My Art, New Start

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


  1. Larry, I have been a fan of yours for over two decades. Your story gives me hope and inspiration. I have for the most part given up on finding the time to draw again…just not enough time with work and school. Someday…maybe I will pick up a pencil and sketch and illustrate another masterpiece. I am so glad to read what you have published here and even happier to see a new work. I am glad you found your spark again.

  2. Hello Larry,

    WOW … where to begin? I began seeing your art and following your career many, many years ago, back in the mid 80’s I’d guess, when I started playing role playing games with my friends, around the time I graduated from college in 1984. Of all the fantasy illustrators we saw on book covers, Dragon magazine and other places, yours was always the work that caught my eye most consistently. I sometimes bought books just because they had your art on them or in them. Something about your images energized me … and for me, that’s what visual art is all about … seeing images of life or imagination that lift me up and make me want to live more fully. And your art has always done that for me.

    I was delighted many years later to find out that we lived in the same part of the world, for I lived the first 42 years of my life in southern Ohio. I don’t know why, but it made it seem like I was somehow more connected to you and to your art, than if you lived, let’s say, in Australia. Silly perhaps, but there it is.

    As I finally found the woman of my dreams and got married back in 2008, I found myself drifting out of circles where fantasy stories and art were a part of my day to day life. We moved to the Seattle/Tacoma area and started a new life. On the inside, I had a journey I needed to go on … a journey of self discovery. It was a long, rough road from around 2002 to about the beginning of 2012. But during that journey, I finally connected with the REAL me … I finally got a clear picture of what I wanted to do with my life, my way, on my terms. What’s that? Well, that would be a long and completely OTHER story.

    But PART of that “true self” I found is the writer who has always wanted to tell stories that not only amused and delighted people, but also helped put them in touch with the REAL them, who was trying to break free and express itself, if only it could find a way. Somehow, I knew even back in the late 80’s, that I wanted my writing to be a blending of fantasy fiction and something that really grabbed people by the soul and gave them a boost of something that made it just a bit easier to actually BE the person they longed to be, rather than just thinking about it or dreaming of it.

    As I’ve begun exploring my own ideas for expressing myself through my fiction, I decided to take a look online to see what you were up to these days … and I read this blog post. It is SO inspiring. You have done what I have also been fighting to do these past few years … find a way to do what is truest to your inner self while making enough money that you didn’t need to work for anyone else on anyone else’s terms. I currently earn my wage writing technical manuals, which isn’t horrible work, but it’s a FAR cry from what I long to spend all my days doing … writing soulful and inspiring fiction and non-fiction (which I do whenever I can grab a few moments between work and family). Your story here is not only great in and of itself, but it inspires and encourages me to keep working toward that point where doing what I love to do, the way I love to do it, IS the way I bring in money, and not something that competes with how I bring in money.

    I have known for some time that it CAN be done, if I insist on making it my reality. SEEING you do it … knowing that you HAVE DONE IT … well, that only helps.

    I’m also delighted to see the work you are doing these days. I love it. And I am going to make it a point to begin setting aside some money to buy some of your art as soon as I possibly can.

    Your images, for reasons I can’t necessarily explain, have inspired me for so many years. You’re more than just a great artist. Your the kind of person that expands what it is to be a human being through the life you dare to lead. I know it hasn’t been easy, and you don’t seem to consider yourself to be any kind of hero. But anyone who dares to live life according to their own center, and keeps at it until they make it happen … well, that puts you pretty darned high up on my list of favorite people.

    I will share your story with others who share our passion for living fully and genuinely. Thank YOU for sharing it here.

    I’ll keep an eye on your site and continue exploring your work. It seems I have a lot of catching up to do.

    All the best,


  3. Hi Larry,thank you for such an inspiring insight into your life. I am an artist myself and have recently gone self employed. I’ve had more than a few sleepless nights wrestling with the same kind of arguments: commissions V my own work. At the moment I’m leading the double life of doing both but after many years of working for someone else and CONSTANTLY being under the thumb I can honestly say I’m happier at my work now than I’ve ever been. I’m doing my best to carve out a career for myself and your story has given me a real confidence boost. Thank you. Not bad considering I logged onto your site to see if I could buy a print of one of your Dragonlance paintings,the fellowship sitting round the campfire.
    Best of luck with all your work Larry,I’ve always been a big fan and as we say in Ireland, may the road rise to meet you,

  4. It does my heart good to see you painting without other people’s fingers in your paint. Your wife is right. You can definitely see the difference when it comes from you and it’s your vision / message, and not somebody else.

  5. About damn time.

    Just sayin.

    Love ya.

  6. You know I’ve been a fan for just about all my life. I’m glad to hear how happy you are with your career choice to do art for yourself. I hope I will some day be able to make that sort of decision. I’m sad to hear you won’t be doing as many conventions, but I hope you’ll keep us in mind down here in Mobile and come visit once in a while. It’s always a pleasure visiting with you and you continue to inspire me.

  7. You have been one of my favorite artists .. for about as long as I can remember. One of my favorite pictures you painted was of the Giant walking away from the adventuring group with the cleric healing the fallen fighter.. and it was a snowy setting.. incredible stuff. And I’m really happy that you found a way to be free, and do what you’ve wanted.

  8. I have to say that I too have enjoyed your work on my favorite series, Dragonlance. You brought those..hate to say characters since they truly inspire this reader…to life. I think you gave all you could. There’s always something else in the back of our mind but I’m not the only one who thinks your doing what you love for a living, a lot of people can’t say the same. Best painting I’ve ever done was a Bob Ross special…lol. Wishing you nothing but success. Regards, Arthur

  9. The details of this painting blew me away. The subtle variations of light on the trees and grasses are magnificent. Who needs a commissioned painting from you(though we all must confess to wanting one) when your own creativity and skills are more than enough for us to buy anything you paint. Also this frustration about making a living and not being satisfied with the end product is true for me as a meager artist as well. Thanks for your art and your inspiration. Keep the awesome artwork coming!

  10. Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!
    I’ve been a fan of yours since I lost my Mom in ’84 and would get lost in the world of Dragonlance, to forget about troubles for a while. If those paintings had just a little bit of Larry Elmore in them, I can’t wait to see what you do with 100% of yourself in your art. I had the humbling experience to meet you this year at the New Orleans comic-con, thank you, thank you your work has touched more people and will continue to inspire me and everyone else who sees it!

  11. Dragonlance was it for me. Your images and artwork brought that whole series to LIFE. Good for you for doing what you love, on your time, your way. Your an inspiration.


  12. I’m so glad that now you are painting your own ideas, Larry. I’m happy because you are happy, my friend. I look forward to seeing more art with all your heart in it, as I’ve always been one of your greatest fans.

  13. Beautiful, sensitive work, as always. I love the fact that you are moving into this stage, because the work deserves it. Heck, you deserve it.

    And guess what?! We even love you in China! Keep up the most excellent work, my friend.

  14. Larry,

    I can’t tell you how good this was to read. You’ve been an inspiration to me since the early 80’s. You’re one of the reasons I started drawing in the first place and your art has brought me many smiles. My imagination is a far richer place because of you. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for all your fantastic visual poetry…and I wish you the absolute very best in life, you AND yours.

    -Christopher R. ‘Zidders’ Adams

  15. Your TSR/D&D/Dragonlance art was what gave life to my childhood forays into fantasy realms. Through your art I was able to actually visit different worlds and have a wide-eyed magical childhood. I can never thank you enough for that, so I’m glad the world is finally thanking you by letting you do what you want.

  16. Larry, I have been a fan of yours since your TSR days – back in the 80’s. Your illustrations have inspired me as both a player and a dm for over 30 years. Personally, I have never seen a single piece of your art that I did not like. I admit that I have always loved your black and white work that was in the rulebooks of that era best, but maybe that was only because you had so much work to do that you could take more creative license with it.

    In this painting, I envision a Druid in her grove, near the mountains. She doesn’t seem too impressive personally. But her gaze shows that she is nothing to trifle with – and she totally means business! She strides toward the interloper like a lioness, waiting to pounce at the slightest provocation. Perhaps, she was resting up in that tree, watching their progress up until then in silence? Relaxed yet wary – What a delicious image :). I could almost see the tension in the players as the scene is unfolding – breathtaking.

    It is art like this that has fired my imagination for over 30 years and has shaped how I envision the games I have played in. Thank you Larry for sharing your dreams with me through your art. If it wasn’t for you I probably would have given up gaming long ago. <3


  17. It’s so great that you get to do what you really want after so many years of doing what other people want! One of the reasons why I am only semi-pro is that I don’t want my art to become something that I *have* to do, other than the normal, the artist’s need to create thing.

    I have to say though, doing art for other people can really push the boundaries of what an artist is comfortable with, and make them learn new things. For my good friend Ellen Million, I wrote a lot of articles for an online magazine (EMG_Zine I hadn’t contributed to the ‘Zine for most of its years because I didn’t know what I could write about. Two years ago I decided to start writing about whatever theme the month was. Some of them were like pulling teeth (like “Reflections”), but I always learned a lot. I get massive amounts of books from the library and research things to death! My main concern was being accurate.

    The last issue of EMG-Zine is this month, and I have mixed feelings, it has been a part of my life for about two years, there was always the “I have to get my article done!” pressure, I procrastinated a lot on the last few months’s worth. I always wondered how professional artists could deal with that pressure all the time, I love creating and learning, but having a constant deadline seems to burn me out. I’m glad you were able to deal with that, even if unhappily, in order to get where you are now; it’s the artist’s dream! :)

  18. I love anything you paint larry. I have been a fan for many years. In 1980 I started playing D&D and I think that is when I got into fantasy art as a whole. I would love to buy originals if I had the money, but I do buy books with your art and a couple others I am a fan of. As long as you keep making them I will keep admiring them. If I had a 10th of your talent I’d be happy. GL in the future and do what makes you happy! There will always be a market for talent like yours.

  19. Larry,
    You’re a favorite artist of my entire family. We all had the pleasure of meeting you at Dragon Con one year. My daughter is also one of those conflicted artists…she wants to do her own artwork but can’t find the time to fit it all into her schedule of also “making a living”. I need to share this with her so she can get her creative juices flowing again.
    I am in awe of the “Vengeful Soul” picture. It’s so realistic! The picture wouldn’t seem complete without the tree and mountains in the background….and,I wouldn’t want to come close to that woman in a dark alley!!!

  20. Larry my friend. Your memory will forever be entwined with my late husbands, E. Gary Gygax. Thank you for being the generous person that you are.