First Im­pres­sions

We talk to Ro­mas B Kukalis.

ImagineFX - - Contents - 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

“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.”

ghost shadow

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