Last week, eighty-four science fiction and fantasy artists gathered at Amherst College to attend the third annual Illustration Master Class, Rebecca Guay’s finely-tuned week-long workshop spearheaded by faculty artists: Rebecca, Boris Vallejo, Dan Dos Santos, Donato Giancola, Scott Fischer, Irene Gallo, Julie Bell, and myself.
Each day started at 10 am, and contained two one-hour lectures, intense one-on-one instruction, three all-you-can-eat meals, and an evening of hard work that carried on long into the night and early morning hours.
A set of assignments from art directors Irene Gallo and Jeremy Jarvis drove the students toward an illustration by week’s end, starting with thumbnail critiques and ending, as best they could, with a finished painting.
Third time’s a charm as we rocked the attendees with killer lectures that ranged from practical nuts and bolts, like shooting reference and canvas preparation, to inspirational and philosophical issues about what inspires us to paint, and dealing with the dreaded question, “where do you get your ideas from?”
This year’s powerhouse guest instructors were James Gurney and Jeremy Jarvis. Jarvis knocked the artists out with frank and funny insights of the art director’s perspective that brought down the house. Jim Gurney stunned them with his timeless painting process of pictures from Dinotopia: Journey To Chandara, and then rocked their world again with the greatest lecture on color this artist has ever seen.
Donato explained his rise through the business with a lecture on ‘Why I Paint,’ while Dan Dos Santos and Scott Fischer delved into how they construct their paintings with reference bending and bent our minds as well. Rebecca Guay stirred their imaginations with a beautiful array of paintings that rely heavily on her unbridled drawing skills. And of course, Boris and Julie showcased their ability to dream up such maniacal creatures.
Tor.com’s Ms. Gallo explained how the whole publishing biz works, with new commentary on what’s going on with e-publishing. I tested my personal theories about painting with a lecture on ‘talent.’ The students were enthusiastic to embrace the idea of Deep Practice and focused ambition.
Laughter was a key element for weathering the fourteen- to sixteen-hour days that seem a hallmark for the enthusiasm that radiates through the attendees. I commented during the intro to the workshop that we are so serious about painting that no one needs to act serious. We already knew: they were there to pour their hearts out on paper and screen. And pour they did, as evidenced by their work.
We painted, preached, and produced through the week with the kind of focus rarely seen in the art world. The students listened to our coaching and engaged the process needed to fire their imaginations.
Every year, we try to give the artists every last ounce of our experience, and every year we’re amazed at the progress and the breakthroughs. We’re exhausted like the students, but already looking forward to next year’s Illustration Master Class.