Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Fantasy Art - Stephanie Pui-Mun Law

© 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.

Stephanie Pui-Mun Law is an American artist, working mainly with watercolors and with a passion for Fantasy Art. She graduated from the University of California, Berkely in 1998 and worked three years after graduation programming for a software company. Afterwards she concentrated on her artist career and began to work for various game and publishing clients, such as Wizards of the Coast, Harper Collins, LUNA Books, Tachyon Books, Alderac Entertainment and White Wolf. In the 2002 Stephanie was nominated for the ENnies Awards at the “Best Interior Art” section and in 2005 she won the Silver Award of the same ENnies for her cover art for the Blue Rose role-playing game.

Interview - Stephanie Pui-Mun Law

Mihai (Dark Wolf): Stephanie, thank you very much for the opportunity of this interview.
You started to paint from an early age, but may I ask what triggered your passion for art? What made you take the pen and start drawing?
Stephanie Pui-Mun Law: I don't think there was a trigger -- I can't remember a time I was not interested in drawing. My grandmother used to babysit me sometimes in her piano store, and I'd be content to pass hours with scrap paper and pencils.

Mihai (Dark Wolf): You followed your passion for art on the benches of school too. Do you believe that the art classes you followed helped you to improve your technique? Do you think that an artist can achieve more through art classes or through self-teaching?
Stephanie Pui-Mun Law: Definitely through self-teaching. Classes can help give you ideas for new things to try, but the motivation to do the art and to better your skills can only come through practice and exploring on one's own.

Mihai (Dark Wolf): You said that your artwork is “greatly influenced by the art of the Impressionists, Pre-Raphaelites, Surrealists, and the master hand of Nature”. But who are your favorite artists?
Stephanie Pui-Mun Law: The list is always changing and expanding, but a few of them: Daniel Merriam (the reason I picked up watercolors about 9 years ago), Michael Parkes, John Singer Sargeant, Alphonse Mucha, Edmund Dulac, John Jude Palencar, Charles Vess.

M(DW): Your favorite theme is fantasy. What did attract you towards this genre? Do you like to explore the fantasy genre outside the art field as well?
SPML: I started reading fantasy books when my father took me from the teen section of the library one day when I was about ten years old and over to the fantasy/sci-fi racks. I was in heaven. I didn't realize that such a genre existed until that time, although even before then my artwork was already exploring the subjects of myth. I loved drawing fantasy creatures, and magical beings even then.

M(DW): You said in an interview that the fantasy art was highly discouraged on almost every class you attended. Do you believe that fantasy art is underappreciated? Why do you think that the fantasy genre is seen restrainedly?
SPML: Well I attended college mainly for the computer science program. Art was a side interest that I was pursuing because I just wanted to take art classes as well. That being the case, I did not pick a school with its art program in mind. I picked it for the computer science. Berkeley's art program was (probably still is) focused on abstract expressionism, and not on any sort of representational or illustrational work. In that type of environment any kind of representation artwork, nevermind fantasy, is frowned on, in favor of conceptual projects. In a school that offered an illustration program however, I don't think there would be any such restrictions.

M(DW): You work mainly using watercolors. Did you try the other methods too? What made you favor the watercolors the most?
SPML: I did mostly pencils and inks when I was in high school. Dabbling with colored pencils when I wanted to work in color. When I got to college I started using acrylics. That was mainly because we were told to pick a medium for our painting class. Ostensibly an open ended offer, but really it meant, "Pick either oils or acrylics" because watercolors were not a serious painter's medium. I picked acrylics because I do like to work on paintings at home and without a dedicated studio, the fumes associated with oils just become too much. Also I liked the quicker drying time of acrylics. I played with intaglio printmaking (a very old technique of acid-etched metal plates that you then ink by hand and run through a hand cranked printing press) during my college years as well. On my own, I also discovered the fun of digital painting during that time, and started creating digital paintings.
So by the time I graduated and decided to try showing my portfolio to art directors, most of my fantasy-themed work was digital because that was what I had used for my personal work outside of classes. I sent in a portfolio to Wizards of the Coast, and got back an encouraging response from an art director which boiled down to, "Nice work, but we don't really accept digital artwork at this time. Send me your portfolio when you have some more work in a traditional medium." Anyone reading this who has been doing artwork for the fantasy gaming industry will probably be amazed at that, because ironically digital is probably what the majority of the artwork created for games these days is. When I submitted my first portfolio it was a bit of a transition time I guess.
At any rate, I visited a gallery in San Francisco during that time and came across the work of Daniel Merriam, who created these wonderfully vibrant and fantastical watercolors. After seeing those paintings, I considered my own acrylics technique, which had been moving more and more towards gradual buildup of glazes and layers rather than thick paint, and I realized that watercolor would be perfectly suited to that way of working. So I picked up watercolors, and created a new batch of work.
When I submitted my portfolio a second time to WotC, they responded by sending me some work. In the interim time, the art director had also changed and their new policy was digital = good! By then however, I was in love with watercolors!

M(DW): Your main inspiration derives from mythology, folklore and legends. Is there a specific mythology or folklore you prefer?
SPML: Not in particular. I like to constantly expand my knowledge of the stories of different cultures and delve into the numerous mythologies of the world.

M(DW): How does an element from mythology, folklore or legends end up in painting? What process takes this element from the source of inspiration to become a painting?
SPML: Usually a particular story or a phrase catches my fancy, and from there a specific idea comes to mind. From these little tidbits of inspiration I create the painting. I usually have a storehouse of these little seedling ideas at the back of my head to pick up when the next space of spare time hits. For example, I've been mulling over Baba Yaga's three knights for a tryptych at some point - the white knight of bright morning, the black knight of dark night, and the red knight of the day's red sun. Just the phrasing of those brings to mind a myriad of ideas that I can start sketching thumbnails for in my sketchbook.

M(DW): Nature plays an important role in your art as well. How does the nature influence your works? Is there a specific animal or bird you prefer to draw?
SPML: I appreciate the random nature and patterns of growth - of plants, of trees. There is an enchanting grace to all of that, and a kind of flow and movement.

M(DW): Your works are easily recognizable and a personal style can be seen in them. Did you try to reach a personal style when you started your career? How difficult is to build a personal style?
SPML: No I did not. I tell all artists who ask, "How do I develop a style?" It's not something you consciously create -- because if you try to force it, it's not being honest to your art. A style is what just happens when you draw and paint every day, what comes naturally to your hand, concepts and themes that are important to you. It evolves as your personal mode of expression.

M(DW): You worked three years in programming for a software company. How did this job come to terms with your passion for art?
SPML: It doesn't! Programming was what I set out to do because I didn't think that it was actually possible to make a living from art. It was the practical side of my brain. It was only after college when I realized that I wouldn't be happy if I didn't at least give a very serious attempt at making art my career that I set out with a plan. In the end however, programming has turned out to be very helpful. I'm able to be fairly self-sufficient in terms of creating and maintaining my website, handling all the e-commerce aspects of the website, and setting up and running my own databases. So in the end, the years of studying computer science were not wasted. As I said earlier, I think the better part of learning art is self-taught anyway.

M(DW): Which was the first art commission you received when you started your artist career?
SPML: Aside from occasional paintings for my mother's friends, the first serious commission was some Magic: the Gathering cards for Wizards of the Coast.

M(DW): I’ve recently read a book, T.A. Moore’s “The Even”, which you illustrated and I know that you have other such projects too. How is the work on such a project? What involves the illustration of a novel?
SPML: The author or the art director for a publisher usually contacts me. We work out the specifications of the project, and then depending on how much input they want to have, they provide me with anything from basic descriptions of the illustrations they want, or else the whole novel and let me pick and choose what to illustrate from there. I'm open to either approach, as long as I'm interested in the initial concept that they present.

M(DW): Speaking of novels, do you have a favorite author? What book would you like to illustrate if it were possible?
SPML: Not particularly. I'm a pretty voracious reader and will pick up almost anything, of any genre, fiction or non-fiction!

M(DW): You also have personal books where your artworks are gathered. How do you select your art pieces that are featured in a particular art book? How were your art books received so far?
SPML: Most of the books I've put together are themed, so it's not very hard to select. For example the Inklings books are all my ink drawings. There is pretty much a complete collection of most if not all of the ink drawings I've done in the past few years in those. The Tarot book is all the tarot artwork. I've not put together any sort of general encompassing book yet.

M(DW): One such book is “The Art of Shadowscape Tarot” and it refers to your tarot deck project, a project that started in 2004. How did this project come to life? Does the work on the illustration of a tarot card necessitate a different approach than the usual art piece?
SPML: I had been interested in the imagery of the tarot for a while before then. The concept of the archetypes depicted in the major arcana particularly, given my interest in mythology. I was involved in a few multi-artist projects on various web forums where the deck of 78 images were completed by numerous artists. One of these projects, someone even attempted to get published, but we were told that it was too mismatched and not unified enough to really be feasible as a marketable deck.
So I started considering doing my own deck. What held me back for the longest time was that I knew that 78 images was a big project, and I was afraid that by the time I finished the last card, the first one would be of a vastly divergent style or skill level. So I waited until I felt my skill level had reached a minimum that I would be happy with in the unknown future year when I finished the project. It ended up working out. I can tell the disparity between the first and last cards, but it's not something I'm unhappy with in the end!
As for the approach -- no, it's really no different from any other piece of art I do. I research the concepts that I want to present, and the symbols I want to use, and then I start drawing. The only difference I suppose was when I got to the minor arcana and I decided I wanted to have each suit color-themed, and so that made choosing the colors to work with for each piece a little easier since it was pre-set!

M(DW): You are also working on a zodiac project. How is this project developing? Did the zodiac project offer you a new challenge?
SPML: It's another subject that I've been wanting to paint for a long time, so it was a welcome opportunity. Along with a chinese zodiac someday! The main challenge with the zodiac (as with the tarot) was to pick my way through the history and traditions of hundreds of other artists having approached the same subject before, and to really find the aspects of each image to make my own.

M(DW): I’ve seen that your art was transformed into jewelry, pendants, rings and earrings. How did this project start? How do you feel to see your artwork turned into jewelry?
SPML: I do the jewelry myself, and it's always been another side hobby of mine.

M(DW): What is the moment in your career that offered you satisfaction the most so far?
SPML: Every time I finish a new painting! At least, I try to make that the goal. If that isn't happening, then either I'm not painting what I should be painting, or else I'm not doing the best work that I can.

M(DW): At what are you working right now and what other future projects do you have?
SPML: For now it's just the zodiac, and then I plan to take some time to work on some more personal pieces for a bit.

Thank you very much for your time and answers. It has been a pleasure.

For more information about Stephanie Pui-Mun Law and for news and a complete portfolio please visit Stephanie's website, Shadowscapes.

© 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.


Barbara Martin said...

I like the soft and hard lines mixed with the pastel colours. Stephanie is an excellent artist.

Kendall said...

Yay, an artist I'm familiar with already! :-) I like her stuff a lot!

Mihai A. said...

Stephanie is an excellent and original artist indeed :)