Friday, December 26, 2008

Interrogate the Artist: Stephanie Pui-Mun Law

For the first time in TLR we have an artist to take up the spot on the virtual chair and hopefully this will set an everlasting tradition on the blog as well. My first guest from the art guild is Stephanie Pui-Mun Law, whose art I am 100% you have spotted around the net, if of course you love fantasy and mythology. So give a warm welcome applause to the Stephanie. I am extremely grateful for her contribution to the blog with her interview. I have been a very addicted fan of her work and I think I have mentioned it on my personal blog that whatever comes out from her brushes is magic and inspirational for the fiction I am writing.

Harry: But shall we start with the questions right away. What attracted you to art? What can you say was the first encounter with the art form to inspire you to become and artist?

Stephanie: I have always wanted to be an artist from as early as I can remember. I was drawing constantly as a kid, and never got bored because I just would grab a pencil and paper and be entertained for hours. As soon as I found out what the fantasy genre was when I was introduced to the fantasy/sci-fi section of my local public library, I was hooked on that.

H: To continue the thread of thoughts. Who do you think is the most inspirational artist to have a strong influence on you? And what trends and movements in fantasy art do you find enjoyable and would like to try?

S: When I was younger, I loved comic book art – the inking styles, and the bold compositions. I would dig through my younger brothers’ hand-me-down collection (from our cousins) of X-Men. Larry Elmore was another major influence as I discovered fantasy books at the library. As I got older my tastes and influences expanded to include Renaissance painters, Victorian fairy artists, Surrealism, Art Nouveau. In particular Magritte, Alphonse Mucha, Michael Parkes, Edmund Dulac, Alan Lee, Charles Vess, Dave McKean, and Daniel Merriam.
I don’t know about trends and movements – if anything it would seem the current trend these days is towards digital art. I enjoy watercolors, and ironically traveled the opposite direction from that trend – I started with digital about 10 years ago and switched to watercolors.

H: World Mythology is the center and base of all your pieces so far. What drew you to fantasy and mythology and can you please share what was the myth you enjoyed portraying most and what was the myth that you had the hardest time portraying?

S: Again, it was a subject that always fascinated me from as early as I could remember. I enjoyed the heavy volumes of illustrated fairy tales when I was young. I had a Hans Christian Anderson book that I was always rereading. My uncles loved buying books as presents for my brother and I whenever they came to visit, and I guess they noticed my interests and supplemented my collection with books on Chinese legends and more contemporary anthologies like those put together by Jack Zipes. I didn’t appreciate the contemporary commentary found in the latter so much until I got a little older, but I still enjoyed the stories themselves.
One of my favorite mythological creatures to paint are fox spirits. The fox in the east and the west is a trickster creature. Clever and cunning in Aesop’s fables, and in China they are capricious beings who can take the form of fox, or beautiful woman. They are a bit like the faeries of Europe: they toy with and are fascinated by humans, yearning for humanity and mocking its mortality.

H: Working with watercolor and pencils are somewhat traditional techniques opposed to the new digitalized art techniques. How much time must one invest into an illustration before it is finished? And consequently what are the danger zones with working with watercolor that many artists came most mistakes?

S: The time it takes really varies from piece to piece, depending on the size and the complexity of the details. I have spent anywhere from a couple of hours on a painting, to upwards of 50 hours. Generally I start brainstorming ideas in my head a week before putting pencil to paper. I’ll do this while working on another painting simultaneously. By the time I start sketching out ideas, I have a pretty good concept in my head of what I want. It’s just a matter of working out the specifics. This takes a day. I then scan it and work out size, placement of elements and composition. When I am satisfied with that, I print it out and transfer to my final surface, at which point I’m ready to paint. I think the most common error and frustration people have with watercolors is just not waiting long enough for layers to dry. Without waiting, the colors all blend into a muddy mess. Also, you have to have a reasonable plan in mind before ever picking up the brush, because watercolors are transparent, it’s a matter of working up the dark zones, and retaining the white areas as the paper showing through.

H: People certainly have recognized your work on book and magazine covers, card games and different RPGs. As a freelance artist you certainly have managed to be involved in different projects. How did you land these jobs and how does a freelance artist fight their way through the business world? How do you find your assignments?

S: I’ve put a lot of effort into my website and promoting it, and gaining visibility for it. I would say that was key for me, and it’s something that earlier artists didn’t have the advantage of. I can reach my audience directly in a way that didn’t used to be possible. Additionally, I started attending fantasy/game/anime/sci-fi conventions and talking to other artists and publishers. I would go to bookstores and game stores and look to see what products I would like to see my art on, then go home and look up the information for those companies, call them up to find out their art submission policies, and send in my portfolio. Freelance work is constantly marketing yourself and pushing your art and being proactive.

H: Since June 2004 all the fans of your art have been waiting for the fabled tarot deck, which should be released in the stores as of the year 2009. Can you share some interesting information about how the project started, was it a project you finance yourself and what have been the ups and downs during these four years?

S: It’s been an amazing experience. I look back on all the cards and I can’t really believe that I’ve managed to do 76 (2 more left to go) paintings on this theme, with work that I am proud of. I’ve been able to challenge myself during the process, by pushing myself to paint some subject matters and compositions that I would not have thought to do before, so I feel like it’s been one of the best things I could have done to expand my artistic and technical skill.

For years before I started the project, I had people telling me constantly that I should do a tarot deck. I wanted to, but 78 images is a lot – I didn’t want to start a deck and then find at the end of the road that the earlier pieces were no longer up to a personal standard. As you can see it has taken 4 years. And artist should grow during such a span of time and improve. When I started in 2004 I suppose I felt that my skill had at least reached a baseline standard that I would still be happy with when I came to the end of the road; and yes, this has proven to be the case. I can see things that I might have improved upon in the earlier work, but I’m still happy with it.

As for the why of a tarot deck – as you’ve noted, I have a fascination with world mythology. The major arcane in particular is filled with archetypes. These are all concepts and figures that under lie the human experience, and which are the basis of mythologies and folklore. For example, “The Empress” is the embodiment of all the queens found in stories of disparate cultures. She is Guinevere, Mab, Titiania, The Queen of Heaven. “The Sun” is Apollo, Amaratsu, Eriu; and so on for all the cards. Mythologies are from the universal subconscious, distilling common experiences and yearnings down into these principle figures and stories that are repeated over and over in cultures across the world.

H: Your bibliography also features several books of illustrations and a non-fiction tutorial book called “Deamscapes”. Was it hard to create compilations of art and how were the books received? Regarding “Dreamscapes” can you reveal whether it was hard to create such condense and full description of the elements in drawing what you draw?

S: I really enjoyed creating Dreamscapes. It was not too hard to break down my processes, and I appreciated the change of pace it was from most of the other work I do.

H: You are also a jeweler… I am thrilled about the few pieces you have in your shop and have to ask out of sheer curiosity how do you maintain so many creative projects and do you have a workshop for making jewelry?

S: The jewelry is more of a hobby. For the most part in the past I’ve just created pieces for myself and family, but it’s something I’m working on expanding.

H: Since arts are connected to one another, do you use another medium such as music or dance for instance to draw inspiration and enhance a piece you are currently working on?

S: There aren’t really any specific ties, but I am a flamenco dancer, and I do believe that the flow of dance and music is permeated into my art. I think of the flow of my compositions in the same way a dance moves, or like the phrasing of music.

H: Now to drop the more serious questions, what character from any medium would you enjoy to draw fan art of?

S: I hope this doesn’t sound arrogant, but honestly there isn’t really any. There are so many concepts and ideas out there for brand new personas and figures; and I don’t even have enough time to get to all of those ideas that I really want to paint!

So this was the amazing Stephanie Pui Mun Law. I hope everyone reading this had a blast as much as I had doing the interview.

© All the artwork is copyrighted. Please do not use the images without the permission of the artist or owner. The artwork in this post has been used according to the rules listed by the artist herself or at least I think I have.


Kimberly Swan said...

Hi Harry & Stephanie - What a great interview! It was interesting to read that Stephanie started in digital and then moved to watercolors. Her artwork is lovely and fairly easy to spot. Quite the talent. :)

daydream said...

I am quite happy to see you here. This is the basis of my soon to be Artist Corner on TLR and well even though this is more fairy and gentle, the magic can sway your head in no time. Stephanie has kick ass darker art too.

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