Duncan Long

I’ve been drawing and painting all my life; to some extent there’s emotional content to anything I create. However once in a while an illustration seems to bubble up from deep recesses of my mind, presenting a message or insight for consideration, as if a deep inner and unknown teacher has presented a profound truth.
Recently I created a book cover illustration for a novel Lead Me Not Into Temptation by Dale Allan. In the story, a priest discovers a horrifying evil, and is tempted to take vengeance into his own hands. The story comes to a climax with the priest ready to kill another human being. As I worked on the illustration, all sorts of contrasts in good/evil presented themselves, from the shadow of the church cross overtaking the shadow of his hand, to the storm that reflects his troubled emotions, to the sash that whips in the wind like a serpent. The saintly priest wears an evil grimace and strikes the pose of a trained assassin. The picture “pays off” in many ways, capturing the compromising of the priest’s beliefs and teachings, all about to be undone by one rash, violent action.
But it also presented a symbolic message to me: While it’s important to confront and understand the conflicts within my life, there are times when I must wait, maintaining beliefs and understandings rather than racing ahead and taking actions that are fruitless or even counterproductive to what I believe in. The picture reminded that my anger at things out of my control (the economy, fretting over health problems, etc.) was pointless and counterproductive. In the months since this “memo to myself,” I’ve found I’m more often at peace, and able to concentrate my energy on creative ends rather than raging against things I can’t control.

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  • http://duncanlong.com/blog/?p=2331 A Little Bit of the Story Behind the Artwork – Book Cover Illustrations

    […] Dr. Shelley Carson has been researching creativity for some years now, and we often exchange emails. She recently asked me to write a small comment on how some of my artwork had influenced me on a personal level — and this is the result. […]

  • Dr. Shelley Carson

    Duncan describes a valuable side effect to creative endeavor. As he worked on an art project that was commissioned by someone else, he found that his artistic exploration of the project’s topic led him to deeper personal self-understanding and, consequently, to greater inner peace. Duncan’s experience reminds me of a reaction that I have often heard from my undergraduates as they write term papers on psychological topics. In the beginning, the term paper is just work. However, at some point in the process – when they take ownership of it – the term paper becomes a conduit to greater personal understanding. Any time we employ a creative outlet, whether it is art, writing, music, or some other medium, we may find that our creative exploration leads us to an unexpected insight into self, world, or future.

    P.S. Duncan Long Duncan Long is an unbelievably talented professional magazine and book illustrator. Look through his thought-provoking art at: http://DuncanLong.com/art.html

  • http://analytikainc.com/blog/ John R. Sedivy

    Hi Duncan – Your illustration is powerful and I thank you for sharing the meaning behind your work. Similar to you, I have found that sometimes it is just best to be accepting of life’s challenges and to “just be.” Times of personal suffering may be times of great opportunity to create something not possible when all is well. Great article!

  • Duncan Long

    John: Thanks for the kind words. Suffering and creativity often seem to go hand-in-hand. Would an artist give up his abilities to avoid the worst he’s gone through – likely not. So the best alternative is to accept the suffering, park it in the past, and enjoy the pearls created around those grains of sand.

    — Duncan
    Magazine and book illustrator for HarperCollins, PS Publishing, Pocket Books, ILEX, Fort Ross, Ballistic Publishing, Asimov’s Science Fiction, Moonstone Books, ISFiC Press, and many other publishers and self-publishing authors. See my illustrations at: http://DuncanLong.com/art.html

  • Duncan Long

    I greatly appreciate your kind words – as well as your generosity in letting me post my bit here. I am never quite sure whether the various links seen between work or events and our lives is really there, or whether the links are simply “created” by an active mind looking for them – much as the way we “see” a the Man In the Moon when viewing the distant lunar surface from here on Earth. Likely it’s a little of both. Perhaps the wonderful thing here is that the human mind can discover such insights and then employ them to enrich personal experiences and provide a guide toward future endeavors. Often we cross rivers of misfortune on a bridge built from our own dreams.

  • http://duncanlong.com/blog/?p=2357 Creativity: Madmen, Geniuses, and Harvard Students – Book Cover Illustrations

    […] So, hopefully of interest… Here’s the link: Your Creative Brain: Duncan Long […]

  • http://analytikainc.com/blog/ John R. Sedivy

    Well said. I guess for every upside there is a downside; the trick is minimizing the downsize while maximizing the upside. Your comment made me think back to a book I read this past summer called Ground Of Your Own Choosing which had a discussion on maximizing your time in the creative space when suffering difficulties. The rationale was that instead of trying to rush through the pain that a person should recognize it as an opportunity to create unique work. This had really shifted my perception of life’s challenges.

    By the way – I visited your website and you have an amazing array of illustratons! Great stuff!

  • Cash434

    Hi Duncan!

    I admire your work! Your artwork is awesome! That priest picture really pays off for me! I get it! It’s pure genius!

    You wrote, “However once in a while an illustration seems to bubble up from deep recesses of my mind, presenting a message or insight for consideration, as if a deep inner and unknown teacher has presented a profound truth.”

    I think you coughed up a universal message from your muse. It’s the repeating metaphor, image, and theme on channel gamma. You are tuned into the “Odic force.” Compare your priest picture with St. George and the Dragon artwork http://bit.ly/fBNHre Then take a look at Meatloaf’s Bat out of Hell II cover art. Does the similarity between your masterpiece and those pieces set off any bells or whistles?

    Shelley suggested to me it represents a bold confrontation of chaos aka the unknown. It’s a process. First the fear, then the bold confrontation of the fear. In today’s trying times it makes perfect sense!

    P.S. You aren’t crazy. Everyone else is!

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Duncan-Long/783387672 Duncan Long

    Cash 434:

    I have to admit the St. George and the Dragon as well as the Meatloaf cover (the latter I had not seen, though I am familiar with St. George and both do have similar themes) would not have occurred to me with my picture.

    But there are elements of both good and evil in all three of these pictures. However the oddity with these would be that my picture combines good and evil within a single figure — more (I think) to my way of seeing human beings, with elements of both and good within their nature, struggling and battling to see who will gain the upper hand at any given moment. (Sort of like St. Paul’s suggesting of the “new man” and “old man” struggling to overcome each other for good or evil.)

    I think for many – perhaps all of us – this realization that everyone has the potential to be a monster or a saint (or a little of both) is hard to come to terms with. Ditto when looking at the people around us.

    The thought that the war criminal is someone just like us, who somehow let his “inner villain” gain the upper hand in his life is terrifying. It’s much easier to pigeonhole ourselves or others rather than to really start to understand the complexity of emotions and thoughts that battle with a human being. We each are intricate packages of tragedy and comedy, hero and villain as we play out life’s dramas.

  • Cash434


    It IS terrifying! I suspect you have the gift of insight at a costly price of a Puer-Senex split (see Carl Jung.) Your picture is an outbreak of neurosis. That’s just a fancy word for “troubled artist.” Welcome to the troubled artist club! I want you to remember this: You are NOT alone. You are NOT that evil. You are NOT Jesus Christ either!

    I think your “Hero’s Journey (see Joseph Campbell)” has been triggered by a brewing storm of emotions and built-up rage at external events and world. Mine was. Don’t do anything rash. The “enemy” is within. It’s fear. You might experience a breakdown. If you have problems with this developmental chapter (spiritual awakening) in your life check into your local mental health facility. Existential despair in the face of nihilsm is a real doozy (suicidal-homicidal feelings) and the mind vomit is frightening! It isn’t easy to stare absolute evil in the eye (your shadow) and realize it comes from your own brain. Nothing is the darkest night you will ever endure.

    It’s worthwhile in hindsight, you become integrated on a higher level of understanding. I recommend researching wikipedia term, “Positive Disintegration.” In my humble opinion you are a prime candidate for Dabrowski. Lucky you. I mean that in a sarcastic conflicted good way. It’s a growth thing. The caterpiller becomes a butterfly and it’s gonna hurt like hell so get support.

    Shelley Carson is a lighthouse for people like you and me lost in a stormy sea of emotion. You came to the right place. She can help you. She helped me. Buy and read Shelley’s book. Her words helped me in many, many, many ways. In addition I left my breadcrumbs (like Hansel and Gretyl) in her Psychology Today blog. I think I left them for you. Good Luck.

    Your concerned new friend,


  • Anonymous

    Your painting speaks loudly. How wonderful the creative process that led you to this expression. I personally believe that when I am in the flow of creativity it is me making room for the Holy Spirit to create through me, using my thoughts, my eyes, my hand, my mind and yet filling me with a flow of insight beyond me, growing me in the process. I’m wondering if you experience this process in any way like I do. Sherry

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Duncan-Long/783387672 Duncan Long

    By way of postscript to what I originally wrote, I awoke from a dream this morning with the realization that I had avoided facing the most obvious question my painting poses: What is it that the priest is aiming a pistol at?

    The answer (I think) is in the dream, a message from my subconscious, that had awakened me. This dream presented itself as the making a movie. The actors were making a movie about the American Revolution and were on the rebel side fighting British soldiers.

    The two key characters are lovers, an actress and an actor. Both have bit parts. However the actor learns he has been given a larger part of Ben Franklin (who in this dream is a fearsome swordsman). The catch: The actor must remain in character at all times.

    The actress greets this news with mixed emotions since she isn’t sure how their relationship can work if he “becomes” an old man. And, sure enough, when he appears from the makeup building balding, limping, and face wrinkled, she no longer feels any connection to him.

    The dream ends when she discovers him in the woods where he reveals that he isn’t wearing makeup but rather has had his hair pulled out to become bald, his face has been surgically altered to look old and wrinkled, and his legs have had the skin and muscle pulled from them so he walks with a limp on bare bones. The woman is terrified by this revelation – and the dream ends.

    There’s a lot that might be explored in the dream, but the key is my fear of the loss of my muse (the actress) because of my old age. This fear is compounded by an innate feeling (possibly created by past trauma) that I’m only 16 years old “inside,” regardless of my apparent calendar age. Thus I’m confronted daily by this ever-aging “actor” whenever I glance into a mirror.

    I’ve also noted that the actor in my dream and the priest in the illustration are both “warriors,” suggesting anger toward my growing old. This is something I hadn’t considered consciously before, but something that makes perfect sense now. And it gives me one more reason for a connection to this painting, and hopefully a little more insight that will help me learn, grow, and come to grips with who and what I am.

  • Cash434

    Hi Duncan!

    I enjoyed listening to your dream. You fascinate me! I would love to get my hands on a large poster sized copy of your priest picture! It speaks volumes to me on a personal level. How would I go about that?

    Your muse is your anima. You aren’t going to lose her. You are going to meet her. You are 16 years old inside because you are a Puer. You need to go on a dragon slaying, castle saving, novelty seeking adventure to earn your knighthood of individuation and unite those opposites and get the girl. This is your calling. Your shadow priest has a rage induced “boner” so unleash your dragon and take the Hero’s journey underground. Your heart knows where to go. It’s the middle passage. Trust yourself. This might help you get started in the right direction: http://www.physics.adelaide.edu.au/~iborchar/Arcane/heroes.html This is your second call to Adventure.

    Your friend,


  • Cash434

    We are dragon slaying drama machines built for saving castles in the purple sky. In the end we get to be St. George or Don Quixote.

  • http://duncanlong.com/blog/?p=3383 You’re Creative. You’re Different. – Book Cover Illustrations

    […] the guest post I did for Dr. Shelly Carson’s Blog (with some interesting comments by Carson and others). […]

  • http://www.facebook.com/William.danger.Mojo.Turbo.Powers Maestro Strokes

    Sometimes dreams are great ideas for books because they are so different from reality. I write my dreams down if I could remember them when I woke up and add them to my books. I love your book covers, you are very talented!


  • http://www.lauriescott-reyes.webs.com/ Laurie Scott-Reyes

    I envy your ability to focus on a single creative pursuit (illustrating). I’ve gotten better at focusing over the decades, but it is still one of my greatest life challenges. I ALWAYS have multiple projects in the works. Psychologically and emotionally, I can relate to everything you said in your blog. I’m going to attempt to follow your lead in concentrating my energy  on “creative ends rather than raging against things I can’t control.”