Judging a Book by Its Cover

An Exclusive Interview with Larry Elmore

by: Coyotee Sharptongue

I've met a number of  “celebrities” or “famous” individuals in my life, and around everyone of them I was proud at my composure and nonchalant manner. With a practiced apathy and casual demeanor, I was the epitome of cool. However, when I met Larry Elmore at the SOE Fan Faire, I have to admit that I was more than a bit “star struck”.

Here was a man who had given face, I even argue *life* to the characters that took me on countless of journeys throughout my childhood. If it wasn't for the accidental stumbling that lead to the discovery of a poorly shelved “DragonLance” novel, and the artwork that graced the cover of “Dragons of  Spring Dawning”, catching and firmly holding my eye, my personal portal to the realm of fantasy may have never been opened. They say that you cannot judge a book by it's cover, but in this case it was the cover that showed me doorway to a world I never knew existed. Long story short, I am ashamed and a bit embarrassed to admit that I was instantly transformed into every bad stereotype of a drooling, stammering fan that you've ever seen.

Instead of brushing me off or giving me a quick hello and running for his life, Mr. Elmore laughed and agreed to have a picture taken with me. There was no famous artist, jaded or numbed to the throngs of fans that pestered him daily, in fact in his place, I found a humble man who still finds amazement in the fact that people recognize him, or his work. A self described “Good ol' boy from Kentucky” who agreed to be interviewed and who patiently and even graciously answered every question I could think of, never once looking at the breakfast that was slowly growing cold in front of him as I blindly and rudely forced my way into his day.

For a country boy from Kentucky, Larry Elmore has an amazing talent for story telling – not just in his paintings and artwork, but in his everyday speech. Whether speaking in front of a large crowd or to a single nervous fan over a plate of steadily growing chilled mashed potatoes, he has a very vibrant and engaging quality that sets you at ease and pulls you deeper into the conversation. Not once in the three hours in which we talked over dinner did he hint at the boredom that must have been slowly creeping in, and not once did he shy away from even a single question that was presented. Even the ones that he must have answered a thousand times.

Growing up in rural Kentucky he explains that there “wasn't any fantasy art or anything like that.”, and as an artist he began feeling a pull towards some unknown direction.

“I wanted to draw something but didn't know what.” He stated with a smile as those gathered at our table leaned in to listen. “Over the years and trying to draw different things, I found out that by the time I got to college and started studying history on my own, that the pulling was towards the Celts and Celtic stuff. “

It was in the Celts and Celtic influences that Mr. Elmore found that he was drawing his own family history.  Working on a degree in Fine Art, he started doing fantasy drawings in college, and his teachers didn't know exactly what to make of it. “They thought I was crazy.” He chuckled as he admitted that he didn't like to do abstract art, adding that they told him that he was a natural illustrator.

This was back in the early days of the “Dungeon and Dragons were tools of the devil” scares, and since I knew that he was drawing fantasy, and creating the cover art for the DragonLance series, I had to ask not only what he thought of this, but if it had affected him in any way.

“It was so stupid.” He said sourly, shaking his head in disbelief. He went on to explain that even growing up in a very religious area, he never saw the negative brunt of it. Family, friends and teachers were able to see his art and his ability for what it was, and actually see the talent and beauty in the work. There was never any controversy or ire over his subject matter and artwork, only encouragement. He even added that the only regret that he ever had over doing fantasy themed work was the lack of props.

“I traded a lot of original work and paintings for things like swords.” He explained with a wry smile. “Now you can get a sword anywhere, but I really wish I had some of those pieces back.”

I quipped that he could always search eBay, knowing full well that his company “Elmore Productions Inc.” and website www.larryelmore.com frequently host original drawings, sketches and paintings on the auction site. This made us both laugh a bit, but brought a question to mind – why? What made him start selling individual pieces of work on eBay auctions?

The answer was exactly what I had guessed – us.

People were buying prints and artwork from Mr. Elmore directly for small sums (usually under 40 dollars) and selling them for hundreds of dollars online. Rather than out work himself for another's profit, Mr. Elmore decided to start selling on eBay as well, posting the artwork at the price that he'd normally ask, but allowing people to bid on the pieces as well.  You can still purchase his art directly through the above linked website, especially if you are looking for “out of print” works, but this definitely leveled the fairness of the playing field.

After a few more eBay jokes I began reflecting on some of my favorite pieces of his work. Two prints came directly to mind;

“Dragons of Spring Dawning” (which I now own, and Mr. Elmore graciously signed), the first piece of Elmore art that I had discovered had burned it's image into my mind, and

“The Companions” (Sadly folks, out of print), a group portrait of the nine companions of the DragonLance series.

Each piece had inspired countless questions from me that I had never thought I would have answered. With that good natured manner, and gracious personality, Mr. Elmore answered each of my questions as I fired them off, as if they had been asked for the first time. As I sat grinning, my attention held rapt by a story teller applying his craft as he spoke of characters he loved to draw and the personalities that they developed, (“I don't know how Caramon put up with Raistlin.” He confided mid-tale. “I would have just said “Feh, good bye” and left”), I asked on about another of his works, and noted briefly that his face fell.

“I've had three heart attacks.” He explained as he tapped his chest. “Years of drugs, not the bad kind, but pots of coffee and caffeine, junk food and cigarettes.” He rubbed his chest as he spoke, and the slowly trailed his right hand down his left. “I've got four stints in my heart, and I've had a stroke.” He adds as he looks down at his hands.

The piece I had been asking about was the first piece he had painted after the stroke. Eyes downcast, I could still sense the fear in his voice as he recounted how the hand he painted with (right) was unaffected, but he had lost functionality in his left, and had difficulty focusing. The realness of the situation was like a face full of cold water thrown by an unseen phantom. Just a short while ago Keith Parkinson ( http://www.keithparkinson.com /main.php ) passed from this world, leaving behind a brilliant and amazing career. Mr. Elmore had worked with him while Keith was still “green”, and had formed a close bond, both men becoming icons in the fantasy art genre. As he retold the loss of Keith Parkinson and reflected upon his own mortality, the table became quiet. I couldn't imagine never seeing a “new” Elmore print.

Then it hit me. Here was a man – a good man, father, an artist. A humble and modest man who was honestly in touch with his fans, yet somehow unaware of the influence he has over fans of fantasy.  I told him quite honestly, that he may some day die, but that through his work he would live well beyond his mortal years. Turning to the table, and using the vast SOE Fan Faire audience as my example, I asked my dining mates about the books, magazines, trading cards, posters, and fantasy items in their home. Through his Everquest art and breath taking visions of Norrath, he had entered our world and had shaped it before our very eyes. Everyone at the table had at the very least, one “Elmore” item in their collection. I expanded that to the next table and the next.

How could a man whose artwork touched upon every genre and clique of the fantasy world have no idea how wide and vast his influence truly was?  The answer was simple. He doesn't focus on it. The world disappears as he creates. He doesn't paint because he wants to, or needs to in order to make a living. He paints because he has to, because it is part of him.

In a world where sports stars make millions a year to throw, catch, or dribble a ball, in a world where people , vainly scream their importance because of a song, or movie, it can be said that true artists still exist.

Larry Elmore is a true artist. He could no easier stop painting and creating than he could stop breathing. The brush is his body, the paint his blood, and with every bristled stroke he adds his soul to the worlds that he brings to life.

And for that, I find myself very thankful.

(*Special and deepest thanks to Larry Elmore for the honor of an interview, dinner, and more than a few words from a Master Story Teller, and to Kiara who made it possible*)

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Last Updated: Mar 13, 2016