I'm self-taught, and started late at that. I've never done any traditional art and plunged straight into digital when I was about 35. One day, for want of something to do, I bought a basic 3D package and started messing around producing weird and wonderful images. Well, weird anyway. Soon the limitations of the software became evident and I started doing more and more post-work to get the images to look half decent. After a couple of years I decided I'd do better without the 3D and that's when I bought my first Wacom tablet and moved into illustration. Even then I didn't go down any formal route, preferring to churn out image after image instead of following tutorials or practising specifics.
If I had to do it over I'd take a more considered, structured approach. I think if I'd done that in the first place I would have got better faster, and my abilities would be altogether more rounded at this stage. Even now I occasionally find myself frustrated by some basic technique that I really should have mastered early on. So in summary I really wouldn't advise my methodology to anyone else. I'd say start with the basics, work from life, solicit and take on board critique, don't be afraid to try new things or push yourself but at the same time don't rush into it like a bull in a china shop.
With many fantasy and science fiction artists, what steers them into that field of art is the enjoyment of creating exotic worlds, strange creatures and generally making the unreal real. With the main body of your work being made up of fantasy art, would this be true of you? What else is it about fantasy and science fiction that have such strong pulls for you?
Absolutely. The creative aspect is as important to the artistic process and result as the technicalities. I suppose the whole fantasy thing arose from the fact I used to read fantasy and sci-fi all the time. I still do read it, but not to the same extent; in my younger days I'd get through two or three books a week. To be honest I don't recall making a conscious choice to start painting fantasy, it was just something that felt natural at the time.
Oddly enough, before I went freelance at the beginning of the year I never used to sketch. I always started off with great blobs of digital paint which I'd then refine into something that resembled my intentions. I only introduced a sketch phase when I realised that art directors would need to see more detailed representations of the finished product before work progressed on the final image. I suppose it's a bit embarrassing to admit, but 12 months ago I don't think I'd sketched anything in my life.
Although you said earlier that you haven't really used traditional paints, but is it a safe assumption to make that you outwardly prefer digital media to that of traditional paints? What do you not like about digital painting? What is it about the software packages that you do like over say, Photoshop?
Yeah, I've never really used traditional paints, other than a couple of random attempts at oil painting (the less said about that the better). I think my big regret about starting so late in life is the time I could have spent practising traditional skills in oils and watercolours. My grandmother used to paint in watercolours – paintings of the Yorkshire Dales, as my grandparents were keen fell-walkers - and it was something I always said I'd take up but, for whatever reason, never did. Although it's never too late to learn, I think there's benefit in starting traditional and moving onto digital rather than the other way around.
I did try to use Photoshop once and I must admit, I hated it. Although some artists create amazing work in Photoshop it seemed to me like more of a design and manipulation tool than a painting tool. I'd liken the experience to trying to paint using varnish and felt-tip. I use ArtRage and Painter exclusively, now, as I've found that together they go a long way to providing the feel I'm looking for in terms of my key digital media – pencil and oils.
I quite like 'The Gift', it's one of the few that worked out more or less how I intended. I was also fortunate enough to be awarded a Chesley for it in 2009. My inspiration was simply the title, which popped into my head one day. I wondered who or what could be giving the gift, and who could be receiving it. Because this was before I started sketching out my concepts, the creature itself started life as a huge, random splodge of paint that I gradually refined until something coherent emerged. It wasn't until near the end of the painting that I realised I hadn't any idea of what the gift actually was, so I painted a four-legged owl thing which I reckon anybody would be pleased to receive.
Out of the work you currently have on your website, what would you say if your most favoured piece and what elements of that picture help make it so?
I think my favourite recent work is 'Typhon Sorm', commissioned for a full-page book illustration. Whilst a number of elements were specified in the brief I was also given a fair amount of leeway in what the dragon could look like, and I had fun interpreting the result as this huge, six-horned monster that looks like the love child of a shark and the Devil. Initially I was also wary that the flying galleon could be lost against the bulk of the dragon and whilst the image turned out quite busy, I think my solution worked out OK.
I've done a few book covers and I'd really like to do more of that type of assignment. I find cover jobs often allows me to be more creative and make suggestions in a way that other commissions – card art, for example – rarely do. Timescale is also a factor here in that covers allow more time for thumbnailing and exploring composition. I'd also be interested into getting into concept art. However, it doesn't seem like there are many decent remote freelance opportunities about; the freelance work I've seen and been offered has always been in-house.
A 'perfect commission'? There are so many factors involved. As I just mentioned it would need to allow me a significant creative input. I guess the subject matter would include some kind of creature or character as those elements tend to play to my strengths. I'm also fond of the idea of re-interpreting existing characters with a fresh perspective, especially those from mythology. A good art director would be an essential part of the package, too.
Finally, if you could collaborate with any other creative individual(s), who would it be and what sort of project would you like to undertake?
I'd like to take this opportunity to say that I'll collaborate with Cameron Diaz, in anything she wants. And it doesn't have to be related to art in any way. Failing that, I've always fancied designing a pack of playing cards with a fantasy or horror or weird-science theme, such as Steampunk. There are so many talented artists out there I couldn't pick just one, but maybe Brom or Jon Foster if they've nothing better to do.
I look forward to seeing that. What was the best piece of artistic advice you have received or can offer?
'Kill your darlings'. Not literally, of course, that wouldn't be pleasant or helpful, rather I'm referring to scrapping any element of your painting that isn't working or is unnecessary. It's too easy to see something wrong with your image and manage to convince yourself that it's only a little thing and that nobody else will notice. The fact is, they will. You need to get into the habit of being ruthless with your work. If you see something that doesn't belong, get rid of it, all of it, immediately. Don't fiddle with it, splodge it out with a massive brush and start again. It doesn't come naturally or comfortably but in my experience it will improve your work every time. Not that I don't sometimes still kid myself and go with something I know to be lacking...
One method that gets bandied about a lot is having your work published in table-top art books and annuals. I think this does work for many people although in my case, despite having my work in over a dozen hardback publications I have yet to receive a job offer based on that. Having said that, it does get your work out there and I'd imagine people will keep your name in mind.
As an artist, what are your biggest challenges that you face? Not as a neurotic, anal-retentive person like many of us artists are but as an artist in the industry.
The chance to make a joke doesn't come my way often and you've just denied me the perfect opportunity, curse you ;) The biggest challenge is marketing, getting yourself known. It happens, gradually, but it's a slow process.
It would have to be John Simm. He's a cheeky sod, like me, although he'd need to shave off his hair and bulk up a bit.
What makes you glad?
That when I started art I was too old to go through a manga phase.
What are you top 5, all time favourite songs?
Aside from No. 1, these would probably change from day to day. But right now...
1. This Charming Man – The Smiths
2. There is a Light That Never Goes Out – The Smiths
3. Just One Kiss – The Cure
4. Puzzlin' Evidence – Talking Heads
5. At Least We Tried - Moby
What is your favourite beverage?
Ginger Beer, the proper stuff.
What is your favourite quote?
I must say I'm not a quotes person. Punchy little bon mots of wordly wisdom either leave me cold or cause me to bray cruel laughter. However, I make an exception for George Bush's 'Fool me once' quote, which had me weeping when I first heard it. “There's an old saying in Tennessee - I know it's in Texas, probably in Tennessee – that says, fool me once, shame on... shame on you. Fool me, you can't get fooled again.”