Wednesday, 15 October 2014

The Blog Fantastic 029: The Complete Elmore review

Before I was a fan of Larry Elmore and his artwork, I was a fan of Dragonlance. I’m sure that series was the gateway drug to Elmore for many other fans. For several years I would regularly think of his artwork for the series and look for some of it online. Some of his paintings simply amazed me. I remember having the urge to see more and I got my chance once I found out online that he had run a very successful Kickstarter campaign for an art book, entitled The Complete Elmore. This is the review of that book.

The Complete Elmore is more than an art book. It is part biography, part career retrospective, and, of course, part art book. Elmore also finds the time to share some of his thoughts on his philosophy of art, creativity, and personal perseverance in life. When I sat down with my copy of the book I was expecting to discover many paintings I had never seen before in addition to reading some behind-the-scenes information on the creation of some of the paintings. In other words, I was expecting an art book with a short introduction by a colleague or friend of Elmore and pages of pages of art with little or no text. In other words, I was expecting a quick yet satisfying read. Elmore delivered on all those points but he did one better by adding pages and pages of information detailing his life, career and personal aspirations. I was expecting to discover the art of Elmore, famed fantasy and science fiction painter but I also met Larry Elmore the man. I’ve always thought that Elmore’s paintings lack a bit of emotion or gravitas. But it’s not true of all his work, some of his best paintings completely embody the emotion of his characters or the landscapes being depicted. One particularly good example is “Death of Sturm” which is an emotionally charged painting. It’s hauntingly beautiful. After reading The Complete Elmore I discovered that my thoughts on the lack of emotion in his paintings are partially true. Working over 40 years as a professional illustrator Elmore’s had to work under strict deadlines and countless time he’s had to do rush jobs. Few of his paintings show a distinctively rushed quality to them but his working conditions explain the occasional lack of emotion in his work. Some of his more personal works or those which you can clearly tell he enjoyed working on have that extra something that elevates them beyond the rest.

Whatever real or perceived shortcomings Elmore’s work has, his writing in this book completely made up for it. It’s in a conversational style and it works well for this kind of project. Elmore really seems like the kind of guy you could talk to for hours on end and never get bored or run out of things to talk about. The book begins more like an autobiography than a book about art. Elmore writes about his parents, his early life, his love of drawing and his formative years. He goes on to talk about his growing interest in making a career in art and his first foray into fame while working at TSR, Inc in the 80s working on table top gaming modules, the Dragonlance series, calendars, and paperback novel covers. Near the end of the decade he left TSR and started to work as a freelance illustrator which he continues to do today. He ends the book by writing about his personal works and his philosophy of art. This is but a tiny snapshot of what Elmore writes about. Truly, there are pages full of text and while the art remains the focus of the book the additional commentary is what makes this book so special. I knew next to nothing about Elmore before I started to read The Complete Elmore but now I feel as though I really know the guy, almost as if we’ve been friends for years. I used to really like his art and respect the artist, now I love his art and respect the man who for so many years was and continues to be one of the most distinctive and skilled fantasy artists.

I’d like to keep going on about why I enjoyed this book so much but I think it’s time to let Elmore’s art speak for itself. All of the images below were taken from his website which you can visit here ( I’ve added some commentary of my own but if anything in this post has picked your curiosity in Elmore’s work or reintroduced you to it, I urge you to purchase a copy of this book. They’re limited in number and although they’re pricy, it’s an expense I didn’t mind saving up for especially since the book is so enjoyable and informative. Don’t be fooled by the fact that this is an art book; there is plenty of substance within this oversized hardcover.

01-Circle of Death
This painting was done specifically for the cover of The Complete Elmore. Elmore wanted to take one of his most well-known paintings and draw something that is more akin to the way he feels about his art today. The other painting is the one below which he did for the cover of Basic Dungeons & Dragons. It’s a young man attacking a dragon head on, fighting for glory and riches. The painting above is about that same man but he’s much older now. He’s been through rough battles during his life and this latest battle isn’t one for glory, it’s strictly for survival. He’s not as brash as he used to be but he’s doing his best to survive. It has become one of my favourites.

02-Basic Dungeons & Dragons

03-The Arena
There is a lot going on in this painting and I quite like it. It depicts Caramon Majere from Dragonlance during his time as a gladiator during the Legends trilogy. I mostly put it here for comparison with the painting below.

04-Island of Minotaurs
This is one of my favourite Elmore covers. It is the cover for Land of the Minotaurs written by Richard A. Knaak. Just look at that beautiful scenery. It looks and feels like a real place. It also looks rather tranquil except for the two minotaurs who are about to clash blades. When I think of minotaurs this is the image I think of. Simply put, they’re superbly drawn. With this painting Elmore put his above painting of a minotaur to shame. It’s also notable for being one of the relative few paintings he’s done that has characters in action. One of them is even leaping into action! He truly did an excellent job with this one.

05-Next Generation
This is yet another Dragonlance painting. I just don’t tire of these. If I’m not mistaken it was used for the cover of The Second Generation. I like how the image has room to breathe. It really does look like scenery you would see in a fantasy world.

06-The Last Ingredient
Dragonlance once more. I wanted to show this painting for a couple reasons. The most obvious being that Elmore did another bang-on job with it. I particularly like the clutter and the character’s body language. The other reason I put this painting here is that in his book Elmore shows the step by step creative process for this painting, from photographing models (his son and a friend of his son), working out the angles and placing the furniture inside the room, to illustration and finally to painting. That’s one thing I would have like to see more of in the book but it’s difficult to show your work when dealing with original hand-painted illustrations and the level of technology Elmore used throughout his career.

07-Dragons of Mystery
This is a painting of characters and a scene that were supposed to be part of the early Dragonlance novels. While the scene never made it into the final novels, the image was used, I believe, for a Dragonlance calendar. I quite like the elf maiden’s mace.

08-Floating City
A great looking floating city with its lower edges touching lightning filled clouds. What more would you want? A dragon? Sure thing, Elmore put on in there just for you.

09-Heroes of Fantasy
Heroes of fantasy! Can you name them all? From left to right, Gandalf, Conan the Barbarian, Drizzt Do’Urden, Elric of Melniboné, King Arthur and (I think) Robin Hood.

10-Death of Sturm
As I mentioned above, this is another one of my favourites. Not just favourites of Dragonlance but favourites overall. From Sturm’s superbly detailed armour, the cold and indifferent battle field, Laurana’s quiet moment of suffering and her banged-up armour and clothes. I can’t find anything to criticize. I really wish Elmore would have drawn more scenes from the series but if we’re only to have a few of them, I’m extremely pleased that this is one of them.

11-Larry Elmore on his Harley
This obviously isn’t a painting. It’s a photograph of Larry Elmore on one of his Harley Davidson motorcycles. A lifelong fanatic of old cars and motorcycles, Elmore continues to ride to this day (despite his wife’s dislike of his hobby). Just look at him all rebellious and full of attitude.

On that note, I’m ending this review. I could go on and on about Elmore and his art but now that we have The Complete Elmore there really isn’t a need for me to do so. I’ll finish by offering my thanks to Larry for hundreds of illustrations that have fired up my imagination and helped to further immerse myself in my favourite genre. It’s been fantastic.

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