2010-12-27: MilSciFi.com interviews
artist Mitchell Davidson Bentley the art director for Atomic Fly Studios.
MilSciFi: "Welcome. Please tell us a little
Bentley: "Hi, and thank you for this
Aside from the standard press release
Bio, the basics are pretty simple - I have been an artist all of my life,
though not always as a profession. Art is something you have in your genes; it
is a need and a calling. This is true of all arts - music, writing, film making
and image making, to name the most common.
At this point I find myself to be mostly
a working illustrator and graphic designer. I also do art for myself when I can
("art for art’s sake" commonly thought of as "fine art"),
photography, acting and some music when possible.
Other than that I am a married male with
multiple children scattered to the winds...
As for my work, I am lucky enough to be
able to do cover art and often the layout of the cover for my own work - title,
placement, that kind of thing. It is really nice to be able to do that and
create unity for the cover that way - without obscuring the art."
MilSciFi: "What training did you have to
become an artist?"
Bentley: "The short answer is I learned
painting from my mother and I went on to earn a BH and MA in Humanities at Penn State. My coursework was heavily weighted in
Art History, Studio Arts and Graphic Design, though my first degree is actually
The longer answer is, originally I was
trained at home by my mother as a painter in oils. Painting remained a hobby
for many years, though I did attempt a stint as an artist in the late 1970s.
But I only managed to trade a few pieces for assorted goods and never really
made a go at it. In 1980 I went to school for Electronics and earned an EET
degree from OSU. Life happened... I got married, had 3 kids, worked in the
electronics industry, moved to Colorado and back again, and got divorced. It
wasn’t until 1988 that I decided to try art as a profession again.
I spent two years apprenticing under
Robert Fields, owner of Robert Fields Gallery at the Farm Shopping Center in Tulsa, OK. (no longer in business), in order to
learn framing, matting and art conservation. This gave me a gallery to show in,
and equipment to use, while I established myself as an artist. I eventually had
many shows and became part owner of a Gallery named Arts, Ltd. in Tulsa. I also became president of the Tulsa
Artists Guild for a term.
My connection to Science Fiction
conventions (the literary kind), came in 1991 when I attended my first Okon in Tulsa. After I began showing at conventions, I
hooked up with a man name Robert Daniels, Jr. (AKA "JR" among midwest
fandom), and apprenticed under him for several years in the early 1990s. I
specifically did this in order to learn airbrush techniques and make the switch
to acrylics. I felt I needed to learn a medium that was easier to demonstrate
and dried fast enough to complete pieces on deadline.
In 1996 I moved to Austin, Tx. and
continued doing my work, but the Texas heat was not kind to me so in December
of 1999 I moved to Pennsylvania. In the fall of 2000 I enrolled at Penn
State, Harrisburg, in order to finish a Bachelor degree,
and stayed on to complete a Masters. Those degrees are in Humanities, which
cover all of the arts (music, theater, architecture, painting, etc.), and
western culture; but my aim was to make the switch to, and learn, digital art,
desktop publishing and graphic design.
I now work entirely in the digital realm."
MilSciFi: "Which programs do you use (or
prefer), and how are they employed?"
Bentley: "First and foremost in my arsenal
is the Adobe CS3 suite of programs with Photoshop at the forefront. Since I do
graphic design and web design, the other main 3 are Indesign, Illustrator and
Dreamweaver. They are pretty self-explanatory as to their function (Illustrator
for non-resolution dependent vector art, Indesign for layout and Dreamweaver
for website building), though the learning curve in terms of operation is quite
steep. As industry standard programs, they are absolutely indispensable for
working in the field of Graphic Design.
For image creation I use quite a few
other programs before final polishing, conversion, processing or layout in the
Adobe suite. There is a Macintosh-centric suite of programs I use a lot, from
U&I Software: ArtMatic, ArtMatic Voyager, VTrack and Metasynth. These are
very complex on a different level than Adobe. I do a great deal of landscape
and spacescape work in ArtMatic and Voyager (for short). The two programs
interact much like Photoshop and Indesign, with one program feeding an image
into the other, including auto-updating features. But there are limits to those
programs, which simulate 3D, but are not actual 3D programs. Because of the way
they work there is no object importing or modeling as in other 3D programs, but
the render speed and image making capabilities far outweigh those limitations
for certain kinds of work.
For true 3D work I use Poser (v.7 & 8
- I prefer the 7 library to 8, but 8 renders better), and Carrara. Poser is really just a staging program
for models and figures. Unfortunately it does not handle large scenes well, as
it is made for doing close-up figure work. I tend to use it for adding plants,
vegetation, props, buildings and so on, to my scenes, but it has to be done in
separate layers so I can assemble the image in Photoshop - otherwise Poser
crashes or won’t render the whole scene. Of course, I also use it for figures,
which is what Poser really excels at.
I am learning Carrara now (v.7 & 8 - 8 was just released
and there are still some bugs as of this writing), and it is quite amazing.
Much of my most recent work, which will not be seen until this next year
(2011), is being done in Carrara. Of course, it all depends ultimately on
what the needs of the project are, and so what the final "look" is to
be. All programs tend to have a particular "look" to the final
output, and each program has its own limits and peculiarities. In the end,
final composition, layering, adjustments and so on, are done in Photoshop and I
work very hard to "get the program out" of the final image, so that
it doesn’t just look like another "CGI" image (I really of hate that
label - I think it tends to take the artist out of the work in the mind of the
viewer when they hear it - and trust me when I say there is no "MAKE ART"
I also still paint a good deal in
Photoshop, when needed; sometimes like using traditional media, sometimes as
with an airbrush and sometimes with specialty brushes.
I also really have a fondness for plug-ins
and actions invoked in Photoshop. From special effects like fire to
photographic filters, plug-ins are way cool! They are "mini programs"
if you will, that are invoked via the Filters drop down menu. When invoked,
another dialogue and program environment opens up with your image in it, over
the top of Photoshop, for specialized processing (depending on the filter or
plug-in). My favorites are from OnOne, Flaming Pear and Alien Skin software
There are several other programs I use
for specialized tasks and processing, but those are the main ones. I own and
have tried to use several other programs, like MojoWorld, Terragen and Bryce,
but I never got comfortable with them. There is a huge market out there with
many programs to chose from, and at some point you just have to make a decision
and concentrate on what will be comfortable for you to work in and fulfill your
needs. I am not really a modeler, I am an image creator - an artist at heart -
so I concentrated on choosing programs that would help me create images the in
easiest and quickest way possible, while giving me the control I needed."
MilSciFi: "What would you consider to be the
"key" aspect of any cover project?"
Bentley: "Most important is the
understanding that it is an illustration job, not an art project.
My work has to make the buyer pick up
that one because it made them think, "Oooo... Now that’s cool!"
The reality is, that means I am a
communications specialist and a problem solver. The client has a problem: how
best to present the material so that the potential customer will pick the item
up and within 10 seconds, decide to buy it. My job as an illustrator is to
solve my client’s problem in a way that accurately portrays the contents and
attracts the buyer’s attention among all of the other work vying for it.
This means I must have the skill it takes
to understand what the client needs and wants (regardless of their ability to
tell me what that is), and translate it into a visual language which will
intuitively be understood by the target audience (Communications 101: encoding
of a specific message, delivering within a particular context and medium,
followed by correct decoding of the intended message by the targeted audience).
I must then have the appropriate skill to
execute that vision and revise until necessary (and/or educate my client if
necessary), until my client is satisfied and the image is delivered in the
agreed upon format.
Ah, and a thick skin... a very necessary
component to keeping my sanity in this business."
MilSciFi: "Do you have a favorite artist or
Bentley: "Renaissance painting introduced
the concept of the ideal - realism done to perfection. Not the photo-realism of
modern art, but the idealized perfection of otherworldliness; soft lighting,
modeled perfection, licked painting surfaces and unseen brushstrokes. Look at
Michelangelo’s Holy Family with the Young St. John as an example, or almost any
Leonardo Da Vinci, Pontormo, or Botticelli. That is my favorite and most
On the other hand, I have a great love
for modernity as well. Some abstract expressionism, sure, but mostly
And of course almost any science fiction
and fantasy art!
MilSciFi: "What advise would you give
someone who was thinking about becoming an artist?"
Bentley: "Run screaming from the room. No
It is becoming more and more difficult to
make a living doing art. If you are not absolutely driven to do art, and you
would die if you don’t, then keep it a hobby.
If you are absolutely driven, then get an
education in what will serve your needs towards your goals. If you want to be a
Fine Artist, move to a major city and pursue a MFA, followed by finding gallery
representation. Paint, sculpt, carve, weld, etc. until your fingers bleed. Live
the life and suffer for your work.
If you are driven to do cover work or
graphic design, then get at least a BA in Communications, Graphic Arts or
Humanities (BH). Do an internship at a firm that is likely to hire you on
afterword. Pay your dues - you will not ever, under any circumstances, step
into an upper level position without first doing the grunt jobs, so just get
over that notion now. Besides, you don’t want to - that is what is called "experience"
and you need that because some things are only learned on the job.
I have done both - lived the starving
artist life and done the grunt jobs. It’s really all just a mind-set anyway,
anything can be a grunt job if it is something you don’t want to do; and the
more you concentrate on not wanting to do it, the more painful it will be. Get
over it. Every job has stuff that isn’t fun. Just do it so you can move on to
the stuff you like."
MilSciFi: "Do you have a preferred genre,
example Science Fiction, Horror, Fantasy, etc?"
Bentley: "Definitely: Space art and Science
Fiction first, Fantasy second and Horror third. At least as far as creating it.
Everything else, all the other "normal" stuff, is somewhere further
down the list."
MilSciFi: "What inspires your art, and do
you ever us real-world images as your basis?"
Bentley: "Almost anything can be an
inspiration - a television show, a film, a photograph, an art show, a
conversation with my wife, a book, another painting, a nicely designed bit of
junk mail... really, just about anything. If you have the eye and the mindset
of an artist, the sky alone is enough. I frequently say "Oh, wow... look
at that cloud!" when riding in the car with my wife, or "Did you see
that bill board?" and the conversation is on.
Yes, if the piece calls for it I am not
afraid to use clip-art, photographs, etc. to get the job done. The trick is in
making it look like it belongs in the piece. I also sometimes do my take on a
classic subject - in fact, my last large canvas sale was the piece, Oedipus and
the Sphinx, which is my science fiction take on a the traditional subject
(shameless plug: prints available)."
MilSciFi: "How do you plan out a project?
For example do you read the story and then talk to the author?"
Bentley: "When I can, I read the story.
Sometimes a publisher just wants a generic vision of a subject, then I don’t
get much more than a verbal description. When I get a story to read, I make as
many notes about the description of the characters as I can, while I am
reading. I often pay attention to the scenery too - and sometimes a particular
scene jumps out at me or grabs me in a way that I just have to do that.
The real planning comes when I have
decided on a particular image and how that has to be created - broken down into
components to be assembled - which program to use, and what content do I have
that will fit, or can be adapted. Sometimes I need to buy something to fulfill
a specific characteristic or item. I don’t mind doing that, it supports other
artists whose job it is to create 3D models or textures for specific models,
etc. Sometimes I create my own, but rarely at this point; as I mentioned, I am
not so much a modeler as an image-maker.
The bottom line is, the resultant image
has to serve its purpose and it is entirely planned out between myself and the
client - or just myself; so it is really all mine in that regard. I admit that
there is a collaborative element though - without the software creators, the
content creators, etc. I could not work this way.
On the other hand, I did not weave, glue
or gesso my own canvas, nor did I create my own paints - or any of the objects
I looked at and then rendered in other artistic mediums - so the process is
still very much the same, but in a new medium."
MilSciFi: "Have you won any awards for your
Bentley: "Several. Somewhere around 40 at
this point, though nothing major. All of my awards are from specific art shows.
It would be nice to be recognized on a national level, but realistically, there
are so many really superior artists out there - such as Boris Vallejo, Bob Eggleton, Greg Hildebrant,
Don Maitz, Vincent DiFate, etc. (the list is quite long, and those are just the
artists working painterly in traditional medium that I can name off the top of
my head) - I don’t think that will ever happen."
MilSciFi: "Tell us about your company, or
the company you work for?"
Bentley: "My company is Atomic Fly Studios -
"Tiny company . . . NUCLEAR Results!"
We are a full service Graphic Design
Studio providing design services, pre-press, layout, logos, cover art, business
collateral, web site design, photography, and even audio and video work when
called upon to do so.
We have produced newspapers, brochures,
commemorative program books, CDs, DVDs, cover designs and we have our own line
of fine art prints. We also occasionally provide fine art printing to area
photographers and artists.
Having said all of that, my specialty is
science fiction, fantasy, horror and cross-genre book cover art and design, but
I also do a lot of other work."
MilSciFi: "Were can we find your art, other
than your website (if applicable)?"
Bentley: "My most frequent publisher is
Sam’s Dot Publishing, followed by SKS Video Productions, Yard Dog Press and
Propwash Video Productions, though my client list is actually quite long.
I do not presently have gallery
MilSciFi: "Do you do the art for your
MilSciFi: "Do you have any upcoming events?"
Bentley: "Right now I am finishing up some
projects for several clients. I will be planning next year’s schedule over the
next two to three months. I do have space at Ravencon, April 8-10 in Richmond,
VA and I have my membership for the WorldCon, Renovation, in Reno, NV this next
year. More information will be available on my website soon."
MilSciFi: "Thank you, for your time."
Bentley: "The pleasure is mine, thanks for the interview!"