The Artist’s Den is a new feature here at SWR where I showcase something I’m obsessed about – fantasy art. This feature is inspired by my previous posts under the SHELF CANDY meme which was hosted by the wonderful Maria at A Night’s Dream of Books. I loved doing interviews with cover artists under that meme but found that I often wanted to feature the work of artists who had not done traditional covers but still did work related to fantasy and science fiction. While I realize this is not always going to be book related, I do hope you enjoy these posts as much as I do.
Please note that all images are subject to copyright protection and are property of today’s featured artist – Gene Mollica.
I’m truly honored to welcome the talented and prolific cover artist, Gene Mollica, to the blog today. Gene’s photo-illustrations grace the covers of some of my favorite books in addition to a host of others that are on my TBR list. I love the drama and intensity he’s able to capture and the strong heroines he brings to life. And, well, sometimes his images are just simply beautiful – Moonglow, anyone?
Please welcome Gene to the blog!
SWR: When did you know you wanted to be an artist? Is there an experience that stands out as a defining moment for you in making the decision to become a fulltime artist?
GM: As a kid, Star Wars. I was ten and from the start, obsessed. Then Close Encounters, Planet of the Apes – and of course the Batman TV series. I made films in my parents’ basement with my father’s 16mm camera. I built models out of pieces of scrap plastics, and had all the kids on my block act in my movie – dressed them in costumes and everything. Movie poster art, fantasy and sci-fi films were everything to me. I copied loads of Boris Vallejo’s work.
SWR: What artists have influenced or inspired you and why?
GM: Throughout my life, different artists have been influential. As kid it was all Boris Vallejo, and Sci-Fi novels, and movie posters. Once in college, that changed to the classic painters – like Degas, Velazquez. I’m a huge fan of impressionists – the American Impressionists, The Ten, and the Hudson River School. After graduating from RISD, I eventually went back to wanting to make the kinds of pictures I adored as a kid – fantasy and sci-fi – so the people who most influence me now are my contemporaries in cover art, movie posters, and matte artists.
SWR: What is your creative process and are there any rituals or routines you have prior to starting a project?
GM: Panic! Kidding, of course. Long walks. Any mental break in between projects, like gardening. I tend to actually read the briefs immediately and pepper the art directors with tons of questions. Then, immediately start planning the project out – sometimes in my head as I’m working on another assignment, or I scribble notes. My schedule is busy, so organization is key. I’m often juggling working on assignments with concepting and developing other projects in the pipeline.
SWR: How would you describe your style?
GM: Not sure. Obviously photo-illustration, but describing the style… not sure.
SWR: Most of your cover work is in the fantasy genre. How did you come to the world of fantasy art?
GM: It was a winding road, because graduating from RISD undergrad, I was a painter. After a few years as a gallery artist, I realized again what it was I really wanted to do and somehow I found my way back. Just never lost sight of what meant the most to me, so I pursued opportunities that I thought could get me closer – like working in publishing as a designer, then freelancing as an illustrator. Giving credit to the art directors in publishing, they saw in my work, or the style of my work, that I might be good for paranormal romances. Then came more fantasy and science fiction work.
SWR: Though you started in traditional painting, most of the work you do now is photo-illustration. Can you take us through the process of turning a photo into a finished cover?
GM: I start with making sure I understand what the publisher needs, starting with all the costume elements and props – most of which is created custom for each cover. Then I find the right model, think carefully about concept and how to light it, and what can I do in the studio vs. post. The work is cobbled together with a lot of stock photography for the backgrounds and custom photography for the main character. What brings it all together is the digital painting done using Photoshop.
I have always loved working with photographs to create illustrations. Photoshop and digital photography saved me as an artist – before all this, I struggled with my work. However, painting landscapes for years has come in extremely handy in the commercial work of cover art.
SWR: You’ve done the covers for some of my favorite series – Darkest London by Kristen Callihan, London Steampunk by Bec McMaster, Disillusionist Trilogy by Carolyn Crane; I just recently bought a book specifically because of your cover – Best Served Cold by Joe Abercrombie. Can you tell us how you got involved with any of the above covers and what direction you received from the art director when starting the project?
GM: I was just very fortunate that the art directors chose me for those assignments. In each case, I worked very closely with the art directors – had them to the photo shoots and collaborated to get the best cover possible.
SWR: The Powder Mage covers. I love the intensity of those images. Can you tell us bit about the process of working on those covers with Orbit Art Director, Lauren Panepinto?
GM: Lauren wanted a really hyper-real feel to the art. She and I usually work pretty closely together – we talk a lot about the character, details and concepts – then work together in the shoot to try to achieve the edge we want.
SWR: How has the rise in popularity of ebooks changed the art of the book cover?
GM: I’m not sure that it has. We’re now making e-book covers to go along with the launch of a new series or title – usually simplified versions of the cover concept.
SWR: If you were given the opportunity to create the cover for any one book, what would that book be and why?
GM: I don’t have a particular dream assignment. I’m extremely fortunate that I continue to get new and different projects. I’m currently working with Orbit on a series that I can’t divulge, but we’re close to announcing – and for that we made a complete behind the scenes video showing the shoot and the preproduction labor that went into the costumes and working with the talent during the shoot.
SWR: What is the last book you read that you’d recommend to a friend?
SWR: What side projects, passion projects, or upcoming work would you like to share with us?
GM: I am working on a personal set of images which I’m very excited about. It’s been years since I’ve done anything personal. With these images, the goal is to create more cinematic images and push the imagery, doing more world building. Pushing the photography. If it’s all successful, then stepping the images out into some animation or 2.5 D with some camera moves.
SWR: Finally, I’m a big fan of Game of Thrones and the Song of Ice and Fire series in which every family has a motto – the Starks have “Winter is coming” and the Lannisters have “Hear me roar!” (or, more popularly, “A Lannister always pays his debts.”). What is the Gene Mollica motto?
GM: What I tell myself is that I want the strongest image possible – what that translates into is just pushing the digital painting skills.
To celebrate the redesign of his website and the launch of his new Facebook page, Gene is very generously offering a fantastic giveaway – one signed print from his online studio! Check out his website to see the incredible work he’s done as the images shown here are just a small sampling. U.S. addresses only.