How art saved one artist from delinquency


American fantasy, sci-fi, and horror artist John Jude Palencar reveals how becoming an award-winning illustrator has shaped his life.

What do you think people's first impression is of you?

Mostly they mistake my quietness for arrogance. Once you get to know me, you can't shut me up. I'm very critical of my own work, as much as I am of other artists' work. That may be why some people think I'm 
a bastard. At my age, it takes a lot to impress me. I have a good eye for evaluating artwork, but I'm most critical of my own. When it's not successful, I'm annoyed at myself for days. Even months.

Which artists inspire you?

hp lovecraft

Lovecraft's Daughter, taking inspiration from the Cythulhu mythos

Who are the artists I can't stomach? That's a better question. But I don't think I'll share my answers here. My earliest influences were Andrew Wyeth and Salvador Dali. My tastes have grown broader with maturity. I'm more open-minded now and appreciate anything done well. But if you’re an artistic phoney, take a hike.

Do you have a painting ritual?

palencar man

'Becoming Human' captures a surrealist sensibility

Not really. I try to work everyday in the studio, and prefer working at night. I usually get up in the afternoon – unless I'm pulling an all-nighter – check emails and write a to-do list. I work in the evening, into the wee hours. Rinse and repeat. Hey, I guess I do have a ritual.

When did you first realise that you wanted to be an artist?

palencar woman

Wild Swans displays John's recognisable style

Like most artists, I've been doing it since I was very young. In first grade, I'd watch an artist on TV (search for Jon Gnagy's Learn to Draw on YouTube) so my parents bought me his deluxe art set. 
I was thrilled and on my way. You grow into it. You are passionate. Obsessive about it. Art was the only thing I did 
well and had half a chance in.

Who was your first artistic crush?


Roads to madness This painting of John’s was used 
as the cover for HP Lovecraft’s Roads to Madness novel

Probably Jon Gnagy, a TV artist, then my high school art teacher, Frederick C Graff. Mr Graff is also a practicing artist and made a good portion of his income from his art. He truly saved me from being a juvenile delinquent. He was an award-winning watercolourist and I still use many of the techniques he taught me. He's like an older brother and we have been good friends for over 30 years.

Next page: nailing it and knock-backs...

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