If you have talked to me during the past few months, you will know that I am very happy with my career NOW. Not that I haven’t been happy with my career during the past thirty years, I have, but now I am where I have always wanted to be.
When I first started my career, every painting for every publication was a challenge and a step forward. At one time early in my career, I want to see just how many publications I could do a cover for. I also dabbled in comics, which I really enjoyed, but I knew that painting was my real challenge and pleasure. After around eighteen years of publication work, I knew that my true joy was painting what I wanted to paint, not simply being an illustrator which made me a tool to be used by an art director or a client with money. But I was trapped, in a way, by my occupation itself, I wanted to paint, I did enjoy illustrating, but I couldn’t just stop and start doing my own thing and hope that every month I could sell a couple of paintings to pay the bills. Soon my children were in high school and then college. So I had to keep illustrating. I tried to take on jobs that would give me more freedom to inject my own ideas, but they were few and far between. I guess, because of my upbringing, I had a very hard work ethic and, as I was taught, if someone is paying you good money to work for them, then do what they want and please the “boss” so that you would not loose your job. Both my parents are still alive, my father is 88 and my mom is 83, they grew up during the great depression, in rural Kentucky…so it was hard and work was scarce or non-existing. Just hard work on the farm to stay alive. So, I took their advice and that was my approach to every job in life. After college and the army I started my career as an illustrator and that was my work ethic–I did what I was told. On a few occasions I would argue with the art director, trying to convince him to let me do the job a little bit more “my way”…but I didn’t argue too much, I had to make a living and he was the “boss”. I always looked up to those illustrators that would argue and had the attitude do the art their way or not at all. Many of these guys were single or their families hadn’t grown enough to be in high school or college, so it seemed, to me, that the paycheck was not as important them. So I am guilty for not standing up for my thoughts and ideas on many many jobs.
My best paintings over my long career were the ones that I had total freedom or almost total freedom. My wife always told me that she could tell when a painting was “mine”…the ones that I did my way. She said that she could see a part of me in those. Many of those paintings were Dragon Magazine covers, and the early Dragonlance and D&D work for TSR. Larry Smith, the editor of Dragon, would just give me a topic and let me do the do my thing. Sometimes I would actually show him a painting that I had done for myself and he would save it until the magazine was doing a piece on that subject, then he would publish it as the cover. My wife was right about those paintings that had “me” in them, they were my best ones. I have had many ideas over the years that I have wanted to paint, but making a living got in the way and those paintings were put on the back burner. I had ideas that I have hoarded, saving those ideas, not wanting to use them in a painting on the cover of a book or game, but I aways wondered just exactly when could I do those paintings, when would I ever get the time? I cannot just do a big painting and then HOPE I sell it sometimes so I could pay the bills each month, so all those ideas and all of “my personal” art was again pushed back for another time.
One other thing that always bothered me, when would I ever get the chance to do a painting that was 100% of my ability? When I was younger and worked 16 hours a day painting, I could do two oil paintings a month at about 80% of my ability and still meet the deadlines with a little time left over for my family. Always deadlines, I lived and died by deadlines. The quality of my work was always controlled by deadlines, it became that math formula that Keith Parkinson and I complained about all the time–quality divided by time equals end product! During my whole career only about ten or twelve paintings were painted at 100% of my ability. It was a sacrifice I had to make, at least I thought it was, I had to pay the bills, keep the family going and happy so I could continue to paint and draw for a living–the cycle of life as an artist
As I got older, the desire to do my own work grew so strong that I wasn’t happy with my art, wasn’t happy at all and along with that there was a growing feeling of desperation. I am not going to live forever and for those that know me, I tend to live life to the fullest and I have always been a risk taker. Someday, it will all catch up with me…I will go out like a light bulb—LOL, but I had rather “live” life than be a spectator….”make memories”, I have always said that and I still do. When would I be able to do MY ART??? For the past several years I have been searching for a way to do my art and continue to have a fairly good cash flow…”make a friggin’ living”—-the curse of creative people. About six years ago, I started doing personal contract paintings for individuals, instead of publishing, but I didn’t like it, again, I was told what to paint—but they paid good money ! I was still in the same mess. I started doing more and more conventions which turned into a vicious annual cycle…the more conventions I went to the more conventions I was invited to, so round and round I went for about four or five years. I did around 12 to 14 convention a year and hardly did any art…I had no time… I was only doing about one big contract painting a year and a few small ones…..I think it all was a subconscious avoidance of my desperation to do my own art and somehow keeping a decent cash flow. I was getting more miserable and the desire to do my own art was overwhelming. I had been trying to figure a way to do my own art and make a good living for years–YEARS. To do this, one must be booked up–have a full schedule doing their work, in other words, if it takes me a month to do a piece, then when I finish it, I must get paid and immediately start on the next one and on and on—CASH FLOW!
At a convention in Italy, last year, I had a great discussion about my frustrations with a fellow artist and dear friend, Ciruelo. Ciruelo is like a sainted guru to me…when we get a chance to really talk about art and creativity and all that “stuff”—I feel like I am in heaven. He always inspires me, he touches those creative strings of my soul and always strums some beautiful chords that fires me up, lights a brighter fire in me and let’s me know that I am the one, Larry Elmore,–the ONLY one that controls MY creative destiny…and that each of us, that are creative, have been blessed with the ability to dream, we have a piece of that magic and it is up to us to dig down deeper into our creativity and to use it to our best abilities and the most important thing of all, is to share it with the others!!! Well, he did it again, lit a fire-storm in my little ol’ creative soul!!! I think that every creative person hits rough places and crossroads in their lives and sometimes a good talk with a friend can do wonders!!! Thank you Ciruelo.
Last year, I found a way to get scheduled ahead doing my own work, and I now realize I could have been doing this for a long time, which kind of pisses me off!!! I guess I didn’t realize how many people out there that were willing to buy my art—art done MY WAY. I realize that I am a known fantasy artist, or I wouldn’t get invited to so many conventions… but I have never realized just how much, I never really wanted to know, that kind of scares me. I never really wanted to be rich or famous, I only wanted to paint and draw and make a living from that…that is all. That makes me happy and it seems to make others happy, so what else could one ask for. SO NOW MY HUGE PROBLEM HAS BEEN SOLVED and my schedule is full for at least a year–DOING MY OWN ART–MY IDEAS!!!—I AM A HAPPY ARTIST!
In December of 2011, I finished all my contract work, well almost(I still have one painting, but it is one I want to do). Also during 2011, I stopped booking so many conventions. I went from 14 last year to only 6 conventions this year 2012. Next year I plan on doing only 4 or 5. I am now scheduling my life around doing my art. It all seemed to have worked out perfectly, I started my first one in January of this year. My plan is to keep this ball rolling until I die. I have so many ideas and scenes I want to paint. And the best part is that I control the deadlines and each of these paintings are done at 100% of my ability. So I can really see just what I am capable of doing–good and bad, LOL!
In Feb, I finished that first painting, titled “Vengeful Soul” (the painting shown here) and it represents me at this age of my life, painting at 100% of my ability. I like this painting and yes, of course, I see things already that I could have done better… but that is what I love about painting in oils, it is a lifelong learning process and honing of one’s skills….the paintings are NEVER great, they are NEVER perfect, they always keep you challenged—never satisfied! It has to be that way, I wouldn’t want it any other way. If an artist thought that each one of his paintings were perfect and he was totally satisfied with every one of them, then I feel that the artist is stagnated and to me that would be hell on earth.
The painting above is titled VENGEFUL SOUL, 36×27.5 inches. Oils on masonite.
As I tell every client, all my reference material for my paintings comes from my own imagination or if I use any photo reference, then I have taken the photo myself or have had a friend to take the photo for me. My paintings are original oil paintings on masonite. I do not use or copy any photos that have been published in any form including the internet. I do not use photos posted on the internet for artist to use (copyright free). I photograph models myself, although sometimes I may use different parts from different models to compose a new look or pose for a painting. Early in my career, I was at an art show with a friend, my friend. I saw a painting I really liked, I was admiring it and told my friend how creative it was and how it captured an earlier time so perfectly…My fiend was a bit of an extremist, when he did something or collected something, he went all the way…he told me, that yes the painting was nice but the painting was from a National Geographic magazine published in the 1940′s, he even told me what month it was published in…..I couldn’t believe it, the next day, he showed me the exact magazine…he collected National Geographic Magazines, he had them ALL! This experience did something to me, so from that point on, I never wanted a person to look at a painting of mine and say, I know exactly where he got that pose or that tree or that landscape!!! I want them to look at that painting and I want it to be new, fresh, noting in the painting that they have exactly seen before…unless they have been to the place where that particular tree grows, or where that exact rock is embedded into a hillside….or they actually know the model that was used. And even still, I even make changes to my reference material that I use.
The details below and the image above is color corrected as best as I can for computer viewing. The original looks much more realistic in it’s colors. I have had this idea and layout in mind for several years, I finally did a complete drawing/layout for the painting last year and when the drawing was seen, almost immediately I got a contract to do this painting and a mate to it as well. At first my old illustrator way of thinking took over and I started doing drawings that I thought the client would and I tried to match or make a “mate” for this painting….I was having problems. Finally I decided to forget about fabricating a piece of art that would mate up with this painting and just started doing more drawings that I wanted. This year I will be doing a series of paintings, the series will be titled “PLACES OF POWER”, So I continued to work on those drawings and not thinking about a “mate” painting to anything else I had done. And after three more drawings, I did one titled “The Witness Tree” and –what do you know, it was a mate to this painting. I am working on that painting now, it is around a third of the way finished. I will post it here when it is finished.
This painting was a lot of fun to paint, if you could see the original you would see a lot of depth in the paint itself. I did a lot of glazing, especially in the darker areas of the tree, weeds and grass. The painting may look “tight” but actually didn’t get down with a triple zero brush and hold my breath…I felt very free in all the background, just followed my drawing pretty much and let it happen. Now on the girls face, I must admit, I had to drag out a pretty small brush for her face and on some of the decorations on her clothing. Other than that, the painting flowed along pretty good.
Prints will be available soon. I will post here on my website and on facebook when they are available. They will be very limited and only in two sizes 24×36 or the original size of the painting as limited Giclees at 27.5 x36. on canvas or masonite.
This detail is not just about the girl but the mountains and miles of forest as well. The mountains were glazed several times with blues purples and orange.
The details below are of the big tree, grass, weeds and rocks. the darks were painted first, working to the lighter colors and then to enhance this, I used glazes to give more depth and light plus make subtle color change