Our Favorite Artists is going to be a recurring interview with some of the best and brightest RPG artists out there. To start things off we are speaking to artist Stefan Poag, you may have seen some of his recent work in the fantastic Labyrinth Lord mega-dungeon, Barrowmaze. Stefan has also done work for a number of other projects including books and magazines published by Kenzer & Company, Goodman Games and Expeditious Retreat Press. His artwork has a great retro style that brings me back to my younger years. I'm glad he was able to take some time to speak with us! Without further ado, here is the man himself!
- First of all, thanks for taking some time out of your day to speak with me, please introduce yourself and give us a brief bio:
- When did you first discover your creative talents?
- Could you tell us about some of your favorite work?
I guess I feel like I grew up with a foot in the 'high brow' world of history and art via the books and the exposure I got from my father and mother --- when we lived in Europe we spent a lot of time in museums and cathedrals, and all of those books we had around the house made a big impression on me...plus my mother once bought me a really weird and great book about surrealist art that had stuff by Max Ernst, Leonora Carrington and DeChirico in there that I enjoyed... another time she bought me a big book about Max Beckmann --- so I think my mother really encouraged my interests in art... and meanwhile I always had the other foot was in the 'lowbrow' world of comics, monster and horror movies, etc. I love old stuff like Albrecht Durer, Goya, Bosch, etc., as well as Jack Kirby, Basil Wolverton, Steve Ditko, etc. Then a friend introduced me to Dungeons & Dragons and it was love at first sight, especially when I cracked open the monster manual and saw all those monsters, each one illustrated and little paragraphs telling you where they lived, what they ate and how much treasure they had. I really loved the drawings by Erol Otus, Rosloff and Dave Trampier best of all of the old TSR stuff. Trampier's cover for the Player's Handbook, with the big demon idol and they guys prying the gemstone out of it's eye, is my favorite I think --- or Erol Otus's cover for the Gamma World Referee Screen.
- How would you describe your style?
I don't know? Comic book cross-pollinated with medieval marginalia with a shot of old pulp and fantasy art?
- Do you have a favorite artist? What draws you towards his or her work?
See "favorite work" above. I'm also really drawn to the work of these 'naive' or 'self taught' artists like Henry Darger or Wolfi or Richard Shaver or Reverend Finster --- mostly because it seems to spring from deep inside them somewhere and they are just making this stuff compulsively. I've been interested in older comic books and pulp illustrations for a long time now --- I love the stuff that Dick Calkins was drawing for 'Buck Rogers' in the 1940s -- the technology he draws is all chunky and blocky and covered in rivets, and Raymond's "Flash Gordon" is pure gold. V.C. Hamlin's old "Alley Oop" strips are also great; he leaves these big patches of white that really set off the dense crosshatching he will do elsewhere in the same panel which often gives the picture a sense of atmosphere through very simple means --- whenever I look at some of the old black and white work that these guys did back in the day, it makes me want to try to do more, visually, with less. I sometimes feel like I 'overwork' some of my pictures and just put too many hatch-lines in there. I've collected hundreds of scans of old pulp covers; 'Weird Tales' and similar, from the net (I can't afford the real things) and like looking at those, even though they were long out of print before I was born and I usually don't know who the artist is. Virgil Finlay, Hannes Bok and Frank Paul. I'm always finding new stuff to be excited by --- that's one of the great things about being an artist today; with the internet, so much great stuff is just a click away and friends from all over can send you links and ask, "Have you seen/heard/read this?" There is so much great stuff to look at out there.
- Is your art a full time occupation for you?
No; the number of commissions I get varies a lot and I'm not famous or anything so collectors are not exactly falling all over each other to buy my work for top dollar. But I enjoy doing it; that is the main thing.
- You've created art for a number of gaming products, are you yourself a gamer?
I like old-school D&D and the old edition of Gamma World but don't get to play altogether that often. Part of it is my schedule, part of it is just wanting to spend more time working on my art.
- Who is your favorite musical artist and why?
I like a lot of really different things --- everything from Creedence Clearwater Revival to Skaten!gs. I go through phases where I get stuck on something and play it till I am sick of it and have to put it away for a while. Right now, Stupeflip and Cypress Hill are in heavy rotation. Tom Waites has a new record out; we listened to that the other night and I really enjoyed it.
- Where can the readers go to see your art?
www.stefanpoag.com and www.stefanpoag.wordpress.com
- Lastly, any words of advice for aspiring artists?
Don't give up --- and try to never listen to people who are communicating dishonestly with you. I am trying to keep my focus on doing work I enjoy, I guess; that has been my biggest struggle. Some people are going to hate everything you do no matter what, so I try to ignore them... those people usually have strange motivations for trying to discourage you... when I was in school there was always someone ripping on other people because I guess they thought it made them look better... maybe they though art class was graded on a curve or something... unfortunately, some people have a pretty perverted sense of self interest. Other people just can't believe you don't automatically share their point of view. If they like salami sandwiches or Sammy Hagar or the color blue they just won't let it go if you don't say you like those things as much as they do --- I guess some people just want the world to reflect what they like back at them --- don't listen to those people either. I don't think I will ever be rich or famous; I just want to be more content... and I wouldn't mind more financial security since it would help me relax and enjoy art and life more. I've spent too much time worrying that I wasn't good enough or down on myself because not everyone else loved what I was doing... and that's poisonous thinking; you need to avoid that rut. The best feeling in the world is when you wake up and can't wait to start drawing or painting or whatever it is that you want to do --- all the negative shit in life just poisons that creative spring, though. I'd like to try to get back to the state of mind I was in when I was drawing those big battle scenes as a kid --- I don't think I was trying to create an 'artwork' at that moment, I was just enjoying the act of drawing and making shit up. Which is what I think it is all about, at least for me. So I guess my advice is to try to figure out what you want to do and try to go for it. Which sounds simple but it's not. Figuring out what you want has been the hardest thing for me --- I'm still struggling with it. I guess that is the process of living.