Illustrator Duncan Long creates artwork for publishers big and small, from self-publishing authors to small publishers to large presses (including HarperCollins, PS Publishing, Pocket Books, Enslow Publishers, ILEX, Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine, and many other presses).
Talk-show host Victor Thorn even went so far as to suggest Long is one of the three “best graphic artists in the entire world.”
Long recently completed the 80-plus illustrations for Moonstone Book's upcoming Werewolves of New Idria graphic novel written by John Chadwell; he's also created concept art for the screenplay created from the graphic novel (written by Chadwell and Ron Shusett, writer/creator of Alien, Total Recall, etc.).
When not wearing his artist hat, Long pens books, authoring 13 novels (published by Avon Books and HarperCollins), and writing over 80 technical and how-to manuals, most of which he also illustrated.
These days Long prefers creating artwork to writing (currently authoring only about one book a year, often ghost written for TV or radio personalities). The reason? "Each art project is different and offers unique challenges. And with luck it's completed in days or weeks rather than months."
When was the first time you knew you were an artist?
From about day one. Among my earliest memories are drawing crude figures with a pencil. The front pages of my folks' books often were "illustrated" by my toddler self, and the walls in our home had sections that appeared as if a short Neanderthal had been at work creating crude cave paintings with crayons.
By the time I was in fourth grade, my teacher was singling out my work for other students to emulate, and by the time I was in high school I was often called upon to create murals and lettering for proms and other events.
I suppose realism or hyper realism would describe most of my work. But it varies somewhat with some surreal and even abstract aspects making appearances from time to time.
I try to create the look of oils, but all my work these days is digital. It's much faster to create, can be altered easily if an art director decides changes are needed, and is easily delivered to the client with the need of scanning, packing, or shipping as is the case with physical media.
Magic. Seriously. It seems like the work often directs itself.
I think my best work is the stuff I create from my own vision. Often this work is later purchased and put to use by a client, so it is always time well spent in creating artwork to suite my own tastes.
But generally a client will approach me with a cover concept, I'll make suggestions that might make it work better, and then I start making digital sketches of possible layouts. These are submitted to the client and from there we make changes, adjustments, and refinements.
Sometimes the work goes very smoothly from start to finish. Other times, it is sort of like bracketing a target with a mortar: firing, checking where the explosion was, and then adjusting in an attempt to get closer to the mark.
This latter process can be frustrating, often with many wasted efforts along the way. But I tell myself in the midst of such drills, if it were easy everyone would be doing the work themselves and I'd be out of a job.
Each project is unique and often a surprise. One day I may be painting a ghostly mansion, the next a deep space scene, and then a beautiful woman... on it goes. There's no predicting what the next illustration that a client needs might be.
In many ways this variety is what keeps me happy. It seldom gets boring and can become very challenging as I try to devise ways to make a client's concept work visually in a single "snapshot" in time.
Where do you get ideas for book illustrations?
Some come from the art directors and clients I work for.
But the covers I do "for fun" (and which generally eventually find a home on a book or magazine cover) bubble up from my subconscious. I get the mental picture and set about creating it for everyone to see. These are often my most effective work and seem to connect with a lot of viewers on an emotional level.
Why do you create art?
It is an addiction, pure and simple. The plus is that the people pay me to stay addicted and most of society sees it as a positive virtue rather than the vice it is.
How often do you illustrate?
Daily. Sometimes several illustrations a day, and for sure I'm generally working on changes and modifications for several different and on-going illustration projects each day.
I would prefer to start one piece of artwork and then continue until it was finished, but usually instead I find myself working on one for a while and then working on another while waiting for suggested changes from the art director or client.
Yes, multitasking has come to the world of illustration (ha).
Do you have a favorite illustration?
There's a tendency to fall in love with whatever work I'm currently doing. And like all love affairs, there's also a blindness to the faults and an exaggeration of the beauty. So often I feel I'm creating my best work when in fact it is not.
So looking back at older work, I think if I had to pick two, they would be "Agendas" with its collection of fractured faces and "Lead Me Not Into Temptation" with the contradictions of a priest with a gun, a serpent-like sash whipping in the wind, and the shadow of a cross in the cold snow.
Both of these seem to connect with viewers on both an intellectual as well as an emotional level in powerful ways.
What is the role of the artist in society?
Sometimes artwork becomes a mirror that reflects our fears and dreams, and like a good mirror shows our true selves, warts and all. However it is a mirror to the subconscious rather than the bathroom mirror showing our outward nature. People will tend to "see" what is in their own mind rather than what I put into the picture.
Of course for the illustrator, the job goes beyond that: He has to "sell soap" as well. So the initial task is to make artwork that will attract a buyer to the product being illustrated. But ideally (and especially in the case of a book cover) the illustration will only start there, and contain a few surprises and emotional impact, too.
Do you make a living with your book illustrations?
Yes, I do. It isn't easy. I spend a lot of time promoting myself (this article being such an example) and scrambling for work.
Fortunately these days the Internet enables an artist to reach clients all around the world. I get almost no work within a 20 mile (or even 100 mile) radius of where I live. Instead, the work comes from clients in different states or even nations, scattered around the globe.
What are your most effective ways of promoting art online?
My website is key. It allows people to inspect my artwork without any pressure to hire me.
If they decide they want me to do work for them, they're already pretty much sold by what they've seen online. This greatly simplifies my work in selling my services and basically weeds out potential contacts from people who would find my prices too high or my style not to their liking.
When someone contacts me about doing work for them, I know there's a high probability that they'll become a client, and that I won't have to engage in any tricks or gimmicks to gain them as a new client.
Salvador Dali and Norman Rockwell would be the two major influences.
Did you ever feel like giving up art?
No. I do worry about art giving me up.
Encouragement for Artists
Hone your craftsmanship. When you have the skill to paint without thinking about your technique, it frees your mind and subconscious to create what needs to be on the canvas. Poorly formed skills hold back the mind and make your creativity less than what it might otherwise be.
The only way to hone a skill is by doing lots and lots of work. You don't become talented just by thinking, but rather by thinking and then doing.
Book Illustrator – Artist Spotlight