Thursday, August 4, 2011

The Fantastic in the Fine Arts: The Artwork of Phil McDarby

I first came across the work of Phil McDarby a few years ago through Pat Rothfuss' Worldbuilders fundraiser.  Phil had created a wonderful visual representation of a scene from The Name of the Wind entitled "Luring the Draccus."  I noticed he had a website, so I headed over to check it out--and I was captivated by what I saw.

Phil's work is a blend of photographs of nature and fantasy images, with the goal, as he says on his website, of capturing "a sense of magic and wonder - that feeling of child-like excitement and discovery that we can lose touch with as adults."  The image below is one of my favorites of his, and it serves as a great example of how Phil blends the natural and the fantastic together.

The Amber Dragon's Hoard

Phil's process for turning a photograph of nature into one of these fantastic, digital pieces of art is an amazing one, and it's fascinating to see the transformation step-by-step.  He writes about the process here, providing a walkthrough that highlights his creativity, his eye for wonder, and most of all, his attention to detail.

What strikes me most about Phil's artwork, though, is how I can see the fantastic in the photographs that he hasn't added fantasy images to.  Take this image entitled "Sunrise at Castlemartyr," for example; can't you just see the fairies flying through the mist toward the sunrise?

Sunrise at Castlemartyr

And that, I think, is why Phil's artwork with fantasy images works so well.  The fantastic was already there, and Phil found it and brought it to life through his creativity.

Phil also took the time to answer a few of our questions:

How did you get interested in science fiction and fantasy? Are there some books or movies that you remember as being early favorites?

I guess you could say it all started reading The Faraway Tree books by Enid Blyton, and having older siblings who introduced me to The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. I was introduced to Sci-Fi and Fantasy at a very young age. I would pore over the covers of these wonderful books, lost in these fantastical landscapes. Early favourites…I had The Belgariad and the Dragonlance Chronicles saga when I was pretty young, 9 or 10. I loved the Fighting Fantasy series by Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone – anything I could get my hands on really.

In "Luring the Draccus," you illustrate a specific scene from Pat Rothfuss' The Name of the Wind. Are there other favorite books that you would like to provide illustrations for?

Obviously The Lord of the Rings is the ultimate template – growing up immersed in the covers and calendars of Alan Lee, John Howe, Ted Nasmith, etc – that was amazing. I’m a pretty avid reader, so I come across visually arresting books all the time. Scott Lynch, Joe Abercrombie, Brandon Sanderson – there’s some pretty iconic set-pieces and environments in all their books.

In your write-up about the Limited Edition prints of "Luring the Draccus," you mention that you felt a strong connection between the real-world setting of the University of Edinburgh and Rothfuss' book. Are there other places where you feel a particularly strong connection with the fantastic?

I think that element of verisimilitude can be very powerful when reading a book. I read the first few chapters of Interview with the Vampire in the grounds of a crumbling old cathedral and it was a magical experience. Forests for me are magical. I’ve always felt a particular way in the forest, and I never lost that sense of wonder, thankfullly.

Are there pieces of yours that are favorites? What makes these works so special?

The Wood Dragon and the Ladybird is an really special image for me, as it started me down a creative path I’m still on after three years. I’ve had an amazing time creating a world around these creatures. Imagine, Wonder and Magic (pictured below) were all created during my wife’s pregnancy on our first daughter, so they mean a lot to me too – they are all about reconnecting with that sense of childhood wonder and magic.

All images copyright Phil McDarby 2011Used with his permission.