned pros, it’s nonstop. Then it’s back to the hotel for a relaxed evening of shop talk.

Hangin' with Bill Carman and Arnie Fenner at the Marriott....

WiFi (Women in Fantasy illustration) gathering for a shot at the Alamo Draft House!

All the artists gathered for a group shot to wish good health for our close pal, artist Allen Williams, who couldn't attend.

The art field expands and yet, The Genre Family gets tighter every time. I wonder what’s in store for this coming year. I bet the whole industry is on its way to phenomenal new visions.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015


-By Dan dos Santos

A few months ago I was asked by DC Comics to do a double page spread for their upcoming 'Mad Max: Fury Road, INSPIRED ARTISTS' art book.

The film would not be released for months yet, so we had limited visual reference to work from. We did receive a video of George Miller discussing the concept art, the world and basic character points, but were left in the dark about actual plot specifics.

I suspected that many of the other artists would choose an action packed scene to depict. So I instead decided to show Furiosa in a more calm, pensive moment... Perhaps watching the horizon for War Boys before resting for the night.

The art book, showcases the work of 65 different artists, including the likes of: Tara McPherson, David Mack, Bill Sienkiewicz, George Pratt, Dave McKean, Paul Pope and many more.

Monday, May 25, 2015

The Spectrum Award Winners!

This past weekend was Spectrum Fantastic Art Live, and Saturday evening was the Awards Gala. The night's entertainment consisted of some amazing acrobatics, dancing, and some really wonderful, heart-felt speeches. Many of us are still reeling from the weekend's festivities (hence the lateness of this post), which sadly had to end some time.

We will recap some of the weekend's highlights in another post, but in the mean time, this year's Spectrum Award Recipients are...

2015 Grand Master Award:

Scott Gustafson


GOLD: Taylor Wessling -- Barbarians: Faust
SILVER: Yuko Shimizu -- Tokyo Night Show
Johnny Dombrowski -- Murder on the Orient Express
Edward Kinsella III -- Vernacchio
Victo Ngai -- The Cloisters


GOLD: Dan dos Santos -- Taking Flight
SILVER: Scott Gustafson -- Jack and the Sleeping Giant
Jeffrey Alan Love -- Radiant State
Petar Meseldzija -- The Giants are Coming
Sam Weber -- cover for Dune by Frank Herbert


GOLD: Audrey Benjaminsen -- Bernadette, page 1
SILVER: Alex Alice -- Castle in the Stars
David Palumbo -- The Beast
James Turner -- Rebel Angels
Tula Lotay -- Rebels

Concept Art

GOLD: Sung Choi -- The Parade
SILVER: Audrey Benjaminsen -- Fairy 3
Te Hu -- Wonders: Gate of Luxor
Kellan Jett -- Meeting
Allen Williams -- The Good Dog


GOLD: Forest Rogers -- Venetian Harpy
SILVER: David Silva -- Dragon vs. Raptors
Dan Chudzinski -- The Mudpuppy
Mark Newman -- Gallevarbe: Death's Siren
Dug Stanat -- A Bird From His Brim Will Guide Your Last Breath


GOLD: Tran Nguyen -- A Distressed Damsel
SILVER: Sam Bosma -- Critical Education
Jensine Eckwall -- This Circle: Walking Into The Wind
Edward Kinsella III -- Gland Monster
Victo Ngai -- Cocoon


GOLD: Rovina Cai -- Fake It
SILVER: Laurie Lee Brom -- Bad Seed
Ed Binkley -- Rikshaw Pass
Jeffrey Alan Love -- Skyrim
Jessica Shirley -- The Child Sleeps


GOLD: Cynthia Sheppard -- Momentum
SILVER: Paul Bonner -- Beowulf: Mother
Donato Giancola -- Descent from Caradhras
Rebecca Leveille Guay -- Time and Chance
Omar Rayyan - A Night at the Races

2015 Spectrum Rising Star:

Wylie Beckert

To make an already special event even more special, this year was the unveiling of brand new Awards, designed by sculptors Kristine and Colin Poole. The statues are cast in Bronze with Silver and 24K Gold accents, and are sincerely deserving of an award in their own right.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

David Palumbo on Sidebar Nation

A brief post this weekend for those who are not at Spectrum Live (sorry, not trying to rub that in).  I was honored to record an episode of Sidebar recently and it just went live.  For those who already know the show, they decided to experiment with something a bit different on this one and it ended up being a one-on-one conversation between me and Swain on the subject of ego and how it relates to those in creative careers.

It was an interesting discussion for me and a topic I don't normally dive too deep in to.  As a bit of post-script (having more time to think it all over) I realize I do have an automatic association of the ego being generally negative motivation, but there actually are many things which are driven by ego that I see as positive motivators for an artist.  A big one is the pursuit of mastery for ones own satisfaction.  In other words, competing with yourself.  I never thought of this as an egotistical pursuit (and I think I incorrectly describe it as non-egotistical at least once or twice) because it is not about placing yourself above others.  It is about striving for constant improvement and finding satisfaction in doing a task to the best your abilities.  Of course that is completely about the ego though.  It's, like, maybe one of the most egotistical things that I can think of.  To focus so intensely on one's progress and skill, it's all about the self.  So maybe ego isn't always so bad.  Maybe the problem is just when one lets their ego convince them that they are superior to others.  Maybe it's ok to nurture one's ego so long you don't act like a jerk.

I don't know, I'm still working this out.  In any case, find the episode here:

Friday, May 22, 2015


by Greg Ruth

 When you make art for a living, the act of making art can and does become at times, drudgery. I found myself waking up Monday mornings groaning as anyone would going to work, (ridiculous as that sounds). One of the most diabolical side effects of achieving the rare feat of working as a professional artist, will inevitably have to contend with wrestling with the encroaching ground of work and money and other compromises that will encroach into your once verdant and isolated landscape. It's just going to happen and I have found instead of trying to fight off the hurricane, it's better and more effective to learn to surf it. One of my favorite means by which I do this  surfing is The 52 Weeks Project- which is basically publicly committing to making a new drawing each and every monday. Sort of the art equivalent of eating dessert before the meal.

 As is per usual of the very broad scope that is the cornucopia of The 52 Weeks Project, this is anti-assignment, anti-work. It's the one protected sandbox of pure play, and as I have become more and more familiar with my new graphite drawings, I thought it a perfect time to really push them to see what they can do, and what they cannot. Typically these weekly drawings have been executed in sumi ink- which makes perfect sense. It's quick  free and gestural. Getting the graphite to not gobble the whole day up (there's a point when one does actually have to get back to work), has been tricky to try and discover. this series is an attempt to do so.

As always I am a HUGE fan of portraiture. There's something about the task reduced to a human face that is forever compelling and captivating to me as a drafstman. It's a drawing that looks back at you, and so much of where the character lies, is in not just the usual areas of eyes and mouth, but everywhere throughout the face, the garb, the way the subject holds his or herself... I've had an ongoing fascination with old coal miner photos, and especially the through line they all share. That same sooty face, that same determined focus in their eyes. Throughout the whole of photo-documented miners, they all seem, no matter what country they're from, to possess a common gaze, look and feel. They are of a people together and represent the frontline of our relationship with this heating/energy/fuel source of ours since the ancient Greeks first began to record its effect and its potential. Coal has shaped our world, driven our societies, and stood invisibly behind nearly every major epoch in human history from the advent of the iron age, through the locomotive and today's sophisticated electrical grid. it as a rock made from decomposition, and its exploitation has given rise to empires and now threatens to alter the very environmental structure of our planet. From Asia to Europe, to our Americas and over to India, Africa and the Middle East, Coal has dominated and permeated itself into nearly every human society on earth. Rich and fertile ground for exploring it in an apolitical anthropological way, and I can think of now better locus point around which to learn more than through the faces and hands of those who burrow deep and pluck it from the heart of the earth.

So here's the tools of the trade. I tend to begin with the lightest underdrawing using the Staedtler all-graphiter HB, and then progress towards the final Blackwing Palomino for the darkest and most detailed bits. Basically erasing and smudging maniacally with my thumb along the way.

Here's the very first portrait, which when it was done grabbed me by the top of my head and utterly against my will dragged me into this project. I had intended instead to spend a few weeks exploring the images of Weeping Maidens, but instead this fellow came in and overturned the tables. It took around an hour to execute- more than twice as long as a typical 52 Weeks style image- but there was simply something undeniable about him, and about the potential of this series.

For the second piece, I decided to go back a bit and focus on the 1800's area and England specifically. In a given coal family it was entirely typical to find every male generation working the mines alongside each other. The process of going in and coming out after a day inside the sleeve seemed to beg trying to do something a little different this time. Instead of going in with a full on attended coal-face I wanted to draw the piece clean at first and apply the soot as part of the finishing of the drawing. The technical aspects aside the thing that struck me the most was how it ages this fellow.

And finally to the end. I felt like I had taken it a bit over far with the soot and dialed back a bit here. One of the really wonderful aspects of working with these graphite pencils is their ability to erase and reapply. a bit like paint in this way as you can see below.  

As an artist, it's a chance to explore the idea of a face, the smudges and smears that both hide and mask it but also define and carve it into what it is. It is the leftover of interacting with it. Dark and filthy and sooty as a moonless night. A perfect arena to take the graphite pencils out for a good and long term spin.

First rough underdrawing. 

So. First up is the basic underdrawing. I tend to take the Staedtler allXwrite HB out for a spin for this one. A very light and dense all graphite pencil that let's me block out all the basic forms and shapes and areas of shadow I have in mind. The rough nature of its application, and the texture of the paper are perfect for this subject as you can see, like smears of charcoal, rough and filthy. 

Next up is the furthering of the basic light and dark work. My thoughts for these drawings are to keep the darkest and most intensely drafted areas around where the coal is, the face and the eyes and to let the rest fade into a foggy light around the subject. 

Finally, this Bolivian fellow is complete. One of the aspects that has come from these unique to portraiture and essential to these is how they look back at you. We are afforded a special permission to stare when it comes to portraiture we don't get to exercise with real live everyday folk. The relationship is therefor deeply intimate and I have found the more sharp and real and reflective a portrait is the longer and more worthwhile it is to stare at one. There's a world and a day in the face of a man or woman and so much in the faces of these people who dig deep into the bowels of the earth and pull out the pressurized decay that has fueled and continue to fuels the path of our entire civilization. 

While it takes far longer by centuries to generate coal, our use of it outstrips its production by a longshot. Even so, according to recent estimates, there is enough coal in the earth presently to attend to our needs for 300 more years before it runs out. Regardless of what it does to us, to our environment and all the rest, its highs and lows, coal is not going anywhere. not anytime soon, and that means more and more generations of miner to pull it from the earth. And perhaps a few more portraits of them to keep the company.