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.
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.