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Restarting the Art Engine 2/3
13th Jul, 2020

It seems my resistance to doing artwork is far deeper than I first thought. There is still a burning passion for art within, but it’s not unleashed, and I do not know how to unleash it. I can write for hours, and I never have writer’s block. I have hundreds of essays for Sciror. I feel compelled to write, to express my ideas, but it never translates to art. Notwithstanding, my Sciror writings are not translating into articles either. Something is wrong with my process or my aim.

John Blanche

I took my original portfolio, to games day ’97. After blagging my way past security to get into the VIP area, I met John Blanche. A good man. He was kind enough to look through my work, and while the pair of us chatting away, he said (and I paraphrase) that I was “not an illustrator but an artist”. I didn’t think anything of it at the time, but the words stuck in my head. These words came back to haunt me, and later they led to an epiphany, which I’ll get to in a bit. Getting back to the story, He asked me what job I wanted, and I said ‘his’: to have free reign to paint large scale 40K posters. He smiled at my ambition (I assumed he smiled at that), but that job was already taken, and the studio was full. He asked if I could be an illustrator and pointed out the restrictions. Again, the whole artist-illustrator thing went over my head. I was so wrapped up in working for GW I was like the little engine that could; I think I can, I know I can! (Turns out: not so much). Mr Blanche tried to warn me that I was not an illustrator, but I didn’t know any better, and I couldn’t imagine any other options. I was a serious 40K fanboi, and I was all in! With my promise to work hard at illustration, John pointed me to the new start-up publishing imprint of GW, and to tell them he sent me, and that’s how I got my foot in the door with the Black Library.

Being an illustrator

I turned every cover commission into a poster, which was not the most practical idea. The problem with having a grand vision, while working as an illustrator, is that you’ll often be pulled off-course from what you want to achieve. While going through the background, running scenarios through your head, what inspires you to create ‘in the moment’, the image you see in your mind’s eye, is (obviously) not what you will be asked to paint. How can it be, the art director is not psychic. When you try to make it your own, you go too far as your vision pulls you, which means you are not following their brief. The art director will ask for changes, as what you are doing is not what they want. There is a conflict between your vision and goals, and what the company’s vision and goals. That is an incompatibility. If you think their direction improves your work and brings you closer to your vision, you are all for it and grateful. On the other hand, if you disagree, and you think it messes with your creation, it builds frustration.

If there is a disagreement you lose, and a good illustrator never disagrees, they make the client’s instruction work.

My first commission, the Blood Angel for the cover of Inferno! 34, I was asked to remove the tassel from the Plasma pistol. I explained it added flow, and without it, the art was less dynamic. They insisted: I removed it. The next change was, ‘they couldn’t all be blond as they are not clones’, even though the sarcophagus re-makes the Baal mutant into the image of their Primarch. And so it went on – death by a thousand cuts.

After a while, it wasn’t my vision; it was theirs, and that is the way it’s supposed to be. That is what being an illustrator is all about: their vision. My aim should have been ‘to be the best illustrator’, but instead, it was ‘to create the best 40K art I can’. I thought they were the same. They are not. Looking at it now; that was the disconnect, and not being aware of it meant it only got worse over time. I wanted it to be all about my vision. To share what I see in my head. That’s not to say the art I created was bad; it just wasn’t what I wanted. Not being able to chase my vision slowly drained my enthusiasm. More importantly, if you are unaware of this, as I was at the time, it can make you doubt your instincts. Along with this, it slowly dawned on me that I wasn’t on a stepping stone to doing my own thing, and force of will was not going to make it happen. This wasn’t something I had to endure to get where I was going; this was it. I wasn’t a new John Blanche, I was a guy doing illustration. It all culminated in my last commission falling apart, and that was that. BL and I parted ways. Art wise I was dead inside.

What is an artist anyway?

Getting back to John Blanche’s ‘warning’, about artists and illustrators, it’s probably a good idea to find out what the difference really is. Back in ’97 I didn’t have the internet, I never went to art school, and my little Collins dictionary was less than illuminating: ‘an artist who creates illustrations’ or words to that effect. Which sounds like an illustrator is an artist who works as an illustrator, therefore an illustrator is an artist, but artists can work at other things besides illustrator. Simple right? Once you know you know, there is no reason to look it up again. Or so I thought. When you start deconstructing your mind, you may have to go deep and start contemplating the foundation on what your perception is based on. It can get so deep your brain pulls a Clinton and starts ruminating on what ‘is’ is.

Pulling your mind apart is not always easy. Today we have search engines, and we can look up the definitions, but also articles on people explaining the differences. So that is what I did. Double-checking the basics, and for some reason, while doing this, John Blanche popped into my head. While it seems an illustrator is a specialised artist, precisely as I thought, it turns out it’s not that simple! There is nuance. The dictionary is often like a sound bite, and to get the full understanding of the word you have to put it in context. Now that I know the real difference between an illustrator, and an artist, down at the core, I realise I’m not an illustrator!

WTF. What kind of backward word bending mumbo-jumbo is “an artist is not an illustrator”, when “an illustrator is an artist who creates illustrations” is also true. I used to say on the forums that language is mutable and less than accurate, and this is one of those times. The only way to resolve this paradox is that there must be two uses of the word ‘artist’ overlaid on top of each other. Breaking it all down like a gamer, for a quick Philip definition; an artist paints their own stories, while an illustrator paints another’s stories. To use an analogy for another artist field; an illustrator is like a singer who doesn’t write their own songs, while an artist is like a singer-songwriter. Yet both are called ‘artists’. Confusing?

To make it weirder, if you are not weirded out already; I was painting 40K, which is entirely made up of a whole bunch of another’s stories, so how can I not be an illustrator when doing this? I’m literally painting another’s stories! By my own definition that’s an illustrator, right? Going all inception like: there is a difference between the creation of the background narrative, and the subsequent stories created from that background—stories inside stories.

A traditional artist uses the world around them to base their art on. They create their own stories from that reality. Sources can be first hand, a still life, a captured sketch, or reference from others; photos and articles reporting from all over the world. Anything can inspire. In a similar way, I was using 40K as my alternate reality and creating stories from that. To me, the GW background stories of 40K were ‘reporting’ of what happens in 40K. The illustration as ‘photos’ from around the Imperium. I created from that. In essence, (and this is carefully worded) there is a difference between creating your own story based on a background and then painting your story, compared to painting another’s story they created from the same background. The difference is razor-thin, splitting-hairs even, but it has a major impact on your art. It’s easy to miss.

The missing piece

Being an illustrator meant I wasn’t creating the story from the background, or coming up with the concept. The story was already done for me by the writer. The structure of the picture was already blocked out by the Art Director. The Author and the Art Director were the artists all along, and I was like a sentient program used to create the art. (I suppose, in the future, illustrators will be displaced by AI?) Artists are their own writer, their own art director, their own illustrator. They have full creative control to invent their own story, imagine it, and to paint it. I desired full creative control.

This creative control was missing from my work-flow while being an illustrator. The problem for me, is the ‘artist’ side of me never shuts down, and it started to push to the fore. I cannot shut it down, it never shuts up, it’s in my dreams, it’s everywhere. I could only ignore it for so long, even when it was screaming at me, as it would always find a way to express itself, and it did: Philverse

Philverse

Posting on Black Library’s forum, and then other forums, about my ideas for 40K became more and more important to me. I didn’t know it at the time, but it was the outlet for my creative control. I loved chatting with other fans. I wanted to create a sourcebook for myself and share it with other creators, fans, and role-players, all tempered with feedback and corrections from the fan base. All those thoughts became this website, a one-stop-shop for questions of how 40K actually worked, instead of relying on handwaving. The idea was to explain the 40k background in a practical way and how to frame it. It was my attempt to create a foundation to work from, and lay everything out in an ordered way. To counter the modern sceptical mindset, the tech-savvy fan, who finds it had to suspend their disbelief when confronted with the Imperium of Man. This was not an illustrators job; this was the role of a writer and an art director.

Of course, this was not what GW or BL wanted to do, and they didn’t like me posting all over their forums with my ideas and rallying the fans to my cause. I thought I was helpful, but in retrospect, subversive. I led to me getting banned from the BL forum for being too prolific with my thoughts. To get back on, I had to post my ideas in orange coloured text, and link to my ‘orange disclaimer’ in my sig. It became very clear that all the ideas I came up with to explain 40K would never be used officially, and they would never let me create a sourcebook. But the ideas were good, and a few authors picked my brains when they got stuck. Some sneaked a few of my ideas into their works under the radar. One author even gave me a credit in their book for my assistance. I knew that my ideas were good, but not for 40K.

Wondering in the desert

After I stopped being an illustrator, I wondered what I’d do. On the one hand, I knew I didn’t want to paint any more. I just didn’t like it. I had a visceral revolution to it. On the other hand, I liked creating 40K background ideas and concepts, and a lot of work I had already done seemed pretty sound. Other fans had christened my creations ‘Philverse’ or ‘Philhammer’ both a tag of praise and ridicule. Bless ’em. Fandoms have strong emotions, and that’s what makes them so much fun. This led me to think there was something to my fan creation, as others thought it was my own unique creation, and while some wanted it to be canon, others thought it should be separate, but most though there was some internal consistency to it. Combined with the fact that GW or BL would never use any of it, meaning it was in no man’s land, I thought I should do something with it. I thought: why not repurpose it? Why not rip all the GW branding out, and look at it for what it was: a unique background setting. So I repurposed Philverse into Sciror.

Sciror

I got stuck into working up Sciror, found a home on Troll Forged Miniatures, and Ed was kind enough to make me an admin and gift me a whole board. I figured that Ed and I would pull a ‘GW and Citadel miniatures’ combo: he creates the miniatures, and I’d create the rules and background. To this aim, I themed the forums to match a WordPress hosted free website, and created a store to also match using Ed’s hosting – bootstrapping was the order of the day – and merged everything to look like one website. Ed had a wonderful vision of providing new sculptors a platform to submit sculpts, and he’d cast them up and sell them in the TFM store. I wrote this all up as the ‘sculpting collective.’ We had some promising new talent. Everything was going great.

Ed wanted to go full time, so he created a Kickstarter. The saga of the TFM Kickstarter is an epic that has no end. Ed had to give it up to Impact Miniatures who were kind enough to take it off his hand and are continuing to fulfilling it. It’s been eight years, and Impact, good to their word, and still plodding forward. Ed had to move on so he could support his family and pay off his debts. He’s a good man, hard-working, kind, and a talent, and seeing him exit the industry, was a sad day indeed. It also meant the end of our collaboration, and that broke my heart.

Elephants

Life goes on, and I continued writing. While the early stages were fun to write about Sciror, sooner or later, I knew I had to deal with the elephant in the room: Sciror needs artwork to work. Which created a problem or two, a ‘string of problems’ that are all connected. The conundrum is thus: I ‘cannot’ do the artwork, so I’d have to rope in someone else to do it, but if I want what they create to match my vision, I’d have to be an art director, and that means at least sketching again, and if I can overcome my barriers to the point I’m sketching again doesn’t that mean I could paint again? Now I’m banging my head on a brick wall, and the quicksand of yesteryear seems preferable. Driven by my artistic instincts, which are now crashing into my psychological self-defences, I find myself spinning my wheels in a cage of my own making.

Hope

I hate doing artwork, but I love the images in my head, and I want to share them with everyone, but I really hate doing artwork. Having said that, I have hope: as love and hate are two sides of the same coin. If I hate it that much, then maybe, if the two halves of me patch things up, I’ll love it again? Probably wishy-washy romanticism, but it’s all I have. I have to find a solution, and this blog post is part of that solution. To figure out what is going on in my head and re-write my mind. Perception is everything in how you react to the word, and if it’s not working, and you find yourself with inner conflict, the chances are your perceptions are wrong, and want you think you want, and what you really want do not line up. If I want to escape the cage, I have to change my perceptions.

It like two halves of my mind are squabbling, with one-half none too happy with what the other is doing. I have to reevaluate my internal leadership style. Am I the good king or a tyrant? Leadership is far better at getting results than bullying: leadership strikes out on a new path with an implied invitation for others to follow, if they so choose, while bullying it demanding, pushing from the back, and there is nothing implied about it. Everyone resists a tyrant if they can, and it seems my other half is more than capable of sticking its heels in and refusing to budge. Take a leaf out of the real world; in dancing the man leads, but the woman doesn’t have to follow, she can refuse. If the two halves of my mind are masculine and feminine, then my masculine side is drunk on power and has been bullying my feminine creative side without even knowing it. My logical side thought it knew best, but it was ignorant. If you stomp your creative side, the less potent it becomes; until it pulls out its own hair and tops itself. It seems you can destroy it, as I did. Now I have to use my masculine side to strike out, and see if my creative side raises like a phoenix to follow me down a new path.

Part 3 will be up on Patreon soon for early access.

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Hearing feedback is very important to me in developing my ideas. Much of my designs are inspired, and crafted, by chatting to fans on forums before snowballing into a full concepts posted on this website. I would like to thank all those who have contributed critiques and participated in discussions over the years. If you would like join in, you are most welcome!

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