Sunday, December 31, 2006

Happy New Year!

After much procrastination, I finally made it out to the Haggin Museum in Stockton, CA to see the J.C. Leyendecker show. As is the case with many illustrators today, Leyendecker was a major influence and inspiration during my schooling days, so you can imagine my joy at getting to see thirty or so paintings in person.

Unfortunately, beyond the world of illustrators, he's little more than a ghost. The show captioned him as "America's 'Other' Illustrator", knowing that despite their own comprehensive collection of his work, most of the American public today have no idea who he is, unlike America's best known illustrator, Norman Rockwell. Of course, Rockwell himself made no effort to hide the fact in his autobiography how much he looked up to Leyendecker, who was already a big name in publishing when Rockwell was still getting established in the industry. Rockwell even tried to imitate his style, which can be seen in some of his early coverwork. But in the end, he confessed that he did not have the patience or ability. Whether this was the truth, or admirable modesty (I feel it was the latter), the fact remains that he continues to live through his art in the hearts and minds of people today while Leyendecker wrestles with anonymity*.

In considering the fate of a couple of my favorite heroes in illustration, I've also wondered where I'll be in a hundred years, when I'm long gone and there are only memories and pictures left. Self centered and egotistical as it may be, I feel that in every artist (and human being, really), there is a desire to be remembered, and so we are constantly trying to leave our mark.... I know this is no revolutionary concept, I'm sure we've all heard and related to the theory as to why cavemen painted on walls, or why everyone has a blog. Then again, I look back on my art school days, and I remember what the motivation was for my mentor, William Maughan, when he was first getting into illustration. How times were hard for him at 21, already with a wife and two kids. How he had to light the pilot light under the crawl space of his house every morning, and how he took a train into New York City just to use the phone booth to make his calls to art directors because it was too expensive from home. Thirty years later, he's doing much better, but you still get the feeling he's painting to provide for a family, not to glorify himself or to find a pat on the back.... I mean, he doesn't even have a blog! Bringing this all back to me (once again I'm afraid), I've wondered where exactly am I going with my art and illustration.

It's been a big year for me, after all. I was married in September, and together, my lovely wife and I bought our first home in November. It's been an incredible journey so far, and we're both extremely happy. Yet, underneath it all is this lurking fear that I need to make it big in art and illustration right now. That I need to find my style, my trademark. Naturally, any artist will tell you that you can't force these things. They come in time. We even copy our heroes until something we can call our own emerges. Like Rockwell out of Leyendecker. Or Jones out of Frazetta. Or Foster out of Wyeth, Hale, Berry, Jean (and etc as he will tell you). I would love Dutton to surface in the very near future (out of a bottomless pool of talent I couldn't begin to name).

But the more I think about it, it's not because I want to be remembered a hundred years later, and it really isn't because I have a mortgage payment either.... though I do need to get somethin' goin' real soon-ish if you catch my drift. I just want to be happy in everything I do, including art. I've got a great wife who lets me be me, and understands that I'm growing as I move along in my career as an illustrator. In return, I want to enjoy what I'm doing so that she doesn't come home to a cranky bastard staring at a blank canvas because he doesn't know who he wants to be. This is in some ways, my quick answer to sum up a few thoughts on what turned out to be a long bit of rambling, but there's definitely a lot of truth to it. But it's also not that simple. There's always going to be the struggle to find one's own voice, and learning how to express it. And I'll always have the have the fear of not getting all my ideas out in time. All I can hope for is to enjoy the journey as long as I'm around. Even if I don't always have the patience or ability.

With all that said, here are a couple ink wash sketches, inspired by Andrew Wyeth, one of the many heroes I have. The first one is mostly experimental. The second is a little more personal, thus the illegible writing. Happy New Year everyone, and may we find new ways to grow in the next twelve months!

* I may have made a bit of a "woe is me" case in Leyendecker's stead, when really, he was an intensely private man who probably did not mind the relative obscurity he eventually fell into. And really, he's the only illustrator who could boast today that in his prime, he received more fanmail than the biggest actor celebrity in that era, Rudolph Valentino. I aspire to receive two, maybe three pieces of fanmail.


Anonymous said...

Hey Mike!
Hope you have a great 2007.
The Ink sketches are great, the shadows especially on the second one are tops.

Ps. Just got my new site up too,

Cya Mike!

Bruce said...

how are ya doing? from the looks of things plugging along ok. You've inspired me to start a blog myself, but there's nothing on it yet, but I'll let you know when I do.

After reading your last post, I can say that I relate to your dilema about doing what makes you happy and having to do it now. I'm 40, so imagine my anxiety at times. But you are in a much better position than me and well on your way my friend.

So, from that cranky bastard staring at a blank canvas I wish you and Alex a happy New Year.

Bruce (madplanet from CA)

Anonymous said...

What beautiful thoughts...thank you for sharing them. I definitely can relate.

Let me say that I am still an aspiring illustrator/artist and am 41. Back in my twenties, I also wanted to "make it big" -- be known for a particular style, subject matter, etc, as well as make a living from my art. I had thoughts of grandeur as I painted the days and hours away...sacrificing, believing, and trying as best as I could. Unfortunately, in my thirties, disillusion came a callin' and that passionate idealism of my twenties was gone forever -- so was my career in illustration. My point is to say that it is really tough to keep one's eye on the goal (success as an artist) and produce "great" works of art. It always leaves room for second guessing oneself, which consequently leads to self-doubt and sterility in creating. It is much more important to create without thinking about what your art will amount to. Try to create without self-consciousness; your own uniqueness will come to be when you least suspect it...

You definitely are very talented -- much more than I ever was at 28 or even now.


Julien alday said...

Dear Mike,
I want first wish you "une bonne année et une bonne santé" to Alex and you. May you two have a wonderful, exceptional year.

Thank you for made discover to the poor little french man I am who is Leyendecker. I will search for more informations about this illustrator.

Good boy, I understand perfectly your fear, I feel the same really... sometimes I'm that anxious that I start to loose confidence [not only as an artist, but also as a man] and that's the best way to start struggling with your art. But hey, as you said, you are a lucky man: your wife [Alexandra la sublime] understand you and you know you can count on her... Man, that is priceless ! You have, like a lot of American people, a strong classic education but you got the skills, the sensibility... And really a strong identity, never doubt about that.

Read your words on our two blogs let me think that we will have some great conversations this spring, but please, let me choose the wine ! ;)

Force & Honneur !

P.S: I'm quite drunk for obvious reasons, so I hope my words sounds correct. I really apologies for my bad english.

Unknown said...

As I recognized previously we share a similar sentiment to our approach and philosophy in art/illustration. Often , the same things haunt me, as I am sure they do several illustrators and artists. My opinion, which counts for nothing, believes you have the ability to take this as far as you want. I sincerely believe that.

Oh - and I am sure if there was one illustrator who could squeeze a tear from these dead eyes of mine it would be you :P

Love the sketches -expecially the second one. Wyeth would be proud of that one!

Tom Scholes said...

...Depth charges at 200!

Seriously though, wise thoughts Mike. And sweet ink wash sketches, I need to give that a try :)

I really don't know why the Dutton door isn't being pounded down with more and more work - you're insanely talented. I think perhaps you need a better promotion and marketing department?

Mike Dutton said...

Hi everyone. Some responses:

Jake - Thanks, and though I've mentioned it in a couple places, it deserves to be said a third time here, your website(and the artwork in it) is fantastic.

Bruce - It's good to hear from you again. Sorry I've been a little out of the loop. I'm only ten years behind ya, which is a lot or not at all depending on the context, but in this, I can pretty much relate to your anxiety. Mine is due in large part to a few years I took off from art. I'm constantly kicking myself wondering where I could have been right now, and it still feels like I'm trying to play catch-up. But Happy New Year, and here's to many more filled canvases between the two of us!

Ana - Thanks so much for relating your personal experience. It's saddening, but I can appreciate where you're coming from. I went through a similar period of disillusionment, thus the few years I took off from art, as mentioned in response to Bruce. I guess it's a good thing it happened in my mid twenties. And really, the sooner I stop dwelling on it, the sooner I can concentrate on the present and just creating new work. In any case, your statement here is going to be my mantra: It is much more important to create without thinking about what your art will amount to. Try to create without self-consciousness; your own uniqueness will come to be when you least suspect it...

Julien - I was probably equally drunk New Year's Eve, but far far less eloquent than you. Your words were very encouraging and strengthens my own self assurance that I'm really a lot better off than I could be. I'm very much looking forward to good wine and good talks in just a couple months. :)

Scott - You know, I feel a lot like we're fighting the same battle together; maybe with different challenges, but we approach them with the same mentality and philosophy. So your word of encouragement means a lot to me. Thank Scott. I'll work extra hard on that tear jerker of a book when the day comes.

Tom - If you're offering intern services for promotion and marketing, then you are most welcome! I definitely can't hide the fact that my website in its current state is a real eyesore. And it'd help if I actually mailed out some promos or flew out to more conventions/publishers/employers. It's all in the works though and I promise my whining will gradually subside to an almost undetectable amount. ;)

Arkady Roytman said...

"It is much more important to create without thinking about what your art will amount to. Try to create without self-consciousness; your own uniqueness will come to be when you least suspect it..."
like you did for that last sketch, Mike. I know it may not be the most marketable "style" but if you keep doing more personal stuff that is at that level i'll keep you awash in fan-mail.

Tom Scholes said...

Haha, I'll take 15%. :P
Seriously though, I know there has got to be tons of work for 'an artist of your calibre' out there.