Stephen Hick­man

Travel broad­ens the mind, as this artist dis­cov­ered at an early age…

ImagineFX: Sci-fi & Fantasy Art magazine - - Issue 142 Christmas 2016 - Stephen Hick­man

Where did you grow up and how has this in­flu­enced your art?

My fa­ther was in the For­eign Ser­vice, and we lived in some in­ter­est­ing lo­ca­tions, such as Manila and Karachi. This had an ef­fect on my paint­ing and writ­ing. The im­pres­sions you take in at a young age are pro­found and last­ing, and these places gave me a true feel­ing for the ex­otic and ro­man­tic.

When did you re­alise you could make a ca­reer from paint­ing fan­tasy art?

Ini­tially, I wanted to be an FX make-up artist like Dick Smith. Then the Bur­roughs re­prints started ap­pear­ing, with the Krenkel and Frazetta cov­ers, and I saw a magic there that I be­came ob­sessed with. I worked up a port­fo­lio that I showed around New York, and my first cov­ers sold to Ace Books.

What was your first paid com­mis­sion?

It was an il­lus­tra­tion from Edgar Rice Bur­roughs’ Bar­soom (Mars) books. I was in the eighth grade, and I got $15 for it. At the time, it was fairly so­phis­ti­cated, all things con­sid­ered. When you’re 12 years old, it’s not easy to get nude mod­els.

What’s the last piece that you fin­ished, and how do the two dif­fer?

The dif­fer­ence in my lat­est fin­ished paint­ing, The Of­fer­ing, and my ear­li­est ef­forts would be pri­mar­ily in the depth of artis­tic vi­sion. That’s the sin­gle most es­sen­tial as­pect of imag­i­na­tive re­al­ism: tech­nique is only the means by which the vi­sion is con­veyed.

Do you have any paint­ing rit­u­als?

The process of lay­ing out the colour on my pal­ette, se­lect­ing the brushes and mix­ing the paint­ing medium has a cen­tring ef­fect. I’ve been fas­ci­nated by the scent of tur­pen­tine as long as I can re­mem­ber, and the smell of lin­seed oil from the paint is pow­er­fully evoca­tive.

Is it a chal­lenge to paint a fig­ure that’s been de­picted count­less times, such as some­thing from Tolkien’s work?

Tolkien’s writ­ing is a chal­lenge to il­lus­trate ef­fec­tively, even if every­one in the world hadn’t al­ready done it. His ge­nius was to take stock fan­tasy types and to im­bue them with a deep and po­etic char­ac­ter. To cap­ture the po­etry of the sto­ries, and not fall into the trap of do­ing ba­sic char­ac­ter types, re­quires a ma­ture vi­sion based on a pro­found un­der­stand­ing of the story ma­te­rial.

A vivid and painful ex­am­ple of this would be to com­pare my own first five Tolkien il­lus­tra­tions with the ones I’ve done after read­ing the sto­ries count­less times: it’s not of­ten you get a chance to re­work such cringe-wor­thy ef­forts, and it was very ther­a­peu­tic to do this.

Is your art evolv­ing? What’s the most re­cent ex­per­i­ment you’ve made?

My mo­ti­va­tion de­pends on stay­ing in­ter­ested in what I’m do­ing. What’s the point in do­ing the same paint­ing over and over with dif­fer­ent stuff in it? So I’m con­stantly try­ing out new things, most re­cently get­ting back into sculpt­ing.

After writ­ing The Le­murian Stone, do you plan to pro­duce an­other book?

After 20 years I’ve been writ­ing again. I’ve writ­ten the sequel to the Le­murian Stone, and I’ve just done the ed­its for a young adult novel. I’m also in the process of tran­scrib­ing a sci­ence-fic­tion fairy tale that I want to il­lus­trate in the tra­di­tion of Howard Pyle. Writ­ing has an amaz­ing ef­fect on an artist’s abil­ity to in­vent and vi­su­alise scenes – very valu­able.

How has the fan­tasy art in­dus­try changed since you’ve been part of it?

The syn­er­gis­tic ef­fect of so­cial me­dia and the en­ter­tain­ment in­dus­try has en­riched the imag­i­na­tive arts be­yond any­thing I or any­one could have pre­dicted. My own ideas have gone be­yond il­lus­tra­tion, for the most part, into pri­vate com­mis­sions and per­sonal works.

Why do you think the in­dus­try is still the best place to be work­ing?

Imag­i­na­tive re­al­ism re­quires so much of the artist, that any other artis­tic field would be like go­ing back to kinder­garten. It’s fun to paint land­scapes some­times, though – it’s great not hav­ing to make ev­ery­thing up! Stephen is a largely self-taught artist, sculp­tor and au­thor, who has worked in imag­i­na­tive il­lus­tra­tion for over 40 years. He lives in New York State with his wife Vicki, and is work­ing on a series of Love­craft-in­spired stat­uettes. See his work at www.stephen­hick­man.com.

What’s the point in do­ing the same paint­ing over and over with dif­fer­ent stuff in it?

Thomas the Rhymer and the Queen of Elfland “In­spired by the leg­end of the poet Thomas of Earl­ston, as re­lated by the great Robin Wil­liamson. The Elvish Queen takes the poet to the Bright Realm, to serve for seven years.”

The Of­fer­ing “I’ve al­ways been fas­ci­nated with the Sym­bol­ist painters in Europe, and in this re­cent per­sonal work I wanted to cre­ate a paint­ing that evokes a dif­fer­ent story for each viewer.”

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