I love artists. They are the best kind of people. I highly recommend you take any opportunity you can to find yourself in a room full of them (preferably when they happen to have sketchbooks in hand). When I was asked if I could find a few amazing women to do the artwork for the Women Destroy Horror! issue of Nightmare Magazine, I happened to be attending the Illustration Masters Class. I looked up from my laptop, glanced around the studio I was working in, and immediately emailed back “Why yes, I think I can.” Directly across from me were Carly Janine Mazur, Reiko Murakami, and Sam Guay, all hard at work on incredible (and rather creepy) paintings. On a visit to this year’s Spectrum Fantastical Art Live event, I just randomly happened to bump into Shelby Nichols at the bar and was immediately taken with her colorful self and her portfolio of deliciously dark drawings. I haven’t yet had a chance to meet Stacy Ngyuen face-to-face, but we both had art in the first issue of Lackington’s and I fell in love with her stunning graphic style; I knew that her artistic interpretation would be a fantastic edition to the lineup.
Here’s a brief question and answer session with these amazing artists. I hope you get the opportunity to get to know them even better—expect big things from this bunch!
What led you to work as an illustrator in the speculative fiction field?
Sam Guay: I wanted to be able to share the stories and images dancing around my head, and I found illustration to be the means by which I was able to do that.
Carly Janine Mazur: I grew up with comics, cartoons, and most important, video games. Fortunately for me, my older brother and I got along very well and shared the same interests. We both were able to foster each other’s creative endeavors and immerse ourselves in fantasy worlds via video games and tabletop gaming. I remember when Magic: The Gathering came out in the early 90s and my little kid mind was blown away by the artwork on the cards, and at that instant I knew I wanted to be an artist!
Reiko Murakami: Drawing is my natural habit. I went to art school for animation and film, then I got into the video game industry and I worked on 3d modeling, character animation, and visual effects, but concept art and digital painting feel the best fit for me. I still work in the video game art field, and recently, especially after taking the IMC [the Illustrations Masters Class], I would like to be involved more in the illustration and publishing. IMC opened up my mind that there are a lot of things I can learn and get better as an artist outside my current career.
Stacy Nguyen: It was by happy accident and cronyism. Prior, I mostly illustrated editorial content in newspapers and for marketing/branding stuff. My good friend LiAnn Yim is co-editor of the awesome spec fiction journal, The Golden Key, which has a guest illustrator every issue. She randomly asked me if I wanted to illustrate an issue one night. I love working with LiAnn so I said yes. Then did it. And through that experience made a lot of cool new friends and contacts, illustrated a few more things, made some more new friends like you, Galen. And here we are. So that’s what got the ball rolling.
Shelby Nichols: Even as a young child, I’ve enjoyed hearing and telling stories. I would spin wild yarns after school, and my mom always used to call me Spielberg. Speculative fiction has a particular lure in that it’s so imaginative. You get to peek into other worlds that people have made and live alternate lives. It makes me feel like I’ve lived a thousand times within the pages of my books, and I get a lot of inspiration from fantastical stories.
What do you like about the horror genre specifically?
Guay: I enjoy the uncertainty and fragility that comes with facing our fears. Stories that are haunting and uncanny while remaining believable are my favorite of the horror genre.
Mazur: What I love about horror is how subtle it can be. Although I do love my fair share of slasher movies, my favorite horror is psychological, the stuff that digs down deep and is so close to home that it leaves you with this ill feeling in the pit of your stomach. Of my work the best compliment I have ever gotten was how beautiful, but deeply disconcerting it is. That’s where my passion lies.
Murakami: I like how it’s visually flexible. I enjoy being expressive and letting my imagination go crazy sometimes.
Nguyen: That it’s gross and dark. Also that it’s largely about what’s unseen—fear—which is an interesting conundrum when illustrating, because when we draw stuff, we are making something that is seen, like literally. So there’s a fun puzzle in figuring out ways to convey emotions like fear and disgust and horror without like, drawing it outright and pointing an arrow to it and going, “Yo, she’s super scared. Right here.” Horror seemed to fit my illustration preferences well.
Nichols: I’ve always been drawn to horror and darkness. I was raised on movies like Alien and used to draw torture chambers and all manner of grotesque creatures on my school folders. There is a special feeling I get from the horror genre, a sense of mystery, power, and beauty that I feel I can’t get anywhere else.
Who are some of your artistic influences? Where do you get inspiration from?
Guay: Many of my influences are Golden Age illustrators such as Arthur Rackham and Edmund Dulac. My inspiration comes from the curiosities of the natural world, folklore, and dreams.
Mazur: I have a lot of influences, especially because I incorporate realism and abstraction/design into my work. I will find pieces done by others online and I will see one element or component that really resonates with me, like how they handled brushstrokes, the use of empty space, line work, or how a design element was handled.
Murakami: Kazuhiro Fujita, Brom, a number of my artist friends and instructors. I often go to art community sites like ArtStation and DeviantArt for inspiration, but the concept comes from inside my mind.
Nguyen: Comic books and graphic novels influence my stuff a fair bit. I have a soft spot for Jim Lee because when I was a kid, I used to go nuts over how well he drew people—people in action—people’s emotions. My people were pretty static and stationary and bland at that time. I spent a lot of time looking at his stuff trying to figure out how to draw emotion. I also like pop art. I like the abstract. I usually find inspiration mostly in graphic design works, photographs, film stills, stuff like that.
Nichols: My biggest overall inspiration is the children’s book illustrator Stephen Gammell. The illustrations in Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark are what made the series a terrifying icon with a long standing seat on the Banned Books List. I also get inspiration from the fantasy settings of Brian Froud, the dark mysterious characters of Maya Kulenovic, and the delicate beauty that Alphonse Mucha renders in his paintings of women.
What does your process look like—how do you take an art piece from start to finish?
Guay: There’s a lot of planning that happens in the early stages of the piece: thumbnails, sketches, and reference gathering. When it comes time to paint it’s a matter of structured risk taking. Watercolor can produce some beautiful effects, but you have to be willing to let the watercolor do some of its own work.
Mazur: The way I work is very much in my own head. I rarely sketch out concepts, but when I do they are horrid! Little nonsensical scribblings that are vague and seem only to make sense to me. Once I’m sold on an idea for a painting, I will then gather references and compile them in Photoshop to get a good idea of how the figure is going to look in conjunction with the other elements I will add in. Oftentimes the composition will change dramatically if I see a reference shot in a completely new pose I never considered, making the painting more dynamic. I then sketch on the computer from my reference and will make subtle tweaks before transferring my sketch onto board. I begin painting in acrylics, an underpainting for the figure, and complete as much of the background design elements as I can before I finish rendering in oil.
Murakami: I sketch ideas in my sketchbook first. After that I do a digital draft using Photoshop, then a value pass. Once I have all the references I go on and put color. Almost all my process is digital.
Nguyen: I don’t do much sketching. Most of the conceptualization happens in my head and stays there. It’s important to me to convey realism in my work, so after I have a concept, I spend a fair bit of time creating maybe reference photos, or just Googling reference pictures. Like, for “. . . Warmer,” it turned out I really don’t know what glasses look like because I don’t wear glasses. So I took a while looking at pictures and compiling a bunch of photos of glasses so I wouldn’t mess that up too badly.
Nichols: I really love taking my time on a piece. I pour so much time in, building in layers, and take the opportunity to really enjoy my work. I strive to always learn new things, so I’m always pushing myself to use more detail or play with the light. It is not unheard of for a piece to change almost completely as I’m sketching it out. The most important part of my process is that I really enjoy my work and am happy with the time I put in.
What gives you nightmares?
Guay: Lately I’ve been having nightmares about people bringing me back from the dead. Don’t do that.
Mazur: I have no phobias, and only a great displeasure of finding hair in my food. I’m more afraid of abstract concepts, existential thought. There’s no worse night than being kept awake at night wondering why and how you’re even lying in bed in the first place!
Murakami: I don’t have nightmares that often, but I think when I have a stressful day I tend to have weird dreams about the issue.
Nguyen: It’s dumb, but I mostly have work-related nightmares. So my nightmares tend to happen when I’m having a hard time with work, like I’m stressed out over a project. So I dream that I’m at a computer, working on the project for hours and hours—and things start to move and gel in the dream. The nightmare is really when I wake up and realize I accomplished none of the work I thought I did. And then I have to go to work knowing I am a hurricane of suck. And sometimes I dream about loved ones getting killed or dying of old age, stuff like that. Mortality gives me nightmares, I guess.
Nichols: Honestly, my scariest nightmares are about quitting my art career and going back to data entry. My daydreams are waaaaaaay scarier than my nightmares.
• • •
Carly Janine Mazur is a Connecticut based illustrator. Working in oil and acrylic, her focus is on figurative work and exploring surreal worlds and concepts by immersing her figures into abstract situations often moody and emotionally disruptive. Her work can be seen at galleries across the country and online at carlyjanine.com.
Reiko Murakami is an illustrator and concept artist specializing in creature design and surreal horror illustrations. Also known as raqmo, she has worked for companies such as Hobby Japan, Square Enix, Capcom, INEI, and Harmonix. Her work has been published in Exposé 11 and 2DArtist Magazine. She has been featured in the Japanese Digital Art Masters Gallery on the 3DTotal Japan website. More of her work can be seen at reikomurakami.com and facebook.com/raqmoful. [Publisher’s Note: Reiko Murakami was our featured cover artist in our August 2014 issue.]
Sam Guay is a freelance illustrator working and wandering in New England. Dreams, folktales, and bits of her woodland haunts weave themselves into the visuals and narratives of her watercolors. Between paintings she can be found fortune-telling, voraciously reading, and having tea parties with her corvid kin, the local flora, and her beloved feline companion. You can find her work at samguay.com. [Publisher’s Note: Sam Guay was our featured cover artist in our September 2014 issue.]
Shelby Nichols has always been chasing doorways to other worlds. Her art seeks to tell a story and she finds inspiration in art that makes the viewer wonder what would happen next or where the subjects had come from. Most of her work is in graphite pencil, and she’s most known for her detailed black and white pieces. She believes there can be beauty in all dark things, even nightmares. Her website is shelbynichols.com.
Stacy Nguyen is a graphic/web designer, illustrator, and writer working in Seattle. She is a former news editor and the current editorial consultant for Northwest Asian Weekly, the oldest Pan-Asian weekly still in print on the West Coast. Her illustrations have won awards from the Washington Newspaper Publishers Association and the Society of Professional Journalists. Stacy earned her Bachelor of Arts in Creative Writing from the University of Washington. Her website is stacynguyen.com.
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