From illustration to fine art

I love it when someone actually asks me to talk about something. Kathleen asked in a response to the last post, "Would you tell us, if you can in a nutshell, about the whole experience of illustrator-to-fine-artist to missing/doing-the-illustrator’s role (at least for this assignment) again? I’ve noticed how a multitude of illustrators end up abandoning illustration for the fine art gig and I’m curious about that." Pagliacci 16x20 pastel

I will nutshell this to the best of my ability. I can't speak for every illustrator-turned-fine-artist but I can talk about my experience. My transition wasn't part of some big master plan, it was a natural segue from one to the other, similar to when the parents say, "get out of our house and godspeed". My first experience with plein air as commerce was when I did Carmel in 2002 or 3, I was doing well as an illustrator but always wanted to go out west to paint. Got in to the event and saw plein air at the tip of the tipping point. People lined up out the door and fighting to spend big bucks on paintings that were banged out over a two day period. I thought, okay, this could be good.

The diary of Anne Frank 20x24 pastel

In 2005 I was at my zenith as an illustrator, won a gold at society of illustrators, made the cover of the annual, was published in Communication Arts. I was the man. And then it just dried up. Commercial work went dead, thanks in part to the advent of software like photoshop, illustrator, painter, stock illustration and outsourcing work to India, and also expensive art schools pooping out talented kids like deer scat. The market just hunched over and went scatatonic. So I shifted to the fine art thing full time. Simple as that.

Fred Stone gouache

I love painting outside, I love paint, I enjoy the challenges of working through the calculus-like complexities of painting a scene. It's hard and it's even harder to do it when things change and move in front of you. But with illustration there was another level of problem solving that I miss. How to visually communicate an idea on behalf of someone else that tells a story or sets a mood or makes the viewers think a little. I love the idea. That's why I published the book on the opera poster paintings, it's not about the paintings themselves, it's about the ideas. Maybe it's why I've been looking for a way to incorporate the narrative back into my art. I really can't do people walking on the street scenes, for example, because there's no story. I suppose it's why I don't include a lot of people in my landscapes because they aren't what the painting is about.

susannah 24x30 oil

I particularly loved doing anything theater, opera, plays, movie posters, etc. I did a ton of them. Loved it because of the story that had to be told. And maybe because I didn't have to come up with the story, which never occurred to me until now. One thing for sure is that illustration was a great training ground, illustrators are great picture makers because that was their job. The nice thing now is that the line between fine art and illustration is totally blurred out, so much of the work done today could hang in any gallery. Illustration spawned the whole Juxtapose, Alternative art scene and is the foundation for modern day narrative art.

Nutshell: The idea is king.

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