Artist: Dave Seeley
by Gayle Surrette
SFRevu.com Interview ISBN/ITEM#: A-DSEELEY
Date: October 2006 / Show Official Info /
SFRevu: I've always liked your art because it seems you could actually live in it whether spaceship, building, city, or where ever the background was placed. Do you think your training in architecture has helped in adding that extra level of 'reality' to your work? How you feel it's helped with technique, perspective, or subject matter?
Dave Seeley: Yeah...certainly being fluent with creating environments has been a huge asset for me. That's a significant part of the thrill I get out of making genre images, so hopefully in the end....that shows. I'm also a big fan of great spatial photography, and find it inspirational for my work. It's great to shoot some juicy architectural imagery and then push it around to enhance the spatial depth, and atmospheric effect. As to whether the background in architecture is what has fueled the imagery, it may be more a "chicken and egg" thing, where it may be the other way round and the love of spatial imagery is just one of the kernels that sent me to architecture in the first place, and will influence me in any creative endeavor I'm immersed in. I'm currently working on a bunch of movie concepts for two historical pieces, and I'm having a great time of it.
SFRevu: You got into Science Fiction/Fantasy art via collecting. Do you still collect art? What do you collect and why do you collect it?
Dave: I still collect, though on a smaller scale.... one of the hard truths of the industry is that the relative value of this field is less than many other professions, architecture included. There was an income hit involved in the career shift, so I can't collect to the degree that I used to. As to the WHAT.... I go for paintings that give me that visceral gut thing... I was initially attracted to this genre by the work of Rick Berry and Phil Hale, and I have several from each....but I had more cash when I first came in contact with them. I like beautifully painted pieces, and tend toward figure work. WHY? hmmm.... that may be a personality thing. I place a very high value on art in the overall scheme of things....one of the major things that make life worthwhile, so having pieces of art that I love seems like the fetishistic realization of that feeling of preciousness.
SFRevu: What's your favorite piece of art that you've done? Is it your most recent or something older?
Dave: Hmmm.... I've only been at this for a little over a decade, so recent would mean the last two years? I feel like the work I've done in the last three years has been stronger than previous work, though there are older pieces that are still dear to me. It's also very hard to separate the degree of satisfaction that I feel from a piece, and how much I like the image as a picture only. The satisfaction often comes from some aspect of the piece that I feel was a breakthrough for me. For example, the face on this bookcover for Marque and Reprisal is a good example, so this one ranks at or near the top for me.... (You can see more detail of the face in this version of the image.)
Here's a few of my most favorites of late...StarWars : The Healer, Engaging the Enemy, The Affinity Trap, Dark Crusade, and Trading in Danger. [Note: These are newer works than the images shown below. gs]
Here's a few recent favorites that aren't yet on my web site:
SFRevu: Do you work only on assignments or do you also work on things just because you want to do it or try it?
Dave: I always have the "do or try" images going, and I've come to see them as critical for personal growth. They will be sidelined as important deadlines come and go, but those images allow you a degree of risk taking that assigned work may not. Also it allows you to keep developing images that are exactly what you WANT to be doing, and then those can be front and center in your portfolio, so you're attracting the work you WANT to do most.
SFRevu: When you are given an assignment, what's your usual work schedule like?
Dave: Depending on what market you are working in it can be different, but for book jackets, it goes like this. I'l spend the better part of a week pushing imagery around to come up with the best concept I like for an assignment, and then run a rough color draft (sketch?) by the art director. Given the reaction, I'll either start that over, or modify the pieces direction, or in the best case scenario, just sprint on ahead after an unqualified green light. Typically I'll sink another week in to developing a piece. I can then send another draft and finish it up digitally if the deadline requires it, but if there is time and inclination on both my part, and my AD's, I'll have a big archival print made (+ 5 days), mount the print on a panel and prep the surface (+ 1 day), and then go after the piece with oil paint (5-8 days). At that point, I will spend another day to shoot the piece and put it back into my computer to make any final value and color tweaks before it is sent off for print. Obviously this adds a bunch of time to the job, but it's a pretty satisfying process, and yields an original piece of art that is great to have and show (and sell). If I know at the outset that I will go this route, I can leave a piece less finished in it's digital form, and there can be some time savings there.
SFRevu: I know most people wonder about this and you've done a lot of book covers. When assigned a book cover do you even get to read the book first, or do you just have a quick blurb and some ideas to work with? How does a book cover evolve for the artist?
Dave: It varies with the job. I like to read the book when its available because when I read, there is a movie in my head....all visuals. I thought that this was the same for everyone, but my wife, who is a reading machine, and total verbal brained type, dispelled me of that notion. So when I put the book down, I have a visual world already intact that I can draw from. Sometimes the manuscript is in process and there is no book at the time you do your work. In that case, you go with whatever subject requirements your client has (or doesn't have), and create the rest on the fly. There may be a one page summary or a request for "a futuristic James Bond" kind of thing. Illustrators must always be prepared to fill in the blanks, be they small details or the vast entirety of an image. That can be a very satisfying route to take, though often there ends up being a conflict in the picture with the final story, and that can result in your needing to make changes, or fans feeling somehow "duped". I just did the follow up to Robert Charles Wilson's Hugo winner Spin, and I got a loose sketch from the designer with a spacescape and a spaceship. We spent a week developing a rough with that, and sent it up the ladder only to be directed to "lose the spaceship". It was a combination of liking the spacescape alot, and direction from the editor that there was no space ship in the story (to date). It happens more often than you'd think. There's also been a few times that I've read the most recent draft of the book, and made suggestions that resulted in changes to the final version. That can be a fun collaborative thing.
> SFRevu: What's your favorite subjects to work on?
Dave: Obviously I love the environments and the tech, but I live for the figure work. I think I get the biggest satisfaction buzz from doing the characters.
SFRevu: You do a lot of digital as well as some unplugged work. I noticed from your website that the stuff you do 'unplugged' is a lot darker thematically than your digital work. Am I just being swayed by the darker colors or is there something to that...
Dave: You know....the short answer might be that the unplugged work on my site is largely older work. I started out doing traditional media work when I broke into the business with Collectible Card Games (CCG's), and shortly thereafter began incorporating digital work. There was a period of several years where I did pieces entirely from photo collage and digital painting, and in the last several years, I've been physically painting on digital print "underpaintings". My site is inexcusably overdue for an update, and I may need to change the structure given that my paradigm is evolving. I'll now almost always do the exploring for a piece in the computer, and even when, from time to time, I paint over the entire underpainting, I still feel like the piece is not "unplugged" because it could not have evolved this way without the computer. Here's a few examples of pieces that are entirely oil, but done over a digital photo collage: (also see Elysium above) Coteries Invictus and Coteries Circle of the Crone.
SFRevu: Whose art inspires you? Old masters or new -- just what artists to do find inspiration with?
Dave: By way of boosting my direct competition...Rick Berry and Phil Hale remain extremely inspirational. I share a "virtual studio" via email with a bunch of current artists that I think are some of the best in the biz....and they are a constant inspiration, including Stephan Martiniere, Donato Giancola, and Jon Foster. I'm also a huge fan of Dave McKean, John Palencar, Ashley Wood, Robert McGinnis and Kent Williams.
Fine artist inspiration from Odd Nerdrum, Mark Tansey, Caravaggio, John Singer Sargeant, Andrew Wyeth, Robert Graham, Egon Schiele. You'll notice that many of my current inspirations have taken lots of inspiration from this line-up as well.
I'm also very inspired by movies. I think that the film world gets the lions share of the today's fantastical visionaries.
SFRevu: Do you think artists in this field (SF/F) get enough recognition? Why or why not?
Dave: I'm really not qualified to judge what "enough" would be. It's very nice when people I think are the best...get recognized, but we all have out biases, and I'm well aware that mine doesn't usually fall into the "popular" realm. Personally it's great to GET recognition...and that can be a wonderful source of creative fuel. Certainly our little SF corner of culture is pretty limited, so there doesn't seem to be enough market for lots of projects I'd like to see happen. Again from a personal perspective, I've now had three publishers approach me about doing a monograph, only to have each one dry up or get gun shy, when they either began to fold as a result of meager sales on previous monograph projects, or began to research what sales would be likely in breaking into art monograph sales. Clearly in the fairly small world of Science Fiction enthusiasts, only an even smaller subset really get excited about the art. Science Fiction art used to be a small ghetto within the world of main stream illustration, but I think that has been changing. Juried annuals like Spectrum, and more recently, Ballistic Publishing's Expose have done a lot to change that. Even the traditionally stodgy Society of Illustrators have begun to warm up to SF art.
SFRevu: What are your hobbies, or pursuits other than your work?
Dave: Weeeeellllllllll...... Before I became a full time illustrator I DID have hobbies. I used to be an avid amateur painter, woodworker, photographer, comics collector, and traveller. I even got a lot of exercise. My life now is almost all work, though that is not always a bad thing, and you can see that several hobbies were semi-incorporated in the new gig. My illustration career is also not coincidentally concurrent with my stint as a parent, so the combination of those two pursuits has put the hobby thing in stasis. Maybe when I retire....
SFRevu: What's the last 5 books you read? Movies? How do you spend your down time to re-energize to work again?
Dave: Down time?????! Not including the books I've read for work... and all these as audio-books (while I paint).
SFRevu: Dave, thanks again for your time.