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Living out his fantasy

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A corner of the universe where fantasy and fiction are your guide. That’s where gifted illustrator Greg Opalinski goes when he’s inspired.

After acing a fierce creative competition, the driven Generation Y-er and recent college grad from Ridgewood had finally found his niche as a newly published illustrator, while earning international acclaim as the New York winner of the 2012 L. Ron Hubbard Illustrators of the Future Contest.

From thousands of entrants, the 22-year-old Opalinski was chosen as one of 12 winners who were honored in an Oscar-style gala ceremony in Hollywood on April 15. They came from all corners of the globe, and were presented with combined cash prizes and royalties of more than $30,000.

But Opalinski’s marquee achievement was seeing his dynamic artwork published in a popular book, described as the best new science fiction and fantasy of the year: The annual “L. Ron Hubbard Presents Writers of the Future, Volume 28.”

The young artist teamed up with Cory L. Lee, one of 12 writers who won the Writers of the Future Contest. “Every writer wrote an original short story and was assigned an illustrator,” Opalinski said. “I was assigned to her story titled ‘Shutdown.’”

Lee’s dramatic story — about a former ballet dancer turned military commando, plunging into a deadly alien forest to discover its hidden military secrets — is a must-read. (corrylee.com/publications)

Since his recent return from the West Coast, Opalinski’s home, where he lives with his parents and two older brothers, has been abuzz with excitement. “(The Opalinski family) wanted to tell everyone about my success” he said. “Some of my family members cried as they watched my speech, which streamed online on the night of the awards ceremony. They were all really proud of me, which became sort of a double-edged sword, because now I have to work extra hard just so I don’t disappoint them.”

So, what was it like being flown to Hollywood for an all-expense paid week-long workshop?

Opalinski said it was an amazing experience. “I’ve learned some invaluable things being able to speak to the judges, one-on-one, and made some great friends in the meantime. Everyone was very friendly and welcoming, and really tried to make the week special for all of us.”

Unfortunately, he didn’t rub elbows with any Hollywood celebs due to the rigorous schedule. “We didn’t have a lot of time to explore Hollywood,” he said, “but I did meet some world-class artists, like Cliff Nielsen and Stephan Martinière, who also happened to be our judges and workshop presenters.”

The Polish-born artist, who came to New York at age 13, has already managed to send a few creative shockwaves through Queens’ richly diverse art community, while embracing his new found fame.

“Most importantly, (the award) gave me confidence and assurance that I’m on the right path. Having met a lot of artists — both professionals and those just starting out — self-doubt seems to find everyone, without exception. This win gave me the extra push to keep going.”

With a bachelor’s degree in illustration from Manhattan’s School of Visual Arts under his belt, Opalinski is looking forward to a bright future as an illustrator for books and advertising. “My plans are to keep getting published. I hope to illustrate covers for novels and anything else I can get my hands on. I already started getting some work for game cards, so I think I’m on the right path.”

The contest

Created by L. Ron Hubbard, founder of Dianetics and Scientology, the Writers and Illustrators of the Future contests and programs have jumpstarted and advanced aspiring writers’ and artists’ careers over several decades, and more than 650 have now been recognized.

But Opalinski said the only connection between Scientology and the contests is that they were created by the same person. “There was never any talk about the church during workshops. It was all funded by royalties made from the sale of Hubbard’s well-known science fiction novels, not by the church. As far as I know, not one of the finalists (including him) is or was a Scientologist.”

His artwork

“My art is constantly evolving, so it’s difficult to describe it with a few words. But the underlying theme would have to be fantasy and adventure stories. I remember after reading ‘The Hobbit’ by J.R.R. Tolkien as a kid in Poland, my imagination would go wild. As a result, I can’t help but try to embed a hint of that childhood curiosity in all of my illustrations.”

After doodling for years, Opalinski put a concentrated effort into his illustrations during his sophomore year in college. His advice to aspiring illustrators is to “just keep going. Compare yourself only to the best. This will prove to be challenging, even discouraging at times, but I find it’s the best and fastest way to improve. Draw every day, even if it’s for 10 minutes, and most importantly, make sure you draw for yourself, not for someone else. Have fun with it.”

Look for Opalinski’s award speech online at youtube.com/writersofthefuture.

You can find a copy of the book at major online booksellers, as well as local bookstores. Also look for it in the eBook format to see all the illustrations in full color.

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