‘‘One of the benefits I get from doing covers is, I get to read. The main thing I like about what I do is that I’m away from reality and the real world where I live, in a make believe one – a land of someone else’s imagina­tion – as long as the project lasts. I need that to survive.

Locus Magazine, Science Fiction Fantasy‘‘I read manuscripts at night before I go to bed. I take them into the bathtub with me to read at the end of the day, marking out places in the story to see if I can find something that sparks an idea. At the end I have several marked pages pulled out that have given me images for the cover. Sometimes, I do hundreds of sketches until I can see the image and its basic composition in my mind. Often it doesn’t work as well as I imagined. It might be imperfect, but I should feel that it will be perfect and my best work ever in my mind. The process is very much like a jigsaw puzzle. I start to sketch out the idea, often only to find it’s not working out. Then I have to look at the whole story again, but from a different angle to reconstruct it into something that works.”

‘‘When I’m ready to do the final drawing, lots of times I hire models. My favorite model is a dancer. No matter what she does, it’s always a grace­ful, classical pose. I ask her to pose like my rough sketch. Sometimes she does a better pose than my drawing. I take lots of digital photos. If I can do the human body well, and understand it well, I can also understand a table, doors, windows, a cloud – all those things. For me, draftsmanship is very important.

‘‘Every painting I’ve produced falls short of my expectations. They are my children, but they’re all juvenile delinquents. I’m not proud of them. There’s an expectation in my head when I look at the empty space, and then I start to do the drawing. That’s fine. In the drawing stage, I still have the perfect image in my mind. At around 75 percent completion, I start to notice the perfect painting I had in my mind turns to disappointment. I just have to quit, and move on to the next one. There’s a certain voice telling me, move on, the next one will be better.”

‘‘My studio is a mess. The bottoms of some piles haven’t seen the light of day since the early ’80s, but I like it this way. It’s full of reference material, piles of books and magazines that haven’t moved in decades, cast off sketches and half-finished preliminary drawings for work I want to do. There’s only space for me and my German Shephard Wolfgang. Only a small number of people are allowed in there.

‘‘There are lots of projects I intend to do: images from Ovid’s Metamorphoses, a series of ghost stories, images from mythologies. I think I must hurry up before my time runs out. If I had a time machine, I would like to go back 20,000 years to see what the inhabitants of the Grotto of Lascaux looked like and what the landscape looked like then. I would like to see what Helen of Troy, the most beautiful woman in the world, looked like and what truly happened in the Trojan War. Was that just a gifted blind poet’s imagination?”

‘‘Many years ago I used unprepared Strathmore illustration board be­cause it takes watercolors, which I use for laying in broad areas of color. Occasionally I had problems with it depending on the painting medium I was using so I switched to Ampersand gesso board. It is very smooth and takes my watercolor underpainting easily. I do a rough sketch on tracing paper, a title sketch, and then transfer everything to gesso board, and do the final drawing there. Then I apply an under painting, mainly in Windsor Newton watercolors. The board is sealed and then I finish the painting in oil color. I have always used Windsor Newton Series 7 watercolor sable brushes. It used to be that one brush would last me three paintings. My work is usually not that huge, maybe 16″ by 20″ or 18″ by 24″, and I could complete three paintings before the brush wore out. But these days, they don’t seem to last as long. Mahlon got in touch with the Windsor Newton people in England, and asked, ‘Why is this brush not lasting as long?’ They said they use the same number of sable hairs they always did, but the sable hair itself is thinner and more brittle now because of global warming. Now I need three brushes to complete one painting.”

Read the complete interview in the April 2017 issue of Locus Magazine. Interview design and photo by Francesca Myman.