Welcome to the Women in Fantasy Illustration interview series. I am interviewing a selection of women who work in the Fantasy Illustration Industry. You will find the links to more interviews at the bottom of the page.
This week’s interview is with the incredible illustrator and Magic the Gathering artist Lindsey Look! Lindsey creates stunning illustrations in oil paint, I hope you will enjoy this interview with her as much as I did.
1. Please give a brief introduction of yourself, your career and your work
Hello there! My name is Lindsey Look, and I am a science fiction and fantasy artist working traditionally in oils. I mostly paint book covers, both for clients who are self-publishing and through publishing companies. I’ve worked for companies such as Wizards of the Coast, Science Fiction Book Club, and Penguin Books, and my work has appeared in multiple volumes of Spectrum: The Best in Fantastic Contemporary Art. When I’m not working, you’ll typically find me sewing costumes or reading science fiction and fantasy novels. I also really like coffee. And bunnies. Usually in that order if I’ve just woken up.
2. When did realize you wanted to make a career out of illustrating?
I’ve been drawing pictures for books since I could pick up a pencil; they started out as illustrations for my own stories about pirates and mermaids, painstakingly transcribed by my mother! I was the kid that everyone asked for help drawing posters in middle school, and I spent most of my lunches drawing and painting in the art room in high school.
I’ve pretty much always known that I wanted to make a career out of art in general, and up until college I was positive I wanted to become an animator for Disney. At the end of my first week in college taking an animation class, I had been repetitively drawing walking stick figures for hours and I absolutely hated it. It was a bit shocking realizing that animation wasn’t the route I wanted to take, but it helped me to understand that I piece I enjoyed was the initial creation of the characters. So I dropped animation to focus completely on illustration.
3. What difficulties have you faced in transitioning into becoming a professional artist?
I think the hardest part was overcoming the fear of not being able to make a living off of it. The first few months after I left my 9 to 5 job I was terrified that I would fail and would have to find another retail job to make enough income to pay my rent. But the jobs kept lining up, and I’ve been trying to keep the faith that so long as I keep putting all my effort to each piece, the jobs will continue to trickle in.
I also constantly struggle with feeling as though any success I have is mostly due to good luck and timing, and that at some point I’ll stop getting work because the luck will run out. There are many artists that struggle with similar feelings, and it can be difficult to convince yourself that success has more to do with hard work and determination than luck. I’m still working on that one.
4. What do you like the most about illustrating?
At the end of the day, having a physical product to show for the hours and hours of effort I put into it is so rewarding. And the community. Never in my life have I seen a group of professionals as generous and supportive as the Sci-Fi and Fantasy art community, and it makes me blissfully happy to be a part of it. I wish we all lived in the same town.
5. What do you like the least about it?
Without a doubt, the isolation. I’m in my studio six out of seven days a week and it can get very lonely. I purposely kept my job working at a local pet store one day a week just so I get out of the house and talk to human beings. And ya know, remember what wearing pants and shoes feels like.
6. What really makes your work stand out to me is your keen attention to detail and that you paint in oils in a time where many artists have given into digital. How did you make the choice to go with oils?
It just kind of happened… I painted in acrylics for the longest time, just because it was what I knew, what all my instructors before college had taught me. Even in college for some reason, I was only using oils in life painting and using acrylics for illustration. And then one of my teachers saw that I was using ten layers of acrylics to get the depth and smoothness that two coats of oils could achieve, and suggested I use them instead. And since then, I have. I went to art school at a time when digital illustration was just starting to become more mainstream but there were very few classes to take. Even if there had been more, I think I’d miss the smell of oils and the sensation of moving actual paint around. And having a physical product is something that’s very important to me. Paintings are special. There’s only one, it represents hours of work and education, and it has the potential to be a sizable piece of income or investment.
7. What inspires you and could you tell us a little about your process from initial inspiration and idea inception to final?
I find reading to be the most inspiring. Oftentimes, all I have to do is read the manuscript I’m working with to get ideas for cover concepts. Music is useful for putting me in a creative mindset too. I doodle thumbnails digitally in black and white onto one page.
When I’ve done a bunch, I pick the ones that stand out to me the most and draw them up in more detail and with color, and then send them out to the art director. Once a sketch is approved, I pull together all my reference. This usually involves ordering a bunch of weird stuff off of Amazon (my “recommended items based on what you’ve bought” list is hilarious… glow sticks, a motorcycle helmet, and gemstone paperweights) and hiring models or bribing family members with baked goods.
I’ll pull all the photo reference I’ve taken into photoshop, and make up a digital composition to paint from. I draw in pencil directly on to triple gessoed illustration board, spray it with workable fixative, and paint on top in oils. I use a mixture of turpentine, linseed oil, and cobalt dryer with the paint and it usually takes three to four layers of oil paint to achieve the effect I want. Once finished, I photograph it, tweak it in Photoshop, and send the files to the art director. Then I sleep for a week.
8. You studied at the Art Institute of Boston. What was the experience like for you and would you recommend Art School for aspiring artists?
I did, (though it’s no longer in Boston, and is called LUCAD now) and I loved it. I loved being in the city, l had some wonderful teachers, and having the college “experience” of living in a dorm with other artists turned out to be some of the best years of my life. That being said, I’m not sure I’d do it all over again in today’s world.
Looking at the amount of income the average illustrator makes versus the cost of getting a degree in illustration nowadays seems insane. It took me two solid years of working nonstop in the field and living in my parent’s (finished) basement to start making enough to live off of, and I can’t imagine trying to pay off student loan debt as well as pay your rent. Art directors look at your portfolio, not your diploma, and there are so many incredible workshops and courses available now… the Illustration Master Class, Smart School, TLC Workshops… you can take advantage of the education and opportunities provided by these shorter classes with a small personal loan or the savings from your summer job.
9. What is the best advice you have ever received regarding your artwork and career?
To be assertive about what you want. You can’t just sit back and hope that an art director will find your portfolio online and you’ll start getting the jobs you want. Introduce yourself to art directors you’d like to work for at conventions (Keep it professional! No stalking!), sign up for portfolio reviews with them, e-mail them new work every once and a while to keep yourself on their radar. Even once you’re more established, you should still be actively pushing your career in the direction you want it to go.
10. Do you have a philosophy behind your work? If not, then what are some of your goals for the future?
I don’t have a philosophy, per se, but more like a general rule of always trying to steer my work towards what makes me happy and excited. I love the fantasy genre, and I love painting strong women. I’m content to take the occasional portrait or advertising job, but at the end of the day, it’s making fantasy book covers and painting Magic the Gathering cards that assures me I’m doing exactly what I want to be doing with my life.