Thalo loves to promote artists and each month we spotlight a member of our community!
This month we are pleased to have Scott Murphy as the thalo Spotlight Artist for January.
Thalo Team: Can you give an "elevator pitch" of your work?
Scott Murphy: I create artwork for gaming, publishing, and various other areas in need of imaginative realism imagery. My work brings to life scenes from myth, legend, adventure, and fantasy.
TT: What is your artwork about and what do you want people to take from it?
SM: Much of my work stems from a lifelong love of all things fantastical. Ever since I set my eyes on early Spiderman comics, or plugged in “The Legend of Zelda” on NES, or fired up Metallica's “...And Justice for All” for the first time, I've been striving to capture those feelings and mental pictures that each conjured in my head. Couple those influences with a love of the outdoors and you have a person who grew up constantly in the woods fighting imaginary monsters, or swinging from ropes over fictional lava pits, or sneaking into the evil bat king's lair (treehouse) to steal back the lost relic (random found rock).
So over the years that early sense of adventure started finding it's way onto paper, and I've found a great sense of satisfaction in bringing to life those worlds and characters that were invented in my head. My work now is a culmination of all those early influences into illustrations that strive to bring the viewer into the world or story that I've created.
My hope is for people to embark on their own imaginary adventures when viewing my work. The idea of narrative, whether subtle or grand, is a big part of what I like to include in my paintings. I hope it makes the viewer wonder about what they are seeing and ask, “what's going on here?” And from there find other details within the image to begin to create some of their own answers or stories about the scene or character.
TT: Which artists do you feel have influenced your art the most?
SM: I've always been heavily influenced by the Golden Age illustrators Such as NC Wyeth, Howard Pyle, and JC Leyendecker. For a time after graduation from art school I worked security at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Being there brought me into close daily contact with old favorites like Sargent, Rembrandt, Jean-Léon Gérôme, and the Hudson River School artists. But it also exposed me to many other great artists like Edwin Austin Abbey, the design work of Louis Comfort Tiffany, and Ernest Meissonier.
In addition to many of those classic artists, I'm also equally influenced by many current fantasy artists such as Allen Lee, Donato Giancola, Chris Rahn, and especially Brom.
TT: Do you have a preferred method of presentation for your artwork and why? (Examples: workshops, gallery shows, Instagram, etc.)
SM: For the most part I tend to prefer live shows such as galleries or conventions to present my work since it is all created traditionally with oils. While scanning technology has gotten quite good in recent years, nothing ever quite compares to being able to see a painting up close and in person. The subtlety of many of the brushstrokes and thin layers of paint is often lost when viewed on a screen or in printed material. But with that being said, most of my work can be observed more widely on the various games and publications that I create for as well as the Instagram account that I manage. Without having work on those products or shared through social media, my career would not be where it is today. Plus I have to admit, it's the coolest thing to walk into a store and see your art printed on a game or book cover for all to see!
TT: Out of all of your creations (or bodies of work) which one did/do you find the most cathartic in creating?
SM: Since many of my projects are more commercial based, I can't point to any one particular piece that proved most cathartic on a personal level. But I think I find my most relaxing and healing creations come from when I have a chance to work outdoors plein air painting. The joy of being out in nature and the simplicity of painting from observation is really a nice release for me. No client constraints, deadlines, or expectations allow for a bit more freedom and no pressure.
TT: When was your “Aha!” moment that led your work to where it is now?
SM: I'm not sure I have a pinpointed “Aha!” moment, rather a sort of understanding over time. For years after school I kind of floundered around painting pictures that weren't reaching their full potential because I was trying to fit into too many different genres at once. For some this works great, but I think for me it wasn't truly satisfying my inner aesthetic and so the work was bland as it tried to please everyone at once. After several years of this, and many conversations with peers and artists who's work I admired, I finally came to realization that I needed to stop trying to make everyone happy, and do the work that I loved the best. This lead me down the road of art for games and a more general fantasy style which I knew in my heart was what I enjoyed most. Since that realization and letting go of catering to the masses I've been much happier with my work and the reception of the work has grown even beyond my expectations.
TT: How has your work (or technique) changed over time?
SM: I think I've been fairly consistent since art school at keeping the same approach to art making for most of my career thus far. But since I haven't spent a lot of time over the years trying different techniques and styles, it's allowed me to really dial in on my own methods and find the most efficient tricks that work for me as an oil painter. I think developing a more streamlined process over the years has helped me to focus on the subject matter of my art and use that consistency to evolve my paintings to where they are today.
TT: How do you promote yourself and your art?
SM: On a very basic level I've always had a website where I can point potential clients to see what I do. I try to always have business cards at hand if I should happen to come across an opportunity where my services might be needed as well as for meeting fellow artists. Social media, despite many of its issues, has been extremely beneficial for getting my artwork out to a wider audience. I use mostly Facebook and Instagram as my main social media outlets, and to be honest many of my original artwork sales have come from some of the groups I am in involved with on Facebook.
In addition to having an up to date website and social media presence, I find that my best promotional tool is meeting people face to face at one of the several conventions that I attend annually. These conventions are usually geared towards an art genre that my work relates to. So often I do large table-top gaming conventions, or comic conventions, or there is even a convention in Pennsylvania called Illuxcon that is focused entirely on fantasy and science fiction art.
By being a part of these shows, it allows me a great opportunity to get my work in front of many new eyes and the ability to talk with fans and potential clients in person. Many of my new projects and original art sales come from attending these conventions and I think it's great for fans to put a face to the work unlike the impersonal experience of seeing artwork online.
TT: Do you have any tips or advice for fellow artists based off of your experiences thus far?
SM: I feel like I could write a book on this question alone, but of course everyone's path is different and what works for one artist may not work as well for another. So I think at a very basic level I'd encourage fellow artists to try to think about what kind of work makes them the most happy and feel the most fulfilled. Don't get caught up doing what's popular or what's “in” if it's not really what you enjoy in your soul. Try to find that direction and then stick with it for as long as it makes you happy. Having consistency in both style and subject matter, at least for a body of work, will help to establish you as someone who is dedicated to their work, and make it more readily recognizable.
Another thing I would recommend is to spend some time learning how to run a business, especially for those young artists recently out of school. Most people think being a professional artist is just sitting around painting all day....which it is, sort of, but it's also about figuring out taxes, and copyright law, and sending invoices, and how to negotiate rates, and knowing how to promote your work, and how to respond to emails on time with full sentences, and how to finish paintings by the deadline...and a million other things that aren't taught in art school. Being both good at painting AND running a business will ensure that you're able to make ends meet and allow you to keep making art for a long time.
TT: What are you working on right now and why?
SM: At any given time I'm usually working on at least two or three projects that overlap. Unfortunately, the nature of many of my projects is that I can't discuss them until a certain release date due to non-disclosure agreements made with the various companies I work for. This is one of the downsides to working for gaming companies since I tend to not be able to share my recent work until sometimes a year after I've completed the illustration. But more often than not, I can say that I'm usually working on art for Dungeons & Dragons or Magic: The Gathering among other fun projects. I recently finished up a really cool project with new client that I'm excited to share soon. Folks reading will just have to find me on Facebook or Instagram to find out what it is in the next month or two!
TT: What would you consider to be your "biggest achievement" with your work thus far?
SM: I'd say that my biggest tangible achievement came when I finally landed my first project working for Magic: The Gathering a few years ago. I think it took me about five years of trial and error to finally get them to commission me for a card. The back and forth of creating new sample work, and having it rejected repeatedly, really forced me to hone in on what was needed to get in. Since the level of quality of the art for the game is really high, and the huge number of other artists that are competing to work on the game all across the globe, it's difficult to be given a chance. But being as stubborn and determined as I am, it was really gratifying to finally get that return email with a commission to work on the game. I've since been working on Magic for the past five years and it's been an exciting ride.
TT: What was your first work of art that you were proud of? Where is it now?
SM: I've been proud of many pieces over the years for different reasons. It's always hard to stick with one since I tend to be a hard critic of my work. So pieces I've been really proud of at one point have changed for others. But there is one piece I did back in 2009 called “Mother Nature” that sticks with me as one of my favorites. It's a piece where many of the elements really came together for me at time when I was still trying to decide on a direction for my work. Having only been out of school for a few years, trying to perfect my craft and find a visual voice, that one came together really easily and many things just “clicked.” It's also one of the first paintings I did of my then girlfriend and now wife. The piece hangs in our bedroom.
TT: Do you take commissions? Why or why not?
SM: Yes, I do take commissions depending on my schedule and the nature of the project. Since I am freelance, basically most of my work is on a commission basis. It's just a matter of whether it's an individual or a company that is doing the commissioning.
TT: What do you do when you aren't working on artwork (hobbies, job, etc.)?
SM: In my free time I often like to play video games or board games to relax, or go for hikes/run, or go to concerts. My wife and I like to travel as well. So if we're not at home painting we're usually either out exploring some new area locally, or visiting historical sites internationally.
TT: What is an area in your work that you feel weak in that you want to improve upon and how are you going to get there?
SM: There's always little things here and there that I'm unsatisfied with in my work. Most are small things and so I often just try to learn from my mistakes and analyze what it is that's unsatisfactory to me so I can try to do it better or differently next time. I think one thing I would like to improve upon is the lack of visible brushwork in my paintings while maintaining a certain level of realism. My perfectionist habits sometimes cause me to smooth things out too much and it can result in a piece that is a bit too polished in my opinion. This is something that I've sort of come to grips with over the years, and I think more practice with painting from life or outdoors helps a lot with loosening up.
TT: How do you overcome art blocks?
SM: This is something that I've struggled with since college. Often left to my own devices I have a difficult time settling on an idea an seeing it through to finish. I think it stems from being hard on myself and always wanting to make something better or completely unique. Of course nowadays it's nearly impossible to create something that's never been done before. So to combat this, I actively try to formulate my plans and stick to them no matter what. I try to find how I can make the piece or idea my own rather than try to come up with something completely new because then it's easy to stall out and never settle on anything. An artist I admire once said to me when I asked how he combats an art block or lack of inspiration, “you just have to make the work no matter what. If you spend all of your time never committing to something you'll never find your way through. It's always better to make a bad painting than to make nothing at all. At least you can learn from a bad painting.”
Additionally, I often find that either going out into nature or visiting an art museum will help to get my ideas flowing again.
TT: Where do you see your work taking you in the next 5-10 years?
SM: I tend to try and just take things one project at a time, even just one day at a time. I find that if I focus too much on what the future will bring, I lose the enjoyment of the moment. But with that said, I wouldn't have a very good business plan if I never thought ahead. I try to keep a general plan for where my career is going or where I want it to go so that I can stay on track so to speak. But I also like leaving room for unexpected opportunities. That's part of the fun of working as a freelance artist is you never know what project might show up tomorrow. I hope to continue to enjoy doing what I'm doing in 5-10-20 years, and whatever path that leads down, as long I'm happy and can pay the bills then that's the dream.
TT: If you have links for your website, Facebook page, Instagram, Twitter, etc. that you would like to share, please include these addresses below.