Don relates his rise from bagel painter to acclaimed science fiction, fantasy and maritime artist
Don Maitz talks maritime.
You're a child, you see a painting or drawing that changes everything. Where are you and what are you looking at? I’m in an attic reading my older cousin's discarded collection of comics. I’m enjoying the interplay between words and pictures to tell a story. On the back of these comics I keep seeing a picture of Norman Rockwell offering up the challenge: “If you can draw Bambi and this pirate, we can make you an artist.” At 13, I took up that challenge. There was a positive response and my parents agreed to enroll me into the Famous Artist Correspondence Course. I’m still drawing pirates today. Did the area you grew up in affect your career in painting or your art? I grew up in central Connecticut, in a small town called Plainville. The local school would take us on field trips. One was to a quarry in town where I saw huge chunks of earth being ground up to make paving materials. Seeing a natural area being eaten away by machines bothered me, and to this day, that sort of sacrifice has become a motivator in my work. The other trip I remember was to the Peabody Museum in New Haven, where I saw a 110-foot long mural with lots of dinosaurs. The artist who painted the Pulitzer Award-winning mural would later be one of my teachers. What was your first paid job, and what do you think about it now? I attended the Paier School of Art and sometimes local businesses would offer jobs to students. One such business was Lenders Bagel Bakery in nearby New Haven, which was looking for artists to paint faces on mini bagels. Myself and a few other art students were approached to become bagel painters. The welcome income was 25 cents a head and helped us with art supplies.
Around that time, I also had some pencil drawings published by Marvel Comics as ads. These experiences introduced me to advertising and the comics industry.
I’m always learning new ways to accomplish results that satisfy the needs of the work
What’s the last piece that you finished, and how does it differ from the first? I just finished a private commission to paint an interpretation of Long John Silver. The job required me to do a watercolour. While I have done a lot of watercolour ‘spots’ with no background, this was an illustrated scene that offered a different challenge. The big difference was that no bagels were involved! How did you come to specialise in both myths and maritime painting? When I left art school, several paintings in my first portfolio presentation were later published. My first commissioned book cover combined fantasy and pirates. In 1985, I was invited to be a visiting guest instructor at the Ringling School of Art and Design in Sarasota, Florida. This enabled me to experience another part of the country and I began imagining buccaneers appearing next to palm trees, ships anchored off the beaches, pirates coming ashore with shovels and such. Creating the original art that launched Captain Morgan Spiced Rum and several ad campaigns was an additional incentive as that association with pirates received global popularity. Can you name one person who helped you on your way? Jim Aparo, who let me watch him work on DC Comics. He critiqued my comic art and took me to visit DC Comics headquarters in New York City before I entered art school. He even let me ink some panels of an Aquaman comic he was working on. It seems every person I have met professionally since has enhanced my life.
Is your art evolving? I believe each work I do is an evolution. I seem to approach my art in different ways to complete each task. I'm always learning new ways to accomplish end results that satisfy the underlying needs of the work. I’ve taken to occasionally painting on location with oil paints, and then adding elements later in the studio. Previously, I’ve relied solely on photography for background features. How has the industry of fantasy art changed during your career? When I entered the field, book cover and magazine commissions used to be the only outlet for realistic fantastic art. Now the major blockbuster movies, bestselling books, video games and most watched cable shows have embraced fantastic imagery. These are everexpanding markets and opportunities.
Don is best known for his Captain Morgan character, but he has also twice won the Hugo Award for Best Professional Artist, science fiction’s highest honour for an artist. www.paravia.com/DonMaitz