2003: “Have You Ever Heard of an Artist Named David Deitrick?”

Beyond Infinity

I’ve already written about the artistic path that led me to work in cut-paper sculpture; if you missed the story it entails concerns about the effects that aging and medication were having on my fine-motor skills and steadiness of hand. It also turned out to be the most fun of all the media I have worked in, combining the best parts of sculpture with the best aspects of just plain drawing. It found a place in my creative repertoire around the turn of the decade/century/millennium and by 2003 it made up most of my color illustration work.

It also took those three years or so to figure out the best way to prep those multi-layer dimensional pieces into a format suitable for two-dimensional work in publication. It was not a new dilemma for me as I had the same challenges with the dimensional illustration methods I had developed during graduate school and used for a good part of the ‘90s. Quite often the image would lose its depth during that process but for the meantime I was happy to get the work published. Eventually I found a good way to present cut-paper sculpture in a manner that showcased it’s depth and dimension but at the time of this story I would have the work photographed by my good friend (and top-notch shutterbug) Roy Buckner and saved to a compact disc which I would take to a print service to use in getting a flat print-out that I could keep for my records as well as deliver to the client via FAX/mail.

The illustration in question was a frontispiece illustration for Beyond Infinity by Gregory Benford, which was going to be published as a volume in Easton Press’ signed first edition series of science fiction novels. These are the upscale books that are as much furniture as books to be read, with raised detail on the spines, gilded edges and the little attached ribbon bookmark. I was especially happy with this piece for several reasons: I was developing a better technique for making hair, I was moving towards more depth in dimension rather than just stacking separate layers of flat images and I succeeded in capturing the essence of the story rather than falling back on simply depicting a scene from the book in literal narrative way.

…not that it didn’t have its challenges. The protagonist spends most of the book au natural and the editor made sure from the very beginning that this was “…a family publication” which was just as well as one of my students posed for my reference photos and I wasn’t too sure how well nude photography would have gone over with the dean. As it was the piece turned out quite nice and everything was working out up until it came time to get the print-out made, when I found out that everyplace in town that did that sort of work was closed….except Kinko’s.

Normally I’m not a snob when it comes to service providers and vendors – given that I have worked as a freelance illustrator in places like Sterling, Alaska and Orem, Utah I have learned to be pretty flexible in order to stay in business. This particular Kinko’s copy center had a history of abrasive counter help though, with many of the associates embittered master’s degree candidates who ( in their own eyes) had to settle for a retail job when that elusive tenure track professorship failed to appear.  Quite often getting anything done that required anything beyond self-help copying resembled a running gun battle and on this particular day I had neither the time nor the patience to engage in verbal fist-fights.

I walked in…and to my surprise there was a new face at the counter, albeit a slightly familiar one. As I waited my turned I searched my memory and remembered with a start where I had seen that face before. It wasn’t a good memory – the new clerk was a dead ringer for one of the most difficulty soldiers in my platoon at FT Richardson a little over twenty years earlier. It looked like the verbal fisticuffs were going to happen after all, but when I finally got to the counter it became obvious during our initial conversation that I was dealing with a chance resemblance rather than a ghost from my past.

However, as Jeff (the new counter associate) started working with my CD he started getting a bit agitated. He’d down-loaded the image and had it displayed on a computer screen that was turned around and consequently visible to both of us. He’d look at the image, and then look at me, then back at the image and all the while he was getting more and more edgy.

Finally he blurted out “Have you ever heard of an illustrator by the name of David Deitrick?”

Never saw that coming…I stammered and finally said “Uh, well yes…that’s me”

In one fluid movement Jeff vaulted over the counter, landed next to me and grabbed my hand.  I started to panic, thinking that my problem-soldier had surfaced after all but then Jeff started shaking my hand. “Thank you Mr. Deitrick! You made the future look the way it should be!”

It turned out that during middle and high school he had been an avid gamer and spent many hours playing Traveller, Space: 1889, BattleTech, Star Trek: The Role-playing Game and most of the other games that I had created covers and designed uniforms, vehicles and equipment for during the eighties and early nineties before Magic: The Gathering and other collectible card games blew apart an entire entertainment industry.

Since that time I have encountered more people just like Jeff. Most of them fit a pattern; forty-something’s who (as kids) played the games  I worked on back in my “Elvis years” of the 1980’s when I created covers and designed uniforms, vehicles and equipment for games like Traveller, Battletech, Star Trek: The Role-playing Game and Space:1889. It has been very rewarding meeting these people – not for any ego-boost involved but rather for the knowledge that my primary goal in making art was met, at least in those years.

You see, I didn’t get into this career field for the money – my income dropped by 60% when I resigned my commission to freelance. It wasn’t for the fame either –I “sign” my work now with my logo instead of a signature to channel the viewer’s interest to my work instead of my name.

No – I make art to make people happy. It’s a hard world we live in and I’ve always hoped that I made life a little bit brighter…which is why I never got tapped to do “gritty”.  I’ve continually gotten work and I’ve gotten a fair number of awards but for some reason editors were very loath to forward fan mail to me so I was never really sure if the kids were happy.

…but I guess Jeff’s vault over the sales counter answered that question for me once and for all.

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