Illustrating professionally since the age of nineteen, Randy Gallegos is no novice at drawing readers into new worlds through his art, exemplified by this month’s cover issue of Lightspeed. His work can be found prominently in the fantasy gaming realm, including Magic: The Gathering, and if you browse his website, you’ll find pieces from Rorschach to Dungeons & Dragons-inspired art to the Judges Choice at the 2010 World Fantasy Convention, “The Sacrifice.”
In this spotlight, we asked him to tell us a bit about the background of his cover for this issue of Lightspeed, “Embryonic,” and what his creative process looks like.
“Embryonic” is a fantastic title for this piece. Is there a story behind it?
“Embryonic” is more a reflection of a feeling I’ve often felt when seeing video of space walks or photos of astronauts. The way they float, the slowness of movements, the way they seem so tiny and almost helpless in the vastness of space—these sorts of things have long felt to me to have a fascinating analogy with the unborn. Add to it the lifelines that accompanied particularly older spacesuits, and their resemblance to umbilical cords, and my inspiration was complete. Photos of fetuses in-utero often have eerie backlighting and a reddish cast, and so this was reflected in the nebula behind. The painting hangs horizontally with the figure floating in such a way that she would normally be falling, but which also adds to the feeling of suspension.
Can you give us an idea of what goes into creating a painting like this?
First, I had to bring together the ideas that I wanted to express, as above. From there, small “thumbnail” sketches are done, to move quickly from composition to composition until I find one that suits the idea well. Depending on the subject matter, reference-hunting begins then, which often includes photographing models. These things are spread out on my monitor and then I produce a pencil or charcoal drawing which will serve as a basis for the final painting. There are often intermediate stages before committing to paint. Working in traditional media is by nature slower than digital, and mistakes are more time-consuming to fix, therefore it’s important for me to have a good idea, a blueprint or map to guide me along the way. Though I often allow myself the freedom to make spontaneous changes along the way, I can’t simply create digital layers and swap them out, or utilize other time-saving digital tools. I can always do post-scan corrections, but I prefer to paint what I intend and let it stand.
Your gallery seems to primarily feature individuals, and portraits, rather than wider scoped works such as landscapes. Is that what you prefer to paint?
Not necessarily, I enjoy environmental work, although I prefer a human aspect even to work that has more environment over just painting a futuristic city-scape void of figures, for instance. It depends on the description given to me by a client—often, they are character pieces. When those assignments are for projects like Magic: The Gathering or other card games that reproduce very tiny, if the focus is a character, I’ll minimize environment to keep the image readable. For some story illustrations, like “The Unknown God” for Realms of Fantasy Magazine, the scene was referenced in the text, and with more space to play with (a full-page illustration), it was great to able to include more environment. “The Sacrifice” would be another occasion for a fuller environment.
How does a typical piece for you originate? Do you have a stockpile of ideas that paint themselves out, or do commissions keep you busy?
Both. In the past, I worked very hard to keep a nonstop calendar of client work, even if it was small or low-paying jobs filling in short gaps between larger ones, just to keep the security of earning some income at every opportunity. Eventually, I started just using those gaps instead to work on larger studio works, and found that even though they went unpaid at the time, the originals themselves sold more readily, and this gave me confidence to do them more often, or even to allow myself a week or two here and there through the year where I would make a point not to book every slot that might appear, too allow for that type of work.
Where do you look for inspiration?
I try to take in lots of art, whether in person at museums or books. I also find it important to keep up some with the rapidly changing world of my contemporaries, though I find I’m most influenced by older work these days. Music is often useful as well, for setting the tone for certain pieces as I work them, or for creating an appropriate aural environment for dreaming up new concepts. “Embryonic” was aided by this process, as it turns out—a few years before painting it, when the idea itself was forming, I sat down with the album “Particles and Waves” by Cranes, which was very helpful. A few tracks on there were instrumental in my coming up with this image.
What are you working on now?
I’m wrapping up a small-press book cover, and also working on some new Magic: The Gathering stuff.
Spread the word!