Anthony S. Waters
Washington-based freelance artist Anthony has worked for many famous companies including Wizards of the Coast, (Magic: the Gathering), Lucasfilm (Star Wars: Episode II) and EA (James Bond).
Software used: Photoshop, PainterWeb:www.thinktankstudios.com
Finding a path to fantasy art takes many forms, Anthony’s was a gradual transition, and probably a route familiar to many. “I remember it being a steady progression from wildlife art to sharks, to dinosaurs, to dragons,” he says. “It’s not such a big leap from dinos to dragons, I suppose, nor sharks to dinos.”
It’s almost a logical progression, but the catalyst was fear. “My interest in sharks was kindled by the film Jaws, which traumatised the living daylights out of me,” Anthony explains. Exploring his reaction, Anthony reached for pen and paper, and sharks have been battling this smear on their character ever since. “Maybe drawing about sharks helped me to chew up some of that fear.”
Dungeons & Dragons happened next, introducing Anthony to the work of Errol Morris and Jeff Easley, which, he says, had a particular influence on him, and Frank Frazetta. “Frank led me to Pyle, Wyeth, Wrightson, Parrish and Kaluta, A whole world of possibilities was opened to me.”Artist
While the evolution of a fantasy artist can be traced easily enough, Anthony finds the original creative impulse is harder to pin down, and admits that he’s unable to point to any one moment of his life when he decided that he wanted to be an artist.
There’s some indication of an early tendency to make use of crayons, but Anthony plays the modesty card by suggesting his artistic talent simply fills a void: “It’s a good thing I’m able to make a living as an artist, since I stink at most other stuff!”
The ‘most other stuff’ that people are so often obsessed with is very often what they’ve been programmed to want. On the other hand fantasy, by definition, requires an exercise of the imagination. As Anthony puts it: “An image should do more than tell the viewer ‘this is what a monster looks like’. It should forge some form of gut connection with the subject.”Back and forth
So Anthony spent most of his childhood learning how to draw, attending the odd class here and there. His family moved around a lot when he was young, so teachers weren’t always easy to come by, and the connection was forged directly between artist and medium.
“I love drawing with pencil or pen,” says Anthony. “That’s usually the way I start, by noodling around until I get a solid idea and a good composition.” The rough gets scanned, resized and printed, then: “I do a quick trace-off from that rough, and then work-up a nice tight underdrawing to work from.” This becomes the basis of a painting.
The process is interesting for the way it moves back-and-forth between digital and analog. In a similar way to squinting, or closing one eye repeatedly, it serves to develop a balanced picture of your subject, adding poise to the final image. “Poise is one of those qualities you may acquire as you go along,” agrees Anthony, “but it’s a harder thing to seek out as a hallmark.”Emotional level
What really counts is storytelling. “It’s a key issue in my approach,” says Anthony. “Artists are visual storytellers.” A painting, he believes, should be more than the sum of its technically accomplished whole. “You should be left wondering what just happened, or what’s about to happen.”
To generate this reaction the artist needs narrative skills. “When I’m doing more than straight concept work (for a client or myself) I aim to create an image that engages on some emotional level,” says Anthony.
He developed his own narrative skills alongside his art at college. “I had a pair of amazing art teachers, one of whom, Paul Sparks, taught me as much about writing as art, and I grew a great deal during that time.” It wasn’t until later that Anthony began attending art schools: “Looking back on it, I’d recommend searching out a good art college if art’s what you want to make a living from.”Ambition
When Anthony’s not busy providing visual magicianship for the likes of WotC, Lucasfilm and EA, there’s a hint of plans afoot, although he remains pretty cagey: “I try to hold most of my personal goals close to my chest; if you talk about a thing too much, you often end up not doing it at all.”
That’s understandable, although most people find it difficult to hold a poker face for too long. Anthony is adamant, however. “It’s better to set a schedule and start babbling when you have something to show,” he insists.
Eventually, though, he relents a little. “I’ll provide a teaser. I’ve got two projects in the works that’ll end up in book form.” Anthony S. Waters – novelist, screenwriter, director? “I’m busy at work on the first two!” Style
In the search for narrative, Anthony believes that style cannot be allowed to rule over substance, and he almost has an allergic reaction to the suggestion that he might have a ‘style’ of his own. “I honestly don’t think I’ve got a style,” he says. “It’s not something I’ve been crafting consciously. I just see my answer to a given visual problem.”
To Anthony, style is something quite separate from art. “Style can even get in the way of your art, by causing you to develop, and come to rely on, visual shortcuts.” It becomes, he adds, a shorthand for laziness. “You stop taking the time to figure out how morning light falls on snow, or what a night-time scene in a village should look like.”
Instead of getting out there and joining up the gaps in your skills, he goes on, “you start relying on what knowledge you have in your head to make a stab at the challenge, and use style to gloss over the ignorance.” This, he believes, is the enemy of promise. “From that standpoint, style scares me.”
That said, Anthony admits that he doesn’t actively avoid having a style, but adds that the creative demands of being a concept artist encourage him to find alternate ways to frame his work. The main thing, he says, is “to try and make sure I don’t get caged.”Hold tight
Given such potential pitfalls, how can the artist remain focused? Anthony is clear: “The main thing to keep in mind when you’re creating a work of art is what are you trying to say?” If you’ve gone to the trouble of devising a story, he believes it only makes sense to let it do the work it was born for – giving your image a purpose, a life.
“I try to hold on to that thought from start to finish,” he adds. “At the beginning the connection’s pretty clear. You’re at the fun part, generating the ideas, and that’s when the meaning of what you’re going for is hanging right in front of you.”
But as a particular piece of work progresses, he adds, it’s easy to become distracted. “It’s when you start thinking about colour choices and rendering that you can lose track of that underpinning value: what you’re trying to express.”
Anthony believes this to be the last big obstacle an artist has to overcome. “Once you’ve managed to get technique tucked comfortably under your belt, you can get lost in the act of painting,” he says. “You no longer penetrate the surface of your work, you become a technician, and you lose track of what you were trying to say.”Themes
So just what is Anthony trying to say? He gives us a cheery selection of subjects that go towards inspiring him: “Alienation, isolation, anger aimed inward and outward, love, sacrifice and loss. Those things interest me most.” Essentially, these are the ingredients of the human condition; the raw materials of a Sartre novel. “Sometimes I wonder if I’m actually a Russian,” muses Anthony, somewhat cryptically. “Or maybe it’s the Viking blood in me.”
In truth there’s not really any need for him to try to explain. These are some of the themes which art has attempted to address since humans first start drawing on the walls of caves. “I’m less interested in blood and thunder than in those things that pull us apart,” explains Anthony. “How much of that is a reflection of my own inner turmoil, I’m not sure.”