Norwalk artist Dennis Lyall once had a lot more competition in the illustration market. But it turns out it isn't just writers who suffer when a love for reading takes a dive.
“At one time you couldn't throw a rock around here without hitting an illustrator,” Lyall says inside his home studio. Various works and portraits lie about the room, propped against walls. An easel holds a Western-themed work-in-progress. His computer's mouse shares desk space with a Wacom pad.
Lyall says a drop in readers means hard times for publishers. It goes to reason that if people are reading less, less will be printed. And books that don't get printed don't need cover illustrations.
Lyall, 65, has been chasing art almost his whole life. Hailing from Iowa, he grew up with the Saturday Evening Post, which was known for its classic covers by the likes of Norman Rockwell and his artistic peers. The illustrations often depicted the artist's take on simple aspects of American life. They inspired Lyall to chart a course for his future.
Lyall makes his living now mostly on portraits and scenes of the American West. The portraits he does on commission with the Geary Gallery in Darien. The cowboy-inspired pieces are for a gallery more than a couple of states away.
Professionally, Lyall is doing well. His work remains steady with both galleries. Other projects come up here and there, but commercial illustration isn't his focus anymore.
As far as modern art goes, Lyall appreciates the ability of a great impressionist to create something with feeling. But he isn't fond of anything that has to be explained. The piece should more or less stand on its own, he says.
While the book market might be hurting, Lyall says portraits have remained a solid field. People who can afford a nice portrait tend to favor paintings over photographs. His partnership with the Geary Gallery is working out well.
“A painting ought to have strength of character,” Lyall says, explaining why his favorite subjects are often aging men. “I just love painting interesting people and sometimes the most interesting face is not the what you would consider the most attractive.”