Thursday, January 29, 2009

Fantasy Art - Les Edwards/Edward Miller

© The artwork presented on this post is used with the permission of its author. All the artwork is copyrighted. Please do not use the images without the permission of the artist or owner.

Les Edwards is a professional illustrator, with a great career of over 35 years, and renowned for his fantasy, horror and science fiction illustrations. He studied at Hornsey College of Art from 1968 to 1972 and after graduation he was recruited by the Young Artists Agency. Besides the huge number of book jackets and covers made in Fantasy, Horror and Science Fiction genres Les’ wonderful career gathers works produced in film and gaming industry, advertising campaigns and movie posters for John Carpenter’s “The Thing” and Clive Barker’s “Nightbreed”. Les Edwards also illustrated two graphic novels based on stories by Clive Barker, “Son of Celluloid” and “Rawhead Rex”. Recently Les started to work under the pseudonym Edward Miller for a more different style of art. Les Edwards’ talent, and Edward Miller’s as well, was recognized and rewarded through time with 7 British Fantasy Award for Best Artist, nominated 5 times for the World Fantasy Award (winning it in 2008 as Edward Miller) and nominated 5 times for the Chesley Award. Les Edwards was the Guest of Honor at the 2005 World Science Fiction Convention.

Interview - Les Edwards

Dark Wolf: Les, thank you very much for the opportunity of this interview.
Your biography states that you were advised that you would never be an illustrator, but what attracted you toward art in the first place? Do you remember the first attempt to manifest your lack of talent? :)
Les Edwards: I can't remember a time when I didn't draw. It was something that came naturally to me and I think I assumed when I was very young that everyone could do it. I was forever drawing the things that excited me at the time like movies or comic strips. When I went to Art School I was told that it was too difficult to become an illustrator and I should stick to graphic design. It was the general opinion among the teaching staff and they said the same thing to most students. They were partly right because it is a very insecure existence.

Dark Wolf: You start studying at the Hornsey College of Art in a tumultuous year in the history of college, 1968, and I know that in that period many artists visited the college. Did you met with such an artist that later influenced your work? Did other artists inspire and influence your career?
Les Edwards: It was certainly a very interesting time in '68. My most abiding memory is that the person chosen to deal with the college “troubles” was Lord Longford. He was well known as an anti-pornography campaigner and, later, as the champion of Myra Hindley, a notorious child murderer. Although he was well meaning I can't think of anyone less likely to have been able to deal with a bunch of disaffected students. Sadly I don't think I learned much at college which was of use in later years.

Dark Wolf: In your long and inspiring career you worked in different genres. Which one is your favorite one? Do you feel more attracted by the fantastic themes than by the more realistic ones?
Les Edwards: I still think that Horror is my favourite genre, although there is less and less Horror being published today. Most of what there is seems to be aimed at teenagers, which I am not, and it's usually some sort of TV tie-in. There are some great Horror writers around still but the major publishers seem uninterested in them. I've always been attracted to the strange and the bizarre in any form so it was natural for me to gravitate towards the fantastic genres. However I do occcasionaly like to paint something more realistic. It's all painting after all which is what I really like.

DW: You have a great number of pieces produced in the Fantasy, Sci-Fi and Horror genres. Is your interest in these genres only professional or is a more personal one? Do you enjoy these genres outside art as well?
LE: I do read Science Fiction and Horror, although not exclusively, and I tend not to read much in the way of “High Fantasy” these days, although some of the things I've read in that field for work recently have been truly excellent. It's not that I don't like High fantasy, it's just that it seems to have slipped under my radar in recent years.

DW: Your Horror pieces are part of your “Red Period” part of your career. May I ask what the “Red Period” is? And how did it manifest?
LE: The “Red Period” is a joke because I went through a time when there was a lot of blood in my paintings. For a while publishers seemed to compete to see who could have the goriest covers. It didn't last very long but I used to joke about buying extra large tubes of red paint. I think I'm in a “Blue Period” now.

DW: Many books covers and jackets benefit from your work. Can you tell me what such a work involves? Do you talk to the authors as well for a better result?
LE: Ideally I will be given a manuscript to read and will come up with a few ideas from that. More often, especially with the larger publishers, I will be given pretty strict instructions about what image is to go on the cover. This has usually been decided by a committee. Obviously I prefer to work in the former manner which is why I like working for the independent publishers. They tend to be more flexible. I occasionaly talk to the author, which I enjoy, but it doesn't happen too often and I have the impression that the big publishers positively discourage it.

DW: You made some wonderful pieces for smaller publishing houses. But for which one do you prefer to work for the smaller or the big names of publishing?
LE: Both have their advantages. I like the independents because they are happy to give me much more freedom, but, of course their fees don't compare with the larger publishers. I think that is gradually changing though. The big publishers are much more restrictive and usually insist that you do exactly as they instruct you.

DW: I’ve seen on your portfolio a few works made with the digital tools. How different is working with these tools? Do you prefer the traditional way (oil, acrylics, pencil) to the digital ones?
LE: I still prefer traditional tools although I do enjoy playing around on the computer. I can't quite think of it in the same way. The possibilities are endless with digital tools and you don't need the discipline that is required for, say, oil paint because the computer will let you do anything. Obviously you can create wonderful effects in the digital medium which you could never achieve with traditional methods. There is some beautiful work being created by digital artists but I find that I enjoy the restrictions that real paint imposes on you.

DW: Your work seems focused on portrait. Do you prefer working on portraits than on landscapes or scenes? Is the work on a portrait more challenging than the one on scenes?
LE: I certainly enjoy portraits and I do tend to concentrate on faces because that's where we see character and emotion. Perhaps I should have been a portrait painter. For a long time I felt that I didn't really understand landscapes. In a way I thought that I didn't know what the rules were. However it's just a difficult to create a good landscape as it is to paint a convincing portrait. It's just that you have to concentrate on different things.

DW: One of your passions is fencing. When painting a fighting scene does your passion for fencing help? Does your fencing experience help you make a more realistic scene?
LE: There is a big difference between Fencing as a sport and real combat and an even bigger one between either of those and what you see in the movies. What you see on screen is meant to look good but is usually hopelessly unrealistic. However, looking good is just what you need for a painting so no “real” Fencing gets into my work; it just wouldn't look right. I do have an interest in arms and armour though, so I try to make my weapons look realistic and practical. Some of the weaponry you see in fantasy art is pretty hilarious.

DW: You illustrated two graphic novels based on stories by Clive Barker. What involves the work on a graphic novel? How much different is such a project than the creation of a single piece?
LE: Steve Niles, who adapted Clive Barker's stories for the Graphic Novel medium, supplied me with a detailed break-down of each page and, as I'd never worked in comics before, I was very happy to follow his suggestions. I would draw up a page in the way I wanted the panels to be arranged and then just paint each individual panel. Obviously you can't put in as much detail as you might in a single piece and I learned that the hard way. Some panels need more work than others and some are just there to progress the story. Frank Miller is a master at this, and if you look closely at his work you'll see what I mean. Also it's important to remember that you are telling a story and that's what's important. Artistic “showing off” is not a good idea; your artwork should help the story along and not get in the way. I learned a lot doing those books and I'd like to have another go at it one day.

DW: You also have worked on film and gaming productions. What new satisfactions brought you these work experiences? Would you like to work again on these fields?
LE: I like to be involved in different fields because I've always wanted to do a wide variety of work and it's always interesting to meet a new group of people and perhaps, reach a wider audience. The really important thing to me though is painting, so it's not all that important what area I'm working in as long as I can keep doing that.

DW: I know that you gathered your works in a book, “Blood and Iron”. Is there a chance for the lovers of your works to have a new book containing your works?
LE: There are no definite plans for a new book but it's an idea that crops up from time to time. Part of the difficulty would be finding a publisher as books of that kind rarely make any money. I'd really like to do a book featuring the best of Les Edwards and Edward Miller.

DW: Why did you choose to adopt the pseudonym Edward Miller?
LE: Edward Miller was invented because, as Les Edwards, I was very well known for doing a particular kind of work. I felt that I wanted to branch out into different areas but most clients only thought of me as a ”Horror” illustrator. The idea was that Edward could work in a different way and not have the Les Edwards “baggage”. Clients would have no preconceived ideas.

DW: What differences are in the works of Les Edwards and Edward Miller? When do you decide that a particular work is made by Edward Miller?
LE: The difference is both in technique and approach. Les paints in oils on a smooth board and Edward uses acrylics on canvas board. Also because Les tends to concentrate on figures and characters Edward always takes a more landscape oriented approach with smaller figures. The important thing about an Edward Miller painting is the atmosphere and the “feel” whereas Les's work is more about portraying imaginary things in a more precise manner, without, of course, trying to be photographic, something that really doesn't work in the fantasy fields.

DW: You have an impressive list of Awards and Award nominations. How do you feel when winning such an award? Isn’t Les Edwards envious on Edward Miller for winning the World Fantasy Award? :)
LE: Winning awards is always wonderful because people actually go to the trouble of voting. It's always said that being nominated is an honour and that's true. It means your work has been noticed. Yes Les is jealous of Edward, but those two are always arguing anyway.

DW: What aspects of your work would you like to still improve? If it were possible is there anything you would like to change in your career?
LE: The great thing about painting is that you can never learn everything, but you can improve throughout your life. I just hope to get better at what I do. As far as changing anything I feel that in the past I've been rather disparaging of my own work when I compare it to others. I could wish that I was more confident of my own abilities. On the other hand there are some illustrators with egos the size of Antarctica, so perhaps I should aim for a happy medium.

DW: At what are you working now and what are your future projects?
LE: I'm about to start illustrating “Conan's Brethren” for Gollancz, which is a collection of Robert E Howard's stories of heroes other than Conan. Then I will be doing some things for next year's Terry Pratchett calendar. There are some non-genre jobs in the pipeline and a few things that have yet to be confirmed but about which I'm quite excited.

Thank you very much for your answers and amiability. It has been an honor and a pleasure.
For complete information about Les Edwards and a comprehensive portfolio, please visit his website, The Art of Les Edwards. Also for a complete portfolio of works made under the pseudonym Edward Miller, please visit the website, The Art of Edward Miller.

© The artwork presented on this post is used with the permission of its author. All the artwork is copyrighted. Please do not use the images without the permission of the artist or owner.


Unknown said...

Wow--those are just beautiful. What an incredible talent!

Mihai A. said...

Les Edwards has a huge talent indeed :)

Barbara Martin said...

Mihai, the art work is very well done. I'm really impressed. Thank you for the interview and the posting of some of his work.

Mihai A. said...

Thank you very much, Barbara.
I find Les Edwards' works impressive as well.