Thursday, 3 February 2011

John Howe Interview 2011

Yes, you have read correctly. This is the second interview with awesome artist, John Howe. No need for long introductions or anecdotes, just read on and enjoy the interview. Once you are done, check out the his website, you'd be foolish not too:

Lloyd Harvey: So, with all the problems that the film The Hobbit has had over this past year, being put on hold, Del Toro reluctantly walking from the project, location issues etc. How have the interruptions to production affected you in the sense of how you work? If you are allowed to say, have you been continuously working on design work or has it been a start-stop affair?

John Howe: I’m tempted to say it would take a lot more than that to stop an illustrator from letting his pencils wander freely about a page, but I’ve never heard about the Hobbit. It’s a book, I think, isn’t it? By a British author, if I’m not mistaken.

Although Guillermo del Toro isn’t working on the Hobbit anymore (which is a real shame), how did you find working with him or because of scheduling (or what ever reason), did you not get much time with the man? Can you see yourself working with him again in the future or is there something already on the cards? (I know details are going to be vague here but please share as much as you can)

Guillermo del Toro is an extraordinary gentleman. He has a heart of gold, an all-embracing generosity, a visual memory second to none and the most colourful language you are likely to hear from someone so famous. I don’t think he ever forgets an image. Ever. He used to rattle off names of obscure illustrators as examples; I would nod sagely and then rush back to my office to look these guys up. He writes incredibly well. He is a truly omnivorous reader. I used to end up going to used-book shops in Wellington and wandering disconsolately about looking wistfully at the ransacked shelves. He would literally buy every decent book in the place. (So I learned to get there before him, though my purchases were far more abstemious.)

Yes, any time! (To answer your query as to whether I would work with him again.) He is also something of a comic-culture transtemporal visionary, who is able to get down to the essential storytelling without self-consciously injecting laboriously measured doses of symbolism and meaning, because it just comes naturally. He has a sense for it that cannot be learned or contrived. He’s great. Besides, I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone with whom I could happily chat about Pards, Paranders, Manticores and Amphisbaenae. (Oh, and Bonnacons to boot.)

How would you say the New Zealand landscape has inspired some of your personal work? Have you collected a great deal of photography of the trees and rocks that are usually alien to you and if so, how have you been working them into your recent paintings? Presuming, that is, you have actually been doing some personal art while you are down there and not wasting away on Facebook too much.

I adore New Zealand. The landscapes are extraordinary and I end up pinching myself all the time, it’s so beautiful. Yes, I am very vulnerable to landscape and atmosphere, and it seeps into my work when it doesn’t rush in like a flood. There is already a lot of New Zealand in my work, and it will not abate, that’s for sure. I also enjoy living near the sea for a while.

This said, you would have to search to find a country I wouldn’t find pleasure in living in for a while. Perhaps the only exceptions would be some of the bigger and more sprawling modern cities. Everywhere I’ve ever been, I’ve found things of interest, and in Wellington you have only to drive a few miles and you can be alone on a stretch of wild coast or a hill track.

This may not really come as much of a revelation, but the landscape here suits Tolkien marvellously. (I’ve never found much affinity between North American landscape and Middle-Earth, or North American landscape and fantasy in general, for that matter.) So, I have been diligently snip-snapping photos at a great rate, and you can be sure that they will make their way into my work in the future.

May I make some blatant plug for my newsletters on my site? (Only ‘cause they have pics of New Zealand.)

Otherwise, I’ve never heard of Facebook, is it something to do with the internets?

How much impact do you think travel has on your work? Have you ever gone to a place, been there for a few weeks and not really taken note of the surroundings but then, a year or two down the line, you create a piece that is infused with the feel, the look and style of the place you were in? i.e. Do you draw more from your subconscious experiences or from your conscious notes, observations and sketches?

Nodding vigorously to all the above! I love interviewers who answer their own questions.

Talking of the subconscious, how often do you play with conceptual ideas from dreams and nightmare? Have you ever had a night time (or day time) experience that has had such a lasting effect on you that you had to record it in a painting? Was it a terrifying vision or something more pleasant?

I’m afraid my dreams are not viable source material, much to my despair. I confess to having seen a lot of artwork, both by others and myself, in my dreams. If only there was a way to take snapshots. But no, I’m afraid my dreams are generally of the pedestrian sort. Lovecraft would have found me a dull dreamer indeed. While Randolph Carter descended the seventy steps to the cavern of flame, John Howe wandered about the entrance chatting to passers-by and asking if he could get a decent mochaccino anywhere nearby and if they might have wi-fi.

How often do you dream of running around in medieval armour verses actually running around in medieval armour? Do you sometimes get up in the morning and think “I fancy wearing my chain mail while I work today” and then sit there painting and drawing? Or is chain mail too cumbersome?

I prefer not to confuse the two. I have quite an aversion to letting what amounts to role-playing seep into my real life, such as it is. I really am rather allergic to people who create personas for themselves to enact and while I do understand it’s a refuge and a form of completion of self, it’s not somewhere I would like to go. Besides, chain mail is hell on the furniture.

In the last interview we did together, we talked about your dragon book and I asked would you do another but include Asian Dragons, have you made any steps to learning more about the noble creatures of the Far East?

Nodding vigorously again. Yes, I have. If you have any titles, though I’d be grateful. I’ve been to China since last we talked, and met a few there. I think Eastern dragons are something I could draw, if I gave it a try. It always takes me a while to learn things visually; you need to draw them for a while to learn them properly. It’s not just a question of style, anybody can do that, but you have to understand the essence of things, otherwise a perfectly competent piece of art can be just that, well done, but ultimately conveying little more than form. I have very little patience with artwork deftly done, but which is all surface and effect and no substance. Sorry, not answering your question, am I?

Finally, would you ever consider putting together a book of the more obscure mythical creatures? Like a Japanese Oni for instance?

My vigorous nodding muscles are getting sore. Have you got a question I can shake my head over? Yes. The obscurer the better. Betterer. I would leap at the chance to do a book on dark creatures, the dark side of the mythological moon and all stops from Hades onwards. Or perhaps downwards. The dark side of Celtic myth would suit me just fine too. Is that a publishing deal you’re offering?

John Howe’s 2nd Round of Randoms

If you were a super hero/villain, what super power would you have?

Magic vision that would let me put clothes back on people.

What really grinds your gears?

Don’t get me started. I have more gears than a Mack 18-wheeler.

What is your favourite smell?

De gustibus non est disputandum. Coffee brewing. (De gustibus aut bene, aut nihil. Milk, no sugar, please.)

What would you rather have: a bionic arm or a bionic leg?

Bionic arm, with Photoshop and Painter in the bundle. Is there a Mac version?

If you could go back in time and witness a historical event, what would it have been?

Just ONE? That is terribly cruel. Could I have a dozen?  (For starters, that is.) I think I’d choose events where the world changes under someone’s eyes. A hill in Darien, a fire in Persepolis, a dawn in Pompeii, or perhaps some less… eventful event. It’s very hard to choose. A most unfair question.

 Here are some John Howe products:


  1. How did I not know about this site!!!!! I just book marked you! Great stuff!

  2. A great example of conveying the interviewee's personality! I really enjoyed this one.



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