Growing up in the testosterone-soaked Arctic is should be no surprise that my taste in sports runs towards football, hockey, racquetball and shooting…
…but my secret vice?
The surest ticket to a beat-down at recess at Woodland Park Elementary was ownership of a pair of figure skates even though without toe picks very few guys knew how effectively start and stop on hockey blades. My family’s compromise was to go skating after it got dark at night, which blessedly came early in Yankee corner of the Great White North.
Truth be told I liked to watch skating much more than I like skating myself – along with other “gliding” sports like swimming, cycling and hang-gliding the smooth rhythmic passage of a skater was a beautiful thing to behold, especially when set to music and when I discovered Kristi Yamaguchi in the 1990s there were times when I’d be moved to tears by such beauty in motion.
When I jumped into cut-paper sculpts twenty years ago I was first drawn to comic heroes as my subject matter, partially because of the nostalgia involved but I was equally motivated by the colorful costumes and athletic poses. It wasn’t long before I picked up on those same elements in professional athletics, and with my affinity for figure skating it wasn’t long before Ms. Yamaguchi showed up on my desk…
Dimensional illustration ( or sculptural work photographed and used as editorial illustration) was a fairly short-lived discipline in the commercial arts. Used occasionally more as novelty it came into its own in the “80s and ‘90s and even had its own annual awards competition1 but by the turn of the millennium it had been thoroughly supplanted by computer graphics.
It was during that brief period of popularity that My Beautiful Saxon Princess and I were invited to be the Artist Guest of Honor at LibertyCon X, a regional relaxacon chaired seemingly forever by the late SMOF2 Uncle Timmy Bolgeo; given my interests at the time it was a no-brainer that I’d come up with something sculptural for the program book cover. As a subtle tip-of-the-hat to Sir Gerry Anderson’s work it has always been one of my favorites but at the same time it has been the source of frustration to me over the last 22 years, mostly because I’ve never had a decent image for my portfolio.
It was used for the convention program book and T-shirt – and while the shirt turned out pretty good the book cover was terrible, being printed black line on a dark-colored background. The original sold in the art show and while I was happy to have at least one month of my mortgage paid as a result of the sale the purchaser soon moved far away and all I had was a fuzzy ink-jet print to show in my book.
…then my good friend and digital ace Kent Gardener stepped in and did his magic smoothing out backgrounds and generally making the image presentable.
Production notes: The original measured approximately 24”X12”X5” and was constructed from Super-Sculpey, styrene plastic, wood, illustration board and paint.
- Go ahead and ask me: “ David – did YOU ever win an award for your dimensional work?” to which I humbly answer : “Aw shucks folks I did win me a Bronze medal in 1993”
- SMOF: Secret Master of Fandom
It’s always a little disconcerting to see what happens to your work when it finally gets to print. In this case it’s the cover to the first GunKingdoms book that I worked on with Scott Taylor ; I was so excited with the composition and the way the gradiated color in the circular graphic device played against the overall stark white background, and how the smooth texture of both background and circle set up the detail of the figures quite nicely.
…all of which was knocked (bleep) over teakettle in the printed version, and of course as the artist I was just sure that all that extra detail surrounding my figures was a distraction at best.
Seven years later I am still mentally kicking the two images back and forth. Words and pictures will forever be competing for centerstage and both Scott’s name and the title wouldn’t near so dynamic were it not for Jeff Laubenstein’s embellishments…but that plain white background looked soooo nice.
As I’ve written before when I first started free-lancing I was just as interested in historical work as science fiction and fantasy, but you go to where the money goes…and as clients tend to order what they see in your portfolio I ended up specializing in genre work. I can’t complain – I could have ended up stranded in romance novels…
Most of my military work happened early on which made this project a real treat when it came about in 11986. It’s a good example of my work at the time, though it would have been nice had it not been so abruptly cropped – the original is almost twice the size and contains a Russian BT7 tank and the barrel to the Panzergrenadier’s submachine gun.
Airbrush, paint & colored pencil on 12″X16″ hot-press water-color board
This is one of the better “economical” promotional pieces I produced in between the labor-intensive color cards. Rendered on an 11″X17″ish piece of medium weight illustration board the figure depicts my version of a House Hostigos rifleman from H.Beam Piper’s classic alternate history novel Lord Kalvan of Otherwhen.
After shooting a stat for use with the card I added color with via watercolor, ink wash and airbrush and put it in the very same art show it advertised…and was promptly snapped for the immediate sale price early in the convention.
During the ten-year period following the Skye Boat Song promotion I sent out some sort of promotional piece every six months or so, the cards often performing double duty as convention flyers, bookmarks and on one occasion a change-of-address card. One fairly effective piece was a large color card displaying several color images produced by one of my major clients – they’d ganged the images on the end of a regular print run then used the bundle of finished cards barter in settling an old debt .
It seemed to be particularly effective as a hand-out at the dealers’ room tables we would often run at conventions….until I saw convention attendees sporting buttons displaying some of the same images from the card. At first I was pleased, assuming the buttons to be promotional items coincidentally sent in by the publisher in question but when I determined that the buttons had been purchased my sons and I did some investigating and found that a t-shirt vendor six tables down from us had walked off with half my cards and was using a hand-punch to make them into buttons then selling them for a couple of bucks apiece.
(It’s always amazed me that to the end he emphatically insisted he “didn’t do nothing wrong!”)
Entitled Queen and Escort this image was one of the multiple samples on that card but was well-received enough to serve as a promotional mailer on its own in the spring of 1986. It’s one the best examples of the composite technique I used at the time as well as one of my first large format female figures and was the basis for a third-person cosplay performance as well as the subject of two different small sculpts of mine later on. It was a point of pride that the concept, composition and use of color was strong enough to gloss over the fact that she wasn’t wearing very much. It even took my mom fifteen minutes of viewing before she tumbled to her state of relative undress.
Queen and Escort still hangs on my studio wall despite several lucrative offers, but then the highest bids invariably come from gentlemen ( and I use the term loosely) that I’d never want as owners of my work. This image is based on a Cibachrome print and the colors have shifter quite cool over the years. With the daughters and granddaughters I have now I don’t think this is something I’d do again but it remains one of my favorites
Other than knowing how to sling an airbrush and wield a marker I was totally clueless at the outset of my freelance career. As I’ve written earlier my parents were not overly enthusiastic about my career choices and until my second year of college the only bona-fide artist I knew was Peninsula pioneer and Renaissance man Cotton Moore…and it didn’t get much better when I finally started studying art in college as practicalities of an designer’s life were glossed over in favor of draftsmanship and technique.
Somewhere along the line I discovered CA (Communications Arts) magazine and learned about promotions and hustling up work…which immediately started the internal Stukas tearing up my innards. Along with all sorts of naturopathic remedies I had been spoon-fed in my youth with the idea that you “didn’t shoot off your mouth about yourself”, that hard-work and professional results were the best advertisement ever and in the initial stage of my illustration career that proved to be a sound plan.
…then came the evening in late 1984 when I looked at our snug little home, my sleeping children, the moths flying out of our checkbook and realized that at my current income we’d soon be getting our mail at nsmCardboard Box 5, Under The Overpass at Exit 272 , Utah 77340
My first step was to increase my efforts showing my portfolio locally, but I also went back to CA (then subsequently Step By Step and How-To magazines ) and started researching the idea of promotional mailers. As I was living in the creative wilderness of the Intermountain West a decade before computer aided design (with printers and scanners) the process of designing/printing/distributing promotional mailers was extremely labor-intensive but I managed to churn out some nice work which in turn brought in new clients and an increase in assignments. .
Skye Boat Song was the first promotional image I sent out – the image was inspired by Gordon Dickson’s classic military science fiction novel Tactics of Mistake while the title was a pun playing off the title of one of the first bagpipe tunes I ever learned. The type was all set by hand using Letraset press-type and pairing with the image involved more work with a PS 79 Proportional Scale than should be allowed by law. As photographic prints they were a little pricey to print up, but I sent 25 out in December of 1984 followed an equal amount a month later. As a promotional mailer it wasn’t too terribly successful, but it did startle an existing client into formalizing our relationship and feeding me a LOT more work, so it definitely was one for the win column.
It seemed only natural to have a Fireball XL5 re-design as my first finished project for 2020. While I continue to adapt classic uniform details and as was the case with LT Ninety I’m changing the Professor’s back story a bit, giving him a Welsh surname which enhances the “realness” while continuing the pun (“Matthew-Madoc” vs. “Matthew-Matic”.
I’ve also given him a specific rank, which brings up an interesting point: granted this is a kids show, and a kids show from wwaayy back but even at age ten it bothered me that naval ranks were interspersed with ranks used in the army/air force/marines. With the World Space Patrol part of an integrated service maybe the source of commission determines what type of title you are given: go to Annapolis and you become an ensign upon commissioning, go to West Point and you start out as a second lieutenant
When it comes to wealth and/or physical possessions I have always tried to stay negotiable in that any amount of my money or any possession was “negotiable” if a friend or family was in need. For example during our wilderness years in Eastern Tennessee my sons could always tell when we started our Christmas shopping because it was as that point that my CD collection would start to shrink as I started selling them to finance the purchase of gifts.
I’m not nearly as generous with my work – it’s tough to let it leave my possession and I won’t sell a piece of art now without a very pressing reason…but the most difficult “departure” for me involved a piece of work that wasn’t even finished. It was twenty-five years ago and between caring for our newborn daughter Meghan and teaching an early-morning religion class My Beautiful Saxon Princess had little time for painting and had little to show for an upcoming convention. On the other hand I had three paintings started, one of which showed a lot of promise so push-over that I am I wrapped it up and put it under the tree for my sweetheart.
Not many people would start to sniffle at the sight of pencil lines on primed Masonite but then My Beautiful Saxon Princess isn’t most people. I’d gone through several overlay/steps to get the drawing just right and the underpainting I’d included neatly indicated all the lights and darks which made finishing the picture both timely and painless. The signature is different from the way either one of use routinely sign work but then it’s probably the closest to a true collaboration we’ve ever done – evidently a good thing because it both swept awards and sold immediately at the convention.
It wasn’t just the move from Alaska to Tennessee that brought about culture shock during the winter of 1990-91, it was also the collision of graphic design hipsterism with the more casual business world found in science fiction conventions. All of this playing against the backdrop of yet another artistic upheaval, namely the transition from physical hand tools like waxers and X-acto knives to the use of computers in the practice of graphic design itself.
It all felt I was trying to take just a little sip of water out of a fire hydrant but I had a family to support so I did my best to integrate new skills from the university with the solid skills I’d developed as a successful illustrator…and I had to do something: Though I’d been a full-time freelancer for a decade I was feeling real heat from new competition and figured that I needed to do a better job in promoting myself and my work.
My CATalogue project seemed to fit the bill by combining basic computer design work with rendering skills and a dash of humor to present my work in the best way possible, an approach that was made even better when marbleized paper to create hand-made book folders for presentation. Unfortunately to this day I am still trying to figure out just how effective the campaign really was. It was so labor-intensive that I only sent out two dozen books with mailings spread out over a six-week period and it was tough to make a connection between “who got a book” and “who sent work”. A few of the small press publishers in the science fiction market didn’t quite grasp what I was trying to do and returned the books, one with the damned-with-faint-praise remark that he liked the concept a lot more than he liked the art itself and it was twenty years before I tried promotions again with an equally ambitious campaign.