Many talented illustrators develop a style, find an audience, and enjoy a long, successful career catering to that audience. But there is a special place in my heart for illustrators who take their initial success and re-invest it in new challenges. In my view, that's the highest use for success.
In recent years illustration has experienced an epidemic of skillful artists who spend their careers polishing images of barbarians and half-naked women for the insatiable fantasy market. (Don't make me name these artists-- you know who they are.)
Greg Manchess could easily have joined this prosperous gang.
But Manchess turned out to be a true painter, one with the guts to explore a broader range of artistic challenges. He ignored the easy formulas for photo-realistic faces and long legged nymphettes, and instead asked harder questions about the epistemology of paint, its texture and its colors. Such questions made his job more complex, yet these studies of helmets ended up as confident as a clear trumpet blast:
Some contemporary illustrators have done well by repeating variations on pin up girl motifs. Their creative challenges seem limited to whether the girl will be wearing a black corset or a red corset in the next picture. By contrast, Manchess opens himself up to the full range of issues presented by legitimate figure painting.
By making his next job harder rather than easier, Manchess continues to mature as a painter at a time when many others are content to rest on successful recipes.
|Image courtesy of our friends at Tor Books|
Ralph Waldo Emerson urged young artists and poets not to be content with the "low prudence" of success. He said, "If ...God have called any of you to explore truth and beauty.... [e]xplore and explore. Be neither chided nor flattered out of your position of perpetual inquiry."
In his excellent regular column advising art students on how to think about their work, Manchess made a similar point: "You’ve made some progress at focusing and gaining some attention in the area that you are thrilled to be working in.... That's when you can broaden your scope. That's when you can use that voice to tame other areas of the industry and get them wanting your vision....
Was that so hard? You bet your sweet pumpkin it’s hard. This is Creativity, remember? It doesn’t come all shiny new out of a box."