Galen Dara has created art for Fireside, Lightpseed, Goblin Fruit, Lovecraft eZine, Scapezine, Apex magazine, Dagan Books, and Edge Publishing. Recently she illustrated the cover of the War Stories anthology, edited by Jaym Gates & Andrew Liptak; the cover of The Future Embodied, edited by Mae Empson & Jason Andrews; and the cover of Glitter & Mayhem, edited by John Klima & Lynne M. Thomas. She is currently working on the cover for novel Heirs of Grace by Tim Pratt. When Galen is not working on a project you can find her on the edge of the Sonoran Desert, climbing mountains and hanging out with a loving assortment of human and animal companions. Her website is http://www.galendara.com and you can follow her on Twitter: @galendara.
How did you get your start as a SF illustrator? What artists most influenced you?
I came to SF in a rather roundabout way. Growing up I cut my artistic teeth on dragon scales. It was Micheal Whelan’s cover art for Anne McCaffery’s Dragonrider series that first inspired me as an artist. But I wandered a bit trying to figure out what I wanted to do with this inclination to make images. When I (finally!) graduated from college it was with a fine art degree, doing expressionistic-type paintings and dabbling in large scale installations (at that time my influences included the Bay Area Figurative painters and sculptors such as Magdalena Abakanowicz and Louise Bourgeois.) When my son was born I had a hard time doing more than keeping a sketchbook. It was several years before I got my feet back under me and started dabbling in painting again. My first gig as an actual ‘‘SF illustrator’’ was doing pen-and-ink zombies for Jaym Gates & Erika Holt and their anthology Rigor Amortis. I had never drawn zombies before – that was highly educational. It just took off from there. Artists who influence me: Dave McKean, Anna & Elena Balbusso, Scott Bacal, Keith Thompson, Jo Chen, Fiona Staples, Goni Montes, J.H. Williams II, Camilla d’Errico, Greg Ruth, Julie Dillon, James Jean, Rebecca Guay, Yoshitaka Amano, Ashley Wood, Stephanie Pui Mun Law, Kinuko Y. Craft, Menton3, John Jude Palencar, Sam Weber, Brom, Jon Foster, etc., etc., etc.
Your work is mostly digital art. Can you tell us a bit about your process?
Well, until just a few years ago I was doing everything traditionally then scanning it into Photoshop to clean it up. I had never used a tablet before and was slightly intimidated to make that jump. Then a good friend gave me an older tablet they weren’t using any more, and everything changed. There was a bit of a learning curve as I taught myself how to use this new tool, learning by mistakes, by happy accidental discoveries. While I miss getting messy with traditional mediums (and am trying to make actual pigment-on-paper art happen regularly just for my own purposes), the speed and flexibility of the digital medium really allowed me to develop as an illustrator. I use Photoshop a lot like how I would paint: many many layers of transparencies and blending-mode washes to build up color and texture.
What’s more important – inspiration or perspiration? Is being an artist a higher calling, or a craft like any other?
Oh this has been a tricky one to answer. Can I say ‘‘all of the above?’’ In brief, perspiration is what leads to the inspiration (I’d say it’s about a 80/20 mix, probably higher, in perspiration’s favor.) As for the term ‘‘higher calling,’’ I am not sure what to make of that and it becomes a very complicated label when you view the art world at large (debates rage about the distinction between fine art and commercial art). What I’ll do instead is refer to something Irene Gallo (Tor) recently said. Irene stated she hires artists based on how smart they are, and their ability to bring a unique voice to the job. That otherwise, she could just ‘‘hire a wrist’’ (presumably someone who paints just what you tell them to). In that sense, there does seem to be a distinction between artists with a special gift and those who are just technically good at the craft.
Why the focus on science fiction/fantasy?
Because as a kid I lived in my head. I wanted magic, special powers. I wanted swords, ray guns, rocket ships, and dragons. I wanted all the cool outfits that came with these other worlds too! Slightly embarrassing story from my childhood: you know those self-portraits you do in elementary school? Where you get traced on butcher paper then you get to color yourself in, in what you are wearing, etc.? Oh, I was so thrilled, I thought I could make up whatever outfit I wanted, and I decked myself out like some fire mage of a distant realm, ready to cast serious spells. I was very taken aback to look around and see that all the rest of the kids had just replicated what they happened to be wearing that day. Oh, how embarrassing. But I’d love to go back and give my young-kid self a huge hug and high five. That craving for the speculative never really left me.
Is there one work you’d particularly like our readers to see, either because it’s most representative, or because you’re especially proud of it?
That’s like being asked which of your kids is your favorite! (Well, I only have one kid so I thankfully dodged that bullet.) But here, I did ‘‘Mermaid’’ to illustrate‘‘Abyssus Abyssum Invocate’’ (http://www.lightspeedmagazine.com/fiction/abyssus-abyssum-invocat/), written by Genevieve Valentine, and I really do love how it turned out.