One year’s work

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So this is what one year’s creative output looks like (for me). It was a lot tougher to squeeze this year’s art into the photo than it was last year, and I was pleasantly surprised when I got it all together in one place.  (It’s also what one year’s beard looks like.  I was all stubbly this time last year.)

Putting your art out into the world is a strange thing.  I vacillate between bullish self-confidence and agonising self-doubt, often over the same picture, within the same hour.  I can cheerfully post fan art on twitter, on my website, on tumblr, even copying in other accounts, and then immediately cringe and want to take it back and/or issue formal written apologies and point out all the crap bits.

I know I’m far from the best artist out there. I also flatter myself I’m not the worst, and when there’s a particular image I’m proud of, I want it to do well.  It’s like entering your pet dragon into the Best Small Dragon category at the village fair (it really isn’t, but bear wth me). I give it a benevolent little push onto the stage, a bit of encouragement, I’m pleased if it gets a good reception, maybe a ripple of applause, disappointed if the audience runs screaming from the blazing tent.

But I’m also realistic about these things. If after a couple of tries and encouraging nods the whole thing isn’t catching fire then I take my dragon home and we have a nice cup of cocoa and we move onto the next thing.

Okay, now I want a pet dragon.

In a similar vein, I nearly exhibited a few pieces at the FantasyCon gallery in Peterborough. After some exploratory conversations I realised I didn’t have time to get everything framed, packed and sent by the deadline.  I also bottled it.  But it started me pondering about such things so I’m slowly starting to have a few bits of art framed in case I decide to exhibit them at future cons.  I’m quite pleased with how these two turned out.

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My fan art pieces from this year have already found their way onto the internet, here and elsewhere. I’ve done a lot more fan art this year and slightly fewer for Dublin. (I’ve also done a few pieces just for myself, some of which may show up in public in future, some of which were just test pieces.)  I’m still trying to find a good balance, but I have the luxury of coming up with my own ideas and mostly it’s about where inspiration takes me.   This year, inspiration has mostly taken me to Peter Capaldi who has one of those faces that was born to be painted.  I’ve also done old and new school Doctor Who, Blake’s 7, Deep Space Nine, Neil Gaiman’s Sandman, Jeremy Brett as Sherlock Holmes, Babylon 5, and Twin Peaks.  All favourites of mine, all done out of sheer affection for the source material.

Moving into acrylics last year (instead of scanning and  colouring my line art) has been good for my productivity, and increasingly I’m painting without a preparatory pencil sketch which speeds things further.  My portraits of Tom Baker, Roger Delgado and Jeremy Brett were one-evening paints (2-3 hours), Mira Furlan as Delenn took two nights.  If I painted like that every evening I’d be a lot more prolific, but sadly I don’t…

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The Tom one even found its way (at postage stamp size) into the letters page of Doctor Who Magazine, which would have delighted the 10 year old me who read it from Issue 1.

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Some of my more complex art has taken much, much longer.  I spent a month working most nights back in January for my detailed painting of spacecraft arriving in Dublin.  A more recent one took me 3 months (on and off, working and reworking).  I abandoned it once and overpainted large sections before I finally completed it to my satisfaction.  I’m glad I did  – I’m quite pleased with it now.  If I’ve learned anything over the last couple of years it’s to trust the process rather than throwing in the towel when a picture looks bad.  But it’s hard, sometimes.

I also tried some larger full face images like the framed Capaldi one above, and the Sandman image, which took about a week each. I might try a few more along those lines.

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I was also quite pleased with the raw emotion I got into this Peter Capaldi image, even though it’s not quite as achitecturally solid as some of my portraits.  I don’t want to just mindlessly regurgitate promo images in acrylic, and I go back and forth over whether this looks good or not, but I wanted that sadness in his eyes.Saint_Capaldi_(c_iainjclark2017_500w

My Dublin artwork generally hasn’t found its way here, and won’t until it’s been used officially by the convention so it’s hard to talk about it much (although if you squint  behind me in the photo at the top you can get a preview.) It’s been a huge year for Dublin, which won the 2019 WorldCon site selection unopposed, and things are accelerating. There’s already a t-shirt based on slices of my artwork available, which is a lovely feeling…

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I also took some postcards of my Dublin art along to this year’s FantasyCon…DK-OuJIWkAEh7dt.jpg large

I still feel like I’m finding my way with paint – a medium that, until last year, I’d seldom touched since A Level art – but just doing art is a great way of levelling-up.  As for next year, my wife just got me some water-soluble oils and some liquid acrylic colour, neither of which I have any idea how to use, so that should shake things up for 2018.  I’m also keen to paint more women and more people of colour — something that could probably be achieved by not painting Peter Capaldi all the time, now I come to think of it.

It’s all behind me

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To round off the year here’s a picture of me with the finished artwork I’ve produced in 2016. Most of it was produced with the Dublin bid in mind, the rest is fan art (which can be found in my portfolio).

skellig-beehives-excerptLooking at it all in one place it suddenly doesn’t seem like a lot (at least to me).  Roughly one a month.  I’m reminding myself that it was all produced in little windows of opportunity, in evenings, fitting around work and the kids. Also I’m really lazy, and the entire internet needed proof-reading.  So given that, it’s not too bad a haul. More importantly, it’s the most productive I’ve been in years.   I’m aware that I owe this surge  to the opportunity I’ve been given to provide art for Dublin, and I’m really grateful to Emma, Esther and the rest for kicking me out of a moribund decade or more prior to this. I’m making up for lost time.  If my art can keep pace with my exponentially multiplying gray hairs I might just come out ahead.

My earliest images this year (as last) were inked, scanned and then coloured digitally.  When I first started colouring my inks the most I might do on paper would be to paint an abstract watercolour texture to be scanned and overlaid in photoshop.  Increasingly this year the colours have become fully painted elements in their own right, making the final image a Frankensteinian assemblage of mixed media.

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This was working well enough, in the sense that it could produce an acceptable result, but was amazingly time-consuming: each part of the image had to be created and composited separately, and I was effectively doing each picture several times: in pencil; in ink; in paint; in photoshop.  One particular [beep] of an image took so long, and progressed so haltingly, that it began to feel like a creative process was turning into a frustratingly mechanical one. I was stifling whatever artistic mojo I actually possess through… well, sheer caution as much as anything.   Fear of making a mistake.  The final straw was when I accidentally saved over my master file with a much smaller version of the image.  Never to be recovered.

the_remnant_1000x738_ciainjclarkThere are plenty of wonderful artists who work only in Photoshop and produce phenomenal results, but I’m nowhere near that level.  And so in August I decided to try a complete painting.  You can see my very first attempt here, using acrylic on un-stretched paper.  It’s a raw bit of art in some ways, but it (and in particular the crater at the bottom) convinced me I might be able to do better.  I haven’t actually tried to paint since ‘A’ Level art, back when digital watches were a pretty neat idea and Doctor Who was still Sylvester McCoy.  I was never very good at it back then, but I’ve sometimes found that art, oddly, is something you can get better at even while not doing it.  Like being born with outsized paws and growing into them later.

tir_na_nog_excerptSince August I’ve produced six fully-painted images (including the two Doctor Who ones), initially at A3 size but rapidly moving up to A2 when I realised that I needed more space to create detail with a paintbrush.  I’ve also started using heavier paper, and stretching it on a board (okay, MDF coated with floor varnish, but you know, whatever works) which has really helped.  I’m still using acrylics, which dry quickly and can take a lot of overpainting so are quite forgiving of trial and error.  I’m learning as I go, but one advantage of workingshamrock-excerpt straight from sketch to paints is that I’m only doing the picture once.  When it’s done, it’s done, and it only needs a bit of a clean and polish in photoshop.  That means I can be more productive and get more more practice, and it feels creative again.  Not every picture suits being painted of course, but so far this is working out very nicely.  And if not doing art makes you a little bit better, maybe actually trying could pay off.  Sounds crazy I know.

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Flight Recorder
The Twelfth Planet
The Twelfth Planet

The Doctor Who images were well enough received on Twitter that I even made them available to buy.  I’m not expecting to make money, but compared to where I was with my art a year or two ago this is a big step.

It’s been a tough year in many ways (and tougher for others than for me).  It’s nice to have something that’s gone well over the last twelve months.