In many words:
Begin stream of consciousness...
I spent the week of June 12-18 up in Amherst, MA at the Illustration Masterclass, and it was without a doubt the best experience of my artistic life.
The class was created by the fantastic Rebecca Guay, and the other instructors included folks such as Boris Vallejo and Julie Bell, Donato Giancola, Dan Dos Santos, Scott Fischer, Greg Manchess, and Irene Gallo, with special guest appearances by James Gurney and Jeremy Jarvis. The class is open to anyone who wants to enroll and a choice of assignments is given beforehand, each student is to choose one to work on during the course of the class.
I don't know if I can truly encapsulate the whole experience into any kind of coherent statement, it was a crazy week full of new people, new ideas, fresh takes on old ideas, reinforcement of skills, and everything in between. I met a ton of great people, most of whom I will hopefully keep in contact with for a long while to come. So here goes...
The class started with a good old fashioned critique of everyone's sketches, it was just like school we hung everything up on the wall and the faculty went through each one and gave feedback. It was straight up with what worked, what didn't and how to fix it, and it looked kind of like this:
Needless to say, this took a while. The class was about 85 students total, and we broke into two separate groups and I was in the upstairs group whose critique was run by Donato, Dan, Boris and Julie, and Irene. We clocked our critique in at just over 5 hours, the downstairs group which was headed up by Greg, Scott, Jeremy, Rebecca and Jim finished in around 9 or 10 hours. Word has it there was a lot more "fun with tracing" in the downstairs group with Scott, Rebecca, and Greg drawing all over everyone's sketches. While the critique portion did take a while, it was incredibly informative to hear the feedback about others' work, and for me, some of the most critical ideas and concepts came from the notes I got during this session. The critique also served to show that there was some serious skill on display at the class. About a quarter of the students in the class are pros already.
So I didn't take a shot of my initial sketch (the assignment I chose was Joan of Arc), but after the crit and some time at the drawing board, it looked like this:
The drawing had started with two additional figures, kind of like a personal guard, with big old two handed swords. The very first comment I got from the instructors was to lose the extra figures, which is funny since my first thumbnail for the piece was Joan floating like this with her banner, and I then proceeded to spend a dozen or so pages trying to figure out how to "fill up" the rest of the composition. Big mistake, the figures were just filler and it showed, one of many things learned - if it's not essential to the piece, it shouldn't be in the piece. So Joan is the focal point, make the painting about Joan. So with this in mind I moved on into the painting and over the next four days (and nights) or so ended up with this:
I got some good feedback on this along the way, but overall I wasn't really that happy with it. I realized that in general, I had come into the class very under prepared, and that was perhaps the best thing that could have happened. Well, maybe not the best, but it forced me to really look at how I was approaching my art, about how I should never take anything for granted and always make sure what I'm doing is as good as I can possibly make it.
As the week went on, a lot of us started talking about what our big "take away" was from the class. For some, it was this or that bit of technical information or way of handling paint, and at the time I said that my big "take away" was that I was going to go home and do the painting over but twice as big. One of Greg Manchess's first comments to me was that the painting was a bit small (16x24). So that led to me getting back home and rethinking my reference and redrawing my sketch (at 16x24) and ending up with this:
The original is that puny little thing at the bottom...
Greg mentioned that he often keys the size of his paintings the main figure's face, just to make sure he has enough room to really work out all of the essential details. I had really started to work bigger before I left for the class, but I wasn't sure how much room I would have at Amherst, so I opted to bring the 16x24 board and just hack it out, mistake number two. So this is where I'm at right now, I don't think this is the biggest painting I've ever done, but it's the biggest in a while.
Back to that "take away" from the class. Mine really wasn't doing a big painting, the real take away that I got from the IMC was community. I love fantasy and sci-fi art, it's what got me interested in art in the first place from the very first comic books that I cracked open, to the first time I saw a Boris Vallejo painting in the bookstore and made sure that my parents didn't see me looking at it, or the first time I discovered that Frazetta was FRAZETTA, to the first copy of Spectrum that I picked up and saw Greg and Dan and Scott and Donato's work and thought, "man, where have I been to have not been looking at this stuff all along."
Maybe it was college, and to some extent growing up, and feeling like fantasy and scifi and all the fun stuff was just supposed to be for kids (or nerds, dorks, or whatever, your pejoratives will not phase me). And especially having that reinforced by art instructors who didn't even feel that I should be working with representation. But that's neither here nor there. IMC opened my eyes to a whole community of like-minded people, hell, it opened the door to that community, and the great thing was that everyone was basically standing there saying, "come on in." That was another thing that blew me away, here are all these people who didn't exist beyond the printed page for me a month ago, and now I've met them, I've talked with them, they've critiqued my work, we've joked around, we've partied together...They're real folks, and they're really good folks. As I mentioned earlier, I hope to stay in contact with as many of the people that I met at the IMC for as I can for as long as I can.
Starting to ramble and gush here, better wrap it up before it gets ugly...
The IMC let me walk into the world that I love and always wanted to be a part of as far as my art is concerned, and it showed me that everyone working in that world is a real person who is doing just that - working, and the only requirement for being a part of the world comes back to something I tell my students all the time (which may be corny but hey I am a high school teacher after all):
"It's like Nike Art - just do it."