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Odera is a recent alumnus of Rhode Island School of Design (Class of 2012). As an illustrator and performance artist, Odera explores storytelling through color, mythology, African dance, and of course, divas. With his degree and diverse skillset he hopes to create interdisciplinary work that addresses the sacred and assists in unlocking the mythopoeic self. When Odera is not exploring the spirit realm, he is busy saving the world as a contemporary Sailor Scout or furthering his knowledge in Beyoncé Studies.
I love traveling to new worlds.
I realize what an obvious statement that is for a speculative fiction author, and even more so given that my day job is working to build the setting for the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game. But it’s true nonetheless. With both literature and visual art, I’m constantly hungry for media that will show me landscapes I’ve never seen beforealien worlds, bizarre cities, ancient ruins, heaven- and hellscapes, and other visions of impossible or impossibly distant places.
In truth, the landscapes don’t even need to be all that different—for instance, my zombie love story “The Long Road to the Sea” (now a free podcast on Pseudopod) came from childhood vacations in the dry hills of eastern Washington and imagining how little they might change after the apocalypse. National Geographic’s photos of places like Aït Benhaddou, Machu Picchu, monasteries in Tibet, or crumbling lake castles in Europe all fire that same sense of the exotic and fantastical.
But more often, I’m captivated by vistas of worlds fundamentally different from our own. I’m especially a sucker for landscapes that have unusual architecture in them—futuristic cities, mysterious castles, and alien ruins all immediately spark the sorts of questions that only stories can answer: Who built them? Why? Are they still in use, forgotten, or actively taboo? In my case, the old saying that “a picture’s worth a thousand words” is fairly literal.
Artistsespecially concept artistswho can paint intricate and alien structures fascinate me, and I can study their work for hours. And filmmakers like Peter Jackson will always be able to take my money because, regardless of the story they’re telling, I’ll happily sit and look at a city like Minas Tirith or Gondor’s mountaintop signal fires until the special effects budget runs out. (While the Lord of the Rings trilogy is objectively awesome, I’m also perfectly happy to watch bad SF as long as they’ve got good art direction.)
I think part of what’s so inspiring to me about landscapes and architecture is that I’m fundamentally wired for language. As I suspect is true for many folks reading this site, it’s difficult for me to even think without languageI’ve got a constant narration running inside my skull. When I stumble across artists who are able to create worlds visually, to pull them full-formed from their heads without relying on the observer’s imagination to fill in the details the way a writer has to, it’s something I have no personal experience with, and thus far more magical. So deep is my love of fantasy landscapes that my wife is currently in the process of painting one across the entirety of our bedroom wall.
I can’t draw or paint, but when I write, it’s often that same effect I’m trying to capture. Thus, when I sat down to plan out Death’s Heretic, my first novel, I knew I wanted to visit a bunch of very different fantasy worlds. The story that evolved—an atheist forced to work against his will for the goddess of death, tracking down a missing soul—allowed me to go to all sorts of different planes of the afterlife, from the seat of judgment for departed souls to bizarre cities full of robots and monsters, fairy dimensions, the plane of chaos, and so on. All because I knew that, if nothing else, the chance to describe those profoundly different landscapes and bizarre sights would keep me interested.
Fortunately, it seems I’m not alone in my predilections. Because really, if we didn’t all want to visit different worlds, why would we be reading SF in the first place?
Fiction editor for Paizo Publishing and a co-creator of the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game, James L. Sutter’s novel Death’s Heretic ranked #3 on B&N’s Best Fantasy Releases of 2011 and was a finalist for the Compton Crook Award for Best First Novel. His short fiction has appeared in Apex Magazine, Escape Pod, Podcastle, Starship Sofa, and Pseudopod. His anthology Before They Were Giants pairs the first published stories by speculative fiction greats with new commentary by the authors themselves. He lives in Seattle with his wife, three roommates, and a fully functional death ray.
As an artist and illustrator, I watch the world around me for reference points for paintings or illustrations. There are many things that inspire me for many different reasons. Some things inspire me because of their look, others because of what they represent, and some because of a mood that they evoke.
One of my greatest influences is nature. When I can, I like to take photographs of trees and streams in my local area. Lots of details jump out at me; for example, the bark of a tree. The texture might be especially striking or the way the light is hitting it might be the element that draws me to it. But there is something usually specific that attracts my attention. I find that these are the things that I want to incorporate in a piece of art that will help lend it believability. Photographs also allow me to appreciate nature from far-off places. The scale or color of a huge snowswept mountain can provide a very dramatic setting for art of many subjects.
Determining the narrative of a reference and how it can inspire is more subjective, making it a little harder to narrow down. As an example I will refer back to the tree. If I were trying to create a forest scene that was dark or spooky, I would look for tree references that perhaps have unique twists and turns in them. The color of the bark might be dark and have a more ‘razor-like’ texture than the average maple tree, which could suggest some impending danger. Again the lighting is something that I also look at closely. It may be that the light or color suggests a night scene which can represent a hostile environment. Or maybe the colors help express a peaceful and placid environment. Some abstraction can also be applied: the tree, for example, might look like a big knife, giving off a vibe of violence that is relevant to the image.
The mood that a visual piece evokes is, for me, the most important characteristic it can possess. It is also something that is much harder to define and is also usually more personaland one of the more difficult things to consistently achieve in a piece of art. Adjectives like scary, safe, bold or lush are just a few that might be used to describe a certain piece of art or photography. Many times these feelings are based on a personal experience or reaction to the image.
A painting I did quite a few years ago comes to mind. I did a cover for 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. The sea, and especially the alien world under it, is something that has always generated a little fear in me. I think that it’s the fear of not really knowing what’s down there, as well as not having much control over whatever is down there!
With that background, I went off to do my usual research. I found myself drawn to references of underwater shipwrecks and other things that seemed very ghostly and alien. The light is very different in the undersea world, which had a great effect on this piece. I think this was a result of what my impression of that world was. There are, of course, other elements in the art that reinforce this. I have divers gasping at the sight of a giant squid and excitement of buried treasure. When it all came together I was happy with the outcome. It definitely captures the feeling and mood I see for an underwater piece.
Objects of inspiration are all around us. Just keep your eyes open for things that catch your interest or evoke an emotional response. It works for me, and I hope it might inspire you!
Matt Stawicki graduated from the Pennsylvania School of Art and Design in 1991 and has created many images for a wide range of products and clients. In 2001 Matt won the Silver Award for Advertising in Spectrum 8. The first book of his work The Art of Matthew Stawicki was published by Cartouche Press. Matt’s work has also been showcased in The Masters of Dragonlance Art and Dragon Art published by Flame Tree Publishing. When not painting, Matt enjoys playing guitar and wood working. Matt currently resides in Delaware with his wife Cathy and their two dogs.
We are pleased to announce that two members of the FE family, artist Julie Dillon (Sails & Sorcery) and author Catherynne M. Valente (“Proverbs of Hell” in The Stories in Between) have both been nominated for World Fantasy Awards.
Ms. Valente has been nominated for her novella, “Silently and Very Fast,” while Ms. Dillon is being recognized for her work as an illustrator. Both are fabulous artists in their fields, and both nominations are well deserved.
The entire nomination list is below, along with a couple of sample illustrations from Ms. Dillon’s work in Sails & Sorcery.
“Beneath the Sea of Tears”
by Patrick Thomas
“Sea of Madness”
by Jon Sprunk
by Renee Stern
• Those Across the River, Christopher Buehlman (Ace)
• 11/22/63, Stephen King (Scribner; Hodder & Stoughton as 11.22.63)
• A Dance with Dragons, George R.R. Martin (Bantam; Harper Voyager UK)
• Osama, Lavie Tidhar (PS Publishing)
• Among Others, Jo Walton (Tor)
• “Near Zennor”, Elizabeth Hand (A Book of Horrors)
• “A Small Price to Pay for Birdsong”, K.J. Parker (Subterranean Winter 2011)
• “Alice Through the Plastic Sheet”, Robert Shearman (A Book of Horrors)
• “Rose Street Attractors”, Lucius Shepard (Ghosts by Gaslight)
• “Silently and Very Fast”, Catherynne M. Valente (WSFA Press; Clarkesworld)
• “X for Demetrious”, Steve Duffy (Blood and Other Cravings)
• “Younger Women”, Karen Joy Fowler (Subterranean Summer 2011)
• “The Paper Menagerie”, Ken Liu (F&SF 3-4/11)
• “A Journey of Only Two Paces”, Tim Powers (The Bible Repairman and Other Stories)
• “The Cartographer Wasps and the Anarchist Bees”, E. Lily Yu (Clarkesworld 4/11)
• Blood and Other Cravings, Ellen Datlow, ed. (Tor)
• A Book of Horrors, Stephen Jones, ed. (Jo Fletcher Books)
• The Thackery T. Lambshead Cabinet of Curiosities, Ann & Jeff VanderMeer, eds. (Harper Voyager US)
• The Weird, Ann & Jeff VanderMeer, eds. (Corvus; Tor, published May 2012)
• Gutshot, Conrad Williams, ed. (PS Publishing)
• Bluegrass Symphony, Lisa L. Hannett (Ticonderoga)
• Two Worlds and In Between, Caitlín R. Kiernan (Subterranean Press)
• After the Apocalypse, Maureen F. McHugh (Small Beer)
• Mrs Midnight and Other Stories, Reggie Oliver (Tartarus)
• The Bible Repairman and Other Stories, Tim Powers (Tachyon)
• John Coulthart
• Julie Dillon
• Jon Foster
• Kathleen Jennings
• John Picacio
• John Joseph Adams, for editing – anthology and magazine
• Jo Fletcher, for editing – Jo Fletcher Books
• Eric Lane, for publishing in translation – Dedalus books
• Brett Alexander Savory & Sandra Kasturi, for ChiZine Publications
• Jeff VanderMeer & S.J. Chambers, for The Steampunk Bible
• Kate Baker, Neil Clarke, Cheryl Morgan & Sean Wallace, for Clarkesworld
• Cat Rambo, for Fantasy
• Raymond Russell & Rosalie Parker, for Tartarus Press
• Charles Tan, for Bibliophile Stalker blog
• Mark Valentine, for Wormwood
• Alan Garner
• George R.R. Martin