World Fantasy Award-winning artist John Picacio, also a 2010 Hugo Award finalist (Best Professional Artist) graces the Dragon*Con Art Show with his frighteningly beautiful art. Engaged with all the “usual suspects” embraced by fans of the imagination, Picacio’s work includes science fiction, fantasy, and horror themes. Featuring traditional “fine art” basics, Picacio also incorporates digital elements in his creations. Familiar to us as book covers and illustrations for speculative fiction, Picacio’s art has covered Star Trek and X-Men series novels and Michael Moorcock’s books.
The Daily Dragon welcomes John Picacio to Dragon*Con and Atlanta for the first time this year.
Daily Dragon (DD): I’ve described your work as “frighteningly beautiful.” How do you think your work in horror has bled through to your other creations featuring science fiction or fantasy scenes and to what effect?
John Picacio (JP): Never heard my work described that way before—that’s a new one! 🙂 I work in SF, fantasy, and horror, but never thought my work in one field affected the others necessarily. When I’m illustrating a cover, I’m reacting to content and context and what comes out of my head and hands is a result of those things just as much as how I see.
DD: Has the increasing popularity of “dark fantasy” expanded your vision of either horrific or fantastic images in any way? For example, have more suggestions of paranormal romance crept into your creations?
JP: I haven’t illustrated many paranormal romance covers, but that field is definitely exploding. If it’s directly affected my work, I haven’t noticed. I tend to favor work that’s evocative and thoughtfully abstracted rather than strictly literal and photo-realistic. On the occasions when I might see covers in dark fantasy, or even paranormal romance, do that, those turn my head.
DD: Dragon*Con has a faithful Art Show following with many fans interested in not only the finished art, but how artists combine different media to accomplish their creative goals. Can you describe your progress from architect and traditional fine artist to mixed media virtuoso as illustrated by your current work (for example, “Muse of Fire,” the cover for the 2008 Dan Simmons novella of the same name)?
JP: I always liked architecture that was unafraid to be hybrid and combine materials in unconventional ways. I always loved the work of architects like Frank Gehry, for example. He builds buildings that reflect context, but uses materials to solve problems in provocative ways. Combining traditional and digital tools to make a picture isn’t necessarily provocative, but I think the solutions they reveal can be. “Muse of Fire” is just like my favorite architecture in that it’s iconic and functional for the book it serves, while hopefully being timely and provocative in its combination of forms and colors. My hope is that it connects with its audience. If it does that, I’m happy. It’s one of my favorite images I’ve done in the last couple of years.
DD: You started your professional life as an architect. How did your professional training and experience influence you creatively?
JP: It was the greatest foundation for how to be a problem-solver via process. Making pictures is very much about that as much as anything.
DD: I can’t resist drawing some comparison from architecture, a pet love of mine, to your body of work. If you were to describe your opuses as a famous building (or city), what building (or city) would they be and why?
JP: Tough question. I’d say when I’m at my best, my work would hopefully be like a Frank Gehry house—playful with materials and forms, abstracted as much as literal, and hopefully engaging on many levels at once.
DD: You’ve authored a book, Cover Story: The Art of John Picacio. How did the creative process involved in composing Cover Story compare to your artistic approach?
JP: Pretty different actually. The art book is all about looking back at my past work, which is uncomfortable for me at times because I often see the failures of my past work more than anything. When I’m working on a new cover, all of the possibilities are wide-open and it has the chance to be the greatest thing I’ve ever done, even if it seldom turns out that way.
DD: Will you have copies of your book Cover Story and/or prints of your art available for purchase at the Dragon*Con Art Show?
JP: I sure will, but there aren’t many copies of the art book remaining. I’ll have a handful at Dragon*Con, so my recommendation is visit the Art Show early.
DD: You hail from San Antonio, Texas. How have your home city and its cultural milieu affected your artistic vision?
JP: It’s a town driven by blue-collar work ethic, and an underdog mentality. I’m not sure if that affects my vision, but it’s in the blood for sure.
DD: Congratulations on the recent birth of your daughter. Do you think your new experiences as a parent have changed or will expand your imaginative perspective?
JP: No more 18-hour workdays. She was born July 5, so right now, I have more questions than answers. Ask me again next July 5th.
DD: Which of your works are featured in the Dragon*Con Art Show? How would you describe each of these works in terms of the development of your unique artistic style?
JP: I’ll have about 15 pieces in the show. It’s a diverse selection of original paintings and drawings as well as prints. Most of it is recent work as opposed to a broader overview of my career. Any fans of Michael Moorcock’s Elric should definitely check it out. I’ll have a range of art that many Dragon*Con attendees may recognize because they’ve been featured on book covers. I invite folks to swing by and have a look for themselves.
DD: One of my favorites among your work is the cover illustration for the science fiction classic A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller, Jr (HarperCollins/Eos 2005 reprint). How difficult is it to create new images for the classics of speculative fiction, especially if previously drawn by prior great artists, versus imagining aspects of new stories?
JP: That’s one of the great challenges for book illustration—bringing something fresh within a very well-trodden field of imagery and ideas. That’s what I live for though. I think that’s true of anyone who’s working to be a better artist every day.
DD: You are currently working on a calendar for George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire. How has envisioning a number of monthly panels, presumably drawn from scenes in the series, challenged you as opposed to hurdles presented by your other illustrative art?
JP: Illustrating covers for different books is like running a series of sprints in different places, finishing one, moving to the next, and so on. Doing a calendar with a series of connected works within a single world is more like a marathon. It requires a different kind of concentration. I think it’s naturally easy to be good at one or the other, but it takes work to be a world-class sprinter and a world-class marathon runner, and to be able to move between the two back and forth.
DD: As a Hugo nominee, we will see you at breakfast in sync with the awards dinner in Melbourne, Australia. [Sun 6AM-9AM, Kafe Köbenhavn (Hyatt)] Among your many awards and nominations, you’ve been nominated for a Hugo (as Best Professional Artist) every year beginning with 2005. What aspects of your art and personality do you think have contributed to your continued fan support?
JP: Your guess is as good as mine. I do the work to the best of my ability, and it’s up to the readers and the audience from there. They decide what art moves them and connects with them. I’m grateful that my work seems to do that. I hope I can keep elevating it, and on my very best days, hopefully the audience along with it.