Women in Fantasy Illustration: Rovina Cai

Women in Fantasy Illustration: Rovina Cai

Welcome to the Women in Fantasy Illustration interview series. I am interviewing a selection of women whose work have made an impact in the Fantasy Illustration Industry.

Today I have the pleasure of sharing a wonderfully honest interview with Rovina Cai. Rovina Cai’s artwork has an overall beautifully haunting mood that is accompanied by a high level of skill. I hope you will enjoy this interview as much as I, you’re in for some great pearls of wisdom.


Photo of artist Rovina Cai

Rovina Cai

1. Please give a brief introduction of yourself, your career and your work
My name is Rovina Cai, I love illustrating stories from mythology and fairy tales, and mixing imagery that is beautiful and slightly dark. Most of the work I create in the fantasy/sci-fi genre are digital paintings, but I also have a drawing style that is sort of like an alter ego or secret identity! Before deciding to become an illustrator, I studied graphic design, and I still like to dabble in various arty and crafty things. I grew up in Melbourne, Australia, and came to the US for school.

Since graduating, it’s been a wild ride of exciting projects and clients.

Since graduating, it’s been a wild ride of exciting projects and clients. A project I’m particularly excited about is a book I’m currently illustrating for the Folio Society, which will be released later in the year.

Summer Storm © Rovina Cai

Summer Storm © Rovina Cai

2. When did realize you wanted to make a career out of illustrating?
I’ve wanted to be an illustrator for a long time, but it has been a gradual process of realizing that it’s actually possible. When I was in high school I fell in love with the work of Australian illustrator Shaun Tan. I adored his picture books, especially ‘The Arrival’, for the way he used images to tell a story, and how his voice came through in his illustrations. But being an illustrator seemed like this mythical thing that was entirely out of reach.

There wasn’t much of an illustration community in Australia back when I finished high school, nor any university courses specifically for illustration, so I chose to study graphic design. But just before graduating university, I attended a design conference and heard a couple of illustrators talk about their work, I think that was when I realised that illustration is something that I really wanted to pursue, and that I’d try to chase this dream, no matter how crazy it seemed at the time.

(…) I realised that illustration is something that I really wanted to pursue, and that I’d try to chase this dream, no matter how crazy it seemed at the time.

Six Swans © Rovina Cai

Six Swans © Rovina Cai

3. What difficulties have you faced in transitioning into becoming a professional illustrator?
There’s this general feeling of uncertainty when you are just getting started that I dislike a lot. Both the uncertainty of where your next paycheck is going to come from, and also the newness of everything, and not being sure if you’re doing it “right”.

There’s this general feeling of uncertainty when you are just getting started that I dislike a lot. Both the uncertainty of where your next paycheck is going to come from, and also the newness of everything, and not being sure if you’re doing it “right”.

I’m incredibly lucky to have graduated with a really supportive group of friends who are all illustrators at different points in their career. I remember a lot of our post-graduation conversations being like “wait… is this what illustration is? What’s a sketch again?” and silly questions like that.

The beginning of my illustration career has been a time of the absolute highest highs and lowest, most frustrating lows I’ve ever experienced. I wouldn’t change a thing if I got the chance to start over, but I also look forward to (hopefully) being a seasoned veteran who’s been in the industry for a very long time. I often joke that my aspiration in life is to be an old lady who lives in the woods with many cats, and who is very good at illustration.

Changes © Rovina Ca

Changes © Rovina Cai

4. What do you like the most about illustrating?
I like finally seeing something completed, published, or generally “out there” after toiling away at an illustration for hours and weeks. I guess there’s a part of me, deep down, that is still a 5 year old who’s really proud of a crayon drawing and just wants to show everyone what she did.

I guess there’s a part of me, deep down, that is still a 5 year old who’s really proud of a crayon drawing and just wants to show everyone what she did.

Also, in terms of skill, there is a rhythm of practice, improvement and more practice, that I enjoy. Occasionally I’ll try something new or go in a different direction, but at the core, art is a constant process of self-improvement. Each new piece of work is a challenge, both technically and conceptually, and it’s almost like a game where I’m trying to “one up” myself.

Iceland © Rovina Cai

Iceland © Rovina Cai

5. What do you like the least about it?
All the work that needs to be done that is not actually illustration. Like networking, self promotion, taxes, replying to emails, even preparing for conventions – which is an activity I do like, but it takes up a good amount of time and mental energy.

I both love and hate that illustration is not a 9 to 5 job, and that we are always surrounded by art.

I both love and hate that illustration is not a 9 to 5 job, and that we are always surrounded by art. I’m still trying to find a good balance between life and work, but it’s hard to turn my brain off, so every waking thought tends to be occupied by some sort of art-related thing. I fantasize about taking some time away from art, but that’s really hard, because if I’m not making art for work, I’m always scheming on some sort of personal project.

I’m just reaching the point now where the initial extreme enthusiasm for illustration is dying off a bit – the honeymoon stage is over. That doesn’t mean that I’m not in love with illustration, but I recognize that I should probably try out these things called “going outside” and “having a life” that everyone keeps talking about!

Trolls © Rovina Cai

Trolls © Rovina Cai

6. What is it about myths, fairy tales and Gothic Novels that draw you?
I’m drawn to them because there’s a wonderful sense of intrigue and magic in these stories that I’m always trying to visually capture (whether it’s successful or not is another story altogether!). I enjoy the symbolic nature of fairy tales; in a lot of these stories, the focus is not on the details or characters, but the tale is an analogy for emotions and impressions of the world around us, and these experiences are still as relevant to us today as they were when they were first written, hundreds of years ago.

I enjoy the symbolic nature of fairy tales; in a lot of these stories, the focus is not on the details or characters, but the tale is an analogy for emotions and impressions of the world around us (…)

I like that these stories have been around for hundreds or thousands of years. They’re a link to the past that I can tap into; it’s a bit like time travel in a way. Someone once described me as “not living in the present” and that’s probably true, I have one eye on the future and where I want to go, and one eye on the past, with all those wonderful stories to explore and live in.

Six Swans © Rovina Cai

Six Swans © Rovina Cai

7. Please tell a little about your process and your choice of medium.
I started out drawing with pastels and colour pencils, then gradually switched to digital painting, and it kind of stuck. Now I paint in Photoshop with an Intuos tablet. It’s a very simple setup and I don’t have many fancy brushes or anything. I like the convenience of digital art; it’s easy to make changes, and there’s no cleaning up afterwards!

I like the convenience of digital art; it’s easy to make changes, and there’s no cleaning up afterwards!

For a long time now I’ve been harboring secret ambitions to start oil painting. Last year at Illuxcon, everyone I spoke with were incredibly encouraging, and I walked away feeling inspired to do some traditional work. It’s been a slow process so far, but I’m hoping by this year’s Illuxcon, I’ll have some traditional paintings to show that don’t look like finger paintings!

Fig Tree by Rovina Cai

Fig Tree © Rovina Cai

8. You are originally from Australia. What brought you to the US?
I came here for grad school. I applied to the Illustration As Visual Essay program at SVA, but did not expect to get in, because at the time, illustration was still very new to me, and I had no idea what to put in my portfolio. To my surprise, I was accepted, so I came here two and a half years ago and have since fallen in love with New York City.

I graduated last year and I’m sticking around for a while, still trying to decide what to do next. I’d love to return to Australia, but there’s such a great community of artists and illustrators in the US, it would be a shame to leave all of that behind. It’s not that illustration doesn’t exist in Australia, but it is on a much smaller scale compared to here, and there aren’t many events or conventions that focuses specifically on fantasy/sci-fi art.

I’d love to return to Australia, but there’s such a great community of artists and illustrators in the US (…)

Perhaps because Australia is all the way on the other side of the world, and I’ve always felt like I’m on the outside looking in. So when I moved here and started attending conventions, and meeting people who’s work I’d seen online, it felt very surreal to actually be a part of this wonderful community, and to have people respond in such a positive way to my work.

Ravens by Rovina Cai

Ravens © Rovina Cai

9. What is the best advice you have ever received regarding your artwork and career?
This piece of advice doesn’t come from any one person; over the years many people have stressed the importance of finding a personal voice, but I’m only just starting to understand what that really means. I like to experiment and do different creative things, so I’ve always worried about not having a very distinct style. But during my time at SVA, I began to understand that personal voice is not just working in one particular style, but a way of interpreting the world around you, a way of seeing that is unique to each person. This voice is developed through your interests and life experiences. Style and mediums might change, but your sensibilities and voice remains constant.

(…) I began to understand that personal voice is not just working in one particular style, but a way of interpreting the world around you, a way of seeing that is unique to each person. This voice is developed through your interests and life experiences.

10. How important is it you for to get away from your desk and seek inspiration outside? Many artists complain they end up living like hermits.
Well I’m definitely living like a hermit right now, but I do think it’s extremely important to get away from your desk, and maybe even from art in general. When I need a break, I love visiting museums, and there are so many to explore in New York! Sometimes these trips are for gathering inspiration or research, but sometimes just for fun. I always feel more refreshed after taking a day off, it’s like a reset button, though I never do it enough.

Arrows & Laurel Leaves © Rovina Cai

Arrows & Laurel Leaves © Rovina Cai


Thank you for reading, I hope you enjoyed this interview with Rovina. If there are any professional female fantasy artists you greatly admire and would like to see interview with, please leave a comment with their name and a link to their website. I have future interviews planned with Cynthia Sheppard, Rebecca Yanovskaya and more.

Links:
Full Women In Fantasy Illustration Series
The Folio Society
Rovina Cai on Facebook
Rovina Cai’s Website
Rovina Cai’s Blog

Kiri Østergaard Leonard
kiri@kirileonard.com

Kiri Østergaard Leonard is an award winning illustrator and artist from Denmark, currently living in Austin, Texas. She enjoys working on projects within the fantasy and children's illustration genre.

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