We talk to Romas B Kukalis.
Where did you grow up and how has this influenced your art?
I grew up in Connecticut, New England, but my heritage had the greatest influence. I’m Lithuanian and descended from the wicked and ruthless Livonian Knights of the 15th century. It’s a gift. And a curse.
What, outside art, has most influenced your work through the years?
Drawing and painting to classical music, or Ian Anderson, or Linkin Park. And I take a break from fantasy and sci-fi with books my wife recommends. Lately I’m on a Martin Amis jag.
You’re a child, you see some art that changes everything… where are you and what are you looking at?
I loved Marvel Comics characters. I loved copying the superheroes on whatever paper I had at hand. I came to wholly believe in the male as heroic, that justice existed, that good always overcomes evil. I hold out hope that that’s still true.
What was your next step in art?
At a parent-teacher conference, my art teacher showed my mum and dad
star axe “This book was published by Tower Books. I had the concept for the painting as soon as I heard the title.” pictures the class had drawn of their homes. I was the only one who showed the correct orientation of the chimney to the roof: a vertical. The other 35 kids had chimneys coming out at oblique angles. My dad said, “When you grow up you will go into commercial art”. “Okay, dad,” was the only natural response.
Who helped you most on your way?
Mrs Lansing-Jones, my high school art teacher, challenged, inspired and really focused me. I think, because I was an immigrant, she took pity on me.
What was your first paid commission?
My first sci-fi commission was a book cover assignment from a small publisher in New York City after I graduated from art school. But the really cool first job was for a local drug dealer – who claimed to be a Rastafarian prince. He asked me to create a portrait of Haile Selassie with a lion (the first of several pieces I did for him), and he paid promptly, well and from a huge wad of cash he kept on his person at all times. I delivered the paintings to one of his several houses, where I met each one of his several wives, and which were surrounded by goons, gates and guns. Later, when my wife Allison was working in New York City she told a Jamaican co-worker the story and she nearly fainted. Evidently, he was the real deal – a ganja-dealing Jamaican royal! True story, and my favourite one.
What’s the last piece that you finished?
It was in oils on board, for the graphic novel series I’m working on. I didn’t create a drawing first and used no reference. I started with a blank board and just went for it. A total blast, and a real departure in method for me.
What are your painting rituals?
I feel a bit of stress whenever I start a new piece, so I begin by methodically cutting and preparing the board first, photographing models, assembling reference, executing the drawing, and transferring the first stages to the board before applying paint.
What is the most important thing that you’ve taught someone?
Always focus on drawing, no matter the subject or medium. Draw from life and your imagination whenever possible.
What advice would you give to your younger self to aid you on the way?
I wish I was more selective with the projects I chose. When you’re freelance you hate to give up work. You can’t always hit the high note, especially if the project doesn’t sing to you. But money’s money, especially to a husband, father and mortgage payer!
Why is the fantasy art industry still the best place to be working?
It’s my refuge from reality. I’ll never understand people who watch “reality” TV. I have more than enough drama and headaches dealing with everyday matters. To be productive in an atmosphere you create at home is truly a blessing. I’m thankful to God every day.
My first job was for a local drug dealer – who also claimed to be a Rastafarian prince
As well as being an established cover artist, Romas has created art for Magic: The Gathering. You can see plenty more of his work at www.romasbk.com.
“This is one of my favourites because I could merge fantasy and sci-fi in one piece. I also posed for the character. The book was published by DAW Books.”