7 Questions with cover artist Amy Houser
We interviewed all the writers earlier in the Kickstarter, now it's cover artist Amy Houser's turn:
1. What drives you to
Ha, oh, simple question, right? I think I just create because it's what I do. I can't remember a time I didn't draw, or want to make things real that I saw in my head. I grew up encouraged to be an artist, because my parents are great. Once I realized I could do this and other people maybe wanted to look at what I created, I was set on a path and never wanted to do anything else. It's hard to put my finger on WHY I love it and continue to do it ... there are a lot of little reasons, but the big reason is that I can't NOT. I know that's not really an answer. I'll tell you when I find out myself. :)
2. What is your
favorite kind of art or illustration to look at?
It's really all over the place -- I feel like artists NEED to surround themselves in as much art of varied form as possible to be able to open up and explore or evolve in different ways they might not have thought about.
Of course I'm influenced by nouveau and late 19th century to early 20th illustrator/advertisers like Alphonse Mucha and N.C. Wyeth., but as I work primarily in watercolor, I'm particularly influenced by the children’s' book illustrations of Edmund Dulac, Arthur Rackham, and the like. Rackham's illustrations for "Peter Pan in the Kensington Gardens" came to me at the perfect time in my life and were tremendously influential in helping me develop expression and color palette in my own way.
I've got a bookshelf of art books in my studio of this sort of work, but there's also architecture, photography and gaming books (RPG illustration is where I've gotten my start, and it's full of hidden gems and the beginnings of really amazingly talented and well-known current illustrators like Tony DiTerlizzi and Rebecca Guay).
I mean, I've got daVinci prints in my studio too. It's all over the place. It takes a world of influence to get the creative gears moving, sometimes.
3. Are those the same
kind of illustrations that you do yourself?
Influences are needed and awesomely inspiring, but in the end, you need to listen to your own voice and work from the gut. You can definitely see my influences in my work -- I love watercolor, and I look to the people who have mastered it before me to know how to handle certain challenges -- but I try very hard to make sure my own hand and voice is the one that comes across in the work.
I love the architectural details in Nouveau work, and I don't want to lose the influences of that. I love the mechanical details of daVinci and I know that will always continue in my work. It's too fun not to paint that stuff. But daVinci never made a robot butler, so, I'm safe.
4. What are your
favorite kinds of stories?
Oh man. This is a tough one. In a general way, I like mythologies, all kinds. I love the stories that suggest WHY something is the way it is. The raven steals the Sun, and now his feathers are forever charred and black. Rome WAS in fact founded by twins raised by a she-wolf. Stuff like that. I like the idea that there was once something simple and symbolic that caused reality as we know it to be, even though things are complex and taken for granted now.
I love modern magic, because it's nice to think there's more hiding under the surface of our normal world.
I love stories that make me think there's more out there than anyone knows about.
5. You also work as a
toy designer. How did you end up doing that?
Funny enough, all my toy design training is from on-the-job experience. I went to school for illustration. After graduation, my brother (a graphic designer as well) mentioned that his company was looking for a toy designer. His boss interviewed me because, while he knew people who could design a competent and structurally-sound chair, he needed an illustrator's hand to make a PRETTY one that would make a little girl feel like a princess. All of a sudden, I was working for a major toy company, working on big licenses and going out to California and to China to develop multi-million dollar lines. It's a weird world.
I'm a freelance designer now, and I love designing for all different clients and working on really unique start-up concepts and developed licenses alike. I've been able to continue to do this work while developing an entirely different illustration career, and it's nice to have both going at the same time. I get to illustrate for stories and games that make me happy, and also get to design toys for kids and make THEM happy. Win, win.
6. What kinds of toys
do you design?
I've worked on a lot of licensed toy lines, like Barbie, Disney Princess, Disney Fairies, My Little Pony, Mr. Potatohead, Mickey Mouse, Star Wars ... but I've also done a lot of learning and creative toys, like for Crayola and Discovery. I do a lot of role-play, which is the category of toys that let kids pretend they're doing something (like being an explorer, a princess, a superhero). A lot of it is based on being a character from a movie, but kids take those archetypes and have free, creative play. That's really important to children’s' development as individuals, so I love it.
7. Do you have a
favorite toy that you've designed?
There's this plush toy concept I designed for a pitch to a major toy company -- I called it Stuft, and it was a series of hollow plush animals that nested by being "devoured"; the worm gets eaten by the bird, the bird gets eaten by the cat. Silly, gross, fun. Kids love gross! So the toy company wasn't sure about it, since it WAS a bit gross. It got shelved. Lo and behold, a year later, a totally different toy company came out with an extremely similar concept. Better yet, it sold extremely well, and even won a Toy of The Year award (a pretty big industry accolade). I privately like to think of that as my informal TOTY award. It makes me happy that the idea I had did so well, even though I wasn't the one to execute it.
I mean, you can't get mad. That sort of coincidence happens a lot in toys. Industry secrets and theft are out there, but sometimes it's just a coincidence. I just wish I'd made mine happen first. I'm sure the company it was pitched to might think that too. Next time, I guess. * grin *
Amy Houser is an illustrator and toy designer who has created for such companies as Disney, Mattel, Hasbro, Evil Hat Productions, Penny Dreadful Productions, and more. Her illustrations have been seen on Tor.com and in such games as Do: Pilgrims of the FlyingTemple, Suzerain, and the Dresden Files RPG. She is currently working on a webcomic, “REMNANT”, to be released in 2012. She sleeps little, drinks much coffee, and enjoys her rare free time with her husband in their lovely, occasionally-underwater Victorian outside of Philadelphia, Pa. She also produced and narrated the Kickstarter project video. Twitter: @amylikestodraw Website: amyhouser.com