Friday, December 21, 2012

Happy Holidays

No long and winded blog post for you to endure and have to fidget through. I just want to wish you  "Happy Holidays"! May it be a season of sharing happiness and love to the people in your life. 

Since the Mayan shindig was a bust, I will see you in 2013! Thanks for reading this past year.

Russ and Otis

PS Light a special candle on the holiday you celebrate for those who we lost this year, especially this past Friday. Hug those special people in your life real tight.

Monday, December 3, 2012

The Over-Thinking-Self-Doubt-Attaining-Perfection Syndrome

"The art trade brings with it certain prejudices ... particularly ideas that painting is a gift -— well yes, a gift, but not as they make it appear; one must reach out and take it (and that taking is a difficult thing), not wait until it manifests itself of its own accord. ... one learns by doing. One becomes a painter by painting. If one wants to become a painter, if one has passion, if one feels what you feel, then one can do it, but this can go hand in hand with difficulty, worries, disappointments, times of melancholy, of powerlessness and all that." ~ Vincent Van Gogh

For this post, there will be no photos, sketches, or any support images. Only a chat about why we, as artist and people in general, seek validation from our peers and question our abilities. Before we go further, I am not writing this for a pat on the back or some accolades, just to get this weight off of my shoulders. What started this self doubt, is that I have been experimenting with my style and learning new techniques, trying to improve but questioning my abilities along the way. One would think that after being an illustrator for such a long time, those thoughts would never creep into one's brain. But they do. I think why this happens is that we are striving for a perfection that we may never achieve. No matter how many times people tell us otherwise, we see the imperfections in our work. After a while, those thoughts add up and self doubt rears its questioning head. "Am I good enough? Will anyone want me to work on their book or projects? If so, why? Will my peers like the artwork?" The over thinking begins to fester and grow.

One reason why this may happen is that we can look too much at the work and accomplished of others, especially those we admire. Yes, we should look around and absorb the creations by other artists but too much of a good thing can be damaging. We all have said, "I wish I could (insert one or more of the following: paint, draw, write, photograph, etc.) like (fill in the blank)." The thing is we will never be able to create like those people. We don't think, hold a pencil or brush, mix a color, etc. like that person or persons. We can loose ourselves by thinking like that instead of seeing what we do and how we create. Each of us are special and offer our own voice.

Trying to be perfect can hinder the message, especially in picture books. It is not about the technique but the character(s) and story but about getting that emotion across. Our very own perfection will come out naturally. This was a hard one for me to ingest. I wanted every line, stroke, color choice, background element, etc. perfect, loosing the message and the characters personality but just as importantly, the fun of what I do.

What snapped me out of this funk, I was having a conversation with a dear friend and fellow artist who told me to look at what I have done just this year. Several new book projects, some awards, a gallery show, a piece shown at the R. Michelson Galleries, and a my first picture book dummy ready for submission. I am not one to look back, always forward, but having done so, I missed enjoying those accomplishments. She also told me to stop fidgeting with my artwork, let it alone, it is good enough, instead concentrate on my writing. She sees stories in my doodles, sketches, etc. that need to be developed and brought to life. My wife has been saying this for years but sometimes you need that smack down from a fellow artist for it to sink in. Thanks Kelly and Lynn, I now get it.

With a bit of reflection, and new found energy, I am thrown aside this "over-thinking-self-doubt-attaining-perfection syndrome." Story ideas have begun to flood my head and it is time to get them down onto paper. As much as I want to, I have not gone back and proofread this post so it stands as is with any grammar, puncheon, and typos. I must be on my way to a full recovery.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

What A Week!

I know I am running a bit behind on my postings but I am doing a quick pre-thanksgiving post about last week. It all started with a trip to Northampton, Massachusetts to the R. Michelson Galleries for the 23rd Annual Children's Book Exhibit. There were many top-notch illustrators, authors, editors, etc., there for the event. Many of them are household names. I was literally "hanging" with Dr. Seuss since my Mother Goose piece was on display. It won three awards last spring and one of them was for it to be displayed at the gallery. What an honor! Everyone at the gallery was so wonderful and supportive. I did not feel too much like a little fish in a big pond. It helped that many of my friends showed up for the show. A big thank you to all of them.

The other exciting bit of news was that Major Manners Nite Nite Soldier (illustrated by me) was a finalist in the "Best New Children's Picture Book" category at the 10th Annual USA Best Book Awards. A gold sticker will now be placed on the cover. Everyone involved is over the top with joy. You should be able to find the book in your bookstore soon.

I am still busy with 3 other book projects which I cannot say too much about. In my down time (what is that?), there are many story ideas floating in and out of my head that I need to get down on paper so they can be developed. Maybe one will be completed for spring when I attend the NESCBWI conference.

That is a quick update so you know I am still around and kicking.

Happy thanksgiving!

Friday, October 12, 2012

Books and Games and Apps, Oh My!

All images ©2012 Russ Cox | Smiling Otis Studio

As fall is making a quick stop here in Maine before winter comes for a visit, I have been holed up in my studio working on a wide range of projects when it dawned on me that I have neglected my poor blog. I was surprised that the last time I posted on it was over a month ago. Where does the time go? I did have a vacation to Pennsylvania to visit family and friends during the lapse in postings so it was not like it was all work and no play. I must admit that I am ready for winter. It is my favorite season with the cold air and snow. Not that I am a skier but just love the look and feel of winter. Everyone thinks I am crazy and they are probably right.

Since my last posting, I have picked up two book projects. One is a second children's book with Outhouse Ink Publishing and the other is from a fairly well known publisher but I cannot say more than that. I can tell you that the second book was written by someone is not at a celebrity status, but many will recognize the name. I am so excited to be working on both books and heading into the direction that I want to take the next step towards. Both books will be out sometime next summer and I will post more info on them when I can.

I am  also working on a cool kid's game for Gamewright. Again, I cannot say more than that but it is very exciting in knowing that my artwork will be in toy and game stores. this si something I always wanted to do and now the opportunity has present itself. Hopefully soon, I can post images from the project, once Gamewright says it is okay.

And if it is not busy enough, I am in the middle of a second app for developer. The deadline is very tight and I have a few weeks to get everything completed so they can submit both apps to Apple. I should be able to talk about both apps once Apple approves them and they are listed.

I guess I have not had anything really to share but there is a ton going on here. In my free time (HA!) I have been sending out my dummy for Faraway Friends which has been going well but no real bites. I am encouraged to keep pushing forward with it but I also need to start work on the other stories rolling around my head. Maybe if I have a few more to offer, a publisher or agent will see something and want to work with me in getting them out.

Attached are some doodles that I have been doing while taking a break. Or maybe in my sleep. Maybe we have some doodle elves that are drawing in my sketchbook while I sleep. Hmmm, that might be a story idea so "DIBS!" Attached are a few of them so you have something visual to break up the copy.

Oh, if all this is not enough, I am doing a Schoolism Painter class with Ryan Wood. I felt like I needed a jump start with the software. This is a great class for anyone who wants to learn Painter and pick up a few techniques along the way. The above image are a few samples from the course. I still need to finish it up before it expires. I promise you that I do sleep from time-to-time.

Well that is it for this posting. I do hope to have some things to show very soon and maybe a few more announcements so please hang in there. 

"I prefer winter and fall, when you feel the bone structure of the landscape - the loneliness of it, the dead feeling of winter.  Something waits beneath it, the whole story doesn't show."  ~Andrew Wyeth

Friday, August 31, 2012

The Major Has Arrived!

Sorry it has been so long since my last post. Things are very busy here in the land of Otis but thought I would do a very quick post just so you know that I am still here. I'm working on a couple of book projects as well as a game cover and pieces. More details as things progress and when I am allowed to share.

I have advanced copies of Major Manners Nite Nite Soldier (Outhouse Ink Publishing) for sale. I did the illustrations for the book. It comes with a fun cd with the Major and kids reading the book. The price is $15 plus $5.30 for shipping. I can do signed copies if you request it. Shoot me an email for details.

Until next time, back to the drawing board.

Friday, July 27, 2012

A Collection of Doodles

©2012 Russ Cox | Smiling Otis Studio

I have been very busy these past few weeks so I thought I would post a collection of doodles. Many of you probably have already seen them on my Facebook or Google+ pages but since I do not have a lot to report at the moment, I would just share them again.

My picture book, Faraway Friends, is ready to be submitted to publishers and maybe a few agents. The feedback on it so far has been very positive. A few friends and colleagues have read over it and provided lots of valuable feedback and insight. We shall where it leads me.

Lots of book work seems to be coming in at the moment with some small publishers plus Outhouse Ink sent me another story to begin working on which I am very excited about. I cannot really chat too much about the projects I am working on due to confidentially forms that were signed.

On Friday evenings, I have been giving drawing lessons to a 9 year old boy who's parents we are friends with in Pittsfield. It has been a very fun experience and the boy has talent! You may be reading about him one day.

Until next time, I will leave you with this comment:
"Art is the stored honey of the human soul, gathered on wings of misery and travail." ~Theodore Dreiser, Life, Art, and America, 1917

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Monhegan Island 2012

© 2012 Russ Cox | Smiling Otis Studio

I just returned from my annual trip to Monhegan Island with a group of area artist. This was my second year attending the event on the island. A group of us from last year decided to get our own house for the week so we were guaranteed a spot with the group. There were three houses rented out by the group. We, seven of us, were in The Field House with the other artist in Eider Duck and Chadwick House. I believe the total count was 27 artist from the Bangor and surrounding areas.

This year, I did not do very much painting but a ton of drawing. The island is very inspiring but I just felt the urge to draw. I brought along my sketchbook which I filled up several pages from the week. The above drawings were studies of a tree drawn on hot press illustration board and a rocky study drawn with pencil & white marker sketched on a Twinrocker cold press toned paper. The opening image of sea gull painted sketch was "Clyde" who hung around our house the whole week and kept the other gulls away. I guess he has claimed it as his turf. Maybe feeding him from time-to-time kept him around as well. The study was also done on a toned Twinrocker paper.

I also worked on some story ideas and developed a couple of new ones along the way. I am really excited about getting the ideas to a point of starting to write and storyboarding them.

One evening, the house decided to hire a model from the island and do some studies. Our model was a delight and very good with the various poses. The above sketches were from that session. There was some very lovely drawings from the group. It felt good to draw something besides rocks and trees.

These drawings were caricatures of me drawn by the Filed House group. I was showing them how to create images from doodles and how I work in my sketchbook. Afterwards, they wanted to do some drawings of me. I think that pretty much captured me, especially my nose.

This was our view from the third floor deck. The first floor was for storage, second floor were the bathrooms and the top was an open kitchen/dinning/ living room with a large deck. It was a great space from drawing and painting if one wanted to stay indoors. During the hottest part of the day, many of us did stay indoors and went back out later in the evening. For once, I did not get sunburned!!!!

If we are not creating artwork, we did a ton of hiking around the island. Monhegan has all of the best elements rolled into one little island. Trees and forest, rocky shorelines, sandy beaches, and a small community area. one evening JoAnn and I went down to the local church to hear some jazz. The church is also the community gathering spot for shows and concerts.

We also spent time traveling from the three houses, visiting each other and seeing what each of us were working on or just to have a glass of wine. These two photos are from Eider Duck. This place has so much character even though it is rough around the edges. The group that stays there every year are hoping to get it again next year. It is for sale so there is some uncertainty on whether it will be available.

This is Roscoe. John and I found him along a path. We brought him to the Field House as the guard dog and to keep Clyde company. He will return every year as our mascot.

Some shots with Gaye. She is a trip and such a fun soul. If you spend any time with her you cannot help but feel her energy rub off on you. The top photo is Jo-Ann, Gaye, and Cristine. the bottom one is of me and Gaye.

One of the past nights on the island, the three houses had a group party and showcase for our art. We started at Chadwick for cocktails and appetizers, Eider Duck for dinner and then our house for desert and music. I brought my banjo and played a few tunes with people joining in with pots & pans, spoons, and some flat footin'.

The last night on Monhegan, I spent some time with world renown impressionistic painter Don Stone. As you can see from the photo, he also has a love for the banjo and old-time music. We played together for a bit, listened to tunes, and chatted about the instrument. It was an amazing experience and a highlight of the trip. We plan on getting together next year one evening to continue our chat. Don is so funny and has great stories.

A photo with Diana Young and Renate Caraballo. They are very inspiring and encouraging. Like Gaye, they have such wonderful spirits and always are good for a laugh. I wished I had recorded Diana talking about the characters in my sketchbook. It was a riot!

Some quick photos of Olena, Jo-Ann, Cristine, and Terri trying to get one last painting in before time to clean the house and pack up. They were actually painting each other. 

We have reserved the house agin for next year and we all seem to be ready to go right now. Even though I did not do a lot of painting, it was very inspiring and provided me some time to work on other personal things. 

Time to get back to reality.

"Babies don't need a vacation, but I still see them at the beach... it pisses me off! I'll go over to a little baby and say 'What are you doing here? You haven't worked a day in your life!" ~ Steven Wright

Friday, June 22, 2012

Making Some Progress

All images © 2012 Russ Cox | Smiling Otis Studio

It has been a busy past few weeks including working on some of my own projects. Of course as soon as I get rolling on things, it gets really hot here in Maine which makes one not wanting to do anything except stay cool. 

A few weekends ago I went to a writers workshop lead by my good friend Sharon Mack. It was very overwhelming since I was the only newbie and the other people at the session have some serious writing chops. I must say that each of them were very supported and very helpful in getting me out of my comfort zone and start playing with words and ideas. We did some quick exercises that helped get the mind rolling and the creative juices flowing. My stories were okay but with the help of the writers there, helped me see what was wrong and what would make them better. The afternoon was spent working on our ideas. I did not have anything come to me so I went for a long walk and when a story idea struck. I jotted a few notes and a rough direction for the idea. We presented our stories and ideas before dinner. After the response from the others, I think I may be onto something. Time to get that story into development.

Speaking of stories, Faraway Friends is basically done except for a color spread and few layout tweaks. I hope to send it out for submission within the next few weeks. After it heads out the door, I will begin working on some new story ideas. Fingers crossed that I at least get some feedback on it.

I am continuing doing a sketch or two a day for myself. They have been so much fun to do and really warm up my brain before the day gets started or ends. Above are a few from the past few weeks. There are some stories in them somewhere.

The above piece is for a new promo postcard. It was a doodle I did and really liked the idea. Again, I think there is a story in there that needs to be developed. The card is going to art directors and a few agents/reps to drum up some business and interest. I let the sketch show through more since people have been telling me how much they like my drawings and some of my final art looses that freshness of the sketch. This was painted in Painter. I am loving that software! It has a more natural feel that Photoshop and the options are amazing. More experimenting needs to be done but I am getting comfortable with it. The black & white drawing will be on the back of the card. Good buddy Kelly Light suggested keeping it one color. She was a big help on the main illustration as well. I owe her big time!

That is it for this post. Time to get a start on the weekend and relax before diving into my workload for the coming week. I will leave you with this:
"At first, I see pictures of a story in my mind. Then creating the story comes from asking questions of myself. I guess you might call it the 'what if - what then' approach to writing and illustration." ~ Chris Van Allsburg

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