Friday, 11 November 2011

Interview with Martin McKenna

Martin McKenna is a freelance illustrator based in the UK. He was born in London, and started out in illustration with work for fantasy & horror RPG fanzines in the 80s, in particular the H.P. Lovecraft-devoted Dagon. His first professional commissions came from Games Workshop for their magazine White Dwarf and this began a long relationship with the company, illustrating lots of Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay publications and the very first Warhammer 40,000 book, as well as many other GW books and board games. Martin has also created game-related material for other publishers, including covers and internal illustrations for twenty-five of the Fighting Fantasy series from Puffin Books/Wizard Books, and card art for Magic: The Gathering from Wizards of the Coast.

Martin also produced artwork for various publishers around the world including Scholastic, Time-Warner, HarperCollins and Oxford University Press, illustrating popular authors such as Anne McCaffrey, Raymond E. Feist and Harry Turtledove, as well as some classics including Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde and The Silver Sword. He was fortunate enough to receive the British Fantasy Award for Best Artist.

Martin illustrated the book accompanying the album release of Misterstourworm & the Kelpie's Gift, an orchestral work based on stories and characters from Scottish legend. His artwork was used as large-scale backdrops for live performances of the work by The Orchestra of Scottish Opera, with narration by Lord of the Rings actor Billy Boyd.

As an author, Martin has written books about digital art including Digital Fantasy Painting Workshop and Digital Horror Art, and edited Fantasy Art Now published by Collins. In addition to work in publishing, Martin does concept and production art for computer games, and film and television productions which have included the BAFTA-nominated The Magician of Samarkand for the BBC, and most recently Gulliver's Travels for 20th Century Fox.

Talisman Of Death

  1. Tell us about your artwork.
I’d hope it can speak for itself for the most part. I’m not sure there’s a lot I can add, especially if a picture’s worth a thousand words and all that. I like drawing dark, shadowy, gnarled things. They’re a lot easier and more fun than doing light, bright and pretty things. Particularly when, if something goes wrong, you can just make it a silhouette, stick it behind a bit of knobbly tree, or hide it in some mist. But no, generally I’m drawn to monsters, melodrama, and a crepuscular gothic sort of mood. Plus over the years I hope I’ve got better at some kind of useful storytelling through pictures, and in my most recent projects I’m working really hard on that. For probably too long now I’ve been working on my first big solo picture book project, which has a deceptively simple story I’ve struggled to perfect. It’s my first serious stab at writing, at the suggestion of one of my kindly editors. It’s a nightmarish adventure for children exploring themes of darkness and light. I’ve strived to create the look and feel of the ‘golden age’ of book illustration and the work of Rackham and Dulac, but with some modern touches. With any luck I may not have fallen too far short.

Carol Wailers
Removal Giant

  1. What aspects of your childhood inspired your artistic creativity?
The things that I found most frightening! My earliest drawings, mostly scrawled on my bedroom wallpaper as if I were a troglodyte, all came as a direct result of whatever good, strange things disturbed me in books and comics, and especially on television. The first murky TV memories I have are of Doctor Who, and I was fortunate to be at an ideal impressionable age that coincided with those great gothic horror episodes of the mid 70s. Combined with a very early introduction to Hammer and Universal horror movies - again, I’m grateful to have grown up with all the late night horror double bills that used to be shown by the BBC. This proved to be formative, vital stuff and provided a foundation for exploring all sorts of spooky fare that I still love and find inspiring. I’m at my happiest when I have goosebumps.

  1. Tell us about your learning process, and particularly how your work evolved as a result of it.
Big Ben
Whatever I’ve learned has been self-taught; nothing I’ve done has come as a result of any formal training. Perhaps it shows! For many years all my stuff was done with purely traditional materials, using inks and other often unpredictable unguents on paper that didn’t allow for much in the way of mistakes, so I had to gain confidence in my technical abilities early on if I was ever going to complete jobs and meet deadlines. Since 1997 most of my stuff has been digital, which is much more forgiving and I guess it helped me loosen up a bit in my work. But it was a case of almost relearning things or at least how to approach things slightly differently and how to embrace the perceived freedom of all this new-fangled electrickery. My digital work went through a few dodgy phases while I was finding my feet again and searching for some sort of identity within it all, and now I feel happier with how I’m using Photoshop etc for drawing and painting. I seem to be enjoying doing things that are simpler again, using the new technology so I don’t have to worry about the paper buckling.

  1. Are there any underlying themes or messages in your work?
Virtually everything I do is commissioned work, so whatever themes or messages it contains are mostly those that are necessary for the artwork to be doing its job in conveying a mood or helping to tell a story, for the client.

  1. Of the artwork you’ve created, do you have a favourite? If so, why this particular work?
There’s not really one particular picture I like, it tends to boil down to things that stand the test of time and that I can bear to still look at. Any time I look through old work I find different things that I like and dislike each time. It’s a nice surprise when I look at something I’d almost forgotten doing because it had to be done in a hurry, which is usually the case, and discovering that it really wasn’t too bad. Some pictures remain stinkers and are best buried at the bottom of the drawer.

The Shadowing
Howl of the Werewolf

  1. Tell us about your British Fantasy Award for Best Artist.
It was quite a long time ago now. But still I caress it and polish it and adore it for most of every day. I carry it with me everywhere and show it to people at bus stops. Actually, there’s not a great deal to tell. It was nice to get one, whatever it was I did that year, or cumulatively up to that point, to get me nominated and all. The best thing is having an example of the statuette itself, which was made from a carving by my great old friend Dave Carson. Although I did already have one he made for me out of concrete in case I never received a real one, and I still use that as a doorstop.


  1. How is creating science fiction or fantasy art different from creating other genres?
I’m not sure there’s a whole lot of difference. As a commission, any job requires an individual approach to fulfil the brief, whether it’s something fantastical or otherwise one works within whatever stylistic parameters are put in place. The same basic rules of lighting and composition and whatnot remain the same. The main difference is in the challenge of making a fantastical, unreal subject appear believable to some extent.

  1. What do you find most rewarding in the creative process, and how do you overcome that which you find challenging?
I’m very happy if I get something finished. And if I don’t hate it, then I’m ecstatic. I’m exaggerating somewhat but it’s not so far from the truth. I love it when there’s an image, a piece of work that I’m happy with, that I can sit back and look at in the evening but which didn’t exist in the world that morning. There’s so much about the process of making this stuff that I find challenging. I’ll usually get underway with some procrastination. And after some frisbee with the dog and a bit of gardening, and the washing-up, I’ll procrastinate a bit more. Eventually I’ll confront my demons and probably, not having overcome that which I find most challenging at all but merely sidling around the back of it to give it a kick before running away, I’ll have produced another piece of work which I’ll forever thereafter think could’ve been better. But the next one’s bound to be great.

  1. What advice would you give to anyone considering a career in art?
Sorry, art’s full. Anyway plumbing pays better. Oh okay, to attempt a more serious answer, I guess the key thing is to keep working and enjoy it. If you love what you’re doing, stick at it and really put everything into pursuing it chances are stuff will happen for you. There's no tried and tested method of getting into illustration work, everyone I know who does it professionally got to where they are by different routes. Overall it's simply a case of remaining persistent. The important thing is to get your work seen by art directors etc -- submit samples of your work to companies and publishers who put out the kind of stuff you like, and maybe approach art agencies.  Some diligent research online can give you the name of an art director within an organization and how to contact them. And then if you fire off enough bullets, depending on the suitability of your work (and any number of other random factors), one is sure to eventually hit something and you're off to a start -- anything to gain experience.  I remember when I was about sixteen I entered a Games Workshop drawing competition, but rather than being entered into the competition I received a letter from John Blanche (their then art director) inviting me to work for them, which was incredibly exciting for me at the time. So, nothing ventured, nothing gained.  My career started before the internet made it so much easier to contact people -- now it's possible to really put yourself out there in the world through Facebook and the like. Get a site set up, or simply start a page on an art site such as CGSociety. Love what you do, keep at it and don't give up.

  1. What have you done to promote and market your artwork and what advice would you give to other artists?
I suspect I’ve probably not been doing enough to promote myself recently. What I could really do with is to be asked to give an interview for a blog -- then I’ll hit the big-time. I’ve been a bit quiet of late, working away on my projects. But I dare say I need to remind folk I’m not deceased, so I must do things like update the blog on my own site soon... too easily neglected, as I’ve discovered. As for advice to artists, I’ve probably already covered that in the previous answer.

  1. Who, do you imagine, would be your ideal client?
That has got to be Windsor Davies. Just the thought of him fixing me with his steely squint while gurning that moustachioed pout, before complimenting me on the good job what I done by saying, “My lovely boy!” in his sonorous Welsh baritone is what forever drives me on. A slightly more serious answer might be, I dunno, designing some telly Doctor Who monster stuff perhaps. If you’re reading this, Moffat, give us a bell.

Centaur Uniforms

  1. What aspirations, or reservations, do you have regarding the continuing application of your work to film and television?
My little forays into film and TV have been fun, but quite intense and stressful at times. Although that might have been due to negotiating the M25 at 6am to get to film studios - I’m not much of a commuter. I’ve loved seeing my artwork come alive on screen as costumes worn by actors, or as animation or whatever. I’d really like to do more work in film if I get the chance to muck in on anything good, as long as I don’t abandon the sorts of personal book projects, which have been taking up all my time recently. If I have any reservations, it might be that movie productions can be just so sprawling and complex with so many people involved - I went from the last such experience I had at Pinewood to working alone on my simple little picture books, which has been a nice, calm time in comparison. Having opportunities to hop between the two spheres every now and again provides a refreshing contrast, if I’m lucky enough to continue to be asked.

  1. Tell us a little about any good art you’ve seen recently.
I’m seeing good things all the time. But recently I’ve been stuck very much in the past, on that Rackham and Dulac trip, with a liberal dose of Sidney Sime. The latter can really stir my imagination and lure it away into murky, spectral reaches. Just the thing on a slow day.


  1. What other interests do you have?
Aside from reading a lot and endlessly watching films, other interests are mainly outdoor activities, in necessary contrast to sitting indoors and the very sedentary business of doing illustrations. Training my brilliant border collie for sheepdog trials - by far my best achievement of late! Climbing Scottish mountains in sideways rain, and recently learning to fly aeroplanes, which provides plenty of thrills and mental exhaustion.

  1. Where can we find you and your art?
My work and I turn up in all sorts of odd places. But check out and that poor neglected blog it features that one day I might actually update.

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Interview with Synergy (Larry Fast)

Larry Fast is a synthesiser expert and composer, best known for his series of pioneering electronic music albums recorded under the project name Synergy. He is also known for his work with Peter Gabriel; playing synthesiser on records and on tour, and rounding out the production team on many of Peter's albums for nearly a decade. Larry has also worked with Rick Wakeman and Yes, Foreigner, Hall and Oates, Bonnie Tyler, Wendy Carlos, Tony Levin, Nektar, Iam Siam, Annie Haslam and others. He also contributed music to the Carl Sagan 1980 television program Cosmos: A Personal Voyage, and created the soundtrack for the 1982 film The Jupiter Menace.

  1. You are one of the pioneers of electronic music. How did you enter, what was once, one of the most exclusive worlds in modern music?
It really started happening for me in the late 1960s. I had been an electronic experimenter since I was a kid, building and wiring things since I soldered my first wires together in the late 1950s. I also loved listening to music and took lessons on violin and piano, and later self-taught myself guitar and bass. Couple that with hi-fi and stereo, tape recording and the various aspects of audio circuitry and I was primed for electronic music. When the Moog products evolved into instrument systems from individual modules between 1964 and 1967, I wanted to own some of them. But still in school at that time, there was no way I could afford those thousands of dollars. So I started building my own devices. Some from circuits I found in technical magazines and others that I developed myself from classic oscillator and filter circuits. One of my first oscillators was a modified Morse code practice oscillator.

By the early 70s I was building electronic devices for other musicians such as Rick Wakeman from Yes.

But I had also started to write and record, to satisfy my own creative leanings. And by then had managed to scrape together enough money to buy some genuine Moog instruments, which were superior to my own designs and construction. I used the combination of Moog and my own equipment to work with bands and on my own. After a short-lived band experience I was offered a record deal in 1974 for what would become the Synergy solo electronic project.

Electronic Realizations for Rock Orchestra

  1. How and why did you choose the name ‘Synergy’?
I was looking for a project name to hide behind - a sort of fictional band. Reading Buck Minster Fuller's Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth there was a chapter called Synergy. He was describing the combined effects observed in metallurgy, chemistry and environmental sciences. But the word did apply to the effects I had observed in multi-track audio recording. And it sounded a bit like "synthesizer", so I appropriated the then-obscure term for my project. Now, about forty years later, it is a much-overused mainstream term.

  1. In my opinion, Electronic Realizations for Rock Orchestra is one of the most innovative and important recordings of the 20th Century. Tell us about the development of this album, and the technology you employed to produce it.
The earliest form of the album started shaping up as a senior thesis piece in my 20th Century Composition course at college. There is an entire section of the appropriately named Legacy piece, which was written for that course. Slaughter On Tenth Avenue was a piece that I had performed on piano as a student in junior high school. It struck me a decade later, as something that would translate well into the electronic genre. Other pieces evolved from writing sessions with a short-lived band I had on a development deal with Warner Bros. Records, which didn't pan out, and things I wrote after that band broke up.

Soon after that I signed as a solo artist to Passport Records and began putting the album together in preproduction. The technology was fairly standard for the time.  Much of it is listed in the album credits. I used Moog instruments, which on that early album was mostly Minimoog along with modules from Oberheim and 360 Systems. Recording was quite conventional 16-track to 2-inch tape with dbx noise reduction. Mixing was done in both quad and stereo. The original quad mix is encoded in the stereo mix, though the quad fad of the 1970s soon faded so few people have heard the old surround mix. The original release was on the available formats of the day which were vinyl, cassette and 8-track. There was even a quad 8-track format released in very limited numbers.

Peter Gabriel Tour, 1977

  1. Tell us about your work with Peter Gabriel and others.
That is a huge topic covering more than five albums and almost a decade with Peter Gabriel alone. Session work and touring with other acts has never really stopped, but was a fairly consistent 35-year-run with so many recording dates that I can't even remember all of them anymore. Without a specific question it's difficult to know where to even begin. For the years 1976 through 1985 or so, the recording and touring cycle with Peter Gabriel was fairly constant. Many of the other recordings that I worked on like Foreigner, Hall & Oates, Bonnie Tyler and others were slotted in when there were breaks in the Gabriel schedule. After that, it was easier to get involved in special projects.

One of the most interesting projects was working with Wendy Carlos in 1997 on the live version of Switched On Bach performance at a Bach festival in New York. It was the first time that the classic 1967 album had been performed live by a synthesizer ensemble. It took months of work and was the finest all-synthesizer group that I have ever performed with. That kind of work was so different from the many rock tours that I have done that it really stands out in my experiences.


  1. You have designed listening devices for the hearing disabled; and you own several patents for optical distribution using infrared audio technologies. Has this expertise helped you with your career in music, and if so, how?
In reality, it's the other way around. The technologies that underlie audio in the studio and synthesis are all about quality sound. For people with hearing losses, finding ways to compensate for their hearing through technology is very much related. I had already spent several decades exploring the nuances of audio circuit designs so it was not a big leap when I was charged with finding some new solutions to problems in accommodating those people with hearing losses covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act.  

The only aspect that was new to me was getting up to speed on transmitting audio over infrared light. But even that was not all that much different from the design of blinking LEDs that I had incorporated into a lot of my sequencers and computer interfaces for analog synthesizers. The one irony out of the whole exercise was that in all of my earlier years developing specialized synthesizer modules, nothing I had developed was clearly patentable. The changes that I brought into infrared assistive listening, a small side project, was patent-ready on multiple counts.


  1. Tell us about your new Synergy album. Why have you chosen to return to the Synergy project, after over 20 years, and what do you hope to give to your listeners?
There wasn't a conscious decision to stop doing the Synergy recordings. It was more a matter of economics. The record business has always been notoriously unstable and to some degree untrustworthy. Over the years, I found myself getting more commissions to work on corporate projects and in broadcast media, which took up as much, if not more, time to execute on a per-project basis. That left little time for making records just for art sake. That, coupled with the bankruptcy of the label I had been originally signed to, and a protracted fight to get the rights to the Synergy catalog back, put new Synergy recordings on hold for quite a while. 

What has happened recently, is that at my current stage in life (older) I can back off on the outside projects a bit. And in the current extended recession, there aren't as many commissioned projects as there once were, either. So that opens up some time for me to indulge in the Synergy project experimentation again.

The listeners are along for the ride, because I can't predict exactly where it will take us or even when it will be completed. I do know that the recordings will be high-bit audiophile digital masters, which will be down-converted to regular CDs and of course compressed audio for download sales and streaming. However, I'm actively pursuing the best way to make the audiophile versions available to the general public and in what formats. I'd also like to do 5.1 surround versions of the final mixes. I expect that I'll use many of the same creative tools, which these days focus heavily on software synthesis tools.

  1. Is there an underlying theme or message in your work?
No, not really. You might pick up something from a title here and there, but I like the music to stand on its own, conveying spaces and emotions non-verbally. And even that tends to be "fiction" without a specific storyline. Think of it more as a soundtrack that doesn't have a movie attached to it.

Metropolitan Suite

  1. Of the music you’ve created, is there one piece that you are particularly proud of? If so, why this particular work?
So far, the Metropolitan Suite is the most integrated collection of my earlier works. But it is very hard to have a single favorite piece. At the time any one of the Synergy pieces is being written, it is my favorite piece in the world. If it wasn't, why would I even bother to keep working on it? But after any collection is finished, some of the pieces just work better than others. And sometimes that is completely unexpected.  

The pieces I've created over the decades are so different from each other that various aspects of different pieces have strengths that are more appropriate for different listeners and in different settings. So no one piece could ever be my universal favorite for all times.

  1. What do you find most rewarding in the creative process, and how do you overcome that which you find challenging?
I never quite know where the creative process is going to take me. I sometimes have a starting point with a rough idea of where I want to explore. Setting up some parameters of tempo, feel, texture and so on, gives me the beginnings of structure. Often I'll also have some kind of melodic hook or partial melody to get me started. And then it's off to that mysterious place in the creative thought process where ideas come together. I'm constantly switching between programming, arranging, writing and rewriting parts. These days it is all integrated into an ongoing recording process in the computer. Even the mixing is roughed in at this point, as the piece develops. The simultaneous job functions are somewhat of a departure from the analog days where there was a writing phase along with programming sounds on the synthesizers. But other than rough sketches on a 4-track recorder, there wasn't a whole lot more that could be done outside of the studio other than plan and note things like patch setups and the settings on the outboard equipment. Then, after all of the preparation, there was a distinct master recording phase onto multitrack tape, and then another period of time where recording was finished and locked, and mixing could begin. And the mastering for LP manufacturing.

Now many of these phases occur as part of one continuous process with the ability to revisit individual notes on any one part and make a quick change after the mix and mastering have been done on a first or second pass. I find that work sessions will last many hours with intense concentration, which is almost like going into some kind of zone. A lot gets done to move any production forward during that process. But sometimes I will hit an impasse where I can't decide which path to take, or I find that I'm unable to make some kind of decision about a musical part or a mix level or the sound of a patch. And I find it best to just leave it all for a while and stop working on it. Hearing it fresh an hour later, or a day or two later, usually makes the resolution of whatever the problem was become obvious. Often the right path is easy to get to, but if it won't resolve, then there is probably some kind of fundamental problem with the decisions that I've been making, which need to be revisited. At those points, the best thing to do is to go back a few or more steps in the process and try to re-imagine an alternate way to make the production evolve.

Computer Experiments, Vol. 1

  1. What advice would you give to someone considering a career producing electronic music?
That is a difficult question because I’m not really sure that electronic music in the sense that I started working in even exists as a meaningful genre anymore. What is now called electronic music is more of a dance and beat genre using laptop software, dedicated devices and other tools, which evolved from the work done forty plus years ago. But what used to be electronic music, a composer and technologist's medium, was always a very small group of people and to some extent with limited opportunities.

My advice would be more universal to anyone considering working in the music business. Know your craft and be as good at it as you can be. Have high standards and specific artistic and business goals. And especially, learn the business side and have a good lawyer you can trust. The music business changes every week and if you don't understand how you are going to get paid for all of your hard creative work, then it's just a hobby.

Tony Levin Band, Seattle

  1. Evolution is an inherent facet of modern music. What new developments are you aware of, with regards to the application of technology in electronic music production?
Of course there are always some new developments in the evolution of sound technology, but what I'm seeing now in many ways is the commercialization and affordability of many of the concepts that I was fortunate enough to experience in the mid 1970s and 80s at Bell Laboratories. The underlying technologies and concepts of digital sound and synthesis were being developed back then. But it was extraordinarily expensive and time consuming. What we're seeing now is the evolution of those ideas to become available at consumer prices and on standard computers, pads and phones. And that allows further evolution of the user interface and development of ways to use underlying audio technologies in creative new ways that are a part of the social evolution of digital music. That encompasses everything from how the music is created to the many ways that digital music is distributed.

The Jupiter Menace

  1. My earliest memory of your music is from Carl Sagan’s Cosmos. I also have the soundtrack for The Jupiter Menace. What aspirations, or reservations, do you have regarding the continued use of your music in film and television?
Most of the last few decades when I have been out of the direct public eye has been spent working in broadcast media, TV, radio, advertising and special projects related to film and scoring. Being based on the east coast that tends to be a bit more anonymous than working on Hollywood projects. But I have almost no reservations about either licensing my existing work for these kinds of uses or accepting commissions to create new music in these same fields. I have probably written and recorded more commissioned work over the last 20 years than all of the earlier Synergy albums combined. As a purely economic matter for the working electronic musician as the established record industry continues to unravel, these alternative media provide a much-needed economic base to replace what the record companies once provided.

  1. Tell us a little about any good electronic music you’ve heard recently.
I don't listen to music much, so I can't comment on anything new. After spending time in the studio, I find myself listening to news and talk radio in the car and watching TV in my downtime at home (or on the computer while travelling). I do keep some of Wendy Carlos' classic pieces and a lot of Beatles in my iTunes collection to remind me to keep my standards high. Those works, the earliest of which are nearly a half-century old, really defined production values, composition and in Wendy's case (as well as some later Beatles pieces on Abbey Road) the purest essence of Moog-based synthesis.

  1. Tell us about your interest in photography.
That's been a hobby since I was very small. I've been documenting phases of my life, and where I've been, since I was in single digits. That's my historian side.  There's also the visual artist side, which I also express through photography. Of course for the last 15 years or so I've given up most of my darkroom work and use digital cameras and photo software.

It was only natural that I'd have a hand in both photographing some of my album art and working closely with the art directors and photographers that they brought into the projects.

Reconstructed Artifacts

  1. Describe ‘Synergy’ in one sentence.
The sum is greater than the whole of the parts.

  1. Where can we find you and your work?
It is all available on iTunes as well and a number of major online download sites.  Physical CDs of some of the titles can be found on CD Baby (  As of this writing there are some changes underway in the distribution of the rest of the Synergy titles on CD so the best thing to do is check the updated information on the Synergy website:

Friday, 23 September 2011

Interview with Scott Grimando

Indigenous to planet Earth, Scott Grimando currently resides in the outer spiral arm of the Milky Way Galaxy. He hopes to relocate soon. In the meantime, he paints pretty pictures of zombies and fairies, takes nice photos and tries to write.

  1. Tell us about your artwork.
It’s the most amazing, fantastical art in the known universe. Or so my mother tells me.

  1. Why did you choose this type of creative work, and what do you hope to achieve with it?
I assume you mean Science Fiction and Fantasy art? I was raised on it. This kind of art speaks to me. It speaks of the promise of a better tomorrow and a magical past. I hope to touch people with my work - to get them to think and dream.

  1. What’s your strongest memory of your childhood, and how has it helped to define your art?
My earliest memory is a recurring dream that I had when I was still in the crib. I could see into my parents room and they were being eaten by monsters that later took on their identity. At least I think that was a dream. I can’t see any relationship between that and my art. My goal as an artist was defined by an early Boris Vallejo calendar my father bought for me. It gave my overactive imagination a sense of direction. I wanted to be as good as Boris!

  1. Are there any underlying themes or messages in your work?
Yes. Monsters ate my parents.

  1. Tell us about your learning process, and particularly how your work evolved as a result of it.
I was raised by a commercial artist, so I always had the tools and encouragement. As a teenager, I studied under Harold Stevenson, one of the few students of Norman Rockwell. In my early twenties, computers entered the art scene and I applied my classical training to the new tools.

  1. Of the artwork you’ve created, do you have any favourite? If so, why this particular work?
My favourite personal work is the fjords found on the coast of Norway on planet Earth… Now I’ve said too much.

  1. How is creating science fiction and fantasy art different from creating other genres?
A Fantasy artist has to be able to create things that don’t exist and make them believable. The viewer must suspend disbelief when looking at fantasy art. That doesn’t work if the Dragon’s not convincing.

  1. What do you find most rewarding in the creative process?
Creating. Bringing an idea to life. Seeing a person respond to my creation.

  1. What do you find most challenging, and how do you overcome it?
Illustration as an occupation is the job of visual problem solving. You are given a set of criteria along with an outline or manuscript and you must come up with a visually compelling image that hopefully conveys a narrative in your own unique way. That’s the constant challenge and often rewarding aspect of the craft.

  1. What have you done to promote and market your artwork, and what advice would you give to other artists?
Traditionally artists used expensive illustration directories and direct mail campaigns. The modern art department revolves around the computer and instant access to the Internet by art directors. A strong web presence is the best approach to promotion now. The web is not the only piece of the puzzle though. An artist must research and reach out to as many relevant art directors as possible. Direct mail is still a good way to keep your most recent work on an A.D.’s wall. However, once a contact has been made, keep them updated through non-harassing emails. Update your website regularly and get involved in as many promotional websites as possible.


  1. What memorable responses have you had, regarding your work?
A fan once told me that my work had gotten her through cancer. That’s pretty cool. Other than that, I have at least one fan at each fairy show approach me with a whisper of, “Do You Believe?”

  1. Evolution seems an inherent facet of fantasy art. What new developments are you aware of, with regards to the application of technology, in this genre?
Digital Art is just about the only kind of art being used in publishing today (excluding children’s books). A few painters still make an important impact on the industry, but they are finding it hard to deal with increasingly tight deadlines and editorial changes. More importantly, a photo-illustration style is what’s being sought by publishers and consumers. Here’s the interesting thing: I get hired because I have both sets of skills. I’m a classically trained painter with digital photography expertise. We’re still talking about fantasy art here. Things need to be convincingly made up. The last thing an art director wants to hear is that the “illustrator” can’t convey the message because they can’t photograph the subject.

  1. What aspirations, or reservations, do you have with regards to your art being used in film and television?
I think a lot of illustrators want to get involved in concept development for TV and film. It seems so glamorous and prestigious. There are downsides but I still want to get deeper into the field. I did character development for video game companies and Hallmark Entertainment and I really enjoyed it. A concept art agent is currently looking for a project for me, so we’ll see how it pans out. No pun intended.

  1. What do you do when you’re not being artistic?
I kayak, fish, hike, exercise, write, perform poetry and wrestle pandas.

  1. Describe your art in one sentence.
 What? How’s that?

  1. Where can we find you and your art?
Hopefully you can find my cover work in bookstores. Assuming you can find a bookstore. My first art book from SQP publishers can be found on Amazon or any other online source. Look for, The Art of the Mythical Woman, Lucid Dreams. I think fantasy fans and art students will find it enlightening. The first half deals with components of an assignment and the second half deals with painting theory and the concepts behind my personal work.


Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Interview with Susan Bischoff

Susan in her own words:

I’m just a girl who wants superhero romance! Is that so much to ask? Why must it always be a tragedy? Why does Angel walk away? Why does Spike—what did happen to Spike? Why did Wonder Woman go back home after the end of season 1 and WWII, then come back, work with Steve Trevor’s grandson, and still not hook up? Seriously! And let’s not even talk about Superman Returns, OK? Let’s. Just. Not.

  1. Tell us about the ‘Talent Chronicles’.
The Talents are mostly teens that have been born with supernatural abilities. No one knows (yet) why this started happening, but as the kids started to exhibit powers and some of them got out of hand, people got scared. The government set up an agency to “deal with the issue,” and of course gave them too much power and free reign. So now, when the evil government agency finds out about these kids, they remove them from their families and put them in special research facilities where they can be studied and taught to control their abilities. Or turned into human killing machines for the government. Potato, potahto, right? Anyway, the kids naturally want to keep their abilities secret to avoid prison, so a lot of the Chronicles is about their attempts to do that.

  1. Why are you writing this series, and what do you hope to achieve with it?
Right now I’m kind of into gas and groceries. These days, being able to afford those things feels like an achievement, right?

In a more writerly sense, there are a lot of reasons I wanted to write the series. I love superheroes, and I longed for more super-powered stories with an emphasis on romance—not to mention with some Happily Ever Afters. I wanted to try my hand at writing something with a lot of characters and threads, where people’s lives kept intersecting—like in a soap opera. The characters have these cool abilities, the kind that makes you think, ooh, I could totally use that. But for these guys, it brings them a lot of grief. And both the ability and keeping the secret go far in shaping each character. For some reason that really speaks to me.

  1. Is there an underlying message in ‘Hush Money’?
I think there are, like, fifty underlying messages in Hush Money. And that’s part of the fun for me in reading what other people get out of it is that I can go: Yes! You totally got that!

If I had to pick out just one to mention, it would be this idea that what makes you a freak is the thing that makes you awesome. The series is YA and I think that’s something I’d like kids to understand. There’s so much pressure to fit into categories and to be like everyone else, or at least a subset of everyone else, and if you’ve got something about you that makes you stick out somehow, it can be really uncomfortable. But if you can take that thing, own it, make something out of it, be who you are, there’s freedom in that. And maybe more.

  1. You have more than a passing interest in computer games. Has this influenced your writing, and if so, how?
Computer games are kind of a new obsession for me, but because I always like to make connections I am seeing lessons as far as the kind of video game stories that appeal to me. For those interested, I’ve talked about that on my blog in a post called Zelda, Dragon Age, and the Power ofChoice.

  1. Of the characters you’ve created, do you have a favourite? If so, why this particular character?
It’s a lame answer, but I love all the characters. Every one of them contains some facet of my personality and my experience. I’ve spent a lot of time now writing as Joss and Dylan, so I’m very attached to them, but I have others who are dear to me I have yet to introduce.

  1. How is writing superhero stories different from writing other genres?
At the end of the day, it’s probably not. We all have our rules. Sometimes I get jealous because I’ve restricted the superpowers in my world to things I can sort of wrap my brain around. So I don’t have some of the super-creative and how does that even happen?? Stuff like you’d see in X-Men. And I can’t just whip out some new kind of magic, magic object, or whatever to make a scene more interesting or get me out of a tight spot like writer friends in other genres. But they’re probably just making it look easy.

  1. Why do you think romances, within the superhero genre, often end in tragedy?
One explanation, perhaps, is the serial nature of a lot of superhero fic. If you’ve got a guy wandering around battling evil issue after issue, it might be inconvenient for him to have a family in tow. I guess there’s probably some basic belief that the life—and “with great power comes great responsibility” to lead that life—is incompatible with a relationship.

There’s also something terribly romantic about that lonely hero thing. It’s just that in romance we like that to be the beginning of the story, not the end.

  1. What do you find most rewarding in the writing process?
All the surprises. Like the things that just come out unexpectedly and totally work. Or going back and reading something I’ve written and having that feeling of, “Holy crap, I wrote that?”

  1. What do you find most challenging, and how do you overcome it?
Getting out of my own way. Getting over myself and all my insecurities to just sit down and do the work. I’m still working on this one, but having a designated ass-kicker does help.

  1. What have you done to promote and market your books, and what advice would you give to other authors?
And then keep clicking for the next post.

  1. Who, do you imagine, would be your ideal reader?
I usually think of my readers as people like me. We spend a lot of time daydreaming to change the course of relationships in our favourite TV shows because things just didn’t end right. We don’t understand why “a slayer is always alone.” We were horrified by deadbeat dad Superman in Returns. Those of us who are my age probably watched Steve Trevor’s admiration for Wonder Woman and Diana’s obvious interest in him and desperately wanted to see that go somewhere, only to be disappointed. And then there was Batman and Catwoman

  1. What advice would you give to help others build the confidence required to write their first book?
Just write it for yourself. Because if you’re the only one who’s ever going to see it, it doesn’t so much matter what you do. Making it “perfect,” releasing it, finding readers… That’s all stuff that can come later. But you have to write it first.

  1. Would you like to see your books adapted for the screen? If so, do you have any aspirations, or reservations, regarding this?
I would love to see a Talent Chronicles TV series. Not something that follows the books, but something based on the idea, maybe with a new set of characters. And of course I’d love Joss Whedon to show up for that.

  1. What are you doing now?
I’ve just released the second novel in the series, Heroes ’Til Curfew, so I’m trying to get the word out about that. I’m deep in the planning phase for the third book, Heroes Under Siege. And, having decided to keep Talent Chronicles and independent endeavour, at least for now, I’m trying to come up with an idea for something new to share with my agent and New York.

  1. Describe the ‘Talent Chronicles’ in one sentence.
If Buffy led the X-Men—it’s teen angst drama, action, and romance; kids with super powers trying to become the people they were meant to be—without getting caught.

  1. Where can we find you and your books?
Hush Money, the first novel, is available in eBook and paperback pretty much everywhere you’d expect.

Impulse Control, is a short story available for free on Smashwords or as part of an eBook anthology called Kiss Me, Kill Me, where you can get it with the works of several other awesome authors for a great price and good cause.

Heroes ’Til Curfew, the second novel, is currently available in eBook at select retailers with a paperback in the works and coming in the next few weeks.

Visit my website for more information on any of these titles.



Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Interview with John Howe

John Howe is a Canadian illustrator and concept artist, best known for his work based on J. R. R. Tolkien's worlds. Howe and noted Tolkien artist Alan Lee served as chief conceptual designers for Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings movie trilogy, John Howe also did the illustration for the "Lord of the Rings" board game and re-illustrated the maps of The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, and The Silmarillion in 1996–2003.

His work is however not limited to this, and includes images of myths such as the Anglo Saxon legend of Beowulf. He also illustrated the board game Beowulf: The Legend. John Howe illustrated many other books, amongst which many belong to the fantasy genre. He also contributed to the film adaptation of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis. In 2005, a limited edition of George R. R. Martin's novel, A Clash of Kings was released, complete with numerous illustrations by John Howe. He has also illustrated cards for the Magic: The Gathering collectible card game.

For the upcoming The Hobbit films, former director Guillermo del Toro and current director Peter Jackson have been in consultation with John Howe and fellow conceptual artist Alan Lee to ensure continuity of design. John Howe is a member of the living history group, The Company of Saynt George.

Bridge of Kazad-dum

  1. You are a world-famous illustrator and concept artist whose work I have long admired. For the benefit of those who may not be familiar with your work, tell us about your career and your artistic creations. 
I’m afraid I’ll have to leave the introduction to you; I am not very good at writing about my own work. I am grateful, though, to have been able to pursue drawing and painting as a profession. I suppose the best part is being under the constant obligation to LOOK at things, since so much is needed to paint fantasy, from an acceptable layman’s knowledge of history, armour, architecture, and much, much more, to landscape and light and the human figure, not to mention all the astonishing creatures that inhabit fantasy. This means you are always attentive to atmosphere and detail. 


I spend a lot of time visiting the cities in countries I go for convention or work, stopping at museums, visiting sites, getting up at all hours to catch sunrises, heading out in the rain to take photos. Insatiable curiosity is a desirable trait for an illustrator, it keeps you open to the world, rather than centring your technique on your own depictions, you can retain a certain vulnerability to circumstance, to the appreciation of everything around you. To have had that appreciation of things opened up for me is perhaps the thing for which I am most grateful.

Concerning my own work, it’s either done, therefore not really of much interest to me; or yet to be done, which, while I’m eagerly looking forward to it, cannot really say much about it. The best picture is always the next one.

Gandalf the Grey

  1. What aspects of your childhood inspired your artistic creativity? 
A certain freedom, I think, to pursue drawing. Also, a certain undeniable obsession with a few fantasy illustrators likely helped. This was, you’ll have to remember, back in the ‘70s, before a lot of fantasy art books came out, and you had to search through stacks of old paperbacks to find appealing book covers. The first art book I bought was a collection of works by Gustave Doré. I knew nothing at all about art history, not even about the 19th century fin de siècle painters, who have since become my favourites.

    Smaug the Golden

    1. Tell us about your learning process, and particularly how your work evolved as a result of it. 
    I wasn’t able to follow many art classes in school, but finally did get into art class in the last year of high school, in the class of a lovely art teacher with whom I am still in touch. After that, I went on to art school in France. This said, although it’s a little trite, you never stop learning. It’s a process that demands a good deal of attentiveness, though, always keeping both eyes open, recalling visual relationships, establishing a little order in what you see, since a person’s wanderings, whether in situ or in books, cannot always be chronological or by category – so, when you stumble on a little church on a street corner in some small medieval town, you are much better prepared to remember (and profit from) what you see if you have some basic notion of architectural period and style. Fantasy is not a departure from history, but a refining and an enhancement of it. The only way to make fantasy real is to make it as solid as reality, but simply other or extra-worldly.


    1. What do you find most rewarding in the creative process, and how do you overcome that which you find challenging?
    I’d be tempted to say that the challenges are the most rewarding aspect. It would be a shame to fall into a certain routine. That’s why I enjoy illustration work; every picture on a theme is first and foremost an introduction to the vision of another, whether it’s the anonymous author of some ancient saga like Gilgamesh or Beowulf, or a modern fantasy writer. They open up a window on a world, and then stand to one side to let you try and capture the view. Remaining attentive to the text is like having them at your elbow, prompting, providing details you might have missed, enriching the experience. The process is what it all reminds you of, those things that you’ve picked up over the years, and which come into play with what you’re being shown. The result is a blending, interweaving, extrapolating and emulating of the two, a pictorial narrative where the story is either implicit or explicit, but underpins the image itself. I also very much enjoy the interweaving of narrative with the inner logic of an image in the graphic sense. These two can be complimentary or opposed, intertwined or independent of each other.

    Mythago Wood

    1. What advice would you give to anyone considering a career in art?
    Go to school! Even just for a short time, to give yourself time to get a little experience and maturity before trying to make it in the professional world. Judging one’s own work is near impossible at the best of times, and it can be quite hard to step out of the world where you’ve grown up as the clever child who can draw and into a world where it’s your bread and butter (for better or worse).

    Winter of the Raven

    1. Tell us about your experience as a chief conceptual designer for Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings movie trilogy.
    It was very challenging, and enormous fun. I don’t think anyone realized at the beginning how huge it was going to grow. We created thousands of pieces of artwork to help Peter capture the vision he had of Middle-Earth.

    1. Evolution is an inherent facet of contemporary art. What new developments are you aware of, with regards to the application of technology, in art?
    "When an idea seems to revolutionize the world, it is really you that is changing. "-- Edward Robert Hughes (1851-1914)


    1. Tell us a little about any good art you’ve seen recently.
    I’m far more interested in sculpture and metalworking than painting; I’ve recently seen some wonderful work by a number of artists.

    1. What other interests do you have?
    Many, though they are mostly related to history, architecture and art. I do enjoy blacksmithing, although my skills are minimal. I’m also involved in a re-enactment group, which is enormous fun, though I’ve not been to many events recently. I have done a little archery and fencing, but all on a strictly amateur level. Otherwise, I very much enjoy making things and often retreat to my little workshop and poke about amongst bits of wood, plaster and metal.

    Perilous Wood

    1. What are you doing now?
    Back in the movie business for a brief stint! Looking forward to getting back to publishing, though I am working on texts as best I can, it’s not possible to draw and paint right now.

    You can find out more about John Howe at his Official Website.

    Listen to the artist, in his own words, in the Forging Dragons - Trailer.