ShaunTan. Photo by Stefan Tell.

Advice for a New Illustrator by Shaun Tan

Illustration is a very diverse and scattered profession, a practice that takes many forms, sometimes even hard to define, and it’s very unlikely that the careers of any two illustrators are alike. It’s mostly freelance work where an illustrator moves from one opportunity to the next, often in an unpredictable way week to week and certainly unpredictable throughout a working lifetime. If nothing else, markets, technology, culture, personal skills, and interests will change and develop all the time. That’s the first thing to be aware of, especially when either giving or receiving specific advice—every artist’s experience and circumstance is different. The most I can do is reflect on general principles gleaned from my own successes and failures over the years, tips that might be relatively universal, useful and encouraging.

Challenge Yourself

Perhaps the first and most important tip is one that applies to all work: enjoy what you do, to the extent that it is a pleasure to go beyond the call of duty. Creating work that is more than sufficient, that exceeds expectations and even the demands of the client, has always been something that I’ve not only tried to do but learned to enjoy doing. I rarely consider any job “run-of-the-mill” or just “bread-and-butter” if I can help it. Given time and energy (admittedly not always available!) I like to treat every creative task as a unique experiment and don’t always go for the easiest solution, or the one most dependent on existing skills. Every piece of work should involve an element of innovation or novel difficulty. This is what I’ve come to understand as “doing your best.” It’s really about trying to do a little better than your best. I’ve always been surprised at the results, and that in turn has fed my self-confidence as an illustrator.

It also explains my success as a creator of picture books. When I first entered the genre, I was very interested in challenging both myself and this narrative form rather than executing good, safe and “appropriate” illustrations according to an agreed fee or royalty.

I was inspired by other artists and writers with similar intentions, creating artistic problems for themselves, and investing seemingly unnecessary hours for very little pay, sometimes reaching only a small audience, in a genre that’s often critically overlooked and sometimes disrespected (true also of SF illustration from a mainstream viewpoint). That didn’t matter: what most concerned me was the opportunity for some experimentation that may not have been possible at the bigger commercial end of the spectrum, where higher pay usually equals less creative freedom. For the same reason, I devoted most of my energy and passion early in my career to small-press science fiction, because it offered the best opportunity for artistic development, weird visual challenges, and ultimately came to be the place where I could fine-tune my practical and conceptual skills as an illustrator in the absence of formal training. Making almost no money, mind you, although it’s paid off in the long run. I’ve learned to be patient and stick with it!

So it’s very important to pursue personally challenging work, and small jobs can be just as significant as high-profile ones for that reason. Although people are often impressed by an association with high-profile projects (especially film) perhaps my most significant achievements are modest landscapes and portraits painted in my parents’ garage during my early twenties, work which remains unexhibited and unpublished. I still enjoy creating paintings that have no commercial concern or public dimension. I think it’s very important to have this stream of work alongside commercial practice, a separate stream—again, it’s all about strong personal development. A good artist is (I think) an eternal student, and even when most confident, never feels like a master. They are forever pottering in their backyard spaces, trying to explore their craft with modest integrity. That’s how unusual and original work emerges, not by chasing markets or fashionable movements or wanting to be conventionally successful.

Be Versatile

But speaking of chasing markets, for a practicing artist this remains, of course, an essential pursuit, if only to survive. It’s the other, parallel course of creative practice: economic sustainability, making money. I think this area is the most difficult to cover with simple advice because there are so many types of working environment: adult, young adult and children’s publishing, advertising, editorial and genre illustration, film design, animation, theatre, fine arts, games and other forms probably not yet invented. Most visual artists will cross over several of these, especially in a digital, multimedia environment. Therefore, versatility is paramount. That doesn’t just mean being adept at working in known styles and media, but also unknown ones—you need to be able to learn and adapt, to remain flexible, diverse, open-minded.

Be Professional

The principle of versatility also applies to working with people, since nearly all commercial work is collaborative. Even if you are writing and illustrating a book in uninterrupted solitude, it’s still a collaboration with an editor and other publishing staff. It’s important to be reliable and easy to work with, as much as with any other job. This is the main reason clients will continue to give you work, and almost all of my early assignments came to me through the recommendations of others. A lot of preceding illustration produced for little payment in small-press magazines and anthologies proved to be worthwhile, both as training and exposure, a demonstration of my willingness to follow a brief in a dependable and imaginative way. That’s also true of one of my very first “jobs” as a teenager, an illustration for the Writers of the Future anthology that needed to complement a story about a time traveler who kills kittens!

Be a Good Speaker

Communication is very important, even though so much time is spent working alone on what can otherwise seem an introverted profession. You need to be able to talk and write about everything you create in a clear and explanatory way to help others understand your ideas, especially when they are not immediately visible, especially to non-artists and the aesthetically blind. Empathy and patience almost always win the day, even in tough situations. You need to be open to discussion, revision and compromise, while at the same time maintaining your own artistic integrity—these are not necessarily incompatible, as so many people often believe.

Maintain a Broad Interest

Technical competence as an artist is, of course, essential, but this is only ever a tool for the realization of ideas; without a strong imagination, the display of skill is just that—and “style” is interesting only if backed up by content. Too much illustration looks great, but leaves little resonance in the mind; it’s brilliant in style yet thin on conceptual relevance to real-life concerns.

It helps to remain interested in all forms of art and have a good grasp of art history as well as some knowledge of art theory, both past and contemporary. Understand the relationship between art and life. My own background is quite academic, and although I initially worried that studying art criticism might have been a bad choice (having no real idea what I wanted to do as a career), it’s actually been very useful. A knowledge of history and theory, and interest in art beyond making attractive pictures: this can really boost your artistic thinking. Developing a visual sensibility and vocabulary, rather than just technical skills, means that you can be perspicacious enough to deal with many different projects and find original solutions.

Don’t Despair!

As long as you are doing something, even if it isn’t successful, you are not wasting your time. The greatest achievement of so much creative work is simply finding time and dedication to do it, especially when it seems difficult and less than enjoyable, particularly as almost every project seems to involve some kind of confidence-wounding “crisis.” Good ideas and talent aren’t worth much if they aren’t put through the wringer of actual hard work. Ideas are not really ideas until they are translated into labor. Failure is also an essential prerequisite for success.

Pay attention to criticism, and don’t pay attention to criticism! At the end of the day, you are the ultimate judge of your own work, so learn to be critical in an affirmative rather than negative way. All creators—if they are any good—suffer from periods of disappointment, even depression with their own achievements (or lack thereof); that’s perfectly normal! Just keep going, if you want to cross that threshold. You also never find out if you’ve really failed until you actually finish a piece of work. Each success, regardless of quality, will build confidence, and confidence is the key. You also need to protect that sphere of confidence from unwelcome opinions or minor setbacks.

Draw, Draw, Draw and Then Draw Some More

Finally, for anyone interested in being an effective artist, illustrator, designer, even a film director—you should really learn to draw well. It’s a valuable foundation, something you’ll always use, regardless of technology or genre. Drawing is more than just wielding a pencil with precision, it’s a way of seeing well, something that takes several thousand hours of practice, and even then, never entirely mastered. Good drawing is a timeless skill, infinitely adaptable, and will never become passé. My entire career rests on my ability to draw well, to think effectively using simple pencil marks. All other visual skills and techniques, from oil painting to CG animation, are elaborations of this fundamental skill.

Tips on Getting Published

Being a competent artist is one thing; getting published represents a rather different set of problems. The most important advice I can offer is this: please consider the publisher. What can you offer them with your work? Research the area you are interested in and know what a prospective editor might be looking for, what other work is out there. A picture book text might be as brilliant as its potential illustrator, but if it does not suit the list that a publisher is pursuing, both are quite likely to be rejected. Unfortunately, publishers do not exist to supply a canvas for free artistic self-expression—I wish!—they are primarily a commercial business. Many young artists don’t pay enough attention to this important fact.

Be aware too that there is a “culture” of illustration in any genre that you need to be familiar with (which can vary from country to country). One good way of finding out about this is to study recent works that have won major awards and think about what they have in common. Recognize trends, but don’t bend backward to imitate them, or try to be something you’re not. Rather, look for the point of intersection between your creative interests and the kinds of books that are being successfully published.

As a contemporary illustrator, you can accomplish a lot by having a very good website and a well-presented folio. I would keep both of these quite simple, showing only your best work; young artists always seem to err (as I did) on the side of excess. A good folio needs only about twelve pieces—be very selective. These should represent technical skill and diversity, color and monochrome, and especially anything featuring human figures, something editors usually look for. Where possible and appropriate, it is good to arrange a face-to-face meeting with a relevant editor or art director. I’ve personally found this very useful, to get to know each other as people rather than less memorable e-mail or web addresses. Success as an artist, especially in publishing, has much to do with warm relationships. But don’t believe anyone who says “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know”—it’s what you know and who you know.

And, last of all, good luck, but don’t just wait around for it to happen: make your own!

This article was initially published in L. Ron Hubbard Presents Writers of the Future Volume 28

 


ShaunTan. Photo by Stefan Tell.

Shaun Tan

Shaun Tan grew up in the northern suburbs of Perth, Western Australia, and began drawing and painting images for science fiction and horror stories in small-press magazines as a teenager. He has since become best known for illustrated books that deal with social, political and historical subjects through surreal, dreamlike imagery, such as The Rabbits, The Red Tree, Tales from Outer Suburbia and the acclaimed wordless novel The Arrival that have been widely translated and enjoyed by readers of all ages. Shaun has also worked as a theatre designer, as a concept artist for the films Horton Hears a Who and Pixar’s WALL-E and directed the Academy Award-winning short film The Lost Thing. In 2011, he received the prestigious Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award, honoring his contribution to international children’s literature.

Shaun became a judge for Illustrators of the Future in 2011.

“Starcave” by Paul Lehr

Science Fiction & Fantasy Art: Three Keys

“Starcave” by Paul Lehr

Pictorial art in science fiction and fantasy means different things to many people. I will try to give my personal outlook on the field, which has come about through nearly forty years as a working illustrator. What I have to say will not be etched in stone for everyone; my peers have their own procedures in work, some of which differ from mine. I can only present personal guidelines collected through my own experience.

First, I consider illustration to be a high art form. It has the capacity to enlighten and to project feelings of emotion. It can do more than illustrate an incident in a story. (Although that is of primary importance.)

Just look back to the great illustrators of the past: Daumier, Winslow Homer, N.C. Wyeth, Remington, Howard Pyle, and Chesley Bonestell, to name a few. All were powerful painters whose book and magazine illustrations reflected their own times and move us even today. Redon, Rousseau, Goya, and Paul Klee could be called artists of fantasy. It is far-seeing work that carries us beyond our own time, and into the future with dreams and realistic speculation.

We have the imagery of science fiction all around us in our own world—and it has always been so. With the kitchen light on during a summer evening, look out through the screened window, and you will see what I mean: myriads of insects of all shapes, sizes, and colors, with designs undreamed of—creatures that boggle the imagination. Trees and stumps, forming strange and mysterious shapes. Reflections in water—stones and cratered rocks—it is all there. If we are to become successful in projecting images of other worlds, alien creatures, and the concept of time, we must study our own surroundings first.

I start with the presumption that you want to create convincing depictions of real worlds, even though they may be alien or futuristic in concept. The dominant element in the work of many illustrators is the human figure. Be it in costume or semi-nude, their illustrations revolve around the action of the figures. It is central to the drama in their pictures. Other illustrators make space and starships their specialty and produce dramatic pictures which revolve around that motif. Many depict scenes with dragons and landscapes, and a fantasy theme as their favorite subject.

I have chosen to look upon science fiction as an opportunity to display epic scenes with vast spaces, structures, and armies, along with celebration and conflict; these are the themes I feel at home with. Sometimes I will build my picture around a meaningful symbol found in the story.

Whatever your choice in subject matter, take the one that excites your individual imagination—try not to copy others. To be influenced by other artists is natural, but in the end, to be successful you must create in a personal way. Your work must be your own.

In offering help to aspiring science fiction and fantasy artists, I present three important keys:

KEY I

You must live to create visual images. It should be a great passion in your life. Creativity as an artist comes first—science fiction or fantasy illustration comes after that.

KEY II

You should read—history, mythology, newspapers, fiction, science fiction. Be curious about past, present and future. Draw-draw-draw, and paint-paint-paint from life. Use and enlist the real objects, people and subjects around you. You will never know how to properly interpret photographs and scrap-pictures in a realistic way for your illustrations unless you do this.

KEY III

Take Keys I and II and dream. Use your imagination, and grasp an image that the story presents—one that excites you. You will know when you see it and read it. If you do this, your personal style will evolve, unlike any other. You will build images that are wonderful and different—even alien—but they will carry force and reality, and be much more convincing to the viewer than the shallow and false feeling that the contrived image will present.

I have been a judge in the Illustrators of the Future Contest since its inception, and have had the opportunity to see hundreds of entries. Now, as coordinating judge, I get to view all submissions and have some thoughts to express about what I see.

My personal experience is with the realistic (and surrealistic) three-dimensional picture with a light source, revealing form, shadow, and atmosphere—not the cutout-looking or flat, decorative style, which is certainly legitimate for the illustration of some stories, but simply not my forte.

If I have one major criticism, it is this: I see too many fragmented pictures with poorly considered ideas. It is nearly impossible to present more than one idea in a single picture (unless you are creating an all-over pattern or a purely decorative piece). In a dramatic illustration, representing a focused scene, one dominant idea will do. Anything more will confuse the viewer. It will not work to portray David slaying the dragon in one corner and having the fantastic spaceship off to one side, next to the necromancer peering into his crystal ball—all of approximately the same size and importance. What is the picture about? What does it mean? Remember, that no matter how well you paint and draw, the most important function of the illustration is to communicate—and do it clearly. One idea is difficult enough to get across.

Another problem that I have observed is a lack of understanding about the use of color. The entries received are executed in black and white, and some are outstanding. However, in the workshops, when we get to look through portfolios, it becomes evident that few of the artists handle color very well. This deficiency brings me back to Key II. The observations that painting from life brings are not manifest in these works.

The influence of direct and reflected light are what make color. Many entrants paint the objects and people in their work in purely local color. Trees are green, branches are brown, metal is gray, flesh is tan, shadows are black or blue or flat purple and cloth is white. Think of your picture as taking place in a shadow box, with the walls painted green, and the floor painted red, for instance—and set a white egg upon a white saucer within it. Shine a warm light down through the top, and observe it closely. You will find that the surrounding colors are reflected around, and influence the color of all objects in the box. A white egg on a white plate, which sits on a white cloth, is anything but pure white. It is a riot of subtle color, and if carefully observed, will make a painting that looks real—not chalky or gray The reflected light of the blue sky from the window will invade the shadows, and the warm light of the sun will give strong form and color to the objects, and pull things together, making a cohesive painting. Think of light as being warm or cool, and of how it influences the local color of the elements in your paintings.

In order to have a successful career in science fiction illustration, you must be able to produce full-color work. It’s fine to do quality black-and-white illustrations, but the livable money is in full, color art.

Another shortcoming for some is poor drawing. There seems to be excessive emphasis put upon rendering figures and objects—concern with technique. If you will observe closely the real world around you, as well as the rhythm and structure of nature, technique will take care of itself. Don’t concentrate on technique and expect it to solve your problems—it will simply act as a cosmetic that tries to cover weak perception. The viewer won’t be fooled—bad drawing is bad drawing, no matter how well the surface is rendered.

I am going to conclude with the admission that most of the aforementioned criticisms have applied to me, personally, in my career growth as an artist, and that now, even at the age of sixty-five, I sometimes forget a basic key here and there. Don’t become discouraged. Don’t give up. Remember, illustration is a noble profession, unlike any other. Be proud, love what you do, be yourself, and always be reminded that better work lies ahead. Enjoy it.

This article was initially published in Writers of the Future Volume 12

 


Paul Lehr

Paul Lehr

Paul Lehr’s (1930 – 1998) illustrations have appeared on literally hundreds of science fiction books during the 1950s and 1960s. His “Grok” cover for Robert A. Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land was a cult treasure of the 1960s. Lehr’s illustrations have appeared in magazines around the world in such publications as Time, Fortune, Playboy, Reader’s Digest, Omni, Analog and many others. His painting of the first moon landing, which appeared in the Saturday Evening Post in 1959—ten years before the actual event—now is in the permanent collection of the National Air and Space Museum in the Smithsonian Institute. His work has been exhibited in many museums and galleries.

paint brush and pallet

A Few Tips on the Craft of Illustration

What in the dickens can I possibly say about creating a good illustration? “Draw well!”

Heck, every illustrator knows the importance of good craftmanship. “Design and compose well!”

But again, doesn’t every illustrator realize the importance of good composition?

On Design…

At this point, however, I must sadly admit that, no … every illustrator does not fully understand or appreciate the vital need for good basic design and composition. This conclusion is based pretty much upon experience gained from judging the works of new artists. Not infrequently I find average or fair illustrations that, with a little effort and a little more work spent on designing and composing, could very well have produced some darned good or even great illustrations. This saddens me, because I know these young people worked hard and long on the finished products. Sometimes, too hard, to the point of overworking and noodling the finish.

On Developing Ideas…

Now, even before the design and composition, you should start with a good idea. This you gain from reading and studying the manuscript. Please, my dear friends, read that manuscript, and I mean read it, and then read it again, until you ferret out the best and most dynamic picture idea that story has to offer. Quite often, but not always, that idea will come from that part of the manuscript describing the most action. But portraits of aliens and alien landscapes or cityscapes offer a few of the other possibilities.

A good story always provides many excellent picture possibilities. If the story is not all that good, finding that idea may be a bit tougher to come by. In a few cases, fortunately very few, finding an idea may be nearly impossible. At these times, you will have to study and work hard to develop that idea and make a good picture.

Whatever you are presented with—good, bad, or indifferent—it is your responsibility to produce the most dynamic illustration possible. The late, great comedian George Gobel once quipped that you cannot make a silk purse from a sow’s ear unless, of course, you start with a silk sow’s ear. For the illustrator, his “silk sow’s ear” is a good basic design based on a good idea.

To sum up what I have tried to put forth—before you ever lay a pen or a brush to that final finished picture, make sure you have made every effort to develop the best picture idea you possibly can. Then, devote the necessary time and effort to create the most dramatic design and composition you are capable of. If you will do these things well, I can assure you that making that “silk purse” will not only come a bit easier, but it will be a much lovelier “silk purse” for the effort.

On Noodling the Design…

Now, I should like to delve into something I only touched upon earlier. I mentioned overworking or the noodling of a picture. This has been one pitfall that I come across far too often when judging. I have seen what must have taken endless hours of very hard work spent on intricate, detailed pen work literally scattered across the whole darned picture area. Now, when properly designed, this is a perfectly legitimate handling and technique.

What many of the artists failed to do, however, was focus all of this marvelous penmanship and work to a recognizable center of interest. The tragic result is that an illustration so done will often fail to engage or hold the interest of the reader. At times, I have had to study such a picture long and hard to determine its meaning, and this should never be necessary.

On the Use of Black…

There is one more grievance I have come upon at times. It is the indiscriminate use of black. This abuse seems to manifest itself most often in pen-and-ink drawings. The color black can be a most powerful tool when properly designed and used wisely and purposely within the composition. Frequently, however, I find black ink used as a quick and easy way to cover space that should have been carefully rendered with some other value. When I come across an entry where black ink has been used merely to cover space on an illustration board, it does not receive very high marks from me.

On the Duties of an Illustrator…

About here it might be wise if I attempted to define the principal responsibilities of an illustrator. It is really not all that difficult to define. It is, however, sometimes very difficult to do. Your main job as a book, magazine cover, or story illustrator is to engage and grab the interest of the reader. To make him want to read that book or story—that’s it!

If your picture is a marvel in most all other respects yet fails to capture the reader, it fails as an illustration.

Perhaps I could pass along just a few suggestions that might help you develop illustrations that will grab an audience. In the broad interpretation, presence and believability are most important. For example, imagine that you are confronted with rendering an alien landscape—a common occurrence in science fiction. Give that landscape all the depth and dimension you can. Develop a composition designed to lead the eye into the picture. Good use and careful selection of values are also vital to this end. Your goal is to create a picture that will make the reader feel he can walk into the illustration and, hopefully, into the story.

Another frequent problem you will find in illustrating a science fiction story is that of creating alien beings. The challenge here is to make these figures believable, no matter how far out the author’s description is—and they do get far-out!

If the alien happens to possess human-like intellect, it will create an even greater challenge. In this case, eyes—well-drawn, expressive, and compelling … may help considerably to solve the problem of creating an alien figure that will appear intelligent and, most of all, believable. The little alien ET in the movie was very believable, and the handling of the eyes contributed greatly to that believability. Another example of good eyes comes from the Australian koala. By looking into the eyes of those little fellows, one can almost believe they have the solution to every problem in the world. They don’t, of course, but they look that way, and that’s the quality I like to see in the rendering of sci-fi aliens. Now, these suggestions are but a couple of my ways to solve these problems. Others may have better solutions, but whatever way you choose—make it believable.

In Conclusion…

Before ending this article, I would like to make a few explanations which might help lend a bit of credibility to my criticisms. Over the past 40 years of illustrating, without exception, I have fallen into every single shortcoming and pitfall I have described and tried to analyze in this article. I have experienced the very same problems, setbacks, defeats, victories, and joys that every one of you has experienced, or will experience.

The same criticisms I have made when judging and have presented here, have also been leveled at my work. At first, these criticisms hurt a bit. But when the miff wore off, I came to realize that these were constructive criticisms presented by knowledgeable people, and I began to appreciate them.

I most dearly hope that those of you whose work I felt needed this sort of criticism will accept it in the same way.

As always, I wish each and every one of you the best of good fortune and success. I urge you to keep working and trying to give it everything you’ve got. I don’t think any of you will ever regret having made the good effort.

This article with advice to artists by H.R. Van Dongen was originally published in L. Ron Hubbard Presents Writers of the Future Volume X.

 


H.R. Van Dongen

H.R. van Dongen

H.R. Van Dongen was one of the premiere illustrators for Astounding magazine, and over the years illustrated numerous magazines and book covers.

He was a judge for the Illustrators of the Future Contest from its inception until his passing in 2010. He said of the Contest, “I wish only that there had been an Illustrators of the Future competition 45 years ago. What a blessing it would have been to a young artist with a little bit of talent, a Dutch name, and a heart full of desire.”

Mr. Van Dongen was often recognized for his ability to read a story and then extract the precise meaning of the author’s intent and convey it through pictures.

superhero breaking through the page

Breaking into Comics

Comic-book writing is about telling a story in pictures, with words supplementing the visual storytelling. No matter what story genre you work in, comic books convey, through pictures and words, action, movement, and drama—a “larger than life” excitement. You should learn comic-book techniques and terminology and use them. I’d suggest that you read Comics and Sequential Art by Will Eisner to learn the conventions of the medium.

There are a number of jobs available in the comics field. We’ll look at each one. But I should warn you: Competition for these jobs is fierce, but if you’re good, you can always find work. As a literary agent, I once had a young, enterprising writer send me story after story, pleading for me to be his agent. Finally, I gave in, and a couple of years later we made his first sale. I went on to represent him through his next seventy sales. You may have heard of him: his name is Ray Bradbury. About the same time, another young writer submitted a story to Thrilling Wonder Stories, hoping to win the $50 prize in its new writers’ contest. He won that prize and many more in later years. His name was Alfred Bester. Another aspiring writer opted instead to submit his entry to Astounding Stories because an acceptance would pay about $75. It became the first sale and the start of the literary career of Robert A. Heinlein. Even the big names have to start somewhere. Don’t let a little competition intimidate you.

Writers

Warner Books editor Brian Thomsen, actor Mark Hamill, DC Comics editor Julius Schwartz, and Rosemary Wolfe applaud the winners.

Warner Books editor Brian Thomsen, actor Mark Hamill, DC Comics editor Julius Schwartz, and Rosemary Wolfe applaud the winners.

Comics writers are the storytellers of the medium. Before writing for an established line, you need to do your homework. You need to become familiar with a character’s history, habits and voice before you can write about that character. The idea is to retain continuity so that your depiction of the character doesn’t vary with how others have shown him or her. As a new writer, you probably won’t be able to make major changes in a character, give them new powers, or kill them off.

You will need to submit your proposals in the form of a springboard, a single-paged, typewritten, double-spaced story concept. Never submit a full plot or script. If you can’t convince the publisher that the idea is something they should publish using a springboard, then you’ll find yourself doing a lot of extra work for nothing.

Your springboard should give the basics of the story. It should probably begin with a “hook” or “high concept”— a compelling, one-sentence description that tells how your story will be unique and interesting. Beyond that, the springboard contains a beginning where an engaging conflict develops and characters are introduced, a middle where the protagonists struggle to overcome the conflict, and an end that resolves the conflict to the readers’ satisfaction. But most importantly, the events you describe must affect the character in a way that we will care about. To make us care, you must tap into universal emotions.

Pencillers

The pencillers are on the front line of creating the images for a graphic story. Pencillers submit their work by showing several pages of comic art in order, progressing a story through a series of pictures from panel to panel and from page to page. The story should move along clearly and dynamically. It’s usually better to draw a story well in traditional block panels rather than to try complex layouts or gimmicks.

The penciller’s samples should show strong basic drawing abilities. You will need to be able to show not only characters and expressive faces, but anything that your characters will see on the street: buildings, animals, machinery, aliens, trees, clouds. You should show a basic understanding of composition, perspective, and anatomy. You should be able to draw people in different poses and costumes—from children to senior citizens.

It’s best for the penciller to be well-trained as an artist. Don’t rely solely on comics for your inspiration. You should work on life-drawing and take some general art classes. Try to draw everything you see, all the time.

Inkers

A comic-book inker’s job is to add depth and clarity to a penciled picture without obscuring the penciller’s work. The inker puts on black spots and varies the weight of lines to give the page variety and give each panel its three-dimensional effects.

Knowing how to tell a story is an important part of the inker’s job, and the best inkers generally know how to draw well. A good inker will recognize when pencil lines need to be omitted from a drawing. They will also know how to isolate foreground objects from the background by giving each object a varying “weight.”

Inkers submit their work by making photocopies both of the penciled work and the work that they have inked. The inker should try to submit inked work from more than one penciller. If you don’t have access to pencilled work from a friend or professional, you can usually get samples by writing to the publisher where you will submit the work.

Letterers

The comic-book letterer’s job is to handle captions, draw word and thought balloons, create balloon shapes, draw panel borders, letter the titles, and give the credits and sound effects.

The letters should usually be uniform and easy to read with enough “breathing room” between the letters and lines. You should show all types of lettering—from word, thought, electric (jagged edge) and whisper (dotted line) balloons to sound effects.

You can submit your lettering samples on full-sized penciled pages. To get sample penciled pages, you can write to the publisher where you will submit your work.

Colorists

The colorist interprets the drawing and tells the story by adding depth, mood, dramatic effects, and clarity.

In order to make sure that each character and object in a scene is clearly visible, the colorist will frequently need to color things differently from how they would appear in real life. The colorist will also use theme colors to establish a mood for a piece.

Since standard comics color guides are coded to match a chart of the colors available to a publisher, an important part of the colorist’s job is to mark up the color guides.

Colorists should submit several pages of fully colored and coded comic-art photocopies. Once again, if you need samples of comic art to color, you can normally get these from the publisher. You should also find out from the publisher which brand of dyes or colors they use as their standard.

Finally, liberally adapting Robert A. Heinlein’s three rules of writing (which also apply to artists):

If you are a writer, you must write!

You must finish what you write!

You must submit your finished manuscript to a likely market—and if it’s rejected, keep on submitting it till you’ve exhausted all possible markets!

Here’s looking forward to seeing you in print!

Julius Schwartz
May, 1993

This article was originally published in the L. Ron Hubbard Presents Writers of the Future, Volume 9 in 1993.

 


Julius Schwartz

Julius Schwartz

Julius Schwartz had a long and distinguished career both in science fiction and in comics. He was the co-founder of The Time Traveller, the first science fiction fan magazine, and helped organize the first World Science Fiction Convention in New York City, 1939. He was the co-founder of Solar Sales Service, the first literary agency specializing in science fiction and fantasy, and represented such notable authors as Alfred Bester, Robert Bloch, Leigh Brackett, Ray Bradbury, Edmond Hamilton, Manly Wade Wellman, and Eric Frank Russell.

Heis credited also with ushering in the “Silver Age” of comics. He began editing comics at DC in 1944, and worked there continuously for 50 years, editing such lines as Superman, Batman, The Flash, Green Lantern, Justice League of America, and Strange Adventures. He won some of comics’ highest awards: four Shazams, three Eagles, an Inkpot, an Alley, and a Jules Verne. When you read the biographies of the authors and illustrators in this volume, you will find that many of them cited their love for comics as the first inspiration that led them to careers in speculative fiction. Perhaps only then will you recognize the profound effect Julius Schwartz has had on us all.

Edd Cartier in his studio

Notes to the New Artist by Edd Cartier

When asked to pen a few words of advice for new science fiction and fantasy illustrators, I wondered what I could possibly add to the mass of “how-to” information that seems to be inundating the country today.

The problem, so it seemed, was that my art was first published in 1936 and it was a far different world back then. The pulp magazines were flourishing as the greatest form of mass entertainment the world had ever known. Newsstands literally overflowed with such magazines as The Shadow, Unknown, Planet Stories, Doc Savage, Other Worlds, Black Mask, Wild West Weekly, Fantastic Adventures, Weird Tales and all the others. And there was a steady need for new artists to illustrate them.

Of course, the great pulp magazines of the past are long gone. Photography has taken over the job of illustrating most stories in most magazines. Yet, there is still a large market for science fiction and fantasy illustrations in comic books, paperbacks and magazines like Analog and Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction. But for the novice illustrator, these are not enough. That makes it much harder to break into illustration of any kind, especially the speculative fiction market.

And that is why I agreed to Frank Kelly-Freas’ request for my participation as a judge for L. Ron Hubbard’s Illustrators of the Future Contest. From the very beginning, the Contest seemed a marvelous way to break down the barriers and to open the doors to new science fiction and fantasy illustrators. Now, years later and in conjunction with L. Ron Hubbard’s Writers of the Future Contest, the idea has proved its worth and now Volume VIII of Writers of the Future is published.* Both Contests have been marvelously successful and are doing exactly what they were designed to do.

So, what advice can I give to the new artist of today? As it turns out, there are some things that still apply and have changed little during the years.

The main thing that hasn’t changed over all these years is you, the new artist. What I would like to do is to point out a few mistakes that I made as a beginner and to offer a few suggestions about the “business” of illustration—and about the novice artist’s “relationship” with those who judge and publish science fiction and fantasy illustrations. I will leave discussions of materials, techniques and creativity for another time or another Contest judge.

Keep Good Records

My sons insist that I first mention something that has come back to haunt me and that has thwarted fifteen years of their research: It is the fact that I never kept thorough records. I never kept copies of the magazines my art illustrated. And I rarely kept copies of the books I illustrated.

Simple as that. And frustrating as that! If you do the same and try to find copies years later, you will know what I mean by the word “frustration”! (And by “expensive.” Just try buying original copies of The Shadow from the 1930s!)

Why didn’t I keep copies and why didn’t I, at least, keep good records of where my illustrations were published? It just didn’t seem important at the time.

Now I know that it was very important. That’s why you, the new illustrator, should start your “archives” today. Keep careful records of your art and carefully preserve the magazines and books it appears in.

For that matter, carefully preserve your original art—no one prefers to look at, or buy, art that is torn, creased, smudged or mildewed.

Keeping your personal archives also pays off, years down the road, when a publisher calls to ask about reprinting your work. This is simple advice, with the guarantee that in 20 or 30 years (or much sooner) you will be grateful you followed it. Even if you are not, your children or your children’s children may be very grateful. My sons certainly wish that someone had said the same to me. I suspect that there are other illustrators who will agree wholeheartedly.

On Business

Don’t ignore the business side of the art of illustration. A starving, cheated artist is not a pleasant thing to see or to be—even if it has a somewhat mythic aura about it.

The art of illustration also includes the art of business. Take my word that records, accounting, taxes, contracts, bills, copyrights and all the rest are more important than ever.

As is the preparation of a professional portfolio. You do not want to show disorganized and out-of-date samples of your work to an art editor. Nor out-of-focus transparencies of your art.

Learn to be businesslike right from the start; your career will never be hurt by professionalism. Though I hate to see an illustrator kept from the task of creating, I must emphasize that taking care of business is a necessary evil.

There are excellent books and articles written for artists about the business and legalese of the visual arts. (Start by contacting the Copyright Office in Washington, D.C., for information. Today’s copyright laws are finally on the side of the artist—if you follow them.) There are artist guilds, associations, societies and other organizations that offer information and assistance; they help prevent the feeling of standing alone against the business world. There are college and university courses that will help, too. And, of course, there is professional legal and financial assistance, as well.

Know Your Market

As a judge for the Illustrators of the Future Contest, I have seen entries that seemed to have very little connection to science fiction or fantasy. Some of these have been excellent illustrations showing talent and style, but they suffered when I judged them because they were not apparently relevant to the judging criteria of “appropriateness to science fiction and fantasy illustration.”

It seems unimaginable to me why a contestant would harm his or her own chances by submitting something inappropriate. There is an old phrase which still applies after all these years: “Know your market!” It means that you don’t submit an illustration of cans of soup to a science fiction and fantasy contest. (Unless those cans are in the hands of an alien creature on the third moon of the planet Bok!)

“Know your market!” That advice has been repeated and repeated, yet some beginning artists choose to ignore it. Of course, the phrase was originally meant for the business world, but it applies just as well to contests and to new artists trying to get their first illustrations published. Remember it and you will have a better chance at winning the Illustrators of the Future Contest and in getting your art accepted by magazines, book publishers, ad agencies or wherever you intelligently submit it.

Dealing with Editors and Authors

In the science fiction and fantasy pulps, I had the great fortune to work with a brilliant editor, John W. Campbell, Jr., and to illustrate stories for many top-notch writers including Theodore Sturgeon, L. Sprague de Camp, Jack Williamson, Foul Anderson, Isaac Asimov and, of course, L. Ron Hubbard.

Admittedly, there were times when Campbell and others offered criticism and suggested revisions of my illustrations. They were not artists, but on occasion, they were absolutely right. On the other hand, my explanations often put them back in agreement with what I had illustrated.

This “give and take” of criticism and explanation was a learning experience for all of us. Remember this and you will not look at your editor (or the story’s author) as the “enemy.” It can lead to those joyous, memorable occasions when someone like an Asimov or a Hubbard will write or phone to say, “You drew that thing just how I imagined it . . . you captured every last nuance . . . I’m thrilled that you illustrated my story.” When that happens, it is total satisfaction for you, the artist. For the readers, it means that you have superbly communicated the author’s ideas and, perhaps, expanded upon them. That is what illustration is all about!

Edd Cartier drawing of the Shadow

Edd Cartier drawing of the Shadow

When I first began illustrating The Shadow, the magazine’s art editor insisted that I copy the style of my predecessor, Tom Lovell. I grudgingly agreed when the editor explained that he didn’t want to jolt readers with any new look for the character of the Shadow. At first, I felt that the editor was suppressing my abilities. Truthfully, I’m still not pleased with my very earliest Shadow illustrations. As good as Lovell was, my work only mimicked his. It did not show my skills or my style. Looking back, I can see that at the time I was just a beginner in illustration. It had to be that way until the Street & Smith art editor was sure of my abilities.

But soon I started adding my own touches to things in the background. He didn’t complain. Then I changed minor characters to how I pictured them. Finally, after a year or so, the look of the Shadow himself was as I envisioned him. There were no complaints from the editor because by then I had proven my talent to him and, thus, to the readers.

I suspect that other illustrators have also found that pleasing the editor is a terrific way to please the readers. This works because if an editor is any good, then he or she knows what the readers want. If not, the editor loses his job or the magazine loses its readers.

Retaining Artistic Integrity

You must never forget that the most important thing about an illustration is communicating the story; demonstrating your talent is always secondary.

Some of you may not want to compromise the integrity of your art. Some of you may even have been told not to compromise it. That’s fine if you can afford it. Who knows, you may even triumph in the end. But I would rather see your work being published now—not “in the end.” Again, my advice here is about winning the Illustrators of the Future Contest and getting your first illustrations published. Remember, right now you are a beginner.

I was influenced by the work of illustrators such as Frederic Remington, Charles Russell, Arthur Rackham, Dean Cornwell and Howard Pyle. In turn, other artists have said that my illustrations influenced them. Sometimes I see this in their work—and sometimes I don’t!

Of course, there is nothing wrong with being influenced by another artist’s work. Appreciating and, perhaps, imitating something from another artist’s style can help you recognize and define your own. There is no shame in that. In the end, a truly talented artist will develop his or her own uniquely individual illustrations.

If each new artist was not progressively influenced by what came before, the caves of Lascaux might have remained the pinnacle of artistic endeavor. Besides, as someone who has been imitated, I can reaffirm that old cliché: “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.”

Get Your Training

There are artistic geniuses who illustrate quite satisfactorily (sometimes spectacularly, as did Russell) even though they are self-taught. These artists have the innate ability to observe and remember what they see around them—that which nature and man have created. They see the world so clearly that when they are called upon to illustrate, they can take their observances and use them as a superb guide to the interpretation of an author’s writings. However, the talent of a Charles Russell is a rare thing. Most new illustrators will benefit tremendously from artistic schooling and training.

Over the years I have often been congratulated on my ability to depict extra-terrestrial and horrific anatomy: “Believable, living and breathing creatures” according to the critics. For those types of science fiction and fantasy illustrations, my imagination helped and my observations of the world around me helped, too. But, taking anatomy and life drawing classes helped just as much. If you are good to begin with, just imagine what you could do with more training. If you are self-taught, my advice is to take some art courses— an understanding of human and animal anatomy is invaluable.

The Goal of the Illustrator

As an illustrator, I tried to not only capture a character or scene from a story but also to capture the reader’s attention, inducing him or her into reading the story—and then pulling that reader even deeper into it. Doing this for works of speculative fiction is much more challenging than for any other subject of illustration. That is because there are no “set rules” in science fiction and fantasy. However, when you succeed it is a very special satisfaction.

To the new artist, my best wishes for your success with L. Ron Hubbard’s Illustrators of the Future Contest—and in seeing your science fiction and fantasy illustrations published soon.

*This article was originally published in 1992 in L Ron Hubbard Presents Writers of the Future Volume 8.

 


Edd Cartier

Edd Cartier

Edd Cartier was a judge for the Illustrators of the Future Contest with over fifty years experience in the field of illustration and commercial art. His illustrations are classic, and in “Notes to the New Artist” he provided some timeless advice.

Edd was instructed in art at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn back in the 1930s by artists who also illustrated for pulp magazines. One of his teachers was the art editor for a famous pulp publishing house, Street & Smith. Even before he graduated, Edd began working on illustrations for magazines, and upon graduation he was immediately assigned to one of the foremost pulps, The Shadow.

Among his thousands of pieces, Edd illustrated in such magazines as Unknown, Doc Savage, and Astounding, along with Red Dragon Comics, and he illustrated covers for Gnome Press and Fantasy Press Books. He illustrated covers for virtually every major author of his time including L. Ron Hubbard, Isaac Asimov, Theodore Sturgeon, Jack Williamson, Gordon R. Dickson and many others.

A limited-edition collection of some of his works, Edd Cartier, the Known and the Unknown, was published in 1987.

In 1990, Edd Cartier won First Fandom’s Hall of Fame Award.

Frank Frazetta

Frank Frazetta: An Introduction

I was born with a pencil in my hand. Most artists reach a certain age, and then their eyes open and they start doing art. I was drawing as far back as I can remember. I had unusual talent right then and there, in that I saw things differently. I saw them more accurately. Some people to this day criticize me by saying I exaggerate; that people don’t look like that. But they look like that to me. The truth is from the very beginning, instinctively, I drew what I thought I saw.

I try to give people what I think should be. I’ve had many, many people look at one of my paintings, and say “Yeah! That’s the way it should be!” Basically, that’s my whole approach.

The makeup of great art consists of many, many things… including a certain amount of luck, a certain amount of inspiration, and a very mysterious factor that I simply cannot account for. Imagination. And you’ve got to be intelligent in your approach. There are an awful lot of skillful artists who can render, who can draw, and who rely on source material instead of finding the picture in themselves. And that attitude—that you’ve got to find the picture in source material—is strictly one of fear. Fear of criticism, fear of I don’t know what. I don’t worry if it’s less than perfect as a piece of rendering. I want it to be perfect as a work of art.

A lot of artists can’t express themselves the way they would like to. They just don’t have the ability. They have certain instincts, they have things they feel, and then they sit down at the drawing board, and it just simply doesn’t happen. But if I can see it, even vaguely, I sit down and it appears. I don’t know why, exactly; that’s the mysterious part, which is easy to say but covers more ground than you might at first think.

But the key to me is I know when it doesn’t work. Most others reach a certain point in a piece of art, and they say “I guess that’s as good as I can get,” and I look at a piece of art and I say “No, no, no, it’s got to be better; it doesn’t work.” And sometimes it’s very involved as to why it doesn’t work—the composition can be wrong, or the shape isn’t interesting enough, or the action isn’t interesting enough, or the lighting is flat… it can be many different facets.

There is one thing—the figure. If the figure doesn’t relate, then change it! I’ve painted perfectly beautiful figures, and then take them out, to the dismay of my friends. And I know it’s a good figure, and if I can put it in somewhere else, fine, but it didn’t work in that particular situation. And then I’ll put in a figure that’s perhaps less exciting, or less beautiful, but it lends something to the painting; it doesn’t become a distraction.

It’s the composition—shape; movement. Color is secondary. It’s these wonderful shapes; it’s like music. It’s the combinations. You can’t just have a theme, and then the rest of it goes flat. Somehow, the whole thing has to work. It’s not enough, for me, to say “Yeah, it’s got some nice things.” I don’t want to hear that… “some nice things.” I want every inch of that painting to be unboring, if there is such a word. “Unboring.” And even if people don’t understand what makes it work, it seems to be our nature to respond to certain rhythms and shapes. I don’t know why it is. Not color. I don’t think we care that much about color. People think they do, but I don’t think it’s color more than shapes.

I have no fixed ideas about color. When I have this vision—when the picture builds itself in my mind—I don’t immediately see it with a glowing settingsun, or anything. The color part is more deliberate and calculated. I see the shapes, and I see the action, and the character, even, but then I say to myself “O.K., now, how shall I approach this? Shall I make it a warm painting?”

That’s the way I think. Warm? Or cold. Or maybe neutral. I sit there, and I think “Let’s see, now. This composition has a lot of power. Cold would make it perhaps more mysterious. Hot would make it more vibrant.” That’s the way I think about color. I decide whether hot is going to somehow work with this design, or cool would be better. And that’s it. Many artists know color as well as or better than I do. But that’s not Frank Frazetta. Frank Frazetta draws. And composes. I can create, instead of just doing a pretty picture that’s essentially like a lot of other pretty pictures by any one of a hundred artists.

Color is really irrelevant to my work. Any painting I’ve done could have been approached in any number of ways in terms of color, and still work. I don’t know any of my paintings that really work because of the color. If I left the color out, it would be just as powerful. Whereas other artists—illustrators of the past; great illustrators—their color had to work, or else.

You know, in an essay that ran in Volume Two of this series, L. Ron Hubbard said “What is good art?… Technical expertise itself adequate to produce an emotional impact.” And if you realize that this washes out a vast amount of what’s called “art,” but isn’t art, and if you realize this places a tremendous obligation on the artist, that’s right. We all have our limitations… but every once in a while, guys like me reach out and go far beyond what we accepted up until then as great and wonderful. Like the four-minute mile. “Can’t be done, can’t be done,” we said for years. Then somebody does it, and suddenly everybody feels they can do it.

I know as well as anybody there are some wonderful looking paintings out there. They’re very skillfully done—great color, great this, great that. And I’d look at them and I’d say: “Hey, that’s real nice, but. But.” Heck, I say that about my stuff, too. But I have achieved some pieces that I look at, and I say “How the hell did I do that?” Even as a young guy, a lot of people would reach for the Moon, and I’d say “Reach for the stars, damn it; and if you don’t quite get there, you still might reach the Moon.”

Writers of the Future Volume 7As far as this particular WOTF cover goes, it’s a wonderful composition. There’s a drive, there’s a power, there’s movement from left to right, and then it comes back, it’s just all moving, and it doesn’t just run off the picture. That’s what makes a good painting, I think. And the story; they’re coming over the horizon, and the army of robots are led by this wonderful heroic figure, and the spaceships and the city—you know there’s a war going on. And that’s it; that’s the story. Her attitude, her beauty, has got to convince you that she just isn’t going to lose. The attitude of the figures, whether it’s crouching, leaping, running—that tells you they’re moving at great speed and with great confidence. I don’t think there’s any question but that this is victory, and heroism. And that’s the action.

I’m a slave to my love of action. That isn’t necessarily the only approach. But I’m just an action guy, I guess. I love movement, speed, and power.

I was always, even while young, frustrated with most art. Frustrated. I’d say “It’s wonderful, but it doesn’t go far enough. Why didn’t they do this, why didn’t they go further, why didn’t they do that?” I’m talking about action… about character. They seemed so laid back, so relaxed, and yet so careful. They’d never look toward the next horizon. They didn’t know there was one, actually.

If all the young artist wants to do is live a comfortable life, and support himself, then you ought to do what the editor tells you to do. If you can do it skillfully and professionally, then you’ll do just fine, I guess. If you’re looking for greatness, on the other hand, then you’ve got to have guts, and nerve, and strength of will, and buck the establishment! And that isn’t easy. I can say it, but that’s just because I have the God-given talent—not just nerve, or guts—I just have the talent to back me up.

This article with advice to artists by Frank Frazetta was originally published in L. Ron Hubbard Presents Writers of the Future Volume VII.

 


Frank Frazetta

Frank Frazetta

Frank Frazetta was born February 9, 1928, in Brooklyn, New York, and began drawing as soon thereafter as possible. He literally never remembered a time he didn’t draw. At eight, he was enrolled in the Brooklyn Academy of Fine Arts. His instructor, Michael Falanga, called him a genius. He was not the last to do so. Frazetta remembered, with great fondness, how Paul Grubman heavily influenced him and fought to win him recognition in scholastic competitions, as his teacher at Abraham Lincoln High School.

At sixteen, he began his extensive career in comics. In 1954, he went to work on the Li’l Abner comic strip and then went on to do Buck Rogers and other work that is still very much remembered. The work he was happiest with was his work for James Warren’s publishing company; Creepy, Eerie, and the creation of the seductive and deadly Vampirella.

At about this time, his career expanded dramatically. He was introduced to paperback covers, and after an initial period with Ace Books struck a deal with Lancer which resulted in art that is still prized. And he went on from there to make book after book, from many publishers, a far better seller than the author had any right to expect.

The rest is history; there has never been a paperback artist like Frazetta. L. Ron Hubbard called him the “King of Illustration.” And what he had to say in his essay is quintessential Frazetta; no nonsense, no false modesty, and an amazing range of dead-on commentary on the art of illustration.

Will Eisner

The Illustrators of the Future by Will Eisner

While my own career has been spent in the practice of sequential art, a form that arranges images and text in an intelligent sequence to tell a story, I have nonetheless always been professionally involved in the fundamentals of illustration. I, therefore, feel I have accumulated enough experience with which to endow my advice with some credibility.

Today young illustrators are at the threshold of an enormously promising era. We are in a “visual age.” The modern conduct of communication is employing imagery at a greater ratio than ever in the history of human intercourse. For the illustrator, it is the best of times.

During the early nineteen hundreds, book and magazine illustration dominated the world of publishing. Illustrators were in command of the profession. They provided the stunning art accompaniment to stories in pulps, books, magazines and newspapers. Their services extended to advertising and theatrical promotion. We had just emerged from the days of stone lithography and steel engravings that provided reproduction of art. In those days illustrators served in the role of the news photographers of today. They visited disasters and public events, scenes of which they rendered in pen and ink or stone lithograph.

By the time I entered the field, the introduction of major advances in reproductive technology was so awesome it seemed to me that the practice of our profession was under threat of extinction.

Print, the major medium of transmission, was being invaded by cinema. It was influencing the visual literacy of our society. Photography advanced to such sophistication that it appeared likely to replace illustrative art entirely. Portraiture and product imagery were the first to be rendered by photograph. Photographs, mechanically generated images, looked as though they were having a serious impact on the demand for artwork.

Furthermore, the rapid rise of offset printing overtook the more clunky letterpress printing method and the engraving process underwent a change that reduced and ultimately eliminated the rather intimate relationship between engravers and artists. Processes were becoming obsolete so fast that it was hard to see where it was all going. It was a worrisome time for artists because the creative process was, as always, involved with the quality of the ultimate reproduction of their work and their skills appeared to be threatened by advancing technology.

Looking back at it I can see how this concern was mistaken. The advances in printing press and reproduction technology that provided a very important improvement of photography contributed to a greater fidelity of color separation as well as the preservation of stylistic detail. Artists whose work was more sophisticated than simple pen and ink now found a large and fertile marketplace for oil and watercolor that dominated their work. So-called “fine artists” were being welcomed by high-circulation publications; gallery artists soon found that illustration was not at all demeaning.

When computer technology and electronic transmission arrived, the old threat to the established medium reared its frightening head once more. Print on paper was pronounced doomed. Art and text could now be digitally delivered on a screen and stored on discs. Illustrators would once have to alter their skills and accommodate to this new method of delivery. But Armageddon failed to happen. Color reproduction surged to new heights of accuracy. Paper usage increased and printed publications found it less expensive to include art. The ratio of artwork to photo appeared little changed as it became more evident that a drawing could surpass a photo in the delivery of emotion and the subtle effect of style on the reader’s involvement. Digital scanning provided easier color separation and complex art could be reproduced with greater fidelity than ever before. Even in lowly comic books, the 35-color limitation gave way to a range of 35,000 colors. Applied color singular to that field could now deliver shading and bleeds that opened a new field for colorists that included “painterly” effects.

So while photography burgeoned in this electronic era it could not eliminate the demand for art. For the reason I’ve already cited, the dominance of the artist in the world of story illustration has remained unchanged. Here are my fundamental guidelines for young illustrators.

The field of science fiction remains a particularly fertile domain for the artist.

Science fiction is a literary genre that is rooted in imagination and because of that it is more welcoming to art than photography. Here rendering style and personal technique are dominant ingredients upon which illustrations depend.

Because science fiction is essentially concerned with the description of environment and objects, the knowledge and understanding of the fundamentals of realistic art is a requisite. A command of draftsmanship is essential. A basic knowledge of mechanical functions, machinery and a familiarity with space vehicles is a more obvious background for illustrators.

These skills and knowledge are the support an illustrator provides to the writer who is narrating an adventure set in a fantasy world. To be able to produce a work wherein your vision coincides with that of the author is key to a successful illustration.

In the world of storytelling art there is a struggle for sovereignty between style and content. So the artist must deal with the need to subordinate a bravura display of style and rendering technique to the need to convey the idea. I have always believed that an illustration should capture a moment in the seamless flow of action and convey somehow what happened before and what will happen after the action shown.

The artist working in this field must approach his task with the understanding that the mission of the art is in service to the story. Primary, therefore, to the illustration is that it be compatible with the concept around which the story is told. Here, the illustrator is providing a bridge across which the reader enters a fantasy realm. The artist’s ability to visualize the writer’s description of imagined creatures, things and environment is the more daunting part of the assignment.

Another requirement implicit in science fiction or fantasy illustration is the ability to imbed reality into even the most bizarre of the creatures and devices that populate the writer’s story. This requires some technical and mechanical understanding that will help the artist make unworkable weapons and machines appear as though they can indeed work.

Finally, because of the need to provide a veneer of realism to the elements of the illustration, skillful rendering and strong draftsmanship is mandatory. Abstraction tends to become decorative whereas realistic art has a storytelling effect. This determination, of course, is often left to the province of the editor or author.

It may be surprising to a young illustrator but many professionals sometimes lose the natural excitement involved in the creation process. It is understandable that pressures of deadline and delivery create a sense of indifference which is the enemy of quality.

In the field of art I’ve found that quality is never achieved without enthusiasm.

This article was originally published in Writers of the Future Volume XIX.

 


Will Eisner

Will Eisner

Will Eisner was a pioneering force in comics for over sixty years. The breadth of his career ranged widely from his groundbreaking works in early newspaper comics to the mature graphic novels he later produced.

His first comic work appeared in 1936 in WOW What a Magazine! Shortly afterwards, he formed a partnership with his friend Jerry Iger and the Eisner/Iger studio was born. The studio was a veritable comics factory, churning out strips in a variety of genres for American newspapers, and recruiting several young artists who would go on to become legends in their own right, including Bob Kane (Batman) and Jack Kirby (The Hulk and Spider-Man).

It was while he was working at Quality Comics that he developed a sixteen-page newspaper supplement which was syndicated across America, for which he created his most famous character, The Spirit, the masked detective who protects Central City from its criminal element with no more than fists, cunning and an unbelievable tolerance for punishment. He later founded the American Visuals Corporation, which became one of the most successful companies dedicated to creating comics, cartoons and illustrations for educational and commercial purposes.

A master of comic art, he played a major and innovative role in the transition to graphic novels, writing and illustrating a series for Kitchen Sink Press. He also taught cartooning at the New York School of Visual Arts, authored two definitive works, Comics and Sequential Art and Graphic Storytelling, and had his work showcased by the Whitney Museum in New York.

The Eisner Awards, the most prestigious comics industry awards presented annually at Comic-Con International in San Diego, are named after him.

He was an Illustrators of the Future judge since the Contest’s inception in 1988 until his passing in 2005.

Font de Gaume cave paintings

Pictures That Tell Stories

Mankind has used pictures to tell stories from the beginning of time. Recently, ancient cave paintings were discovered in France, and while cave paintings aren’t new discoveries, these are unlike anything seen before. The artist of this series of pictures has shown predators that have never before been depicted. He also used rock textures and protrusions to indicate muscle and structure on his animals. In fact, I felt a special kinship with this artist when one of the press corps referred to him as an “illustrator.” Even 20,000 years ago when these pictures were made, someone was deft enough, observant enough, to depict what he saw in his world so well that we can also see and possibly even think and feel as he did. This is truly ageless realism.

Ageless Realism

I was inspired to become an illustrator largely by the drawings of later artists—people such as Frank Frazetta, Vincent Di Fate, Rick Sternbach, H.R. Van Dongen and various other artists in SF and comic books—artists too numerous to mention. But these were artists who, like the cave painter, also shared with us their own visions, along with the visions of the Golden Age of SF writers, such as Isaac Asimov, L. Ron Hubbard, and H.P. Lovecraft.

And so, like many artists, I began creating my own work. By age three I had a jump on things, and in 1979 I went to art school and began psyching myself up to study realistic art. But I found to my dismay that “Realism” is now looked down upon. I showed my professors my books with illustrations by artists whose visions I admired, and often heard the response, “So why do you want to waste your time doing that ‘stuff?’” My teachers showed me lots of “Untitled 2s” and trendy stuff with “blue periods” and “anachronisms,” and I met a lot of students who bought into the idea of smashing glass into papier-mâché, people who believed that if they did it long enough, they’d get rich.

But I didn’t subscribe. So, I went back to my magazines and art books and science fiction conventions. It soon became apparent to me after studying paintings by Freas, Whelan, Gaughan and Di Fate that I had to study in my own class, a class of ageless realism.

So I began to work and study. I didn’t have an Illustrators of The Future Contest to give me a boost, but I saw the need for it. Which is why I happily agreed to help judge illustrations and teach workshops when I was asked. Simply put, the Illustrators of The Future workshops help teach you things you don’t learn in school.

Art Is a Journey

It takes more than talent or skill to break into the field of illustration—it takes drive and passion, a drive that keeps you at it all the time (even in your sleep). It takes commitment to yourself to be the best you can be. You never reach the “top” and relax. It’s like climbing a mountain, with only an illusion that there is any top where you can rest at the high lakes. You never reach the top.

Last year, I won the Hugo award for the “Best Professional Artist” in the SF field. I could be on a high horse about it, but I’m not. No matter how long you work at it, and no matter how successful you become in your art, you will always have people who dismiss what you do as “that hobby of yours.”

Marketing Your Work

Remember, when marketing your work, be professional. Put the artsy attitudes aside and approach the clients with the idea that you have something to offer them, not the other way around. No matter how crowded a field is, people are always looking for good work.

In your presentation, be brief but informative. Do not inundate your client with too much of the same material. At that same time, try to stick to one artistic medium. And above all, research your client’s product. That is, if you want to paint book covers, go to bookstores and look at the covers. Analyze why you like the ones you do, decide what makes them successful. Then, armed with such knowledge, you can show your work to art directors with the added bonus of knowing something about the product.

Be prepared to drop off work with art directors—but you need not send or leave original art. Instead, give them slides (good 35mm ones work best). Slides are easy to send, won’t cost you much, don’t risk your work, and are convenient for the art director to handle. He or she can keep them or send them back easily.

And when you do show your work to an art director, make sure that you let them know how and where to get back in touch with you. Art directors hate people who drop off a bunch of huge, heavy paintings, leaving not even a clue as to how to get back to them.

In my experience, the best way to break into illustration is by doing magazine covers. Since magazines usually pay lower, they are always looking for new talent. Semi-pro magazines are always good places to break in. The editing and fiction inside the magazines are almost always professional, but since the magazines run under 10,000 copies, they often can’t pay as well. But what you do get by doing these covers is exposure, which will lead you to the higher-paying jobs in the long run.

On illustrating covers, I have a few words to the wise: Remember that the purpose of your illustration is to help sell the book or magazine you’re illustrating. The idea of actually illustrating scenes from the book comes in only as a close second.

And never plagiarize the work of another artist in the hopes that it won’t be recognized. It will.

On Selling Work to the Comics

Should you desire to enter this arena, beware that it is an entirely different field from traditional SF. Despite the similar subject matter, comic and SF illustrators rarely cross lines.

Comic book art is far more strenuous. Breaking into it can be like trying to open a safe without knowing the combination—you just have to keep trying until something clicks.
The criticism that you receive for comics-related work will be far more severe than what you will receive in the SF field. Comics are also, and I use this word cautiously, quite “political.”

Usually, comics artists work under a contract that has terse, legal wording, for a small advance (depending on the company you’re working for), under some killer deadlines. It’s not uncommon for an inker to be required to do three pages a day (I got bleary-eyed after doing one page) for seven days a week. However, unlike SF work, comic books often pay you royalties based on sales—which is where you can make some good money.

In Conclusion

The pressure never lets up once you get off and running. Trust me, I know. The mountains get steeper and steeper. But you climb them because your vision and ambition tell you to do it. When you become that dedicated to your work, the moral support of your spouse or significant other is essential. To them, your work will always seem like that “other” man or woman.

When I am alone, working on my art, the work may be going well—or it may not, but my obsession with it takes me back to that illustrator of 20,000 years ago, telling pictures in stories.

This article was originally published in L. Ron Hubbard Presents Writers of the Future Volume XI

 


Bob Eggleton

Bob Eggleton

If one merely looks at the biographical sketch, one sees that Bob Eggleton was born in Concord, MA, in 1960 and became interested in science fiction art at an early age. He is a prolific illustrator in science fiction, whose work can be seen in many of today’s most popular magazines and on many book covers. He has received numerous awards, including several Chesleys along with 8 Hugo Awards for Best Professional Artist. But the cold biographical data doesn’t fully describe Bob Eggleton. For it can’t completely convey how Bob, who has helped judge the Illustrators of The Future Contest since its inception, gets excited about his art. The biographical data doesn’t express the enthusiasm, the almost manic joy that sweeps across his face when he talks about his work. His driving passion has led him to become an artist whose name is now recognized by those who have even the most modest acquaintance with the science fiction field.

Follow him on Facebook.com/bob.eggleton

Lazarus with artist Mike Michera

How to create an award-winning illustration

How to create an award-winning illustration to Illustrators of the Future: The Do’s and Don’ts of ILOF
By Echo and Lazarus Chernik

In addition to being an internationally bestselling author, L. Ron Hubbard was also a patron of the arts and a devout believer in promoting the next generation of creators. The Illustrators of the Future awards promote talent and provide artists with a better path to successful careers through cash prizes, mentorship, and publication.

How does one actually create an award-winning illustration? Illustrators of the Future judges include some of the most famous illustrators of the 20 and 21st centuries—and are not easy to impress.

Obviously, talent is one criterion—but there is so much more to creating something engaging and award worthy.

1. Technical Skill: Art is in the eyes, not the hands. The judges of the Illustrators of the Future competition are famed professionals who know EXACTLY what they are looking at. We can see in submissions the eye for composition, color-theory, gesture, perspective, and drama. We can see through weaknesses in experience and judge potential. We can also see through illusions, distractions, and cover-ups of underlying flaws. You don’t need to be perfect to win—but winners will show that they can “see” more than the rest.

2. Storytelling: Illustrators are not merely artists, drawing and painting what they feel they need to express. They are artists who are passionate about story telling through their art, whether it is their own story or another’s. Illustrators create book covers, movie posters, product and package designs—all with the intent to tell the audience the story and value of what they are about to experience. Telling stories with art is a skill. The story may be as simple as “This is a harsh dry landscape.” Or “This jovial woman is leading a charmed life.” But the art must actually convey this. The more emotionally charged adjectives an illustration provides—the better at telling the story it is. Does your artwork tell the audience something deep about your character or scene?

3. Dedication: The one thing that teachers and mentors cannot impress, is dedication to the art. That means practice. To practice something so difficult means to love doing it. The Judges can see the practice you put into your art and your love for the process will shine through. While it seems like a fickle or imprecise thing, the reality is that your passion comes across in the details. Is the gesture perfect? Are the complimentary colors used correctly? Are the textures finished appropriately for the style? Is there life in the character’s eyes? Are the techniques, whether traditional or digital, used impactfully? Is the composition deliberate and evocative? All of these details are considered.

4. Style: There is no single correct “style” for this competition. Winners have been selected for their landscapes and scene-paintings, for their character portraits, for their monsters, for their cartoons, for their computer modeling, and even for their quirks. The style itself is not a criterion—but expertise in a style is. A great cartoon is better than a bad “realistic” painting. Present us what you are great at and we will judge you for your greatness in your style.

And that’s it.

There are, however, some things that you should avoid at all costs:

1. Plagiarism: Stealing someone else’s art and pretending that it is your own is actually a crime. The internet has made it very easy to pretend to be someone else—and downloading artwork of other people and submitting it seems like a safe scam to pull off. But we know when you do it. We know because we look up every single submission online and seek out the copyright holder. We will find it through Google Images. We will find it through DeviantArt. We will find it through our vast experience and network of illustrator friends around the world. We will find it because, if you are NOT an artist, you will have no idea what you are submitting to us and how obvious it is to us that you are a scammer. Just don’t do it. You aren’t an artist and we will contact the legal copyright owner and may set them on a track of legal action against you.

2. Vulgar or outrageous submissions: As artists, we Judges completely understand art that represents interesting or outrageous subjects. However, content is not something we Judge on. If your work relies too heavily on the subject matter itself to be interesting—you will bore us. If you haveincredibly well-executed example of subjects “Not Safe for Work,” then we guarantee that your ability to execute those will also show in more mundane subjects and will showcase your talents well. Winning submissions will be shared with the general public on websites and national media. If your submission can’t be shared with the public, then we can’t accept it.

3. Content motivated submissions: Do not submit an entire selection of artwork with the same personal message throughout—no matter how personal, important, or noble. This is not a venue for your cause. This is a competition for illustrators. We are judging your ability to tell a story that you will be hired for—usually not one of your own. Winning means being assigned a story to illustrate for publication. If all of your submissions are focused on a single “message,” then we will question your ability to successfully illustrate a message assigned to you. Submit a variety of subjects that show how your style can be applied to a variety of messages.

4. “Master Studies”: Art students are encouraged to reproduce artworks from other artists they admire in order to study and learn their process through experience. But by doing this, you have sacrificed all of the “seeing” and “thought-process” of illustration to the originator. It will not be your composition, your colors, your gesture—any of the things we will judge you by. If your Master Studies are good enough, you will show us through your own work. If your Master Studies are not good enough, even if we do not know the artwork you were studying (but we probably will), we will know precisely each of your errors in the process because they will be more glaring to our experienced eyes. You also don’t want to accidentally make the mistake of submitting a study of one of our Judges!

5. Unfinished Works: There are finished drawings and unfinished paintings. Please only submit your finished vision of your artwork. If you want a piece to “look unfinished,” there are actually ways to make finished versions of those we won’t mistake for being unfinished (e.g., Concept art). Unfinished works do not show the dedication criteria we look for. If it’s a great start for this quarter’s submissions, then make it a great finish for next quarter’s submissions.

6. Submissions with Text: A picture is worth a thousand words. We are not judging your content or spelling—but mistakes therein will definitely penalize you. Just remove the words. If you submissions include only text, then be extremely creative with it to make sure you are an illustrator and not a writer or a graphic designer.

Hopefully, this advice is more encouraging than daunting.

Submit your best work and see what happens!

 


Echo Chernik

Echo Chernik

Echo Chernik has been featured in many commercial design magazine articles for her talents as an artist, business-person, and instructor. With over twenty-two years of experience as a commercial artist she has become an industry leader in quality art and is constantly in great demand among the highest caliber clients around the globe. Clients include Disney, Miller, Camel, Coors, Trek, Dos Equis, Hasbro, Mattel, The Sheikh of Dubai, Arlo Guthrie, Sears, Publix, Random House, Penguin and much more. She is well known for her design of the Celestial Seasonings Green Tea line. In addition to illustration, she has also received awards for her efforts in community service.

 

Lazarus Chernik

Lazarus Chernik

Lazarus Chernik is an experienced Creative Director, Brand Manager, and award-winning Designer with over 20 years of experience. His clients have included everyone from Fortune 100 giants to small businesses in need of reaching that next level. Using expert skills in all manner of print and online media, he has headed the creative departments for numerous agencies and corporations including a Top 15 national advertising agency, a national retail chain, a national web development firm, a catalog retailer, and a retail goods manufacturer. He is an instructor of design software and skills in corporate training environments and continuing education facilities.

Frank Kelly Freas and Ray Bradbury at the inauguration of Illustrators of the Future

SF Illustration as Art by Frank Kelly Freas

Frank Kelly Freas was the first coordinating judge of the Illustrators of the Future Contest. Already a well established commercial artist and having known L. Ron Hubbard and having observed first hand Ron lending a helping hand to aspiring writers, he was very excited to share his hard-won experience in helping the aspiring artist. This was the first published essay on illustration in the Writers of the Future series.

As a practicing commercial illustrator for nearly 40 years, I have naturally developed some strong opinions on the subject of illustration in general, and speculative fiction in particular. Fundamental to my viewpoint is that the innate, trained and well-developed skills of the artist are the essential foundation but only the foundation upon which the illustrator must build.

The responsibility of the illustrator is to the story, not to a fashion, a theory of art, or the presumed demands of a market. When, as sometimes happens, the esthetic values of a given picture clash with the illustrative requirements, the latter should take precedence.

Illustration is a communication art, and as such requires the illustrator’s grasp of all factors significant to his or her audience, i.e. human traits, emotional orientation, educational level, relevant symbolism, and especially an awareness of the environment and technical elements his audience will expect him to understand.

From the above, it will be obvious that for an illustrator all human experience, all human emotion, and all human knowledge are raw materials. This, rather than specialization in a style, is what determines his or her particular area of expertise.

In my own experience, I have found that speculative fiction (science fiction or fantasy), while offering the illustrator by far the greatest scope for his knowledge, his abilities, and his imagination, is at the same time the most demanding of his total application. The western-story illustrator, the mystery illustrator, the love story illustrator, et al. have sharply defined areas in which their knowledge must be accurate and exhaustive: outside that area, a smattering of general information and a bit of research is enough. The SF illustrator, on the other hand, must be adequately competent in these and any other areas the story demands and be a quick enough study to become an “expert” on radio-telescopes this week and microbiology the next. He must also have the ability to forget as fast as he learns: unlike the engineer or technician, carryover from one field into the next is more likely to dilute than enhance his effectiveness.

Effectiveness in art is primarily communication—and one communicates with his readers in their language. This is the reason abstraction, surrealism, expressionism, etc. have had little success with American readers. A Mondrianesque framework for a composition can make an excellent basis for a high-tech type of illustration; a Yves Tanguy or a Dali approach can set a good mood for a psychological illustration—but in each case, the esthetic approach must be kept almost subliminal to be effective. The reader wants direct, clear, visual information.

The problem is further complicated by the fact that SF readers are by and large as little interested in academic esthetics in their illustration as they are in formal literary values in their reading. Those are icing on the cake, at best. Like writers and editors, readers are primarily verbal, and they have a strong tendency to prefer a strong story, however plainly written, over a literary masterpiece with a weak story. So, overall, they are pleased with a piece of art if it does its primary job of enhancing their enjoyment of the story.

It must be kept clearly in mind that the STORY comes first. The job of the illustration is to enhance it. The illustration must first catch the reader’s interest—show that this is a story to enjoy. It will set a mood, give a flavor that tells something of what to expect, And it will give just enough information—“Hey, that’s a 1947 Dodge truck!” to whet the reader’s curiosity without satisfying it— “But what the hell is it doing on the Moon?!?”

Ideally, an illustration should complement the story so well that neither story nor picture is as satisfying by itself as the two are together. The picture can vastly improve a story simply by showing the reader an environment or setting that would take several paragraphs to describe, in a few subtle brush strokes that communicate without detailing the nature of the setting. Or it can unobtrusively provide the reader with a significant detail, which will add immediacy and clarity to a situation otherwise difficult to express verbally.

This is especially valuable in characterizing. SF readers, in particular, tend to see their story-characters defined VISUALLY. The generic pirate, cowboy, railroader, etc. of yesteryear—a style which still, by the way, has a valid and useful place in general illustration—is not usually satisfactory. The most popular characters in SF have invariably been well-defined individuals. The usual handsome hero or pretty girl, as done in “slick” illustration, turn readers off.

All of which is not to say that SF does not have its accepted signs and symbols as evolved by the field’s master illustrators over the years. Together, these familiar touches make up what readers recognize as the “feel” of a “true” SF illustration. We have all seen artwork full of spaceships and/or wizards, technically well executed, that is obviously the work of someone who has no idea of what SF is all about and what attracts readers to it. Work of that sort does not draw the reader in—no matter how elegant, it pushes the reader away, because it is the work of a stranger. The new SF illustrator’s job is not to avoid the familiar, but to be aware of it and to find new ways of presenting it. The tension of working within the boundaries and pushing outward against them is good for the illustrator…and success under that tension communicates to the reader.

Keep in mind that the very nature of SF is one of endlessly finding new aspects of a reality that exists within unbreakable rules, whether they be the rules of science or of magic. The thoughts of the SF reader reach out beyond the stars, but what is found there is measured by a reality anchored in life on Earth, which constitutes the whole experience of an audience of sharp observers with strong ideas on what is true, what might be true, and what is highly unlikely. The audience wants pictures it can FEEL.

The SF audience is truly a great one to work for, and worth all the effort it may take to please it, simply because it is in fact so broad while intensely aware of its boundaries; and so open to new thinking while retaining what it finds best in the old.

The illustrator could do much worse than to take the typical SF reader as a role-model.

 


Frank Kelly Freas

Frank Kelly Freas

Frank Kelly Freas (1922-2005) published his first SF magazine cover, for Weird Tales, in 1950, but shortly thereafter became strongly associated with John Campbell’s Astounding Science Fiction, where he swiftly became the definitive ASF black-and-white and cover illustrator of the post-War period.

Alfred E. Newman by Frank Kelly Freas

Alfred E. Newman by Frank Kelly Freas

It was not so much a group of writers who sustained ASF’s identity in the 1950s; it was Kelly. Many major new illustrators were appearing, in ASF and elsewhere, with now fondly remembered work. But Kelly, at his board through long nights, working seven days a week, ably assisted and upheld by his marvelous wife, Polly, did almost as much work as all his peers combined. He holds more Hugo awards for Best Artist of the Year than anyone, and at mid-century, the awards came year after year after year. His work established and held the “look” of Astounding for a decade, and frequently lent valid extra dimensions to the stories.

After a sabbatical to do fine-art painting in Mexico, Kelly returned to SF and swiftly broadened into book and record-album covers as well as magazine illustration, including dozens of depictions of Alfred E. Newman on Mad magazine covers.