Monday, July 6, 2020

Interview: Iain J. Clark

Congratulations to Iain J Clark, for your Hugo Nomination for best fan artist! 

If you were at the 2019 Worldcon in Dublin, you've seen Iain J. Clark's artwork.  He created a lot of the promotional artwork for that Worldcon, including the Souvenir Book.  If you enjoy fan art of franchises such as Doctor Who, Star Trek, and The Expanse, oh boy are you gonna have a great time at Clark's website,!  You can also follow Iain on twitter, @IainJClark.

On top of all the SFNal artwork he does, Clark is also involved with creating artwork for the Professor Howe parody books, which raise money for BBC Children in Need. He has also been a film and TV reviewer for Strange Horizons.  At home, Clark works hard to make sure his young daughters are raised on a proper diet of Doctor Who and other SFF.

Clark was kind enough to answer my questions about the promotional artwork he did for Dublin2019 and the souvenir book,  blending digital and traditional media,  the wonderful fantasy he grew up reading, and much more.

Let's get to the interview!

NOAF: What media do you typically work in? (paints, pen and ink, digital, mixed media, etc) How did you first get started working with these materials?

Iain J. Clark: There are a lot of really good artists out there. I mean, really good. Inferiority-complex-inducingly good. For years I shied away from painting because I was constantly measuring myself up to those people, professionals and fans alike. I think it's because I'm mainly self-taught and painting felt worryingly like something that "proper" artists did. Pencils and Inks were my comfort zone, and I was working exclusively in those until 2015, when everything changed.

It started when my friend Emma England asked me to draw a picture of a Kraken attacking the Samuel Beckett bridge for the Dublin 2019 Worldcon bid. I duly created an ink drawing which they loved (phew!), and because they wanted to use it in adverts I had a go at colourising it in Photoshop. (I used the comic book technique of 'flats' to mask areas of the image and apply colour and texture to them.) I was still determined to avoid the TERROR of proper painting so I created acrylic washes and paint splatters on watercolour paper, scanned them in and blended them onto my art digitally. I still prefer the black and white version of that drawing but those textures were my first tentative step towards painting.

Dublin didn't know how to get rid of me after that. I kept chucking more and more pieces of art at them and they kept politely accepting them until they gradually disappeared under a big heap of unsolicited art. Gradually the painted parts of my work became more and more substantial. It was a critical mass of increasing confidence and becoming frustrated with how long it was taking me to photoshop everything together. I remember I'd done an ink drawing of a Kraken tentacle grabbing a Dublin banner (Jurassic Park style) and ended up repainting the entire tentacle in acrylics, and I suddenly thought "maybe a full painting is something I'm ready to do. . ." I've never looked back. Not all of them have been great by any means. I still feel like I'm learning constantly, with plenty of false starts, trial and error, but that journey culminated with the painted cover to the Dublin 2019 Souvenir Guide which is an opportunity I grabbed with both hands and something I'm very proud of.

These days I work mainly in acrylic paints and acrylic inks with occasional forays into oil paints, but I still keep my hand in on the pencils and inks though. In fact I just did an inked piece for use in a colouring competition run by the Glasgow bid.

NOAF: How would you describe your art style?

I.J.K.: I'm still metaphorically and also literally throwing stuff at the wall to see what sticks. I'm slowly starting to find what works for me in each medium, settling on approaches that I like. For example I've been gravitating towards very dilute acrylics and acrylic inks in washes, using acrylics almost like watercolour. I’ve participated in the online Inktober event for the last couple of years which forces you to work quickly in a lot of different styles and I've found that quite creatively helpful, although I never make it much past halfway through the month before I get burned out! I also do plenty of fan art in all types of media, and that’s great because it lets me just do whatever I'm feeling, lots of smaller pieces where I can try things out.

I find have an instinctive tendency towards adding detail, which is not always where I would like to be artistically. Like many artists, the stuff I admire is often the stuff I'm bad at. I'm wary of making art that's too 'stiff'. I admire economy of style, the ability to deftly convey detail without slavishly recreating it. I don't think I’m ever going to be 100% that artist, but it's an aspiration in my head, and I've been enjoying working more loosely.

NOAF:  What led you to create art that speaks to science fiction and fantasy fans?

I.J.C.: I grew up with science fiction and fantasy. I can't really remember it not being there. I learned to read for pleasure with the Doctor Who Target novelisations from the local library. As a teenager it was Tolkien, Anne McCaffrey, Arthur C Clarke, Barbara Hambly, Bob Shaw, David Eddings, Jennifer Roberson, Raymond Feist . . . I gulped them all down.

Some of my earliest artistic inspirations were the covers to those old Doctor Who books; I used to dream of following in the footsteps of people like Chris Achilleos and Andrew Skilleter. I also remember being in awe of John Ridgway's stunning work on the Doctor Who comics, Tim Bradstreet's art for the Vampire: The Masquerade role playing game and Vertigo's Hellblazer comic, and Jerome Moore’s covers for Star Trek: The Next Generation comics. The earliest art of mine that I still own is my Doctor Who fan art as a teenager - mostly not very good! I did a lot of Star Trek art in my late teens, some of which has been declared sufficiently not embarrassing to find its way onto my website. Later I worked on art for my University's roleplaying society. I think it’s fair to say I was a nerd. Okay, am a nerd.

NOAF: Do you have a piece or grouping of pieces in your Hugo voter packet that is especially meaningful to you? Can you tell us the story behind it?

I.J.C: Apart from the Dublin souvenir cover which I’ll talk about later I’m very fond of the 'Girder Dragon' image for the Glasgow In 2024. I was asked by the Chair, Esther McCallum-Stewart, for an iconic image to use on banners and flyers and I was drawn to Scotland's distinctive blend of mythology and industrial heritage. I ended up creating a dragon (or Nessie if you prefer!) out of twisted girders against a vivid sunset. The girders were quite complex to visualise, so much so that I ended up making a 3D model out of foam which I glued together and then twisted and contorted until I found the right shapes. That was a new approach for me! The sky is based on a photo I took but it was originally going to be a much more conventional painting of sunlit clouds and it just wasn’t working. In frustration I started playing around with great dollops of acrylic ink in vivid colour, swirling them around so they flowed into each other. It felt a little bit heart-in-mouth, working more or less on instinct before the paint dried, but it was one of those magical times when you hit on something that works and it carries you through to the end. I don't know if it’s my best painting or not but it was very satisfying to create.

NOAF: You created a lot of promotional artwork for the 2019 Worldcon in Dublin. Did the convention give you any prompts or suggestions for what images they were looking for?

I.J.C.: In the main, no. I mentioned the Kraken piece which got everything started but otherwise they were very hands off. They did brainstorm a lot of ideas, many of which I took on board, but they were kind enough to let me follow my instincts in what I produced. That’s the advantage of working on a volunteer-run endeavour!

I was very conscious of not being Irish myself and feeling like a bit of an English interloper (culturally at any rate; I still consider myself more European at heart!) I was cautious about blundering into something horribly stereotypical and "oirish", which I have hopefully avoided. There is such a rich mythological heritage in Ireland as well as the more concrete imagery of Dublin. I did Selkie, Sidhe, the Morrigan, the Salmon of Knowledge, Neolithic monuments, various Dublin landmarks, and I still barely scratched the surface!

NOAF: I love the Souvenir Book cover you created for Dublin 2019, how did you decide on the final design? What can you tell us about the uniquely Irish imagery that is this painting?

I.J.C.: Thank you! I'd used a lot of mythological images from Ireland in the course of my virtual 'residency' with them and since this was to be the cover of the main convention guide it felt like it had to encapsulate all of that somehow in one image. I worked with Sara Felix to narrow down ideas and the concentric circle design came from a desire to produce almost a collage of different aspects of Irish culture. The concept is of moving outward from the convention centre, the CCD, where the Worldcon was held, to the River Liffey beside it, out into Dublin with the stunning library at Trinity College, out again to the Neolithic carvings at Newgrange, then the ocean, the island of Ireland and the curve of the Earth, and on to the moon and deep space. In and amongst those circles are a raven, a Selkie (a seal that can shed its skin to become a woman), and a dragon. I originally had more creatures, including the Salmon of Knowledge again, but it was becoming far too busy!

NOAF: Among the other galleries on your website is a Doctor Who artwork gallery, my favourites are Inktober 2019: Time Lord and Spirit of Adventure. Do you have a favourite Doctor, or favorite character from the show? Are there any Doctor Who characters who were especially challenging to paint?

I.J.C.: While it's not quite true that there's no bad Doctor Who I do sort of love it all. I've painted or drawn most of the Doctors and many of the companions at this point. I grew up with Tom Baker's Doctor, but my favourite Doctors are probably Patrick Troughton and Matt Smith. In terms of art, Peter Capaldi is one I've returned to quite often and he’s such a pleasure to draw. I'm also a fan of Jodie Whittaker and the current era is always going to get some artistic love. It did take me a few goes to get her face right though: Capaldi's face is a craggy map full of landmarks and hers is more subtle, but also really expressive. I think she really clicked for me when I stopped trying to channel all the serene promo images and just painted her mid-"Scronch", nose all wrinkled, giving it some attitude. I love mixing her up with the classic show; there’s the one you reference with the 'badass' Time Lord collar, and I've also pitted her against Ice Warriors on Peladon and the Giant Robot K-1.

I'm also a huge fan of The Expanse and I've done several fan paintings for that, which were exhibited (with lots of other talented people's) at the Season 4 fan launch party.

NOAF: Thank you so much! 

POSTED BY: Andrea Johnson lives in Michigan with her husband and too many books. She can be found on twitter, @redhead5318 , where she posts about books, food, and assorted nerdery.