FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

Michael Whelan is much in demand for interviews and lectures about his work and career. Here are some common questions and topics covered in these discussions and his thoughts on the subjects. If you have a question about something not covered, please contact us. We will ask Michael and let you know his answer. If it’s a great question, we may include it in the FAQ’s.

General FAQIllustrationFine Art

MaterialsTechnique

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

Michael Whelan is much in demand for interviews and lectures about his work and career. Here are some common questions and topics covered in these discussions and his thoughts on the subjects. If you have a question about something not covered, please contact us. We will ask Michael and let you know his answer. If it’s a great question, we may include it in the FAQ’s.

Gen FAQIllustrationFine Art

MaterialsTechnique

GENERAL FAQ

AUTOGRAPHS

May I send things to you for Michael Whelan to autograph?

Sometimes, but please contact us in advance for permission and shipping instructions. We cannot accept any liability for unauthorized items we receive.

  • We offer many reproductions in our online shop that are already signed by Michael Whelan.
  • We post news here on the website and try to give you advance notice whenever Michael is making a personal appearance and he usually signs autographs then.
  • If you have a question about a personalization on an item you are ordering from our online shop, please contact us.

PERMISSION

May I use one of Michael Whelan's images on my website?

No. All Michael Whelan images are copyrighted throughout the world. Any unauthorized use is strictly prohibited. As stated in our legal and copyright information, Whelan images cannot be distributed or reproduced without the artist’s consent. Please understand that copyright infringement is a major issue on the internet and of great concern to Michael Whelan.

  • If you have a non-commercial fan art gallery type of site, Michael Whelan may allow you to display a few images with a link back to this website. Please contact us for permission.
  • To report a possible copyright infringement, please contact us. Thank you for your help!

May I use one of Michael Whelan's images as a signature tag or to illustrate my role-playing game character or for any other online purpose?

No. Altering any Michael Whelan image is strictly prohibited.

  • Michael sincerely appreciates all your enthusiasm and support and it is difficult for him to say “no” to fans, but he cannot allow any altering of his images. Every presentation of his artwork reflects on his craft and he cannot guarantee quality reproduction on any site except this one.
  • If an image is taken from a book cover or other illustration, there is also the author, musician, or publisher’s copyright to consider.

May I reproduce a whole book cover, album cover, or other product with Whelan art on my website?

Yes. Scans of full book or album covers (including title and author’s or musician’s name) or other products may be shown freely on any website, unless copyrights held by the publisher limit reproduction.

May I share Michael Whelan's images on social media (Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, etc)?

Yes, but please keep the following in mind:

  • When sharing Michael’s art, always include an attribution (Example: Art by Michael Whelan)
  • Please share images from our website and social media to ensure the best image quality.
  • You’ll find convenient links to share images on all of our gallery detail pages (Example: Darkness Over Hayholt)
  • Provide a link back to us so others who enjoy the art can explore our galleries on the website or our posts on Tumblr.

May I use Michael Whelan's images on a blog post?

There are circumstances when fair use applies.  The post should either be about Michael Whelan or somehow related to his work.  For example, fair use applies when reviewing a book that Michael illustrated.  Again, please keep the following in mind:

  • Always caption the images including the title of the art, an attribution, and a link back to our website or the specific gallery post.  (Example: OATHBRINGER by Michael Whelan)
  • Journalistic standards apply whether you are a casual blogger, a professional, or a retailer advertising upcoming titles.
  • Obviously make sure to credit the author / publisher where applicable for illustrations.

TATTOOS

May I use one of Michael Whelan's images for my own personal tattoo?

Yes – but please send us a picture to CustomerService @ MichaelWhelan.com. With your permission we will post it!

  • It would violate copyright laws to use his copyrighted image in any commercial transaction without his express permission, but Michael does allow you to have one of his images reproduced as a tattoo on your own body. Although in strict terms the tattoo artist is being paid for the service and it is a commercial transaction, Michael Whelan grants his permission on a one-time basis.
  • If you have some other personal project in mind, please contact us in advance at Legal @ MichaelWhelan.com for his approval.

COMMISSIONS & LICENSING

How do I hire Michael Whelan to do my book cover?

As a general rule, authors do not hire artists to do their book covers. It is usually the responsibility of the publisher to do the packaging and advertising for a book and that includes the cover art.

Does Michael Whelan work strictly in traditional publishing? Would he illustrate my self-published book?

Michael is one of the most sought after illustrators in the book industry and as such tends to work strictly with established publishers. He devotes most of his schedule to his personal gallery work, but when he does accept a commission, it is typically for a bestselling author or special project.

How about album covers? My band is putting out a new album...

Again, Michael’s illustration schedule is very limited and he tends to work with high-profile artists. While he often can’t take on new commissions, rights to existing works are usually available.

Many of his album covers over the years have featured previously created images from his illustration and personal gallery work. For more information about secondary rights, see the question below.

Am I able to buy rights to existing Michael Whelan artwork for other projects?

Usually yes…but it depends on a number of factors: availability, previous use, exclusivity, etc. Please contact us for more information on rights.

For quickest response be sure to provide relevant details on the project in your initial inquiry, such as how the artwork will be used (as the cover of a book or an interior illustration?), the size of the print run (if applicable), and your budget.

Who do I contact for foreign publication rights?

We currently handle all foreign rights for Michael Whelan’s work. Please contact us and provide the details of your publication, particularly the market and the estimated size of the print run.

How do I request a license to use Whelan art on a commercial product?

We welcome business proposals, but please keep the following in mind:

  • A professional, well-researched proposal will include details on the product (including quantities to be printed / manufactured) and how you will market it.
  • We value quality of production, so please provide samples whenever possible.
  • The licensing agreement may include an upfront fee and/or a percent of royalties over time. Either way, your proposal should give us confidence that the license will be profitable for all parties involved.
  • In the past, we have licensed Whelan art for journals, bookmarks, calendars, greeting cards, mugs, t-shirts and more. But please understand that not all products will fit our needs and some artwork may not be available to license.

Once you have your proposal together, please contact us through the website or via mail at:

MICHAEL WHELAN
PO BOX 88
BROOKFIELD, CT 06804

EMAIL AND FAN MAIL

I emailed Michael, why didn't he reply?

Michael spends his days painting and to be honest, that’s what all of us who love his art want him to do – make more! If you are sure that you need to contact him personally and none of his staff can help you, please click on the contact button and send another email. We will make sure he gets back to you.

I emailed the shop, why didn't you reply?

We get a lot of email, but we do try very hard to reply to everyone. If you have not heard back from us in a reasonable amount of time, please try again. Your email may have been deleted as spam and we didn’t receive it.

If you have sent an email regarding an order you have placed and not received a reply, please call us at 203-798-6063.

If you have a general question, be sure to read through the FAQ’s – your question may be answered here.

INTERVIEW REQUESTS

I have read all his Biographical Information, and all the other FAQ, but I'm writing a paper or article on Michael Whelan and still have questions. Who do I contact?

Please contact us at CustomerService @ MichaelWhelan.com. Sometimes, Michael is able to email you himself or to do an interview over the phone.

REPRODUCTIONS & OTHER PRODUCTS

What is Glass Onion Graphics?

The first Michael Whelan prints were produced in 1977 by a small press, but in 1979 Michael’s wife Audrey Price started Glass Onion Graphics and has been steadily publishing Whelan prints since then. Over the years there have been other publishers who have produced his prints, books, calendars, etc., but Glass Onion is still his primary publisher and also handles the sales of his reproductions via MichaelWhelan.com.

We have had an exclusive Michael Whelan website since 1996 with online ordering since 1998.

ILLUSTRATION FAQ

EARLY YEARS

How long have you worked as a professional illustrator?

Since I was in college in the early 1970’s.

  • In college I painted signs, worked on a barber’s manual, and did medical illustration for the “Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery”. I also sold cover art rights to some of my portfolio pieces to book publishers in Europe before my work was published here.
  • As a science fiction/fantasy book cover artist since 1975.

How would you rate the college you attended and how prepared were you afterwards?

I went to San Jose State University in San Jose, CA. I wanted to learn Human Anatomy and Art and for that it was close to ideal. My instructors there were great, but after graduating I still didn’t feel ready to go into professional illustration without a little more experience. For about 9 months I attended Art Center College of Design. I got a job offer from a publisher in New York, so I dropped out and headed East.What was your first cover art job?While I was still at Art Center I sent slides of my work to Donald A. Wollheim at DAW Books. His encouraging reply is what motivated me to move near New York City and my first commission from him was the cover for THE ENCHANTRESS OF WORLD’S END by Lin Carter. (It was pretty bad – I’m still amazed he hired me again!) I also sold some of my portfolio pieces to Marvel Comics and did some comic art for Neal Adams’ Studio.Who were your greatest influences in art when you started out?My early influences were many of the usual names: Norman Rockwell, Maxfield Parrish, Frank Frazetta, the Wyeths, Alphonse Mucha and Chesley Bonnestell – too many to list really.If you examine your entire illustration career, what would you say is the turning point, when you became a recognized illustrator?I’d say it was when I did the cover for THE WHITE DRAGON by Anne McCaffrey. It was the first book with one of my covers to make the bestseller lists and “everyone” noticed. I figured I couldn’t miss with red, white, and blue as my color scheme!

What was your first cover art job?

While I was still at Art Center I sent slides of my work to Donald A. Wollheim at DAW Books. His encouraging reply is what motivated me to move near New York City and my first commission from him was the cover for THE ENCHANTRESS OF WORLD’S END by Lin Carter. (It was pretty bad – I’m still amazed he hired me again!) I also sold some of my portfolio pieces to Marvel Comics and did some comic art for Neal Adams’ Studio.

Who were your greatest influences in art when you started out?

My early influences were many of the usual names: Norman Rockwell, Maxfield Parrish, Frank Frazetta, the Wyeths, Alphonse Mucha and Chesley Bonnestell – too many to list really.

If you examine your entire illustration career, what would you say is the turning point, when you became a recognized illustrator?

I’d say it was when I did the cover for THE WHITE DRAGON by Anne McCaffrey. It was the first book with one of my covers to make the bestseller lists and “everyone” noticed. I figured I couldn’t miss with red, white, and blue as my color scheme!

LIFE AS A PRO

Did you have any preconceived notions about working as an illustrator?

Yes – I assumed it would involve long hours and probably not pay very well. I was right about the first thing and underestimated the second.

What is your favorite thing about working as an illustrator?

The first thing that comes to mind is being paid for work I would have been happy to do anyway.

Are there any negative aspects about the profession?

There are negatives with any profession, and many of the ones in freelance illustration are due to being self-employed: no health plan, pension, etc., without spending enormous sums to cover all your bases.

  • The hours are long, often not a steady income, there can be constant fighting to get paid and against rip-offs and stolen rights.
  • There’s a lack of respect illustrators receive compared to “gallery” or “fine artists,” and most freelance illustrators have to be perpetually looking for new jobs.

I have been very fortunate in that once I started working for DAW, I have never been without an assignment.

  • But success can bring problems too – you can do anything too much. If you accept every assignment offered, you can burn out in a surprisingly short time.
  • Once you have succeeded in a particular subject or look, your clients want more of the same. A desperate boredom can set in which is death to creativity. It’s like being typecast as an actor.
  • Illustration is like any other art form – there is a star system – and the top stars earn a lot more than the bottom rung names. This competition and struggle can be tough to deal with.

Have you read all the books you have illustrated?

Yes, often 2 or 3 times, with the exception of a few that weren’t written yet and had to be illustrated from a synopsis. I always thought it one of the perks of the business that I got to read the books before the public did! Unfortunately, over the years I have forgotten a few of them and I often don’t know how to answer specific questions about a character in a book I read 2 decades ago!

Does your mental concept of a picture always match the final results?

Usually yes. Sometimes I vary somewhat from my initial concept, but most of the time I have an image in my mind that I can stay fairly close to.

How do you decide which scene to feature as a cover image?

I can’t say definitively. It’s a subjective process that is still something of a mystery to me. In the end the choice is derived from a balance of my impressions of the story and its characters, the intent of the author, my own artistic concerns, and the publisher’s wishes.

How do you research a fantasy picture? Do you use models, photographs, or historical books?

Yes, all those things.

  • With a book cover illustration, the main source is the manuscript.
  • I have thousands of photos I’ve taken in the UK of castles, abbeys, and ruins and ones from museums with armor and weapons.
  • I have costume and other reference books and a lifetime of pictures I’ve cut out of magazines.
  • Sometimes I pose myself in a costume in front of a mirror and occasionally I do photograph professional models, but the most fun is when someone I know fits a character so well that they are pressed into service.
  • Anything else in the story is my business to invent. My job is to do it in a way that is consistent with the narrative of the story, and to make it real enough to bring the story to life. The Pern Dragons may violate known laws of physics, but it was my job to paint them as if they could fly.

How do you make a reader feel fear in a horror image?

I just think about things that seem eerie, or recall frightening situations from my own experiences. I don’t go for blood or gore; that’s about creating revulsion, not fear. I’m more concerned with setting up a situation that creates more of a feeling of unease than anything else. It’s very hard to create a sense of fear in an image alone. We live in such jaded times and viewers are accustomed to hearing sound tracks with scary noises and music to trigger fear.

I am actually not doing horror images much anymore. I feel that there’s enough horror and bloodshed in the world already that I don’t feel compelled to add to it.

Do you prefer to paint dynamic action scenes or static pictures?

When I was younger, the action scenes; now, I prefer character studies.

Do you prefer science fiction or fantasy?

I find SF illustration to be more interesting, because it has the potential to be relevant to current events and experience. When I was younger, I enjoyed both equally, but now fantasy often seems like pointless daydreaming or wish fulfillment much of the time, so to me it seems less relevant. Of course all this is coming from a guy whose favorite books of all time are THE LORD OF THE RINGS! I still listen to them on tape at least once a year.

What do you think of digital art?

Some digital art is excellent, some is not. It’s neither better nor worse than other forms of art, it’s just different. A computer is a tool for producing a finished work of art and just like with paints and brushes, the most important part of the process is the artist who is doing it.

What are the advantages of using computers in art?

Unlimited, nondestructive editing. I have integrated them into the beginning stages of my working procedures. In a situation where there are likely to be many changes or where I want to show many different approaches to a design problem, the computer is really great. I can copy areas and recombine them endlessly. It is also easier to chart out complex grids for pictures with complicated perspective plans.

The digital media are well suited to the publishing world. For art directors, it is a huge boon to be able to make changes easily in the art, to lay over type designs or to upload ready-to-print cover art.

Do you think digital art will replace conventional painting?

Probably not for me. I would miss the tactile sense of actually holding and physically manipulating my art by hand. There’s no comparison between the “romance of the studio” and sitting in front of a monitor!

It’s certainly the direction that the illustration field is going. Among new illustrators, I’d guess that the majority of them work digitally. It’s ideally suited to the publishing world for artists, art directors, and printers.

The fine art/gallery world is not moving as quickly that way. My guess is that art collectors still like owning a painting not a print of a digital image. But with the amazing resolution you can get today with prints on canvas, etc., who knows?

How did you feel about winning a gold medal from the Society of Illustrators for your digital artwork CRUX HUMANUS?

I was fortunate to win a gold medal, but I couldn’t help being struck by the irony of winning an award from them for a work that was totally uncharacteristic of all the art I had done for the previous 20 years. Also, the entire theme of the piece is a scream against the dehumanizing effects of technology…in effect, an anti-digital artwork created digitally.

What are your projects and plans for the future?

My focus is mostly on my personal work, but I do accept commissions from time to time. I have really enjoyed being an illustrator and helping to bring other people’s ideas to life, but now I am exploring my own ideas.

All the paintings I expect to do will still be about a “sense of wonder” and dreamlike interpretations of my experiences as a human being. I imagine that commercial applications will be found for some of it and you may see it as book or CD covers on occasion. So in that sense I will still be an illustrator.

ADVICE

What is the best preparation for becoming an illustrator?

I would give the same answer to anyone wanting to go into the arts of any kind. Get a good liberal arts education: read and study literature, nature, science, history, art, music, etc. The more you study, learn, and grow yourself the more you have to say in your art. If you can’t afford a formal education, read and study as much as you can on your own.

Do I need to go to art school to become a successful illustrator?

Not necessarily art school, but some professional training is a good idea. Find out where the best art teachers are near where you live or at your college and take classes from them.

What would be your best advice to an aspiring illustrator?

Work hard and stay true to your vision. Don’t waste time imitating others’ work; do the work only you can do. There’s only one person who has lived your life, and that is you. Your job is to create the work that you and you alone can do.

How do you prepare to become a science fiction/fantasy artist?

You have to want to paint fantastic subjects and have a good imagination.

  • Learn how to paint the “real,” then apply those techniques to the “unreal.”
  • Learn how to draw and paint the human figure. The biggest complaint I hear from art directors is that there aren’t enough artists who are proficient at that.
  • Look at the work already being done in the field you are interested in (ie.book covers, comics, gaming) and practice until you are as good as what you see.

How do you break into the field of SF/ fantasy illustration today?

I don’t really know. When I started more than 30 years ago the book industry was a different world. But from what I can understand, getting your work seen in the first place is the the main obstacle.

  • Art directors are swamped with work and rarely have time to look at portfolios. Enter competitions like the SPECTRUM ANNUAL OF THE BEST IN CONTEMPORARY FANTASTIC ART, or THE SOCIETY OF ILLUSTRATORS student competitions.
  • Frame and show your work in one of the leading SF or fantasy convention art shows. It is likely to be seen by some people you’d like to show it to and you have the added benefit of seeing how your work stacks up to the competition. You may meet other newcomers and professionals and I dare say that if you display your art in these shows and you don’t win any awards or ribbons, you need to work at improving it before you seek work as a professional.

How do you succeed as a science fiction/fantasy artist?

I must repeat that you have to practice until you are as good as what you see already being done in the field. Because you are new, you’ll charge less and once you are in, keep getting better, until you are so good that you are considered indispensable and you can raise your rates.

FINE ART FAQ

CHANGES

Have there been different influences on your personal work than on your illustration?

Yes. The greatest influence on my personal work is my own life. My current work and the things I am experiencing seem to spiral automatically into metaphors that can be painted and made into images that are important to me.

When did you start moving away from illustration?

In 1988 I had a serious creative block and I created my first 2 Passage paintings as a means of escape from my depression. It worked, but I was never the same again. From that point on I was looking forward to my next opportunity to paint something for myself.

Do you wish you had started earlier or had never begun as an illustrator?

I probably should have dedicated all my efforts to my personal work sooner, but I do not regret my years as an illustrator in the slightest. It was excellent training and mostly fun and rewarding. Also, I don’t feel that I was ready to begin my personal work until I was almost 40. I had to do the preparatory work, mature somewhat, experience things worth making art about…all of that.

How is your approach to your personal work different from your approach to illustration?

When I do an illustration, there are a host of people I am aiming to please – the reader, the author, the publisher – and myself. There is nothing like that with my personal work. I am compelled to do it. I don’t even have a conscious thought like “today I’ll go in my studio and paint something from my own imagination”. I just do it.

Where do you get your ideas?

They come from all sorts of places:

  • Intellectual musings sparked by events in my life or things I’ve learned in books or elsewhere.
  • Images that appear in my mind at random times and places.
  • Images or concepts suggested to me during dreams, waking dreams, or during meditation.

It’s important that I cultivate and maintain an open attitude to these influences, to stay as open as I can to things which may be trying to speak to me and suggest new images. It took many years for me to come to that realization. This may be what people mean when they say “talent.”

Was it difficult to go from illustration to fine art?

Not so much. It was a very gradual process.

The difficult thing for me was to learn that I couldn’t do both at the same time. I found that I can’t simply turn a mental switch and hop from one modality to the other without a significant adjustment period in between. I wish it weren’t so. I wasted a lot of time figuring that out!

How did you find an audience for your fine art?

At first, I didn’t think about a possible audience, I just had to do it. A few years later, I approached Bantam Books about doing another art book and this time 2/3 of it would feature my illustration and 1/3 would be my personal work. I received a large enough advance that I could afford to take off almost a year to design and write the book and to do several personal paintings. THE ART OF MICHAEL WHELAN was published in 1993 and the Mill Pond Press, a well-established limited edition print company, published prints of several of the paintings.

Were you surprised by the positive reactions to your personal work?

Yes, very surprised. I was happy doing the paintings for myself and it has taken me some time to realize that they were connecting with people, because the works are so different from what I was known for and are quite personal to me.

LIFE AS A PRO

Are you going to publish another coffee table art book?

I hope so. In the meantime, this website will have to serve.

Where do you exhibit and sell your fine art?

I sell some of it directly from my studio and through this website, but my primary gallery is Tree’s Place in Cape Cod, Massachussetts.

Why there?

My family and I were vacationing on Cape Cod and I went to Tree’s Place to see work by one of my favorite artists Robert Vickrey. The owner at the time, Julian Baird, found out who I was and I told him about my personal work. He asked me to send him a copy of my book. I did and a week later he drove down to Connecticut, took back some paintings, and sold them. The following year I had a very successful one man show there. I had a second one man show in 1999 and was honored to have a two-man show with Mr. Vickrey in 2002.

Do you exhibit in other galleries?

Sometimes. I’m not very prolific and I’m in the happy but awkward position of selling most of my personal work. Up until now, I haven’t been able to accumulate enough paintings to maintain a continual stream of work in more than one gallery in addition to selling works myself.

Why do you take the time to put in symbols and so much detail into your work?

That’s the way my visions look to me. The symbols are used to communicate ideas and other intangibles in a sort of visual shorthand. In general, I relegate certain sets of related symbols to certain sets of paintings that are linked in concept or theme.

  • For example, the “bubble” in my Passage paintings represents undying mentality, or consciousness, or “soul.”
  • The Virtues paintings all contain Dactyloceras ammonite fossils as a symbol of loss and extinction.

Is it hard for a former illustrator to make it as a fine artist?

Often it is. There has been a deep-seated bias against illustration in the fine art world for a long time, but there are signs that it is easing somewhat. It probably had more to do with the fact that most illustrators worked realistically than for any other reason. Now that Realism seems to be on the rebound, the barriers against illustrators seem to be lifting a little.

It seems odd that it would ever be so, considering the historical record. Just think of all the famous American artists who began as illustrators: Winslow Homer, Edward Hopper, Remington, Parrish, Andy Warhol, to name a few.

Do you ever have trouble thinking of something to paint?

No – quite the opposite. I hope I live long enough to paint the ideas I have already had! As I get older, I find the possibilities rain in on me all the time. The problem is distinguishing between the relative merits of the ideas and choosing which ones are worth spending time on.

What is your biggest challenge for you now?

Making the best use of my time as possible. I’m just hoping to live long enough to get a fair chunk of my personal work done.

MATERIALS FAQ

PAINT

What kind of acrylic paints do you use?

The brands I use are primarily Liquitex and Golden. I favor the jar or ‘fluid” acrylics because they flow better and I often use glazes or watercolor wash effects in my work. In addition, I occasionally run them through an airbrush, which the tube colors are unsuitable for. I do keep some tube colors around for the very last stages of a painting, if there’s an area which calls for a particularly opaque and strongly stated layer of paint.

On occasion I use Golden Satin painting medium when I want to execute a wet-in-wet blend. Golden’s GAC 200 medium is very useful to me, as it’s the hardest medium I know of which imparts a gloss to a layer of color. Other gloss mediums can get sticky on humid days long after an acrylic painting is finished, whereas the GAC 200 stays hard and impervious to such changes. However, it’s rigidity makes it suitable only for non-flexible surfaces, so i can only use it when I’m painting on a panel or board.

What kind of oil paints do you use?

Mostly I use Winsor & Newton oils, supplementing them with their Griffin alkyds when I’m in a hurry and can’t wait for a passage of some slow drying color (like Cadmium Yellow) to dry. I have an assortment of odd tubes of paint with particular colors available from Gamblin, Old Holland, Holbein, Rembrandt, etc. which I use on special projects.

I’m picky about some colors in particular. Only the Rembrandt Raw Umber, for example, has the quality and tonal richness I desire in that color.

The Daniel Smith Company keeps coming up with cool pigments to play around with, but I recently realized I have more materials than I’m likely to use in my lifetime so I’m determined to be strong and stop acquiring more.

Liquin was my medium of choice until a couple of older works of mine showed signs of delamination, which made me worry that I was using too much of it. I decided then to simplify things in the interest of safety and go back to a more traditional medium made up of linseed oil and mineral spirits.

BRUSHES

What kind of brushes do you use for your acrylic paintings?

I have a wide assortment of brushes, and their use is dictated by the effect I’m looking for. In the course of completing a painting I can employ many different kinds of brushes – as well as sponges, fabrics, pipe cleaners, pieces of cut plastic, all kinds of wacky things – whatever does the job.

75% of the time I use synthetic brushes, but often towards the end of a painting I find that nothing short of a real sable or bristle brush will do. I save them for critical detail work and places where I’m seeking a very smooth blend. Watercolor brushes have the most utility for me since much of my acrylic painting employs thin layers of paint laid down in washes of varying opacity.

Do you use different brushes for your oil paintings?

I use mostly sable and hog bristle brushes, depending on the effect I am seeking, what kind of surface I’m using, and how fast I need to work. Dan Dos Santos turned me on to Utrecht synthetic sable oil paint brushes, which I find quite useful.

Do you have an airbrush that you can recommend? What do you use?

First off, I can’t recommend any type of airbrush “kit,” because I’m not familiar with them at all. I’ve always bought my stuff piecemeal and I don’t really know what’s available or who’s offering what.

I’ve tried all sorts of airbrushes, from top of the line Iwatas to Badgers and Paasches, double action as well as single action models, and the old reliable Paasches H series have been consistently useful. They are the easiest to clean and maintain, work best with my methods, and interrupt my work flow the least. But they have definite limitations, and a much coarser spray than other models…but then again, I am always trying to force a thicker paint fluid through them than I should be.

I’ve recently reopened my Iwata Eclipse models and have been using them for retouching and fine detail work, and man, they are amazing. Wonderfully crafted and hard working tools. On paintings that need repair work done the Iwata’s have proven to be invaluable tools, as their precision and ease of use are unmatched in my experience.

  • For gessoing panels and large sheets of watercolor board, I use an Iwata W-88 spray gun. I also use it for spraying final varnish layers on my acrylic paintings.
  • For large areas on my acrylic paintings (I don’t use an airbrush on oil paintings of course), I use a Paasche H series single action airbrush. I actually have two hooked up, one with the H-1 tip and nozzle and the other with an H-5 tip and nozzle. I use one or the other depending on how fine the application has to be, or how broad the surface area to be covered.
  • I use a pressure ranging from 20 psi to 60 psi depending on how thick the paint is, what kind of coverage I am looking for, and whether I want any spatter effects, etc.

SURFACES

What kind of boards do you use?

The terms “boards” in the illustrator/artist sense can mean anything from actual wood panels to sheets of watercolor or illustration paper mounted on heavy archival cardboard or museum board.

One of my favorite surfaces is D’Arches watercolor paper mounted on 100% rag museum mounting board. It’s a wonderful and sensitive surface to work on. The other kind of “board’ is usually understood to be some kind of composite wood surface such as Masonite. To avoid confusion I refer to these as “panels”.

What about panels?

My favorite is a commercially made product called Gessoboard (from Ampersandart.com). The surface is ideal for acrylic work, with almost a magical ability to keep the paint workable far longer than other surfaces I’ve tried. There’s a new set of primers from a company called “Colourfix” which I like very much because they have an extremely aggressive tooth, and sometimes I’ll coat a Gessoboard with such a primer.

Is there a particular kind of canvas that you prefer?

I use Fredrix Polyflax or Ultrasmooth for some of my paintings on canvas. Others are done on Claessons linen, among other brands. I like to buy canvas when I can actually feel it and see the weave with my own eyes, so I don’t buy it online.

Sometimes I mount the canvas on panels because I like the rigidity of the surface as well as the creative inspiration I get from the canvas weave itself. Now that there are archival canvas panels available, I have been painting on some of those, but I make the larger ones myself.

What sizes do you like to use?

Since most of my illustrations are on watercolor board, and the board comes in sheets of 30″ x 40,” many of my illos are in derivatives of that size. When I was just starting my career a front cover painting would run about 16″ x 20″, though many were smaller. As the years went by, however, I found my work getting larger and larger.

Also, after the first few years a greater proportion of my work was intended for wraparound cover designs, which were by their design already twice the size of what I had been doing before.

Most of my work for publication these days is 24″ x 36″ or larger, whether a front cover only or a wraparound, depending to some extent on the subject matter.

My self-commissioned or gallery works vary greatly in size. I suppose that in some ways I’m choosing sizes that are deliberately different from what I get to do in my published work. hence, many of my gallery paintings are either diminutive in size (8″ x 10″ or smaller) or quite a bit larger (4′ x 4′ or greater).

Many of the themes that seemed destined towards my gallery work have a gravity or sense of significance to them that impels me to make them large. Part of it comes from a desire to have the image encompass as much of the visual field of the viewer as possible. A larger work automatically becomes a more immersive experience for a viewer, it can’t be avoided.

I’ve seen many works –some of them ones that I did myself– that would have been much improved by being larger. Dali’s “Persistence of Memory” , for example.

COMPUTERS

Do you use the computer in your work?

It’s a great layout and sketching tool and that is primarily what I use it for. I’ve no doubt that Leonardo would have used one for just that purpose, if he could have.

I’m less excited about making final output digitally, though I have done so for some CD cover art and other purposes. I like tactile feedback, being able to run my hand over canvas or watercolor paper or whatever, the feel and smell o the paint. It’s like a symphony for me. Why would I seek to deny myself that wonderful experience?

Nonetheless, over time my computers, scanner and printer have been incorporated into my workflow in different ways. It is common for me now to go back and forth from my drawing table to the computer and then back again while composing a book cover painting, swapping or transforming elements and then revising them with traditional media until I arrive at a design that works for me. But the final rendering is almost always painted with conventional media.

Virtually all modern illustrations are “digital” now by the time they arrive at the art director’s office; at some point an image becomes a digital file for publication. It’s just a matter of personal convenience or preference at which point the artist decides to go digital. For me –usually– that point is at the end of the process.

What kind of computer do you use?

My primary studio machine is an iMac which is in it’s own room with a large format scanner and printer.

I use a MacBook Pro upstairs in my main studio. I’ll dump scans of reference photos and sketches into a slide show which I’ll keep running as a background resource while I’m working. I can easily carry it into whatever room I happen to be working in at the time, and helps to diminish the clutter in my work space [ha!].

TECHNIQUE FAQ

Can you describe some professional secrets or features you use in your work?

I had to develop a way to paint with acrylics that would allow me to spend less time mixing paint. Back in the 80’s I started premixing many of my colors in small squeeze bottles and I am still using some of them today. Also, I use plastic palettes and store them in plastic food containers (sometimes in the refrigerator) to keep the paint hydrated and usable for as long as possible.

Do you like to experiment?

Sure – as often as possible! I’m always trying to find better ways of putting down paint to create interesting textures. That’s part of the fun.

What is an example of an experimental technique that worked?

I’ve had lots of opportunities for experimentation on the cover paintings I’ve done for the metal band SEPULTURA. For the cover to their album ARISE, I assembled textures from photos and integrated them with painted parts, then ran the pieces through a copier several times to get a gritty and contrasty feel to the image. I reassembled the elements into a collage and painted into it some more. For the last step, I had a sepia tone photoprint made of the collage, mounted it on a board, and painted the final image using the print as my underpainting. It was like having an adventure in my studio.

Do you use photographs for reference or work from life?

I do both, though I most often work from my imagination. Being human, however, I can’t retain everything, so there are times when I feel the need to supplement my mental image of an element or pose with more information. That can come from my own photos, outdoor sketches, or scrap file images I’ve saved and filed away, or images downloaded online.

For figures, if I’m having difficulty visualizing a pose I can pose myself or a model and work directly from life. (I have some big mirrors mounted in my larger studio room so it’s fairly easy for me to pose myself in the general attitude of the figure I need and work from that.) At other times I’ll photograph myself using a remote and dump the shots into iPhoto, run them in a slideshow on my laptop and work from those.

When I use photos, I look at several to get the gist of the light effect or manner in which the folds of the fabric are moving and then extrapolate and make up my own figure based on what I’ve learned. This is quite a bit different from tracing and/or trying to copy a photo, which rarely works. Photos can lie, but they do capture information about details. What you decide to do with them is part of what makes up your “style.” Painting from life can be part of the process, but I am more likely to work from a model in my studio for my personal work than for an illustration.

I’ve done a bare handful of paintings outdoors. Most of my work is painted in the studio using recollections form experiences outside. If I see a particularly compelling cloud or light effect during one of my excursions outdoors I’ll try to document it in acrylics on a small panel or card, usually about 5″ x 7″, and I’ll use these references at times.

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