Between Greg Manchess and I, we must have at least 50 years in the illustration business and, still, every assignment is it’s own challenge. Except every once in a while... it’s not a challenge at all. It all just comes together effortlessly. (That is, if you ignore the fact that those 50 years is where all the effort was.)
In this case Emmy Laybourne’s story, Dress Your Marines in White, the whole process seemed as easy as counting. I read the story one evening at my favorite local Irish pub (Hi, Mollys!) and immediately thought, “Hrmmm, maybe something like this”:
It’s a tough story about marine convicts being used in a science experiment. If you’ve read it, you know why I wasn’t going to show the climax of the story. I liked the idea of them in line and all scruntched together, tense and faceless, as they are being used as lab rats. I also knew right away that Greg Manchess’ painterly style was needed to convey the aggression I was hoping to see. It’s an idea that is as much about the application of the paint as it is anything depicted.
I shot the above doodle with my cell phone and emailed it to Greg. He immediately agreed to take the job and started shooting photos of himself:
From a few quick reference shoots he created the drawing below. Initially I told him to leave out the hand-cuffs mentioned in the story, that we would crop in close. When I saw his drawing, I was so thankful he ignored me. Not including their legs highlights their confiment. It is both unsettling and perfect.
After just one sketch, he was off painting. It seemed like only few hours from reading the story to completion.
Greg said, “It might’ve felt like it came out of nowhere, but when this happens, I know immediately that the many, many years of training kick in, driving the paint by what neuroscientists call ‘automaticity’, allowing my brain to have room to shift, change, edit, regroup, and embrace accidents on the fly, without having to remember how to mix paint, which colors to mix, where to place it, and so on. I’m engaged with the concept, the idea, and not so much about how to get there. There was no point at which this painting did not feel right. That’s what I look for every time I paint. It’s what we all strive for.”
Sometimes they’re easy. It may take 20, 30, 4o years to get there, but it’s a blessing when it happens.
Irene Gallo is the art director for Tor Books and Tor.com.