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An Interview with Fantasy Artist, Danielle Storey

(From the 2012 Interview)

While attending Fan Expo Canada, I was fortunate to meet Danielle Storey and view her amazing artwork. After talking with Danielle about her work, I realized how knowledgeable and passionate she was about the fantasy genre. By the time I left her table, not only did I leave with several of her art prints, but I knew I had my next interview.

Danielle’s art is an extraordinary collection of fantasy art that includes such themes as mythology, fantasy, and legend.

Can you tell me something about yourself and your artistic experience?

Danielle: I am a freelance illustrator currently living in southern Ontario, Canada. This past April I graduated from Sheridan College with my Bachelor of Applied Arts in Illustration. As a child, my growing fascination with the visual arts was actively encouraged by my parents who would participate in regular painting and drawing sessions with me. I was a key witness to my mother’s creative process from the point of drafting a painting to finish. Her trademark ability to render minute, marginal details ultimately left its mark on my personal style.

As a student in a Regional Arts high school, I wholly dedicated my time and effort to basic training in traditional media and learning art history. I became a lifelong disciple of the high atelier style, constantly improving upon my studies of human anatomy. The desire to apply a context and setting to my figure drawings eventually spurred my interest in narrative. I turned to widely accessible and familiar stories from the Bible and J.R.R. Tolkien for inspiration.

I always had an implicit understanding of what Illustration represented, but it was not until my first year at Sheridan College that I became aware of all its diverse applications. My introduction to Illustration, or concept art to be specific, came admittedly after watching Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy and purchasing all three ‘Art of the Film’ books. They were sumptuous volumes of concept art, digital matte paintings and maquettes made to reflect Middle Earth’s topography, architecture and Tolkien’s complex mythopoeia of races, cultures and beasts. Generating imagery from original text was a familiar process to me. Despite entering Sheridan College with the grand ambition of working in the pre-production design of live action and animated films, I am now willing to embrace all forms of illustration.

An Unexpected Party

When we met at the recent Fan Expo Canada, I had been touring the “Artist Alley” section of the convention floor looking for fantasy themed art. You were one of only a few tables that showcased the genre. Do you think that “fantasy” genre is well represented in the art and media world?

Danielle: The last quarter century of popular culture was dominated by mega-franchises of science fiction and fantasy, including Star Wars, The Matrix, Harry Potter, The Lord of the Rings and more recently, Twilight, The Song of Ice and Fire (Game of Thrones) and The Hunger Games. They became the trailblazers for several works of fiction and later mainstream television shows. Taking into account that popular culture is a reliable barometer for gauging the shifts in national interests and concerns, our deep preoccupation with fantasy shows no signs of slowing. It is also a vibrant area of academic study explored by many disciplines, a fraction of which include cultural studies, comparative literature, medieval studies, English and history. Although dominated by its medieval form, which includes the principal wizards and sorcerers attached to high fantasy classics, a co-existing subgenre known as urban fantasy invites the supernatural into practical everyday environments. Gothic themes in particular have re-emerged with popular novels and cult films showcasing a world where ghoulish personalities and human beings interact.

Fantasy in its broadest sense, remains a constant presence in the works of authors, filmmakers, artists and musicians from the time of ancient myths and legends to present day. As far as Illustration is concerned, fantasy artists are widely hailed for their technical ability and competent visual storytelling.

The father of fantasy art as we know it, the venerable Frank Frazetta, set the standard for his successors Donato Giancola, John Howe, Jon Foster, Massimo Carnevale, James Gurney and Todd Lockwood to name a few.

Tyrion Lannister – Game of Thrones

You have different themes that you illustrate. From Tolkien, to mythology to Game of Thrones, etc. What is your favourite subject to illustrate and why?

Danielle: Mythology and folklore resonate with me on multiple levels, namely for their exceptional storytelling, expressive visuals, and embedded spiritual and cultural values. They are among the first and greatest stories in the history of the world that gave us, among other things, the fundamentals of plot structure, archetypes and symbolism. As with any child, folktales and fairytales were among some of the first stories I was ever taught to read. The powerful illustrations that filled the pages of these books have permanently etched themselves on my memory. Some of the first illustrators to leave their impression on me were Tolkien illustrators including the Hildebrandt Brothers, John Howe, Alan Lee and Ted Nasmith.

Underlying the deceptively simple nature of the folktale, with its primitive plainness and gross exaggeration of the ordinary, is the inner consistency of reality. Polarized forces of the genre engage in a perpetual struggle to conquer the mind through moral instruction and the heart through enchantment. They are honest tales of human experience that demonstrate their impact beyond the point of being recited or read. Moreover, they reflect human behaviour and the variety of ways that we respond to the issues that unite us. Myths hand over the reigns of moral decision to both the hero and reader, thereby creating opportunities for personal growth. Every culture is charged with the responsibility of preserving their sacred legends, which in turn ensures the survival of a worldview that is wholly their own. Motivated by the Finnish epic, the Kalevala, Tolkien’s expansion of England’s Anglo-centric mythology became a natural extension to this cause.

Mythology is thrill to illustrate because the descriptive guidelines for creatures and places of mythical invention are entirely flexible. Nonetheless, I conduct a thorough research process to make certain that myth’s national origin is respected in the physical details of the artwork. As a subject that addresses the perennial questions of existence and spiritual wellbeing, it will never lose its relevance.

What sort of projects would you like to try?

Danielle: As an emerging illustrator, the greater scope of projects I’d like to attempt are in the areas of publishing, graphic design, animation, merchandising, and the novelty and collectibles markets. My primary career aspiration, however, is to become an author and artist of short stories and novels. I have always considered creative writing and illustration an ideal pairing. Words take on a similar function as colours when applied to a description. At ten years old I began developing a plotline that has seen numerous changes over twelve years. I have steadily contributed research and written fragments to it whenever possible. I hope to compose all my written notes into a illustrated novel in the fullness of time.

What are some of the specific historical styles of art and culture which you have used to influence your illustrations?

Danielle: The Renaissance, Baroque, Pre-Raphaelite and Golden Age epochs of art history are among my chief historical influences as an illustrator. I strive to incorporate the technical virtuosity and exquisite draftsmanship of the Western painting tradition with my passions for history, mythology and fantasy literature. The harmonious balance of the Renaissance, unabashed realism of Baroque, the irrational passion of the Pre-Raphaelites and whimsy of the Illustration Golden Age all lend themselves interchangeably to my illustrations.

I especially admire their use of the human figure as a driving force to visual narrative.

Prince Among Hobbits

You are a graduate of the Sheridan Institute of Technology and Advanced Learning. Do you feel that your experience in school was a valuable tool in developing your talent? Would you suggest the experience to other artists? What have been your biggest challenges since graduation?

Danielle: My four years at Sheridan College were both rewarding and challenging. I enrolled with great anticipation but was all but certain of what to expect. Beforehand, I studied fine art with a limited knowledge of what other functions my creativity could pertain to. Sheridan taught me entrepreneurial skills and helped me develop a mindset and method that I could rely on for future projects. I entered as a raw talent and saw myself considerably refined by graduation. I was able to invest the knowledge acquired from these experiences into my fourth year portfolio. My outlook on the formula for a successful image changed as well.

I would definitely recommend the experience to other artists. Art college provides an optimal environment to express your ideas freely and engage in an open-minded critique. Apart from the mentorship of your professors, the third party opinion of your classmates becomes just as valuable.

In these post-graduation months, I’ve demonstrated self-promotion techniques by displaying in a variety of creative venues and taking advantage of open submission calls from publishers and literary journals. I would like the opportunity to meet with prospective employers rather than waiting for a job opening. However, given the recommended use of online correspondence, a personal relationship is not readily available.

What was your big break into the art industry?

 

Danielle: I have not received my big break yet, but I have welcomed a few surprising business prospects outside school. I took on a graphic design commission upon graduating and received my first online portfolio and interview feature. Over the past three years I have amassed a following for my work by participating in collaborative group shows, the Toronto Outdoor Art Exhibition and Fan Expo Canada.

Is there any particular subject you found especially challenging to illustrate? If so, why?

Danielle: I grew up with little exposure to science fiction or science fiction authors. Imaginary worlds with more or less plausible content are shared by both fantasy and science fiction. The latter differs, however, by rationally suggesting that the imaginary elements are entirely possible within scientifically established or postulated laws of nature. The genre hinges on a ‘suspension of disbelief’, whereby the reader seeks out scientific explanations for aberrant or paranormal phenomena. Often at this point fantasy and science fiction experience the occasional overlap.

As far as mythical creatures and universes are concerned, I am able to take visual cues from natural science and past civilizations. When it comes to ultramodern/post-apocalyptic settings, futuristic technologies, alternate histories, extraterrestrial beings (humanoids, androids, mutants, aliens) and contradictory scientific principles (space travel, wormholes), I draw a blank. I can easily access reference imagery for military weapons, spacecraft and geological landforms, but my imagination is otherwise restricted by what is unknown. I can generate visuals from the past with ease but not for the future.

Film has been largely responsible for my curiosity in science fiction, particularly those that have given the genre a seminal look and atmosphere. These groundbreaking feats of cinema include Ridley Scott’s Bladerunner and Alien, Duncan Jones’ Moon, Neill Blomkamp’s District 9, The Wachowskis’ Matrix Trilogy, Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park, Christopher Nolan’s Inception and countless others. Darren Aronofky’s The Fountain, in my opinion, constitutes the perfect blend of science fiction, fantasy, history and religion.

Frying Pan Into the Fire

J.R.R. Tolkien has been called the “Father of Modern Fantasy Literature”. If Tolkien had not written the “Lord of the Rings”, what do you feel the impact on 20th century literature would have been?

 

Danielle: Prior to Tolkien, imaginary worlds were the by-products of controversial satire and used to convey social, political and religious comment. Although The Lord of the Rings borrows from this didactic tradition, however much Tolkien himself heavily denied it, the trilogy stands alone as a fully realized parallel universe with a remarkably convincing life force. No literary work comes come to corresponding with the colossal geographical range, distinct languages, races, species, lineages, communal and geological history of Tolkien’s Middle Earth. Epic is too limited a description for an imaginary world that evolves with the millennia. Tolkien pioneers magical realism by retaining our belief in a universe that is ultimately recognizable despite being furnished with non-humans and alien locales. Wizards are utterly distinct from the regular sorcerer or magician, performing few acts of magic. The uncanny resemblance between Middle Earth and the real-world has led an ongoing debate into whether Tolkien was hinting that they are one in the same. The groundwork for pre-history is visibly laid as far as the departure of other species and the dominion of men is concerned.

Tolkien was not responsible for creating fantasy, but he certainly helped define the genre standard. The sheer variety of interpretations surrounding The Lord of the Rings not only adds to its appeal, but eliminates the notion that fantasy is one-dimensional and incapable of abstract meaning. So long is the shadow cast by his legacy that all contemporary fantasy works are being scrutinized for concealed metaphors and symbolism. Without The Lord of the Rings, the genre would not have gained the academic credibility that has benefited Tolkien’s literary heirs Richard Adams, Stephen King, George R.R. Martin, J.K. Rowling, Robert Jordan and Philip Pullman to name a few. Tolkien also reset the agenda of Western storytelling by exploring Nordic myths as opposed to Greek and Roman. The tradition has been effectively channelled by a myriad of authors since.

Most importantly, The Lord of the Rings taught us how a universal tale is written. It is a work not specially addressed to children, specific classes of people or period in world history. In his letter to the New Statesman, Tolkien describes his grand composition ‘for anyone who enjoyed a long exciting story, of the sort that I myself naturally enjoy.”

John Snow

What advice would you give a new artist starting out and what do you think is the most effective way you market yourself and your work?

Danielle: Collecting business, gaining a following and developing confidence in your own work are challenges affecting every aspiring illustrator. Invaluable pieces of advice that I have come to rely on include the following:

– Once you’ve discovered your target market, become familiar with its major contributors and artists. Research trends that might affect the aesthetic of the images produced for that market and apply them where necessary.

– Expand your knowledge by critical and pleasure reading. Illustrators should take it upon themselves to be knowledgeable and current. Reading will fuel your creativity and keep you informed.

– Find a mentor artist and investigate into how he/she successfully operates their entrepreneurial business as a model for your own.

– Be persistent, vigilant and never underestimate the value of any experience, however needless it might seem. It may demonstrate its quality in other ways.

The most effective tools for self-promotion that I have used thus far are establishing a professional website, attending art showcases, applying to juried art contests, social networking, joining online art communities and maintaining a blog. Participating in annual exhibitions has generated the most business opportunity and exposure for me. I hope to eventually make my prints available for purchase online. I can accomplish this by expanding my main website or setting up a personal shop on ecommerce sites like Etsy, Craigslist or eBay.

If you would like to see more of Danielle’s work you can visit her media sites at:

 

http://dstoreystudio.com

http://smallbrushfetish.blogspot.ca

For regularly updates on upcoming exhibitions and projects visit Danielle Storey Twitter at http://twitter.com/storey_paint

About Steve "Rifflo" Fitch

Steve, also known as “Rifflo”, is a University MBA Administrator in Ontario Canada where he lives with his wife, Lisa and two young daughters, Alexa and Ava. Steve has an extensive background in corporate sales. Steve also worked for ISAF: International Security Assistance Force and the Canadian Military as a recruiter in Human Resources for the operations in Bosnia and Afghanistan. When not immersed in Tolkien works,sci-fi, and film, you can find him training in Muay Thai, and Italian rapier.

  • Always good to see new and exciting fantasy art, especially by someone who is obviously very passionate about the subject; well worth checking out the links provided also.

  • Such GORGEOUS work!!! It is a joy to see such an incredible talent applying their skills to the fantasy world!

  • theviking

    This artwork is amazing! Thanks Riff!

  • victorialadybug

    Wonderful work!