Hello! I know it’s been a while, but I’m back with a new monthly blog series called Con Life. No, I’m not talking about the art of swindling people. Each month I’ll be sharing the in’s and out’s of being a convention artist. I personally characterize a convention artist as someone who has more than five conventions on their calendar for the year. Conventions are a big commitment and sometimes a big investment too. They are hard work, but if you love them like I do, they are worth the effort! For that matter, anything worth your time and passion will be a challenge and involve hard work, determination, and persistence. Before I begin diving into all of that, here’s a look back at where my journey began.
This year will mark 5 years since I began my journey as a convention artist. When I think back, I’m still amazed I was accepted into the DragonCon 2014 Art Show. Since then it’s been like a cascade of dominoes. I followed that with JordanCon in 2015, where I won Judge’s Choice in the Art Show. By 2017, I was hooked on attending conventions as a Professional Artist. That was also the year I won my first award at DragonCon for Best Space Scene. This year I won 3 awards, including Best Space Scene again, and I attended 7 events (plus mail-in to one convention). I’ve branched out to conventions in Tennessee and even one in Pennsylvania.
What is the 2019 forecast?
I have six shows confirmed on my calendar, plus one mail-in convention. There are a couple shows I won’t know about till later, so these numbers could go up. Regardless, it’s going to be a busy year! You can keep track of my convention schedule via my website’s Event Calendar. I’ll be updating it throughout the year.
Right now, I’m preparing for ChattaCon in Chattanooga, TN, January 25-27. What does that entail?
- Deciding on the art I’ll hang in the Art Show
- Print/Frame any new art
- Check my print inventory–restock if needed
- Prepare for any panels I might be hosting
I’ll share some tidbits from the convention, and any new convention news, in my next post in late January.
For this year’s annual spooky art post, I decided to feature one artist who’s work I find to be some of the most chilling and inspiring too. Zdzisław Beksiński (1929-2005) was a Polish artist known for this dystopian paintings, though he also worked in photography and digital art too. The artworks below are only a small sample. I encourage you explore more of his paintings on WikiArt.
“I wish to paint in such a manner as if I were photographing dreams“
– Zdzisław Beksiński
The time has come! This afternoon I’ll be heading off to Atlanta with a car full of art for the 2016 Dragon Con Art Show. Drusilla and I have been hard at work in the studio preparing for what will be an amazing art show. I kid you not….
Drusilla is a little bummed I’m not letting her attend Dragon Con. She was totally up for a Kiki’s Delivery cosplay, which I admit would have been fun, but I would have to cut my hair super short–not happening. Sorry, Dru. On a more serious note, the 2016 Dragon Con Art Show is going to be an amazing show! This year’s Artist Guest of Honor is Stephan Martiniere, with guest jurors Daren Bader and Scott Fischer. You can check out the complete list of artist guests and participating artists in the show on the Dragon Con Art Show page. Below is where you can find me in the art show. I’ll have art for sale in the Gallery and for sale in the Print Shop.
If you’re attending, don’t forget on Monday at 2:30 I’m hosting a panel on digital painting. I’ll be taking attendees through my process from sketch to finish!
This week I finished a new painting for my Earth Rituals series, Forest Dreams. It’s actually the second painting I’ve finished for this series, but the first can’t be shown due to an NDA (Non-disclosure Act). It’s been a strange experience not being able to share that painting. I feel it shows a progression of where I’m going with my art, leaving this new painting without an anchor. Alas, it is, what it is. After a rough month and a half in my every day life, it felt good to truly dive into this painting. I hope it touches you, as it has me.
Earth and magic,
Roots and stones,
Azure circles sown.
Whispers and wings,
Tendrils and leaves,
Forest dreams weave.
This painting, like Signs and Symbols, is set in the dream forest. But unlike the young man’s journey, which only brought him to the space between the two worlds, here we are fully immersed. The young woman is a fae, dreaming her magic into the earth. Her magic gives rise to a blue fairy circle.
If you’re going to Dragon Con this summer, you can see her in the Art Show. I’ll also have limited edition prints available to order starting next week in my shop.
Two years ago, around this same time, I was preparing for my first convention as an artist. I’m doing the same now, for the same convention–Dragon Con. Genre art (fantasy, science fiction, horror) for me at the time was still a relatively new venture. I grew up on late 70’s and 80’s genre films. As a teenager I was consumed by Stephen King and other speculative fiction authors. You’d think this would be reflected in my art, but it wasn’t until 2012 that I began letting myself explore. A wall in my psyche came down and my art evolved. Two years later I was at Dragon Con and now another two years later I’m returning. In that time, I’ve continued to explore, evolve and learn.
I began thinking about what I truly wanted. What did I want to create with my art? What did I want to say? Did I need to say anything? That introspection gave birth to Renascentia. She is the first painting I felt connected to on a deeper level and I realized I need that connection. It reminds me of this quote I heard recently:
If you don’t feel anything for the painting your working on, your viewers won’t either.
When I brought Renascentia to Jordan Con in 2015, I realized the truth of these words. However, I still hadn’t figured out what I wanted. The vision in my head was still veiled in mist. It took nearly another year for me to begin piecing together what I now call Earth Rituals. I’m creating a body of work around this idea of connecting with the earth, but it’s not the only art I plan to make. I will continue to make purely nature art, delve into Sci-Fi, and whatever else catches my fancy.
But what have I done and learned over the last two years?
- I learned how to create art from direction.
- I ran a successful kickstarter and printed a book.
- I won Judge’s Choice from Todd Lockwood. O_O
- I signed my first contract with a small games publisher.
- I knew this already, but it was reaffirmed–true friends are invaluable.
- I will break my no dancing rule if you give me mixed drinks.
- I learned I don’t really enjoy game illustration.
- I learned you can be a part of a large community and still feel utterly alone.
- I learned there’s an art to using Instagram.
- I enjoy licensing art for book covers more than custom commissions.
- I learned I just want to create my own art, on my own terms.
- I guided my daughter through her last year of high school and into her first year of college.
- I was invited to be a member of Changeling Artist Collective.
- I launched a Patreon campaign that’s still going.
- I rediscovered my love of graphite and drawing.
- I’ve had a taste of being an art director (large project in progress now).
Ultimately, I’ve realized I’m not an illustrator, nor do I really want to be. Sure, there may be some overlap occasionally. If a project fits my vision and my style I might jump on board. But at the end of the day, I’m an artist. I think my art will always hover between fine art and the fantastic. In some cases it will sway back and forth between the two. That’s okay.
That’s right. I’m having a giveaway on Instagram! It’s my way of saying, Thank you. Thank you to everyone following me and taking the time to support my art. One lucky winner will receive the 4×5 inch watercolor painting shown in the image above. To enter, be sure you’re following me here:
Then, follow the directions in this post:
Giveaway Time!! I’m giving this 4×5 watercolor painting away to one of my followers. To enter: Follow Repost to your page (there’s an app) Tag #makepeaceart Deadline to enter is Friday July 15th! #art #painting #watercolor #blue #bluejay #feather #nature #giveaway #instaart #artlover #artistsofinstagram #artwork #birds #win #entertowin
The deadline to enter is July 15th!
We all have favorites. Favorite movies, books, authors, etc. But does everyone have favorite artists? If they don’t, they should. The worlds of the imaginary and mythic are sometimes the most inspiring of all. They are dreams brought to life. Here’s a few of my favorites from living artists you can support now–today.
Who are your favorite artists?
We’ve probably all wished at some point in our lives for a double of ourselves, to help us with our mounting To-Do list or just to be in two places at one time. There never seems to be enough time for everything. I’m continually blessed and plagued by ideas that I then have to prioritize. Do I have time for this? Is this more an experiment or is it part of my main vision? Sometimes side projects get put on hold, because I have to feed my soul and creative vision. That vision is the core idea of what I’ve been moving towards over the last ten years and it’s the heart of my art. Regardless, I’m still pulled toward these other ideas. Sometimes I jot them down in my sketchbook of ideas and that’s end of it. I can always return to them later. While others I start and then push to the side, hoping I can return to them later. Here are a few…
Yes, the steampunk fox everyone adores is part of a series of paintings. The Mystics are a fictional council, tasked with protecting the animal kingdom from human encroachment. I still want to continue with this series. I even have the fourth member sketched out, but… Time…
Rings of Magic
These are the pencil drawings for two of four small paintings I have planned. I even have the frames for these. Each ring has a story and a power someone has abused.
The White Crow
Remember these from Inktober 2015?! I said I was going to publish a book titled The White Crow. I’m still planning to publish this book. I promise.
I wouldn’t mind having a clone of myself–one connected to myself, so I was conscious of everything happening and also part of the decision making process. Science fiction, I know…
a child believed to have been secretly substituted by fairies for the parents’ real child in infancy.
Changeling. The word itself conjures fantastical visions and now it’s also the name of a new Artist Collective founded by Rachel Quinlan. I’m honored to be a part of an extraordinary group of fantasy artists. Each month we’ll be hosting themed auctions on our Facebook Page. The first auction, Bugs and Beasties, launches July 13th! You can also follow updates on Instagram, Twitter and Tumblr.
And now for what matters most–the Artists behind the Changeling Artist Collective! If you’re following our Facebook Page you’ll be introduced to these artists, one by one, in the coming weeks.
Rovina Cai, Kristina Carroll, Iris Compiet, Collette J Ellis, Tiffany England, Sam Guay, Emily Hare, Jana Heidersdorf, Jayde Hilliard-Simpson, Maggie Ivy, Heather Hitchman Lambert, Emma Lazauski, Amanda Makepeace, Serena Malyon, Belinda Jane Morris, Fergal O’Connor, Rachel Quinlan, Angela Rachelle Sasser,
Anna K. Szalas, Tiffany Turrill, Anja Uhren, Jabari Weathers, Ren Willows
Where do you get your ideas?
If you’re an artist, writer, musician or anyone working in a creative field you’re bound to be asked. However, the question is a disguise for another. What they are really asking is how did you come up with this final work of art. The question implies there is some secret formula for making art–all it takes is that spark of inspiration. If that were true, we’d all be artists! Having ideas is only one part of the equation. The other half is a ton of hard work. Ideas are important though…and passion. Without either you don’t have anything to fuel the hard work. I’m always a little shocked when I hear an artist say they are struggling to come up with ideas. Maybe it’s just a foreign concept to me. I always seem to be brimming with ideas, so many that I must reign myself in so I stay focused. The well I draw from is all around me and inside me.
Are they struggling to find ideas or are they struggling to find that BIG painting idea? Are they too focused on the end result? When I think of ideas, I think of all the scribbles in my sketchbook and the notes that eventually lead to a painting. It’s a process. Even when I think I have a core idea for a painting, it always continues to evolve before I have the final artwork. I think some artists are looking for that stroke of genius, that masterpiece. This quote from Chuck Close sums it up well…
“The advice I like to give young artists, or really anybody who’ll listen to me, is not to wait around for inspiration. Inspiration is for amateurs; the rest of us just show up and get to work. If you wait around for the clouds to part and a bolt of lightning to strike you in the brain, you are not going to make an awful lot of work.”
“All the best ideas come out of the process; they come out of the work itself. Things occur to you. If you’re sitting around trying to dream up a great art idea, you can sit there a long time before anything happens. But if you just get to work, something will occur to you and something else will occur to you and something else that you reject will push you in another direction. Inspiration is absolutely unnecessary and somehow deceptive. You feel like you need this great idea before you can get down to work, and I find that’s almost never the case.”
Just get to work.
Start by sketching something you love. What are you passionate about? Make list. I love nature, fantasy and myth. I also love horror movies, owls, crows and bones. I love taking hikes in the woods. My imagination is fond of mixing all of these together.
When I’m sketching the things I’m passionate about or getting out of the studio to embrace what I love, I can’t stop the ideas from forming. So if you’re struggling, stop sitting around. Take your sketchbook outside, or to a museum, or a busy town center or a cafe… Explore a new medium or tackle something you’ve never drawn before. Challenge yourself but remember, there’s nothing wrong with returning to things you’ve drawn or painted hundreds of times. You just might think of a new way to express that object or idea.
Follow me online:
You were with me till I mentioned bugs, right? Hear me out! These are three fun art challenges happening in June. Like #mermay and #inktober, artists will be sketching/drawing/painting daily based on one or a combination of these themes. You’ll be able to follow these hashtags on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook:
#JuneFae – All things Fae: Fairies, Pixies, Brownies, Hobgoblins, etc.
#Junicorn – That’s right, a month full of unicorns!
#JuneBug – Bugs!!! Bugs aren’t your thing? Are you sure… The insect world is full of beautiful creatures like moths and butterflies.
These daily art challenges are open to everyone and it’s up to you whether you post daily or maybe weekly. Tag your posts with one or all of the challenge hashtags. Invite others to join in! Art challenges are a great way to explore new mediums, improve upon a skill or break out of a creative funk.
I’m going to use the challenge as part meditation and part art experiment. Much of my art tends to be detailed and leans more toward realism. For #JuneFae I’ll be creating spontaneous little tree sprite doodles with Walnut Ink (and occasionally with a little gold pigment added). These mini paint sketches will be a fun departure from my usual work! Below is a test sprite I doodled this week in preparation.
Here are some of my artist friends who will be participating too.
I’ve been home three days now, but they’ve not been the best of days. I woke up Monday feeling rough and then realized soon enough I had a stomach virus. Today I’m better, but not quite back to normal. Not fun, especially after such an incredible weekend. Part of what I love about conventions is meeting up with friends I only see at conventions. I have a couple I don’t see but once or twice a year. So that is always a treat. I definitely had a little too much fun this weekend.
Photos…. I have very few. I’ve found that since I’ve begun attending conventions as an artist, I either don’t think about taking photos or I simply don’t have time. Here’s a very tiny collection, if you’re interested in seeking more out, the JordanCon Group on Facebook has a great gallery of images from this year’s event.
This weekend was my most successful convention to-date. I sold my largest, most expensive piece, Renascentia as well as, eight other pieces from my art show bay. As for the prints I brought, I only sold 1 of the Alchemist and 1 of Spirit Guardian, but all 4 of the limited edition Dawn and Dusk prints. Those were more expensive than the regular prints and smaller, so go figure. I obviously should have brought more. Live and learn.
Regardless, I’m kind of blown away. I don’t think I’ve ever sold so much art in one weekend. I came home with empty boxes! A few of the unsold pieces will go into my shop, but some of the pieces I will retire and others I’ll store for another show.
What was different about this year compared to last?
2. I wasn’t an unknown. After winning Judges’ Choice last year I did gain new followers on Facebook from the convention, some of which became new fans of my art and in turn new friends. I returned to JordanCon this year feeling as if I was part of their family.
3. I was more active, socially. Last year, I didn’t really know anyone. This year, I had a few friends that helped me feel more comfortable. We all hung out a lot and went to various room parties where I met more people. I spent an hour behind John Picacio’s (Artist Guest of Honor) table, just chatting. And I was also a part of an event called Win, Lose or Draw. I’m hoping to be even more involved in the art show programming next year. Ultimately, I met and spoke with so many more people than I did last year. My lips are still chapped from talking so much!
It’s a little weird having a big blank space on my wall. But, I’m okay with Renascentia going to a new home. It was time. She helped me discovered exactly what I want to do with my art–what I want to say. It took a year, but now I have Earth Rituals about to begin. It’s an exciting time. 🙂
Friday, on April Fools Day no less, was the one year anniversary for the day my sketchbook funded on Kickstarter. It was an experience I’ll never forget. The months afterward were just as exciting too. Holding my book’s proof in my hands. Opening my box of beautiful little books. Working on the sketches for my Kickstarter backers.
To celebrate the anniversary of my Kickstarter success I’m offering the remaining copies of my book for the early bird price of $15–originally only available during the Kickstarter last year. So if you missed out on my campaign, or want a second copy to gift to a friend, take advantage of this sale price. The sale runs till April 5th.
Here’s a look inside…
My painting Bone Magic is currently in a group show at Eight and Sand Gallery in Seattle. It’s a little show, for little works of art. Take a look!
Bone Magic is a 4×5 acrylic painting on Arches Watercolor board. The painting has been sealed with a gloss varnish. I attached an actual vertebrae from my personal collection to the solid wood frame.
The exhibit runs till April 1st.
This blog post may disturb you or in the very least make you question the author’s sanity.
On any given day there are a multitude of random thoughts and questions that pass through my mind. This is but a glimpse.
- Is that a hawk or a vulture? Vulture.
- I want one of those for the studio.
- I NEED that for my studio.
- What would people think if I started collecting roadkill?
- Coffee. Coffee. Coffee.
- Ugh, this painting sucks.
- I need to draw more skulls.
- I should paint a skull.
- I need to find more bones.
- Will I ever find a shed antler?
- Tea. Tea. Tea.
- This painting isn’t looking so bad now.
- I really want to find a crow feather.
- I love this painting. I bet everyone will hate it.
- Should I cover my gray hair? Who cares!
- Is this a coyote track?
- I wish I could take this mini skeleton home with me.
- I should organize my _____ .
- I love this paper. I need to buy it all.
- I wish I could back this Kickstarter.
- I wish I could attend _____ convention.
- I should save this small scrap of paper. I might use it for something.
- I should save ______, I might use it for something.
These aren’t the only things that cross my mind, but they are some of the most reoccurring thoughts I have. I have folders on my computer filled with photos of bones. Not long ago I was keeping some bones in my jewelry box. Okay. I’m going to go refill my coffee now.
I don’t have much to say lately… So instead of me rambling about nothing of great importance, you can watch me draw a Red-wing Blackbird.
This drawing was my piece for this month’s #BirdWhisperer project. Red-Wing measures 9 x 9 inches, graphite and color pencil on Bristol paper. He has a new home in New York.
I told myself I wasn’t going to create any art for Month of Love, a weekly challenge in February, created by artist Kristina Carroll (she also runs Month of Fear in October–another addictive challenge). This is my busiest time of year. It’s essential I focus. My mistake was taking a peek at the challenges/themes for this year’s event. I thought, I’ll just take a look. Looking doesn’t hurt….
Said no artist, ever…
Month of Love (and its counterpart) are hosted through Tumblr. Click on the image above to read my official blurb. Below are some snippets from the creative process.
Ripley is Graphite and Charcoal on 9 x 12 inch acid free drawing paper. It would have been nice if I’d had some charcoal powder on hand, but I made do with a stick I borrowed from my daughter’s supplies. I haven’t worked with charcoal since my college days. It was fun and messy! Working with the stick also turned out to be the better option as it gives the drawing an organic rawness that would have been absent with the powder.
I worked on the drawing over the course of two days. On one of those days this was all I worked on. Now it’s time for me to get back to work on my personal project. I have my first exhibit of 2016 coming up next month! Details to come soon…
The subreddit r/Fantasy is holding an Artist & Illustrator week through January 31st. I’ll there today at 10 a.m. EST to answer questions about my art, inspiration, process, cats, favorite flavor of ice cream…you name it. You can ask me anything!
“Through art we can change the world.”
In 2014 I participated in my first Twitter Art Exhibit. <– Click to see my previous entry. The goal of every Twitter Art Exhibit is to raise money for charities, through the selling of postcard size art. This year’s exhibit is taking place at Trygve Lie Gallery in New York City, March 31st – April 21st, 2016. It will raise money to support Foster Pride’s Handmade Program. You can read a full press release here.
Once again I decided to with the magical bird theme… Big surprise, I know. This is Badb. She measures 4 x 6 inches and is watercolor and acrylic on Fluid Watercolor Paper (Cold Press, 140-lb).
Badb is a war goddess from Irish Mythology. She was known to take the form of a Hooded Crow and instilled fear among soldiers to sway a battle to her liking. Below is a series of time lapse videos I took during the painting’s creation.
You may have noticed I like birds. My friend and artist, Melissa Gay, also likes birds. You might call us bird whispers! We both have our own unique approach to depicting these feathered creatures. What if we created a work of art from the same reference photo? How similar or dissimilar would be they? I thought it might be fun to find out and Melissa agreed!
Here’s a stock image of a Gyrfalcon I found on DeviantArt. We both took a few days to create our piece of art and then without even showing one another, we posted them on Facebook.
Same bird. Different art. Completely different vibe!
Melissa and I enjoyed this little experiment so much that we’ve decided to repeat it once a month. If you follow us on Facebook, be on the look out for our posts around this same time each month. You can also find our posts using the hashtag #birdwhisperer.
You can see more of Melissa’s art at www.melissagay.com.
Self-promotion. The forest we try to navigate each day. If you sell a product, no matter what product, you walk this tightrope. It’s not as simple as shouting, buy my stuff, from my the highest peak. Self-promotion is hard work and it involves a ton of patience. It’s not always fun and you don’t always see results. I personally dislike the feeling of forcing my art on people. Each time I share something on Twitter I wonder, am I annoying folks? Is anyone even looking at my art? But then I start to pay attention to my statistics. Days I don’t share and talk about my art my views go down. Days I do… You get the point.
What might be the most difficult part about self-promotion for me, is the act of sharing things not about my art, but myself. I’m a quiet person. Not as quiet as I once was in my younger days, but my fellow Tessera Guild members will tell you–I’m quiet. I’m a thinker, and sometimes a loner. I don’t often say something unless it’s worth saying 100%. Ironically, this is key to self-promotion via social media networks. Key. When you interact with your fans you’re also building trust. Building trust will make your product look far more appealing than someone elses they don’t feel they know. Last year I wrote a blog post about building trust with online buyers after reading an excellent article at EmptyEasel.com. EmptyEasel is geared toward visual artists, but these five rules will apply to authors, musicians and anyone else selling something online.
I’m revisiting these five rules with new thoughts for the new year.
1. Don’t Make it About “You” “It’s about the community. People aren’t going to follow you if all you do is try to sell them stuff and promote yourself. Become a trusted resource, instead of a salesperson.”
Or better yet, become a storyteller. Whatever you’re creating, chances are there’s a story behind it and there’s an audience who’s ready to listen.
2. Be sociable “…the next time you think about listing one of your art pieces, take the time to figure out how you can present that piece in a more social manner.”
Don’t just post a link to the art in your shop. Think about making a collage showing the stages from sketch to finish.
3. Show the real you “Use a photo of yourself for your profile image, not a photo of your art, or company logo. People want to connect with people, not products or businesses.”
I’m not sure this is always necessary anymore, as long as your real face makes an appearance from time to time. There’s nothing worse than coming to know a public figure by their profile photo, only to find out it’s from 20-30 years ago. Don’t do that (unless you’re vampire).
There was suppose to be a dog in this photo! LOL Well, we both enjoyed the short walk. Beautiful day. 🙂 A photo posted by Amanda Makepeace (@amandamakepeace) on
4. Respond to your fans
“When you respond to your fans (or customers)…have a conversation with them.”
I try to respond to everyone and if I’m swamped with comments I will still post a ‘Thanks everyone!’ They are taking the time to make a comment, something totally voluntary, the least I can do is show my appreciation.
5. Be consistent
“From how you portray your company across various social networks, to how often you post…”
Also, remember that online and offline, you represent your art and/or brand. That’s why it’s best to be yourself, so when your fans meet you in public (whether it’s at a convention or the grocery store) they aren’t surprised…
I’ll be honest. There are days I don’t feel like socializing at all. I don’t beat myself up about that. Tomorrow is a new day and we all have off days. But when I am online I try to follow these rules and above all I try to have fun. I’ve met so many wonderful people since I joined social media and the various other sites you can find me. Some I even consider more than just acquaintances. They’ve become friends who support my creative vision and that’s invaluable.
Here are the social media hangouts I use most:
I also have a monthly newsletter!
A Pictorial History of Santa Claus <— Check this out for the cool info and facts.
featuring art by the late great Ralph McQuarrie
I’m writing this from the past.
All the way back on Tuesday, December 15, 2015.
Because today, Friday, December 18, is a big day. For me. For a lot of us. I wanted to write this post ahead of time. Before today. Before it happens. Before we see it. Before the Awakening. Before the results of all this hype and hope and speculation and excitement are known. Will we be disappointed today? Will we be thrilled? Will our prayers be answered? I don’t know and for the purposes of this post, I don’t want to know.
Last night (for me, here in the past), The Force Awakens had its premiere at the Mann’s Chinese Theater in Hollywood. Which means that people have seen it. A large group of people, a lot of them famous, a lot of them on Twitter. And, while I trust that none of them are going to run and tweet “Oh my God! Han Solo is just Dexter Jettster wearing a Mission Impossible Mask!”, I have deleted Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, and any other social media app off my phone; deleted the bookmarks in Google Chrome. From Monday until Saturday, I am in as much of a media blackout as is possible in this day and age.
Because I don’t want to know.
I’m not a spoiler-phobe. I actually find that trend more than a little annoying, as I wrote about a while ago HERE. Do I want to know the story? The surprises? The ending? Fuck no. But mostly, I don’t want to know what people think about the movie. I don’t want to read Kevin Smith tweeting “HOLY SHIT STAR WARS IS SO GOOD!” or Patton Oswalt saying “Bad news guys…”. I don’t want to know what the critics have to say. Not a single fucking one. Not because I don’t like critics, but because I have no interest in what other people think about the movie.
I only care about what I think about it.
Two reasons for this:
1. There are at most a dozen people in this world whose opinions on film I actually respect. Who I can talk movies with in a way that satisfies me. Whose praise or condemnation of a film can actually sway my desire to see it. Does this make me a snob? Fuck yes. I embrace being a snob. I don’t care what most people think because I think I know better. It’s an ugly truth about me but a truth all the same. I feel that way about all movies; with Star Wars I feel it tenfold.
2. Knowing the general consensus on a film’s quality undoubtedly taints your experience in watching it for the first time. If the praise is effusive, often times you are disappointed by what you see because it was merely “good”, not “amazing” as every keeps saying. For me, I call this the Something About Mary effect. Conversely, if the word on the film is bad, if people are ripping it, if the cursed Rotten Tomatoes (boy do I hate Rotten Tomatoes) rating is low, you go into it expecting bad and you look for the bad. All you can see is the bad. And you don’t want to feel like an idiot for liking something that everyone else hates. Or you can go the other way. You’ve heard the film is bad, you go see it, enjoy it, and think “That was much better than everyone is saying. I don’t get it.” That happened with me on The Dark Knight Rises. The word wasn’t great on it but when I saw it I enjoyed it. Looking back, I realize those low expectations inflated my opinion of the film. I bought it on blu-ray the day it came out and haven’t been able to watch it all the way through even once. I find it mediocre and disappointing.
I’m bringing in enough with me as it is.
I love Star Wars more than you.
Since I don’t know who you are, dear reader, it’s understandable if you find that statement laughable.
But I love Star Wars more than you because Star Wars is my thing.
And it has been since 1980.
When I was four years old, my parents let me stay up to watch the network television debut of Star Wars. It was hosted by Billy Dee Williams (which is how I know it was around 1980), from a badly mocked-up version of what I would later learn was the Mos Eisley cantina. (Did you know it was owned by a Wookiee named Chalmun? Of course you didn’t. No reason you should. But I do. Because Star Wars is my thing.)
Like so many people, the first time seeing George Lucas’s Star Wars changed my life. I was never the same after that. I had, at the age of four, fallen truly, madly, and deeply in love.
I obviously don’t remember every detail of that night, but I remember enough. I remember the opening shot of the Blockade Runner (the Tantive IV) and the Star Destroyer (the Devastator) coming over the top of the screen and thinking the child’s equivalent of “holy shit!”. Being terrified of Darth Vader. I remember the cantina, obviously. Ben cutting off Ponda Baba’s arm. Meeting Han Solo. Seeing the Falcon for the first time. I have very strong memories of the trash compactor and, after that, the image that probably stuck most in my mind: Luke and Leia swinging across the chasm in the Death Star. Of course, the getaway fight with the TIE Fighters was amazing (“Don’t get cocky!”).
But what left an indelible impression on me was the final assault on the Death Star, later known as the Battle of Yavin. It enraptured me in a way I had never experienced. Starting with the scene in the briefing room where they break down the plan (I have this thing. Don’t know what it is, but my favorite scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark is when Indy uses the chalkboard to explain to the guys, one of them the actor that played Jek Porkins in A New Hope, how the Staff of Ra worked. Don’t know why that is.) and then of course the visuals, the action. It was so damn exciting and tense. I had no idea what was going to happen next. I had seen very few movies, so it never occurred to me that of course the hero was going to save the day. I was four. I didn’t know that it was an automatic thing in movies like this. I was terrified for Luke every step of the way. He’s just a kid from a farm! This is so dangerous! How is he going to make it out alive?
Ships crash. People die. Darth Vader starts mowing down Y-Wings in his funky looking fighter (TIE Advanced x1). It was all too much.
Then Luke switched off his targeting computer.
I stopped breathing.
Then, it happened. The moment that brings me chills every time I think about it, let alone see it. Seriously. Right now, seeing it in my head, I’m getting that feeling.
Just when it looked like Vader was going to shoot Luke down. Just when the Rebellion was about to be blown to oblivion, a miracle happened.
The Falcon came down out of the sun and saved the day.
They came back! Han and Chewie came back! If you were an adult, you probably knew it would happen. Because that’s how movies work. The cynical loner always grows a heart and comes back to help. But as a child? I had no idea it was coming.
And when it did, I felt it for the first time.
The jolt. The shiver. The surge.
For all I knew, at that moment, 35 years ago, it was The Force Itself.
That feeling, you know? The potent injection of emotion that seems to shoot up your spine when you see, hear, read something that just hits you in a place you never knew you had. It’s the white soldiers cheering “give ‘em Hell!” to the 54th Massachusetts as they leave to die attacking Fort Wagner. It’s a brave vampire slayer leaping to her death to save both her sister and the world (“She saved the world. A lot.”). It’s the “Ode to Joy”, when that damn chorus comes in and the bliss crackles like electricity under your skin.
I was paralyzed with… I don’t know what that feeling is. It’s a cocktail of emotions, universally known but undefined. Just that… rush. That feeling.
It was the first time I had felt it.
It was riding my first roller coaster.
It was losing my virginity.
Drinking my first beer.
I have George Lucas to thank for that. And I thank him, as all fans should, for giving us this gift.
I also wanted more.
The first Star Wars trilogy was an enormous hit. Millions and millions of people are fans of the films. Made Lucas a brand of his own, the most successful independent filmmaker in history. The original trilogy is beloved the whole world over. Especially The Empire Strikes Back, nearly universally considered the best of the films.
But my love affair didn’t stop in 1983 when Return of the Jedi was released. I didn’t think “Well, that cool thing is over. On to the next thing.”
I was in love. I still wanted more.
And to get more, I had to dive deeper. And there wasn’t a whole lot there.
I’ve seen the two pretty-awful Ewoks TV movies more than a dozen times each. Why? Because they were Star Wars. Same with the “Droids” and “Ewoks” cartoons. I read the seven available Star Wars spin-off novels, including the very enjoyable Han Solo and Lando Calrissian series. I read the lackluster Marvel comics.
But between 1983 and 1991, it was slim pickings for a kid who wanted more of his favorite thing.
But in ’91, a novel was published. Timothy Zahn’s Heir to the Empire. It took place 5 years after Episode VI and starred all of the original characters, and introduced a few new ones, including one of the great Star Wars villains (hell, characters) of all time. Soon after, in the world of comic books, Dark Horse got the Star Wars license and released “Dark Empire”, which took place a year after Heir to the Empire. It was a bleak story about Emperor Palpatine rising from the dead to take one last stab at conquering the galaxy.
With those two pieces of fiction, the entity that would eventually be called the Expanded Universe was born. It would live and grow for almost a quarter of a century.
And I experienced all of it. Every novel. Every comic book. Every video game. Every role-playing game. Every encyclopedia. Star Wars became much more than three movies for me.
Even through the Special Editions and the Prequels, the Expanded Universe thrived. The novels and comics kept coming. Some were great. Some sucked. Most were in the middle somewhere. But the Star Wars galaxy continued to grow outside of the movies. In the case of the prequels, it often times eclipsed it in terms of quality. When 2005 was over, and Revenge of the Sith had come and gone, Star Wars wasn’t over for me like it was for so many others. I hadn’t abandoned it because of the quality of the prequels. Because to me it was so much more than six films. The movies were the most important aspect, sure, but I enjoyed the prequel era. While Lucas’s movies were bad (at times horrible), with several great moments, they spawned so many interesting stories between the cracks. In comics. And fiction. And in the spectacular “Clone Wars” television show.
I can imagine losing faith in Star Wars if all you know is the films. I don’t begrudge anyone for being done with the franchise after the prequels. Nor do I blame people for hopping back on in hopes that The Force Awakens is awesome. Please, come back to Star Wars. But also understand that some of us never left. Not out of blind loyalty, but because we’re fans. Not fans of the Star Wars movies; fans of Star Wars as a whole, the entire multi-media giant it has grown into.
Now George Lucas is out. Disney, Kathleen Kennedy, Lawrence Kasdan, and J.J. Abrams are in. The Force Awakens takes place 30 years after Return of the Jedi.Everyone is excited to see what things are like, what’s happened, what’s going, three decades after the death of the Emperor and Darth Vader. So am I. Except, I’ve already seen it. The novels hit “30 years later” a long time ago. In the (now defunct) Expanded Universe, a lot happened in those years. Weddings. Births. Deaths. New villains. New heroes. Wars. Adventures. Tragedies. Triumphs. A fully fleshed-out timeline that has been built upon that first wonderful Timothy Zahn novel.
None of this has any bearing on The Force Awakens. This is a new timeline. A new vision. One that only includes the films and animated TV shows as “canon”. And I’ve come to terms with that. It’s fine. It’s all make-believe bullshit anyway. But it will be impossible for me to not bring all that (fictional) history with me. That knowledge is in my DNA. It’s part of what makes me me.
J.J. Abrams is without a doubt a Star Wars fan. But, if I had to guess, not the same type of Star Wars fan as I am. He loves Star Wars and I think he is going to make a film that represents it well. Except, his Star Wars is not my Star Wars. My Star Wars galaxy is so much bigger than most people’s. The question is really going to be, for me, is “is what J.J. loves about Star Wars the same thing I love about Star Wars?”. Maybe, but maybe not.
What do I want this new movie to be?
I want it to be a good story.
I want it to feel like Star Wars.
I want the Kurosawa screen wipes between scenes instead of dissolves and cuts.
I want Harrison, Mark, and Carrie to be Han, Luke, and Leia.
I want Rey and Finn and Poe to be great characters that I will enjoy watching carry on the saga.
I want it to feel old and new.
I want someone to say “I have a bad feeling about this.”
I want John Williams to make me bawl like a baby.
I want it to pay homage to George but not be an homage to George. There’s a difference. Ask Bryan Singer.
I want Kylo Ren to be badass.
I want Captain Phasma to be badass-er.
I want it to be its own movie but also earn the title “Episode VII” and feel like part of the greater saga.
I want it to be good.
I want it to be great.
I want to love it.
What do I not want?
I do not want Luke Skywalker to be evil.
That is the one thing that could turn me off of Star Wars for a very long time. Make me lose faith in the new regime. I think it would betray the original films, the films that everyone behind The Force Awakens say they are trying to do right by.
“Where’s Luke?” has been the refrain as the hero of episodes IV through VI has been absent from the poster, the trailers, the TV spots, and the toys. “Where is Luke?!?”
There could be many reasons why they haven’t shown Luke Skywalker in any of the promo material. Maybe he’s not in it that much. Maybe he’s only in scenes that are later in the film and they don’t want to spoil anything. Maybe his entrance into the movie is so motherfucking Orson-Welles-in-The-Third-Man-awesome that they want to hold onto it. Make us wait for it. Because when I see Mark Hamill playing Luke Skywalker, 32 years after he did it last, I’m going to cry. The quality of his reveal will determine whether I just get misty-eyed or curl up into a sobbing ball on the floor of the theater. I want his entrance to floor me. I want to feel like a kid again.
He could also be a bad guy. That would be a legitimate reason not to reveal him until we see the film, as some have speculated. I really hope that’s not true.
Because I don’t know what I’d do. They would have to do it REALLY well to keep me watching.
They could have Jar-Jar and Wickett talk about midichlorians for two hours and I’d still be there for Episode VIII. But making Luke the bad guy…?
As this posts, 1:20 pm, EST, I am sitting down with my father and brother at the Regal Cinemas Atlantic Station theater in downtown Atlanta to watch The Force Awakens in IMAX 3D. The last time I saw a Star Wars film in the theater with these two people that I love: 1983. So that, in itself, will be special.
If you are reading this within two and a half hours of me posting it, I am currently sitting in a darkened theater with an appropriately StarWarsian mix of hope and fear. I don’t need this movie to be good. If it’s not, I’ll still be a Star Wars fan tomorrow. I’ll be sad Star Wars fan, sure, for a while, but I’m not walking away. When my baseball team has a bad game, a bad season, even a bad decade, I don’t stop wearing their caps. I don’t stop rooting for them, watching their games, going to see them when they come to town. And even if the last year was horrible, I still start the next season with hope that they’ll get it right this time.
I feel the same way about Star Wars. In all of
pop culture, there is nothing that is nearer to my heart. That’s why I wanted to write this before seeing the film. To express my undying love. No matter what I am experiencing at this very moment, I will be a Star Wars fan tomorrow.
As for my opinions on The Force Awakens, I will express them. On Saturday I will be recording another episode of the NEEDLESS THINGS podcast where we will have a round table discussion about the film. The episode will be available online soon after the film comes out, if you really want to hear me talk about it. I’m sure I’ll have one or two or five hundred things to say.
I may even let the other panelists talk. If I’m feeling generous.
Thank you, George.
Good luck, J.J.
It’s time. You psyched? I’m psyched.
Let’s do it. Here we go.
Punch it, Chewie.
May the Force Be with You,
Chad J. Shonk
December 15, 2015
“Some of my kin look just like trees now, and need something great to rouse them; and they speak only in whispers. But some of my trees are limb-lithe, and many can talk to me.”
Tolkien’s Ents have always been a favorite of mine. I suppose that’s not too surprising if you know me well enough. If given the opportunity I’d spend an entire day roaming the woods. I only wish our forests were protected by such magnificent beings.
I created this shepherd specifically for the EBSQ Inspired by Tolkien exhibit. If you like him, click the LIKE button here: http://www.ebsqart.com/Art-Shows/Exhibits/Tolkien/429/1/
It’s that time of year again… I hope you enjoy these fantastical artworks and have a delightfully dark Halloween!
Did you miss last year’s post Monsters, Magic and Moonlight?
Inktober 2015 is here, everywhere online with the hashtag #inktober. I’m super excited to be participating this year. It’s something I’ve wanted to do for the last few years, but I’ve never had the time. This year, things are different! I have the inks, paper and time to pull this off. If you follow me online you’ll be able to see my posts daily on Instagram, Facebook, Twitterand Tumblr. However, if you don’t want miss a single ink drawing then I recommend attending myFacebook Event. The event page will have each daily post all in one spot and it gives anyone the opportunity to purchase a drawing before they go into my shop in November.
I’ve decided to go with a theme for my first time – Crows, Skulls and Owls! Here’s my first Inktober drawing – Contemplation.
If you want to keep up with other artists participating in the challenge just search for the hashtag #inktober on October 1st!
You can learn more about Inktober athttp://inktober.com/
Creating for the future, or the long-term, is what I’m doing right now. I recently finished a large commission and I won’t be taking anymore for at least a year. That’s kind of scary! Commissions have not made me rich, but they have been a nice cushion. So why on earth would I do this? I’m thinking about the future. I have a list of paintings I want to create and while I love the commissions I’ve tackled they aren’t MY creative vision. I’m also in dire need a cohesive portfolio, one that represents ME, for next year’s DragonCon jury process.
The last few years have been a journey to reinvent myself, my art, and find my true passion. I feel I’ve finally breached a wall in my psyche and now I want to create art where my vision and heart collide. That first glimpse over the wall was of course, Renascentia, which is also quite apropos since the name means rebirth in Latin.
If you want to follow me over the wall and pitch in $1 a month, take a look at my campaign on Patreon. Seriously. I’m only asking for $1 a month. Crazy!! But that $1 will add up and you’ll get an inside look at my creative process and a nifty little reward each month too. I’ll be sharing sketches, progress shots, tips and how’s to articles and videos on a weekly basis. Basically, double what I share on Instagram. Patrons will also get to see the creation of my next sketchbook volume before anyone else.
My Patreon campaign will help keep me accountable, keep me pushing ahead with the art I need and want to create over the next six months. If it does well, then it will also help me with funds for art supplies and maybe further down the line, funds for more conventions. I hope you’ll consider pitching in $1.00 a month while I go crazy making art!
Yes. The whatnot post has returned. I know you’ve been lost without it, adrift in a sea of the unknown. Never fear. I’m back with all the little things you’ve missed and new ones you never knew existed.
1. DragonCon – Over the last two weeks I’ve had numerous comments and questions about the convention. No, I’m not going this year. Since I’m not in the art show this time around, I couldn’t justify the expense. This happens to be my daughter’s senior year in high school. Other expenses I have right now include: SAT and ACT exam fees, 2 AP exam fees, Senior Dues, Senior Portraits, Yearbook, College Application fees, and more. That’s a lot of money. I’ve also just begun a two month subscription to Schoolism (purchased during their Kickstarter). In the end, it just didn’t make any sense to attend DragonCon. Fingers crossed for next year!
2. Bone Oracle Prints – Prints are now available in my shop, but for a limited time. The graphite drawing is going to be the starting point for a painting of the same name. When I finish the painting the print of the drawing will no longer be available. Any prints purchased will have a number on the back, bottom right corner. The original drawing will be coming with me to JordanCon in April 2016.
3. Secret Shop – I bet you didn’t know I had a secret shop. You can find it on my website by clicking Five Dollars in the menu.
4. Creative Bloq – You may have heard about a recent Kickstarter lawsuit. If not, you can learn more about it today at Creative Bloq (the blog for ImagineFX and other creative magazines) and you may run across a familiar name and image. 😉
5. Books – Usually, I read about 2-3 books a summer. It’s a busy time of year. But for whatever reason, I managed to read 10 books this summer and I’m in the middle of my eleventh. Some of them have been re-reads and others brand new. I enjoyed John Scalzi’s Lock In so much I bought a hardback copy after reading it on Kindle. Books… NomNomNom…
6. Biter Bash 2015 – I’ve reserved a table for the small event, December 5-6 in Roswell, Georgia. I will be selling art prints, sketch cards, and whatnot. I’ll also be bringing along some copies of my sketchbook Daydreams & Wanderings.
7. The Dracula Dossier – Myself and many others created art for this book. I’m thrilled I could contribute. I can’t share the art yet, but it won’t be long now! The book is available for pre-order from Pelgrane Press.