We’ve gotten glowing reviews on the cover for the Player’s Companion. The piece, called “Inheritance,” was created by Michael C. Hayes. While you’ve doubtless seen his work on books, games, and Magic cards, today we thought we’d introduce you to the artist himself.
AUTARCH: Many RPG players are influenced to buy a book based on the cover artwork, but cover artists don’t get as much recognition for their work as the designers do. Could you please tell us about yourself?
MICHAEL: I am 30 years old, live in San Diego, CA. I have been working professionally as an Illustrator for about 4 years now. One thing I like to tell people that always surprises them is that I never really drew much as a child, or at least any more than most children do. I didn’t really start drawing and painting until I was an adult, and didn’t study it all that seriously until I was 23. Of course since then I have been consumed by art and the desire to create, and regularly work 60-70 hours a week at it.
AUTARCH: That is surprising that you came into the art world so late. And inspiring to those of us who haven’t figured out what to do with our lives! So, when you became an artist, why did you decide to become a fantasy illustrator, as compared to other types of art?
MICHAEL: You know, I don’t think I ever even considered any other genre or subject matter. I have always loved fantasy and historical novels, games and movies so I think it was only natural that I chose to paint in this genre. To me there is something special about a painting that draws you into it’s own world. That makes you forget that what you are looking at never existed, or could never possibly exist. So while I appreciate a variety of art for a variety of reasons, and immensely enjoy the craft of painting in and of itself, fantasy art always going to bring something extra to the table for me.
AUTARCH: Well, fantasy art is benefiting from your choice. You have such distinct style - so vivid as to be almost alive. Do you have a name for your style of fantasy artwork? How do you achieve the stunning visuals?
MICHAEL: Thanks you! I don’t have a name that fits my specific style. Recently the term “Imaginative Realism” has begun to be used to describe a movement starting with the 19th century romantics and pre Raphealites to the golden age illustrators to contemporary SF/F artists. I think it is a pretty apt description of my work.
To understand how I achieve my look you have to look at both of those words: The “realism” comes from just mountains of practice, thousands of hours drawing and painting from a live model and studying anatomy, light, color theory, etc. until you have gained sufficient knowledge and experience. From there it is a matter of patience and discipline throughout the process of gathering meticulous reference, creating detailed preliminaries and eventually working through all the issues in the final piece until they are right. If that means spending hours or even a day getting the nose right, then so be it.
The “imaginative” is a little harder to pin down. I think part of it is filling your subconscious with as much inspiration as you can. I listen to audiobooks while I paint, look at tons of artwork daily, watch certain movies over and over again, etc. I don’t know the science behind how it works, but that stuff does come out and end up in my work. Another part is, again, patience and discipline in developing ideas. I will go through dozens of horrible ideas before I get one that is half decent. From there the color, composition, and a whole host of other things must be altered and refined until I think I have something special on my hands. Again, if it takes days to just get a simple sketch I am happy with, so be it.
AUTARCH: It sounds like each painting is really a succession of many works. In what mediums do you work? Is your work physical or digital?
MICHAEL: The finished painting is always in oil, occasionally some acrylic is used in the underpainting. I do some of my pre-visualization digitally though.
AUTARCH: And of course, we must ask, what fantasy artists have inspired your work?
So many, too many to list, anytime I see anything that is any good at all it inspires and influences me at least in a small way. Here are some of the major influences though: Donato Giancola, Frank Frazetta, J.W. Waterhouse, Alphonse Mucha, Jeffrey Catherine Jones, Jean-Leon Gerome, Frederick Arthur Bridgman, Rembrandt. I should also mention some of my teachers at Watts Atelier of the Arts: Jeffrey Watts, E.M. Gist, Meadow Gist and Lucas Graciano. The influence they have had on my work is both welcome and inescapable.
AUTARCH: Thanks for taking some time to introduce yourself to our fans here at Autarch.
MICHAEL: My pleasure!