Gregory Manchess is a prolific award-winning American illustrator. Balancing aesthetics and concept, Manchess’ dynamic brushwork heightens the emotions of his narrative-driven paintings. With clients including Time, Playboy, Smithsonian and The National Geographic, his illustrations have appeared in magazines, movie posters, advertising campaigns and book covers.
Manchess was born in 1955, in Kentucky. He studied at the Minneapolis College of Art & Design; however, has said that he is largely self-taught in drawing and painting. After graduating in 1977, he moved to Iowa to work as a studio illustrator with Hellman Design Associates led by Gary Kelley. Surrounded by a pool of talent, Manchess took the opportunity to soak up their conversations.
Going against advice, in 1979, he decided to become a freelance illustrator. He moved to Chicago and got an agent. For five years, he worked with companies including McDonald’s. Up until the Chicago illustration industry crashed forcing him to move to New York. Manchess moved again, this time to Los Angeles with the aim of increasing his profile by illustrating for movie posters. Throughout, he was experimenting, learning and pushing himself.
Manchess has had many, many notable achievements during his career. He illustrated movie posters for Paramount, Columbia, and Disney. He painted the iconic character for Captain Morgan Spiced Rum, using himself as reference. He illustrated five classic Robert E. Howard stories with 60 paintings. He created ten mural paintings for a National Geographic exhibition, on an actual pirate ship. He completed a large portrait of Abraham Lincoln and seven major paintings depicting his life for the new Lincoln Memorial Library in Springfield, Illinois.
In 2009, Manchess took part in a painting demonstration. Without a clue what to paint, he turned to a friend for advice. They suggested painting something with snow and a guy riding a polar bear. Manchess wasn’t sold on the idea of a man riding a polar bear, but the prompt helped him land on the idea of a pack of polar bears lead by an explorer. He thumbnailed for 10 mins, then got into costume to shoot some reference photos. He worked late into the night to get the composition just right. No sooner had he finished the sketch, that the camera crew arrived at his home.
He completed the painting within two days with the camera hovering over his palette. He titled the piece Above the Timberline. Everyone wanted to know the story behind the piece but there wasn’t one, so he started to make it up. When Cat Peterson saw the painting for the first time, he said, “You’ve got to get that in front of a publisher!” So Manchess did, telling the publisher he was writing a book. To which they responded, “Great, send us the manuscript when you are done.”
Manchess spent five years working on the story, which he sold to Simon & Schuster in 2015. Then taking a further year to create 122 paintings for the book. He describes it as a hybrid novel-screenplay-graphic novel. Above The Timberline is scheduled to be released later this year in Autumn, 2017.
His work has been recognised by multiple prestigious industry awards and has exhibited in galleries across the world. He frequently lectures at universities and colleges and holds painting workshops at the Norman Rockwell Museum. Manchess also regularly contributes to the incredible blog Muddy Colors, sharing some valuable advice. These are a few of his must-read articles: A Few Thoughts About Your First Job, 10 Things…What’s in the Picture, 10 Things…Using Black, 10 Things to Remember about Training and 10 Things… Applying Paint.