Creative Colleagues: Fred Fields

Fred Fields

Fred Fields

Every now and then, I pester my creative colleagues with five questions about their work. Most of these folks are friends, a few are secret enemies, and one has been blackmailing me for years.

I first met Fred Fields at TSR, when I was in periodicals and he in the art department. We didn’t spend much time together, but he was always friendly and cool, and nearly every month I’d see his latest work on the cover of one of our latest products. His was one of the styles that helped define the Forgotten Realms novel line.

Fred has recently launched a Kickstarter campaign for an ineffably beautiful and hideous Cthulhu dice tower, available unpainted, airbrushed, or painted by the master himself. Check it out, especially the video of his sculpting the tower.

1. As an artist who often uses life models, you also envision some unearthly subjects. Do you draw purely from your imagination? Or do you start with a real object/creature and add variations?

Well, you hit on an interesting point. Mixing photo reference and imagined things and making them look like they belong together is a challenge. If I take photo reference of people, props, costumes, and places, then how do you make the imagined creatures artistically fit into the mix? Early in my career I would just make up creatures. They never really looked like they belonged in the paintings with the other characters. I know that some illustrators would sculpt their creatures. I knew I could sculpt a bit so I started sculpting small maquettes. I’d sculpt monsters and photograph them in the same lighting that I shot the characters in. Suddenly the monsters seemed to not only belong in the painting but they became more believable. More alive!

2. Many illustrators of the fantastic are drawn to the Cthulhu mythos. What is it about those subjects that most appeals to you?

Well, I came late to the party. I was not a big reader as a kid. I started listening to audio books while I work. I decided that there were a ton of classics out there that I needed to explore. “The Call of Cthulhu” was one of those classic stories. When I worked for TSR, I did a painting for a cover depicting a mindflayer. At the time I’d never heard of Cthulhu. Once I became aware of the story that visually influenced the mindflayer, I really wanted to paint a Cthulhu. There are so many different ways that he has been depicted. The descriptions in the story are just enough so as to let the imagination fill in the dark and slimy blanks. I think every illustrator enjoys depicting a classic character while putting their own mark on it, especially if it’s been depicted by some of the great illustrators. It’s like walking in the footsteps of giants.

Sculpture and painting by Fred Fields

Sculpture and painting by Fred Fields

4. Since you weren’t a big reader, what attracted you to fantasy illustration? Who were some of the artists whose works drew you to embrace their subject matter?

I always had an affinity for Fantasy movies. I grew up on Jason and the Argonauts, The Seven Voyages of Sinbad, Dragonslayer, Bakshi’s The Hobbit and Fire and Ice. I was fairly young when my parents bought for me the first two Fantastic Art of Frank Frazetta books. I’m not sure why they knew I would like it, but it was my first glimpse into the world of fantasy art. In fact it was my only window. I pored over those books. I knew every brush stroke of every painting. My drawings began leaning toward what I was seeing. Every time Frank put out another art book, I bought it. I was really limited to the books that the local book shop carried. I later picked up The Fantastic Art of Boris and Michael Whelan’s first art book. It wasn’t until I was older that I began looking back in time at the works of the old masters.

4. Working in different media can require a writer to adapt mentally, but I can hardly imagine how difficult it is to move between sketches, paintings, sculptures, and other visual arts. How do you adapt?

I actually find each shift as a breath of fresh air. If I’ve done several paintings in a row and get a chance to do a sculpture, it’s a welcome change of pace. Sketching is the foundation for both paintings and sculptures, so I do that rather often. Honestly I see the different disciplines as different spokes of a common wheel. It’s all art to me. But if I go too long without painting, I get anxious and grouchy.

5. Just as writers draw inspiration from films, often for their scripts and performances, I imagine the same is true for visual artists. Are there particular filmmakers whose works inspire you? Art directors? Make-up artists? Special-effects? 

I draw from a lot of different places; paintings, film, stories, song lyrics. My favorite films don’t necessarily inspire me artistically. Some do but most don’t. The Godfather isn’t going to give me ideas of how to paint a wizard. I do sometimes seek out genre movie to fit a project. I appreciate CG art and effects when it’s believable. I appreciate directors who know how not to overdo the CG art and effects. CG art and effects should be used to enhance a movie, not overwhelm me or distract me from a bad story. I appreciate make-up special effects. Back in the TSR days, I had a subscription to Fangoria Magazine.

I think that when it comes to inspiration it isn’t so important where you get it from but that you get it and on a regular basis. You can’t just continue to take from the creative tank. You have to nourish and replenish the tank and do it often. I get more inspiration from a Museum than anything else. It makes want to rush home and paint.

Check out Fred’s Kickstarter, and keep tabs on his future projects at his website.

Review Jealousy

While some writers succumb to that pernicious emotion when a colleague gets a glowing review, what I’m talking about is jealousy between books by the same author.

That is, King of Chaos and Queen of Thorns (and to a lesser degree, Master of Devils) burn with envy whenever Prince of Wolves gets another review, especially at paizo.com.

Prince has the distinction of the most reviews in the Pathfinder Tales for two obvious reasons. First, it was the first in the line. Naturally, it garnered a lot of attention from readers hungry for novel-length fiction set in Golarion. Also, there’ve been three sequels, two novellas, and a good number of short stories featuring those characters. While each of the stories stands alone, people like to read “in order.” Thus, whenever a new book comes out, sales of Prince of Wolves get a boost and so do the reviews.

As a parent loves all his children, I love all my books in different ways. Sure, there are things about each of them that are my favorite: I love the gothic setting and mystery of Prince of Wolves, the love letter to wuxia films in Master of Devils, the slight twist on classic elves and demons in Queen of Thorns, and the large supporting cast of soldiers (some borrowed from Robin D. Laws and Liane Merciel) in King of Chaos.

But of course in the end I want to see all of my books happy.

To that end, if you’ve enjoyed Queen of Thorns and/or King of Chaos, would you consider posting a review? Better still, keep an eye on the Pathfinder Tales Book Club threads at paizo.com and jump in on the discussions. They’ve covered Crusader Road and are tackling Death’s Heretic now. I hope to see them take on the boys sometime later this winter.

For easy access:

Prince of Wolves

Master of Devils

Queen of Thorns

King of Chaos

Pathfinder Tales Forum (look for threads beginning PTBC)

 

 

Your First Scary Movie or Book

The weather is very October here, and I’m thinking about the approach of my favorite holiday. What’s the first movie, book, or story that scared the hell out of you?

I’m not sure that mine are my real firsts, but here are the ones that stuck with me.

A story whose author and title I’ve since forgotten, but it sure had a Ray Bradbury feel to it, which I read in elementary school. It described a boy trying to go from one end of the block to the other on a dark night. There were trees, one in particular, with sinister intent. I could smell the October on the story, and just imagining the cool night air gave me goosebumps.

Much later, Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot scared the hell out of me, and not just for the obvious reasons. As I read his descriptions of the boy’s room, I began to realize it could just as easily have been mine with all the models of Universal horror monsters. When the kid’s vampire friend rapped on the window, that was all I wanted to read until daylight.

Sometime in my tweens or early teens, my parents forbade me to watch Night of the Living Dead on the late show. I disobeyed and crept up to the TV room to watch it with the sound turned down low. From “They’re coming to get you Barbara!” to the end of the movie, when I’d fallen asleep or passed out from terror, I remained crammed under the couch to watch with my back against the wall.

Which ones got to you at an impressionable age?

 

Question of the Week: Fantasy in the 1980s

To expand upon the theme of a question I asked on Facebook, what are your favorite fantasy novels and films of the 1980s? You can have a little wiggle-room for films and books from the late 70s or early 90s, but part of the reason I ask is because I’m interested in what’s unique to that decade. Thus, even if you discovered R.E. Howard or J.R.R. Tolkien in the 80s, that’s not what I’m looking for this week.

More importantly, what elements of those novels and films do you find have become dated or tired now that you look back at them? And which elements endure or must return to save us all from the dread Grimdark*?

 

 

  • I like dark fantasy. There’s no need to crush me for this joke.