Marc Simonetti is a digital artist living in France who has been professionally active for the last ten years. He’s done cover illustrations, concept art, and matte painting, and his work has graced the covers of books by major genre authors. He excels at capturing moments of change or tension, and displaying the world where his subjects live.
“Fortress Draconis 3” is a striking illustration, and yet you used a fairly small range of colors. What were some of your considerations with this painting, in terms of values or composition?
Thank you! Well, the small range of colors is one of the keys to making it more striking, I think.
It can be explained by the mood, but using the complementary color for the dragon just makes it pop up naturally. I tried to have the composition leading to the eyes of the lady, so that she could look more impressive than the dragons . . .
You’ve worked with major clients and illustrated the tales of well-known authors like H.P. Lovecraft, George R. R. Martin, and Terry Pratchett. Having done all of that, what’s your dream illustration job?
Well, I do love all of their books, and it’s a huge honor to me to make those cover illustrations. I’ve done a lot of illustrations based on these authors’ works, but I could spend 20 more years on their books. As a big reader, I was delighted to illustrate Neal Asher, China Miéville, and Frank Herbert, too, but I still have tons of ideas for Dune, Hyperion, or Glen Cook’s books.
I’m just an illustrator. My task is to try to show a very small glimpse of the books, what I felt while reading, and what kind of universe and mood the readers will encounter.
Which contemporary artists/illustrators are doing work that speaks to or inspires you?
The amount of talent that can be found today is huge. I do love the works of lots of great artists: Sparth, Feng Zhu, George Hull, Aleksi Briclot, Craig Mullins, Alberto Mielgo, Neil Campbell Ross, Robh Ruppel, and Pascal Blanché. There are many others, but those artists are a wonderful source of motivation and inspiration.
When you illustrate books or games that have already been published in other editions, how much influence do other artists’ interpretations have on your work?
Well, the only case when a previous artist had an influence was when I had to make all the Discworld cover illustrations. I had already read all of the books several times, and it seemed to me that Kirby and Kidby had already taken the exact right approach. Some illustrators create a sort of “reference point,” such as Frazetta, Ralph McQuarrie, or Moebius, and Josh Kirby was one of them.
Can you tell us a little bit about your education as an artist?
I studied at the École des Beaux-Arts d’Annecy for nine years, beside my traditional education (from nine years old to seventeen years old). Then I had a scientific course, which led to R&D engineering work in the industry for two years, and then I got back to art, studying for one year at the Emile Cohl school in Lyon. All the rest of my art education was learned on the internet and with my colleagues in the video game industry. I worked as a 3D background artist before switching to purely 2D illustrations.
What tools and software do you use to create your art?
I commonly use three programs: Photoshop, Corel Painter, and PaintTool SAI, along with some pencil work.
What do you do to get over creative “dry spells,” or do you ever have that problem?
When I don’t know how to start a work, I just let my hands begin the job and try to exploit all the unexpected accidents as a base. Most of the time, that gives me all I need to begin an illustration.
I also try to have a lot of references to keep on feeding my imagination.
Many of your paintings feature small figures dwarfed by the landscapes they inhabit. What role do place and setting have in how you develop a painting?
That’s right: places, landscapes, and mood are often the main subjects of my illustrations when I’m completely free. To make a character very small doesn’t influence the reader’s imagination, and representing him in a particular place already tells a little bit of his story.
For example, thinking about Batman, everyone imagines a figure on Gotham’s roofs. The fact that the figures often look dwarfed by the landscape is because of the themes of the books. In science fiction and in fantasy, everything is bigger, and this is a visual trick to render a small part of the sense of wonder.
What sorts of scenes are your favorite to illustrate?
I love all kinds of scenes, and each new theme is always welcome!
What projects are you working on right now?
I’m doing some cover illustrations. I’ve just finished Dying of the Light by George R.R. Martin for Leya Brazil and The Omen Machine by Terry Goodkind for Bragelonne Publishing. I’ve also done some cover art for upcoming video games such as Of Orcs and Men, the Game of Thrones RPG, and Realms of Ancient Wars. Shortly I should be starting work on a major, confidential long feature project.