The Art of JP Targete

JP is an accomplished digital and traditional illustrator, concept artist and art director for books and video games with 17 years experience. He been doing illustration and concept art for book and RPG publishers, video games and production companies, and is presently working on a full colour, sci-fi fantasy graphic novel. He currently resides in southern California with his wife and son.

To create successful fantasy art requires a very particular set of skills. Along with the obvious technical ability, an artist must be able to conjure not just the odd character or structure from imagination, but an entire world.
For the likes of NCSoft, Wizards of the Coast and Fantasy Flight Games, JP Targete journeys deep into his imagination, cuts off a large chunk of the netherworld and drags it kicking and screaming into this one. At least that’s what it looks like goes into his art works.
“It’s extremely liberating working with fantastic themes,” says JP. But there’s a risk inherent in anything that requires such a deep emersion: “It can detach you from reality at times.” And with that the netherworld theory takes a step closer to becoming fact.

Reality check
Sure enough, those times of detachment are when you produce great work – the pieces that define an artist and incidentally his chosen medium – but you have to keep your balance. So JP maintains one eye on the everyday: “I try to observe the real world with both a technical and physical mindset but also in an emotional and spiritual way.”
Given JP’s aversion to the use of reference for his work, this kind of observation is central to his ability to create. Without it, he would have no raw material to work with: “I’m seeing the real world more as a giant library of sight and feeling,” he explains.
JP is developing an image of the real world as a manual: “I store the technical information regarding light, form, texture surface, colour in my mind, for later use in my imaginative stuff.” Drawn into effect during the creative process: “I’m able to bring realism and emotion to my fantasy works.”

Natural born drawer
Born in New York, JP was raised in Miami, Florida. His father is an architect and so naturally, drawing became a part of his life. “I was always fascinated with drawing,” he notes, but despite the obviously strong influence of Targete senior’s technical drawing, “I was drawing more organic and character-driven type stuff.”
This shows a degree of wilfulness that helps to explain something of JP’s subsequent development into a fantasy artist. However, art school came first, and with it recognition of the youngster’s talent: “I studied illustration at the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan on a full scholarship.”
Back in New York, JP set to work, studying the old European masters and learning the business of illustration. But the old adage is true, you learn the rules in order to break them: “School was great to learn about techniques, styles etc,” agrees JP. “But it took me a while to break out into my own style.” The route to this kind of enlightened state? “Don’t take your talent for granted and always follow your heart.”

Emergence of style

With diligence, a style will emerge. Interestingly, this happened for JP while he still worked exclusively with traditional media. This wasn’t due to any real aversion to pixels: “I would have worked digitally a while back but the tools weren’t able to mimic traditional back then.”
JP now works about half-and-half traditional to digital. Advances in software have reached the point where boundaries are blurring: “I’ve learned to imitate traditional materials with my digital work.” Given the painterly feel of his work, this is no mean feat.
The danger digital production presents to the artist is a subtle one. The availability of undo and cut ‘n’ paste creativity can lead to complacency. JP has remained alert to this, however, and uses a selection of techniques to ensure he stays fresh: “I easily tire of one process,” he declares, “because I’m always trying to find efficient or unique ways to create images.”

In the mix
Among the choices is the mix of digital to traditional: “One of the processes is I start off with an idea in my mind then do rough thumbnails with pencil. Once I have something I like I do a more worked up sketch.” This sketch, still fully traditional, is what the client will approve. Only then does production shift to the computer.
While this first approach mimics the traditional production route, at the opposite end of the spectrum, “I sometimes get an idea and just start painting digitally without a drawing or sketch; this is more intuitive and free form. The results can be unpredictable at times but also surprisingly good.” Maintaining a flexible approach means you always have options. You can look at things from more than one angle.
That brings us neatly to the question of composition: “It’s one of the key essentials to doing the type of art that I do,” adds JP. In other words, composition comes before everything else if you are going to produce an image that engages the viewer on more than one level: “You only have one image to deliver a whole story, so the composition needs to invite the viewer in and hold them a while. Long enough to tell a story.”
While that’s easy to say, it’s a skill that takes some development. “Composition is all about positioning and size relation along with the placement of key visual guides that lead the eye.” If you’re a master, “you can make the viewer look where you want them to, enabling you to tell the story from beginning to end with a single image.”

Always a storyteller
All this from a man who started out painting the covers of romance novels. JP is willing to admit: “When I look back at it now it’s pretty horrifying. I can’t believe I actually did that type of work because my present work is so far from that right now.”
At the moment, things seem to be going JPs way: “I’m a bum,” he exclaims. Not literally swigging from half-bottles and sleeping in parks, more “freelancing for video game companies such as NCSoft and doing tons of RPG illustrations.” This suits JP perfectly, “I enjoy the RPG publishing market. I find the content to be a lot looser in art direction than novels or video game art.”
And when you feel your work, it’s easier to produce something truly exiting. Or as JP puts it: “Dig deep inside and rip it out.” Sounds painful but he’s not in a joking mood: “Seriously. I try to do images as if I were a fan who just wanted to see something really different or powerful.”
The artist in this case has a responsibility to his audience. “It’s like when you go to a movie and you have certain expectations, so I try to be that fan with those high expectations.” The goal is to live up to – or even exceed – those expectations. “If I disappoint myself then I feel I’ve let down everyone looking at the image.”
All this bodes well for JP’s future plans: “I want to make my own line of graphic novels and hopefully pitch them to film makers and video game makers.” He adds, with admirable humility: “I’m rarely an artist but I’m always a storyteller.”