Spotlight On Eli Minaya
Eli Minaya is an illustrator and fine artist based in Virginia. His early creative journey began as a graffiti artist, which over time transformed into a career as an illustrator in publishing and gaming; with clients such as Tor Books and Amazon Publishing, as well as fantasy art with clients such as Wizards of the Coast and Image Comics. In his studio, he pushes the boundaries of collage art in pursuit of pure expression of the human form, symbolism, and personal narrative. He has taught numerous students that the core of any creative endeavor must be joy, as it drives his own work. Joy in creating art, in forming ideas, and the search for an artist’s ‘‘personal voice.’’ Eli’s own voice sings loudly in the works of art he creates.
What was your introduction to working in the field of science fiction and fantasy art? What were the influences that drew you in?
For me, like for a lot of illustrators, it’s the stories that drew me in. I grew up loving books and movies, and drawing felt like the most natural way to express my love for those things.
I feel fortunate that some of my first professional works in SF/F were to illustrate short stories and some book covers. My short story illustrations for Tor.com have been some of the most rewarding assignments – the stories are so amazing to read and interpret. I had so many creative breakthroughs with those jobs.
What does your workflow look like from concept to realization? Do you use digital media? How do you build up your multimedia canvases?
I’m going to try to keep this brief, because I talk about this sort of thing all day! Concepting can happen a bunch of different ways for me, depending on what I’m working on. Commissions from clients tend to provide me with the most guidelines, so I’ve got to work more focused. But my best ideas come from trying to solve someone else’s problems. There is a lot of writing (to organize my thoughts), and tons of sketching. Something I’ve started doing recently is matching music to the stories I illustrate. Having a soundtrack helps me remember the mood I’m trying to achieve.
When I paint for myself, I’m more interested in form and technique. It’s more exploratory, and that keeps things exciting for me. It becomes ‘‘play’’ after a while.
As for the final image, I work digitally and in a traditional collage technique that uses transparent paper. I create a pencil drawing, make iterations of rough paintings in Photoshop, print them on that tracing paper, then collage all the bits I enjoy together, which makes a new image. I draw and paint every component of the final collage.
In some of your works you are inspired by Dominican Taino mythology. Can you tell us a bit about what most excites you about working with those traditions, and about how Taino visual culture and history influence your work? We’d love to hear about upcoming graphic novel, Tornjak and the Myrahn Primer, and the Tall Temple series.
My research into Taino mythology and culture came from a place more about identity, trying to figure out the big picture of my family history. Naturally, those things started to infiltrate my work, and continue to do so. My Tall Temple series was a response to that, but has evolved into something that is more of a reflection of who I am today. I became a father to twins in 2022, and Tall Temple has become something with my kids more in mind.
Tornjak is still very much a part of that project, but his story is maybe a little different now. I’m excited to share that work next year.
You’ve also done a lot of work for gaming and comics. Are you a comics reader and gamer yourself?
I love comics and games! I still can’t believe some of the art I got to make there. I’ve done a few covers for Image Comics and continue to make work for Wizards of the Coast and Magic: The Gathering. I played Magic a lot when I was younger, and since picking it back up again my love for the game has grown. It’s wild to play that game now as a professional. Every so often I’d pick up a card that was illustrated by a friend, and I’d get such a kick out of that. To see my own work on those cards is a big deal for me, on a personal level.
How do you keep it fresh for yourself and keep learning new techniques and improving your craft? Have there been any recent changes or discoveries in your art process, or do you feel settled into something that’s really working for you already?
I feel both settled and changing, all at once. I love my primary techniques (collage, digital paint, ink), but I am constantly trying to push them to new places. The collage technique is relatively new to me, and it’s passed down to me from my mentor, George Pratt, who learned it from Barron Storey. It’s allowed me to add everything I know how to do, all the techniques I learned while trying to find my voice, and tie them together into something new. So I continue to add to my tool kit when I can, knowing it all serves to further my collage process. That all goes a long way to keeping things fresh.
Is there something about what you do as an artist working in the SF/F field, or an upcoming project, that you’d like to tell our readers about?
I’ve got more Magic cards coming out, and I’m having a blast creating tiny collage works on the back of the artist proofs (Magic cards with blank backs given to the artist by WotC). I’m also working on a second edition of my Tall Temple oracle deck. That will kick off new Tall Temple projects and paintings.
Cover and interview art and design by Francesca Myman
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