Vol. 3.7 1999 by Ernest Lilley

SF Artist: Nick Stathopoulos
Contents  Contact  Focus   Bookshelf   Media Art in SF

Artwork Nick Stathopoulos

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n4 dreaming.jpg (41570 bytes)Interview by Wendy Mitchell:
Award-winning Australian artist Nick Stathopoulos is a very busy guy. He is involved in a wide variety of creative endeavors down under. In addition to his full-time art career, Nick has worked in television, film, theatre, and the gaming industry. He has done art direction, production design, matte painting, storyboards, created props, and designed and built puppets. Nick has painted animation backgrounds for Hanna Barbera and Disney, produced computer graphics, and designed box cover and card art for games, including Warlords. His art can be found on the covers of books by authors Terry Dowling, Jack Dann, and John Marsden.

Nick recently took a little time to answer a few questions, giving us a look at art on the other side of the world.

SFR) How long have you been an illustrator?

I was always drawing or making things for as long as I can remember. I used to win scores of art competitions as a child. 

I used to do artwork semi-professionally for the Sydney University SF group fanzine when I was 14. (Sad eh?) It was pretty shocking stuff, not made easier by the fact the art had to be rendered on special waxy paper with special pens.But it was a start. It was fun seeing my artwork in print. I still get that buzz to this day. 

My first professional cover came to me while still in University studying law.

SFR) How did you get started in SF/Fantasy?

I've always been attracted to those lurid covers! I think I'm a real product of the TV age, and SF movies and TV shows like Thunderbirds became a catalyst for my imagination.

SFR) How is the illustration market down under?

Fluctuating - probably like all markets at the moment. Certainly not enough work to survive on. I do a lot more than SF or Fantasy covers to survive. Local publishers can discern a growing market and are expanding their SF and Fantasy lists. But publishing all over is going through a strange time. So you can't do this for a living... I do it because I love it. As for the pay...

Junior fiction pays US $400-600. Adult fiction pays a little better at $US 600-1000 per cover. That's well below what I believe covers pay in the US. Yet the local product has to compete on the shelves with US or British publications that pay three or four times as much for a cover. 

We're also suffering from what I call "Photoshop art" being done in-house by publishers: cheap covers assembled in Photoshop using stock clip art or image-library art.The covers tend to have a generic feel about them and don't really have much to do with the contents of the book. I find that bad marketing. But I expect this is a trend in all markets, not just here.

SFR) Who do you like to work for?

No...who would I like to work for...any US publishers out there? I do a lot of film work, animation backgrounds (think Hanna Barbera, Disney... Ren & Stimpy!), models, prosthetics, matte own fine art -- whatever.

SFR) Do you have a favorite art director? 

I have three... me, myself, and I. I like Darian Causby at Harper Collins (Aust.). he lets me do anything I like. A great working relationship!

SFR) What was your best job?

The most artistically rewarding: my art direction and artwork for a TV show called "Son of Romeo." An hour of my artwork on the screen. That was good! Nearly killed me... but it was a fabulous experience. One advertising job took three days to paint and paid for a year's rent on my studio. That was nice!

SFR) How about the worst? 

Oh boy... every illustrator has so many similar horror stories. I had to do a proposed cover in ONE DAY that was meant to be done in two weeks. Looked like it too! Utter shit. Still haunts me.

I dropped another cover after putting in two weeks design work, when an art director insisted I go with a bad layout. A terrible waste of time and effort. I had a sour taste at the start of this job when the editor stated they didn't like their illustrators reading the manuscripts or speaking to the authors because they get their own ideas. "Well excuse me for having a brain and some imagination!" Their attitude totally sucked.

SFR) What is your favorite piece of your own work, and why?

I don't normally like my own work. I always think I can do better. But my last two for Harper Collins -- The Man Who Melted and Dreaming Down Under -- look great. I'm very happy with those.

SFR) Who are your favorite artists?

Tough! There's so much out there that is excellent. There's so much that influenced me.

Okay, early influences.

I love the Pre-Raphaelites. I had a big Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres thing when I was a teenager. I loved Chesley Bonestell and Albert Whitlock -- both matte artists. I wanted to be a matte painter when I was a kid. I came this close to meeting Bonestell on my first trip to the States in '86. It was all arranged and everything. A day before I flew out I received an obituary notice from his conservator. I was devastated. 

In my formative years, Chris Foss -- his sense of scale and space was so majestic. I was shocked to discover how small he worked. Bruce Pennington -- his light, colour, and sheer otherworldliness -- sigh -- and Jim Burns were also highly influential. A lot of imported English editions were dumped here in the '70s... that explains the strong British influence.

I remember buying a comic because it had a great piece of artwork on the cover. It happened to be Michael Whelan's first professional piece. So I've followed his career closely. A very distinctive, but highly emulated style. He's a dear man, and I admire and esteem him greatly. 

More recently there's H.R Giger -- a true original. Syd Mead. Bob Eggleton is now a fair dinkum mate of mine, and it was strange discovering that we paint in a very similar fashion. 

SFR) What do you think about your Hugo nomination?

It's rather puzzling. There are so many other artists out there, much better than myself. I've come close to being on the ballot before, but this is my first time on. I think it has something to do with the fact the Worldcon is in Australia this year. 

The current Worldcon membership is comprised of over two thirds American fans. As I'm totally unknown to most of them I think my chances are very slim indeed. However, that doesn't diminish the fact that I'm nominated with artists who I've admired for years. To be counted among them is very special to me.

SFR) Do you think sci-fi/fantasy artists get enough recognition?

Umm... they're probably recognized more now than ever, but you sometimes wonder whether it's still enough. I find the Hugo awards very limited in their scope. They're not really "World" SF Awards... they're really "American" SF Awards. 

Then there are all these fabulous Japanese, European, Russian artists that never get on, that never get any exposure outside their own countries. 

SFR) Do you collect art or anything else?

I have a huge collection of SF movie posters, art books, die-cast TV and film related cars, model kits, and (ahem) Titanobilia. I've been a Titanic aficionado since a small boy. I actually turned down work on the recent Cameron film due to commitments with a computer game company I was art directing. (Sob!)

I love Japanese anime stuff... I have some original Miyazaki cels and books and merchandize I collected on my two trips to Japan. Oh... I almost forgot the rubber monster thing... Godzillas and Gameras all over the house!

I have a few pieces of original artwork by some artists I really admire. I have an original Virgil Finlay painting, a little Patrick Woodruff litho, a lovely Shaun Tan painting. He's a young and gifted Australian illustrator. I also have original work by my best friends Marilyn Pride and Lewis Morley. These are my treasures.

SFR) What do you read and/or watch?

Don't have time to read anywhere near as much as I used to. I do read every manuscript that I illustrate. I really love living in the world I'm inventing. 

My current bedside reading consists of the latest issue of Cinefex, Triumph of the Straight Dope (thanks Gordon!), and a biography of Phillip Larkin.

What I'm watching on TV... Bear in the Big Blue House! Love it when he does the Bear Cha Cha Cha! He's so articulated... just delightful. Finally catching up on PeeWee's Playhouse. It never made it onto TV here until now. Really get off on the Memphis sensibilities. Dexter's Lab is the coolest! Genndy Tartakovsky shares my brain space.... Thought the animated Warner Bros. Batman had the best animation and writing on TV for decades. 

SFR) Any favorite movies?

Now this is tough! 

George Pal's films... particularly The Time Machine, War of the Worlds, and 
The Seven Faces of Dr. Lao. Kurosawa's Yojimbo, Seven Samurai. Fellini's Amacord and La Strada. Early Disney animations, all of Miyazaki's animated films. Kubrick's 2001 (a religious epiphany for me at age 12), Clockwork Orange, Barry Lyndon. Japanese monster movies... anything schlocky. 

Oh... almost forgot... Star Wars. Left me giddy with excitement.

Of the recent crop, saw Gods and Monsters a couple of days ago. I wept when "Mr. Jimmy" revealed his portraits to be nothing more than infantile scribbles after suffering a stroke and losing the capacity to draw. Boy that punched some buttons. An honest little film, as close to perfection as you could get. 

Was bitterly disappointed by Phantom Menace. It reduced archetypes to stereotypes. So juvenile. 

I'm listening to the soundtrack to Dark City as I'm writing this. Thought that was great. I've worked with director Alex Proyas over the years... doing matte paintings, cycloramas, and models for his video clips and commercials.

Music plays an integral part of my life. It dictates the mental environment I work in. I listen to music as I work, and I play it according to mood. Most of it is ambient, electronic, or soundtrack. But the mix can be quite eclectic. Kraftwerk, Blondie, Vangelis, Bowie, Eno, 
Japanese bubble-gum, cartoon themes, Thomas Tallis, Vaughn Williams, Chemical Bros, Wagner... all tossed in together. 

I have "hurry up" music I play when a deadline is looming...Horner's Wrath of Khan is a good one. His music is totally plagiarized but absolutely perfect in the context of a Star Trek film or something as emotionally manipulative as Titanic.

I love to compose my own music, but my time is so fragmented. I ache for more time to do this stuff. Interestingly Michael Whelan and Barclay Shaw share the same musical tastes and also dabble in composing. I think it engages a different part of the brain.

SFR) Do you sell your originals? 
Not unless it's been commissioned for sale, no. I tend to hold on to my originals and don't usually assign copyright. 

SFR) What would it cost to own one? 

Depends... whatcha paying? ;)

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