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Interview with Walter Velez, September 2008by Thorfinn Tait
The interview was conducted by e-mail through Mr Velez's agent, Jill Bauman.
Hello, Mr Velez. First of all, thank you very much for taking the time to talk with us.
1. Can you tell us a little about yourself? How did you first get into doing fantasy art?
I had been an illustrator for several years; I then hired Jill Bauman (www.jillbauman.com) as my agent. At that time, she was beginning her illustration career. Jill began showing my work to publishers in New York. One of the first assignments was science fiction and the rest is history.
2. Many of your works seem to have a very clear and precise feel to them. What medium do you usually work in?
I work in acrylic paint. The technique that I developed was with the use of glazes on prepared illustration board or stretched canvas.
3. How would you describe your painting style? Do you have any major influences or inspirations?
The style I use is called “naturalistic” which is inspired by the Renaissance painters. The painting technique is in based on Da Vinci's. He tended to work from dark to light and the use of highlights and colour to build up his form.
I don't use any model because that would tend to limit the fantasy look. I don't want to be tied into the limitation of photography.
Other artists and styles that influence me range from the classic realism of the Golden Age of Greece through the Italian and Spanish Renaissance. The more modern painters such as Salvador Dali, Rene Magritte, M C Escher and even some of the turn of the century Expressionists are also a great influence.
4. Do you have any favourite motifs?
I am a history buff. On my own I like the mythology of the Bronze Age to the Middle Ages. I employ a lot of that in my work. I have many reference books in my library to use for costuming and weaponry of those periods.
1. How did you get involved with painting for TSR? What was it like?
My agent, Jill Bauman contacted TSR. They immediately gave me several assignments. Many of these involved period/costume pieces which they saw in my portfolio from previous works.
2. The Karameikos and Glantri sets you worked on were both second edition versions of older books, which were illustrated by Clyde Caldwell and Stephen Fabian. The style, as well as the design of characters and places changed in interesting ways between their work and yours. Did you have the opportunity to see the older works before you did your paintings?
Yes, I was given written descriptions of characters and time period. At the time, I didn’t know that there had been previous versions.
3. The general consensus in the Mystara community is that your depiction of familiar characters is really excellent. How detailed were the directions for your paintings? Did you have a lot of freedom to paint things how you wanted them?
I had totally freedom to create the painting in my style as long as I followed the descriptions provided. This is where my knowledge of history and costuming came in handy. My general painting style and knowledge of anatomy brought these paintings to life.
4. Most countries in Mystara were based on one or more real world cultures. What are your own main cultural influences? Did you have any specific cultures or painting styles in mind for your work on Karameikos, or later on Glantri and The Black Vessel?
My cultural influences are Medieval Europe through the Baltics of the same period.
5. Sadly, the Mystara product line ground to a halt shortly after the Glantri set was released, and came to an end with the release of The Black Vessel. Was there any talk of illustrations for products which didn't end up getting published? Did you submit any paintings that weren't used in the final products?
6. Since the official product line ended almost 15 years ago, we in the Mystara community have been working together on the Internet to expand the world by ourselves. We are always looking for new inspiration, and your style seems to fit Mystara very well. Are there any other pieces you have done that might fit well with your Mystara works?
Yes, I have done numerous pieces of art for other publishers which could be applicable because they took place in the same kind of world. It was the “Thieves World” series of Robert Asprin, where I was able to employ Middles Ages costuming and settings.
The “Myth” series also, although more fantasy and blends with modern day characters.
Questions About Specific Paintings
1. Of all the paintings you created for the Mystara line, which is your personal favourite, and why?
I really liked working on the “Minotaur” piece of art. Again, it employs the historical and costume styles I like to work with.
2. Which was the most difficult to paint?
None are difficult, they are a challenge and a lot of fun to conceptualise and paint.
3. Do any of the paintings have stories behind them?
All went very smoothly, with very few changes by the client who was gracious enough to give me free reign of the project.
4. Looking back at the paintings now, is there anything you would have liked to see turn out differently? Is there anything you would like to have been able to do, but couldn't at the time?
I tend to look back at my work and think that it could use improvements in certain areas, but I am chained to time constraints, but do the best I can with the deadlines provided. When doing multiple pieces of art any project, there are always limitations as to how much can be worked on each piece.
5. When I first saw the dancing Minotaur, I was astounded, and it has amused me ever since. How did you come up with it? Would you say that humour is important to your style?
Yes! Humour is essential. The Minotaur is something I am more acquainted with since I live in Crete a part of the year near Knossos which is the home of the Minotaur. The area near my home is filled with historical influences. I have always been fascinated by the Greek culture and Mythology.
6. The Baron of Morlay is a rather strange character for a fantasy world, wearing sunglasses and such. What was your reaction to reading about him, and how did you go about painting his portrait?
I was given a description by TSR of various elements to be included for each painting. I then use my own discretion as to how to apply them. The sunglasses were my own touch which did have some historical truth to it. I just wanted to make him look cool!
7. One of the pictures in the Karameikos set appears in two versions: yours, and one by another artist called Eric Hotz in a wood-print style. The composition is remarkably similar in both pictures, and the book explains that they are two different styles within the Karameikos setting. Were you given special instructions for this picture? Were you aware that another artist was working on another version of the same concept?
Once I hand in my final paintings, I am onto the next project. I am not involved in the final production of the products. I wasn't aware of other versions after my own were complete.
8. One of the new features of the Karameikos set was its heraldry. One of your pictures features a shield in Karameikos colours. Did you have a say in its design, or were you given a reference to work from?
I believe that this was my design.
9. My personal favourite piece is your cover for the 1996 novel The Black Vessel. Can you tell us about your inspiration for this work, or for that matter anything at all about its creation?
Again, I was provided a description of characters and I used my imagination. This is one of my favourites as well. This one I had a bit more time to work on and I was able to work in greater detail. I was able to include humour, lighting, characterisation, setting and fine detail.
1. It has been a long time since you painted works for the Mystara line. What have you worked on since then, and what are you working on today?
I am still doing the “Myth” series by Robert Asprin. Since Robert Asprin has recently passed away, the series may end unless another writer takes up the challenge. At this time I am creating fine art paintings for a gallery show in Crete. You can find some [of] these on my website at: http://www.waltervelezart.com
On behalf of the Mystara fan community, I'd like to say how grateful we are to have had an artist such as yourself painting for our favourite setting. Thank you very much for giving us the opportunity to talk with you. We will continue to enjoy your works for many years to come.
You're welcome! It has been great fun for me as well.