|Crystal Dragon cover for Asimov’s
– featured in SciFi Art Now
The format of SciFi Art Now – out this October – is such that it promotes the art of the creators, but there’s not much room to tell you more about them and their work. We’re publishing interviews with creators here to redress the balance.
Duncan Long started work as an illustrator/writer in 1985. Since then, he’s created over a thousand book and magazine illustrations. As a writer, he’s authored 13 novels (for HarperCollins, Avon Books) and 60-plus technical books (Paladin Press, Delta Press, Lyons Press, etc.), and ghostwritten over a dozen titles for radio and TV celebrities.
SciFiArt Now: Tell us a little bit about yourself and some of the work you have done.
Duncan Long: I’ve played on both sides of the publishing street, starting as a small publisher in the 1980s, doing the writing and illustration for the books I marketed via mail order. I soon discovered I loved the writing and illustration part but hated the marketing and paperwork, and so graduated to having other publishers handle that stuff.
Over the last decade or so I’ve migrated toward mostly creating book illustration and only occasionally writing a book or article.
The majority of my illustrations are done for self publishing authors, though I still do some work for larger publishers. Among those I’ve done work for are HarperCollins, PS Publishing, Pocket Books, Solomon Press, Fort Ross, and Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine.
Readers can see my best work online at http://DuncanLong.com/art.html
SciFi Art Now: What tools do you mainly use to create your art?
Duncan: I do all my work digitally, and generally don’t even make pencil sketches or the like. Digital is much faster and allows for experimentation on the fly, so it has become the most natural route toward producing artwork. Since most publishers prefer work in digital format and often request changes, this also does away with the need to scan paintings or drawings, colour adjust them, and so forth. Digital from the start is just a whole lot easier and faster.
|‘Roberto Aceves’ by Duncan Long|
My hardware is a four-core, memory-crammed PC with a Wacom tablet. Software is generally an old, old version of Corel PhotoPaint 8. I use other software from time to time including Vue. But most of the work is done in PhotoPaint.
SicFi Art Now: What inspired you to become an artist?
Duncan: I have just always loved art and drawing. As a kid I also loved the old science fiction book covers and such, so doing book cover illustrations is pretty much a dream come true for me, and something that seemed like I should be doing from the get go.
SciFi Art Now: What was the most useful piece of advice you were given when you began learning your craft?
Duncan: Actually it came from my music teacher: craftsmanship comes from practice.
You can’t just think about making artwork, you have to dive in and make more and more artwork, music, or whatever it is you’re intent on doing. Only when your craftsmanship is secure and the mechanics of production second nature, can you be free to realize in your performance what you imagine in your head. Whether you’re riding a bike, painting a portrait, or playing the piano, practice is where it’s at.
SciFi Art Now: Which artists most inspire you?
Duncan: About any famous artist offers techniques and layout that an illustrator can learn from. A few off-the-top-of-my-head picks: Leonardo Di Vinci, Salvador Dali, Norman Rockwell, and Michael Whelan. But it’s a list that might go on and on.
SciFi Art Now: What is the appeal to you of science fiction as an inspiration for some of your work?
Duncan: Science fiction is the melting pot of the arts. You can have a story set in any time past, present, or future; set anywhere from under the sea to deep, unexplored corners of the universe; and with any sort of character from an android wanting to be human to a human becoming a monster. Each new illustration project with a science fiction theme has a potential surprise or two and often will demand new solutions and even techniques to make the picture work.
|‘Agendas’ by Duncan Long|
SciFi Art Now: Do you have a favourite piece of work or project you have worked on?
Duncan: This is sort of like asking a parent which child is their favourite! I think My (current – it changes by the day) favorite top five would be “Agendas,” “Crystal Dragon” (which appeared as an Asimov’s Science Fiction cover), “Down to Earth,” “Treehouse Clan,” and “Roberto Aceves” (which was concept art for John Chadwell’s Werewolves of New Idria).
SciFi Art Now: In your career, have you had any bizarre experiences while creating your art?
Duncan: I think about the only notable thing was my bashing a keyboard apart on the monitor when things weren’t going so well (ha). But I generally am pretty patient and easy going (my story notwithstanding) and my life, pretty uneventful. I’ll have to try to make up some good stories, ideally involving the exchange of gunfire and a beautiful female model.
SciFi Art Now: What most frustrates you about being an artist?
Duncan: I think the current trend toward artwork by committee. When a project is under the wings of a good art director or seasoned editor, things generally go smoothly because that person has a vision and knows what works and what does not. They explain what they want, pick you because they know you can handle the work, and things are straightforward with results that I can be proud of.
|‘Treehouse Clan’ by Duncan Long|
More recently too many of those in the publishing industry seem to have lost their nerve, asking everyone and their cat to make suggestions for changes once the project is underway. When that happens, a project gets jerked this way and that, becoming a great example of the old saw that a camel is a horse designed by a committee.
I have come to call this “death by committee” and it’s always sad to see an illustration that had great potential die a slow death from a thousand meaningless changes.
Fortunately those in the industry are growing aware of the problem and hopefully it will soon go back to the practice of having a seasoned and secure art director to pilot the project along to a safe harbour.
[Duncan talks more about this problem here on his ace Book Cover Illustrations blog]
SciFi Art Now: What keeps you going despite the hopefully occasional frustrations?
Duncan: Well, money always helps (ha). However I think the satisfaction of those illustrations that are so marvelous when they’re finished that that I have to step back and say, “How in the world did I do that!?” Sometimes it seems like the muse was whispering in the illustrator’s ear and the artwork exceeds the ability of the artist. Those are moments of joy and amazement.
SciFi Art Now: What advice would you offer to anyone starting out as an artist?
|‘Starman Smith’ by Duncan Long –
featured in SciFi Art Now
Duncan: Find a style you do well and that you enjoy doing. Art directors and other clients often pick illustrators for a job by the past work the artist has done and by the stuff in the artist’s portfolio. If an illustrator isn’t careful, he can get locked into doing work he doesn’t much enjoy. And, of course, doing something you enjoy always makes the work better and more pleasant to do.
• Check out Duncan’s work at: http://DuncanLong.com/art.html