Hello Jon! Great to have you here, mate, and thank you for joining us today.
No problem! Happy to "be" "here"!
First things first---How long have you been an illustrator?
Gosh - depends on your reckoning I guess. I did some promotional art for a children's home when I was 19, which was a paid gig, so if we start from there 16 years, which sounds terribly grand. But after that I went to art school, did props making and all sorts of other nonsense. I generally reckon realistically its about 10 years.
How did you get started as an illustrator and what attracted you to fantasy art?
I always wanted to be an illustrator. I'm not really sure why. I just loved books as a kid and was better at drawing than writing. I was brought up on Tolkien, Homer, Lloyd Alexander, The Mabinogion and all that good stuff, so it was always there. Lately I've come to the conclusion that in part I enjoy fantasy art for its outsider qualities, which lets it be a bit less po-faced than some other niches, and thereby soars high above them. One of the qualities I respect most in people and the arts is the ability to entertain and make people laugh, and I personally find the fantasy genre engaging, entertaining and full of awesome laughs.
What games have you worked on?
Oh cripes - lots of them. Dungeons and Dragons, WFRP I guess are the big two rpgs I've been luck
y enough to work on. I've worked on lots of ccgs like L5R and World of Warcraft. I've done tons of art over the years for Warhammer Historical.
What work are you most proud of? What is your current favorite and why?
The recent work for the re-release of classic Brit rpg Dragon Warriors without a doubt. It was the first proper rpg I played as a kid, and I absolutely adore it. James Wallis is a brilliant client and we've had an awesomely rewarding creative partnership. We've really collaborated and I've felt much more than a rented pen, if that makes any sense. Its a little worrying trying to do justice to a game I loved so much as a kid, and the original art was by people like Russ Nicholson and Leo Hartas, so I am aware I'm falling short of the glory from the get-go, but I hope my sheer enthusiasm can carry the work through.
What are you working on right now?
Some images for a partwork called Beasts and beings which I regularly contribute to.
Do you do any artwork for yourself? Do you self-publish anything?
Sure do. In recent times I've made a point of trying to make one painting a month just for myself. There are limits on what you get commissioned to do, so its nice to be able to really let rip and just pour some stuff out of my head unfiltered by a client's needs. Luckily I've also found a market for such work, and everything I've done this year for myself has seen print, which feels like a very fortunate position to find myself in.
I've also self-published a couple of collections of work I did for myself and/or own the rights to. Mostly because its nice to have that stuff collected in one place in print for myself, but they have sold pleasingly well. My lulu store where you can pick up my book scan be found here: http://stores.lulu.com/monstrosgiganticos
Do you perform work outside of the table top gaming industry? Please tell us about it.
Sure. I've always tried to keep a broad folio of clients. I do art for kids games, educational artwork for schools, I've done sporadic work for computer games including a couple of projects I'm really proud to have worked on for Red Redemption who make games about climate change. I've made art this year for beer labels. Looking forward to any samples they send my way!
Did you receive any formal art training?
For my sins, aye I did. I did the year's foundation course required to get into UK art school, which was great. That was a really broad grounding in a lot of areas - print making, photography, graphic design, painting, drawing. All that good stuff. I then went on to study fine art at degree level. From somewhere I got the idea that it would be better to be an illustrator with a fine art degree than an illustration degree. No idea why. But I think it turned out OK. I'm happy with the level of study I had to do into art history. And I learned a lot of self motivation. Through the 1990s it was extremely unfashionable to teach art students anything remotely like technical skills, so I do consider myself self taught when it comes to figurative work like wot I make my living at.
What is your favorite medium? Why?
Digital. Its extremely versatile, and since its really all I've done for a very long time probably all I'm capable of. A few years back I was in love with plain ole pencil, and I still love that.
If you use computer software, which do you use? How has it affected your work?
I use Painter, ArtRage and Photoshop. I think you can learn a heck of a lot very quickly on computers, without the fear of wasting materials, or the preciousness that can
accompany trad work. That said, it has a plethora of drawbacks and can make you very lazy. But overall I think my work is better for the experience of using digital media.
How has your work changed over the years of honing your craft?
I'm a better painter now than ever I guess. Still not sure I'm any good at it in a broader sense, but I feel I have a depth of experience that I can offer my clients. I pay a lot more attention to finish and polish than I used to. When I look back 15 years or so I was very naive about what I thought I could get into print. I'm 500% tighter than I was.
What process do you generally follow when performing your artwork?
Generally everything is done on the computer now, from sketch to final painting. I generally start with a very rough tonal sketch which is refined with smaller and smaller brushes until its readable by the client. Once that is approved I layer on a whole bunch of real paint textures, and then work back into those. I generally use quite "squishy" brushes and I enjoy it where I'm barely in control of my marks. ArtRage is good for that.
What do you see as the biggest challenge facing you as an illustrator? What do you feel is your most important responsibility as an illustrator?
Putting bread on the table. I do pretty well for myself these days, but its always an issue. No client likes paying their bills, so I've become increasingly hard about chasing invoices. Its not part of the job I enjoy at all, but its necessary. Equally there's no regular pay cheque when you're freelance, so you can't have a bad day, or phone in sick. Responsibilities? Hmm not sure.
I try to always remember I'm part of a wider profession, and try to take responsible decisions on what I will do at what price. Its all well and good undercutting the hell out of the market, but where do you go to eventually find "properly" paid work if everyone does that? Any idiot can fill up their schedule by slashing their prices. That's never been something I've been keen to do.
Where do you make your home? Does your home turf inform your work? Does your nationality influence your artistic sensibilities? In what ways?
I'm a Brit, living in Scotland. I have an awesome view of the Ochil hills from the back of my house, and that has certainly informed my work. The abundance of history within a stones throw of anywhere in the UK gives a certain sensibility I think, which is handy for a fantasy illustrator. Britain can also be a pretty grimy and violent place and I think that's had its influences. And UK culture has certain distinctions from the more commonly found (in the illustration industry) US culture. I was raised on Asterix and 2000AD rather than Marvel/DC for example. Yeah I know Asterix is French. Part of my point I guess. Its nothing to do with those things being better, and everything to do with them being a little bit different.
Who are some of your favorite artists? Do they have a direct influence on your work?
There's so many people who's work I admire. A lot of my contemporaries on the Mountain are a big influence day to day, and its nice to have those different styles pulling me in different directions. Ralph's attention to detail and finish, James' wonderful tones and lighting, that Snygg fellow's awesome painting powers, Matt's level of character... I could go on and on. Everyone brings something that informs what I do. And I'm not just sucking up. I can't stand most of 'em as people it must be said, but their work is ok.
As far as "big" names go I've been looking at a lot of painters from the mid 19th Century through to the early 20th of late. Repin, Viktor Vasnetsov, Gallen-Kallela. Those guys feed into work like Bauer and MacBride. If I had to pick one artist who has been a consistent inspiration (and cause of dismay with his amazing abilities) it would be Angus MacBride. He was the don, and news of his death was like being robbed.
How much of a direct influence they have is probably not something I'm qualified to judge.
Do you listen to music while you work? Put on movies? Or do you prefer a quiet studio?
I always have music on. I have a pretty broad taste, but some recently played artist on iTunes - Led Zep, Link Wray, Calexico, British Sea Power, Foals, Battles, Amy Winehouse. Holy heck, Back in Black is an awesome album. Never mind the tabloids.
Are you a day person or do you work at night to avoid distractions?
I consistently work as close to 9 to 5 hours as possible. Its just a personal thing, but for me I consider that the professional thing to do. It comes from my days as a props maker, where we would encounter these young turks working 24 hours straight, eating cocoa powder and pop tarts and thinking they were clever. It is a job I absolutely love, but it is a job.
What do your friends and family think of your chosen profession?
Most of them think I'm an idiot or have no understanding of what I do. Its handy because it makes them leave me alone.
Do you appear at conventions? Do you sell prints or original art?
Yes I do all of those things. I'm always at local con Conpulsion in Edinburgh, and as my son reaches his second birthday soon I'll be out and about a bit more. I plan to be at Dragonmeet in London in November. I'm yet to make it across to the Big Show (Gen Con) yet, but maybe one day. I sell a variety of poster prints, which in my obviously biased opinion are the shizzle. I usually advertise what stock I have on hand on my lj - http://jonhodgson.livejournal.com
Do you keep a sketchbook?
Do you have other hobbies that influence your work?
I do a bit of very amateurish music making. I don't have huge amounts of hobby time though I must confess.
I’m sure readers with artistic ambitions would appreciate any advice you have to offer…
Work hard. I've done a spot of ADing recently and the sheer laziness of some artists astounds me. Its not breaking rocks. Its a really nice job to get to do. So get on with it! The secret of success in any field is to be good at what you do. That sounds really flippant, but think about it. If your work isn't very good you will face disappointment and frustration. I see people set up shop as illustrators on a daily basis who simply cannot draw or paint well. Which is somewhat baffling. Some degree of self awareness is crucial to making saleable artwork. Likewise if you have no business skills why would you think you can run a successful business? There's no such thing as luck. Sure opportunities can come along seemingly at random, but unless you're prepared for them they are worthless.
Once again, thank you so much for taking the time for this interview, Jon. It was great learning more about you and your terrific work.
No! Thank you!
You can learn more about Jon Hodgson and his fantastic work at www.jonhodgson.com