For the last forty years, Larry Elmore has been one of the biggest names in fantasy art. He has produced numerous paintings, book covers, game art, and other fantasy works. Elmore never quite realized just how famous he is and how loved he is by his fans until recently. The 64-year-old artist wanted to put together Larry Elmore: The Complete Elmore Artbook, a book that contains 40 years of his art, and he turned to crowdsourcing for the funding. Elmore’s Kickstarter campaign set a goal of $17,500 to get the book published, but the fans of this legendary fantasy painter gave an overwhelming amount of $299,914.
“It was never about the money. It was always about the art.”
“I knew I had fans out there, because I have attended a lot of conventions over the past 25 years, but I didn’t really know just how many and I didn’t know just how strong and true they were,” Elmore says. He never really set out to be famous; he just wanted to be able to paint and draw his whole life. He says, “I look at myself as just a Kentucky boy that likes to do art, and I’ve worked hard to make me successful at it.”
Elmore has built his entire career upon his strong work ethic. When he went to work at TSR, Tim Hildebrandt once told him “it’s not how good you are…it’s how willing you are to work hard, and can you handle it mentally.” Elmore churned out paintings, drawings, comics, and cover art for years, and for the most part he was happy. “Do the best you can do, and make a living,” he says.
Through his hard work, Elmore was able to make a living. He was able to put his children through school, have a decent house, and enjoy a few hobbies. “I’ve always liked hot rods and motorcycles,” he says. More importantly, Elmore’s hard work allowed him to keep doing what he always wanted to do: paint. “It was never about the money. It was always about the art.”
[Some of Elmore’s earlier works with projects Dragons of Autumn Twilight (left), Basic Dungeons & Dragons (center), and Everquest: Depths of Darkhollow (right)]
Even though he was happy to be painting and drawing for a career, Elmore often felt constrained by deadlines, and he remembers that most of his works were only about 60%-75% of his real ability. He remembers thinking in those days, “one day I want to give 100% to paintings.”
Over the last year, Elmore has been giving more and more to his art. “The paintings I’ve done this year have been some of the best paintings, technically, I’ve ever done in my life.” With the money from the Kickstarter campaign, Elmore has some extra breathing room to be able to spend as much time as he needs to on a painting. He doesn’t need to finish a painting by the end of the month to put food on the table, and that takes a lot of pressure off. “I can finally give 100%.”
“Life doesn’t end at a certain age or retire at a certain age.”
Elmore knows that completing a 336-page book with 40 years’ worth of artwork is going to be quite the task, but he’s never shied away from hard work. He has dozens of sketches and doodles to finish for the book, and the whole work will take a lot of effort on his part, even if his fans have taken care of the funding. “It’s going to be a busy year,” he says. “I hope I survive it.” Even with 336 pages, Elmore still can’t fit all of the art he wants into the book, so he is mainly focusing on his color art. Once this book is completed, he hopes to launch another Kickstarter campaign in order to put together a collection of his black-and-whites.
In addition to doing the best paintings of his career and finishing his book, Elmore is keeping busy with a few other tasks. One of those has been acting for the web series The Brothers Barbarian, in which Elmore plays the Old Wizard. The Brothers Barbarian has already completed their first season, and season two will be coming soon. Elmore will also see his old comic strip SnarfQuest brought back to life in The Knights of the Dining Table. The comic, which originally ran in Dragon magazine during the 1980s, will be reprinted in KODT, and then the story will continue with new strips done by Elmore himself.
Years ago, when Elmore had finished his work with TSR and Snarfquest, he looked back on the comic strip and said, “my God, that’s my biography, to an extent.” The character in the comic wanted to prove himself and be successful, and becoming king was the highest position of power in his area. He went on adventure after adventure, earning money and gathering enough fame to become king. After he became king he saw how much responsibility his job required, and he longed to go back on another adventure. Elmore says, “it’s what got you there, all the adventures of getting there. That is your life. Life doesn’t end at a certain age or retire at a certain age. Life goes on to the day you breathe your last breath. It should be a journey that’s still continuing with goals to be set. Big goals, all the time…the journey is what’s important.”
Elmore’s journey is far from over, and no amount of success will affect his drive to work hard or his sense of deep humility. “You never feel like you have it made,” he says. “There is never a chance you sit down or say, ‘oh I’m done,’ or ‘I’m home free.’ I don’t believe in that.” When asked what he wants to do next, he says he wants to keep painting and learn more about painting. “Keep living and learning,” he says. “I want to learn more about painting. I’m not painting the way I would like to paint. I’m still my worst critic. I think that’s what makes you grow.” When asked what his favorite painting is, he replies, “the next one. I hope to finally get one right.”
He may not have known how many fans he actually had, but Elmore is extremely grateful to everyone who has supported him throughout the years. “I want to thank all of the fans…especially the Kickstarter backers.” Those backers are in for a treat, as Elmore will be inviting them to tour his studio and then enjoy a motorcycle ride with him through the foothills of Kentucky.
Larry Elmore has been delighting gamers and fans of fantasy art for decades, and for a southern boy who just wanted to draw and paint, he’s done quite well. Larry Elmore: The Complete Elmore Artbook should be released later this year, and then Elmore looks forward to learning more about painting and giving 100% to his works. It hasn’t always been easy for Elmore, but it’s been a good ride for him so far. “You look back on your whole life and say, man, this was pretty good. It was hard work, but it paid off, and I’d do it all again.”