Interview with Artist Hasani Claxton

Who are some artists and/or illustrators who have influenced your work? How and why?

I've always loved artists from the Golden Age of American Illustration. NC Wyeth, in particular, because of his painterly approach and how he brought elements of Impressionism into his artwork. My biggest influences among contemporary illustrators are Greg Manchess and Donato Giancola, both of whom are oil painters, like me. I studied with them at the Illustration Master Class in 2009 and watching their painting demos was awe-inspiring.

HASANI CLAXTON | Maryland State Arts Council

Rhea Ewing led the Dream Foundry's Official Media Exploration Club in a discussion of the theme of vulnerability in art, including your illustrations “A Well-Earned Rest” and “Broken”. Can you tell us a little about the theme of vulnerability in your work?

I did "Broken" and "A Well Earned Rest" when my children were younger and really into fairies. I became frustrated by the lack of Black fairies and decided to create my own. Rather than paint them as cute, Disney-style pixies, I decided to focus on their strength, even in the face of profound loss and struggle.

Leaving the World Behind" by Hasani Claxton | Black folk art ...

How has the field been changing in the past ten years, and how do you see the current health crisis impacting the field?

When I graduated art school, we were still mostly promoting our work with postcards. Nowadays a strong online presence is crucial, especially on social media. All of my recent freelance work came from people who saw my website or Facebook page. Also, the rise of self-publishing has opened up some opportunities for freelancers. An indie publisher may not pay as well, but they offer valuable experience.

The Covid crisis caused many gallery exhibitions to be canceled, which was extremely disappointing. At the same time, being stuck inside gave me a chance to work on new personal work and I've recently seen an unexpected uptick in freelance commissions. I suspect because most freelance illustrators work from home anyway, we'll be able to weather the crisis.

The Art of Hasani Claxton

What have been some challenges for you, as a working artist? What have been some of your triumphs and joys?

I used to be a lawyer and early in my art career, when I was struggling to make ends meet, I often wondered if I'd made a huge mistake going to art school.

I began submitting artwork to the Spectrum Fantastic Art Annual in 2008 and kept trying every year. I just got in last year. Around the same time, my artwork was chosen for an exhibition at the National Gallery of Jamaica, my first at a major art institution.

The Art of Hasani Claxton

What is some advice you could pass along to people just starting out in the field? How can we work to support each other?

Be persistent. You will face a lot of rejection, but keep working on your craft and submitting your artwork. Eventually you will find your audience.

One of the things I miss the most from art school is getting critiques from my peers. Often getting other artists' perspectives can help take your artwork to the next level. Forming Critique Groups is a great way to tap into that collective creativity.

HASANI CLAXTON | Maryland State Arts Council


Interview with Artist Rhea Ewing

Who are some artists and/or illustrators who have influenced your work? How and why?

My work has been heavily influenced by fine artists like Do Ho Suh and Kate MccGwire. I love both of these artists’ use of many small things to create a powerful whole. Graphic novelists like Alison Bechdel, Craig Thompson, and Leanne Franson have been my biggest influences in the comics side of my work. All of these artists have created things that inspired that “art moment” in me--where ideas and experiences connect together and a profound way.

Collaborations by Rhea Ewing

 

You are currently leading the Dream Foundry's Official Media Exploration Club in a discussion of the theme of vulnerability in art. Can you tell us a little about the theme of vulnerability in your own work, and why you find it particularly compelling as a topic of discussion?

In my fine arts and illustration work I’m very interested in the intersection of human ideas and the natural world. I’m very deliberate in my choices of the species of plants and animals I depict, but there’s a level of metaphor and visual language that removes it from the more raw, personal vulnerability that’s in my comics and graphic novel work. In comics, I work in non-fiction, largely personal stories, that place me in a much more vulnerable position. I tend to want to downplay my own experiences and approach things in a very academic way, which doesn’t make for good comics. I’m lucky to have an agent and editor who understand my work so well and have guided me to show more of my own vulnerability.

This tension in my work between the academic and the personal made vulnerability and especially intriguing topic. It’s been a delight to dive into all these different illustrators’ work with the lens of vulnerability.

Insight by Rhea Ewing

How has the field been changing in the past ten years, and how do you see the current health crisis impacting the field?

Woof, I sure would love to have a crystal ball here. The biggest way the health crisis has impacted me personally is the lack of art shows, galleries, and fairs. I actually make most of my income through the fine arts market (go figure), so the loss of all of that for 2020 has been rough. For me personally, that’s meant I’ve been much more focused on production for my upcoming graphic novel FINE: a comic about gender.

As for how the field has changed, I’m not sure I can speak to that. I feel like my path to where I am now has been so weird and has run against so much of what others know to be true, I’m not sure I can generalize it in a useful way for overall industry trends.

Affection 1 (detail) by Rhea Ewing

What have been some challenges for you, as a working artist? What have been some of your triumphs and joys?

I think my biggest challenge has been finding a place where I feel authentic in my creative work, knowing what my work is doing and why. Pretty much all of the advice I got in school–to pursue graphic design and illustration and comics to support my fine arts work, that sort of thing–turned out not to work for me. Freelancing left me miserable and broke. Graphic design brings out my inner perfectionist asshole. Though it will probably be different this year due to the pandemic, for the last few years my fine art work funded my graphic novel work and not the other way around. I’ve found a lot of joy in connecting with people who “get” my work, and in exploring what I can do with my mediums of choice.

Panels from FINE: a comic about gender by Rhea Ewing

What is some advice you could pass along to people just starting out in the field? How can we work to support each other?

Creative advice: Keep focused on what you like and want to grow about your artistic practice. It’s easy to get very focused on what “success” is and worry about failing. Embrace it. Perfect art is an illusion anyway, just communicate.

Business advice: Always have a contract, don’t work for minimum wage or less, and remember that it’s better to have a side job than waste your creative efforts working 80-hour weeks freelancing for peanuts.

Panels from FINE: a comic about gender by Rhea Ewing

Flights of Foundry, May 16-17, 2020

Flight of Foundry

Dream Foundry is thrilled to announce Flights of Foundry, a virtual convention for speculative creators and their fans. Registration is open and the convention will take place May 16-17. Our guests of honor are:

Comics: Suzanne Walker and Wendy Xu
Editor: Liz Gorinsky
Fiction: Ken Liu
Games: Andrea Phillips
Illustration: Grace Fong
Translation: Alex Shvartsman and Rachel S. Cordasco

In addition to panels and information sessions, our programming will include workshops, a dealer's room, consuite (yes, a virtual consuite!), and more.

There is no cost to register, though donations to defray costs and support Dream Foundry's other programming are welcomed. Dream Foundry is a registered 501(c)3 dedicated to supporting creators working in the speculative arts as they begin their careers.

To register, go to: https://flights-of-foundry.org/registration/
For more information about the convention: https://flights-of-foundry.org/
You can learn more about Dream Foundry or check out our other programs by visiting our website: https://dreamfoundry.org/


Learning at Home

While we’re at home and practicing social distancing, many of us are looking to learn something new or hone our skills. There are a lot of classes being offered online right now. Here are a few that are both free and potentially of interest to those of us in the speculative arts.

Let’s start with the courses that happen at a specific time:

Next up are a slew of classes that you can check out anytime:

If you’re willing to sign up for skillshare.com, you can get two weeks for free. And if you do so, you might be interested in these course offerings:

Have you found a really neat class that you’d like to share with our readers? Or perhaps you’re teaching one? Be sure to tell us about it on our forums!


Influential Comic Artist George Herriman

George Herriman and Krazy Kat are no longer well known outside of art history and cartooning circles—it has been 110 years since the first appearance of Krazy—but there are few men who contributed more to the language of the comic strip, and fewer still to influence so great a number of the medium’s auteurs.

Even in the circles where Krazy is still fondly remembered, its creator can sometimes be a cipher: decades after Herriman’s death, very little about his life was known to the public. He was an intensely private man, and in 1971, the probable reason for this became known with the discovery of his birth certificate:

George Herriman was black.

More specifically, Herriman’s birth certificate lists him as “Colored,” the 1880 Census further listing all of his known relatives as “Mulatto.” Herriman and his family were members of a caste known in New Orleans, the city of his birth, as Free Creoles of Color.

In 1890, Herriman, age ten, moved with his family from New Orleans to Los Angeles, California. Along the way, they left behind their heritage. This was not unheard of; while Free Creoles had been afforded more rights than other people of color, that was soon to end with Plessy v. Ferguson and the enshrinement of Jim Crow.

Image of George Herriman in a Hat

For the rest of his life, Herriman would pass as white. He was often identified as Greek—even in the 1980s, a major book claimed him the son of a Greek baker—or as Turkish, Irish, or French. Not even his daughter knew the truth, listing his race as Caucasian and his place of birth as Paris on his death certificate. In almost every surviving photograph of the man (there are few, as Herriman was notoriously photo shy) he wears a hat; to the only coworker he is known to have mentioned his “negro blood,” he said he wore it to hide his kinky hair.

His first comic strip was 1902’s Musical Moose. Virulently racist by today’s standards, it stars a caricatured black man whose attempts to masquerade as a member of other races end in exposure. Knowing what we do about Herriman’s background, it is difficult not to believe his anxieties were rendered in ink.

Krazy Kat first ran in 1913, most of its characters having first appeared in Dingbat Family in 1910. (While doing Dingbat Family, Herriman often found he had time left in his eight-hour workday and so started to create strips of a mouse, Ignatz, tormenting the titular family.) The dramatis personae are three: the titular cat, Krazy; a mouse, Ignatz; and Offisa Pup, a dog acting as police officer. The plot is simple: the cat madly loves the mouse, while the mouse hates and terrorizes the cat, often by hurling a brick at their head. The magic is to be found in Herriman’s art and in the infinite variations and setups.

Comic drawn by Herriman

Like most of Herriman’s work, it ran in Hearst papers, and the reception is perhaps best characterized as “beloved but unpopular”; Hearst’s papers targeted a working-class demographic, and they had little interest in the proto-psychedelia of Krazy Kat. Due to objection from Hearst’s editors, it at first appeared in the art and drama section, but Hearst himself was such a fan that he gave Herriman a lifetime contract and a guarantee of complete creative freedom, unheard of in that era as well as this one.

But Krazy Kat had its fans, and they included H. L. Mencken, Jack Kerouac, Willem de Kooning, Gilbert Seldes—who devoted an entire chapter to the strip in The Seven Lively Arts—and e.e. cummings, who provided an introduction to the first collection of Herriman’s work in an era when comic strips were rarely reprinted. It was the first strip to establish that comics could be art and was enormously popular with the era’s intelligentsia.

When Herriman died, the syndicate attempted to replace him—but upon seeing a strip not by Herriman, Hearst immediately canceled the strip.

Herriman’s influence can be seen in the work of almost every cartoonist of note to follow him: Dr. Seuss, Bill Watterson, E. C. Segar, Al Capp, Walt Kelly, Hugo Pratt, Charles Shulz, Will Eisner—the list is endless, and many of those artists were drawn to cartooning specifically because of Krazy Kat. None less than Walt Disney praised his “contributions to the cartoon business, so numerous they may never be estimated.” The Ignatz Award, one of cartooning’s most prestigious, is named in his honor.

(For those interested in learning more, I recommend Patrick McDonnel’s Krazy Kat: The Art of George Herriman and Krazy: Geoge Herriman, a Life in Black and White by Michael Tisserand. The first years of Krazy Kat are available online.)


Interview with Artist Cory Skerry

Editor’s Note: The interviewee for this week’s interview deliberating lowercases the first person pronoun as a way to decolonize English; by this perspective, i is not more important than the other English pronouns she, you, or we.

Who are some artists and/or illustrators who have influenced your work? How and why?

I've been a devoted fan of Sophie Campbell's work since i first saw her sketches for Wet Moon on her DeviantArt page in 2002 or 2003. When i emailed her out of the blue to ask about the subtle shading effects in her work, she kindly explained ink washes to me—and in the days before YouTube had a tutorial for every art supply imaginable, i couldn't have learned without her help. Since i have no formal art school training, it was also lucky for me to come across Becky Cloonan, whose incorporation of graphic design into her illustrations and book covers helped me break through some preconceived notions about what illustrations are. Lenka Simeckova's bizarre, mischievously creepy subject matter attracted me, but once she had my rapt attention, i was equally ensnared by her palette, lines, and composition.

Recently, i've found my process and confidence impacted by gazerlies. They are constantly making art with whatever is available, including items they fetch from the trash. This fearless, mad-science approach has inspired me to stomp my way through experiments instead of sticking to my comfort zones.

What media do you use? Do you think any media are better, or can shape, how speculative elements are depicted in a work?

I use nearly everything, but most of my commercial speculative work is done in ink washes (thanks, Ms. Campbell!), digitally in Photoshop, or a combination thereof. I also have a deep love for Copic markers, watercolor, and aerosol.

I work at an art supply shop on the weekends, and with that plethora of specialized product knowledge kicking around in my skull, it is my professional opinion that all media is best for speculative elements.

How has the field been changing in the past ten years?

I've noticed free stock photos taking the place of magazine illustrations and book covers. While i understand it's expensive to commission illustrations, i also wish more publishers understood there are inexpensive (or even free) ways to showcase more relevant art. As an ex-graphic designer i'm supportive of thoughtfully selected stock, but i'm never going to like a bland landscape presented as an “illustration.” #sorrynotsorry!

What i love, though, is that publishers have finally begun shedding the lie that minority representation undermines sales. I thought that was garbage when i first heard it from some big shots in 2007, and once i realized that was a prevalent attitude among publishers, i began to notice that “whitewashing” everywhere. By 2020, i'm happy to say it's vanishing—i see PoC and queer visual content from legit publishers all the time.

What have been some challenges for you as a working artist? What have been some of your triumphs and joys?

Managing my time well is challenging as a freelancer—because i work from home, sometimes there are interruptions or distractions that i'd never get in an office (some crows just begged for seeds outside and i, a complete sucker, acquiesced). I have a lot of those work hours to manage: i am an illustrator, but i'm also on the submissions staff for Tor.com novellas, i'm a freelance fiction editor, and i sell art supplies. I stayed home from the art supply shop to finish some illustrations today, in fact. (Sorry, Alan!)

Fortunately, i love all of my jobs, and spending 100% of my time doing things i enjoy is the ultimate triumph.

What is some advice you could pass along to people just starting out in the field? How can we work to support each other?

Since i don't have a lot of time for mentoring, sharing resources is the strongest way i can pay it forward. I think every illustrator interested in working with corporate clients should check out Dear Art Director. The fantasy art blog Muddy Colors has helped me on many occasions (a post on fitness completely changed how i structure my day as a freelancer). I wish i would have known about Schoolism as soon as it started, because it offers excellent, self-directed online art courses for far less than college or art school. WetCanvas is a fantastic forum for questions about traditional supplies!

Most of all, i think you can support other artists by obstinately being yourself. Each moment in my life that someone really influenced me as an artist, it was because they wallowed in what they loved until it became the foundation for their successes.


Goals, Not Resolutions

It’s the time of year where I usually assess what I’ve done and plan for what I want to do next. For me that means acknowledging some of the invisible tasks—tasks I never add to my to-do lists but are present every day—as well as examining my successes, my failures, and being honest with myself about why they occurred. This helps me understand what I can do better next time and helps me accept that sometimes in life there are events that impact my performance that I can’t help (like, for example, having back-to-back colds… for six months).

What is the difference between goals and resolutions?

In my mind, a typical New Year's resolution is vague, like “being a better person by being more forgiving,” or “exercising more,” whereas goal-setting involves a concrete plan to enact these goals so that they can be accomplished, step by step and week by week.

How do you create goals?

If you’re interested in creating goals for this next year, there are some criteria to evaluate whether your plan involves resolutions or goals. Goals should be:

  • Specific
  • Concrete
  • Independent from outside forces
  • Achievable

Here are some examples:

NO YES NOTES
Become a better writer Practice writing dialogue Becoming a “better writer” is vague and therefore unachievable. Practicing writing dialogue, however, may make one a better writer. It is specific, and one can take classes, read passages in books about dialogue, or perhaps go to plays and take notes.
Be a podcaster Produce one twenty-minute podcast per month  With a concrete goal, there are specific tasks to be achieved that can be broken down. To do this, you would need to create twelve twenty-minute scripts, find narrators, equipment, a theme song, and then set aside time to record and edit.
Win an art competition  Submit to at least ten illustration competitions Winning a competition is dependent on outside forces, essentially on a judge, whereas submitting to competitions is a task that an artist/illustrator can undertake.
Write a novel Write a novel This is trickier: achievable for one person is always not achievable for another. One person will binge-write a novel in a month; another will plug away it every day, finishing up at the end of the year. One person can write four novels in a year and another will write one novel every five to ten years. Sometimes, too, life intervenes: a lost day job can mean time spent stressing and searching; an illness can stop tightest plan; a kid can drop out from college and move back home. Every creator has their own way of making; only they can know what they’re capable of and can assess what their own life will allow.

Personally, when I’m creating my goals, I try to have multiple goals in different areas (usually craft, submissions, and production) so that I can work on different aspects of each goal each month. Others like to work on specific projects, however. Something like a Kickstarter may involve a year or more’s worth of work.

Break it down and plan it

Once you have developed a few goals, break each goal down into steps. Usually I start by breaking it down on a monthly basis, and then a weekly basis, and then I schedule time each week to work on that specific task. Of course, it doesn’t work quite as clear-cut in practice: I get colds, or I bring my son to preschoolers’ birthday parties, etc. But with a distinctive weekly plan, I tend to stay on track. Actually using that time to accomplish what you’ve set out to is, of course, another matter. You may try gamifying it, or word-warring with friends, or Instagramming your sketches, or turning on a program like Freedom so that you can’t spend your two dedicated hours on the internet scrolling through Facebook.

What are your goals? What have been your challenges in meeting your goals in the past, in terms of meeting them? What are you going to do to ensure that your goals are met this upcoming year? Please join us on the forum to talk about what you’re planning on doing for 2020.


Interview with Nathalie Grey - Artist

Who are some artists and/or illustrators who have influenced your work? How and why?

Dan dos Santos, for sure. I remember back a few years at a convention someone was looking at the cover for My Life as a White Trash Zombie and exclaimed that was the ugliest cover they'd ever seen. I was flabbergasted. And quite pissed. I mean, look at it! It's gorgeous and so outside the box. That crooked cigarette?! I'm in love. All he does is magic as far as I'm concerned. Other artists are Yayoi Kusama (so bold!) and Tommy Arnold (the Sacred Throne series makes my inner Chihuahua chase her tail with savage glee). Anne Cain is a long-time favorite of mine. Too many to name, alas.

Do you think any media are better, or can shape, how speculative elements are depicted in a work? How do you find it impacts the different genre cover illustrations?

I don't believe any media is better at shaping what goes or not for book covers. But I love that The Computer (and increasingly more people are adept at producing art thanks to it) is able to facilitate blending different media. I remember back in the olden times of dinosaurs how you had to photocopy things and make layers and gah. Do not miss that time. To come back to good ol' Photoshop, it's really opened doors for folks. You don't have to dedicate an entire room for all your art crap, or even have a window in the room. A computer, a graphic tablet, and Bob's your uncle. I'm hearing purists say, "But it's not art, Nat, you're a fool and an impostor!" To which I'd reply, meh.

How has the field been changing in the past ten years?

I see trends come and go. There used to be wall-to-wall black covers with red elements. Then we moved into magenta and teal, those inseparable lovers. And now I'm seeing a lot—and I mean, a LOT—of those close-up covers with the floral elements intertwined with the typography. And a lot more authors are creating their own covers now, which is amazing. I say go for it! There were very few authors who did this when I started back in the dial-up period. It's liberating, just like self-publishing has been.

What have been some challenges for you as a working artist? What have been some of your triumphs and joys?

This is not my first career, frankly, but it's the one I enjoy the most. There are days where I'm not feeling it and drag my feet (hello procrastination, old friend!). But those are overwhelmed by days where I email back and forth with an author about their ideas and concepts for their cover, and this, THIS is where the gold is. I mean, to have someone say to you, "What about some magic? Maybe floating bits? I dunno, you go for it." That trust in me for a project that I personally know takes months, sometimes years, and blood and tears and coffee and midnight frustration-walks in the living room, and that bitch Muse who won't talk. For my authors to trust me with their story is the best feeling in the world. Truly.

One thing I'd wish for: that we could pry open genre doors. It seems there's this expectation of what will go on a cover based on genre. I mean, sure, you want the busy reader to know exactly what she's looking at. But! But. I wish we could include more "left field" concepts sometimes, and not follow conventions right off a cliff. Give me ducks on a sci-fi cover. Give me a plate of metal and a rusty rivet for romance. A cover is not a CV for what's inside. It's an image to sell the book. To get the reader's attention. Let us play, dammit!

What is some advice you could pass along to people just starting out in the field? How can we work to support each other?

My one and only bit of advice is to not ever take advice from someone unrelated to your project. For sure, do listen to opinions, form your own, drop the rest. And I wish we had more contract revision services out there.


The Contests Have Closed: The Hunger and the Table

Hey, guess what? We did it! That’s a close on the submission window for Dream Foundry’s first art and writing contests. We had almost 400 submissions total, and our teams are selecting our fabulous finalists. This has been a great experience so far, and I’m looking forward to the results when they arrive.

While we wait, I want to share about why we ran this version of the contests this year. Although we announced the contest as a stretch goal for our Kickstarter, we didn’t wind up funding at that level. We ran the contests anyway. There are many reasons for that, but I’m going to focus on the one I think matters most.

Last November, when the leadership committee met to assess our progress and success so far and establish our goals and plans for 2019, one thing was clear: we were doing well. At that point we’d announced a vision with timelines and goals, we’d done all the hoop-jumping and logistical organizing required to be firmly and formally established, and we were about to launch our first program. About being the key word there. We’d done a lot, all of it important and necessary, but none of it was what we were for. And yet, we were rich in support, well wishes, and people volunteering their time and energy. We’d raised enough money to start strong, mostly because people were hungry for the dreams we were promising.

We looked at the numbers. And the offers. And the plans. There was an opportunity there. That hunger we were seeing? We let it inspire us to be ambitious, and that ambition has been rewarded. Three hundred and ninety-three submissions to a brand new contest from a fairly new organization. That, on its own, is a success. But that’s such a small part of what we’ve seen while we’ve done this.

First, there’s William Ledbetter, who, when asked, dove right in to not only share his experience with writing contest logistics and design, but to spearhead this effort. Then Sara Felix, who just as generously answered when Bill asked her to handle the art side. By the same turn, Rachel Quinlan and Charles Coleman Finlay stepped up when asked to judge. Lisa Rodgers didn’t even wait to be asked, and I’m hoping she enjoys being a judge because otherwise she might think twice before having lunch with me again. Our slush readers? Some volunteered for the job before Dream Foundry had a name or a timeline. That eagerness and enthusiasm, backed by commitment and action, is all over the industry. We jumped on it.

In the process, we found a different hunger.

“Is there an age limit?” youth asked, hungry in a world where there’s a shortage of opportunities for them to be taken seriously as professionals, or potential professionals, and not as children. Adults asked too, people who’ve been busy with lives and work or with careers that delayed their pursuit of their craft beyond the point where anybody says “beginner” and pictures them.

No. No age limit. Come to our table.

“Are there entry fees?” asked people who are used to an ecosystem that feeds on them, at best concentrating resources from many of them to a few, and at worst by actively picking their pockets.

No. No entry fees. Have a snack while you wait.

“Is there a prompt or a theme you have to follow?” asked those who’ve been taught that to pursue their own vision first they have to pay dues to somebody else’s.

No.

We had extra fliers, so I took them around to all the libraries where I am in Chicago. Libraries are great places, full of programs and opportunities to learn and read and practice. Chances to study and discuss. They’re good places to find beginners of all sorts, but especially the arts. It was a small adventure, a tiny side quest in life that would spread the word and let me pop into pockets of community and imagination I wouldn’t necessarily wander into otherwise. What did I find?

Hunger.

By and large, librarians care deeply about their patrons. They have a unique relationship to their needs and hopes, a special opportunity to influence the people they encounter in their professional lives for the better. They respond with a palpable enthusiasm when somebody shows up with fliers and says, “I work with an organization that’s running two contests for beginners. It’s free to enter, and there’s a cash prize. I’d like to make sure people know about it, if that’s okay?”

“No age limit, you said? Can I have two of those?”

Yes.

“Is it okay if they’ve never done anything like this before?”

Oh definitely, yes.

“Would it be all right to tell that art group that meets here about this?”

Yes. Here, take some bookmarks, too.

When I explain Dream Foundry to people, I present it like this: You know the old adage about the best way to build a movie theater? The one that says you find a good spot for a popcorn stand, then put up the marquee? The contest is our marquee. It’s the thing that lets people know we’re there, gets them excited, and prompts them to come in. The real value in us, though, is the popcorn. That’s the everything else. The community. The support. The content and discussions and model of who we are, what we should do, and what we can expect from our colleagues, peers, and ourselves. We’re the popcorn.

Because it feeds that hunger.

There will be finalists, and that will be fun. Then winners, and that will be exciting. It matters. It’s important. But it’s also the capstone on something that is already succeeding in its mission. Three hundred and ninety-three people showed up to our door.

Welcome. Come in. We’ve got room at the table and we’re serving dinner soon. There’s something for everyone, and a ton of popcorn.


Interview with John Coulthart

Who are some artists and/or illustrators who have influenced your work? How and why?

The greatest influences strike you when you're very young. My mother was an early influence because she'd been to art school, and worked briefly as a textile designer before getting married. Having an artist in the family demystified the art world and made an art career seem like a tangible thing. She also had a few art books and magazines from her college days so I was aware of fine art from a very early age. Later influences were the covers I was seeing on bookshelves and in record-shop windows in the 1970s; the book covers being created by Chris Foss, Bruce Pennington, and Bob Haberfield weren't things I tried to imitate myself but the combination of this type of art with a fantasy, horror, or science fiction story sparked my desire to aim for doing something similar myself. Album covers were equally intriguing even if the music they packaged wasn't always very good. I urged my parents to buy me Roger Dean's first art book, Views, then began collecting the books published by his Dragon's Dream company. The album art of Roger Dean and the surreal and often enigmatic record sleeves created by Hipgnosis made music seem like another area in which it might be good to work.

The final influence from this period was Heavy Metal, a magazine, which, from the late ’70s, was reprinting in English the French comic strips from Métal Hurlant by Moebius, Druillet, Bilal, and many others. I stopped reading comics when I was about twelve after trying to get interested in US superhero comics; I didn't like the art and thought the stories were ridiculous compared to the written science fiction I was reading. Heavy Metal had superior artwork and the stories were often a lot more interesting. This made me realize that comics could still be a viable medium for an artist who didn't want to draw in the American style.

What media do you use? Do you think any media are better, or can shape, how speculative elements are depicted in a work?

I work entirely digitally today, using a combination of Photoshop, Illustrator, and a Wacom tablet. I still do sketches on paper from time to time since this is a good way to quickly work out ideas, but I only use physical media if I require a very specific effect, like an ink wash or something. With Illustrator, I like the precision it delivers, something I often tried to achieve with ink drawing.

The great advantage of digital media is its flexibility. You can refine a piece of work or try a number of variations without destroying the early stages of the piece. With physical media, you often have to live with the single thing you're creating, flaws and all. With digital art you can also use bits and pieces from all over the place, combining photo sources with original illustration to create a seamless hybrid. This is useful for imaginative work when you're often trying to create things that haven't been seen before. I'm not the only illustrator who used to hoard photos ripped from magazines to use as drawing reference. There's no need for this today when the internet gives access to images of every kind.

The disadvantage of digital art is that everyone is aware of its flexibility, so you might be asked to change something you were perfectly happy with simply because an editor or art director knows that changes can be made.

How has the field been changing in the past ten years?

The most obvious change is that you have an entire generation—maybe two generations—for whom digital art isn't a new thing at all but is the medium they grew up with. This means the standard of work from talented people is now very high; the refined finish that digital art offers has raised the bar enormously. People are also educating themselves much more, via YouTube tutorials or following artists who like to show the process stages of their work.

Another development is the visibility of artists from all over the world. The internet gives people access to an international audience that in the past would have only been available to the very successful.

What have been some challenges for you as a working artist? What have been some of your triumphs and joys?

The main challenge has always been to stay busy (and employed!) while working in the area that excites me the most. If you work freelance you often have to take whatever job comes your way; some jobs are inevitably more interesting and better suited to your abilities than others. You also have to be prepared for working relationships to run their course: publishers change their line of books or close down altogether; editors and art directors leave their jobs and leave your commissions in limbo as a result, and so on. This lack of a stable environment causes other problems since it compels you to say "yes" to whatever work that comes along, with the result that you may find yourself having to juggle two or three jobs with short deadlines simultaneously.

On the upside, it's always good to be earning your living doing something you enjoy, and I feel very fortunate to be in this position even though I'm always complaining that I don't get paid enough. I've been additionally fortunate in having the opportunity to work with people whose books or music I've admired from afar. I'm often critical of the album covers I created for Hawkwind in the early 1980s but that opportunity was a very lucky break for a nineteen-year-old, and it made me feel that I'd made the right decision two years earlier when parents and teachers were telling me I was going to fail utterly if I didn't go to art school.

I also feel lucky to have won the World Fantasy Award for best artist since I don't work exclusively in fantasy and SF and don't always feel very visible there. I've tended to dismiss the genre awards in the past for being minor things that are very US-oriented, despite their "world" labels. I changed my tune a little when I looked back over the previous World Fantasy art winners to see artists like Roger Dean and Moebius in the list. I don't regard myself as being on their level at all but it's good company to be in.

What is some advice you could pass along to people just starting out in the field? How can we work to support each other?

I'm usually wary of giving advice since everybody's circumstances and opportunities differ, and some of the things that worked out well for me won't work for others at all. I didn't go to art school for a variety of reasons but not everyone has the self-confidence (misguided or otherwise) that I had when I was seventeen. That said, it's not necessary to fret about qualifications if you're aiming for an illustration career. Nobody has ever asked me about my education in a job context, and I've never heard of any other illustrator being asked the same. When it comes to commissions, the thing that counts is the quality of your work.

Beyond education, two general things are of lasting importance: visibility and contactability. Is your work easy for people to see, and are you easy to contact if somebody takes an interest? Making your work visible is relatively easy today thanks to social media, so this isn't too much of a hurdle. I'd caution people about becoming wedded to a single platform, however. All the popular social media outlets have only been around for a short time and the less successful ones (in a business sense) like Tumblr keep getting sold to new owners. Some of these platforms may no longer be around in another ten years, so you have to regard all internet outlets as useful in the short term but not as a single place to devote all your time and energy.

The hazards of social media leads to the second point about contactability, and for the long term I'd recommend having your own website. Setting up a website may seem a daunting thing compared to setting up a profile on a free social outlet; websites cost money (a small amount but it still needs paying for) and require a degree of technical skill to set up and maintain. But it's worth the initial effort for the benefit of having your own online portfolio available to the world. Here you can have your contact details easily available and post all your work in whatever manner you find appropriate. You can still post the same work to social media, just don't regard the latter as the only outlet in the world simply because everyone you know seems to be there. Your friends may all be there but commissioning editors or art directors may not be. If someone sees a sample of your work in a web search, are you and your contact details easy to find without them having to sign up to a site or click through login notices and other obstacles before they even locate your name?

This is getting overextended so I'll make a final note that going to conventions is a good way to get your work seen and also meet people who may want to use it somewhere. I'm a total introvert so I dislike conventions, even though I used to force myself to go to them. Convention attendance can also involve considerable expense so you have to be prepared to spend a lot of money and maybe have nothing to show for it at the end. But it's a very good way to meet writers, editors, and art directors. And other artists, of course.