Thursday, August 21, 2014

If You Don't Have Haters, You're Doing It Wrong

-By Lauren Panepinto

In general, I am a technology optimist. I believe the internet is an amazing thing. I truly believe the more connected world today is a more welcoming place for artists, with more opportunities to show your art, break through to a professional career, and to make a living. I love seeing the inventive ways artists have learned to use social media to cut out the middlemen (pesky clients) and tap their fans directly, becoming artist-entrepreneurs. And don't even get me started on the new opportunities from Kickstarter and crowdfunding—that's worth at least a whole post on its own. 
I think the sociological implications of social media are really fascinating—human beings moving further and further towards harnessing the collective unconscious into an actual hive mind. I believe social media most often acts as a force for good—it connects people of like interests, it can make people isolated by geography or disability maintain strong social interactions, and it can very often be used for positive change in the world via awareness campaigns, fund-raising drives, etc.
Unfortunately there is one great evil of the internet, and it is haters. From the casual negative commenters on down to the lowest circle of hell where the true internet trolls reside, negativity on the internet can hurt, and unfortunately, as cyber-bullying has taught us, it can kill. And while I hope none of you reading this is an internet troll, I know each and every artist or creative person reading this has felt the sting of negative and/or nasty comments. They can steal our pride, rob our enthusiasm, and literally ruin a whole day. 
Before we get started, let's define terms. By negative comments I don't mean constructive criticism. That's a good thing. I don't even mean people pointing out something that seems wrong to them, or even that they just don't agree with what you're doing. By negative comments I mean nastiness, personal attacks, hating without a reason, and just general negativity.
I am in a position—as a woman, an artist, and an art director for a large and public company—that I am very much in the public eye. I have received more than my share of negativity on the internet. Some of it has been incredibly ignorant, and even violently personal. I've learned not only to not let it affect me, I've even learned to use it as fuel. Here's some lessons I've learned along the way:

1 — Don't Read the Comments
If there was a survival guide to the internet, this would be written in gold foil on the cover, a la "Don't Panic" on the Hitchhikers Guide to the Universe. If you make anything and post it in a public place, do not read the comments until you have gotten to a stage where you are only reading them to laugh at them. This is hard, and takes years of practice. If you have not yet reached that Zen-master level of not-giving-a-sh*t-what-people-think and you are tempted to read the comments, read this instead: @avoidcomments, a hilarious twitter feed of all the reasons not to read the comments.
The only place it is safe to read the comments honestly, is here on Muddy Colors. It's the only public site I've ever seen where the comments aren't moderated, and yet they are also almost universally positive and thoughtful. It's a credit to Dan Dos Santos who runs this blog so seriously, but I wouldn't expect this level of positivity anywhere else. Also if trolls ever found us, I'd make it my personal mission to figure out who they were and make sure they never worked in SFF art again. Consider yourself warned.

2 — Negative Comments are Universal
The amount of negative comments is completely irrelevant and in no way relates to the quality of the work being commented upon. Check out this list of classic books and their inane comments.
Honestly the better a piece is, generally the nastier the comments are, and there's a simple reason: jealousy. Leaving a nasty comment makes a troll feel a little bit better about their own insecurities, but it's an empty victory. They can't make something as good, all they can do is lob spitballs at it and hope some stick.

3 — Don't Feed the Trolls
Before I started at Orbit, I was designing non-genre bookcovers for Doubleday. Some fiction, some non-fiction, all kinds of books. In that world, you really only hear feedback from your coworkers during the process—which, although hard to take sometimes, is at least being delivered by professionals, and delivered entirely to your face. You may not agree with the feedback, but you can at least respect it. Once I started at Orbit, I found that every cover I released was a free-for-all for commenting on the internet. I didn't have as much of a problem with the plain old "I hate this cover" and "This is the worst possible cover and the designer should be shot" it was the completely ignorant comments that drove me insane. It was the comments like "They only use photography because it's cheaper" and "That cover is a ripoff of X" (where my cover clearly came out first). 
I wanted to sign onto every blog and argue each and every idiot to prove to them that I was right and they didn't know what they were talking about. But you know what, it doesn't work. All it does it fuel the fire. Trolls don't leave nasty comments to be right, they leave nasty comments to upset you — and if you answer, they win. Read this account of a former internet troll, and see what the psychology is behind trolling. And then stop reading the comments already. Really.

4 — The 10 to 1 Rule
There are some universal laws of the internet and I'm sure it's been scientifically proven: People are 10 times more likely to leave a negative comment than a positive one. Thus, one positive comment = 10 negative comments. Honestly, I think it's closer to 20 to 1.
This is where the ugly side of human nature collides with our inherent laziness for maximum effect. Anger and hate is much more casually motivating than empathy and encouragement. That's why it's so easy to fall prey to the Dark Side of the Force, duh. I believe goodness and honor win out in the long run, in the big battles, but if you're honest with yourself, you know you usually don't take the time to leave a positive comment every time you like something. It is much more likely that a person will leave a negative comment if they are angry than a positive comment if they are happy. So if you really must read the comments (really, you shouldn't) then at least use a factor of 10x to equalize the true worth of those positive comments.

5 — Negative Comments are Fuel for Your Fire
As this article says, If you aren't pissing someone off, you're probably not doing anything important. Once your thick skin is grown, and your confidence has grown iron-clad, then you are ready to not only read the comments, but to see your negative comments as a badge of honor. Let the negativity grow your self-confidence instead of eroding it. Your critics aren't the ones who matter.
Negative comments are often a signpost showing you that you're pointing in the right direction. People are angry about what you're doing. People are scared of what you're doing. People are jealous of what you're doing. Keep doing it.

6 — Your Weapon is Laughter
Trolls are sad. People who exist only to tear down others deserve our pity, and that's the only emotion they should be getting from us. As I said above, we need to see hating as fuel. But let's be realistic, that's a really hard attitude to maintain. We all slip. And here's a confession: It's when I'm feeling the most insecure that I DO read my comments, and start letting those comments reinforce that insecurity. Hey, nobody's perfect. When you slip, you have to remind yourself how ridiculous these comments really are. And how ridiculous you are being for letting some anonymous stranger dictate your self-worth. 

Maybe you should read your comments out loud. I always find a dramatic reading makes things better:

Or you can sing this song every time you read a negative comment:

So go forth! Post things on the internet without fear of what the trolls think, or say! And if you can't yet rise to the point that you can thank your haters, at least ignore them!

And I wasn't kidding about trolling on Muddy Colors. I have hacker friends. I will figure out who you are, and I will wait until you are in a portfolio review with me at Illuxcon to tell you I know. Heh heh.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Rise As One, Conclusion

Greg Manchess

No Man's Land Christmas morning, 1914, after being cleared by German and British soldiers

Finishing the Rise As One series of paintings for Tarras Productions and Budweiser.

Friday afternoon, March 28, while finishing the second set of eight pieces and working the next four, the photographer was in the middle of shooting the paintings when he had a family medical emergency and had to leave immediately.

I finally had to tell the AD there’d be a delay. What’s more, I managed to paint the wrong style of helmet on all the Germans. (They hadn’t changed from the spike helmets until early 1915, after noticing that British sharpshooters could use the spike as a handy target.)

Surprisingly, the art director was calm. He said he thought it would be ok, if I could paint a couple of spiked helmets in one or two of the final pieces. No problem.

Clearly, Fedex was not an option now. And while working out the timing, trying to get a different courier based in New York to make a special overnight weekend pickup on Sunday in Oregon, the AD mentioned that it should all be fine once Gamma One “stretches the canvases.”

“Hold on--Gamma One does photography. They don’t stretch the canvas, they just print it. You need a framer for that.”

“We don’t have time to find a framer.”

Lt. Zemisch oversees the burial of so many soldiers

Again, thinking on my much sore feet by now, I told them, “I know a guy. I’ll get back to you.” The ‘guy’ is my cousin, Adam Carlson, an up-and-coming illustrator, who came to my rescue by saying, “I’ll get that done. Keep painting.”

Christmas morning, both sides face each other without weapons

Adam took over as My Man in New York. He went to the agency to get all the specs for the canvas sizes and raced all over finding stretcher bars to fit. He’d been able to stretch the first few paintings by Friday night.

By Saturday night I had to complete several paintings, as my photographer was still at the hospital all day, but agreed to shoot and print the rest on Monday. And in preparing one canvas, I had miscalculated the size and made it too big. It had the most figures in it, too. That cost me time. It would be really close.

Officers and enlisted meet in No Man's Land, shake hands and share cigarettes, cigars, and chocolates

But by late that night, I managed to complete the last of 20 paintings and just needed the final one to dry by Sunday morning.

It hadn’t. Using wax paper to protect that piece, I rolled the last four paintings of the first twenty tightly into a tube so they wouldn’t move and smear the paint. I had it ready when the courier arrived, on time, 11:45 am Sunday morning.

One of the soldiers brought a football

On Monday, March 31st, the package was delivered door-to-door at Gamma One. After the photographer whipped through the shots and finished printing to canvas, Adam picked them up and shuttled them out to his apartment via cab. He managed to just finish stretching them by Monday evening when a car from the agency showed up to take them to the set, ready for a dawn shoot on Tuesday.

We’d made it, all of us. Only thing for me now was to finish the final four pieces of the entire project. By this time, I’d hit the most critical deadline which was to have as many images ready for the gallery shoot as possible. Twenty paintings in sixteen days. Insanity.

Much laughter ensues while the two sides tell stories and relax over a game of football...Lt. Zemisch joins in

The AD said I could take some time to finish the very last pieces as they’d have a little room to weave those into the film. I finished them over the next week.

I have to say, through it all, everyone at Tarras Productions was helpful, professional, and cool as cucumbers when it came to any sort of problem for the shoot. It felt like we worked well together, even though it may have sounded differently here. I'd work with them again in a heartbeat.

The events I wrote about here show what was going on behind-the-scenes in my studio. While everything nearly unraveled, I couldn't allow my client to see that. No matter what was going on. The professional face is it's own reward when you're on the edge.

Of course, I was exhausted. I’d run around the studio in different coats and helmets, shooting reference, sketching directly onto the canvases, composing as I went, and changing my face dozens of times. I’d weathered lost packages, equipment failure, distractions, and surprises, to complete the project.

It’s as if the universe knows when you need some obstacles in the way. It doesn’t like things moving smoothly. Something about building character, I suppose.

Would I do it all again if another cool project came up?

Umm...”I’ll get back to you.”

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

The Canyon Cat and a Trip Out West

By Justin Gerard

AWOL 2014 : The Canyon Cat
12" x 16"
Oil on panel and Digital

Detail Close-up

Ye Oldte Colour Comp

Earlier this summer Annie and I did a whirlwind tour of southern Utah, which I think has some of the absolute best national parks in America. (They're worth it! Go!)

Often after trips like this I come back and want to do something to try and capture the wonder I felt while I was there.  It rarely ever works out, and often, like the photos you took out there, rarely captures how compelling the whole experience was. 

This is one of those paintings that doesn't operate on a narrative like much of my other work; instead it is a collection of the leftover feelings and impressions of the place.

These images are often really hard for me to explain.
Then again, maybe they don't need much explanation because they are images, and after all they deal in matters that words can't adequately describe, and that's why we tried to communicate them in a picture.

We saw jackrabbits one night. They fled into the brush upon seeing our bright yellow headlights. From the canyon's edge we watched a lightning storm gather in the moonlight. We drove through the desert all night in the starlight.  And somehow I ended up here.

Bryce Canyon 2014

Bonus Post: Annie was also inspired by the adventure. Check out her post here!  

Monday, August 18, 2014

Hugo and Chesley Winners

This past weekend was LonCon 3, the host of this year's World Con, and with it, the Hugo and Chesley Awards.

Muddy Colors would like to take a moment to congratulate all who were nominated, and an extra special congratulations to this year's winners.

First, the 2014 Chesley Award Winners...

Best Cover Illustration: Hardback Book
Todd Lockwood 
A Natural History of Dragons by Marie Brennan; Tor, Feb. 2013

Best Cover Illustration: Paperback Book
Kerem Beyit 
The Scroll of Years by Chris Willrich; Pyr, Sept. 2013

Best Cover Illustration: Magazine
Dan Dos Santos
 Fables #136 Vertigo, Dec. 2013

Best Interior Illustration
Brian Kesinger 
Walking Your Octopus, July 2013; Baby Tattoo Books

Best Three-Dimensional Art
Devon Dorrity
Cecaelia, Queen of the Ocean, clay

Best Unpublished: Color Work
Donato Giancola
 Huor and Hurin Approaching Gondolin, oil on linen

Best Unpublished: Monochrome Work
Ruth Sanderson
 The Descent or Persephone, scratchboard

Best Product Illustration
Julie Bell & Boris Vallejo
 Jeannie's Kitten, IlluXCon 6 promotional art

Best Gaming-Related Illustration
Lucas Graciano
The Last Stand of Thorin Oakenshield for The Battle of Five Armies Board Game; Ares Games

Best Art Director
Irene Gallo
Tor &

Lifetime Artistic Achievement Award
Jim Burns

And the Hugo Awards went to...

Best Professional Artist:
Julie Dillon

Best Fan Artist:
Sarah Webb

Saturday, August 16, 2014

So you want to be a “book cover artist”

A cover which I painted, or actually symbolic of exploring
the mysterious depths of freelance illustration? You decide...

David Palumbo

When I give portfolio reviews to emerging artists, I always ask “what type of work would you like to be doing?” and I almost always get the answer “book covers.”  A popular second is “Magic cards.” Generally speaking, young fantasy illustrators seem to have their eyes set to very specific and narrow goals which are, understandably, the sources of inspiration which may have pushed them towards the field in the first place.

I don’t know that many people might describe me as a “book cover artist.”  I will use the term to help explain my job to non-artists because sometimes I do book covers and people understand what that is, but I‘m definitely not one of those rare individuals (for example Dan Dos Santos and Chris McGrath) whose work does seem fairly dedicated to this very specific branch of the illustration tree.  

The problem with being a book cover artist, even mostly a book cover artist, is that there just aren’t enough book covers, even in the fairly lush publishing landscape of today, for very many people to make that work.  Those who do it tend to lead and define their genre.  The good news is that there is a hell of a lot of other work out there to do which is just as fun and exciting, people just don’t seem to know what it is or that they want to do it.  So when I ask that question and am told “book covers” or “magic cards,” I’ve started thinking it might be helpful to point out the world beyond the obvious.

I started by looking up every commission which I’ve completed in the past three years and breaking up categories.  Here are the avenues which I’ve personally kept myself busy in to varying degrees:

Book (covers)
Book (interiors)
Comic Covers
Concept Art
Editorial (covers)
Editorial (interiors)
Editorial (online)
Film Posters
Gaming Illustration (non-mtg)
Gaming Illustration (mtg)
Private Commissions
Trading Cards (non-gaming)

By year, treating each commission with equal weight regardless of pay, book covers made up 15% for 2012, 13% for 2013, and 12% for 2014 (to date).  The number of jobs varied significantly between years, but the ratio was steady.  Magic cards, the other popular goal among aspiring fantasy illustrators, accounted for 37% in 2012, 19% in 2013, and 19% in 2014.  2012 surprised me there but the following two years leveled off again.  Excuse my numbers and stats here, but it brings me to my point:

When people ask what work I do, I generally say “oh, genre illustration really, mostly book covers and Magic cards” because it is easy to say and it feels mostly accurate, but really these things only account for approximately one third of my actually paid commissioned work in a typical year and that is without factoring in personal and gallery work.  What the hell else am I working on?  I think I’m part of the problem. 

In reality, I don’t really know what I do.  All I know is that I’ve made an effort to cast a broad net while keeping my work recognizably my own.  Certainly working with an artists representative ( I have been for just under two years now) has expanded my reach to clients I never would have considered previously.  My work rarely ever touched editorial or advertising prior because I didn’t know it was something that I could be doing.  I ignorantly dismissed those areas as the type of jobs that wouldn’t be interested in a realist painter.  The truth is that I just thought “well, I guess I’m doing fantasy and science fiction so I’ll limit my ambitions to the same twelve or fifteen clients that I already know.”

I’ve heard it said before that you only need about 3-5 regular clients to make a living as a freelancer.  This is true but I’ve also learned that, even then, hot and cold spells can still make a steady pace difficult to maintain.  Clients come and clients go.  I think it is a reasonable goal to forge long term relationships with clients who treat you well, but to avoid putting so many eggs into one basket that you would be out of work if they went under, cancelled the product line, changed art directors, or simply no longer found your work a good fit. 

One of the great things about being a freelancer is that we don’t really get downsized if we keep our client base diverse.  Job security is a strong portfolio and an open mind.  If you have an eye out for new opportunities and are always actively promoting, creating, and expanding, you will have no problem pivoting when a regular client dries up.  Personally, I also find it much more conductive to growth as an artist if I am frequently taking on new challenges and working with new people.

Ultimately what I’m saying is: pursue the goals which you are passionate about.  Go get those cover jobs and do your very best with them.  But also look further.  The world is full of art and somebody needs to pay somebody to make it.  Look beyond the expected and you might find some great opportunities waiting for you.