“Art? So you want to do art for a living? Do you know what the chances of success are?”
Those words echo in my head, some twenty-seven years later after my last year in high school. They were the words of a provincial and so-called “guidance counselor.” Whenever anyone suggests they’d like to have a career in the arts, specifically art and illustration, it is often met with such sarcasm and negativity that one can only feel sorry for the lack of wonder and vision in these people. After all, haven’t all manner of people been bombarded with some form of advertising art over the last one hundred years or so?
Perhaps, had I listened to this person, had I followed his suggestions, I would be in some highly “safe” but dismally predictable job. I might never have found out the extent of my reach or potential if I had taken his advice to heart. I don’t know, and frankly, I can’t picture myself any other way than I am now.
Quality of Communication
Encouragement in the arts is an uphill battle. Putting it simply, to some, art—writing, music, and also entertainment—is seen as some kind of marginal and dispensable need: something that is not necessary for day-to-day living. Those people do not know how wrong they are, because without it, they are not living. Art enriches lives with understanding and communication on a very basic level. As L. Ron Hubbard once said: “ART is a word which summarizes THE QUALITY OF COMMUNICATION. It therefore follows the laws of communication.” And truly, being an illustrator is being a communicator in a visual language all can understand.
There are many ways for someone to recommend “tips” and suggestions on success in this chosen field. Some are general ideas that will work, and still, for others, it is a case of what works for another may not work for you. A lot of it is a combination of drive, talent, and most of all, luck. But then I believe in creating luck—by being determined to succeed.
A suggestion that I found worked for me early on (and I still stand by it), after I found it led to essentially dead ends was: never work for free. Even in this book that you hold in your hands, the writers were paid for their stories and illustrators for their illustrations. But that’s all beside the point in this case, as in both instances, winners and finalists got a wealth of suggestions and critiques worth far more than money, and, well, the thrill of winning a wonderful accolade. So, that said, they can’t now retreat and do something for nothing; this is, unfortunately, a world where there are unscrupulous people who will surely take advantage of an illustrator/writer/creator inexperienced in business. I’m not saying don’t give of yourself to your favorite good cause or charity—something where the reward is in the helping. I am saying: don’t do a fantastic piece of artwork and then simply sign away your rights as having created the work, and someone else goes on and makes money off your labors. Donating your talent and time to a good cause is just being a nicer human being—and that comes back to you, I have found. However, being taken advantage of is another thing. There is nothing more discouraging than that.
Achieving fame is another issue. What’s important is not whether you are famous, but rather do you love what you do? And, if you do achieve a kind of fame, I warn you, never ever believe your own press. That is to say, let nothing go to your head too much, positive or negative. Salvadore Dali did his epic painting Persistence of Memory (the one with the melting clock) and critics praised this as some life-changing, almost existential, self-defining work of inner truth. In reality his entire inspiration was from … Camembert cheese. That was it. It does not detract at all from this fine work, but some people who wanted to read something more into it felt betrayed.
This also means avoiding being “lofty” or “high and mighty.” How can you be in the business of communication, as Mr. Hubbard reminds us, if you don’t communicate in a way people can understand? To some it seems to be the way to more wealth and power, but, in the end, it’s a losing game to pursue. And I also warn you, should you reach the heady heights of success and/or popularity … there are those few in the shadows who delight in trying to destroy that. It’s called “Tall Poppy Syndrome” and is usually practiced by those who are in opposition to what you do, are trying to make themselves feel superior by belittling your creation, or are jealous, or just petty. There are still others, in all ignorance, who, no matter how much money you make or how happy you are, will never see “art” as a “credible living.” They’ll forever see it as a hobby and possibly ask when you are going to get a “real job.”
The “up” factor is that the majority of people will find something that “speaks” to them in your work. And it’s always exhilarating, no matter how much you achieve in your life, to see an image or written piece you’ve created in print form. Hold it in your hands and say, “I did that.” It’s also nice to get paid for it.
What About Technique?
I’m often asked about techniques and ways I work with materials. My reply to that is: each to his, or her, own. There is no instruction manual; learning what is right (or wrong) for you is just trial and error—experimentation. However, I will add that art is a journey—an ongoing learning experience—one that will probably consume the rest of your life. My usual answer to “What is your best piece?” is “My next one!” because for me, it’s a quest to see what I can do next. I try to use different media—pencils, pastels, oils, collage, acrylics, gouache, watercolors and markers—simply because it motivates me to explore. Finding ideas in the paint and the paper itself. At least that’s what I tell myself, and it keeps me going. It is always the next piece that will be better than this one. You hope, anyway.
The idea of “the next piece” suits me well in meeting deadlines. I don’t have time to fuss around wondering if this will be the defining piece of my life. It’s due Thursday and that’s what’s more important at that time. Deeper works will come with more time and in perhaps creating something just for oneself.
Computer Generated Vs Traditional Art
Recently, there is another debate raging in science fiction art circles: computer art versus traditional methods of brushes and paint. Advances in technology in the computer seem as though it makes anyone an artist. This is not true. It can give someone the illusion that they are able to be an artist, but to really be a good illustrator—painter or draftsman—it takes many years of practice and observation. A computer and the various programs can be excellent tools if that is what you wish to create with. But, one has to have the basic skills and, I believe, the talent to breathe life into one’s chosen subject. If the talent is there and the skills are honed, the style, expression and communication will show through any media. My personal feeling is that I like a painting—a physical piece of art to show for what I have done. Many publishers have entirely gone to using digital computer art. The idea of doing an original painting seems to be viewed as quaint. In fact people are genuinely struck that I “still work the old way.” Interestingly, I get calls to do illustrations because I can do them “the old way.” We are approaching a time when there will be fewer and fewer original, physical paintings and drawings. Conversely, digital storage is not as permanent as one would like to think it is. Computers, programs and storage media go out of date faster than yesterday’s newspapers.
I do believe that using digital can be a good thing, if used in tandem with creating an original painting. This works especially well in doing concept art for motion pictures. Working for motion pictures is quite an experience, because unlike doing a single illustration for a story or a book cover, the artist is asked to do many pieces of artwork, usually working the same idea over and over again to find the ultimate vision that speaks with its own “voice.” Scripts change, directors and producers change their minds; it is an ongoing process of creation and re-creation. It’s less important to do a finished illustration than it is to come up with a lot of ideas. And usually, it has to be done quickly. More ideas are better, and even ones that are discarded give life to still other ideas. But, it is no different than the basic idea of communicating.
The Chinese Finger Trap
In regard to health, it is important for the artist to get out and exercise. Good health is good for creating. Breathe the air, see the sunset. The more you see “reality” the better your fantastic imagery will be because it is grounded in something people can understand. Quite often when I am stuck on a solution I find just such breaks extremely helpful not only to my state of mind, but in finding the best idea for a given assignment. The danger can be like a Chinese finger trap—keep pulling your fingers and you won’t get much but panic and confusion. Relax, and the trap loosens. However, and I make this solid and beneficial suggestion: try to keep “working hours” within a regular schedule, say nine to five, as it were. And, unless it’s really necessary, don’t work weekends. Try to do something for yourself or with your family then to avoid burnout. Balance is very important: the well-being of the creative spirit as well as the physical body.
Being an artist is like a jester doing the juggling act. While the idea that an artist sits in his or her studio creating illustrations and the world falls at their feet is a romantic one, it is certainly not the reality. The reality is balancing life around that—making sure the bills are paid on time, the laundry is done and the dishes washed; to sleep, eat and breathe. And you still have to make those deadlines.
What Works for Me
I try to suggest to people something that does work for me—be the best artist you can be; don’t worry about being the best there is. You’ll be a lot happier in the long run. Later on, history will judge your work to be the work of some genius—or not. Then again, it could all be the Camembert cheese.
Bob Eggleton is the winner of nine Hugo Awards in the field of Science Fiction and Fantasy. He also won twelve Chesley Awards, two Locus Awards and the New England Science Fiction Association’s Skylark Award. Bob has worked in the film industry, including the Warner Bros. animated film The Ant Bully. He has an asteroid named after him—113562bobeggleton—and is an expert in all things relating to Godzilla and giant monsters and was an extra in a Godzilla film. He is married to artist Marianne Plumridge from Australia. He has been a judge for the L. Ron Hubbard Illustrators of the Future Contest since 1987.
This article was originally published in L. Ron Hubbard Presents Writers of the Future volume 22.
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