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.
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!
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 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.