When I had the chance to interview artist Gregory Manchess, I could barely contain the nerdy little kid who still lives inside of me. Manchess works with the technical skills of a classical fine artist, wielding paint and graphite as well as any of the greats, but his subjects are anything but traditional. His works explore figure drawing–in every shape and size imaginable, from barbaric warriors and menacing aliens to historical pirates and literary figures such as Mark Twain. He has created book covers for pulp novels–my weakness!–and even worked as a concept illustrator on Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, which was a literary mainstay of my childhood.
| Pict Attack, for the book The Conquering Sword of Conan,
2004, oil on linen, 20 x 16.
Weird Wizard of Oz, cover for Spectrum 17, 2010,
But for all of his accomplishments and vast artistic experiences, Manchess is most concerned with creating what he loves–fantastic images that appeal to his own curious and thrill-seeking inner child, and he is very generous when it comes to sharing the nuggets of wisdom that he picked up along the way. One that stuck with me was his method of creating a strong portfolio.
|A Princess of Mars, 2009, oil on linen, 18 x 15.|
Manchess explains that art students might not be able to identify what exactly attracts them to a specific kind of art, but he insists that they can feel it, and that's what matters most when students first start out. He urges students to follow their intuition and explore whatever it is that brings them the most joy. "A strong portfolio develops from this exploration," he says. "Once a student moves out into the professional world, their portfolio should reflect not just what they know or what they studied in school, but what they love and who they are."
He says most student portfolios simply show stoic figure studies instead of figures doing or expressing things. Figure studies are fine in the classroom, "but after graduation is when the training must kick in," says Manchess. "Use the technical skills you learned to chase after and create the ideas and stories that reveal who you are, not where you came from."
By creating a portfolio of diverse, active figures that expressed his own artistic pleasures, rather than creating images he thought others might expect, Manchess was able to launch a successful commercial and fine art career. And whether or not you're trying to build a strong portfolio too, the key to any fruitful artistic career is to chase what you love–be it landscapes, abstracts, or sword-wielding aliens from Mars! Express you passions and good things will follow.
For more about Gregory Manchess, his artwork, and his workshops, visit his website.