Friday, September 30, 2016

Great Book Finds on Amazon

Amazon is a wonderful place to find great book deals.  Every once in a while I like to follow the recommendations and see what deals out there.  I often find great used books for a penny or just a few dollars.

Some of the books are no brainers and others are bargains for a treasure.  Maybe you passed on some of these books when they were new and at a premium, but if you are patient some books can cost as little as one cent.  Starting with a few amazing deals (all prices are as of this writing).

The Art of Star Wars Episode I

Fantastic artbook.  Whatever you might think of the movies themselves, this book is full of great drawings and concepts by Change, McCaig and Whitlatch.  Gorgeous landscapes and inspiring character and creature designs.

Used starting at $13

The Art of Star Wars Episode II

Another great art book.  More great concepts, and some very strong landscape concepts.  Excellent addition and if you buy the first one the collector's itch will make you want this one too.

Used starting under $3

My Adventures As an Illustrator

I believe that I have shared this book before but the prices are back down.  If you love Rockwell, read this book. Written by Rockwell, it gave me a great appreciation for his work.  Rockwell's life wasn't always reflective of his work.  He faced challenges and doubts and periods of creative drought.  The level of celebrity that he achieved in life was remarkable and it is interesting to read of a bygone era where illustration reigned supreme.  Great book and read on a remarkable man.

Used copies starting at $.01

Norman Rockwell Illustrator

In my opinion this book is a must for any illustrator.  Great practical working information (and they must have printed a zillion of them because you can almost always find a copy for $.01).  Get this one while you search for a deal on Rockwell on Rockwell.  

At least 8 copies for $.01

This book has some excellent reproduction in it, of classic Rockwell paintings.  But it also has a great collection of the photographs that he used to reference many of his paintings.  It is informative to see how Rockwell used the information a tool, but never a master to his hand.  He was interpreting the images, not being a slave to them.  Great addition to an illustrator's bookshelf.

Used starting at $5

I love the Disney Art of Books.  They are usually filled with great concepts and are like a master class on color theory.  You get to see the thought process of the color design through the concepts and how color affects mood and tone.  They can really fluctuate in price, jumping from a few dollars to over a hundred depending on the timing.  Here are a few with pretty good prices as of writing this:

The pastel concept paintings in this book by Dominique Louis are gorgeous.  They are rich and full of color.  The sculptures are beautiful too. 

Starting at $15 used.

The Art of Big Hero 6

This is the one book on this list that I don't own, but it looks like a great one.

Used starting at $8

The Art of The Incredibles

I loved the art style of this movie, an can't wait for the sequel.  Many of the concepts are almost minimal, focusing on silhouette and shape.  Some are made from cut paper and have great whimsy, like those of Edna 'E' Mode.  Much of it reminds me of the illustrations I saw in old text books and children's books.  Especially the 'World Book' collections, if anyone else remembers those.  Check out this Pinterest board for some examples of what I mean.  I love it.

Used starting at $14

The Art of Finding Nemo

More gorgeous pastel paintings and one of the most beautiful color scripts of any movie.  Lots to learn from this book on color harmony and how lighting affects color.

Also some fantastic black and white illustrations by artist Simon Varela.  I met Simon once.  He was interviewing for a job and I was the Art Director.  We quickly decided that he was WAY over qualified for the job, but I spent the next hour looking over some beautiful transparencies of his work.
Used starting around $9

The Art of Frozen

I just received my copy of this book today.  There are beautiful character concepts and set designs, but the landscape concepts are just fantastic.

At least 5 used copies under $5

The Art of Wall.E

Lots of cute and appealing concepts.  Not my favorite of the Disney Art books, but still a great addition.

Used starting at $5

Definitely not a Disney book. :)  McGinnis seemed to only paint leading men and women.  All rugged heroes and long legged models, but done with great skill and imaginative compositions.  I find most of his work fascinating, and the detail in some of his egg tempera paintings is so appealing.  Arnie Fenner wrote a great post on him a few years back.  

New copies for $24

The Art of Tom Lovell

I have shared this book before, and all the cheap copies were snatched up.  The price has come back down.  One of the treasures of my bookshelf.

Used copies for $10

The reproductions in this book aren't great.  But there is enough there that the book is still worth it.  Pyle's work always inspires my imagination.  

Used starting at $5

Visions of Adventure: N.C. Wyeth and the Brandywine Artists

This book does have some good reproductions of Pyle, at least better than the book above.  It also has prints of Wyeth, Dunn, Schoonover, and Cornwell.  Great book and it has come down in price significantly.

Several used starting at $10

Finishing off with a couple more Star Wars books:

The Art of Star Wars, Episode IV - A New Hope

Where it all began.  Some of the classic images by Ralph McQuarrie and others.  I think the concept work was excellent, but it is also neat to compare and contrast it with the more recent books.  Different approaches with similar goals.

Several used copies for under $3

This is such a remarkable book.  Every time I look through it I am amazed at both the drawing skills of Terryl Whitlatch and her knowledge of animal anatomy that she uses to create believable alien creatures.  If you like drawing critters, this book is a must.  

The used hardcover starts at $3

Thursday, September 29, 2016

How to Invoice

By Lauren Panepinto

Ok, everybody. I've been posting a lot of travel lately, and that's great for inspiration, but it's September and it's Back To School time. More specifically, Back to Art Business School. I'm going to break down something that you'd think was pretty simple, but a lot of people get wrong, causing no end of frustration to artists, art directors, and accountants throughout the industry: Invoicing.

Ask any Art Director: getting artists to properly fill out paperwork is like herding cats. Many companies, who I'm extremely jealous of, have gamed this system as much as possible. Some companies generate their own invoices for artists, some just computerize the entire system, and some use digital paperwork services like Adobe Echosign (now called Adobe Sign). However, the standard is still a ton of paperwork getting emailed back and forth.

Getting paid is complicated. There's lots of forms, lots of legalese. It's such a huge pain point that it was actually my first Art Business series on this very blog 3 years ago. Now I'm breaking it down into even smaller digestible bits. Do you like getting paid? Yes? Then make it easy on your Art Directors and read on! I'm going to write this from my personal experience, but I guarantee if you mention paperwork to any AD they're going to audibly moan and repeat most of the same complaints I have.

Getting paid generally takes 3 things: 

(some companies may have extra forms, but these are the big guns)

1—Contract: Every company has their own. Read it. Read it again. Read it carefully, because if you sign it then you don't get to bitch and moan about not wanting to follow the terms later (which happens all the time, I see you all complaining on the internet). Signing that contract means you're a professional and you're promising to follow the rules. Often you can sign it digitally, or print it, sign it, scan it back in…but we're all artists here. It's very easy to set up a signature file and cut and paste it into pdfs or in photoshop. Make sure you're not leaving out other things you might need to fill out, like a credit line.

Return ALL the pages of the contract. I have gotten just the last page of a contract a ton of times, and it's a giant pain because I have to piece it back together before I can submit it for payment. I have even (more once, sadly) gotten a cellphone picture of just the signature portion of the last page of a contract. I mean, really guys, why bother. That's not ever going to hold up in court if it needs to. If I am at the point that I need to photoshop your paperwork back together I am hating you the entire time I'm doing it, which severely affects how quickly I want to work with you again. And chances are that file is going to sit in my inbox for a while until I have the time to photoshop it together before I submit it, and then you're wondering why your payment is late...

2—Tax Form: I'm writing this from a US-based company, but I'm sure other countries have equivalents. The best thing to do is ask your Art Director. In the US there is a Tax Identification Form. If you are a US Citizen (and/or paying US taxes) it's a W9. If you are an individual who is not a US Citizen (and/or not paying US taxes) then you need a W8-BEN. If you have made yourself into a foreign company you need to fill out a W8-BEN-E. And god help your soul. That form is super complicated. Get thee to an accountant stat.

If you are a US citizen, you have a Social Security number. DON'T USE IT WHEN YOU'RE INVOICING. Get yourself an EIN number. It used to just be for companies but years ago, when ID theft became such a thing, the IRS started letting individuals get EIN numbers to protect their SSN. Some companies (like mine) won't take a SSN anymore, just an EIN, because we don't want to be responsible for protecting everyone's SSN in case of a data breach. Any company that still takes SSNs will also take an EIN. An EIN number is free to get, takes 5min to get on the internet, and doesn't change anything about your taxes. Go get one. Do it now. I'll wait here.

3—Invoice: I am often shocked by how little care many artists put into their invoices, when clearly it is the thing that determines, at the end of the day, whether you're getting your money or not. An invoice should not be simple text in the body of an email. It should not even be a word document. It sure as hell shouldn't be a lo-res jpeg, which I get a lot. A pdf is best, please. Fonts won't be an issue, nor will someone accidentally altering it when they open the file.

Things that need to go on the invoice:

     • Your name: which has to match on all the paperwork. If you use, say, Tom on one piece of paperwork and Thomas on another, it will get rejected. If you use a company name on the contract and a W9 in your name, it will get rejected.

     • Address: whether you are getting a check mailed to you or using bank transfer, we still need an address for tax purposes.

     • Invoice Number: which has to be a unique number. I get repeat invoice numbers rejected all the time. I end up just making up a new one for you, but it takes time to have it returned to me. Some companies give job number. You can use that. If not, make up your own. And change it for each invoice. Come up with a formula, like Company Initials + month + year, etc. And keep it short. I got an invoice rejected recently by someone who was using the entire title of the book embedded int heir invoice number, but accounting can only fit 15 characters in the field.

     • Invoice Amount: with an indication of currency (dollar sign, euro sign, pounds, etc.) and decimal points. Yes, I get invoices returned all the time for not having the ".00" and for not having a "$"

    • Invoice Date: Pretty self-explanatory

    • Company Name & Contact: you should know who you're working with, right? But accounting doesn't necessarily know, especially if an invoice gets separated away from it's email and processed in a huge batch.

    • Description of Job: What it was and what you did. Sometimes it's "Untitled" still, but at least get the author name and put it on there. Also note what your service was: Illustration? Photography? Design?

    • Payment Terms: how do you want to be paid? "Check payable to" is needed, at least, or "Bank Transfer to" (which I recommend at this point, it's much more reliable, especially if you're international). If you're asking for a Bank Transfer you must have on the invoice the following: Name of Bank, Address of Bank Branch, Swift Code for that bank, Name of Account Holder, Account Number, & Routing Number. (If you don't know all these things, all your bank, they'll help you out.)

Dan was kind enough to share the blank invoice he gives out to his classes.
I would even improve it by saying "Payable by check to:" but this is a great example
of an invoice that makes it very easy to pay someone.

So right now, do yourself a favor, and go update your invoice template to make sure it has all this info. Don't have an invoice template? Well now's a great time to make one!

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

The Language of Tropes: From Theater to Illustration

-By Clark Huggins

My sincere thanks to Muddy Colors for allowing me to hijack the blog as a Guest Contributor today. I’m here because an idea-generating card deck I created, called RECKLESS DECK, has a new Kickstarter that’s launching today. I’d like to use this opportunity to share with you some of the deeper creative motivations behind why I made this thing.

A very quick lowdown on Reckless Deck for the uninitiated: It is a card deck that contains 72 individual cards, each one offering a different object, character attribute, weapon or trope from the Fantasy, Sci Fi, Horror, or Steampunk genres. The idea is to shuffle the deck, draw some cards, and then, as Artists & Creatives, make something new happen out of the random, incongruous hand you’ve drawn.

The strength of Reckless Deck lies in the idea of TROPES... How to use them, and how to subvert them.

I feel (and this may be the first of several things I say that might get me lit on fire, making this the briefest debut in the history of blogging), the world of Science Fiction and Fantasy Art gets a great deal of its mojo from the "Set Design", "Costume" and "Prop Shops" of your imagination.

Let’s not joke - Sci Fi and Fantasy tend to be realms of "cool stuff". Because otherwise, we’d just be painting naked people on blank backgrounds, or pedestrian-attired people doing very everyday things (see also: Fine Art, Portraiture). What makes it "Fantastic Art" oftentimes is a function of the personal vision of your inner production designer, and how big a “creativity budget” you have stored up in your head to “fund” your next production.


For those of you who don’t know me, I left my illustration education mid-stream to be a professional actor for 13 years, finding my way back to illustration only after a lot of stage work, a lot of “suffering for my art”,  and a Master’s Degree in performance from the A.R.T. Institute at Harvard University.

I want to share with you some of the performance-related lessons I learned that ended up fueling the creation of Reckless Deck, and how my creative process continues to shape itself as a result.

I performed in a number of Shakespeare (& other classical) plays, and witnessed countless more. I can count on one hand the number of times I saw a doublet-and-hose, traditional period rendition. (Or, what we used to call “pumpkin pants”. Never wore ‘em once.)

“In sooth I know not why I wear this ridiculous getup.”

Modern Shakespeare performance tends to exist in either:

A) a different historical context a director might use to frame (and hopefully thereby inform) the production, or...

B) a kind of theatrical nether-realm, which to our Sci Fi/Fantasy eyes can often be actually an exercise in really intriguing world building.

And, it’s in this nether-realm that I learned that it’s possible - and often preferable - to have a world that can encompass both swords and handguns, a pocket watch and a cell phone, an hourglass and a laptop. Some recent examples you may already be familiar with:

Kate Fleetwood &Patrick Stewart, MACBETH, 2010

Alan Cumming, TITUS, 1999
Steven Waddington & Andrew Tiernan, EDWARD II, 1991

Creating Reckless Deck did an interesting thing - it allowed me to see that the various objects & tropes we traffic in as Sci Fi Fantasy illustrators can behave in very startling and unexpected ways, once you lift them away from the snug surroundings of their native genre and make them interact with unfamiliar companions. The inherent nature of a thing suddenly can fizz and pop in surprising new ways, similar to the shades of meaning of words in a sentence, or (in an analogy-tip-of-the-hat to Lauren Panepinto and other Mixologists) ingredients in a cocktail. Often, the incongruity between one thing and another creates a visual tension that can be really interesting - something akin to an unscratchable, never-ending itch in your brain.


Something unique to the nature of film as a medium is the act of film editing, or Montage. In the 1920’s, Soviet filmmaker Sergei Eisenstein credited montage as “the nerve of cinema”. He stated, “Montage is an idea that arises from the collision of independent shots” wherein “each sequential element is perceived not next to the other, but on top of the other.”

The term “montage” was first coined in 1916, however, by filmmaker Lev Kuleshov. In a now-famous film experiment, Kuleshov combined independent shots of a man, a bowl of soup, a woman in a coffin, and a woman on a sofa. The strategic ordering of the shots had a marked effect on audience’s interpretation of the man’s neutral expression. Although the man’s expression doesn’t change, when juxtaposed with the three images, the resulting mini-narratives suggest that it does. Essentially, Man + Soup = Hungry, Man + Coffin = Sadness, and Man + Woman = Lust.

For me, Reckless Deck acts as a kind of portable illustrator’s Kuleshov Effect Kit. Each card becomes like a snippet of film that can endlessly be edited and re-edited together in different combinations.

We all know well the resonance & frequency of combinations like “Sword + Shield + Dragon”, or “Laser Pistol + Robot + Spaceship”. And, no arguments, these are good frequencies, that most of us revisit often, and some among us wield with superlative skill. But what happens when you go jumping Once More Into That Breach with a montage like “Sword + Robot + Suit & Tie?” or “Shield + Laser Pistol + Angel Wings?” The results, admittedly, could be a hot mess. But, they could also be amazing - and have a freshness and a vibrancy that are borne directly out of the inherent risk - and dissonance - of such a montage.

The Sartorialist, 2015 © Clark Huggins


The last thing I want to leave you with is a moment from the completion of my undergraduate education at UC Santa Cruz. The 'Shakespeare Santa Cruz Artistic Director' at the time, Danny Scheie , showed us two opposing clips of the same aria from different versions of George Bizet’s CARMEN.

One was from the 1984 film by Francesco Rosi. This one was…about what you’d expect. Spain, stucco, petticoats, peasants.

The second was from a stage production of CARMEN by British director and theater pioneer Peter Brook. (Apologies in advance, I’ve scoured the internet looking for this footage, to no avail. The best I could do was this photo from a remount of Brook’s adaptation at Baldwin Wallace University in Cleveland earlier this year.)

Brook’s production has become legend in the theater world for its brazen stripping down of this pageant-like opera to its barest bones - a small cast, reduction of the full orchestra to 14 musicians, and all the lavish costumes and sets reduced to a blank, Zen-garden sandbox and minimal props.

Seeing the juxtaposition of these two interpretations of the same material was one of the seminal moments of my education both as an actor, and, as it turns out, an illustrator, as well. This freedom to upend and subvert expected tropes (sometimes replacing them, sometimes obliterating them completely) to suit one’s own personal vision has become something that is central to my work, both in my own work in the studio, and with the creation and expansion of Reckless Deck.

Macbeth Witches #2, 2015 © Clark Huggins

The Reckless Deck Kickstarter launches at 10 am on September 28th.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Kin Fables

by Cory Godbey

"Come! O, human child! 
To the woods and waters wild, 
With a fairy hand in hand, 
For the world's more full of weeping 
then you can understand."
W. B. Yeats

Quite a while ago I stumbled across the KIN FABLES TRILOGY, loved it, meant to post it on Muddy Colors, somehow didn't get around to it, ultimately forgot the title, lost the link, all that.

Well! I just spent the last week backpacking through the North Cascades National Park (that'll be my next post for sure) and, incredibly, at some point during all the switchbacks the name of this collection returned to me. Delighted, when we got back into civilization I looked into it again.

Seb and Ben McKinnon have crafted a magical and haunting experience with their work. The shorts are moody, atmospheric, strange, and wild. They manage to strike that John Bauer tuning fork within me.

What's more, there's an entire catalogue of short films to be enjoyed here.

To close, I couldn't post about Kin without noting, as I understand it, Ben McKinnon passed away earlier this year.

As if that Yeats quote couldn't possibly be more poignant.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Spotlight On: Steve Huston

-By Dan dos Santos

Steve Huston was born and raised in Alaska. He studied at Pasadena's Art Center College of Design, while working construction each summer to pay his tuition. Even before graduating with his BFA, Huston began illustrating, for such clients as Caesar's Palace, MGM, Paramount Pictures and Universal Studios among others.

After nearly a decade of doing commercial work, Huston decided a change was in order. He began teaching life drawing and painting, composition and anatomy; first at his alma mater, then at the Disney, Warner Brothers, and Dreamworks Studios. This allowed him the privilege of passing on the knowledge he had been given, while further honing his craft and seeking out new influences for the career he now envisioned.

Such influences came to include Titian and Rembrandt, the early American Tonalists, the homespun character of the WPA art projects, and the heroic and graphic power of the American Comic Book form.

1995 began his career as a fine artist, winning top prizes at the California Art Club Gold Medal Show that year and the following. A string of gallery shows has followed, first in Los Angeles and then in New York and elsewhere. Huston continues exhibiting his work widely.

And if you're interested in Steve's work, below is a brand new Muddy Colors Book Review, showcasing: 'Steve Huston: World Famous Contemporary Painter Series'.

To my knowledge, this is the only book available of Steve's art. You can easily purchase a copy of your own from Amazon, right HERE.

And in case you haven't seen it yet, here is a free 3 hour head drawing demo by Steve which I highly recommend:

Saturday, September 24, 2016

10 Things About Being An Artist Married To An Artist

-By Vanessa & Ron Lemen

Below is a Q&A about what it's like to be an Artist married to another Artist. We asked some friends to ask us a few questions which we them answered separately. It was tough to narrow the answers down, so we've included all of them. It ended up being a little lengthy, but here's what transpired:

First off...

How did you meet?

Vanessa: We met when we were in grade school in Fair Oaks, CA – we were about 10 or 11 yrs old. Ron's juggling instructor brought his class to our school to do a performance. Fast forward to now – we have been friends for about 35-36 years, and married for 15 years now.

Ron: We met when she was in 5th grade and I was in 6th. I was in a juggling troop from my elementary school and we went to Vanessa's school to put on a show, we met after the show when our troop was getting ready to head back to our elementary school.

live painting with a clown model!

#1 - Free Time, Work Time, and Alone Time

Anyone being married to an artist will tell you it can be hell. Art takes skill and hours to produce good work. Hours of "internal" work, solitary work. An artist can disappear. The reality is that this kind of inner focus can put real strain on a relationship. Having two in the house doing this may only increase that strain.

(My colour teacher at AAU commented that illustrators are among the highest in divorces... not sure if it's true, but she got me thinking.) ~HW

I know you both are very involved in many things including teaching, commissions, freelance, workshops, gallery shows, personal work and so on. How do you separate the day to day work and take the time to relax to spend together? When is the work day over? ~NV

Vanessa: I actually don't know anyone who would tell me that being married to an artist can be hell. In comparison to what? And who is that person to say what's right/wrong or comfortable or not a good fit for another? Maybe there are tough times, sure, but not *because* of being married to an artist – we're all just human beings with different or similar ways we do stuff. Tough times can happen in any relationship, and between any types of people no matter what their profession. And even more importantly, good times can happen – and they do – a lot more than the bad.

Art does take skill and hours to produce good work, true, and a lot of what's really great about being married to another artist is that he is well aware of that. I've found that the acquaintances we have who are not artists are usually the ones who tend to think that art is more like magic – an 'either you have it or you don't' type of trade – and I've found that it's tougher to explain the idea to those folks that hard work is involved to 1) attain the skills and 2) to do work in any type of arts.

Having that “inner focus” is a great thing. When I see that Ron is 'there', I think 'awesome!' And try to let him be. And he does the same for me. As far as our schedules being very packed with many things we do – most times, it's art-related in some way or another. Work time and free time seem to overlap on many occasions. The thing we try to take note of is when we've both been working for days straight, that we should take a break and go out and do something – just to get out for a bit. Breaks are good for the 'inner focus' too.

Ron: Having two artists in the house is a blessing. When the deadline is looming and the other half "knows" that time is necessary in the studio, it just works. Strain comes from when the partner does not understand the many faces of what creative strain can look like or how to handle them without having some feeling that they might be the reason for this "mood swing".
The pain of the deadline, the bleak moments of creative flat lining, or the need for silence is understood because she has been there too. We give each other space when space is needed and intervene when it is appropriate to do so.

Deadlines are real and we both know it and live it. It is a part of the life of an artist and what better way to share that way than to share it with someone who knows and cares about those precious hours of contemplation, creativity, and crafting.

Relax time to me is not about sitting around and lounging. I find that most of the time, I am the most relaxed when I am creating. Art is relaxing, it is what I want to be doing and I relax knowing I am in the act of visiting the imagination. The boundaries are blurred between work and play because to me my work is also my play, as is with Vanessa.

a few paintings Ron has painted of Vanessa painting

#2 - Inspiration and Motivation

Do you have routines to keep one another motivated and feed one another's inspiration in your separate projects? ~SB

How do experiences in each of your projects and classes inform those of the other? ~SB

Vanessa: We don't necessarily have routines to keep one another motivated or inspired, but it does happen. For example, we do stay up sometimes because the other one has to stay up or do an all-nighter. That can really help to know that the other is there working too. Ron might not know how much, but he motivates and inspires me a ton. He is one of the hardest working people I know. Maybe the hardest working person I know. That alone motivates me so much. He's kickin' my butt on a regular basis, and it's just by being who he is.

So many of our experiences we have in our surroundings, in the studio classes we teach, and in the projects we're working on are what come up in our daily conversations, so I'd definitely say that they come out in our work as well. One routine thing that I've found that's helpful for my own inspiration is just to get outside, go for a walk or run. We have really great trails right around our house, that we can use regularly, but that's something I usually do on my own. Ron and I go on adventures, like drive out to somewhere new, go for a hike, etc. and we always come back inspired.

Ron: When either of us hits a big creative road block we both love to go driving and shooting photos. We both usually have that itch to get out and go exploring around the same times together so that is very helpful. There are times when we are not synchronized in those creative slumps and we have to find something else to occupy that dry time while the other is busy working away. We also have our furry kids, and spend time with them.

When it comes to teaching, we always discuss our daily classroom experiences and we usually find that we share similar problems with students, and our discussions really help focus on what the issue is when sometimes they seem so random, obscure, or out of the blue that they can be taken the wrong way. Having that other take on the issue really does put the problem into better perspective and helps me see it from an angle I was blind to see in the first place.

With projects I come from the Art/Creative Directorial position and plan the crap out of everything sometimes to the point of not starting because it has all been worked out in charts and looks great. I more often than not need to be more spontaneous with my work, most of the time Vanessa works that way and took a lot for her to let go of that illustrative planning past but has successfully shed that skin. And at the same time she can use it again, comfortable in that old role so long as it is for a brief, and I mean brief, did I say brief?, moment in time. So watching her work really inspires me to be more reflexive and spontaneous.

A few portraits of Vanessa by Ron

A few portraits of Ron by Vanessa

#3 - Competition and Jealousy

Is there ever envy or jealousy re: Skill, Recognition, Awards, Income from art (one sells more pieces, or for higher prices than the other)? ~HK

Vanessa: I think any of this is natural to some extent, but it's more of a human nature type of thing, and it can be used as motivation.. **on a side-note which I think is relevant and important to mention here** Ron did not teach me how to paint. I have actually gotten asked this a lot, and it is one of my biggest pet peeves, I think. It mainly comes across as if because I'm the female in the relationship, that he taught me. It's a very old-school way of thinking that still finds its way into the minds of people in today's world. One thing I've found that has evolved over time in our marriage is my reaction to that. 1) I worked my butt off and got better (and still am always working towards new levels in many ways). 2) I gained confidence. 3) I stopped staying silent (I stayed silent for fear of sounding defensive) when someone would ask if Ron taught me how to paint. I've realized that in order for anyone who may think that he taught me to truly understand that that should not be the automatic assumption, it's my obligation to inform them that that is not the case – in our relationship, or just in how things work overall. But getting back to just competition and jealousy overall.. that's a thing one needs to address as an individual. Having a husband who's super skilled and knowledgable in art and gets recognition for it has been a huge source of motivation for me – and a huge source of simultaneously softening and toughening up an already pretty tough individual. When someone tells me that Ron is an amazing artist, they're not telling me I'm not. It's not a comparison thing. It's just an observation, and they would be correct in their observation, and so I can say 'yes, I agree!' Ron deserves all the recognition and accolades he may get. He's earned that, and I'm proud of him for it. As for income, no, that's never been an issue.. because it all goes to the same place in the end.

Ron: Jealousy is natural and there is no escaping it. I find that when it happens, if it happens, it becomes the fuel that stokes the next project into existence.

An illustration by Ron of Vanessa after a bad car accident and surgery

#4 - Creative Energy and Emotions

Creative work seems to go through a rollercoaster throughout production. There are times of sheer joy in the production of what one might consider a "successful" piece, but there are times of real deep slog. Creatives themselves seem to be quite human in response to this ride; the emotions will soar and they will tank. Having two in the relationship doing this ride, and especially at different times, could add real strain on the relationship. How do you two handle that? ~HW

Vanessa: I think that having two in the relationship doing this is why it does work! Whether it's at different times or at the same time. We both “get it” and that's really important. Getting it means having been there, and knowing that it will eventually work out in some way or another. Getting it means protecting the other's solitary time in order for them to have the time and space to work it out. And getting it means being there and talking it through or just not talking but still being there if they might need you to be. Again, to me, this is more of a human nature thing, and not so much an artist living with another artist thing.

Ron: There is a strong support from the other partner when there are those creative down slides just as much as when there is an upswing or success streak in the work. Those creative highs and lows are best understood from someone else who has them too.

I can't recall too many times when we both fell into the same funk at the same time and when we did we just bought bigger tubs of ice cream. Our creative peaks and valleys happen opposite each other or on the coat tails of each others previous emotional state for whatever reason and what is interesting about that is the previous experience from her is usually insight to my current dilemma, so the only thing standing in my way of finding peace for the moment is me and my stubbornness.

in our booth at SDCC

#5 - Tools and Studio Space

Do you share tools – brushes, pens, etc or do you each have your own sacrosanct set-ups? For example, it has been said that a pen or a brush, or any implement absorbs the energy of the user, and anyone else touching it contaminates that energy. ~HK
Are you able to work when the other is in the room with you? For example, does it affect the degree to which you can focus/concentrate? ~HK

Vanessa: We don't really share our tools, materials, or surfaces when it comes to our own personal stashes. We do have some things we share when it comes to tools at the school studio, and those are materials that students can use as well. That stash has built up over time. Ron and I work in very different ways in terms of painting or drawing, so some of our tools don't really even cross over. But the fact that we don't share our stuff doesn't mean that when one is out of something that the other can't use some. Or that one can't try some thing that the other is using, just to give it a try or see what it's like. Both of us, though, do not go through the other's stuff when we've run out of our own. Apparently, we've both always been that way. It's never been an issue or something that needed to be said. It's just the way we both are.

As far as working with someone else around, there are times when that's great, and times when it's better to be left alone to work. This goes for both of us. We're both okay with working with others around us. We teach, so we are comfortable working and talking at the same time, but when we're not teaching, we have a choice, and sometimes would rather be left alone to work.

Ron: None of my art supplies work when someone else uses them since I had a DNA grip installed on everything I own so even if the art supplies fell into her hands they would just act as inert useless material.

When we purchase something new we usually purchase two. We both do very different types of finishes so our materials rarely overlap in high frequency but if they did there would still be little to no problem using each others things.

The zone is really easy for me to get in to so if you give me give me big headphones and an art table full of the supplies I need I won't notice when the bombs drop all around us.

Doing a demo together at Legendeer Symposium in San Francisco

Watching Yim Mau Kun doing a portrait demo at our studio.  One of the many artist workshops we've hosted at our studio

#6 - Business and Income

Many artists struggle financially. It's a tough profession, for so many. Having one source of income in the family that is less on a roller coaster (e.g., commission work, freelance contracts, students for studio, etc) helps take some of the pressure off. How do you handle financial instability? ~HW

In regards to the business side of things, do you keep things together like filing taxes or is everything handled separately? ~NV

Vanessa: I think that a lot of what's perceived as art being a tough profession financially has a lot to do with a lack of knowledge about the issue. I'm not one to throw out some blanket statement about how it's done. It depends on the individual's goals, experience, interest and direction that they may take with their art. There are too many variables to form a general answer, but.. In our relationship and partnership, we've evolved under different circumstances and learned from them. It's pretty straight-forward, just like any other scenario - starting from a young age and working a regular job, making ends meet to pay bills, keeping track of your finances in order to know that you've got things covered, and if you have enough, to splurge on some special book or art supply thing. The biggest reason that a freelance type of income is maybe more difficult for some is the planning ahead and looking at the whole, and then being realistic about time, money, and financial and life responsibilities. When it comes to finances, Ron and I are a team – and just like any team, we have our individual strengths and weaknesses, and we work with those in mind to try to keep our team the strongest it can be. In regards to the filing taxes, etc, we do that jointly, and most financial and tax issues are predominantly organized and handled by me.

Ron: It is so much easier when the finances are lumped up together.

Portrait of Vanessa - a snippet of a tutorial by Ron for Gnomon

#7 - Deadlines

Creative work is a project-based existence and as a deadline approaches, the schedule can be quite intense. There are other fields that experience this deadline driven approach to job too; but there are many fields that do not. Two artists doing deadline driven work could make it hard for them to find open space (and energy) to spend together. ~HW

Vanessa: Well, when it's an intense deadline-driven time, that's not the best time to try to find open space and energy to spend extra time together. Ron and I have meals together on the regular – tea and some breakfast in the morning, especially. Sometimes during those deadline-driven times, it may be our only time we spend together each day, but it's understood. Spending time doing regular things that we do every day like eating meals, and playing with our furry kids, are times we can make sure to meet up and do together if we can. We also stop in to each other's studio from time to time, and sit there for a few minutes together talking about things and taking a short break, if we can. If we're both on crazy deadlines, which often times is the case, then it works out great! Just that once in a while, one of us has to remember to pick up a carton of almond milk for our tea and granola.

Ron: I think deadline time is essential in a relationship. It is concentrated alone time with others around you when "you" are ready or need to engage with another living being. When I was single and working away in my studio, there were so many moments when I wish there was "anyone" there to chat for a minute, bounce an idea off of, or to help me see what I was no longer focused upon.

The deadlines are constantly overlapping, if she is on deadline and I am not, that is time I get to spend working on my stuff that is already difficult to find time for so her deadlines are just as much a time to relish as those times when we both go hang out together, or when I have a job to complete, because I do enjoy my work.

Vanessa live painting

#8 - Feedback and Constructive Criticism

Do you give feedback to each other on work? ~NV

Has criticism/feedback of each other's WIP/Finished pieces ever caused either of you to have to spend the night on the couch? ~HK

How do you handle it when you offer the other feedback and your advice is not taken? ~HK

Vanessa:  We definitely give and ask for feedback on our work. And we definitely know when not to as well. I don't really have an issue with Ron not taking the advice I've given. A lot of times that happens because other things were done to the piece in a different area that could possibly cancel out what seemed to need a fix in the area that was mentioned.. or he just didn't feel like doing the thing I mentioned. Totally not a big deal to me. It's his work. But really, that's rare on both sides. A lot of times, the thing that's pointed out is the thing that's been the issue in the piece, so it becomes more of a talking point in a dialog on how to resolve it.

Ron: Feedback is one of those great things about having another artist in the relationship. Feedback is the thing every artist needs and many are afraid to accept or receive but when you both love it, need it and sorta gauge many of your artistic choices on those moments where the two of you focus on the problem at the moment coming from mostly radically different directions, so many new possibilities can arise if the mind is willing and the eyes can see it for what it is.

How do I handle it when you offer the other feedback and your advice is not taken?
I cry for months. I eat a lot of ice cream and read Nicholas Sparks novels.

the Lemens plein air painting

#9 - Collaboration, Like-mindedness, Togetherness

Do you collaborate on projects? ~NV

I know you both are very involved in many things including teaching, commissions, freelance, workshops, gallery shows, personal work and so on. How do you separate the day to day work and take the time to relax to spend together? When is the work day over? ~NV

Vanessa:  I see marriage as being a collaboration, and owning a business together as being a big collaboration as well. Again, these things aren't 'art only' types of things, but maybe could gain the title of one big collaborative accomplishment – a married couple running a business together. There were times in the beginning of our marriage and our business, where we'd start a conversation with “this is a business-related observation/question..” It would put it into a work meeting type setting instead of seeming like a personal issue. But since we've grown as a couple and as individuals, it's not as necessary to create those boundaries.

We've done a couple drawings together for Sketch Theater a while back which were fun and totally spontaneous pieces (see the link at the end of this article). And there have been a couple projects we've collaborated on or I had a hand in some jobs as a ghost illustrator to help Ron get the job done. But as far as paintings, I'm definitely super charged to do some kind of collaborative piece with Ron. I made him a hand-made sketch book a while ago, and he still has yet to draw much in it. He says it's already a finished work of art. We've done a ton of work of each other and for each other over the years, and gone on many art adventures together, traveling and sketching, setting up easels and painting in different places, and wandering and finding new places when we can.

Ron: We have collaborated on business projects more frequently than making art. We have done a few demonstrations together but we still have yet to figure out what our collaborative art will be. Until I can wield a spatula the way she does, the convergence of our treatment of the media remains unclear in my mind: It's all about the Spatula.

To define how we might separate the day to day work routine from the time we take to relax together, I want to first say that the only thing that separates work from play is a deadline, otherwise they are one in the same. So then, the only thing that separates work from whatever else is that impending deadline. I am relaxed when I am doing art, just not when I am doing someone else's art.

Above: pic by Naomi VanDoren at Legendeer Yosemite, and other misc selfies while hiking and adventuring

#10 - Good Times

What is the best thing about being married to an artist? ~NV

These may not be the best things, but here's a list of a few great things about being married to another Artist...

  • Going to a museum and actually spending a good amount of time looking at the art. ~V
  • Being excited about and sharing a unique view of something that may seem ordinary to others (For example, saying “look how green your skin looks” won't be taken the wrong way). ~V
  • Asking each other to pose for reference and knowing the other will not think it's weird and they will have great poses. ~V
  • Waking up in the middle of the night and going to the studio to work because you got inspired, and knowing that the other one totally gets it and isn't annoyed you're not staying in bed. ~V
  • Sharing an understanding that if you've stayed in your pj's all day, haven't groomed, and might've forgotten to eat, that it might mean that it was a really great and productive day in the studio and you were hard at work (and that just because you've been in your pj's all day doesn't mean you were slacking off). ~V
  • Life is so much better when the one you love shares the same passions for the things you enjoy doing, why would art be any different? ~R
  • It is so much easier to justify the purchase of art supplies over amenities just as long as you share. ~R
  • Whether it's 1 AM, 3PM, Christmas morning or while on a vacation, time in "the zone" is understood and no excuses are needed to be there. ~R
  • Honest feedback at the 11th hour. ~R
  • The day and whatever is involved with it is anything but routine. ~R

In the Sketch Theater booth at SDCC

Check out this link to watch one of our Sketch Theater collaboration pieces come to life:
Ron and Vanessa Lemen on Sketch Theater - vimeo