Exit Within: the Gallegos Blog

The musings of a fantasy illustrator. Artwork, art-talk, and randomness.

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

The Cost of Being an Illustrator

Another wordy article today, this time written as a guest-post over at PACT. I talked a lot about PACT last year, but after a successful fundraiser, it is now live and active and growing and useful. They're putting together a great series of articles primarily for illustrators, but some of which are interesting to fans as well, such as a multi-part career retrospective by long-time illustrator Fred Fields.

Though I was a part of the public face of PACT during its inception, it should be stated that since the fundraiser, the actual hard work of getting it built and maintained has essentially all fallen back to Jim Pavelec, who deserves all the credit now. But I'm very glad to dip my toe back into the PACT waters through this article contribution.

For non-members, there are a limited number of articles one can read before the paywall comes up. So most if not all of you should be able to read the article just fine.

Not an illustrator but you'd like to support the good work PACT is doing? There's no reason you can't sign up as a member just for moral support. You can do that here.

Otherwise, come learn about some of the financial realities behind being a full-time illustrator in this week's article, which has ended up being quite popular. Read it now, on the PACT website.

(L:) Uba Mask artist proof sketch, pencil
This post needed some art, right?

Thursday, April 03, 2014

An Open Letter to Myself 20 Years Ago, As I Began Freelancing

Dear Me,

You've often daydreamed about the future, where you'd be, what would happen in your life. You've often picked 20 years as a forward-marker for some reason. So I decided to write to you, from the year 2014, as you are beginning your freelance career. If I did my math right, you right about now just got your first paying gig, working for Wizards of the Coast. Your career therefore is beginning on one of those rare second-chances, because you passed up showing them your work back in September at WorldCon in San Francisco, when they were burgeoning but looked a whole lot like some shady fly-by-night that would probably never pay you and/or offer very little money. Even now, just a few months later, you recognize that they are on to something. So congrats on the second chance. You don't get many of those in life, so enjoy the fact that you burned through a good one early.

So what should I tell you about your next 20 years? The first thing you should know is that you are alive in 2014. You reach 39. Congratulations. Your horrible diet hasn't killed you yet, and it hasn't changed. The coffee habit you picked up at art school remains a great comfort to you. But you're alive, and though most Americans live that long, some don't so don't take that for granted. I know you don't, already.

Of course we wonder about the whole time paradox thing, so as I consider what to advise or reassure you about, there is the thought that I might derail the train of time by telling you too much. There is also the very strong temptation to try to do that very thing, strategically. I could pinpoint 100 things that might have gone differently, and which might make a huge difference to us. No-brainers, in retrospect. I know you're salivating for a taste of those.

So here's the truth of it. You're going to make a ton of mistakes: poor decisions, foolish uses of your time; you'll put your energy into things that won't matter, and slack on things that do sometimes. You'll create far more crappy art in the next few years than you imagine possible. Ah, the first real hint! You do in fact work as an illustrator for a few years. In fact, I'll go ahead and tell you that you will still be freelancing in 2014. One of those years will be spent at a staff job along the way because you'll go crazy if you don't. You'll know when to start looking, I don't think I'm ruining anything for you there, and you'll learn a ton anyway. I also don't think it'll mess with your head to know you are an illustrator for 20 years, because you have no intent of being other than that. Somehow, you manage it. Congrats.

(L:) That's you, in just a few weeks, working on that first job. Weird, huh?

But these bad decisions. Thinking back, there are so many that I could tell you that even on this first gig of yours I could list some of the very stupid things you're about to do. Right out of the gate. Things evident in this photo if you'd but pay attention.

I'm not going to. It's very tempting to try to resculpt my present from the fixing of my own past. I think some of the things I could tell you to do would improve my present position significantly. But I'm not going to do that.

Here's what I will tell you instead: your next 20 years are going to be wholly different than you're currently dreaming about. You don't realize it yet but in 1994 the world is about to change. Not through calamity, don't worry. Though I had to fax this note to you back in time, before the end of the year you're going to sign up for an email address. Even in late '94 that makes you a fairly early adopter on that front. You've heard about them. Between the technological changes coming, the industry changes that are happening even now in '94, and your choices, your career is going to look very different than you think. Yes, you'll still be primarily painting and drawing at the end of this period. So what I'm suggesting is that you let go a little of your current aspirations and assumptions about the future, and embrace fully the moment that presents itself to you, even now. Because you haven't done that very well these past 20 years. You've enjoyed the ride, but it has always been with your eyes looking for the path you intended to be on as a teenager. From the standpoint of one pushing 40, typing that sounds as stupid as it was. The path you do walk will be interesting enough. Enjoy it fully.

"All his life has he looked away... to the future, to the horizon. Never his mind on where he was....What he was doing."

Maybe that makes you a little sad, but you've only been harboring your current goals since, what, 1987? Ok, 7 years is not nothing, but the sooner you take this advise the better. Enjoy where your career goes.

The second thing I'll tell you is that living as a freelancer is going to be the most challenging thing you have set out to do, to this day. And you're going to run a marathon someday, you lazy ass, so yeah, harder than that. It is going to take a significant emotional and psychological toll on you. The difficulty of the art itself, of your striving to create is the part you've already experienced a little. It gets worse as you really get out there and find that you are now trying to support yourself by it in a world that is about to become more competitive than you can imagine. And there's that, too: supporting yourself as a freelancer in these first 20 years is going to be regularly difficult. That's the part that you haven't learned the reality of, very much. You don't know any freelance illustrators. The internet isn't useful yet. You don't have access to much information about your actual career prospects. Supporting yourself as a freelancer is going to be a PITA. And in 2014, everyone talks in weird acronyms.

(L:) You participate in a live art-jam at some point with a few other artists. When this day comes, know you are at your lowest point in all these 20 years. Everything changes from this day on, for the better, slowly. So, chin up.

Does this different path you'll take mean you've failed in some sense? Settled for some other kind of illustration life outside of what you wanted? No, you're doing what you wanted, but the industry's path ahead takes some sharp unavoidable turns that you can't see yet. In fact, in some senses you do wildly better than you think is possible currently. You will see the world because of your art. Like, seriously, you will visit 14-15 countries, some of them multiple times. You'll really enjoy this part. It also means your art will be known internationally. I don't think you expect currently that your art might be enjoyed from Brazil to Finland to Singapore and beyond. It happens. But the financial realities will still be tough. How is that? Like I said, things are changing, and you make some errors.

But the reason I'm not telling you specifics you could use is this: looking back, I don't think I would want to change them, finally. As big as some of those mistakes have been, the person you are in 2014 is exactly the person who was formed through being so foolish at times, as well as the person who was as tenacious and even at times, smart. I mean, you haven't been an idiot the whole time. I don't want to give that impression. Part of who you become, the wiser you, comes from learning these difficult lessons. I think rather than try to shortcut my own path, or make my life easier in 2014, I would rather--with a little hesitation--say that you really need to do these things on your own. Why? Because you end up fine in 2014, and the knowledge you gain through it all is priceless, the memories you gain are worth having. I am satisfied with who we become, in part through this process.

No, I'd rather talk to you about decisions you should make or change simply as a young man over the next number of years, instead. You're thinking, "But if I'm doing ok in 2014 as an artist such that you won't correct specifics, shouldn't I just muddle through those life mistakes, too? You said you're satisfied with who I become in 2014 after all. Be consistent, future-Randy!"

So argumentative. That doesn't change about you. I'm ok with that. But let me answer. The poor decisions you'll make as an artist are largely morally neutral. If you take a job you shouldn't have, it's no moral failing. You'll hurt neither yourself nor others by taking it. Ok, maybe your bank account, but that's not terribly important in the Grand Scheme. But some of your behaviors, your words, your personality--those will at times hurt yourself and others, too. I do think it would be better to stop you from causing harm, even if it changed your future, than to hurt others and consider them collateral damage towards improving. If you could not be a jerk at those times, that is the improvement.

I'll probably have to make that a separate letter because I would want to be tough and honest with you and even as you're reading this, this letter is also being made public in 2014. I'm not going to air your dirty laundry here. But I'm going to have a number of Stern Words to say to you.

That's going to be the important letter. Because for the next 20 years and beyond, your art is going to have to be secondary. It's not the most important thing in life. Others are. And your error is not even that you made art the most important thing at all costs, but...oh, just wait for that other letter.

You always wonder about this, so: you do marry Monica and your marriage is wonderful this many years in. That's no surprise because you can't imagine life otherwise. But I'm going to have some Tough Words for you about being a husband, too. So be ready for that.

Congratulations on your first professional job. Enjoy the work as it comes. Embrace the changes in your career path that are in-line with your vision anyway. Stop and really soak in your situation at many points along the way. Life is simultaneously long and short, but you're going to build a vault of memories that are truly wonderful, despite you being occasionally insufferable along the way. It really will be a great adventure.

Your self,

Randy R. Gallegos
April, 2014
(location undisclosed)

P.S.:  When you start looking for a place to buy with Monica, they say you shouldn't fall in love with the first place you see. But, do us a favor and add another 20-30k to the asking price on that one, will you? You cheapass. "They" were wrong. There's a useful lesson, there.

Monday, March 24, 2014

A Fractured Mind

The past few years I've been honored to attend a painting retreat in the fall, in which a few fantastic illustrators hole up in a rural barn for a few days and work together. I've talked about it in the past. This past autumn was my fourth year going, and I still pinch myself each time. It's turned into one of my favorite weeks of the year, period.

My strategy has been to try to produce some non-client work while there. The creative spirit is so incredibly high, and the availability of feedback and support is unbeatable, so it ends up being a very safe place to try some new things. So three of the years, that's what I've done.

"A Fractured Mind" 18x24 oils on panel (detail / purchase info)

A Fractured Mind was conceived in a slightly different state in the summer of 2012. As many of my studio works do, it existed in my mind for a long time before I set it down on paper. This is a strange habit I've had, and it's one I think I'm going to try to change by forcing myself to sketch down ideas instead. I mean, there's no reason why I think I need to put them on paper, but sometimes I hold these ideas in my head for years. They don't go away or anything--I'm not afraid I'll lose them. I don't know, maybe I'm afraid that I'll die and there'll be no record at all of what was in my mind? I don't know. In any case, my initial image of this picture was small, probably no larger than 9x12". It would have featured a very foggy palette rather than the fiery one I ended up with. And the figure itself would have been viewed almost as if through a fogged glass that had been wiped with a rag, leaving streaks of condensation obscuring things. The figure was in basically the pose and orientation that I ended up with. No text.

It stayed in my mind, in roughly that state, until summer 2013, when I was preparing to work on Alieis. I knew that my use of Rachael, my model in that painting, would depart from her visually in the end. So when she came to pose for Alieis, I asked her to also pose for this piece, and so shot the reference on the same day. I did think that the final usage of her in this new painting would be more on-target to her look than Alieis.

A couple of weeks before the retreat, and shortly after completing Alieis itself and showing it at IlluXCon, I sat down and did some digital work to figure out what I was doing with this new piece, finally. At some point I think I wondered whether this would appear to be an image about psychological or physical struggle. I always intended the former, but I could see that this could simply have read as a headache. In the past, I've occasionally used text as an element in my paintings. It's not something that I ran with and incorporated regularly into my work (most of my commissions wouldn't call for it), but I did enjoy it. I decided to externalize the internal, and ran strings of sentences around the composition, swirling around and glowing. I also changed to a darker value structure and removed the idea of the wiped-glass look. I can't say why any of these decisions were made, which is strange. I must have been in the zone. Probably the appearance of text meant the background needed to darken so it would glow, and that was a chain reaction leading to other changes.

This part was all completed and decided just in time to head out to the barn. To be honest, I have preferred a day or so of work beforehand to at least get an underpainting down. I've liked being able to walk in with something on the board, and some amount of confidence that it was headed in the right direction before sitting down among such incredible artists to work. But there was no time this year, so I had my study and a shrink-wrapped 18x24" board. I would work from scratch.

I began by just drawing out the scene in a sort of value study using Mars Violet and a brush, as shown in my video demo; except here I used no pencil first. It's something I've only done a couple of times in the past. Bluebeads and Brownbrier were both done this way, but just starting with paint. Having succeeded at them, I had a little confidence. From there, I dove in very spontaneously. The veins of blue that run through the background were themselves unplanned.

The entire week I sat next to my friend Daren Bader, who spent the week working on his large Tarzan painting, which was a feature in Imagine FX #106. You can see his picture in the background as we worked late into the night. He was really motivated to work, and that helped keep my enthusiasm high. There was ample opportunity to just fool around and hang out in the evenings, so having a work buddy and some good music helped us stay productive (we slacked off a couple other nights instead):

Thanks to Jeff Buckley for keeping us grooving into the wee hours.

This was a slightly truncated week for us compared to prior years, but I wouldn't have finished anyway. As usual, I had to return to real life and projects for awhile. My next opportunity to work on it was around Thanksgiving. Prior to going home to see the family, I stopped in again with my oft-mentioned friend Ben Thompson, as I had done the prior year, and we spent a couple of days painting together again. I think I've said before that if I was single, I could probably spend the entire year traveling from place to place and working alongside others in their studios. It really is very enjoyable. One evening, for no reason besides, "Why not?" Ben and I even swapped spots and worked on each other's paintings for a couple of hours, which was fun. I won't tell you what Ben worked on here. But I was still not finished at the end of it.

Finally, in anticipation of my show at LunaCon recently, I pulled it out and finally did complete it. I had some friends help me with handwriting samples, which were all quotes from the poetry of Sara Teasdale. They seemed to communicate what I wanted to communicate, and were a last-minute save for me as I was struggling with content to use for those elements. I discovered her work quite by chance and after familiarizing myself with it, found it perfect.

Below is an animated image of the in-progress shots I took along the way, the first 3 while at the barn, the 4th at Ben's and the last 2 back at home:

A larger image and sales info for A Fractured Mind can be found here.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Whiteback Sketches, pt.10

It's been some time since I posted any of these sketches, so here we go.

Soul Warden has ended up being one of the most popular cards to sketch on. I shouldn't be surprised, since it's also been one of my most popular Magic illustrations over the years.

(L:) Baleful Stare (R:) Dryad's Caress

Remember, you can get sketches on the back of any whitebacked artist proof Magic card. They're always in some way related to the image on the front. I try my best to get them done within a month, but I have on occasion taken a bit longer (I'll usually email you if I'm running late to make sure it's ok). I tend to stack them until a project is over and then I sit and plow through whatever is waiting in the queue before starting the next project.

A list of all proofs can be found here: Magic: the Gathering whitebacked artist proofs.

Science Fiction Book Club Catalog, Feb. 2014

When I was younger, in college I think, I spent a little time as a member of the Science Fiction Book Club. I was a voracious reader in those days (before Life happened), and the SFBC helped fill my need to read with inexpensive hardcovers of then-recent releases and classics of the genre. Then, as now, they would often license the original cover art for their reissues. Sometimes, they would commission original illustrations for books or for omnibus editions, which was also great.

Back in 1996 (and probably a few times after), I submitted work for consideration by SFBC. That didn't transpire. So I was particularly thrilled when, a few months back, SFBC Art Director Matthew Kalamidas saw and licensed "Alieis" for use as the cover to their Feb.2014 catalog.

Incidentally, that was the same day (and at the same table) as SooJin was at when she too licensed it for PLANSPONSOR Magazine! It was an unusually productive lunch.

Thanks to SFBC for using the work. It took 18 years, but I made an SFBC publication!

And don't forget that the full-length video demo of Alieis is still available.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Lunacon Schedule!

Lunacon is approaching this weekend! For those who will be attending, or are considering, here is where to find me and my art...if that's one of the things you're interested in doing:

Art Show: I will have a bunch of original art available for view and purchase at Lunacon. I don't usually run "sales" on my originals, but these shows operate on an auction-system. So to encourage people I will have the starting bids slightly lower than my website pricing, with most work in basic frames. There will also be a selection of prints available for purchase (at regular price). This will be the largest showing of my original art in one place...I think ever, and will (hopefully) include 2 new paintings not currently on my website. One of them isn't even finished as I post this!
Hours: Friday, 7-9:30pm  |  Saturday: 10am-9pm  |  Sunday 9-11am and then 12:30pm-3pm

To-scale mockup of a part of my showing. This reflects 1/3 of the art I'm bringing.

Art Technique Workshop:
4:30-5:30pm, Westchester Ballroom A3: Bring a project you're working on, your sketchbook and dry media to work in (optional). I'll be happy to talk technique with you in a constructive manner to help you in your work, or as you work. I can suggest topics of study that might help you overcome hurdles, or new perspectives that can help push you further down your current road.
Art Show Reception: Friday, 10pm - ?, in the art show. Mingle, look at art, drink and eat things--not sure about that last part, but what art reception have you been to without things to gnosh on?

A busy day at the show!
Painting at Lunacon: Grand Ballroom, South. 10am-12:55pm. I'll be painting in the art show in oils, giving a live demo of my work and methods. Come and watch, ask questions!
Agency/Small Shop, or Freelance?: 1-1:55pm, Poplar Room. From the program: "What approach works the best in getting projects and work? Should you form a coalition/small shop, join a big company, or stay freelance? How do you manage finances in each scenario? Pros/cons, joys and shite." I'll be joined by friend and fellow illustrator William O'Connor to have this discussion, moderated by Stuart Hellinger
Artist Guest of Honor Presentation: 2-2:55pm, Westchester Ballroom B. I celebrate my 20th year freelancing next month. Come and see an overview of my career, learn about what it took to maintain a career for two decades, and get a view of an artist's progress across the history of the modern interwebs, 3 major media changes, 4 countries and 3 states. Q&A welcome.
Autographing: 3-3:55pm, Westchester Assembly. Time to whip out my Sharpies, and sign whatever you care to have me sign. I have a pay-by-mail signing policy the rest of the year, but at these events feel free to bring as much as you want me to sign, for free.
The Decline and Fall of the Book Cover: 4-4:55pm, Westchester Ballroom A1. "Do book covers matter? Are they only done by formula now, and do the formulae actually increase sales? This panel is inspired by an article in The New Yorker magazine". This all-star panel includes the legendary publisher Tom Doherty (TOR Books), Matthew Kalamidas (Art Director, Science Fiction Book Club), Roy Mauritsen (art director, Padwolf Publishing), and artist Alan Beck

Sunday: I have no formal schedule this day (whew!), so you may see my wife and I floating around until it's time to tear down the art show. But feel free to say hi if you do.

 828.333.4733   New York, NY