Our next interview is with our artist, Luke Spooner. His work has appeared in all of our volumes so far. Luke creates art under two names: Carrion House for his darker work, and Hoodwink House for children’s books. He believes that the job of putting someone else’s words into a visual form, to accompany and support their text, is a massive responsibility as well as being something he truly treasures. Find out more at his website, carrionhouse.com, or on his Facebook page.
freeze frame fiction: Apart from the cover for the experimental volume, all of the illustrations you’ve done for us have been linked to a specific piece of flash fiction. What is your process for translating a story idea into an illustration?
Luke Spooner: For freeze frame fiction I take a very relaxed approach to translating each story. I usually get some tea brewing first, get a note pad and pen, a comfy place to sit and get down to reading through them with as little distraction as possible. As I go I note down any details that strike me as visually useful—so things that mention colour, atmosphere or lighting. I also note down the tone of a story, (is it somber, eerie etc.), as well character and setting aspects. I also attempt to chart the story and list important events so that I’m able to refer back to particular parts of a story if any of the ideas are a little foggy by the time I get to sketching and need that little extra kick to get them going. By the end I have the catalysts I need to give the piece its aesthetic, where it needs to be set, who it needs to involve and sometimes I even have an idle doodle or sketch in the corner of a page to act as a starting point. From there I feed back to the editor and we agree on the best ideas before moving into the actual design stage. I actually try and read each story alongside other stories that need to be illustrated for the same volume. Although they’re all by different authors and contain very different narratives, I believe that they are part of that particular volume for a reason and that can’t be taken for granted. By reading them alongside each other they can often create a dialogue that informs the overall ‘look’ of an entire volume’s illustrative content and any opportunity to capitalize on that is one that an illustrator really shouldn’t pass up.
fff: Do you prefer creating illustrations for specific pieces, or more general projects (i.e., for covers)?
LS: Both cover illustration and those created to support very short fiction, like flash fiction, require one image (usually), and in both respects it has to act as an all-encompassing image that shows even a casual viewer what they can expect if they choose to follow up on that initial glance. It sounds bizarre to say but I think there’s less pressure when you’re asked to provide a series of illustrations for a whole story. Obviously it goes without saying that the workload is often considerably higher but the pressure of communicating a message is spread out across multiple images and diluted significantly in the process. Each image ends up representing a particular moment or character rather than a whole narrative, and one image can often back up another one in the sequence so there’s a lot less riding on that initial ‘one off glance.’ It’s a case of safety in numbers really. Plus—if someone’s looking at the interior illustrations then there’s a good chance that they’ve gone beyond that decision of ‘do I pick it up or not?’ so your job is no longer to entice people in but to keep them involved and make good on whatever promise the cover has made.
fff: I know you enjoy working on art for darker fiction. Dark or not, do you have a favorite genre to illustrate?
LS: I think horror is definitely my ‘go-to’ genre when it comes to illustration because of what I personally indulge in during my spare time, but I think it’s also due to the honesty it implores from those involved. I respect nothing more in this world than straight up honesty. As a person that effectively gives physical form to other people’s stories for a living, I can assure you that being honest is a lot more difficult than lying. Through the dark subject matter provided by clients I get to explore the truly dark recesses of other people’s minds and it’s during those stages of reading and note making that you see some serious home truths played out in front of you. I’ve had clients exploring their fears, their phobias—even their personal secrets and guilty pleasures—through their own characters, and being given the opportunity to help manifest that sort of honesty in an image is quite frankly an honour. It’s of course a daunting task, wrapped up in a huge responsibility, but it’s still an honour at its core.
fff: What is your favorite illustration project you’ve ever work on (excluding us, of course…)?
LS: I honestly don’t know. That sounds terrible but I can’t say for the life of me which one rises slightly above the others in my memory because they are all so diverse. A band’s CD packaging for example is a completely different experience to an anthology cover and its accompanying interior illustrations. Then if you subdivide just those categories by the range of clients that request them then you get an even bigger spectrum of characters, work ethics and approaches. The range and diversity is often baffling. Brilliant, but baffling all the same.
fff: Who are some of your favorite artists—classical or modern, especially those doing work like yours for fiction magazines? Who would you say have been some of your artistic influences?
LS: When I was in artistic education (we all are really from the word ‘go’ but I mean it in the formal sense) I had a list as long as your arm of people I aspired to be like, or have careers comparable to. It included the likes of James Jean, Edward Gorey, David Lupton, David Hughes Sho-U Tajima, Hiyao Miyazaki, Ralph Steadman, Gerald Scarfe—the list quite literally goes on and on. Over time a lot of them have had their influence on me diluted, but only in the sense that I’m no longer constantly referring to them for tips on how to draw this or that a certain way. Obviously it still happens from time to time and I’m often caught idling flicking through a book of my favourite artists’ work, or doing a little sketch version of my favourite character or scene by them, but since I became a full-time freelancer, I’ve spent more time exploring how to further myself as an artist and really understand what I’m artistically capable of, instead of doing my best to imitate others. It should be understood though that I’m not speaking ill of this form of artistic pursuit in any way as it often forms the ground work of how any artist gets started or realizes they have an artistic urge or curiosity—they see something they feel a connection with, imitate it and in turn learn from it, and in the process reveal something about themselves.
fff: Are you an avid reader, of novels and/or short fiction? What do you read for fun?
LS: I am. I actually read a huge variety of things. I read graphic novels, short fiction, comic books, full length novels, epics, classics… I don’t really have any prejudices when it comes to what I look for in a good read although I do think that reading anything should eventually lead to an enrichment of self or a furthering of your own appreciation or understanding of something. To give an actual example of this: I recently finished reading Herman Melville’s ‘Moby Dick’ and jumped straight into Ernest Cline’s ‘Ready Player One’ after a quick jaunt through an anthology of Japanese ghost stories and Bryan Lee O’Malley’s graphic novel ‘Seconds.’
However, although this variety is present in what I read, I hate anything that’s clearly been made with the singular purpose of making someone, somewhere money and not much scope in its creation for anything else. Something that’s essentially disposable and devoid of any artistic merit is something that I have no desire to involve myself with. It usually makes itself known in a piece through a lack of escapism or real immersion and it’s a very sad realization to be on the receiving end of. I feel the same way about film, music and video gaming—and even in my personal work. If I’m just there, as a reader or as a contributor, to fill someone else’s pockets, then I will very quickly bow out and move onto something worth my time.