Friday, January 13, 2012

Artist Spotlight: Interview with Duncan Long

Book Cover: THE SPIRITAR by
Paul M. Strickler
An illustration that was created just for
fun and then later sold.  This one fitted
into Strickler's vision of what his book
cover should look like, so he purchased
the book cover rights for that purpose. 
1.  Tell us a little bit about yourself: What got you interested in art?  Have you taken any art classes?
From a very early age I was drawing; by age three I was creating pictures with figures you could recognize as human beings, along with bits of "costumes," weapons, or whatever.
I'm pretty much self-taught as an artist. I grew up attending small schools and never really had any serious art training other than in third grade where we had a teacher who was a skilled water color painter, taking some time to show us a few tricks there. In high school we had no art classes at all. In college I had one art class designed for elementary teachers; basically a "color inside the lines" sort of course that was only to fulfill the requirements I needed for a BA Degree and otherwise pretty worthless. So most of what I learned was on my own or through books my dad (who is also somewhat of an artist) directed me toward. That said many of my grade school teachers as well as my parents encouraged me in my art, and sometimes it's the encouragement that's most important in developing skills and pushing forward to achieve greater mastery of a craft.
So I'm basically self-trained. And I suspect that if the computer and digital tablet had failed to come along at just the right time, my skills would not have developed to the extent they have.
2.  What is your preferred medium and why?
Digital. It is quick and clean and permits a wide range of effects. And it is forgiving of experimentation. The "undo" key and ability to revert to a previously saved version of a picture always a wide range of experimentation that would be impossible with physical media. I work on a modest HP workstation running XP Pro with most of my input coming from a Wacom digital tablet.
This is a rather terrifying picture - to me
at least (and I suspect most viewers).  The
thought behind it was that were a machine
to be created with artificial intelligence, so
that it was self aware, what then
happens when the machine loses its
usefulness and is discarded?  Would it be
trapped in an eternal hell within a scrap
heap somewhere?  What are the moral
implications of that?  Or if you "put it out
of its misery", do you basically
murder it?  Which would a user choose?
Thus the sad eyes in a broken mechanism.   
3.  Do you have an online portfolio or a blog where we can view your work?
My online portfolio is the best bet:
4.  Do you have a favorite artist?  If yes, what draws you to that person’s work?
Norman Rockwell is probably the greatest influence in terms of my own style and the story telling I want to see in my work. He was able to put in great detail where it was needed, yet often left large sections of his pictures bare and blank, drawing the eye toward the important aspects of the painting. Also, there's a complex story to be enjoyed when you spend a little time examining his pictures. That story-telling aspect coupled with the realism is what most attracts me to his work, and is something I try to achieve in my own. Maybe not a story in great detail, but something that makes the viewer stop and think about the possible stories  the picture might tell, and wonder what is going on, or what might happen next.
5.  Can you remember one of the first things you drew/sculpted/painted/photographed etc.?  What makes it memorable?
I have the good fortune to still have some of my earliest pencil drawings (that my mom saved and gave to me a few years ago). Drawn at the ripe old age of 3, the pictures seem a little ahead of what you'd expect from someone that age in terms of the detail. Things were crude, but rather than the stick figure look the characters were more fleshed-out. Perhaps also of interest, the subjects had helmets and ray guns -- perhaps suggesting my later tendency to lean toward science fiction and fantasy illustrations.
I often create illustrations just for fun, and this
was one such.  It proved to match the idea of
a story appearing in Asimov's Science Fiction
magazine, so I was able to sell it there for the
cover of the Dec. 2009 issue.
6.  This being primarily an author’s blog, I would like to ask if you’ve ever designed any artwork for an author (cover image, maps, interior art - including font styles - etc.)?  Do you have a favorite genre (fantasy/sci-fi, thriller, romance etc.) you like to design for?  If not, would you be interested in designing a book cover?
Most of my "bread and butter" work these days comes from self-publishing "indie" authors and small presses. I've done artwork for HarperCollins, PS Publishing, Pocket Books, ILEX, Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine, Moonstone Books, Enslow Publishers, and other larger presses as well. But with the current shift toward more authors self-publishing, my client base has also shifted in that direction as well.
My projects vary greatly from one to the next. Sometimes I only create the illustration for the book or magazine, but more and more I find myself doing the lettering for the front and sometimes the whole front/spine/back right down to the bar code (which I really enjoy since it gives me the ability to integrate everything for the best possible cover). And, yes, on occasion I do even create a new typeface for some of the lettering (though for the back blurbs and such standard fonts are generally best so they don't get in the way of the message).
I do a variety of genre illustrations. Over the last couple of months I've covered everything from  romance to fantasy to horror to mystery to science fiction -- and a few stops in between. And to be honest, the great variety of subject matter is one of the things I love about this business.  Each job is different and it helps stretch my skills and keep mentally agile.
7.  Where do you gather most of the inspiration for your works?
Just about everywhere, I guess. I'm always watching people and things, thinking about the shadows and how such might be worked into my illustrations. And when I'm cruising the net and stumble over a picture or illustration that I like, I drop it into my "inspiration file" of pictures on my hard drive to study at a later date.
Of course when it comes to illustrating book covers and such, often the inspiration for the picture comes from the person hiring me to create the picture.
8.  Have you ever stepped out of your comfort zone and discovered a whole new genre of art?  How did it turn out?
Actually, I try to do this as often as I can. Sometimes I fall flat on my face, but often by pushing my abilities I not only get better but also create something that has the "Wow!" factor, where I look at the screen, see something that just seems wonderful, and say, "Did I do that?" I guess there's an element of insane risk taking involved. Where some guys scale mountains without safety lines, I take on jobs without knowing how in the world I'll ever be able to do them."
Another 'for fun' illustration - as yet without
a home on a magazine or book cover. 
Basically I tried to imagine what a cat might
dream of as the perfect order of things: A
lair at dizzy heights, a pretty girl whose only
purpose is to pet and pamper, and, if you
look closely, a tiny  mouse below and a little
to the right of the cat.  When I was a kid, we had
a tiger cat very much like this one; it was named
'Cat'.  I suspect it had dreams like this.
Of course not all illustrations I do are out in left field. Many are pretty straightforward. But even then the goal is still to achieve that feeling of excitement and mystery for the viewer.
9.  Do you have any other interesting hobbies or maybe a fun story about an experience involving your artwork?
Except for that incident involving the lady and an ax, no. :o)  Seriously, I lead a pretty mundane life, and most days that's for the best. The terror, adventure, and unexpected bubbles from my artwork rather than my life, which is generally for the best, I think, because I'm a pretty cautious guy everywhere but in my creative work.
10.  Where can we reach you if we are interested in commissioning you for our own projects?
I have current contact information at my web site that I keep current:
11.  What, in your opinion, is the hardest step in creating a masterpiece?
Probably the hardest part once a person has his skills honed, is letting go of the quick-and-easy solutions and going out on a limb to try something new and dynamic. The quick-and-easy promises something that works and is safe; and sometimes that's just what's needed. But if every illustration takes the quick-and-easy route, stagnation and boredom take over for me and possibly the viewer as well. So regularly leaving my comfort zone is a necessity for creating the very best.
12.  And finally, is there anything else you’d like to say?
I've been in the publishing business for several decades now, and the one bit of advice I would give to those wanting to write, illustrate, or whatever...  is that persistence  and self promotion seem the keys to success. You can have talent running out of your ears, but if you give up or don't show off your skills, you'll never get any recognition or meet with any success. Unfortunately many writers and artists tend to be somewhat introverted, and prefer to simply create without "wasting time" with promotion and such worldly tasks. But submitting work and self promotion are the keys to success. Often the persistent beat the greatly talented in the race to be published. If you want to succeed in the publishing industry, never give up, don't be shy, and push yourself into the limelight.
This started as a joke (in regard to the Cowboys and Aliens movie), in which I suggested the next mashup in Hollywood would be pirates and aliens. So the picture.
* * *
Thank you Duncan for taking part in my Artist Spotlight interview!  I hope your artwork continues to flourish and we hope to see more of you in the future!
If you or an author/illustrator you know is interested in being interviewed, feel free to send me an email at


  1. Boy, Duncan gets around. He's going to be at my blog next week! Great interview. I would like to see the drawing you did when you were three, Duncan.

  2. I enjoyed this interview with Duncan, because I've been following his activities for over a year now, and I see a kind of consistent style mixed with surprising innovation. Well done - I don't think he's ever talked so long about himself!

  3. Karen, I would like to see Duncan's earlier artwork as well!