Artist: Bob Eggleton
by Gayle Surrette
Review by Gayle Surrette
SFRevu.com Intervew ISBN/ITEM#: AIBobEggleton
Date: 19 May 2007
Links: Bob's Website / Bob's Blog / Show Official Info /
Later, I came to realize that Bob Eggleton was better known in the science fiction and fantasy community as a fantastic artist of dragons and various monsters (Godzilla being a favorite). When seen at conventions Bob is unfailingly generous to fans and willing to share his knowledge and experience.
SFRevu: It seems odd to ask when you've been nominated this year for the Hugo Best Artist award but, do you think artist in the science fiction & fantasy area get enough recognition?
Bob Eggleton: The Hugo is a good-hearted fan award with a solid history. By no means does it mean the artists nominated or whoever wins is "better" than anyone else. It's a fan popular opinion. I mean, I have like what...nine (If you include my Best Related Book in 2001)...I've done well no matter what so no complaints. But does that make me "better" than the next guy? Of course not.. I strive to be the best artist I can be, I'm not into relay races.or anything like that. What's the point? Life is too short. I think the Chesleys are also helpful in that area of recognition for SF and Fantasy art. And the annual SPECTRUM book really puts out a good spread of yearly SF/Fantastic art that really gets around. But overall I think artists have to think outside the box, in a pop cultural way-thinking more mainstream in a sense.
SFRevu: How is the illustration market these days? Are there more or less jobs than when you started?
Bob: I would say less overall. That said, I have nine covers to do! What's happened is the business has changed. Small Press-Golden Gryphon, Night Shade, Subterranean Press, Pyr... have all stepped in to publish those books that the "big publishers" by BIG authors that are sometimes not considered "marketable" any more. It's hard for a larger publisher to develop, say a new and promising author because it takes time and building of popularity to sell more and more books. The days of Don Wollheim, Lester Del Rey and John W. Campbell are really gone. But all is not lost…
SF started out from the small press didn't it? So we're just going back to where we started. For the artist this has one very big advantage-small press books fill a niche. Golden Gryphon can sell out a volume of short stories. Say they publish an edition of 2000 copies. And 2000 sell out it's a hit book! But if some large publisher did it they'd have to do 10,000 copies and if they still sold 2000, for their bottom line that means a bad selling book. And it's not the case at all because it might be a terrific book. For the artist, it means, that he can do a cover that reflects more the book's content rather than something weird and obscure. The fans of that writer will buy that book anyway so it has a built in audience. And small press books are books that are nice to own. That said, there are some terrific "Big book" looking covers (TOR Books for instance) and in the right context, it's a good thing.
I was struck by the death of Jim Baen last year. He really was a mentor to me in this business. I did my first work for him and he told me how covers should work. Baen is keeping some of the greatest Golden Age authors in print, to their credit. I am doing two Heinleins for them now. That's part of my personal mission, to help these classics stay in print and around. I mean, the way it's going some authors will just be forgotten in 100 years!!!
SFRevu: I first learned about you from your astronomical landscapes but you're most known for dragons, godzilla, and monsters. What is it about the big guys that keeps you interested?
Bob: There's a connection between Astronomical art, and Godzilla…bear with me.
Godzilla is a statement about the abuse of nuclear energy. The original Gojira is perhaps a masterpiece and, I really can't tell people enough to pick it up on DVD and see it as it was meant to be seen, without Raymond Burr and in subtitles, and not the "sanitized" US version (which the set includes for posterity). The sequels, take them as you will, are what they are, but he changed with the times and what was popular. Not one of the films is boring. But you can't compare say the original Gojira in 1954, with say Godzilla VS Megalon in 1973--which was a superhero monster film which was a product of it's time--a lower budget thanks to an ebb in the Japanese film industry and, the TV popularity of giant robots and silvery super heroes (like ULTRAMAN). He was a mythic monster that became part of popular culture in and of himself. I don't think he would have been remembered if he had not changed.
Overall, I love monsters-huge dinosaurs, HP Lovecraft creatures and so on. Dragons are an extension of that. They're amazing mythological beasts, their origins swathed in the mist of time. I love that kind of legendary stuff. How a giant sea-going crocodile showing up in a medieval, coastal English village is widely believed to be the "Dragon" who was the source of the "St George and The Dragon" legend. Purely from a standpoint of art, I am fascinated with sheer scale. Something as vast as Godzilla, or as vast as a mountain or as vast.....as a planet or as vast as space. I can connect the dots in this abstract way. And it comes down to scale. Keep in mind I love alot of films...Alot of monster films like the first King Kong film...all the Harryhausen ones. Giant bug movies--Them!, Tarantula, etc. Then I'll turn around and watch 2001: A Space Odyssey.
I was looking at the wonderful photos being sent back from Cassini/Huygens out at Saturn. I can sit there and get inspired to do some kind of space painting based on that, and yet in the same sitting, I can draw up a idea...It's all back to...scale and vastness
The thing is, that shots from Cassini, Hubble, etc. have largely replaced space art as we know it. So it was time to do other things. Oh, I still do some space paintings, but only when I see that the given subject would make a nice painting and I can bring more of a cosmological or even mythological viewpoint to it rather than scientific. As Crosby Still Nash & Young sang..."We are Stardust...Billion year old Carbon".
SFRevu: What have you been doing lately? Book and magazine covers, I imagine but what else has been on your plate?
Bob: Ten covers...no, nine, I just finished one. Some dragons for this elaborate French gallery art book, some private commissioned work and, I have a blog where I do my "Painting for the Day" (more in a minute) which can be something amazing and SFnal or something as prosaic as a landscape or seascape. The idea is just to make a painting in a set period of time. I have also been writing non-fiction articles. I did one for the David Brin -edited King Kong is Back and, I'm a sometimes-columnist for Imagine FX, a really classy high-end British digital (and traditional) SF/Fantasy art magazine. I love doing film design work, so I can tell you more of that is coming too. I'll also be part of an expensive-but stunning "The Art of HP Lovecraft" book from Centipede Press who produces these knock out books. I admit I like writing, but mostly non-fiction reviews, articles. It is another side to me and can lead to some confusion....
I want to make a small public service announcement here--I'm not "Robert Eggleton" the writer who has been, I hear, sometimes inappropriately emailing his book or parts of it, around to every agent, editor or blog he can find. We're two different people despite in a few instances he seems to have not been up front with that info. He's from Virginia and there's been some confusion. I'm not him, believe me and I want to make that very clear. He's been told repeatedly he needs to get a nom de plume or, use his middle name in his sig. There was a bit of confusion I had to sort out, and indeed some editors and agents wrote me asking if it was me, and having the feeling it wasn't anyway.
SFRevu: Lots of artists now-a-days are turning to digital art as a way to put the picture in their minds onto 'paper'. What are you thoughts on the digital art scene?
Bob: Well, I was just GIVEN, by happenstance, some expensive equipment- a large Wacom tablet and art pen, and I have the programs anyway. So that saved me a fortune! But I want to play around with it, because there are some amazing artists out there who do digital work. You can do some stunning images. If you work in film concept art, it's almost an essential. Alas, the downside is they are just images, as no "painting" exists, so the one-of-a-kindness is not there. It's a two edged sword. However, the market for selling original paintings will always be there and will increase with more digital art being done-less actual paintings. But you can scan in an original pencil drawing, for instance, and just layer in wild colors and ways of looking at it. If you don't like it, just hit "undo" and you still have your original drawing. Digital has it's own properties and, if the artist is good, such as Rick Berry, Todd Lockwood, or Jon Foster...the style and talent will transcend the medium. That's the key.
SFRevu: Whose art inspires you?
Bob: Where do I start? How high is up? J.M.W. Turner, John Constable, Gustave Dore, Frederic Church, Arnold Bocklin, John Martin, Thomas Cole. Contemporaries include Robert Bateman, Stephen Hannock and Yoshitaka Amano. I can remember sitting in The Tate Gallery last Sept in London, in one room surrounded by Turners. His greatest works and I was speechless. I was totally in this....religious state. So we came back the next day to take it all in!
SFRevu: What do you find helps sell your work? Is it a particular style, subject, or something else?
Bob: Well, people like "a Bob Eggleton" whatever that is! Recently I have started working again in oils. Richer nicer, work than what I was doing with the acrylics. I'm really happy with the results of this newer technique. In truth I did this 27 years ago in art school, but got into acrylics for commercial reasons. I always also try to be experimental and, doing something different. It keeps me interested and thus, this keeps the viewers interested! I think because I do lots of subjects...just to keep variety going, it has worked against me in some regards, as people love pigeonholing. I even get people saying "Oh doesn't he just paint dinosaurs or Godzilla?" which really is a narrow view thing to say. I got out of airbrushing for health reasons. I was getting a lot of colds and sinus issues. So I stopped using it and just painted without it and my work just improved 100%, along with the health!!
SFRevu: It seems from talking to various artists that artists need to also be skilled business people in order to keep the jobs coming in. Do you think that's a fair statement? How do you balance the art vs the business of art?
Bob: Well, I have to be creative. What else would I do? I'm born to paint. When I die they'll have to pry the brush from my cold dead fingers! LOL! It's not about money, etc. I just couldn't work doing something I hated. That's slow suicide.
The thing is, to always stay in touch with people and make pictures no matter what. From a business standpoint, always get and keep receipts-for books, travel, reference, supplies. And you have to diversify. Meaning, do alot of things. I have gone off into doing landscapes and have been pretty successful selling them via the net and galleries.
It is a whole new avenue. It works to make me observe the world we live in, and when you can make that look great, your fantastical stuff will seem all the better set off by that! I find I have to get into the zone, and it's tough, especially these days of distractions. But when I am there....it's amazing. But in the end, it always works out. I think if you are meant to do art, you will. The universe will see to it as crazy as that sounds.
SFRevu: How do you recharge yourself to keep the creativity flowing?
Bob: Honestly, one habit is to try and take weekends off. I mean, as in, not "work". I recommend this to all artists. And the paintings for the day-I try to start-and finish-one little painting each day and blog it. Many have sold as I price them all from $100-$250. But the paintings on the blog enable me to re-connect with just doing the act of creating in paint, and finishing it. Some of them are failures, many are successes. But I start and finish most of them in an hour or so. Sometimes there are breaks between the paintings, and so I post my latest projects with sketches and such. When I get into the right place, it's very hypnotic and trance-like. My wife and I are also doing Yoga and, have gotten into an exercise program to lose weight and keep fit. Your health is everything. We're fortunate to live near a wonderful coastline and sometimes I'll do that-sit on the rocks, watch sunsets, connect with it all.
I have also cut back on convention attending this year. My Mom had some health issues and family is first, so I had to regretfully bow out of some AGoH stints. She's on the mend now, happily! But conventions take a lot out of me. Just schlepping the art...checking in and out of hotels...airports and such. As such, I turn down a lot of invites, as much as I would be flattered to attend. But I try and make it to the large ones--Worldcons and World Fantasy. I also go to Chiller Theatre which is this monster-movie convention in New Jersey, and it's a blast.
SFRevu: What's the last 5 books you read for pleasure? And, what the last 5 films that you saw?
Bob: Well, I can tell you what I'm reading The Art of War and Vonnegut's works Cat's Cradle and Sirens of Titan and am re-reading At the Mountains of Madness and books by Lovecraft. Pleasure reading is VERY slow for me!
Films-I saw 28 Weeks Later (Excellent), Children of Men (Excellent), V For Vendetta (Excellent), Grindhouse (Fun) and F For Fake a great Orson Welles documentary from 1974 about art forgery and our perceptions of that which is a lie and that which is genuine. I have something like 3000 DVDs so I often watch a film while working. Usually I listen to the commentary, if there is one, and it's a great way to do that, especially if you have seen the film before.
SFRevu: Do you collect art as well as produce it? And, do you paint just for assignments or do you also create for your own enjoyment?
Bob: I have a couple of pieces, but not much. It's tough enough housing my own work and of course my wife is a painter so we have hers as well.
SFRevu: Will you be going to Japan for the World Science Fiction convention this year? If so, will you be visiting the cities that Godzilla so frequently stomps through?
Bob: Yes! We're going with friends who include filmmaker John A. Davis and his wife. John and I are like creative soul mates. I worked on his films, Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius and The Ant Bully as a concept artist. He's scripted and is developing his first live action films, and I can't say anything save that the SF world is going to flip when they hear the properties because he's a big fan and wants to retain all of the integrity of the properties. Of course, I have been helping him with those as well, as kind of a visual consultant. We have alot of friends in Japan--some of whom made the Godzilla movies--Shinichi Wakasa is a good friend. He's built the suits to several Godzilla films, including the 2002 one where I was an extra, Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla. The plan is to go to Mt Fuji beforehand and get some "zen" of the area. I have been to Japan five times before and it's just an amazing country in so many ways. There is one stop on one of the city train lines...and the doors open and you hear the Astro boy theme playing and you get told by a friend "In the original anime, he was born here, fictionally". And you think "WOW! Where the hell would you hear that here?" and you see commuters checking their cell phones and all and going about business and this theme playing. It's an amazing country of history and popular culture that blend in this wild way.
SFRevu: Thanks for taking the time to answer our questions.
Bob: No problem! Always enjoyable. And keep on enjoying what pictures I make...it's a wild ride for me.