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Glasgow, United Kingdom
An illustrator and games artist living and working in Scotland. I have various hobbies: coding, travel, art and games; and I enjoy writing about them.

17 January 2013

Jon Hodgson Interview: Part 2

"I'm also strongly of the opinion that every piece of work is an exploration of some kind: Even if it's an exploration of doing something similar to what you've already done that is a new thing in itself.  As they say in Zen - you never cross the same river twice.  I really believe that."

New year, new start! Time to continue our correspondance with the talented Jon Hodgson, an illustrator and an art director at Cubicle Seven - a tabletop games company that gave us the One Ring and Dr Who RP.

In the last part of the interview Jon talked about he achieves the phenomenal sense of place and cultural authenticity in his works.

This time round it's time to dig deeper into the inspirations behind these works.

A: You mentioned that you are always still learning, I think this is the case for all artists. Even the legendary Syd Mead mentioned this constant learning process in one of his interviews. Can you describe some methods you utilize for conducting visual research and perhaps some artists that you look up to as a professional? Has your professional growth affected how you look and interpret art?

J: Something that terrified me fairly early on in my working life was watching one or two artists I knew and admired slowly grinding to a halt in their development.  In all cases I've seen it came about as the dark side of thinking you know what you're doing.  Whilst teaching others can definitely be one of the very best ways to learn I've seen on occasion that slightly more authoritative role bleed into an artist's work, where they believe they know what they're doing.   And then they stop learning.

I feel fortunate that I studied Fine Art, where in a lot of circles painters aren't even considered respectable until they are in their 50s.  So I was set up from the beginning to not to expect to have much of a clue until much further down the track. And perhaps most importantly that that is ok.  It's ok not to know things.  You do more exploring in unfamiliar places than you do in your own front room, if you like.  Exploration is a big part of learning, and learning is what we need to do to improve.  The more you learn the more you want to learn I think, so the more you put yourself in situations where you can learn.

I'm also strongly of the opinion that every piece of work is an exploration of some kind: Even if it's an exploration of doing something similar to what you've already done that is a new thing in itself.  As they say in Zen - you never cross the same river twice.  I really believe that.  As usual I'm being quite contradictory here, but I don't mind that.  The idea that there's one "truth", or that two conflicting ideas can't coexist in the same head is for me erroneous.

So as to methods - I read a lot of books.  For The One Ring work for example I stocked up hugely with reference books.  I also use the internet, but on screen reference just doesn't match the quality of printed material for me.  I have absolutely ransacked the British Museum Library Press for all their books on "Dark age" artefacts.  I've also spend many hours in the National Museum of Scotland.   This is all quite direct stuff - getting books, looking at things in a museum and that's great for information to add into images.  That can be a source of ideas, but it's not the only one for me.  Just looking at every day sights and sounds and smells is important. Keeping your eyes open, travelling with a camera and a note/sketch book being aware of one's surroundings is very important.  How light falls, how people move. It's all inspirational if you let it be.  

This will sound stupid perhaps, but thinking about things is something I do a lot.  Puzzling stuff out - why does this work this way? Why are images made this way or that way? Why do things look the way they do?

I do definitely look at other artists' work.  One of my big inspirations has always been an artist called Angus McBride.  I first came across his work in my teens on the Middle-earth roleplaying game, and then later in his many illustrations for Osprey publishing's military history books.  I love his loose yet precise style.  What really inspires me about his career these days is that he did everything. He wasn't in any way a specialist. He painted fantasy, military history, educational stuff of all stripes, with subjects from all eras.  I try to be like that.  

When I first encountered his work I was definitely responding to just the subject matter - I couldn't "see" his technique when I was 14.  As you get older and gain experience you can see more and more of how things are done.  Somewhat ironically I was given one of his original pieces a few years back and thought I would be able to learn more from seeing his work "in the flesh".  Somewhat mind boggling the guy painted 1:1, so what you see on the illustration board is almost exactly what's on the printed page. But then that's an education in itself!

Since it pays, in Honours year, to reflect and analyse any small piece of information that gets into your hands let's have a look at what Jon said and see how it applies to my project or my own personal development. I agree with what Jon says about personal development. It is a never ending process and it is sad to see some artists start feeling secure in their abilities and stop developing their skill. In my oppinion it happened to Syd Mead. As fantastic as his work is, it looks the same today as it looked 30 years ago. Feng Zhu is an opposite example. He has his own school now and as his tutorials progress his technique changes and develops.

Taking sketchbooks with you, a camera, being aware of your surroundings or reading books; all are very important things to an artist.These are the basic things that will drive your skill forward and as a bit of reflection, I should probably start doing it more often myself.

Keep an eye out for Part 3 of the interview. Thank you and goodnight.