Monday, 23 April 2012

T is for Tony Hough

Tony Hough is an artist whose work I was first exposed to in a Fighting Fantasy gamebook, Spectral Stalkers. Next came Night Dragon which was also Tony’s first painted cover for the FF series. I loved the detail that went into these images and was particularly impressed by the painting of the Night Dragon with its gleaming metallic finish.

Then came my second FF commission, Knights of Doom. I was excited to discover that Tony was to produce both the internal illustrations and the cover. It was his painting of the Chaos Steed and its Beastman rider which really made the book stand out from all the others in the series (Knights being the 56th at that point).

His use of a palette that was predominantly based around purple was both original and striking and meant that the scene – a battle against dark forces taking place at night – did not get lost in shadows and darkness, which could have so easily happened.

Twelve years later we were working together again, this time on Bloodbones.

I'm very pleased to say that Tony has also agreed to be interviewed for my blog for Artists' Month, and seeing as how it's the 23rd already, which means we're up to the letter 'T', take it away, Tony!

1. How did you start out as a professional artist?

I spent four years after failing to get into Manchester University honing my skills and bombarding book and game publishers with samples until in 1987 a certain Mr Blanche from Games workshop finally thought I would be just right for a new project called Warhammer 40,000.

2. What was it that gave you your big break and led to what you are doing now?

I think I'm still waiting for my 'big break'!! I've been lucky enough to work for some of the best and most prestigious book and game publishers over the last 25 years but my career has gone in fits and starts... I'm still waiting to take off, really. I've not been able to support myself solely through illustration since the eighties.

3. What is your preferred method of working? Which medium suits your style best?

Today I mostly work digitally using Photoshop and a Wacom Graphire tablet. Traditionally I like to do black and white work in pencil or with a Rotring pen and brushes. I'd like to do big canvases in oils or acrylics but I don't really have the room to put them up!!

4. Which setting do you prefer Fighting Fantasy or Warhammer 40,000?

That changes with my mood! I'll always have a fondness for the 40K setting: I was there at the birth, so to speak, and the grim darkness and dystopian themes really appealed to me.

5. What is the appeal of working creatively within these settings?

Action, atmosphere, exotic characters, dark humour. Drawing monsters!! What's not to like?

6. How did you find the process of creating the cover image for Knights of Doom?

I did 'Night Dragon', my first ever cover in gouache and inks because I'd used them a long time and was more confident using them, but when it came to 'Knights of Doom' I wanted to do an acrylic cover painting for durability and vividness of colour. Initially we were going to do a painting of Belgaroth on the Night-Mare, but in the end Puffin went with my other rough of the beastman mounted on a Chaos Warbeast. I chose a palette of reds, blues and purples – my favourite colours!! It was brasher than my previous cover and seems to have gone down very well...

7. How long does it take you to produce a book cover?

I'm very good at working to deadlines, so a week to a month depending on the level of detail.

8. How do you feel you had developed as an artist in the twelve years between illustrating Knights of Doom and Bloodbones?

Despite doing a degree in Psychology, becoming a parent and having to work nights in a factory, I continued to hone my craft and do the odd commission between the two. The biggest difference was the rise of digital arts during those years. The pen technique I developed for Puffin (influenced by my art heroes such as Virgil Finlay, Kelly Freas, Gustave Dore etc.) was necessary for clear printing using the processes of the time. For Bloodbones, I used the same technique only for stylistic reasons. I think they were bolder and crisper than the Puffin illos, yet more disciplined.

9. Of which piece of work are you most proud?

The next one, probably!!

10. Is there anything you haven’t illustrated that you would still like to?

Yes, everything. And I want to do the others again.

11. What are you working on at the moment?

I'm available at the moment!! In my spare time I'm doing a paint-over of one of the original 40K illos from the first rulebook as a sort of celebration of 25 tough years in the game!!

12. Who were/are your artistic influences?

Way too many to mention, but here's a list: Gustave Dore, Virgil Finlay, Frank Kelly Freas, Frank R Paul, John Bolton, Brain Lewis, Richard Corben, Hans Giger, Tim White, Jim Burns, Les Edwards, Patrick Woodroffe, Iain McCaig, Brian Froud, Alan Lee, Bruce Pennington... I've missed out loads, and that's just visual artists: I'm also inspired by TV, writers and by music. Where would I be without Michael Moorcock and Hawkwind??

13. What advice would you give to any aspiring artists wanting to follow in your footsteps?

I agree with Martin; please become a greengrocer or a fireman - there's nothing for you here! But I know many aspiring artists cannot take that advice however awful and difficult it is to tread this path. Some of us just have to!

Thanks again to Tony for taking the time to answer my questions. You can find out more about his work and check out a host of images at his website here. You can buy a book of Tony's art (Fragments - The Fantasy Art of Tony Hough) here.

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