Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Renard and the Strawberries: Painting Demonstration

By Justin and Annie Stegg Gerard

*The following demonstration (which features a very small amount of writing and drawing by me and a lot of writing and painting by Annie) is based on a painting for a book we are working on together, and which is scheduled to be published later this year. Hope you enjoy! 


Justin and I had a very specific idea in mind for what the painting should be like in order for it to fit the narrative of the story. One of the themes we wanted to depict was the innocence and free spirit of youth, and the sense of a world full of possibilities and mystery.

Justin came up with some initial conceptual thumbnails to start with while I did several studies of animals and figures. Once we decided on an arrangement and narrative that we both liked, I began the final drawing.



Determining a palette is very important for me before I start adding color washes. For this piece I knew I wanted to use a limited base palette of Green Umber, Raw Umber, Paynes Grey, Titanium White, and for the fox, Old Holland's Red Gold Lake. To thin the paint, I used Gamblin's Solvent-Free Fluid. (Remember to observe fat over lean! If you use too much oil, it will bead up on the surface.)

All of the base colors are applied in light layers. I like to keep the pencil lines visible to act as a guide as I build color. This step helps me determine the mood of the painting as well. Having a strong foundation will help me in subsequent steps, and makes the detailing process much easier for me. After I apply my base colors, I set the painting aside to dry. I need the painting to be dry because I like to drybrush in my shadows and highlights, and this works much better of a completely dry foundation.


For this piece, I decided to start with the fox. Using Red Gold Lake mixed with Raw umber, I buff in the shadows of the fur. Mixing Paynes Grey with Raw Umber gives the darks I need for around the eyes and the nose. Titanium White mixed with small parts of Red Gold Lake are used for the highlights. I like to paint the individual hairs, and then smooth them using a wider soft brush. This way the fur is defined, but still appears soft. For the finer hairs, like the long ones around his ears, eyes, and whiskers, I like to use a sharp tipped brush (Pointed Round 3×0). For this step, I add a new color to my palette as well. Alizarin Crimson will give me all of the rosy hues I need for this piece. 


Now I begin work on the foliage.

Starting with the dry base from step 2, I begin to block in the smaller details of the piece. In this case, it's the individual leaves, and the strawberries. By mixing Green Umber with Red Gold Lake a more vibrant leaf color is achieved. The strawberries are blocked in using Alizarin Crimson. To give the leaves more dimension, I highlight the top outer edge where the light would be hitting them using titanium white.

As you can see in fig. 2, the colors are very stark. After this layer has dried, I soften it by applying a glaze of Green Umber mixed with Gamblin's Solvent Free Fluid (fig. 3). While the paint is still wet, I am going to add the same golden highlights to further define the leaves. After the sharp details are added with the fine tipped brush, I can go back soften them by dabbing them with a wider frayed brush. Lastly, I will add highlights to the strawberries using Titanium White mixed with Alizarin Crimson (fig. 4). These steps are repeated for the rest of the foliage in the piece. 


Much like the fox, I buff in the shadows and highlights for the birds in the painting using the dry base from step 2 (fig. 1). The feathers are created by dabbing the brush onto the painting. The feathers will will rough and chunky initially (fig. 3), but by gently dabbing them with a frayed dry brush using the same manner as the fox's fur you can achieve a softer finish (fig. 4).


For the little girl's skin tone I mix Titanium White with Red Gold Lake and Raw Umber. Small amounts of Alizarin Crimson are added to the cheeks and lips. For the finer details, like the lace trim on her dress, Titanium white is thinned using Gamblin's Solvent-Free Fluid. Her hair is painted using Raw umber as a base. For warmer highlights, I mix Titanium White with Red Gold Lake to warm them.

Lastly, I add a unifying glaze with a very thin amount of medium and subtle warm tones. And now we are finished! From start to finish the whole process has taken about three and a half weeks of work.

This painting, along with 8 others will be appearing in our book, The Other Side of the Mirror, later this year at Gallery Nucleus. Please check back in over the next few months as we release more demos and preview work! You can see some working steps of the other images in the series as we create them here!

Monday, August 3, 2015

Inspiration: Norman Rockwell

"End of the Working Day," Norman Rockwell; 1920

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Joe Golem #1 start to finish

-By David Palumbo

Here is a quick step-by-step on a typical job for me, from thumbs to finish:

The first thing I do is thumbnail.  Depending on the assignment this can be anywhere from two to 12 pages like these above.  I'm in a loose frame of mind thinking entirely about shape and message.  This particular cover was to be the first in a series and the publisher (Dark Horse Comics) wanted to have a pulpy sort of vibe.  In the story, our hero is a hard boiled detective type who faces off against a big green skinned monster in a version of Earth where mid-20th century Manhattan is half underwater.  I keyed in mostly on the sinking city and the detective being stalked by the monster.

These three sketches were done 4x6 inches each in oil, choosing what I felt were the most promising roughs and developing them.  These were all aided by some form of photo referencing.  I sent this batch in and received notes to push the pulp further, as well as stick a snub nose in Joe's hand and a fedora on his head...

The editor liked this one and gave me the green light to move to finish.

My reference had already been shot during the sketch process, so I was able to dive straight into painting.  I printed up my ref and my sketch at the size I would be working to help keep the arrangement accurate as I redrew it onto the full sized panel.  I believe that I projected this as well when scaling up, though I may have just hand measured and eyeballed.  I tend to switch that up depending how I'm feeling.

With the underpainting dry, I washed in some thin colors and set straight into defining the focal areas

I'm bouncing back and forth a bit between figure and background, letting one inform where the other needs to go

With the piece finished, I did a bit of cleanup and color correcting in Lightroom and Photoshop and sent it in.  My editor asked if we could kick the saturation up a bit further so I did some more color tweaking, pumped up the green on the hands, and increased the lantern glow.

And here is the finished piece!

Friday, July 31, 2015


Greg Ruth

INDEH central, in all its inky glory. 

    Short post this week as I am in the mighty throes of finishing up the principle art for the massive graphic novel enterprise with my creative partner, Ethan Hawke , INDEH, (hitting the shelves  June 2016 from Hachette/grand Central Publishing). To describe it in any other terms other than vast hyperbolic ones is not really possible for me at this stage. It's too big, too close, too personal and too much in just about every part of myself right now. The years of research, the stacks of books and notes and the myriad of  other bits and pieces are my life entirely now. So I honestly couldn't think of anything to put down here today that wasn't about INDEH. So I finally broke my rule to avoid David Roberts' seminal book about the last days of the free Chiricahua, ONCE THEY MOVED LIKE THE WIND. 

    I made myself avoid it much in the same way I avoided Pete Dexter's DEADWOOD until the show concluded: I didn't want to muddy the waters. INDEH has been an organic growing creature that Ethan and I have husbanded for years now. As much as it is based upon and largely exactly accurate to its historical facts and events, we decided early on to skirt past it as a strict history, and pursue it as historical fiction instead. It freed us up to shape the story as the narrative we were constructing required, rather than recorded fact. The changes were minor, but interpretive enough to make what we were doing more dynamic more about and centered around our three core players, the legendary Chief Cochise, his son and heir, Naiches, and of course Goyahkla who would become Geronimo. It just meant in practice that we were free to have Naiches and Geronimo be at certain places for particular events that aided their story, when perhaps historically they were elsewhere. Fairly harmless inconsequential tweaks of reality that birthed massively significant story changes that made a big difference in executing our plan to make this more about them as people facing a tidal change in their world, than a simple biography or history lesson. What it meant for us personally, was that these would be our characters, or at least our take on them. Cochise is modeled after the actual fellow, as are everyone, but not entirely reflective. I gave Naiches braids and a different look to distinguish him more immediately as the medium prefers for example. Cochise was meant to look of a different time than his son or Geronimo, Mangus Coloradas from an even more ancient period, and so on. So reading Roberts' book to early would have distorted that process. We researched the hell out of it, but mostly from dry accounts, facts anecdotes and interviews. Roberts' book is as much a proper history as it is a work of art. I feared its influence in much the same way I panicked after reading the first five pages of Deadwood, and put it down. Until this week. 

 I'll post some of the preface here below as I think it absolutely says it all for what is to come. If anything, it barely indicates the power the reader is about to witness. Our goal and our mission statement with INDEH was to break through the turgid veil of White Guilt, and the Dances with Wolves comfort blanket that we have enveloped ourselves in that neither warmed nor really comforted us in the way we hoped it might. This was and is a story we share, this terrible genocide. These were people... afraid, angry, heroic, creative, loving, terrible and beautiful as all people are and we set out to tell the story through the eyes of the Chiricahua. We decided to tell the story and end it before any of the major events that made Geronimo so legendary. This wasn't meant to be spectacle no matter how completely spectacular a tale it was and is no matter how you tell it. What resulted was a sense of parallel invention that served only to bolster my confidence that this insane act of hubris, a couple of middle-aged white dudes from suburban Texas daring to tell one of the truly great stories of American History through the eyes of its natives, was how it turned out we were doing the selfsame thing all along. Here's some of his preface, as both an indicator of that but more so as bait to encourage you to go out and buy a copy, and read it for yourself. I rarely insist a book on people as we all have our tastes and preferences, but for any of you who are American, this is as essential as anything ever written about our past. As Ta Ni-Hisi Coates' new tome, BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME is picking up the gauntlet left by Malcolm X's autobiography, Robert's book is that for one never until now written. And it lights a fire of interest I never expected. Still essentially a history, he structures it around the causal factors he decides, and structures when and how the events are told from that vantage. It's more than the other usual dry referential catalogues. It's a living tale that dives into the people and whys and hows of the times. I've honestly never read a book this fast before. Bolstered by its affirmation that we were telling a different take on the same events, honestly in both respects to each other made it an additive thing, rather something competitive. Here's a bit of the preface:

At the end, in the summer of 1886, they numbered thirty-four men, women, and children under the leadership of Geronimo. This small group of  Chiricahua Apaches became the last band of free Indians to wage war against the United States government. The "renegades", as white men called them, were mercilessly pursued by five thousand American troops, (one-quarter of the entire U.S. Army at the time) and by some three thousand Mexican soldiers. For more than five months, Geronimo's band ran the soldiers ragged. The combined military might of two great nations succeeded in capturing not a single Chiricahua, not even a child. 

The odyssey of those fugitive Apaches ran its course, to be sure, as a hopeless cause. Yet, in it's melancholy inevitability, the struggle of Geronimo's band wrote a logical end to a quarter century of betrayal and misunderstanding. For their refusal to give in, the Chiricahua were punished as no other native people in U.S. history has ever been. 

The story of the Chiricahua resistance is one of the most powerful of American narratives. In its essential features, it sings the perennial themes of both epic and tragedy, as the ancient greeks defined those genres. Hundreds of books have been written about the Apaches, yet few if any seem to have grasped the basic shape of their story. All too often the telling bogs down in the details of troop deployments and Indian raids. The human character of the Apache-- goes unilluminated. 

Like most cultural tragedies, the war between the United STates and the Chiricahua was founded on fundamental errors of perception. Scouts, soldiers, statesman came away from years of experience with the Apache convinced they had probed to the core of his nature. What these "experts" saw, of course, was the shimmer of their own befuddled perconceptions....
...The cardinal failing of most accounts of the Apache resistance has been an inability to comprehend its doleful history from the Chiricahua point of view. Since the 1960's our guilt-ridden culture has indulged in a reverse stereotype, a sentimental idealization of the American Indian- the noble sage, living in harmony with the land- that represents a comparable failure of the imagination. "

Copyright 1993 David Roberts

    As a funny side revelation a scene from our book, chronicling the turn of the corner that ushered over a decade of terror and violence in the southwest: Cochise and his band were falsely accused of stealing a local rancher's cattle and his adopted son, Felix Ward, who would grow to become the devilish Puck creature of this shakespearian tragedy, Mickey Free.  I found that I had entirely invented a moment that turned out to be completely accurate with the facts of the day without knowing it. This is the scene: As Cochise found as his only measure of escape when the meeting in the canvas tent went south, he pulled a knife, cut the fabric and jumped out its back, still holding his coffee cup as he ran like a jackrabbit up the side of the mountain pass escaping some 55 bullets launched at him in pursuit. When he got to the top of the ridge and proclaimed, as a warning, that "Apache blood is worth the same as that of any White Eyes", he still held that cup of coffee in his hand. I had not even for a moment heard this story until today, almost a year after having drawn that scene. I had simply thought it would be both awesome and funny to have Cochise manage to hold his coffee through this narrow escape. That the mundanity of it, the Lynchian humor that it mimicked would add a nice level of awe and humanity to the moment. I patted myself on the back for being so clever and in the end, Cochise had me beat by over a hundred years. When you're inside a story, you start channeling it in ways you can't quantify. If you're lucky, you end up with a situation best cited in Alan Moore's brilliant FROM HELL at the end when the charlatan psychic confesses all his visions about the Jack the Ripper murders were inventions: "I made it all up, and it came true anyway". It's one of many testaments to the magical connective power of stories and more so in this case to the utter power of Cochise and the Apaches even as we have tried so hard over the last 150 years to render them utterly powerless. Ethan and I may not get it all right in the end, and we can't hope to match the depth and humanity of this insane period of our shared history with tribal people, but if we're lucky we'll get close enough to the facts to be true. Not just to mourn them, or ourselves, but to awaken them into life again and embrace them as ourselves. As our history. 

  You have to wait until June 2016 before you can read INDEH. Plenty of time to read this book by Roberts and see for yourself what you've been missing about your own history all this time. I promise you will thank me a million times over, and be hungry for more. Because I think alongside all the other similar tunes we're playing, we all just want the stories to be told, to be heard and to live as any other aspect of our past lives with us, free of our desire to hide from it because in doing so, we hide from ourselves and forget who we are. 

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Jonathan Levine Gallery - infra:REAL - IMAGINATIVE REALISM

Left:   Unseen   by  Brad Kunkle                                       right:  Passages  by  Dorian Vallejo
infraREAL - The Art of Imaginative Realism 
August 05 - 22, 2015

Jonathan LeVine Gallery 
529 West 20th Street, 9th floor
New York, NY 10011
557C West 23rd Street
New York, NY 10011
Curated by Patrick Wilshire

Next week will see the opening of a new exhibit at the Jonathan Levine Gallery, representing another step toward the recognition of Imaginative Realism as a major undercurrent in contemporary figurative art.  While this show only touches the surface of the incredible talent working within the field, it offers a wonderful survey of the pluralistic voices of artists which have made this genre their home for decades.  Below are a few thoughts from the gallery and an article from the website WideWalls.

Red Sugar  (in progress)  by  Rebeca Leveille Guay
Patrick Wilshire Curates infra:REAL - The Art of Imaginative Realism at Jonathan LeVine Gallery
Anika D. 
One of the most voluminous shows in the field of imaginative realism will be on view at Jonathan LeVine Gallery in New York during the month of August. If you’ve ever wondered how visions of metaphysical, subconscious and surreal can come to life through detailed objective and realistic representation, thirty-seven international artists, brought together for infra:REAL – The Art of Imaginative Realism exhibition, are bound to demonstrate through their extensive line of artworks. The exhibition will be guest-curated by Patrick Wilshire, historian, collector and imaginative realism specialist.
Pagan   by   John Jude Palencar
Imaginative Realism in Contemporary Art
The art of realism depends on the artist’s observational abilities and his technical skills in visual repetition of objects as they are seen in their nature-like forms. This representation of ‘natura naturata’ in Spinozian terms, is seriously challenged once it comes to the artistic styles that keep their connection to the aesthetic of realism but represent objects or landscapes that can’t actually be found in the real surroundings. The art of imaginative realism at infra:REAL exhibition is dealing with this kind of artistic engagement, exploring the way in which visionary and imagined objects can be transposed into realistic imagery. The works of the participating artists vary in their individual style but some shared motifs or inspirations can be singled out, such as their inclination to mythical and archetypical imagery and exploration of subconscious symbolism in individual and collective terms. These artists depict our shared memory of the past as well as the visions of the future with the common thread being the use of traditional and classical techniques in representation of narratives, whether they are imaginary or real.  

Haven   by   Michael C. Hayes

The Artists of Imaginative Realism
Some of the most illustrious contemporary artists, creating their works in the field of imaginative realism, are invited to participate in the staging of this monumental exhibition. The line-up for infra:REAL exhibition is vast, and we are bringing the list of names in whole. The roster will feature the following artists: Allen Williams, Anthony Palumbo, Billy Norrby, Bob Eggleton, Boris Vallejo, Brad Kunkle, Brom, David Palumbo, Donato Giancola, Dorian Vallejo, Eric Velhagen, Greg Hildebrandt, Ian Miller, Jeffrey Watts, Jeremy Mann, Jim Burns, Jim Pavelec, John Harris, John Jude Palencar, Julie Bell, Justin Sweet, Kirk Reinert, Laurie Lee Brom, Marc Fishman, Matthew Stewart, Michael C. Hayes, Michael Whelan, Patrick Jones, R. Leveille-Guay, Rick Berry, Robh Ruppel, Scott Burdick, Stephan Hickman, Thomas Kuebler, Vincent Villafranca, Virginie Ropars and Wayne Haag.
Opening Reception with the Artists
August 5th (two locations)
557C West 23rd Street : 6-8pm
529 West 20th Street: 7-9pm 

Promethean Costs   by   Donato Giancola
Imaginative realism is the cutting edge of contemporary realism, combining classical technique with postmodern narrative subjects. Focusing on the unreal, the unseen, and the impossible, this genre offers visions of humanity’s mythic past, its unexplored future and, in some cases, its terrifying present. Just as science fiction serves for many as the archetype of postmodern literature with its fascination with the “other” and the unknown, imaginative realism brings this same narrative to the figurative arts. 
infra:REAL is a group exhibition in the most classical sense, presenting the width and breadth of imaginative realism under a single banner. The exhibition features the work of thirty-seven artists, all of whom share a fascination with the narrative of “What if?” and have a strong connection to the mythic taproot that burrows deep into our collective subconscious. Their technical approaches vary, from academic to avant-garde, but all are among the finest realist artists in the world, turning your vision “infra-real” and giving a glimpse above, below, and beyond the reality that both comforts and restricts us all.     —Patrick Wilshire, Curator

Lord Kashaol   by  Brom

Moon Children    by   David Palumbo

Wednesday, July 29, 2015


-By Jesper Ejsing

Here is a magic card illustration I did a while back for the Origins set. The setting is Thereos, a Greek inspired world. The description asked for a spiked-ridged boar charging out from a cave mouth, the bones and remains of fallen heroes scattered around the canyon bed. I had not much to play with for the setting to sell the Theros world placement since I had no buildings or people. I settled on the very clear helmet flying in the air and a strong sunlight adding a lot of bouncing light.

This is one of the rare paintings where the steps went smoothly from one to the next and with me hardly changing anything.  The thumb is simple and clear. I wanted the cast shadows from the cliffs to cover part of the pig to make him emerge from the shadows. It is also a very nice tool for adding, almost a flashlight-like spot, to the focal point.  When sketching the cliff sides I tried to think more on shapes and compositional direction rather than detail. The shapes function as directionlines for the movement of the pig. I think these lines are very important. But I must also be very clear that they are not something I make up before hand and let the drawing be dictated by them. The easiest way is for you to be open for them to be able to recognize the ”good” lines while the happen during thumb process and use them, and even enhance the rythm they give to the sketch. Often you will have to clean up lines or elemnts that ”muddies” the image to make the lines you keep more important.

Recently I have found this cleaning up proces very rewarding. Less is more. But also, at the same time as I have been simplifying my drawings ( less elments, stronger shapes, better direction lines ) I have instead enhanced the detail levels within the shapes. Take the head of the Boar as an example. I have added nothing since the initial thumb sketch in form of shape, but instead added all kinds of skin texture and color details and smaller wrinkles and folds. These details makes the image seem rich, even though it has been tidied up to an almost boring detail level.

As ususal I transfer the sketch to a watercolor board by smearing a blwn up version of the thumb with graphite and pushing the lines down onto the board. I try to only transfer the most important lines and then I redraw the whole thing on th eboard to keep it fresh. Then I ink it with a waterproof pen and adds greytones for values.

I masked the figure out using frisket film and started on the background. I pulled out my Grand Canyon book and found a photo of some stones with lots of bounching light.
In creating the stone texture I try to just let the brush dot away on its own. I stab and push some paint around until it creates shapes I can use as rock formations. When I have some shapes I begin to enhance the structure by adding the light and colors from my photo ref. In this case lots of orange and yellow in the surfaces pointing down and almost white/yellow for direct sunlight. Notice how little of the cliffs is on the transfered sketch and how much is happy accidents. I think rock shapes can easily becomes to dead if they are planed carefully. I used a purple tone for depth in the rocks since I needed an area to fall back into the distance. To be able to read the hind legs as dark I had to add a mist to the lower part of the rocks. The Boar I chose to paint in a slightly bluish tone to have a good contrast to the orange/yellow background.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Should You Get a Master Degree?

-By Scott Bakal

Are you finding yourself pondering about going back to school for a Masters degree?

Frequently from students when I do lectures for illustration programs around the country and occasionally professionals as well, I am asked questions about going into a Masters program and whether it’s a good idea or not. It’s a topic sometimes revolving around a bad job market or fearful about making a living starting out as an illustrator and wondering if these sorts of degrees will help their chances getting work or help them improve as artists and illustrators. It’s a fair question.

My own story of how I decided to go into a Master’s program and which one I decided to select is complex and would require me to double the length of this post. If there is enough expressed interest, I may post about it. I spent years dismissing the thought of working toward anything higher beyond my BFA from School of Visual Arts. I finally made a decision when many variables lined up properly and it made sense to seek out a program and I choose one that would work for me.

These are some of the various questions I’ve collected that I’ve been often asked. Hopefully, this will help give some light on different facets of the decision to move forward and how to choose a program. If there are other questions, I will try to answer them in the comments below.

Do I need a Master's Degree as an illustrator?

No, of course not. There are many artists that lack even Bachelor Degrees who have done quite well as illustrators.

When teaching, I tell students that they will likely go through their entire life as an illustrator and not a single client will ask about their grades or their schooling. If they do, it’s probably more conversational than a test. Art buyers want to see good work and a history of doing good work. Your art is what is going to get you hired, not the degree.

I’m not suggesting undergraduate or graduate education is pointless. A new artist does have to learn their craft somewhere if other sources are unavailable. In most cases, there just isn’t enough information to high school students or from their families to go out and find other educational angles to achieve the same goal outside the norm.

Do I need a Master's Degree as a new illustrator?

Many students are thinking about going right into Master's programs as they finish walking across the stage to collect their BFA degree. I’m often surprised about this. My usual comment about this is ‘before you jump right into a Master's Program, are you sure you want to be or are even going to be an illustrator?’ I often get a giggle when I say this but it is a very important question, especially when we see the realities of how many illustration students do NOT remain illustrators.

I've recently spoke to someone I've known for a long while and she was a graduate from a top 10 art school.  She got a full-time job in a related field in New York City while she got her act together to start illustrating.  After a few years seeing first hand how the business works, she told me that she was going to end up in another field other than illustration.  She met too many illustrators that just couldn’t earn enough and she wanted to, and I quote: “have a normal life…and that requires money”.

My usual recommendation for any student just leaving an undergrad program is to wait a couple of years and make sure that it’s where you want to be before you incur additional student loans which is a consideration and part of the equation.

There are exceptions to the rule. Everyone has his or her own path. I know quite a few current illustrators that went right from BFA to MFA and are doing well. But, I could count them on two hands compared to the thousands that graduate every year who don’t do well.

I might want to teach. Do I need a Master's Degree to be a teacher?

The simple answer is no. The complex one is ‘maybe’.

At many schools around the country like my alma mater, School of Visual Arts; most teachers don’t need Master’s degrees because they are all considered ‘adjuncts’ at the school and professional experience is more important than a degree. To be an adjunct, a terminal degree is generally not needed. Also, a school like SVA is a private school so that system can be more flexible. It gets tricky if you want to teach at a university or state school. In those cases, yes, there may be rules in place that require all teachers, full time or even adjunct to have a Master’s. Some private schools are getting stricter about this rule as well because of rising accreditation standards.

If you want to teach full time, then most likely, yes, you’ll need a Master’s degree. At the very least you may need to sign up for an MFA program as part of the terms to getting hired. To reiterate, it’s largely dependent on the school and their policies.

In short: a Master’s degree is becoming more and more important for getting hired as a teacher. If you want to have a wide range of possibilities and choices in selecting where you work if you decide to teach, then a Master’s is probably the best way to go.

But then you have to ask the question...

Do I even want to teach?

Teaching is not for everyone. Oddly, I’ve had conversations with illustrators who wanted to get a Master’s for teaching but never taught. I know artists who discovered they do not have the patience for teaching and/or academic environments. I strongly recommend teaching as an adjunct at one or two schools for a few years before making any decisions about an MFA for teaching purposes.

Which program should I sign up for?

Each program runs on its own logic and has its own strengths and weaknesses. There aren’t too many major MFA in Illustration programs out there so it should be fairly easy for anyone to research, visit and figure out what they want as artists and what the program can offer to fulfill those needs.

There were two schools I was considering and each offered what I wanted in different ways but for one of the programs, I would have had to be there consistently every week for the entire duration of the program. That was a problem. I’ve been away from the ‘student lifestyle’ and working as an illustrator for 10 years when I decided to go for it. I had life expenses that would require me to continue working so cutting any income out just couldn’t happen.

I decided on a ‘Low Residency’ program after honing it down to two schools. I chose the University of Hartford. NOTE: I actually started at Syracuse University but finished in Hartford – another complex story for another time.

The ‘Low Residency’ model is meant to be a program for working illustrators and considered a ‘professional’ program. This means applicants are preferred to have (but not a rule) 5-10 years experience working in the field. Coming into that program, it was usually under the assumption that you had a significant client base and understood the business already. It’s not necessarily a program of drawing and painting classes either. If you want to improve on that, you certainly could but most wanted to expand themselves creatively in their own way and develop their businesses.

Figuring out what you want for yourself is very important and will help dictate which program you enter and whether it fulfills those needs. Do you want to improve artistically? Improve your business? Expand your teaching role? Each program tackles each of those questions differently. Being honest about yourself and what you want to improve in yourself will not only help dictate a program that works for you, but define what you want to leave a program with.

When I started a program a little over 10 years being a working illustrator, I was very keenly aware of what I needed and wanted to get out of a program which drove me to make sure that I got the education I wanted. This knowledge and experience made the costs and time commitment worth it.

Reflecting back 10 years since I started the MFA program, I can say that it was one of the best choices I’ve made as an illustrator.

If you’d like ask other questions, I’ll try to answer them in the comments below.

Scott Bakal is an award-winning illustrator, including being honored with the 3x3 Magazine’s Illustrator/Educator of the Year. He is an Associate Professor at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design.
Website: http://www.scottbakal.com