December 21, 2007

99 and 16

Hey folks. It's the weekend before the break and another piece has come in. (Came in last week, but I've been busy.) That means with one more piece, this project's run will be officially done and we can get it sent to eBay.

I've decided I'll just get portfolio binders and keep the art as is; no binding. It wasn't the idea I had originally, but I think cost wise and due to the fact that the paper is all different, it's just easier this way. I'm also going to spend the $40 to get an ad on Fark for when the auction goes up. It'll likely link to the actual auction listing, but then there will be information on where the project is so we can have people get the book as well. Maybe I'll do two ads.

I don't have any interviews in the can right now and the Big Mailer is probably going to hang out at the current artist's location until next week. This will also likely be the last post until some time in January. I hope you all have a festive and safe holiday and we'll see you in 2008.


December 10, 2007

Interview - M.J. Smith

This interview was very inspirational and it was a real treat to hear some of these answers. Of note, M.J. Smith's family suffered a loss just a day after this interview, which makes a lot of what he says very emotional. I hope you enjoy this one.

Michael J. Smith (aka The Artist Smith) is a South Carolina based artist who comes from a long line of artists. When he's not painting or raising three kids, he's running gallery hosted art classes for children.

Michael, thank you for taking time to talk with me today.

No problem, thanks for your time, and for starting the project.

It has been a ride, for sure. So your bio says you teach, is that a full time thing or more private lessons or volunteer?

Private lessons and volunteer. I have taught classes on illustration and comic book art. The private lessons I do cover most styles of artwork. I have a lot of children that I teach and only two adults. The kids are great. They are open to any kind of art. The adults are both middle aged and they are only interested in water color beach scene painting.

Have you taught in schools or universities as well?

No, but I have taught classes that were given by art galleries and supply stores in Ohio and here on the beach. The gallery would advertise classes on whatever style of art and then a flat fee would be charged. I would get paid based on the enrollment. The last one I did was very well attended. I had over 20 students. I try not to do much of it anymore. It takes up a lot of time and family needs required me to be home more than I used to be. About 5 years ago my daughter became very ill. She was diagnosed with three diseases at once. I home schooled her through high school and now she is in college. I have more time now so I may get back into more of the teaching. There is an academy here on the beach that has students of the high school age range. They have shown interest in having me teach part time there. I am thinking about it.

Now, I don't want to ask about your arm, but I want to ask if you had to teach yourself how to draw/paint again and if that was as difficult as it sounds.

I don't mind talking about the arm. Several years ago I lost the use of my "drawing" arm. At first I freaked completely out. Anybody who is into art knows that losing that ability would hurt. I spent a short time feeling sorry for myself and then I took a trip. I got to shake hands with Frank Frazetta. He is my all time favorite artist. During that trip I discovered that he had recently suffered a stroke and he had taught himself to draw with his left hand. Getting back home I started to experiment. I found out that I can draw with my left hand, but my stuff looks different then it used to. I have limited use of my right arm now. I cannot do marathon painting like I used to (12-18 hours at a time). I can do 5 to 6 hours and I am done for the day. My right arm shakes when I hit the cut off point. Now I am getting to the point that I feel more at ease with the concept that my old style of art is in the past.

As if that were not enough, just over a year ago I had a series of small strokes myself (called TIA's). They caused me to lose the ability to remember numbers and other basic facts. My wife told me to stop acting like Frazetta on get on with it. I decided after that to get into digital artwork. I have to admit I do not like the feeling of it though.

I can't imagine what that's like, worst I've had is a jammed finger. Did it at all reduce your ability or even desire to teach?

Not really. Lately I have thought about getting a teachers certification here in South Carolina to become an art teacher for the local school board. It may sound all happy and fluffy when I write this but here goes... Children have the ability to learn art a lot faster than adults. The greatest feeling for me is when it "clicks" and a child sees what they have created. Their expressions are priceless. Having children yourself I am sure you know that feeling. I actually had a student from over twenty years ago looked me up a couple of years ago. He is working in the movie business now doing pre-production artwork. He told me that the time I spent with him made him decide to go to college and do what he wanted to with his art. That day was filled with MAJOR pride. My head swelled three times it's size for awhile, until my wife put me back into my place. The funniest part of that story is that I only spent three or four weekends teaching him to draw RPG artwork. He was a D&D player and he wanted to illustrate his characters. That little amount of time led him down a full time career in art. That is a fantastic feeling. He was just a kid who I forgot about (for the most part).

So, other than Frazetta, would you consider children - not necessarily yours - a big influence on your work or just your love of teaching?

Just my love of teaching. My influences run wide. My two Grandfathers were both artists. One did native American artwork, the other did Irish (Celtic) art. My father is an artist as well. Other artists that I have known along the way inspired me. Even some younger ones like Dave Dorman. Other influences were the Brothers Hildebrandt, Bernie Wrightson and the guys from TSR in the early 80's. They were cranking out an amazing amount of art in a very short time and most of it stands up to the test of time. Easley was always my favorite of that group. Today there are so many inspirations. I have spent a lot of time on the CG Network checking out the guys doing digital stuff. They are a bunch of very talented people. There is a lot more access today to other artists thanks to the internet. I look at what some guys are doing right out of school today and it amazes me. Back in the late 70's and early 80's there were not nearly as many fantasy illustrators as there are today.

So aside from teaching, do you have any projects that are on going or any signature works that you like to do or are asked to do time and again?

I know it sounds cliché, but I am working on two children's books presently. I co-wrote them several years ago and started to illustrate them I was about half way done with both books when our storage unit was robbed and over 116 painting were taken (as well as a bunch of other art and supplies). I am asked to do my biomechanical lightning storms often. I have probably done about 100 of them, if not more. I think one is on my site named "Mindstorm". I also do a monochrome style of portrait that I have been asked to do a lot of in recent years. I am working on one tonight. Out of everything I have done I would say that tattoo designs in general would be the one thing I am asked to do most often. Black and whites most of the time. I have done thousands of them over the years and I could not begin to ink someone myself. I just do the designs. My family is very happy when I get them as assignments. They are fast and easy to do and they pay well for the time involved. The thing is, if you are going to be a working artist you have to be willing to do anything you can (within limits) to meet the bills. Most of us (freelance artists) don't have insurance, etc. We have to do out own thing. It can make life very interesting at times. My daughters situation cost a very large amount of money. I had to make it. So I will do most any kind of artwork. The only limits are pornographic and sadistic artwork. They are not for me. Any young artist who thinks they are going to be able to thrive at only what they want to do are fooling themselves, for the most part. Most artists don't have that capability. We do what the client wants.

Adding to that, and acknowledging keeping some level of morality in your work, aside from that, what's the oddest request or job a client has asked of you?

What a loaded question. I have done some very strange murals and tattoo designs. By far the most uncomfortable was a oil painting. I was hired by an older man to paint his much younger wife in the nude. It was a classic pose. She was a very attractive young lady but what really got me was that this man sat there while she posed for several days and he asked constant questions. "Why do you mix that oil stuff int there?" etc. He kept saying sexual things about her and I finally had to ask him to stop. After days of this I about lost my mind. That painting bought my wifes first car. I did a mural that was sort of bizarre. A group of "skater boys" hired me to do a tribute to Charles Manson. It has been a strange three decades.

You win for weirdest commission story. That's just amazingly uncomfortable.

Is paint your preferred medium?

Acrylics are my favorite for color, but I like the sketch book and pencil for relaxing. Oils are so difficult if you have a deadline. I also love sculpting. I use polymer clays.

Other than being inspirational, did you learn from your father and grandfathers more than you did from any classical, traditional schooling?

Oh yeah. I got kicked out of more than one art class. My family taught me that all art has meaning, even if it may be hard to see. They taught me that lines are important but the feeling of the work is more important. For instance, while doing artwork many artists will describe a sort of trance that they go into. I do the same thing. I lose track of time. There is something almost spiritual to creating art (at least for me). I just like the feeling of entering a world you create yourself. Often times I will have a huge back story to a little painting or drawing I have done. That is because my mind has created it during the process.

Eventually, maybe improbably, one of your students may read this. You'd said earlier about art being work, harder work than most people realize. What other advice could you give your students or anyone reading this?

Never take for granted the art that you do, or the people that you meet along the way. The smallest piece of art or the littlest contact with a person can lead to great things. Create, create, create. Draw and paint all you can. Practice is everything. I had to re-learn a bunch of stuff over the last several years. I don;t take anything for granted now. If you get a commission , do it. Don't wait till the last minute. Clients often want changes and don"t ever take it bad when they do. You may think you have the greatest painting in the world in front of you. The client has their own vision and they pay the bills. Learn as many styles and materials as you can, that way you are more valuable as an all around asset. Most of all though, enjoy what you are doing. If you are not having fun you are doing the wrong thing. I have been doing artwork since the dinosaurs were on earth and it has always been fun, even during hard times.

Well that's all I have. It's been a great pleasure talking to you. The art you sent in was wonderful and I'm glad you're a part of the project.

No problem at all. Thanks for taking the time to start the project. It is amazing how one person can make the biggest contribution. People often overlook comic artists, thinking somehow they are less than real artists. Any one who has ever done comic art knows the truth, it is hard work. Good luck in the future project. I will be here if needed.

If you'd like to see more of Michael's work, you can visit his site.

December 07, 2007

CBLDF Member Party

For you CBLDF members, clear your calendar for December 10th. The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund will be hosting a member party at the Village Pourhouse in Manhattan. The evening will be filled with appearances by music and art guests, gifts and door prizes. The event is the first of many in December so if you're not a member and would like to attend, sign up now.

Interview - Me

Chris Tinkler, contributing artist to the project and staff writer at ComicNews.Info was very kind in setting up an interview.

You can read it here.

December 04, 2007

98 and 15

If all falls into place, this run of the project will be complete by next week. One person has said they've mailed theirs, three more have said it's sitting on their desk just waiting to be...I don't know, signed, inked, colored, stamped. So I'm sure there will be more than 100 yet I'm not decided on whether or not to include everything I get till the end of the year or cap it at 100. I'm leaning toward the later. I'd like the first run of the book to match the name of the project, then after that we can freewheel a bit more.

To that end there are still some things needing to be done.

  • I need an A3 size scanner. I can scan on the 8.5x11 scanner I have, but I don't want to clip artwork and reassembling would be a pain. Mustek offers them for $150 so if you feel like donating to the cause but are unable to draw, this would be a great way to show your appreciation for the endeavor.
  • Still not sure about how to deliver the actual artwork. The poll showed more people in favor of the portfolio display binders, but again, those will only hold 96. If you have info on a better display binder that would hold 100 pieces, please contact me.
  • Once all the art is scanned (see the first bullet) I'll need to set up a store front to sell the books as well. I don't know what type of books are available or what should be charged for them. I know people have offered information about some seriously top notch print-on-demand services, but I'm looking for easy.
Now on to some other items.

With the near completion of the first run, I'm already turning my thoughts to round two. The Big Mailer will be floating around for a long time, but that shouldn't stop additional projects from running. But this time it'll be wide open. I'll find small page count books, I'll have it open for digital artists (don't know how I'd do that yet) and different types of books would go to different charity funds. For example, for all past artists who have kids or who teach kids, we'll have an under 18 run and all proceeds would go toward an organization dedicated to children's health or housing or education. We could have a women artists run and proceeds go to Safe Place. A digital only art run could go toward the One Laptop per Child Foundation.

I like all these ideas, but the trick is to be able to get the word out and make sure the right amount of money is raised and more artists can participate. I don't doubt that we'll ever run out of artists, but I may run out of ways to find them, so I need your help. If you haven't already, print off the PDF and take it to your schools and coffee shops and places of business. Send submissions to major blogs and aggregation sites. Chat the idea up in forums. I've been doing this on my own for 9 months now and this is about as far as I can take it. A few folks have posted art or an entry on their sites about it and that's wonderful. If you haven't yet, it would sure help get the project some recognition.

Enough pleading.

I still need people to interview. If you're interested in doing an instant message interview that takes about 45-60 minutes, please email me and we'll set something up.

Thanks all, more to come soon.