First Im­pres­sions

The crea­ture artist tells us why an­i­mals have al­ways been part of her life

ImagineFX - - Issue 122 June 2015 - Ter­ryl Whit­latch Ter­ryl has drawn real and imag­i­nary an­i­mals for films in­clud­ing The Phantom Men­ace and Ju­manji. www.tale­

Ter­ryl Whit­latch talks an­i­mals.

Where did you grow up and how has this in­flu­enced your art? I grew up in north­ern Cal­i­for­nia and the Florida Pan­han­dle, which are both won­der­ful places to be ex­posed to an­i­mals and na­ture. What, out­side of art, has most in­flu­enced your work? It’s ac­tual an­i­mals – both ex­ist­ing and pre­his­toric – above all that have in­flu­enced my art. I’ve al­ways wanted to un­der­stand them and to draw them well. They are my first love as far as sub­ject mat­ter goes, much more than do­ing imag­i­nary crea­tures. What paint­ings or draw­ings in­spired you as a child? The way Bob Kuhn cap­tured ac­cu­racy and move­ment of an an­i­mal was spot on, and I wanted to be able to do that, too. I wanted to un­der­stand the mus­cles and sinews that Jay Mat­ternes drew in his pre­his­toric mam­mal mu­rals for the Smith­so­nian In­sti­tu­tion. I was also en­tranced by Dr. Seuss: his free-wheel­ing imag­i­na­tion would in­spire me to take real an­i­mals and their imag­i­nary off­spring, and have them do very in­ter­est­ing things! Can you name one per­son who helped you on your way? It was a won­der­ful day when Gene Christ­man, the se­nior sci­en­tific illustrator at the Uni­ver­sity of Cal­i­for­nia at Berke­ley, came to my high school. He showed that I could do an­i­mal art for a living – sci­en­tific il­lus­tra­tion – and my path was set.

What was your next step in art? My in­ter­est in art was al­ways in­ter­twined with my in­ter­est in zo­ol­ogy, an­i­mals and horses. I stud­ied hard in school be­cause I wanted to be ac­cepted into the zo­ol­ogy pro­grams at col­lege. Most of my art ed­u­ca­tion is self-taught. It helped that my fa­ther was a bi­ol­o­gist who taught high school bi­ol­ogy and chem­istry, and that my mother was an illustrator. She just demon­strated the ba­sics, and then left me to dab­ble on my own.

What was your first paid com­mis­sion? I was 15 and I had won third prize in a high school art com­pe­ti­tion. It was a pen and ink drawing of a hu­mor­ous pig, and I sold it to an adult who ad­mired it. I was so ex­cited that a grown-up would pay good money for my work!

I’d be de­lighted if I taught some­one to love and ap­pre­ci­ate real an­i­mals

What’s the last piece that you fin­ished, and how do the two dif­fer? It’s an il­lus­tra­tion for my up­com­ing book Bes­tiary (Ti­tan Books): a group of mag­i­cal Kit­sune foxes from Ja­panese mythol­ogy. The main dif­fer­ence be­tween that funny pig is that the foxes are done much more loosely while still re­tain­ing ac­cu­racy, while the pig was drawn more tightly. But that’s pretty typ­i­cal of artis­tic growth: more youth­ful work fo­cuses in on the de­tails, while more ma­ture work fo­cuses on the ba­sics of form and light.

Is your art evolv­ing? My art is go­ing into a more ex­per­i­men­tal, dec­o­ra­tive di­rec­tion, where I’m com­bin­ing re­al­ism with ab­stracts and lin­ear de­sign, as in Art Nou­veau and Art Deco. It’s a great way to tell a story and sym­bol­i­cally get a point across. My fo­cus is go­ing in­creas­ingly to­ward sym­bolic and dec­o­ra­tive di­rec­tions, as in Klimt and Mucha. I’m also learn­ing more dig­i­tal tech­niques, and com­bin­ing them with tra­di­tional me­dia. What’s the most im­por­tant thing that you’ve taught some­one? I’m still learn­ing my­self, but I’d be de­lighted if I taught some­one to love and ap­pre­ci­ate real an­i­mals. I also hope that I’ve in­spired oth­ers to per­se­vere no mat­ter what the cir­cum­stances of life they find them­selves in. To not be afraid of mess­ing up, and to take courage and jour­ney on. Courage is per­se­ver­ing even when one is dis­cour­aged. I know that my mis­takes are my best teach­ers. What ad­vice would you give to your younger self? Prac­tice makes bet­ter, and you will grow if you keep on cre­at­ing. Why is the fan­tasy art in­dus­try still the best place to be work­ing? Be­cause, in spite of the hard work in­volved, what other pro­fes­sion re­quires your imag­i­na­tion to have such wings, and to soar ev­ery­day?!

Ter­ryl thinks that, “There’s a lot of fan­tasy art out there, at all lev­els of skill. What wor­ries me is that much of it looks alike, and melds into each other.”


The hippo god Ter­ryl was en­tranced by the swamps and springs of north­west­ern Florida dur­ing her grow­ing-up years.

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