What Analog Artists Do When the Power Goes Out

I am an easy-going person and I get along with just about everyone, but occasionally I will run into someone who seems to feel that my face is a face born to slap. When I was younger it would cause me a lot of distress and it’s still not much fun at sixty, but the most stressful aspect did not know what the cause of this rancor was…then one day the last Lego snapped into place.

Art.

There are a lot of frustrated artists in the world, people who would like to be creative but lack the skill to do so. There are also people with talent that would like to be working with that talent full-time, but can’t quite make the jump to freelancing. In either case soon after they learn I am a freelancer illustrator I start getting red faces, clipped word and baleful stares aimed in my direction.

Unfortunately on one occasion I had one of these people as a client.  The minute I walked through the door the drive-by sarcastic quips started up, beginning with the “Computers are putting guys like you out of a job” and ended with the usual stale “you want fries with that” jokes shouted out the door as I walked out to my car. I wasn’t in much of a mood for the comments but when I did the math it turned out to be a very cushy assignment. The company made custom campers and trailers for the telephone and cable industry and they needed a dozen line drawings of their product. Between the great shot reference photos I shot in their yard and the fact that I can render hardware in my sleep it was going to work out into one of the better dollar-per-hour rates I had ever made, so I sped home and got ready to start work…but the minute I sat down at my studio desk there was a knock at the door.

It was a representative from electric company; because they had to replace some aging transformers or framistats or whatever in the neighborhood they were going to shut the power off from nine in the morning to three in the afternoon for the rest of the week. I chuckled for a minute, then took my drawings to a desk in another room, pushed the desk close to a window for better lighting, then continued working.

On Thursday I called the client and made arrangements to meet. He had heard about the power outage in my neighborhood and was very brusque, telling me that he was a business man with deadlines to meet and he couldn’t be expected to “carry someone else’s load”–which I assumed meant he thought I was going to be asking for more time on the project. The other shoe hadn’t dropped yet–he had been so caught up in being caustic that it didn’t occur to him that I didn’t need a computer to do the work.

I wished I’d had the proverbial camera with me when I brought in all the drawings, complete and a day early. His expression telegraphed his internal reaction so obviously that all I could think was how quickly I could pay off school loans if I ever got in a card game with with this guy. As I turned the illustrations in and the check was being written his face never ceased its ballet of disappointed twitches and tics …though he did get in a parting shot by rejecting one of the pieces as something he supposedly had “never asked for” and docking me a hundred bucks.

I had my own dilemma to solve as well.  The adult in me was urging a kinder attitude, but the teenager in me was hopping up and down in a celebration of reverse-schadenfreude, ready to trade some extra time in spirit prison in exchange for watching that face-tango for another 10 minutes. Yes, computers are the future, but for now I’m happy drawing with my pencils and pens as an “analog” artist, whether the lights are on or off.

HughesTruck

Sketchbook Drawings

After my fire-and-brimstone sketchbook post the other day I thought I would post most sketchbook drawings here on the blog. I don’t have dates for all of these–I know that they are all Clarksville work though.

Fae Trooper: Uniform design for a shared universe my son Conrad and I have worked on.

Fae Trooper

Brule: Another one for Conrad; I think he was going through a King Kull phase

Brule

Batgirl: While I applaud DC’s daring for their recent 52 relaunch, I was less than thrilled with the way storylines in so many books were just chopped off with the literary equivalent to a rusty machete.

2012-11-02 BatGirl

Slinky Girls: Lori and I have a deal. I can draw what I want in my sketchbook, but she gets to edit it….which means it stays PG-13. I am fine with that – leaving things to your imagination .

2011-05-03 Sketchbook MAY

I also want to point out  that while it is true some of these outfits look like they were made in a belt factory, none of these women are weak in any way. All the drawings were done on 5 1/2″ X 8″ sheets of paper using pencil, gel pen, design markers and a bit of paint. (The trooper was a little larger). The two slinky girls were done on a toned paper with white paper affixed at the appropriate points with spray adhesive. None of the drawings took me longer than an hour to complete.

General Grievous, Move Over.

Image

General Grievous, move over.

Doing any kind of licensed material for Lucasfilm has usually been a nice experience. Not too much micromanagement. Pay not overly great but on time. They even sometimes work your creations into the SW canon, unlike another certain space-opera property.

The only problem I’ve ever had with them can be summed up in three words:

1.Work
2.For
3.Hire

They own everything you do for them under contract…which is why I flinch whenever I see General Grievous on his wheel-bike. This sketch here predates the general’s ride by a number of years–I did it in February of 1995 for the West End Games Star Wars Game journal–can’t remember the title of magazine or Peter’s (the editor) last name. Since every licensed publication passes through Skywalker Ranch at one time or another you have to wonder if one of the production designers was having a brain-fart creative walk one day when SHA-ZAM he came across my design.

Creative Curmudgeon Commentary 3: No Golden Tickets.

 I’ve been teaching since 1988 and during that time I have seen an unfortunate trend growing – the idea of the “golden ticket”. Other than being a major plot point in the sadly misunderstood Arnold Schwarzenegger 1993 action flick ‘The Last Action Hero” a “Golden Ticket” is something – a tool or qualification that will inexplicably grant you incredible success by merely being in your possession. Aladdin’s Lamp. Green Lantern’s ring. An airbrush. A Waccum tablet.

 Or a degree.

 It’s sad because students pass through my classes now with absolutely no desire to actually learn anything. They seem to be there solely to pass the class with as little work and as high a grade as possible in order to check off a box on the way to a degree which they assume automatically qualifies and entitles them to an extremely well-paying job. I can understand being pragmatic about school but I still think it’s sad – they miss so much during school and crash so hard when their entry-level job does not come with a corner office and a six figure salary.

 I worked my way through undergraduate work before there were Pell grants and it took me twelve semesters to earn a Bachelors of Arts (BA) degree in April of 1979. Not many people on either side of my family had earned college degrees, but I felt bad because it was getting a BA instead of a BFA – a bachelor of fine arts that was a bit more specialized and a notch up in status. Unfortunately there were a number of my fellow students and faculty members that made sure I knew the difference. I mean really, really really made sure that there was no question in my mind that a simple BA was just barely above “wash-out”  

 There wasn’t much I could have done differently:

  • I was attending schools located 3000 miles away from my home and support system.
  • I attended three different schools,
  • I made a drastic change in my major (pre-law to art) and then changed my area of emphasis within my major.
  • I was extensively involved with ROTC
  • I took a two year break right half-way through and also went to school part time for three other semesters as well.  
  • I was married for the last two years of school
  • My summers were not available for internships – I worked as a roustabout in an oil field.

 My insecurities were eased a year later when I was working at The U.S. Army Aviation Digest. The officer in charge at TSC (Training Support Command) had seen my work, liked it and invited me down for an afternoon to look around his facility.  This was long before computers or PowerPoints so instructors used slides to accompany lectures – and the slides were produced by a stable full of civilian illustrators at TSC.

  Please excuse the horrible pun but the visit was an illuminating experience for me.  I looked through the building I noticed that there was a common decorating motif in all the artists’ cubicles. Hanging on the walls would be:

  • Sketches and reference material for their current projects
  • An outside “signature piece” –something done outside of work that the artist felt represented their talents better than the little pot-boiler lecture slides they were doing for TSC
  • The artist’s framed diploma.

I had to bite my lip to keep from laughing. While close to 100% of the framed diplomas were for BFA degrees, 75% of the artists working in those cubicles were “not-very-good” artists. I won’t say bad – because there were a couple of nicely rendered spots in some of the slide illustrations that people were working on that day, but most of the work there was several levels below what I had been led to expect out of someone holding a BFA degree.

It was my first lesson about golden tickets…

…but you know the door often swings both ways. In our last episode of CCC I talked about not chasing clients and how there are some people who will lead you on for years…and as I inferred this has happened to me. In my case the person in question also suggested that I go back to school and take some figure-drawing lessons. Why the nerve! I was a successful freelance illustrator with an appropriate level of awards and recognition for the stage I was at. I judged the comment to be another one of those Manhattan thumb-to-nose gestures given to”flyover people” and moved on with my career without that client.

…but a decade later the issue came up again, though the second time it was me talking to me.  As I was closing in on 50 I had to admit that my figure drawing needed improving.   I had plenty of tricks to help me get by: I used projectors, I’d ask Lori to “edit” all my faces…I even went so far as to downplay the detail and finish on hardware pieces so those areas wouldn’t overpower my figures – but the fact remained that I wanted to be one of those guys who could sit down and just knock something great out my sketchbook in fifteen minutes

So I sent myself back to school. No, I didn’t take classes, but I set up a figure drawing program to build my skills. For almost ten years I studied, maintained a special reference binder, and drew. Not just lower-case “la-dee-dah” drawing – I DREW!  In addition to any other project I had going on at the time I worked in my sketchbook at least twice a week – sometimes three times – and in the end it paid off as you can see below.

So, again – there are no “golden tickets” in this business. I may joke and tell people that “illustration is all a bunch of cheap tricks – and they all work” but even with the cheap tricks you have to push yourself. On his death bed Michelangelo Buonarroti kept saying “I have so much yet to learn” and he was in his late 80s when he cleaned his brushes for the last time. You have to rid yourself of the idea that there will be a time when you can just “punch a ticket” or coast –

….and if that is too hard to do then I would recommend AFLAC and their great training program.

drawing progress