Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Lessons from the 2011 Illustration Master Class

The week-long Illustration Master Class came and went; While I was there it felt like maybe I'd always been there, but after arriving home and readjusting to daily life it seems almost like a dream.

For those of you who haven't heard of or experienced the wondrous event known as IMC, the basic concept is this: Take a group of hungry and dedicated fantasy illustrators, put them in a beautiful college campus environment with a dozen or so of the world's top working talent acting as faculty, stir for a week until magic happens. Between working on our paintings, watching incredible lectures, and surprise faculty demos, we all came together and celebrated the sense of family and community fantasy illustrators have, that I've mentioned many times.

Of the countless memories and information I'll take away from the experience, here's my top 5 list of lessons from IMC:

1. Good planning makes good paintings. Instead of doing 5 thumbnail sketches, make 50. Instead of shooting 10 reference photos, shoot 100. Doing more work in the planning stages will force you to think through all the challenges you'll face when painting, and come up with solutions before you start laying paint down.

2. Be meticulous about your reference photos. While I was modeling for another student's piece, faculty member Dan Dos Santos readjusted a light under my arm four times, for about 20 minutes, just to give the student exactly what her piece needed. You should take the same care when shooting. It's worth it to use the best equipment you can afford, to set up your lighting as close to what you want in your final image as you can, and to get models who understand your vision. Many of the faculty cited "getting great models" as a part of the success of their figurative work.

3. Copying Old Masters' paintings is a good way to build your painting skills. It might seem like a waste of time to stop what you're doing and reproduce an existing painting. After all, you won't get a portfolio piece out of a copy. But the exercise can affect the way you think about making your brushstrokes, blending and choosing your colors in your own art.

4. Practice constantly, but don't just practice what you know constantly. Your brain only builds new neural pathways through challenging practice, not repetition alone. If you do the same painting 50 times, you'll only improve at creating that one painting, so go a little bit outside your comfort zone when you can.

5. Make art for you. This was one of the hardest-hitting lessons at IMC for me. Find a way to inject something you love into every painting, whether it's an assignment with a strict style guide or a personal piece. If you're not sure, go through your portfolio and look at common themes you've chosen. Doing so will make it almost impossible to burn out on painting.