Thursday, December 31, 2015

Small Victories

Boromir - The Horn of Gondor    14" x 11"   Oil on Panel     2015
by Donato

There are moments when short windows of unstructured time unexpectedly arise in my schedule.  Rather than initiate the next major commission waiting in my queue,  I prefer to step to the side and experiment with small concepts to free my mind and exorcise the creative demons fluttering about at the edge of my eye.

To step into a major work requires a certain state of mind, emotionally and mindfully committed and focused.  I prefer to work on paintings one at a time, completing the 'thought' motivating the art as I immerse myself in the world, intent, and message I wish to communicate to my audience.  The internal vision I have for particular works tend to be unique and I seek to develop and bring that vision to completion before committing to another project.  Thus when caught by surprise by a change in my schedule due to delays with a client - drying time for glazed works, etc. - I seek to fill the down time creating works which present chances for small, creative victories.

These small works are structured so that they may be executed in a handful (or two) of hours rather than a handful of days or weeks.  They tend to be simple in focus, but not always simple in concept nor technical challenges.  I almost never let my guard down when it comes to my art!

Portraiture and hands are obviously a favorite subject to tackle, even within major commissions.  These were the content I turned to over the past months when the holes appeared within my schedule.  Topical subjects from movies viewed, to art exhibitions inspired by, or books recently read can influence the veneer I place on my content.

Chani - Dune    17" x 11"   Oil on Panel   2015
An example of one of these small victories above is the portrait of Chani ( Chani is the lover of Paul Atreides, Frank Herbert's Dune's main protagonist).  This image came about after reading Dune for the first time about two months ago and feeling moved and thrilled to discover this work (yes, I never did read this book in my youth!)  As I began exploring abstracts in the sketchbook one night I came across the concept of a portrait.  While no one particular character was on my mine to depict, the issues and feeling I wanted to convey with this work, that of a cropped close facial presence contrasting with an ambiguous background, led me intuitively to Chani as Dune was flittering about in my mind.  A recent delay in receiving approval for a commercial commission provided the chance to jump on this concept immediately and bring about closure to the painting within three days.

Part of the challenge with this image was to create a strong silhouette using the hair as a framing device while attempting to unify the color scheme into a fairly homogeneous chroma range - and get it all done before I received the green light from my commercial client!
Of particular fun on this image was tossing around paint on the under painting to create the weathered effects on the still suit.  A wonderful chance to playfully experiment without worrying about the desires of a particular client.

All of these works allowed me to explore technical and artistic challenges while rounding out my growing portfolio.

What will be your next Small Victory as you enter the New Year?

Gandalf - The Doors of Moria   20" x 16"  Oil on Panel  2015

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

10 Easy Year-End Deductions

-By Dan dos Santos

Unfortunately, one of the most important aspects of running an illustration business is actually running a business. Amongst other things, this means everyone's favorite past time... doing your taxes.

Many illustrators wait until April to even start thinking about their taxes, and then get a really nasty surprise when they find out they have to pay the government a ton of money. And although there is little you can do to avoid that completely, there are things you can do to help reduce that expense greatly.

The fiscal year ends in two days, so this is your last chance to rack up some deductions on your 2015 taxes.

If you're an artist in the United States, anything you spend 'making' art gets written off your taxable income. That is, if you make $50,000 a year, but spend $10,000 on art supplies, you only pay taxes on $40,000 (This is called your 'taxable income'). This can make a massive difference in what you owe, depending on how much you write off.

Although these things deductions need to be accrued in 2015, you don't actually have to make use of them immediately. So even just buying this stuff today, regardless of it's arrival date, still makes them valid deductions.

Fortunately, racking up a few deductions is a LOT more fun than actually paying taxes. As artists, we get to be a little creative about what we write off. Did you know that a comic book artists gets to write off comic books? Concept artists get to write off video games. In fact, there are a lot of things you might not think are tax deductible that really are.

Here are some easy and cost effective things you can do TODAY to help your financial burden come April:

1. Donate Money

And charitable donation to a non-profit organization is 100% tax deductible. There are even several art related charities like CBLDF, but you can donate to anything you want, be it a church or hospital.

2. Donate Old Clothes and/or Housewares to Goodwill

Studio getting a little cramped? Clear out some of those old closets and make some space! When you drop off donations to places like GoodWill, ask for a receipt. You will have to declare an estimate value on your donations, but you'd be surprised how quickly a few pairs up jeans adds up.

3. Buy that New Camera You've Been Wanting

Big expenditures like this are extremely helpful because they are split up and written off for multiple years. This is called 'Depreciation'. Get a few overlapping at once, and it can make a massive difference in your taxable income. I try to buy at least one large ticket item each year.

4. Splurge on Art Books

Go ahead, do it! Knowing what your competitors are doing, or how they do it, is considered market research. So splurge a little and buy those books you've been wanting!

5. Sign up for a Workshop

This is one of my favorite deductions Not only is it a large one, but you truly gain something from it. People often overlook educational expenses. Personally, I try to do at least one workshop a year. Not only does it keep me growing artistically, but it sets a good precedent on your taxes. The workshop itself does not need to be attended in 2015 to be applicable, you only have to pay for it in 2015. Even the flight and hotel to get to said workshop are deductible.

Check out SmartSchool and TLC Workshop for some wonderful options.

6. Buy Some Instructional DVDs

Just like a workshop, these are considered educational expenses.

7. Hire a Model

Hiring a model is no different than buying a new canvas when it comes to the costs associated with making art. So why not hire a friend, or better yet, professional model for a quick year-end shoot? Even if you don't have a specific painting in mind, you can should assorted reference, or take a few shots of paintings you hope to do next year.

8. Upgrade Your Computer

You don't always have to buy a whole new computer to write it off, even the upkeep is deductible. So buying some new RAM, a new tablet, or even purchasing a new painting program are all great tax deductions.

9. Get a Massage

Seriuously? Seriously! Did you know that if your job requires that you look professional, you can write off gym memberships and clothing? This is much the same for artists. Sitting at your computer for 8 hours a day is unhealthy and reduces productivity. Getting a massage to work out those kinks in your back and wrists are legitimate expenses.

10. Buy Dinner for a Friend

Entertaining a business associate is probably the most enjoyable expense you can write off. You know that old art buddy or college roommate that you never seem to go out with any more? Call them up and take them out for dinner. Ask them what they've been up to, talk about the future of your careers, discuss those cool new art books you got for the Holidays... and then promise to do it again next year! The entire meal is a tax write off, and if you decide to pick up your friend's tab too, even better!

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

What's Old is New Again

-By Dan dos Santos

I was walking through a Barnes and Noble bookstore recently looking for a book for my youngest son called 'Diary of a Minecraft Zombie'. The book is a blatant attempt to merge two hot products; the hugely popular video game 'Minecraft', and the popular book series 'Diary of a Wimpy Kid'.

Despite the unimaginative nature of the book, it was surprisingly successful in appealing to my child.
My youngest one is obsessed with Minecraft, and regardless of the quality of the writing, this book appealed to him enough to not only get him to read it, but to also request the next in the series.

But more interestingly, during my shopping I stumbled across a new series of classic novels which were also attempting to cash in on the Minecraft craze. This time, not in title, but by emulating the vintage 8-Bit aesthetic that Minecraft helped popularize and push to forefront of mainstream culture.

Below are some samples of these covers, published by Puffin Pixels (and imprint of Penguin Books), and illustrated by cover artist, Michael Meyers (aka Drawsgood).

I find it really intriguing that a video game, which was designed to be a parody of classic games, has now become so popular as to render the 8-Bit look truly modern again.

The irony of course is that the desired demographic is far too young to appreciate the parody in the first place. It tickles me to think, that 30 years from now, this very style will probably resurge amongst the next generation, who will fall in love with it all over again because they feel the retro look harkens back to the 2010s.

Nonetheless, this antiquated style has become so influential that it is now the hip, NEW look and appears to be doing very well amongst it's none-the-wiser, young audience.

Even I, as an adult, have to admit that the style reminds me so much of classic Sierra games, conjuring enthusiastic memories of young heroes and sprawling quests, that even these old stories looked fresh and inviting to me all over again!

It makes me wonder how else technology has bolstered classic aesthetics...
Instagram filters that use superior technology to emulate inferior photography...
Complex progamming to emulate a simple watercolor drip in Painter...
Digital cameras that shoot at the slower 24fps specifically to make them feel like film...

What makes vintage aesthetics so appealing us? Is it that they elicit memories of when we were young and these thing were still so new and the world so full of possibility? Or is it simply that despite gains in technology, these things we enjoyed really didn't need to be much better than they already were?

Monday, December 28, 2015

In Memoriam 2015

-By Arnie Fenner

Let's take a few moments to celebrate the lives of the members of our art family who left us in 2015. This is, sadly, a rather long list; I've included links where I could so that you can learn a bit more about some of these remarkable creatives.

Jane Aaron b 1935 • Artist/Animator

Brad Anderson b 1924 • Cartoonist

Howard Anderson b 1920 • VFX Artist

Murphy Anderson b 1926 • Comic Artist

Steven Archer b 1957 • Stop-Motion Artist

Jon Arfstrom b 1928 • Artist

Henri Arnold b 1917 • Cartoonist

Paul Bacon b 1923 • Graphic Artist

Luis Bermejo b 1931 • Comic Artist

James O. Berry b 1932 • Cartoonist

Roger Bollen b 1941 • Cartoonist

Marcia Brown b 1919 • Artist

Kate Chappell b 1985 • VFX Artist

Tim Corrigan b 1950 • Cartoonist

John Cooper b 1942 • Comic Artist

Mel Crawford b 1925 • Artist

Stephen Czerkas b 1951 • VFX/Paleo Artist

Roy Doty b 1922 • Cartoonist

Brett Ewins b 1955 • Comic Artist

Otto Frello b 1924 • Artist

Ernst Fuchs b 1930 • Painter

Blaine Gibson b 1918 • Sculptor

S. “Gopulu” Gopalan b 1924 • Cartoonist

Michael C. Gross b 1945 • Artist/Art Director

Steve Hanks b 1949 • Painter

Irwin Hasen b 1918 • Cartoonist

Jack Jurden b 1926 • Cartoonist

Gordon Kent b 1954 • Artist/Animator

Alan Kupperberg b 1953 • Comic Artist

Norman Lee b 1968 • Comic Artist

Charles F. "Chuck" Miller b 1952 • Publisher

Shigeru Mizuki b 1922 • Manga Artist

Tom Moore b 1929 • Comic Artist

Jeffrey Patrick "Jef" Murray b 1960 • Artist

Leonard Nimoy b 1931 • Actor/Director/Photographer

Earl Norem b 1924 • Artist

Noriyoshi Ohrai b 1935 • Artist

Glen Orbik b 1963 • Artist

Monty Oum b 1981 • Animator

Jay Scott Pike b 1924 • Artist

Stephen “The Pizz” Pizzurro b 1958 • Lowbrow Artist

Peter Pontiac b 1951 • Cartoonist/Underground Comix Artist

James R. Powell b 1972 • Artist

Claire Prebble b 1985 • Artist/Costume Designer

Gerard Quinn b 1927 • Artist

Kája Saudek b 1935 • Comic Artist

Nelson Shanks b 1937 • Painter

Aaron Shikler b 1922 • Artist

Leonard Starr b 1925 • Comic Artist/Cartoonist

Yoshihiro Tatsumi b 1935 • Gekiga Artist

Herb Trimpe b 1939 • Comic Artist

Francis Tsai b 1968 • Artist

Carson Van Osten b 1945 • Artist

Cliff Voorhees b 1930 • Comic Artist/Animator

Don "D." West b 1945 • Fan Artist

Jim Whiting b 1926 • Cartoonist

Hermann Zaph b 1918 • Calligrapher

James Zar b 1941 • Painter

Jean “Cabu" Cabut b 1938 • Cartoonist

Stéphane “Charb" Charbonnier b 1967 • Cartoonist

Philippe Honoré b 1941 • Cartoonist

Bernard “Tignous" Verlhac b 1957 • Cartoonist

Georges Wolinski b 1934 • Cartoonist

And finally:

Khaled Mohamad al-Asaad b 1933 • Art & Antiquities scholar
Murdered in Palmyra by ISIS while trying to protect the ancient city's cultural treasures.

Special thanks to Mike Glyer at File 770 for steering me to images for Don West and to those that have helped so far to correct some of my oversights. Likewise, if anyone knows of an artist that passed away in 2015 that I may have missed, please let me know in the comments section.