Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Fantasy Art - Julie Dillon

© 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.

Julie Dillon is an American artist, born in 1982, and currently as a freelance illustrator. She graduated with a Bachelor in Fine Arts from the CSUS and continued her studies at the Academy of Art University and various workshops. Among the clients she worked for are Wizards of the Coast, Paizo Publishing, Fantasy Flight Games and many others.

Interview - Julie Dillon

Mihai (Dark Wolf): Julie, thank you for this interview.
What has attracted you toward art and when did you become aware of your talent?
Julie Dillon: I've enjoyed creating things since as long as I can remember, whether it was artwork, stories, or music. There were points in my life where I focused more on writing or theater (or my "backup plan" of computer science), but my love of drawing and art always ran underneath all other interests, and ended up becoming my main focus. I still love music and literature and theater, but I always end up coming back to art in terms of my career.
I tended to do reasonably well in my art classes throughout school, but I didn't really consider myself particularly talented, especially not enough to make a career out of it. Art was just what I did in my free time when I wasn't busy with school. It wasn't until I was in my early twenties that I started thinking I might be able to become a good enough artist to earn a living from my work.

Mihai (Dark Wolf): By which artists are you inspired? Who do you consider to have mostly influenced your work so far?
Julie Dillon: There are too many to count! There are so many amazing artists that have inspired me over the years, so I'll just highlight a few. Alphonse Mucha was an early favorite of mine, more for his rich colorful compositions rather than just his decorative work. Jon Foster is a newer favorite; I love his amazing storytelling abilities and dynamic compositions, how he twists the perspective and proportions of a piece to heighten the drama and narrative while still making the scene feel solid and believable. I'm very fond of John William Waterhouse's approach to mythology and the figure, and his ability to make both mythological figures seem grounded in reality and everyday people seem otherwordly and fantastic. More recently, I've been learning a lot from Andrew Jones, mostly that there is no shame in working digitally rather than with traditional media, and that it's okay to fully embrace digital art and make the most use out various art programs.

Mihai (Dark Wolf): Did you set yourself a goal as an artist? What would you like to achieve in your artist career?
Julie Dillon: Art was something I slowly tiptoed into. I never had the confidence to set big goals for myself early on, so I had a much slower start than my peers who went straight to art school and began training early on. Rather, I just tried to do the best I could do, taking local art classes when I could, and vageuly hoped it might eventually lead somewhere. Finally, a few years ago I started taking my work more seriously. I realized that a career in illustration was actually viable, started taking some classes at an actual art school and began looking for real work. But even now, my main goal is just to continue to improve upon my weaknesses so that I can continue to support myself with my art. I have a vague ambition of eventually publishing my own illustrated storybooks and being known for my personal work rather than my commissioned work, but for now I'm happy just taking each project as it comes and doing the best I can.

M(DW): A man learns new things every day. Is it the same for an artist? Do you feel that your art improves with every new piece?
JD: Oh, I definitely think artists are constantly learning and improving. I'm always trying to improve with each piece I do (even if I don't always meet that goal). I try to attend workshops and classes when I get the chance, and I'm always looking at and studying other artists' work. I wish I had the time to do more academic studies and take life drawing courses on a more regular basis, because I know there is still so much for me to learn, but with my freelance schedule, it's hard to find the time. Although, even when I think I'm in a rut and don't feel like I'm improving, I can still look back on work I did a few years ago and see that I have made some improvements, even if I still have a long way to go.

M(DW): Which techniques do you prefer to use, the traditional ones (oil, acrylics, pencil) or the digital ones? Which one gives you the more freedom of action?
JD: As much as I enjoy getting to work with oils when I have the chance, I definitely prefer working digitally, no question about it. It's clean, fast, portable and flexible. There is no mess, no time spent setting things up and cleaning up afterwards, no waiting for things to dry. I can flip the canvas, resize things, and I never have to buy new paint or brushes (although my graphics tablets tend to only last a year or so). There are downsides to digital media, of course. You can make prints of your work, but you don't have an actual physical original copy of your painting. You don't have that same physical connection with your work that you get with actual paints, and I know that's a major concern for a lot of artists.

M(DW): Your works seem centered on Fantasy themes. Does this theme interest you besides your art works?
JD: Oh, definitely. I love fantasy, scifi, mythology... Basically anything that takes a step beyond the mundane. I read pretty much nothing but fantasy and scifi, and I try to work more mythological or astrological elements into my artwork when it's fitting. Fantasy and scifi have been a big part of my life since I was young, and I'm so happy that I get to do fantasy art for a living.

M(DW): Do you have other sources of inspiration? Do you like to work in other genres as well?
JD: This always comes out sounding goofy when I say it, but I try to draw inspiration from everything. I'm inspired by art and fiction, naturally, but I've found if I make a painting that reflects something I've directly felt or experienced, it always end up stronger than paintings that I do that are just inspired by other artists' or writers' work. Even if it doesn't end up in an actual painting, I try to pull what I can from my surroundings and experiences and file away details and impressions, such as the way the sunlight looks at a certain time of day, or how certain landscapes and surroundings evoke different emotional states. I think a lot of artists do the same thing, using their work to distill these ideas and impressions of the world around them down into something tangible that can be shared with others. That said, I try to find a balance so my work doesn't get either too personal and sappy or too emotionally detached.
I definitely love working in other genres; I'll do something light and fluffy for one client, something dark and violent for another; a traditional high fantasy scene for one person, and a more abstracted esoteric piece for another. The only thing I rarely do is a straight, everyday realistic scene (except for studies and still life paintings). I'd need to add some hint of fantasy or surrealism to it in order for it to really appeal to me.

M(DW): I know that you have a series of illustrations featuring the same two characters. Who inspired those characters? Do you feel attached to these characters or other characters you draw and try to paint them as often as you can?
JD: I know other artists have considerably more developed characters, but the ones that I draw are rather loosely developed (almost embarassingly so). They have their own stories in my head and I love painting them, but I like to keep the narratives in my personal work more broad and archetypal rather than too overly specific, so people can think up their own stories and enjoy the work even though the specifics aren't spelled out. This is just another way to say I haven't been able to nail down an actual decent story for my characters yet. That's another thing I like about illustration: you can tell a story even if you're not a very good writer.

M(DW): Speaking of characters I’ve seen that you draw characters from Neil Gaiman & Terry Pratchett’s “Good Omens” for a facial anatomy and expressions class. What made you use the characters from that novel and not a real human model for example?
JD: I happened to be reading Good Omens at the time and was really wanting to draw the main characters, so I figured I could use my anatomy class project as an excuse. It seemed like a fun way to explore different facial types. Luckily the assignment was flexible enough to allow me to basically turn in a bunch of fan art. I rushed them a little bit, but they still ended up being popular with other fans online, and now I kind of wish I had spent more time on them.

M(DW): Do you enjoy drawing the characters that you like in your readings? What other characters received a face from you?
JD: Definitely. Aside from it being fun, I enjoy the challenge of trying to draw a characters as close as I can to the way I picture them in my head, and try to make them reflect the authors' descriptions as much as I can. A lot of times I'll really get into a book (or film, tv show, etc), and feel compelled to sketch the characters out. Most of the time I just do quick sketches, I don't usually make them complete finished pieces. But for whatever reason, I often have a hard time focusing properly on my actual work until I've got the fan sketches out of my system.

M(DW): Do you prefer to draw characters than, let’s say, perspectives, landscapes or scenes?
JD: I definitely find it a lot more fun drawing faces and figures. However, I know the environment and surroundings can say a lot about the character and help to tell their story more than a simple portrait would. I love drawing faces, but I don’t often do finished pieces with just a character and no background, because I feel like the character needs some kind of context in order for a piece to feel finished. That said, I'm more likely to draw a character with no background than a background with no character. For me, I have a hard time drawing just scenery without at least some hint of a character to anchor the scene and provide a little narrative of some sort.

M(DW): You’ve made a few cover illustrations for books and magazines. How did you feel when you were commissioned for these projects? Would you like to work further on the cover illustrations?
JD: It’s exciting, but also a little intimidating. The cover art is the first thing buyers will see, and I have to try to make an illustration that captures the essence of the writers' work as best as I can. A lot of times, distilling all that information down into a single image can be challenging for me. I want to make sure I put the best possible face on the work, not only to make the authors happy, but to make sure the work is eye-catching and sells well. I would definitely like to do more cover illustrations in the future, it's exactly the sort of thing I love to do.

M(DW): Is there a particular book you would like to illustrate the cover? Do you dream working with an author in particular?
JD: Watership Down by Richard Adams has always strongly resonated with me, and I would love to do illustrations for the Chronicles of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander. I know it would never happen, but I would love to illustrate anything by Terry Pratchett in some official capacity. Aside from that, I'm generally just delighted and flattered to work with any author. :)

M(DW): What immediate and future projects do you have?
JD: Actually, right now, the projects I'm most excited about involve doing work for various metal bands. This past year I've really been getting into metal, and I am very excited to be doing t-shirt designs and album covers for a few local and international bands. None of it is published or available just yet, but keep an eye out in particular for the release of the Bay Area band Cormorant's ( ) new album "Metazoa" later this year. It's an amazing album that I would highly recommend even if I wasn't providing the album art. ;) Fantasy art is definitely my bread and butter, but I'm hoping to get more work doing art for other bands, because it offers different artistic challenges and lets me try out different approaches, and has been very rewarding thus far. Plus, it's always good to broaden your horizons and have a variety of clients. :)

Thank you very much for your answers, it has been a pleasure.

For more of Julie Dillon's works and for a complete portfolio please visit her website,, or her Deviantart page.

© 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.


dolls like us said...

I love everything you have on this page.

Anonymous said...

Julie has got all the ethereal presence of Luis Royo without the gratuitous cheesecake, and her deeply engulfing backdrops and intriguing character designs have the epic scope of Michael Whelan and Roy Krenkel.

Promote, promote, promote. This is artwork I wish I'd had on my novel covers as a kid. She's phenomenal.

Mihai A. said...

Thank you very much.
Julie is very talented and deserves a great career. I hope to see more of her works in the future :)

Barbara Martin said...

The dragon and the satyr are exquisite.

Mihai A. said...

I have to say that my absolute favorite is the first one :)

ediFanoB said...

You have agreat talent to surpriseme again and again with well done portraits of fabulous artist. Julie Dillon is just one more example for this. Her pictures contain hidden powers.

Mihai A. said...

Thank you very much, Michael. Julie has a great talent :)