onsdag 13 augusti 2014

Interview with John Avon

Well guys, here it is, my interview with the great John Avon. Due to John's health condition, he doesn't usually do interviews anymore, so this is truly an exclusive. I really hope you'll enjoy it! :)

The official Swedish version is found on www.svenskamagic.com .


August: Hello, John. On behalf of the Scandinavian Magic the Gathering community I'd like to thank you for this opportunity. Your art is very popular over here and it is indeed an honor!

John Avon: I am honored that my work is popular. :)

Au: We are very familiar with your art and name, but how would you choose to present yourself? Who is John Avon?

JA: I am just a normal person, who happens to do a rather unusual job. I am a 'working' artist, who needs to support a family that includes two teenage sons. For me, my typical day does certainly include trying to produce another painting, to a high standard, but also the need to earn enough to pay for our house and living needs. I think sometimes people have a romantic notion of artists who just live to work. This will be true for some, but in my world, yes the artwork is very important, but I also need to keep another eye on all the other aspects of being a human being. Only in recent years have I been able to earn a decent amount from my art as fees can often be quite low. Also my technique is very detailed, so each painting takes a long time!
For most of my life, I have had the health condition Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (basically I am tired much of the day) and my immune system is not quite as good as it might be! However I have had huge amounts of determination and just keep going! As I accept what I have, it has been my greatest teacher and I have learned so much about health and psychology, simply as I had no choice. So much of my day is also about trying to pace myself and keep an eye on stress.

Au: When I wrote the questions for this interview, I wasn't aware of your health condition. Suddenly I see your career and extensive body of work in a whole new light. I find your story truly inspiring! It's comforting that one could face such challenges and still succeed.

JA: I have recently been very honest about my health problems and moved more from seeing it as 'wrong' to 'acceptance of what is' and trying to work with what I have as opposed to what I have not. We live in a compare and contrast world where men need to be big and strong. I am big and tired, so it's easy for me to be ashamed. BUT, and this is a HUGE 'but', as I have achieved so much in my life, I have noticed over the years that people find me inspiring. I now see that it is because I just 'keep going' and any kind of 'giving up' is not an option. As by 'working' and in my case 'creating' you heal anyway. Though it is great to achieve and I am lucky to have done what I have done, it is the life lessons you learn on the way, that you can share with others- these are the most satisfying. For everyone has some form of suffering in their lives and we all have a choice to grow or sink. I have had times when I can't bare how I physically feel but I have always come back stronger and wiser. Then I can help others even more- as I have been there myself.

Au: I find it very admirable how openly you talk about this. Thank you for sharing that with us.
Let's start at the beginning. Like most other children you drew and painted, but somehow you moved on to become a professional artist. In the biography on your website, you describe the support you had from adults in your life. How important is the support of parents, teachers and the like to the creativity of a child?

JA: My parents always encouraged me to do what was right- for ‘me’, as opposed to naturally assuming I would follow my dad and his building company. I was lucky, as being a very creative child, though this was the early 60s, I was largely left to my own thing. Even when playing in rock bands, my dad would lend me his van and they would come to my gigs (even if it was way too loud for them). Basically my parents always showed interest in my art and have been proud all along the way. Though my dad has been dead for many years, I know he would be very proud at the recent success of my book campaign on Kickstarter “Journeys To Somewhere Else” celebrating 30 years of my artwork. They certainly gave me the wings to fly! I have also had the good fortune of great art teachers, who were very positive and inspiring- helping me through so much early doubt and insecurity.
Au: Your Kickstarter campaign exceeded it's goal by 66 000 pounds. A huge success, wouldn't you say?

JA: The Kickstarter campaign for my book was an amazing and equally exhausting experience. I only could have done this with my incredible friend and agent Guy Coulson. It is every artist's dream to have a collected works book and it will be so incredible to share 30 years of my art. For me it will be the closing of a chapter in my life, as another one opens. I feel the best is still to come and I look forward to the next 30 years. :)

Au: So do I!
Recently, the final chapter in another book ended, as the world saw the passing of H.R. Giger. As a fantasy artist, what's your view of his work?

JA: I love Giger! Got his first art book about the drawings from Alien and a real inspiration. I love his sense of threat and danger, but beauty and classical form. Ok, some of the symbolism is rather odd, but a great man.

Au: Early in your career, you painted book covers for world famous authors such as Terry Pratchett and Stephen King. Can you tell us more about these particular commissions?

JA: When I got the call to illustrate Terry Pratchett, I had not even heard of him! My friends seemed very impressed, but to me it was just another job- I just got paid a tiny bit more. Illustrating for Stephen King and Arthur C. Clarke, was VERY exciting as I was a big fan of both authors. It was also terrifying as suddenly the pressure was even higher to perform ‘even higher’. For me, the more successful I have become, the more expectation has risen, and it’s tough to work in your top 5% of ability. They say, your only as good as your last job, and in many ways it’s true. To this day, I am always afraid of failure and am driven to push even harder- rather a challenge with my health being not ideal. :/

Au: When I started playing Magic back in 1994, the artwork was what caught my attention. Through the last 20 years, Magic has become huge and it now has millions of players across the world. The game mechanics obviously have a great part in this, but do you think the artwork has played an important role in Magic's success?

JA: Yes 100% the artwork for Magic is very very important. Even players who are not interested in the art, will be affected on a sub-concious level. Having attractive exciting imagery on anything, just helps you to feel good. And if you feel good you are happier. For me Magic the Gathering has been “magic” as it’s been steady work for over 18 years (very rare in my world) and made me so many friends. Really amazing!

Au: Since Mirage, you've done about 350 cards. This does not only make you the most productive MtG artist alongside Kev Walker, but also means you've had a long and prosperous collaboration with Wizards of the Coast. Like you said, you've been working with the game for over 18 years. How would you describe your relationship with Magic?

JA: My relationship with MtG has always been based on being professional and doing what is needed of me. I see my role as an illustrator as a ‘problem solver’ to my clients. My skills are ‘used’ and as a commercial artist, I give the clients what they need- with minimum amounts of fuss and always on time. So it's all about being professional and easy to work with. There will be 1000’s of artists who will be technically better than me or more creative, however it is also your ability to ‘deliver on time’ or you just won't be used again.

Au: That's very humble of you. :)

You've done more land cards than any other MtG artist and I think most players associate your name with atmospheric environments, bathing in light. When did you start painting environments? Do you consider environments to be your greatest strength?

JA: When Sue-Anne Harkey (the art director at the time) came to England to recruit some new artists, I had done wall to wall book covers of faces and figures. She simply asked what I would like to do, so I just said ‘errr landscapes?’ and that then set the mould for years to come. Also I can lose myself in a landscape and it’s more involving for me. Regarding lighting- this is the key to get mood. Some artists rely on detail, I rely on lighting and over years just learned more about how to do this!

Au: Some land cards, such as Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth and the Unhinged basic land cards, are very popular among players. Do you have any favorites among the land cards you've done?

JA: I always say “Return to Ravnica Forest” or really any of the Ravnica art. Buildings are very tough to get right- all that perspective is a nightmare, but I trained in architecture, so luckily its an area I understand.

Au: To be honest - up until now, I've never REALLY looked at that Forest. When I think about it though, that tranquil garden and skyline obscured by a green mist pierced by yellow light is quite representative of your work with Magic.
To me, the aforementioned light is a key element in your paintings. How do you consider the function of light in your art?

JA: Well- Light = the sun = life!

Au: Why is Mirrodin your favorite expansion?

JA: Actually Mirrodin was a dream, less hard than Ravnica, but it was just down to the fluid nature of the marks. If you look at my Mirrodin trees for example, the shapes are very fluid and organic. This made it easier for me to draw, meaning easier to invent. I just love getting lost with my pencil and making organic marks!

Au: Question from my wife "Aside from the various worlds of Magic, what fantasy world would you most likely be a resident of?"

JA: Put me on a spaceship like ‘The Enterprise’ in Star Trek, for an evening, and I will be a happy man.

Au: You have described music as your greatest hobby, and apart from being a renowned fantasy artist, you also write music. What kind(s) of music do you play?

JA: I grew up playing rock and blues guitar. My heroes were Gary Moore, Santana and David Gilmore. But I never played covers, always wrote my own music and had a fountain of ideas always zooming through my head. Like all teenage kids, I wanted to be a rock star and though at college I played in a great pro-rock band, I just did not have the energy to do both. I still look back on my days doing gig’s as very exciting and being onstage with you mates was a real buzz! These days I mostly record ambient sound track music and use keyboards, with the odd guitar bit. Just wish I had more damn time!

Au: Don't we all!
To me, all creative disciplines are connected somehow. Do you experience any connection between your art and your music?

JA: Certainly. Art and music all come from the same source. And actually music moves me in ways art never does, as it seems to connect with my emotions in a far deeper way. Yes I love art, but music always goes far far deeper and I always love discovering new bands or composers.

Au: Music is extremely important to me too.
Thank you so much for the interview, John. We'll be looking forward to those next 30 years!


I invited a couple of John's colleagues to share their thoughts on John and his work, and they certainly had some great things to say!

Peter Mohrbacher:
John's been a great inspiration over the years. I feel like the attention he's put into his body of work has set the bar for a lot of Magic artists, myself included. The careful balance of elements and colors he's put into his compositions have created something to aspire to. His paintings feel like complete, real worlds and that's something I hope to achieve with my own work someday.

Adam Paquette:
One of the best things about going as a guest to Magic events when you are a ‘land card artist’ is the inevitable comment from a player: “I love this card you did! It’s almost as good as a John Avon!”. No doubt I will continue to hear this for many years into the future, as illustrators like John possess those qualities of consistency and perseverence that elevate their work to notoriety, and enable it to continue evolving and improving indefinitely. When John transitioned from traditional to digital media, and embraced it, he was an inspiration to a generation of younger illustrators yet to feel validated in pursuing such a precocious young painting medium. His work continues to grow and flourish, and his popularity amongst the players is legendary. I’m grateful to follow in the footsteps of such a great artist, and I hope that the paths he paints through mountains and plains, torturous valleys and verdant forests - join up with mine somewhere along the way, and mine to the illustrators that are just beginning their own journey, in a long and unbroken trail of inspiration from horizon to endless horizon. Thanks for blazing the trail, John!


Special thanks to Adam and Peter for their contributions, and a very special thanks to Cate Coggins, for being generally awesome. :)

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