Two weeks ago I was out of town. I spent a week out in the Berkshires painting in a big converted barn which was transformed into a shared art studio. I recently ruminated about being at Illuxcon last year and this one coming, and the wonder of sitting alongside such a select echelon of illustrators. That was dialed up a few notches in what I experienced at the Racebrook Retreat, where I was invited to join a dozen or so illustrators for a week of painting, talking, laughing and sharing. It was amazing.
I mean, it's one thing to be at Illuxcon, sitting among some of these artists, but to then be working side-by-side with them as colleagues was...wow. Granted, though we're all professionals, the group ranged from mid-career artists like myself to masters like Boris Vallejo and Michael Whelan. So it's not like these were all my peers, exactly, yet there was an air of mutual respect and fascination as we all worked on various projects, personal or for clients, and shared illustration war-stories.
I was, after all, one who owned not one but three Boris Vallejo T-shirts during my high school years. Yes, I was That Guy. Boris' "Fantasy Art Techniques" and Whelan's "Works of Wonder" were instrumental in making me pick up paints in high school at all, after years of pencil and colored pencil. So, some 20 years later, to be sitting alongside these two--painting, chatting about art and life was like some kid's dream come true...this kid's.
I was anxious going in because the last time I painted in the presence of other artists was probably art school (I've spent plenty of time drawing among other folk). Yet, as we set up our easels on Monday and I set out to work, the inspiring mood had me off and running, and there was never an awkward moment. And it's not like the rest of my company was made up of slouches:
(L-R): Winona Nelson, Lars Grant-West, Anthony Palumbo, Scott Brundage, Michael Whelan, Justin Gerard, Jordu Schell, Dan Dos Santos, Some Slouch, Chris Moeller, Julie Bell and Boris Vallejo, Ryan Pancoast (visiting), Dave Seeley
There's nothing like feeling like you need a fresh pair of eyes and having Dos Santos, Moeller and Whelan all available to bounce an idea off of (which I did, all to my painting's betterment). Earlier, I posted a study here for what I was working on, and the week went productively (the rain all week kept us focused). But that didn't stop us all getting up for a stretch on occasion. I made a point to spend some time watching everyone else work, asking questions and just absorbing the amazing array of approaches to painting. Every single one of us worked so differently from one another--even among us oil painters, who made up the bulk of the group.L: My Guerilla Art Studio made it so I was as comfortable as I am at home.
When not painting, we were probably eating, but the talking never ceased. I've gotten to know many of the artists present over the years, but even those of us who didn't know each other well quickly and comfortably took to forming easy friendships. And when we stumbled to our rooms at 3 am after a late-night painting session, my roomies and I just kept talking like boys at a sleep-over for another half hour or so. Not quite 6 hours of sleep later we were up and at breakfast, ready to get going again. I normally can't function well on that amount of sleep after a couple of nights, but the atmosphere was such that I sprang out of bed each morning eager to get back to it, and energized. It was a revitalizing week, and I hope its positive effects have lasting results, as I regained a sharpened sense of focus and drive. I arrived home from the retreat and within 3 hours was joining the madness at New York Comic-Con, where I got to catch up with another group of incredible illustrators and friends. Monday after the convention, I collapsed from exhaustion and slept like a (insert simile).
Occasions such as these catch me by surprise. It's not that I feel totally unworthy or whatever of being among these folk, even though some of them are obviously far ahead of me in every respect (Boris and Whelan have been professional illustrators as long or longer than I've been alive, after all). It's just that when you spend your months and years working in isolation, going from job to job, it's sometimes a little surprising when you look up and find yourself in certain positions. It's like running--sometimes you have your head down and just concentrate on breathing and before you know it you've gone 10 miles.
I'll be debuting the painting I worked on at the World Fantasy Convention, which I finished this past Saturday.
Thanks to Dave Seeley for the photos!