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I’m looking forward to seeing all of my southern fans at Dragon*Con this Labor Day weekend in Atlanta, Georgia. I’ll be defending my crown as the reigning Iron Artist on Sunday morning. It should be fun!

Speaking of fans, I’d like to talk just briefly about how important they are to me and what I do, and why I maintain the positive attitude I have towards my fans.

I see all of the travel to the conventions and shows and schlepping my stuff around as being similar to a rock band playing all of those small clubs at first, building up their following so that eventually they can play the big stadiums.

Life on the convention road can be pretty lonely, though. As I schlepp boxes and suitcases full of art and books from one city to another, it’s sometimes hard not to look in the mirror and find Willy Loman staring back. Happily, though, I’ve established a network of great fans across the country (and in different parts of the world) that go a long way towards giving me something to look forward to in each city and at each show I visit. Many of my fans have become good friends. I anticipate having a dinner or drinks (or both!) with them like I would with beloved relatives I haven’t seen for awhile.

At the conventions I always try to maintain a veneer of happy confidence (in show biz talk it’s called being “on”). Who in the heck wants to talk to someone on a downer? But in reality, I’m like most folks; I have my up days and my down days. On my up days I do realize how good my work is — but then there are those dark, down days. As I’ve discovered from talking to many of the artists and writers I deeply admire, way inside our private psyches we’re our own harshest critics. I may seem like the most positive guy in the world in public but psychologically I rip myself apart on a fairly regular basis for not being better, for not working hard enough.

Although I am the author of a body of work that makes me proud at times, I still try to be humble. I truly appreciate my fans. The life of a freelancer is up and down, almost by definition. During those down times, when no work is coming in, it’s the fans who keep me afloat, both financially and emotionally. My fans seem to never stop believing in what I can do, even during those periods when I’m wallowing in a deep tub of my own self doubts regarding my abilities.

A lot of my loyal fans are poor students in high school or college who can’t afford to purchase original art. That’s OK; that’s one reason I publish my very affordable sketchbooks. Many of them, however, will be able to afford original art as attorneys, doctors and film directors some day. Years down the line, they’ll remember who was nice to them — and who wasn’t.

I think it’s very important to make that personal connection with the people who show interest in my work. For one, my fans seem to be of a much higher caliber than most, certainly much more intelligent in general (They’d have to be — my stuff is so diverse and all over the place it would take a Sherlockian to collect it!). But there’s a practical side to this, too. Let’s say a collector is considering a purchase. He (or she) has a choice between buying three pieces of art, each of equal quality and price. One is by an artist he’s never met. Another is by an artist he’s met who, when the collector met him, was very cold, reserved and business-like — maybe even rude when the artist thought the collector wasn’t going to make a purchase. The third is by an artist who has taken the time to talk to him, not just as a fan, but as an interesting individual in their own right and even, perhaps, as a potential friend farther down the road. Whose piece do you think they’ll most lean towards buying?

I remember quite vividly what it was like to be poor. Gravy on bread was a regular weekly dinner when I was a kid. I’m not going to bore you with any more “I was so poor, that…” stories, though. Let me just say that without my California State scholarship (from my SAT scores) I probably never would have gone to college. My mom and dad would not have been able to afford even my first semester at CalArts. My jobs previous to art were tunnel digger, dishwasher and as a punch press operator in an airplane parts factory. When I was fourteen, my mom became a single mom raising four boys, trying to make ends meet without an education. She got a job as a waitress. During the day after school I helped to raise my younger brothers, often making dinner for the family. I’ll never forget her coming home one evening; she was awash in tears. My mom was crying because one of her customers had generously tipped her five bucks (this was in the 1960s; five dollars was a lot of dough back then, gas being fifteen to twenty cents a gallon where we lived.).

That’s one reason why I do a lot of public freebies; talking to the troubled kids in juvie, speaking to kids studying art (or dinosaurs), giving free business lectures to young artists, supporting local community causes with paint-outs, etc. I think it’s important to bring something back to the community. We all need to occasionally give back to our well; we can’t just always take from it. There are plenty of folks who may be going through a less than fortunate time who just need a hand once in awhile. Not a hand-out — but a hand.

So, I really do look forward to seeing you — all of you — at Dragon*Con this weekend and the comic convention in Avil├ęs, Spain the following weekend — as well as at all of the upcoming shows who sign me on as a guest for next year.

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Here are some last minute appearances!

For you local friends and fans, I’ll be appearing at tonight’s opening for the “In Search of Tiki” exhibition at the Forest Lawn Art Museum in Glendale (not Burbank). I’ll be there from 6:00 PM – 8:00 PM. I painted a special Tiki picture just for the show.

This weekend (Sunday, precisely) I’ll be giving a slide lecture on dragons (!) at the Royal Alberta Museum in Edmonton, Canada. You might also see me wandering around their huge folk and blues festival this Friday evening.

I hope to see you at both or either of these events. Come up and say, “Hi!”

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How I Started the Artists Sketchbook Phenomena

The following Journal entry was prompted by a query from my friend Benno Rothschild so, if you like it, you’ve got him to thank.

When I was in art school in the late 1960s I became familiar with the work of the Los Angeles Pop Art movement, whose key proponents were Billy Al Bengston, Joe Goode and Ed Ruscha. Billy went to Otis; Joe and Ed had gone to the school I was attending, the Chouinard Art Institute (now California Institute of the Arts). My girlfriend at Chouinard, Judy Goode, had been married to Joe Goode. They met at Chouinard when the were students there in the late 1950s. She made me aware of their extremely successful work. They were all about ten years older than me (including Judy…mmmmm…older women! And mmmmm…younger women! Who am I kidding? — mmmmmm…WOMEN!).

Ed Ruscha’s work was the most accessible, concept-wise. I was attracted to his visual sense of humor. He did a painting that looked like drops of water pooling on the surface of the paper. The water globules spelled out “WET”. Another picture was highly detailed life size renderings of a colony of ants that spelled out “ANTS”.

Ed also made these great little books that were sold at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. They were books of photos Ed had shot. Each book had a different theme. There was one on palm trees; just picture after picture of different palm trees around L. A. Another one was on the Sunset Strip. Ed took a series of photos up one side of the Strip and down the other and made them into a book.

The books were presented as art pieces, extensions of Ed’s fine art. They were self-published and, like his prints, signed and numbered. I thought they were really cool.

About two decades later, my friend Marv Newland (creator of the infamous animated cartoon “Bambi Meets Godzilla”) began to send me a little self-published digest-sized book each year. They were squarebound, professionally designed and consisted of random little sketches and drawings that Marv had done. I thought they were really cool.

Around this time (1988) I self-published “Mickey at 60”, a comic book collaboration by Jim Steinmeyer and myself. I was thinking of Ed Ruscha’s art books when I decided to publish it as a limited signed edition. Inspired by the spontaneity of Robert Crumb’s work, I deliberately made it as crude as possible — in direct antithesis to the slickness for which I was known. I printed up 300 copies and sold them for $15 each (Jim and I donated the profits to the Crippled Children’s Society). It sold out in about two hours at that year’s Comic-Con.

By the early 1990s I had become a guest at some of the local comic book conventions (Jack Kirby and I were the San Diego Comic-Con’s first two guests). I noticed a few of the artists were selling sketches drawn on demand. I began to do some and to my delight, they sold. Later, Scott Dunbier (he was an art dealer back then) came by my table and bought all I had left. I think they were ten bucks apiece.

For the next show I drew up a bunch in advance. This time Scott came by early and bought them all. Woo hoo! I was in the chips (rent back then was a little over a hundred bucks a month)!

At the following show I raised my price to fifteen dollars each and Scott still bought everything I brought! This was beginning to get serious.

A few things about this venture bothered me, though. Occasionally I produced what I considered a little gem. Once it was sold at the show, it was out of my life; I had no record of it. Another thing that disturbed me was that because my sketches had become so popular, I was spending the entire convention with my head down, drawing. I liked meeting my fans and chatting with them, but that wasn’t happening because I was constantly sketching. All they saw was the top of my head. I also starting to become drained by producing so many sketches in such a short amount of time.

So, I started doing drawings in advance of each show. I put them in a binder for fans to flip through. If they liked one, they could buy it. If not, that was OK, too. It freed me up to just stand and talk with people.

I also began to make xerox copies of my favorite ones. Pretty soon, I had a pretty sizable stack of drawings.

“I wonder if people would buy a book of these things?” I wondered to myself.

I decided to take a chance. In 1992 I published “William Stout – 50 Convention Sketches”. I printed 300 copies (plus 50 Artist’s Proofs, I believe), limited, signed and numbered. I sold them for $15 each.

They were a hit!

The following year, because the first book had sold out so fast, I upped my print run to 950 copies (plus 50 Artists Proofs). It sold out, too, especially after I sold a bunch of them wholesale to my friend Bud Plant to carry in his catalogue.

I’ve kept the print run the same ever since. I want to maintain the excitement of the impulse buy (“If I don’t buy it now, I might miss out! There’s only 950 of ’em!”). Like Ed Ruscha, I also see these books as an extension of my fine art, so the limitation is appropriate. It makes them more precious, like a limited edition print.

Because these sketchbooks to me are fine art, I have made the following three rules in regards to their production:
1) I draw anything I want to draw (my artistic whims have led me down some pretty strange paths).
2) No one tells me what to draw (that would make them commercial art).
3) When it’s no longer fun, I’ll stop.

I recently published Volume Fourteen of the 50 Convention Sketches series. I’ve also branched out, compiling sketches and drawings on themes (Monsters Sketchbook, Dinosaur Sketchbook, Tribute to Ray Harryhausen, for example, as well as collections of my figure drawings and animal drawings). I’ve also published volumes on some of my favorite artists, too, including Joseph Clement Coll, Harry Rountree, Charles R. Knight and Zdenek Burian. To date, Terra Nova Press (the name of my publishing company) has published a total of 33 art books. Except for the extra fat ones, they still sell for fifteen bucks each. I’ve seen out of print volumes sell for as much as $250 each.

Little did I know that this would turn into a somewhat sizable cottage industry. “Artists’ Sketchbooks” now even has its own section in the Bud Plant catalogue. If I only had a nickel royalty for every artist sketchbook that’s been sold…

…I’d split the money between Ed, Marv and myself.