Monday, December 22, 2014

"Driverless" Where are we going?

By Eric Fortune

"Driverless" 20 x 15" acrylic on watercolor paper

I am interested in art as a means of living a life; not as a means of making a living."
~Robert Henri

This is my favorite quote about art.  I hope it becomes more apparent why by the end of this post.

Recently I’ve had the honor of having some paintings featured at the SCOPE Art Fair in Miami.  I’ve done a ton of articles and videos on technique and how I go about making an image.  Today, I’d like to talk about the content and inspiration behind this piece.

What does a world with driverless, automated cars look like?  How could it potentially change our cultural values and our economy?

Does it make sense that most cars spend 90% of their time in parking lots?  Cars aren’t cheap and it’s kind of a shame they’re not being utilized more.  What if cars didn’t spend 90% of their time in parking lots?  What if they spent 90% of their time driving around, picking up and dropping off people continuously?  With automated, driverless cars this makes lots of sense.  However, what does this mean for car sales and ownership?  If you can basically get access to a car whenever you need it, would you still want to own your own car?  Would these fleets of automated cars be like a publicly owned transport system?  Would you miss paying insurance, gas, oil changes, and other forms of continuous maintenance, and waste time looking for parking spots for a car that you use only 10% of the time?  Most importantly, what does not owning a really expensive car and sharing automated vehicles instead say about your penis size? 

“You’ll never own a car again.  I have two two and a half year old boys.  They’re not going to drive when they turn 18.  They’re going to have an autonomous car driving them around.  Every single car company has announced autonomous cars in their future.” 
~Peter Diamandis, founder and chairman of the X Prize Foundation, Singularity University and the co-author of the New York Times bestseller "Abundance: The Future Is Better Than You Think".

So I guess us guys will have to find another way to overcompensate for our penises.  Just for the record I think minivans are pretty amazing. 

But would a fleet of autonomous cars really be as efficient or convenient as owning your own personal car?

"Yeah, if you could take me to the chopper pronto that would be great.  Mmm k, thanks."

“You may remember Larry Burns the number two at General Motors, for many years the Vice President of New Car Development. He’s now at the University of Michigan.  He did an amazing study. Ann Arbor is a pretty big sized city and he found that even today with the rudimentary Internet of Things platform: communication, energy, logistics internet, in Ann Arbor you could get the same convenience and mobility moving from ownership to access using 80% fewer vehicles right now.”
~Jeremy Rifkinpresident of the Foundation on Economic Trends and author of the recent book “Zero Marginal Cost Society” (fascinating book, highly recommend)

Everyone take a second to imagine what your city might be like with 80% fewer cars.  What are some of the implications here?

Let's be honest.  Somewhere deep down inside, you would miss this.

Less traffic, less pollution, less car related incidents and injuries, and less transport jobs etc.  Excellent, so when is this all happening?  Fifteen, maybe twenty years?  In October of 2014 Elon Musk, the CEO and chief product architect of Tesla Motors stated that self-driving technology will outpace the skill of human drivers in five to six years”.  However, he warned that it would take regulators another two to three years to approve the autonomous cars for use in public.  This is a glimpse at how driverless, automated cars specifically might affect society in the near term.  Let’s expand our scope to include other forms of automated technologies.

In Jan of 2013 I wrote a post titled Art and The Singularity” discussing how the exponential advancement of computing power and automated technologies appear to be having some profound affects on our lives, the amount of available jobs, and how our economy operates.  Before moving on here’s a quote from MIT researcher Andrew McAfee worth revisiting,

"It's in the second half of the chessboard that that constant doubling yields numbers so big that our intuition falls apart, that prior experience falls apart. 

So when we were writing our book, we did just a quick back-of-the-envelope calculation. The U.S. started tracking computers as an investment category in 1958, and the standard period for doubling of computer power is 18 months. You do a little bit of math, and that quick estimate tells you that we entered the second half of the chessboard in about 2006 with computers, which helps me understand why we've got Google cars and Siri and Watson and all these robots coming at us just in the past few years. If this analogy holds up at all, the only real conclusion is we ain't seen nothing yet."

Andrew McAfee, author of "Race Against the Machine" on NPR

2006, that was 8 years ago, and 2015 is right around the corner.  It’s been almost two years since I wrote that last post, so what’s happened since then?  Well, earlier in 2014 researchers at Oxford came out with a Report stating that

“According to our estimates around 47 percent of total US employment is in the high risk category. We refer to these as jobs at risk – i.e. jobs we expect could be automated relatively soon, perhaps over the next decade or two.” 

To help give a little context to this 47% number, during TheGreat Depression unemployment was about 25% Ouch. That sucks.  Of course, we live in a system of global interacting economies.  How would another Great Depression in America affect the other economies around the world?  And this could happen within the next decade or two?  Impossible right?  Sounds a little hyperbolic and ridiculous perhaps?  Well, not long after another study came out echoing the Oxford Report finding that

“Fifty-four percent of jobs in the 28-member European Union are at risk of advances in computerization, according to a study by economist Jeremy Bowles published by Bruegel, a Brussels-based research organization.”

Something here that I think is worth noting, the 47% and 54% of jobs potentially lost to automation are very important numbers, in fact, a bit mind boggling.  But what I’m more curious about is this 25% unemployment during the Great Depression.  When might we potentially hit that number?  Would we see a mirror of what happened during the Great Depression?  In my mind by the time we hit half of the population being unemployed we’ve already arrived at the Thunderdome.  Not in the parking lot and walking to the Thunderdome, more like inside of the Thunderdome and hanging from a body harness.  You won’t even need those tiny binoculars.  I know what you’re thinking at this point, you’re gonna bring your tiny binoculars just in case, cause seriously, you don’t want to miss out.  I’m right there with ya, tiny binoculars, check.

Factoid.  "Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome" was Richard Amsel's last film poster illustration. Click the hyperlink for an excellent reproduction of this piece online.

So the question we should all be asking ourselves is “WHEN DO WE START SMASHING ALL THE MACHINES!?!”.  And why would we smash all of the machines?  In order to save many of the jobs that we all love so dearly of course, jobs that pay fair wages, jobs that don’t stress us to death, jobs that leave us with plenty of time to nurture our families and interpersonal relationships, or heaven forbid work on some personal art projects that have been on the back burner for years. 

Don’t worry all you digital artists we’ll save the art software for you.  But surely we can’t have people running around without forcing them into some form of labor right?  So if we’re not going to smash all the technology (sad face) what are some of our options?

In my previous post, Art and The Singularity, I didn’t really go into possible solutions for this conundrum as much as I was describing the problem of technological unemployment and exponential growth in an economic system based on work for income.  Though, I had brought up the notion that society could choose to have a reduced work week, perhaps a 30 hour work week.  As a reminder, a 30 hour work week almost passed in 1933.

"Much to the surprise of the country, The Senate passed the Black Bill on April 6, 1933, by a vote of 53 to 30, mandating a 30-hour week for businesses engaged in interstate and foreign commerce. ...Roosevelt later "voiced regret that he did not get behind the Black-Connery 30 Hour Week Bill and push it through Congress." 
~from "The End of Work" by Jeremy Rifkin

But one must surely see the trend here.  Once upon a time 16 hour days, 6 days a week was the norm.  Eventually, over time and through lots of civil unrest and people sacrificing their lives, workers won a 14 hour work day.  

"What a relief!  Those 16 hour days were busting my yet to drop balls.  I can finally relax with a nice 14 hour day of work.  Ahhh, being a 5 year old is awesome."

Then eventually workers fought for the 12 hour day, the 10 hour day, and now the 8 hour day/40 hour week.  Of course, most freelance artists I know still work long hours as well as the weekends.  The question I’m asking is if technology improves to the point that just to have something near full employment, a mandatory 30 hour work week has to be implemented, what will stop technology from improving further still and forcing us to a 20 hour work week?  Surely, it won’t stay at 20 hours for all of eternity.  So when does a 15 hour work week kick in right?  Once again, it’s starting to feel like we’re in looney land. Noted economist John Maynard Keynes predicted in his essay “Economic Possibilities for our Grandchildren” written in 1930, that due to such technical efficiency and abundance, we eventually would have so much leisure time that one of our biggest problems would be occupying our free time to keep us from going crazy.

”Three-hour shifts or a fifteen-hour week may put off the problem for a great while. For three hours a day is quite enough to satisfy the old Adam in most of us!”
~John Maynard Keynes

In "The Jetsons" George Jetson actually worked a three hour day and for three
days a week.  Should we be taking notes?  Where did we go wrong?

More and more modern day economists seem to be admitting that Keynes was most likely right in his prediction but was off by some years.   It’s more a matter of when it will happen than if it will happen.  Here’s what some other people who study this are saying:

"If one machine can cut necessary human labor by half, why make half of the workforce redundant, rather than employing the same number for half the time? Why not take advantage of automation to reduce the average working week from 40 hours to 30, and then to 20, and then to ten, with each diminishing block of labor time counting as a full time job? This would be possible if the gains from automation were not mostly seized by the rich and powerful, but were distributed fairly instead.

Rather than try to repel the advance of the machine, which is all the Luddites could imagine, we should prepare for a future of more leisure, which automation makes possible.  But to do that we first need a revolution in social thinking."
~Lord Skidelsky, Emeritus Professor of Political Economy at the University of Warwick
(seriously though, I’m sure we can find something to smash)

Another quote from Marshall Brain
“..we should redesign the way the economy works so that we all get the benefits of all this automation.
So, how might you do that?
-Spread the benefit of productivity increases to everyone. 
-Break the concentration of wealth
-Increase pay for everybody
-Reduce the work week, you would say ‘hey, this 40 hour work week, we’ve had it forever. Let’s make it 35, then 30, then 20 til we’re all on perpetual vacation’.” 

~MarshallBrain, formerly taught in the computer science department at NCSU, and founder of How Stuff Works speaking at Singularity Summit.

Perpetual vacation?!  That sounds...horrible ish.  Must...smash...robots...

So besides reducing work hours to spread around the remaining yet to be automated work load what other options are there?  Here’s what some are saying (I know, I’m a quote whore but it’s really much less impressive if someone were to say “Hey, Eric Fortune said this thing.”  If this ever happens you have my permission to smack this person.  But get their consent first and have a safe word.  Always have a safe word.)

"I think that we do need to seriously think, particularly as productivity increases, technological change provides us with great benefits but requires fewer and fewer people to actually do the work.  The robots are going to be doing more and more.  We've got to seriously think about how we widen the circle of prosperity, how we get shared prosperity.  Otherwise, who's going to be the customer?  And a Minimal Guarantee with regard to income, it seems to me, it's almost inevitable in terms of the direction that the structural changes of our economy are taking us in."
~Robert Reich, former Secretary of Labor and star of the new documentary "Inequality for All"

"The very conventional solution that we're always offered which was give people more training, give them more education so they can do a higher level job, that simply may not work because those jobs are also quite likely to be automated. So I think we need to do something different and what I have proposed is that eventually we're going to have to move toward a Guaranteed Income where everybody is guaranteed at least some livable income in our society."
~Martin Ford, author of "Lights in the Tunnel" 

"We advocate a Universal Basic Income, received by all citizens on an unconditional basis: that is, detached from the labor market. This offers a choice between work and leisure. To offer such a choice is both a fruit of an affluent society and a solution to the problem of technological unemployment."
~Lord Robert Skidelsky, Emeritus Professor of Political Economy at the University of Warwick 

Recently award winning writer Cory Doctorow invited some of his favorite creators and thinkers to write about their philosophy on the arts and the internet.  Artist Molly Crabapple was one of these people and she wrote a “Molly Crabapples 15 rules for creative success in the Internet age”  What did she put as number 1 on her list?

The Universal Basic Income is also known by a variety of other names ie: Unconditional Basic Income, Minimum Income Guarantee, Citizen’s Income etc.  A UBI(Unconditional Basic Income) is basically an unconditional guarantee that every person would get a sufficient amount of money to meet their basic needs regardless of  whether or not that person has a job and any money made from employment would be in addition to the basic income.

The UBI has an diverse history.  It was advocated as far back as Thomas Paine, one of the Founding Fathers, and has also been advocated by people on both sides of the political aisle like President Nixon, Milton Friedman and Martin Luther King Jr.  On one hand it reduces large, complicated government bureaucracies on the other hand it potentially abolishes poverty and the ever persistent unemployment problem (I would like to point out that smashing technology could be a job that could potentially employ many people, thus alleviating the unemployment problem.  The more machines we smash the more jobs we create, for example, carrying buckets of water from the river for the family.  I majored in Illustration but have a minor in tech smash, I can send any interested parties my resume).  To some an Unconditional Basic Income may sound a bit utopian and would probably never work in real life.  Has it actually ever been implemented?  It has, it was experimented within several cities in the U.S. as well as Canada in the 1970’s.  It’s also currently being experimented on in pilot projects in places around the world such as NamibiaBrazil, and India to gain more data and obviously help those in need.  Many of you may not realize it but Alaska has a type of Basic Income called The Alaska Permanent Fund that was actually referenced in The Simpsons Movie.

One of the first questions that arises when the idea of giving people an Unconditional Basic Income is brought up is “Well, won’t everyone just be lazy and not want to do shit?”  As I mentioned earlier a UBI has already been experimented with and pilot projects are currently being done as well, so what does the research show us?

“I used to be one of those people before I did the research for this book, I thought if you gave people a Guaranteed Income that they would spend it foolishly, they wouldn’t work, but then I went through, I looked at a whole bunch of studies that have been done and the evidence is overwhelming that that’s just not true.  When people are given a Guaranteed Income the costs decrease on health care, the drop in crime, and most shockingly the increase in productivity.  When people are given a Guaranteed Income they actually increase their wealth creation.”

There is no evidence whatsoever that a basic income would reduce work and labour. The evidence is strong that it would do the reverse. But it would encourage a shift to reproductive work (caring, community work, ecologically enriching work, etc) rather than resource-depleting and ecologically destructive labour.
We have plenty of selfishness. We need more mechanisms to encourage empathy and social solidarity…
My intuition is that we should start by proposing a social dividend or basic income that is below what would provide a comfortable living and then build from that, as people come to realise that 99% (or whatever) of people would not be satisfied by a basic income. They want to better themselves and improve the lives of their children. But what we have found in the pilots, and what psychologists I cite in the book have found, is that people with basic security work more and work more productively. It is nonsense that providing basic security would lead to laziness.”

On this point I happen to agree with Molly Crabapple not to mention what the research is showing us.  It seems like a UBI would go a long way in assisting  independent artists with time to work on their craft and to establish themselves, or at the very least, we could do away with the “starving artist” cliché, and perhaps more importantly do away with people starving in general. 

I'm often asked why I choose to paint traditionally when my photoshop skills are off the chain.
I don't have an answer for this question.

A recent Swiss documentary titled "Grundeinkommen - ein Kulturipuls"(Basic Income: A Cultural Impulse) was released as part of an informational campaign for a UBI in Switzerland.  In the fall of 2013 enough votes for a UBI were gathered to trigger a referendum that would allow the citizens to vote on a UBI in the coming years.  The proposal is for every Swiss citizen to get 30,000 francs (about $33,000 usd).  If passed it would become part of the Swiss Constitution and every citizen would get this money just for being alive.

There’s something I found rather interesting about this annual amount of income that has to do with the level of happiness in correlation to the amount of money one makes.“I put this in the context of the Easterlin Paradox, for the audience, The Easterlin Paradox is, it was noted that between 1974 and 2004 U.S. average income doubled but our average level of happiness did not.  There have been various different studies and I thought ‘the Swiss picked $33,000’ and as you know, cause you’ve written about it, there’s what’s called the “Bliss Point”, somewhere between $30-33,000 is the optimum amount.  If you go below that, if you’re less than that, your happiness increases in about direct proportion to about $30-33,000 and above that your happiness still increases but not so fast and the satiation point is $70,000, above that it doesn’t matter, it’s just not worth having that money.“
~Paul Saffo, Technology Forecaster based in Silicon Valley.  Consulting Professor in the School of Engineering at Stanford. Saffo teaches courses on the future of engineering and the impact of technological change on the future

The research quoted earlier about how Unconditional Basic Income would actually make people more productive makes even more sense when one thinks about how economic security and happiness are related to motivation.

"I once heard someone defend that belief by declaring that ‘human nature is to do as little as necessary.’ This prejudice is refuted not just by a few studies but the entire branch of psychology dealing with motivation. Normally, it's hard to stop happy, satisfied people from trying to learn more about themselves and the world, or from trying to do a job of which they can feel proud. The desire to do as little as possible is an aberration, a sign that something is wrong."~Ren & Stimpy...just kidding, this quote is from "Unconditional Parenting" by Alfie Kohn.  Kohn writes and gives lectures about research on human behavior, child rearing, and education.

So our society appears to be at something of a crossroads.  Technology is putting pressure on how our economic structures work and is showcasing flaws inherent in our economic system which is based on labor for income.  In some ways we are adapting to these technologies and in other ways we are clinging to seemingly outdated notions about how an economy should operate while at the same time automated technologies are rendering such notions as car ownership or work for income obsolete.  To be frank, I don’t see technology and automation as the problem here.  I see the context of an outdated economic system and outdated cultural values as closer to what it is we need to have a very long talk about, and soon.  Unfortunately, culture and society seem to change much slower than these emerging technologies.  Perhaps our humanity hasn’t matured enough to apply these technologies in ways that actually benefit everyone.  The question I asked in the title of this post “Where are we going?” says something about the technological trends that have been going strong for decades.  Maybe a better question is “Where do we want to go?”  We all have a say in where we’d like society to go and whether we want a society that can create happier, healthier, and motivated humans.  Do we want to take it to the Thunderdome as in Mad Max or maybe some good ol’ Fist of the North Star, both visions of a society based on supreme scarcity and some high quality smashing, or do we want a world of access and abundance?  You can keep the caged, spiked cars, I want my future driverless.    

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Creativetrek Interview

David Palumbo

Some time back, I had the pleasure of being interviewed by a newish art/illustration blog called Creative Trek.  I'm sharing this with the usual disclaimers of my tendency to ramble and to lose track of my point halfway through a story.  But that said:

Friday, December 19, 2014

MAKING & SURVIVING COMICS (Part 1: Getting Started)

by Greg Ruth

Panel drawing from The Matrix: RETURN OF THE PRODIGAL SON

I have started this particular post many times before and always ran into the same problem. It's just too big, and there's too much to talk about when we talk about comics. So I've decided to set it up as a long form series and avoid giving each topic the necessary short shrift required by an overview, and spend the time on each area that each deserves. The goal is not to get into the details too much of how to make comics work on the page- for that you could and should chase down my betters on this in Scott McCloud's volumes or the more recent Carl Potts book on the mechanics of crafting mainstream cape comics. My approach will be more derived from my own self taught methods. I never went to school for comics, nor have I been trained in any of the rigor of the medium... I just made it all up as I went along. I'm doing that even today. So as a testament to not needing anything but a passion for comics, and you DO need a passion for it it survive the medium, I'll just talk about what it means to me, for me and what I've learned from it as a unique and powerful storytelling medium. I'll discuss the pitfalls of the way the film industry uses comics as a resource, and map the world that has changed from a medium once dominated by DC and Marvel, that has now grown far beyond their clutches into the nascent stages of what it truly can be. But first thing's first. You gotta start somewhere, so let's start at the beginning.

Double page spread from Koike/Kojima's seminal LONE WOLF AND CUB

In The Beginning

I don't think I've ever met a working professional who came to love comics out of the blue. We all have a book or a series of books that so affected us that we wanted to repeat the experience for others, whether we knew it or not. Some grew up in comics, reading the old cape books from Marvel and DC, others were brewed later through Zap! EC and the giants of the alternative scene captained by the likes of Crumb. I myself came from neither, and came later around highschool. Around 1987, my neighborhood friend, Stiles White literally shoved a copy of Frank Miller's THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS into my hands and demanded I read it. It changed everything for me. By the end of the book I could never go back and I needed more. Luckily we were in a new awakening of comics as a medium from the dreary old days of the decaying silver age. Popular comics were being reborn through titles like Morrison's ANIMAL MAN and DOOM PATROL, Gaiman's SANDMAN, Alan Moore's WATCHMEN and V FOR VENDETTA, and MIRACLEMAN. A new rush of manga titles like AKIRA, AREA 88, APPLESEED and MAI THE PSYCHIC GIRL, and what I consider to be one of the highest achievements in comics to date, LONE WOLF AND CUB. Basically each and every wednesday brought a new stack of utterly incredible and groundbreaking books. It was a heady time to come into the medium and one I don't think we'll ever really see again. Still the great thing about books is, they're all new if you haven't read them before, so don't feel like you missed a boat or anything. You can now binge-read these titles and the hundreds since that will inspire you.

The point of all this biography is to illustrate the first and most important foundational stone of becoming a working creator in the field of comics: READ THEM. Study them. Re-read them and pay attention. Take a book you love and study it in detail- find out why it works, and how. copy those tricks, and do it again. Practice, practice, practice. There is no better school for learning about comics than comics themselves. When you read an issue or a page and it hits you, take it apart and try to figure out why it does, and how the creator did it. Comics isn't mysticism- its' mechanical. You can dissect it and find out why it works. You'll need this skill when you start making your own, because without it you'll never be able to understand why yours work or don't work and why. Study crappy ones too- you can often times get a better sense of how a narrative form works by seeing it fail than you can by taking ion a success. This is true in prose, film... any narrative medium. The disasters have a lot to teach. Be available to learn them and you will grow in comics like a weed on a warm summer day. I've been making comics now for nearly twenty years and this and nearly all of the old greats still give me the tickles. Something that works so well always works well. So even if you're an old codger like myself, don't forget to go back and dip into the initial well of inspiration. There's treasures aplenty still waiting for you there, and if it's really good, a few surprises you missed before you knew how to find them.

The Two Front War

What makes comics such a tricky medium is the need to master not just one discipline, but two. Comics is a medium that can be boiled down to two essential parts: Writing and Drawing. Most comics artists aren't writers in the strictest sense, and many of them will tell you they aren't at all. This isn't entirely true. You need to have a basic grasp of narrative form and storytelling to draw a proper story, even if someone else is writing it. You'll benefit far more if you learn to write for yourself too. But it's still very different from prose or even screenwriting because comics writing carries with it the necessary consideration of the pictures that will tell the lion's share of the story. You want to show more than tell, and you need to come to grips with the requirements of both mediums if you're going to make good comics- even if you never write one of your own. So don't just read the comics for awesome art, or get suckered in by splash page thinking. Read comics that are well written, and pay strict attention to how the words and pictures interact with each other. Read novels and short stories and think of how you might visualize them without trampling over what they're already doing so well.

One of the greatest exercises I tell up-and-comers is to find a passage in one of their favorite book, take a page or two or a simple scene from it, use it as a source for making a short five or six page comic. Don't do more than ten, and ideally stick to five if you can manage it. You don't want to get get bogged down too early. You want and need to bang this out, look it over, show it to others and do it again. Ultimately if you do this for say, eight different stories, you'll come out the other end a far more capable comics storyteller than when you started. Even if you plan on writing your own material, do this instead of starting with your own work. Being able to adapt another's story frees you of half the burden of doing it all yourself, and forces you to think about contending, meeting and working with the vision of another creative. As much as you may believe in your own voice, don't let it prevent you from the vital experience of adapting another's.

Page from unpublished personal project, THE CALENDAR PRIEST
The two most informative experiences I ever had in comics were adapting a Goosebumps novel for Scholastic, and doing Conan: Born on the Battlefield with Kurt Busiek. The former was taking an existing novella (about 120- 150 pages) and making a 40 page comics from it. I was not allowed to change the writing, but I could cut it and rearrange it. I just couldn't add to it. The first lesson I learned was that the restrictions birthed creative new solutions. Fences make freedom. They encourage it by forcing you to fight against its strictures. Anyone who balks at restrictions just doesn't get it. With Kurt, while I was able to make certain changes, add panels and tweak storytelling so that he would then go back and rewrite the script to fit the art, I still had to justify it. I had to understand what I was doing enough to vouch for it and even at times argue for it. (I think our poor editor spent most of the time just watch Kurt and I email/debate each other back and forth). I didn't win every fight, and likely lost half of them, but I learned bucket loads about how to make a story work better, and when to let the writer do it, and obey.

So don't be afraid to take on another's coat and walk around in it for a while. At this early stage you are learning to see how your wings work. Don't let the height of the nest or fear of falling dissuade you from falling and landing on your ass. Just make sure the height isn't so high it kills you. Stick to short form work, get it done and do another. Do it over and over. Like drawing that takes a thousand bad attempts to reach a success, you will have to do dozens if not a hundred bad comics pages before you begin to truly understand the medium, and what your hand in it is.

Page from CONAN: BORN ON THE BATTLEFIELD with Kurt Busiek

Share and Listen and Do It Again

Now. You've done your short piece adaptation and it's time to show it to someone else. If you're like me in any sense, you've just spent the last week or so deep inside your own noggin putting this thing together, navigating all the clever tricks you've employed and fretting over the others you barely understand... it's time to let another human look at it. If you're able to show it to a pro and get experienced advice, that's ideal, but you should still be able to show it to someone who isn't, because those folk are your potential readers. Crafty inside pro dances and jokes may work well with a working regular, but they're going to be missed entirely about the casual reader. And as a young and upcoming comics master, your first duty is to your reader- and especially the reader who isn't necessarily interested in comics. The medium has long self-ghettoized itself by speaking only to its own people, and we owe it to ourselves and the medium's advancement to speak to more than just the reflection in the mirror. Look at the current contemporary art world: that is what happens when you cease to be meaningful to your audience, and it's not pretty no matter how much it convinces you it is.

If you can show it to a loved one who can be honest about what they're seeing, great, but I recommend going to a pal or someone less invested in making sure you have a good day. Be prepared that no matter how finished you think you are, to discover that you still have a long way to go. A regular walk a a day reader might just not get it or like it, or be confused, but they may not possess the training to say exactly why. A working pro will. But both require you to listen and then process what they're saying and parse for yourself what's valuable and what isn't. This is the hardest bit: No matter how many good reviews I get from even the most lofty sources, it's the one nasty one I remember. We're predisposed to self immolation when it comes to the creative process and that can be a good thing. it keeps us questioning ourselves, it keep us sharp and frosty so we don't get too comfortable with our conventions. But you don't want to go down the rabbit hole of negativity. Find the middle hold on to it. Even if you feel the tangible tug of despair, whistle past that stuff even if you know you're lying to yourself. SLeep on it, walk away and come back to it. The hardest thing to do is to see your work clearly and without all the "you" baggage. This is why you show it to others in the first place. Remember: you're learning. You're developing and growing, and because of this you're going to going to screw up more often than you succeed. That's fine and that's not a reason to quit, but if you lack the insane obsessive passion for the medium, these pecking crows of criticism, self or otherwise, will devour you. You have to find a place at least occasionally to be happy to find joy in the medium, and that joy has to be enough to light your way through the darkest times of the process. If it isn't, learn to recognize it and think about doing something else. This is true of most everything of course, but for comics, a medium that is a gigantic time-suck of epic proportions, with a low return rate, you'd better draw your energy from an interior source despite all the barbs on the outside or it just won't work. You've got to love this stuff, but if you manage to find that love, there ain't none other like it. It's a lonely isolating business but it's magic pure and simple when it comes together.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Robot Sorrow

Sorrow      27" x 33"    Oil on Panel    2014

by Donato

Tonight, Thursday December 18th, will see the opening of a new exhibition of my art in Santa Fe at the Jean Cocteau Cinema Art Gallery.  This exhibition will feature my most recent interpretative works from the worlds of science fiction as well as preliminary studies for George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire 2015 Calendar.

 A major oil painting being premiered is Sorrow, a continuation in the theme of robots engaged in very human, empathetic moments. The loss of an adolescent child is one of the most painful tragedies I believe any one could endure, and I wanted to project those emotions into a form of expression which stepped outside of contemporary politics and historical cliche.  Unfortunately this issue rings far too loudly given the recent Taliban attack in Pakistan.

Over the years I have occasionally given an assignment to my students, The Last Human on Earth.   It was with this content in mind, married with a profound sense of grieving, that I began seeking a resolution to this robot image.   The theme of tragedy runs deep in much of my recent work as I believe true character reveals itself under moments of extreme duress. The works of Caravaggio, de Ribera, Velazquez, Waterhouse and Michelangelo all speak to these issues of a tormented and challenged humanity.  These artists created timeless works of art which are deeply rooted in humanity and intimately personal. It is for this reason I turn to them for inspiration and affirmation in my desire to create narrative imagery.

A total 7 paintings and 10 drawings will be on exhibit at the Gallery over the coming month.

Stop in, check out the art, and catch a movie at this wonderfully art house theater
supported and restored by George R.R. Martin.

A Song of Ice and Fire and New Works
December 18, 2014 - January 12, 2015
Opening Reception with the Artist December 18th, 5-7pm. 

Jean Cocteau Art Gallery
418 Montezuma Ave
Santa Fe NM 87501
(505) 466-5528 

Sorrow       progress

Sorrow   detail

    Sorrow,  preliminary drawing,   18" x 24",  Graphite and chalk on toned paper

A Song of Ice and Fire - concept study    9" x 14"

Shattered Pillars      16" x 27"    Oil on Panel

The House of Black and White - Arya Stark     18" x 18"   Graphite and chalk on toned paper
Beyond the Wall - Bran Stark    preliminary drawing     18" x 18"    Watercolor pencil and chalk on toned paper  


Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Goblin Sapper

-By Jesper Ejsing

This is one of my card illustration for the new Hearthstone expansion called "Goblins vs Gnomes"
I am a very passionate Hearthstone player so I was both honoured and excited to do some new illustrations for the game.
Copyright Blizzard Entertainment
The assignment asked for a goblin charging us whit bags and hands full of lighted dynamite sticks. He should look something between crazy and joyful, like he was oblivious to the danger and excited to see how much everything would blow up.

When I started sketching I quickly realized that I was aiming to much at the dynamics. I was drawing goblins running straight at us angry looking, head down and charging; crazy, but not fun-crazy ( I am pretty sure this is not a term used by psychologists )

The 2 first sketches I think is so much "right on". The distorted anatomy doesn't really work in the first sketch. I like the flapping ears, making him look like a dog with the head out the car window. I tried to get that idea into the second sketch also, but I changed the angle to be a lower viewpoint for more dynamics. Looking back I am sure the second one could have been a fine illustration but for some reason I was just sick and tired of all the foreshortenings. Especially since the face seen right from that angle would make a big goblin nose seem small and with too much nostrils. So when I made the third sketch I knew that this was the one I would like to proceed with. ( Mostly because of the goblin-nose )

This was at a time where I was trying to find a comfortable way if painting digitally. So I just started sketching on top of the thumb with grey tones until I could no longer keep myself away from colours. about en minutes or so. I used the digital colours as I would acrylics in the way that I work very transparent in the beginning. If you look at the goblins face you can see that there is still a lot of pencil lines not covered up by the transparent layers. This is not at all meant as a recommendation but simply an observation. These days I try to eliminate the pencil altogether and just paint straight on with colours.

On the bottom of the illustration I tried using a photo of some gravel to add texture, but it looked all wrong and out of place so I ended up painting it all over again.

I think this image show very well how close the final is from the Thumb. What I really like about painting digitally is that you do not have to change paper. I can continue on the thumb and refine it until it is ready for colours. if I keep myself reined in and avoid to much of the tempting effects and possibilities that Photoshop allow, I can keep the life and dynamics of a sketch right up to final. That is what it is all about for me.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Artist of the Month: Currier & Ives

-By William O’Connor

“It’ll nearly be like a picture like Currier and Ives...”
Anderson and Parish, Sleighride, 1950

There is perhaps no more iconic American Christmas images than those of Currier & Ives.   In this time of carols and old-timey traditions I’m reminded of how ingrained into the American consciousness these 19th century images have become.  So for my December Artist of the Month, I thought I would visit this classic of art and illustration.

The nineteenth century in America was a changing time.  Immigrants and industrialization were altering the very landscape of America socially and physically.  By the mid century what had been regarded as Old America just a generation before, was unrecognizable and the population had nearly doubled.  The Industrial Revolution created millions of people living in urban areas and fanning out into the new frontier on railroads.  As today, this new economy and population created a longing for an Ideal America, and the money and infrastructure to buy it.

Between 1834 and 1895 the company of Nathaniel Currier and James Ives created millions of images using modern printing technology headquartered in New York City employing an army of engravers and watercolorists.  Combined with new railway distribution capabilities this combination made it affordable for every American to have a piece of art in their home for the first time in history.  With mail order catalogs these prints could be found on every wall from New York to California.  It is difficult to imagine in this current technological culture of ours, where images are ubiquitous on the web, billboards and television, that there was a time where owning an image was a novelty.

The most popular images depicted scenes of Old America.  A fantastic imagining of rural New England countrysides that reminded frontier families of the home they had left behind, and immigrants living in tenements an idealized picture of what America promised (A nice colonial house in the suburbs).  No smoke stacks or slaughter houses, no child labour, no pollution, coal mines or disease, the American Dream for 25¢ a piece. Images of Christmas were very popular to remind frontiersmen in the far flung territories of the Dokotas and mining towns of the Pacific North West of home.

The firm of Currier and Ives finally closed its doors in 1907 as photography and offset printing in newspapers and illustrated magazines gradually undersold them with nearly free content and a better quality art in the new Golden Age illustrators.  Today the prints remind us of a happier time, and by the mid twentieth century the nostalgia of this form of Americana made the prints collectable.  Still affordable by antique print standards  the originals can be obtained for a few hundred to a few thousand dollars at any reputable print dealer, and true to their slogan, "colored engravings for the people", today these charming images, now in the public domain, are still found on calendars, posters, prints, coffee mugs, and most of all Christmas Cards.

Enjoy and Happy Holidays!


Monday, December 15, 2014

Spectrum 21, 22...& More

Above: The video lead-in to the Spectrum 21 awards ceremony earlier this year.

by Arnie Fenner

Since Spectrum 21 appeared in November and the deadline for entries to Spectrum 22 is a bit over a month away, I thought I'd take this opportunity to talk about the geopolitical risks we'll be facing in 2015.

I kid.

I'm often asked how Spectrum came about—I've recounted the history in print several times—and why Cathy and I handed the reins over to John Fleskes. It's pretty easy to connect the dots and, in the process, give credit where credit is due. With John now firmly in the driver's seat, I'm thinking this will probably be the last time I'll be telling the tale: everybody can now let out a big sign of relief.

Our idea to create an art annual for the fantastic art community came from four sources: Tomorrow and Beyond, a full color image anthology edited by Random House art director Ian Summers in 1978, the Illustrators annuals (which I think began, at least in its present form, in 1956), the "Science Fiction" group exhibition co-curated by Michael R. Whelan and Wayne D. Barlowe in 1984 at the Society of Illustrators' Museum of American Illustration, and our own desire to see the artists in our field get the recognition their work deserved.

Released by Workman Publishing, Tomorrow and Beyond wasn't exactly the first anthology of fantastic art—the Ballantines and others had already blazed a trail—but it's impact was immense. Despite the "masterpieces" subtitle, the book wasn't even remotely a "best of" compilation and there were many "hot" artists of the time not represented, but it was colorful, energetic, and above all contemporary. This wasn't a nostalgic look back but a spotlight on what was happening now. Summers essentially pulled samples from the many artist portfolios that crossed his desk and fit them into thematic groupings (SF, fantasy, horror, surreal)—and it seemed to have sold like gangbusters, at least as a Science Fiction Book Club selection (sales to bookstores became a source for controversy). Unfortunately, there wasn't a sequel.

Above left: On the left is Ian Summers inspiring book. Above right: The Society of Illustrators
headquarters in New York. Our relationship with the Society has grown deeper through the years and we plan to be working with them in a variety of ways in the future.

Spectrum began kicking around in my noggin not long after the Summers book appeared and I had first talked to Michael Whelan about it at Fool Con in 1980. He liked the idea as much as I did, but the "how" was hard to figure out. Looking at Illustrators (and Communication Arts, Graphis, et al) was both inspiring and incredibly intimidating; we talked on-and-off about it as our paths crossed in the following years, but we never seemed to be able to answer the "how?" question.

The Illustrators annuals were the preeminent showcase for commercial artists, the home of Rockwell, Bama, English, Fuchs, Peak, McCarthy, and McGinnis. It always included a smattering of fantasy and SF art in some form (Don Punchatz, John Berkey, and Brad Holland were always well represented—even Frazetta appeared from time to time), but the fantastic genre was never dominant and often seemed over-shadowed by the mainstream subjects. Which was understandable, honestly: f&sf was (and is) only a portion of what's produced and printed each year and Illustrators welcomed it all. Mysteries, Westerns, history, romance, humor, product advertising, and everything in between clamored for the same juror's vote. There were—and still are—other art annuals, but Illustrators always had the style, the panache, and the reputation that everyone admired: making it into the book was a big deal. It still is. But it was also that small representation of fantastic art in the annual at a time when the numbers of creators were growing that helped solidify the belief that a book for "our own" was justified, too. Not as a challenge to or replacement of the status quo, but as an addition.

The Society always hosted exhibitions of one sort or another, but when Young Guns Michael Whelan and Wayne Barlowe proposed a show of science fiction art it wasn't exactly an easy sell. There were skeptics that needed convincing. Despite the global success of Star Wars and the appearance of fantasy or science fiction novels on the New York Times bestseller list with growing regularity, some still considered genre work as "kid's stuff" and not worth taking seriously. Forward thinkers prevailed—and besides, what better time to have an SF art show than in 1984? Michael has expressed some disappointment that they were persuaded to expand the show's theme to include works of horror and fantasy as well, but it's hard to argue with the excitement it generated when it opened. If it wasn't exactly the first museum exhibit—the New Britain Museum of American Art in Connecticut hosted "Science Fiction and Fantasy Painters" in 1980—it was certainly the biggest and most comprehensive. And everyone loved it: illustrators both in and out of genre, educators, students, collectors, fans, and casual visitors all enthused. The exhibit created a huge buzz in the field: there had never been such an expansive gathering of f&sf artists and artists in one place at one time before.

Unfortunately, there wasn't a book or catalog to chronicle the show.

The Association of Fantasy & Science Fiction Artists was founded in 1985 and began giving out the Chesley Awards. Under the initial leadership of Carl Lundgren, I think the basic model was the Science Fiction Writers of America guild. ASFA's original intent and goals were/are worthwhile, but it has struggled through the years to attract and retain members. Early on we had included several pages devoted to the Chesley winners in Spectrum as a courtesy, but it began to confuse readers into thinking that either ASFA was responsible for Spectrum or Spectrum was responsible for ASFA, so we discontinued the practice. Some years later (in 2003) there was one retrospective book devoted to the award winners edited by John Grant and, unfortunately—a recurring word in this post so far—it included art that was either wonderfully or terribly reproduced (and when I say something is printed badly, woof, it really has to be bad). Also unfortunately, it almost led to a lawsuit for breach of contract and caused a lot of family consternation for the Frazettas (that I may or may not talk about sometime): there hasn't been another collection since.

So…no annual book as a regular focal point, a lack of some sort of visible community, encouragement from Michael Whelan, a respect and admiration for other organizations and their accomplishments, a genuine love for the field, and a desire to grow the awareness and recognition of fantastic art and the people who create it...were the motivations behind the creation of Spectrum.

It wasn't easy. I shopped the idea around (and even had an agent at one point), but it was an expensive project (color art books were still fairly rare and pretty pricey), nobody really knew me from Adam, and it wasn't exactly a book that resonated or fit with most publishers' lines. I heard, "Who would want something like this?" more than once. What seemed logical to me didn't seem so to others. I had been art directing for Mark Ziesing Books on the side and almost struck a deal to partner with Mark, but he didn't have national distribution and I saw little purpose in getting artists involved with a book that relatively few would see (his press runs rarely exceeded 2000 copies). Cathy and I were both working at Hallmark and we were rehashing the potential of a fantastic art annual for the umpteenth time during lunch one day, when in frustration Cathy finally said, "Let's stop talking about it and do it ourselves."

That was the tipping point. I had published books and knew the basics so, while a bit scary, I was pretty sure we could pull it off, at least once. Win, lose, or draw, Cathy felt that doing something was better than doing nothing and I agreed. We pooled our money, bought mailing lists, and started promoting. I had been doing some design work for Underwood/Miller and when I mentioned what we were planning to do to Tim Underwood (who had just split with Chuck Miller to form a stand-alone imprint) he offered to step in as publisher. Tim's participation changed the scope of the project and significantly increased the chances of success. Rick Berry came up with the title "Spectrum"; Rick, Dave Stevens, Tim Kirk, and Don Ivan Punchatz provided art for a Call For Entries poster…and the rest is history.

Above: On the left is Spectrum 1, cover by James Gurney; on the right #21's cover by Rebecca Guay. When we first started we didn't know if there was going to be a Spectrum 2.

Flash forward to 2013. We opened the second Spectrum Fantastic Art Live with an announcement that Spectrum 20 would be our last as editors and that John Fleskes would step into the role of both editor and publisher. Many were surprised, but it was something we had been planning for a number of years.

The reason? Because Spectrum is about the artists and the fantastic art community as a whole, not about Cathy and me. As Cathy said recently, "After twenty years we wanted to make sure Spectrum would continue to do its 'job': to chronicle the best fantasy and SF art created in the past year, to provide recognition for the artists, and to celebrate the community as a whole. Spectrum has to be vibrant and 'fresh.'" I had joked periodically with Irene Gallo about dropping Spectrum lock, stock, and barrel in her lap, but knew that as great as she'd be running the show her responsibilities at Tor filled up her days and she wouldn't have the enormous amount of extra time the competition and book requires. But we were always thinking about the future and when we first met John at a San Diego Comicon we immediately knew he would bring that freshness and enthusiasm that would help Spectrum maintain its position and grow in the years ahead. His books impressed us almost as much as John did in person; we shared the same ethics, the same love for the field, the same sense of responsibility, the same goals. The more we got to know him, the more convinced we became that he should become the next editor/director/administrator; we blindsided him with the proposal at dinner one evening and, luckily for us (and everyone, truthfully), he agreed.

It was surprisingly easy to hand the competition and annual over to John after twenty years. Because we trust him.

Above left: Tim Underwood, a pioneer in contemporary independent publishing, was instrumental in Spectrum's success. Without his guidance and experience the books would not have been as successful as they became. Above right: Director John Fleskes. Photo by Greg Preston.

The first competition under his directorship and the release of Spectrum 21 shows that our confidence was well-placed. We didn't see the book—didn't want to see the book—until it was finished. And we weren't disappointed. John placed his own stamp on Spectrum while honoring its traditions. He continued producing the increasingly expensive Call For Entries poster because he respected the concept of an artifact, a keepable symbol, of an event (I imagine pros and students putting up the posters above their drawing boards like I would do with the Illustrators posters). He continued the policy of providing free copies to artists despite escalating production and shipping costs. And most significantly he continued the practice of bringing the jury physically together to judge rather than have them vote in isolation from home via the internet: sure, it would save money, but it would also allow for less-than-thoughtful ballots. When a jury meets together, they're invested in the results; conversation and compromise become a part of the process. Respect for each other, for the entrants, and for the field is always evident in the results. It's honest.

The resulting book, of course, is gorgeous. With the artists included, there's no way it couldn't be. The added editorial content, artist photos, and expanded coverage of each category's award winners have been mildly controversial for some reason (manufactured drama when there is none, I guess), but we love them. Everything that increases the recognition and appreciation of the artists and our field is a positive and that's precisely what John's additions have accomplished. Everything that heightens the concept of a fantastic art community has value.

Because it is community that's at the core of Spectrum, as it always has been. Spectrum is family. There are divisive folks who feign support for artists while simultaneously picking their pockets: that's not Spectrum. Spectrum has always given back, to the many not the select few. As I mentioned earlier with regards to the Society of Illustrators, what Spectrum has tried to do for the last twenty years is add to the conversation, not dominate it, not to take it over. It's an attempt to bring all artists with an interest in fantastic art together, regardless of methodology or philosophy, with the goal to help broaden the market and overall appreciation for what they do. To increase networking and educational opportunities, to help provide a welcoming sense of place, without artificial class barriers, prejudice, or pretension.

There has been fussing through the years about the increase and inclusion of digital art, fussing about the trend of "dark art," fussing about…well, you name it, somebody has fussed about it. But that's the nature of being inclusive: not everyone is happy about everything all the time. But there's strength for our community when we're unified under a single banner; it's too easy, far too tempting, to splinter off into like-minded hives formed under specious definitions and arbitrary criteria. Spectrum's view has never wavered in twenty-one years: art is art and all artists are equal. It doesn't matter how they create or what they use or where they're from: Spectrum is a home.

I'm proud to say a lot of positive things have grown from that first book 21 years ago. Like what? Well…

Spectrum has become an invaluable sourcebook art directors and art buyers around the world use to find new talent and keep abreast of the field. Numerous artists report getting commercial work, teaching engagements, and private commissions (and selling originals and reproductions) as a result of appearing in the book. Spectrum has the largest circulation of any art annual currently being produced.

Spectrum was the first competition to give each participant with work included in the annual a copy of the book (surprising, I know, but it's still not a common practice).

Spectrum was the first annual to devote categories to comics and dimensional art.

Spectrum was a leader in providing a showcase for international creators to the American market.

• When there have been licensing opportunities presented to Spectrum—like the 2009 Calendar—the artists shared equally in the financial proceeds. There will be more such opportunities in the future.

Spectrum has championed artists' rights and on more than one occasion confronted infringers through counsel on the behalf of creators.

Spectrum has given a number of scholarships to young artists, including to students at the Columbus School of Art and Design, the Kansas City Art Institute, the Illustration Master Class, and through the Society of Illustrators Student Scholarship Fund.

Spectrum sponsored three high-profile exhibitions (curated by Irene Gallo and Greg Manchess) at the Museum of American Illustration, to date the largest, most representative, and best-attended museum shows for the fantastic arts yet mounted.

Spectrum helped with the production of the Frank Frazetta documentary Painting With Fire and became Executive Producer of Better Things: The Life and Choices of Jeffrey Catherine Jones.

The success and visibility of Spectrum helped promote the interest in fantastic art as a whole, leading to many other books from various publishers and eventually artist-focused conventions.

• John Fleskes has launched a series of artist interviews, demonstrations, and instructional videos that he makes available free of charge via the Spectrum website.

• Spectrum Fantastic Art Live furthers Spectrum's long-held belief in community by welcoming all artists without artificial restrictions or prejudice toward medium or methodology with the purpose of promoting the artists and the fantastic arts to the public. As a non-profit, expenses for exhibiting or attending artists are kept deliberately low; all show revenues go toward paying for the event and making it enjoyable for everyone. And the presentation of the Spectrum awards in a theater setting provides a high-profile event that sends a positive message to observers.

That's really sort of the tip of the iceberg: Spectrum's influence has been felt by many. In good ways.

Above: Victo Ngai's Call for Entries poster for Spectrum 22.

The transition from our directorship to John's is now complete…but it's really just the beginning. John has many exciting plans in the works, each of which will benefit artists everywhere in the years ahead. There will be some announcements at Spectrum Fantastic Art Live in May that I think will excite everyone. And of course the deadline for Spectrum 22 is right around the corner. For Spectrum to continue to do its job, it needs the community to pitch in and make it possible. As I've said often through the years, each book can only be as good as the people who enter; it can only benefit all if all participate. Opportunities for individuals stem from growing the awareness for all; each participant is equally important whether they have work selected by the jury or not. Which is what being part of a community is all about.

Spectrum respects the past, celebrates the present, and embraces the future. I'm not blowing smoke when I say: with John Fleskes as director, the best is yet to come.

Above left: Women of Wonder cover by Chie Yoshii. The book will premiere at Spectrum Fantastic Art Live 4 in May. Above right: Spectrum Paradigm cover by Sam Weber. It's going to be published…when it's finished. Both will be released by Underwood Books.

And us? What will Cathy and I be doing? Oh...we have a few things in the works...