Featured Artist Interview

Rowena MorrillRowena Morrill

Rowena is one of the best known names in the world of science-fiction and fantasy illustration. During a career that has spanned over two decades, her paintings have appeared on hundreds of book covers, calendars, portfolios, trading cards and in magazines such as Playboy and Omni.

Books of her own work have included The Fantastic Art of Rowena, Imagine (in France), Imagination (in Germany), and The Art of Rowena. She has also been included in many anthologies, such as Tomorrow and Beyond and Infinite Worlds. Rowena began her career in New York City where she lived for sixteen years. She presently resides in Upstate New York gaining creative inspiration from the beautiful countryside.

1. You have illustrated hundreds of book covers. Any idea as to the grand total?

I have done over 400 book covers mainly in the fantasy and science fiction field. I have also done some portraits, such as Isaac Asimov, Theodore Sturgeon and Rex Reed. I have done other miscellaneous covers.

2. Your work has been paid homage to by artists as well as outright plagiarized. How do you feel about this?

I am really flattered! When it comes to copyright infringement, I am entirely against that.

3. Your paintings are usually oil on gessoed illustration board. Given the notoriously long drying time of this medium, how do you make your deadlines?

I paint very thinly and try to stick to faster drying colors. I also put a tiny bit of Cobalt Drier in with slower drying pigments like Titanium White and Alizarin Crimson. Everything is usually dry by the next day.

4. How did you feel when American forces found three of your paintings in Saddam Hussein’s palaces? Did you know they were there?

I had no idea they were there. My sister called me and said, "I don't know if you want to hear this but......" Her husband had seen it on CNN. They were actually copies, probably done in some Asian copy mill. I had sold the originals some years earlier to a Japanese collector. As to how I felt about it, I thought it was just one of those crazy, ironic twists of fate. Life can be so bizarre. When it comes to Saddam Hussein, he was certainly an evil, sadistic dictator.

5. How did you break into the fantasy illustration business?

It was purely by accident. I had been living in Philadelphia working part time for an art gallery. During that time, I was doing portrait commissions and large paintings of exotic wildlife. It was a wonderful opportunity to improve my painting skills and get paid for it. When I moved to New York, I planned on working part time for an advertisement agency and continuing with my art work. The ad agency was unbearable, so I quit. Then I made a mad dash to the Yellow Pages and called every design firm, architectural firm, etc. Until I came to the idea of publishing companies. I went to Ace Books first and got my first job. Not that many people were doing realistic figures at that time, so it was a lucky time for me to enter the field.

6. You like to travel. What are some of your favorite places to visit. How has this affected your work?

I lived in Japan for three years when I was a child and in Italy for three years when I was a teenager. Both experiences had a big influence on me. I love Asian art!!!! From Italy we travelled over Europe and saw many of the brilliant museums, sculptures and architecture there. When I started as an artist myself, my influences were the Renaissance Master Artists.

7. Where did you learn your skills as an artist?

I am completely self taught. When I went to the University of Delaware practically everyone was doing abstract art. After graduating, it took me about five years of pouring over old master's techniques books and putting many coats of paint on to finally finish a painting. Fortunately, this was the time I was getting paid to do commissions and learn at the same time.

8. What basic art supplies do you think every should every artist own?

I would say graphite pencils in grades from hard to soft, a palette, pads of paper, paint brushes of different sizes and an easel. And of course the medium one plans to work in with its accessories.

9. Where do you get references for your paintings?

From everywhere. Certainly, from nature, that is, from water, particular trees, rocks, everthing. I really think that working from a particular tree, for instance, is much better than doing a generic tree, perhaps inspired by another artist's work. That way you develop your own style. I use anything that enables me to get what I want in the painting, including photography. I prefer to work from life. One time I set up a broken windshield on my drafting table light just the way I wanted. Another time I brought home a huge, gorgeous carp from a Chinese grocery store for reference on a mermaid's tail. Of course I had to work fast on that one.

10. What is the one thing that you think is of the greatest importance for every artist to learn?

Work, work and more work......! Sometimes you can hit a wall and feel as though you can't paint one more brush stroke. You have to learn to get over that wall. If you get a really good piece of art completed, all that work is way worth it!!!! It can make you feel euphoric! Good luck to everyone!