Yesterday I received an e-mail from ImagineFX magazine. If you haven’t seen it, ImagineFX is a wonderfully instructive magazine with lots of how-to articles on the creation of fantasy art. They ran an article on my work several issues back and we’ve kept in touch ever since.
I thought their questions were interesting and perhaps relevant to my Journal readers, so here’s a lightly edited version of my response:
1. Why is it important to set goals?
Goals are the beginning of one’s motivation process. If you don’t set goals, it’s unlikely you’ll accomplish all of what you’d like to accomplish in this short time you have here on Earth.
2. What goals did you set yourself and have you achieved them all?
Lots — too many to list here! Here are a few, though (I assume you mean artistic goals, as one of my most important goals was to be a really good father to my sons):
One semi-art-related goal was inspired by reading Errol Flynn‘s autobiography, My Wicked, Wicked Ways. He aspired to live two lifetimes in one. I decided to go for three-in-one, something I already feel I’ve accomplished by most standards. A related goal was to travel to all seven continents before I was thirty. I missed it by a few months. I still have four of our fifty states left to visit in the United States. Travel often fuels my artistic ambitions.
My autobiography is another goal. Because of the life I have led, a single autobiography could easily run well over several thousand pages. So, I have decided to do it in bite-sized chunks, with each volume focusing on a different aspect of my career. The first volume, Willliam Stout – Prehistoric Life Murals, has already been published. I’m at work on the other volumes, the next of which will probably cover my comics career.
As a comic book artist I set a goal of working with my five biggest comic book heroes: Harvey Kurtzman, Will Eisner, Jack Kirby, Jean “Moebius” Giraud and Alex Toth. I got to collaborate with all but Alex Toth. Toth’s volatile personality prevented us from working together. He also turned down my offer to work with me on the American Godzilla film.
Once I set the goal of becoming a production designer in motion pictures, it wasn’t long before I had accomplished that. Return of the Living Dead made me the youngest production designer in film history. And, prior to that, I was the production designer for two years on the American Godzilla film I just mentioned that, unfortunately, never got made.
My goal of creating a large one man show of my oil paintings that would tour museums around the world came true in 1991.
The goal of uniting my fan base happened when Comic Images released my three sets of William Stout trading cards (over 24 million were sold), beginning in 1993.
Another goal was to design a children’s television show. I designed two: A revamped Mickey Mouse Club and Lilly’s Light. Lilly’s Light got made, but my version of The Mickey Mouse Club sadly didn’t.
I am nearly finished with Stones of the Sky, a book of poetry by my favorite poet, Pablo Neruda, that I have translated and am illustrating. At this writing I have just three illustrations left to go.
I plan to write and illustrate three volumes on those men and women I consider the greatest blues musicians and singers in the world: 300 portraits, 100 per book. The first volume, Legends of the Blues, is scheduled for publication in May 2013 from Abrams. I am halfway through the second volume.
A big goal of mine was to paint murals for museums. I have painted nineteen so far. My two latest murals were for the San Diego Zoo (see previous Journal entries for a step-by-step window into the process of painting those two murals). It appears I will have two more to paint for another institution in the near future.
My book on the history of life in Antarctica is a big goal. It will probably be my most important book. 75 of the book’s 100 oil paintings have been completed so far. Related to that, I am part of a group of people working to make Antarctica the first World Park, essentially protecting it forever. We’re not there yet, but we’re getting closer.
I’d like to earn an Academy Award (mostly so that I could bring my movie nut mom to the Oscars) but there’s a lot of luck and politics involved in making that happen, which makes it more of a wish than a goal. I had my chance when Kevin Costner asked me to production design Dances With Wolves. I had to turn him down because at the time I was in the middle of creating my first major museum one man show (mentioned above). My work did contribute to Pan’s Labyrinth winning two of its Oscars, however.
One must differentiate between goals and fantasies or desires. I would like to direct and design the film version of the musical Peter Pan. I would also like to direct and design films based upon the Edgar Rice Burroughs novel The Mucker, as well as his Carson of Venus novels. Those are wishes or desires that are not likely to happen, no matter how badly I want them. But you never know…
3. What do you do when you miss your goals?
I have so many of them that I either complete them after the time I allotted myself for them, or just move on to the next two or three without looking back for very long. No time for regrets! Life’s too short! Gotta get stuff done!
4. Will you ever achieve everything you want in your art?
Of course not — that’s what makes being an artist so exciting! There is always something new to learn or discover; there is always another, higher artistic plateau to aspire to, as well as the commercial and financial aspirations that can accompany those artistic goals.
5. What are your current goals as an artist?
Not to be an asshole (sadly, I don’t always succeed); to draw much, much better than I do now; to finish my autobiographical series of books and all my other book projects, especially my Antarctica book. I’d like to meet Steve Ditko. I’d like to own my own studio but, because of my age, that wouldn’t be a wise financial investment — so I guess that makes it more of a wish or desire than a goal. I’d like to be acknowledged as a Spectrum Grand Master — but there are a lot of artists out there much more deserving than me, so it might not happen in my lifetime — if ever. If I get any more acting roles (I’ve been acting a lot lately), I would like to become much, much better at that, too.
Here’s a great quote by Goethe that many folks, including myself, have found to be a good motivator (I sell it on my website, www.williamstout.com, as a notecard):
“Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then providence moves too.
All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man would have dreamed would have come his way.
Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it. Begin it now.”
People ask me if I only work when I’m inspired. I tell them that if I waited for inspiration before beginning something, I’d probably only create three or four pieces of art per year. I’m a professional. I have to work whether I am inspired or not. When I’m having one of those days where I just don’t feel like working, I make myself a little promise: Just work on the piece for ten minutes; if, after ten minutes, I still feel like not working on it anymore, then I give myself permission to knock off and do something else. So far, that hasn’t failed, as I’ve found the work process itself provides the inspiration I need to keep going. The ten minutes disappear and, seemingly suddenly, hours have melted away….