Richard Hescox offers up truly spectacular renderings of vintage and modern Science Fiction and Fantasy art. Richard has worked as a cover artist, background designer for animated films, advertising illustrator, conceptual designer, and art director. He has provided imagery for some of the most iconic characters of our time such as E.T., Halloween, The Dark Crystal, The Never-Ending Story, The Time Bandits, and Swamp Thing among many others. His paintings have graced the walls of the Society of Illustrators in New York, the Delaware Art Museum and the Canton Museum of Art. Fans of his work can look forward to his rich illustrations in the limited editions of George R. R. Martin’s Clash of Kings sometime in 2014.
Can you tell us a little about yourself? What were you like as a child? Did you develop a love of art early on?
I did. Of course my older brother wouldn’t let me draw in his coloring books because he said I scribbled and wouldn’t stay inside the lines.
I always enjoyed the art related classes in school. Fairly early I began to notice that (at least in my opinion) my drawing and imagery was better that the rest of the students. This was confirmed on rainy days when instead of outdoor recess we had to stay inside and draw. I would almost always draw dinosaurs, (my mania at that time) and often other kids would ask me to do a dinosaur for them because they could see that mine were better drawn. Getting recognition was very intoxicating to a shy boy.
Do you happen to remember the first things you used to draw most as a kid?
As I said, Dinosaurs. I wanted to be a paleontologist for many years but art finally won out. The earliest piece of my artwork I still have is a brick into which I carved a Woolly Rhinoceros in the style of cave art. My mother kept it for many years and it finally came back to me.
How did you first come to work in Science Fiction and Fantasy genres? What was it about them that appealed to you most?
These were the books I grew up reading. The pure and unfettered imagination made them fascinating and I remember developing clear visual images in my mind for each scene. I imagined those images and would think “If I ever became an illustrator for this book, that would be the image I would paint”.
When I realized that I could pursue my education as an artist and went to The Art Center College of Design, I settled down and did the type of illustrations that were being taught and I assumed I would illustrate the usual type of images after graduation. I had always loved and collected the science fiction and fantasy pictures by the great artists in that genre. One day an art student friend (who later became an animator at Disney) asked why I didn’t try to go in that direction myself? It suddenly occurred to me that it was a real option. When I started building my portfolio pieces I naturally tended in that direction and then began to apply to those publishers with Science fiction lines of books.
Do you enjoy creating images that offer society some much needed escapism and stimulation of the senses?
Magic and fantasy were much more real and connected to people in earlier times. Important life lessons were taught to the young through Fairy tales and even earlier by myths and legends. These lessons were introduced into the subconscious of the listener more deeply and effectively that way. In the modern age with scientific advancement and skepticism people seem to be missing this rich cultural education.
Science fiction and fantasy literature along with the associated artwork help keep this avenue to enlightenment open. To see its effectiveness just look at fans of Tolkien or even Trekkies.
In my more recent “Fine Art” paintings I especially try to touch this deep need in people for wonder and ethereal beauty. I try to picture a world where the wide sweep of fantasy is expected to exist and to be marveled at. I avoid the more grandiose themes and concentrate on subtle scenes of mythical entities doing their, to us, mysterious activities.
Why do you think art has always been such a powerful force?
I like to think of art (all branches: literature, poetry, song, drama, music, sculpture, painting, etc…) as Hyper communication. Talking is basic communication. But make those words a poem and the concept embeds itself far more effectively in the listener. Graphic arts do the same. A talented artist can communicate a concept more subtly, and at the same time more powerfully to the viewer. The mark of good art is the amount and quality of communication that it effects (a test that too much modern art fails at).
What does it feel like to earn a living doing what you love?
It is a double edged sword. Yes, you wouldn’t want to do anything else, but at the same time you are so invested in your creations that when they don’t meet with the client’s or the public’s approval the hurt and disappointment is profound. It can even happen when you don’t meet your own expectations with a piece that just didn’t work out like you envisioned.
How did it feel when you first got paid for your work?
Just like when the other kids asked me for a drawing. Recognition that I had a talent that others could see.
What advice would you offer the artists of tomorrow?
Learn to draw accurately and well. Don’t shun the artists of the past because they really knew some things that are unfortunately ignored in much of today’s art teaching.
You have worked some with the characters for E.T., Halloween, Swamp Thing, The Never-Ending Story, and The Dark Crystal. At the time did you know they would become as iconic as they have? How does it feel to have worked on characters that are so beloved?
An unfortunate side effect of working on books or films is that you have to be so analytical as you read them or watch unfinished film segments that you can’t really appreciate the work as a whole. I am sometimes so intent on looking for the best image idea and recording useful visual details that I can’t see the flow of the story
Because of this I had no idea which projects would be hits with the public.
Do you ever miss having time to create projects that you personally want to create while having to work on commercial pieces?
The solution is to try to make each assignment look the way you would want it to, but the powers that be usually won’t let you. They are paying for it after all.
I have found time to do some of the paintings I really want to do and love. These are my “Fine Art” paintings. I enjoy doing them so much that I often use any spare time I have working on them.
What does it feel like to see your work on exhibit? Do you ever get nervous about that sort of thing?
Again, a double edged sword. I feel proud, but then I hang around to hear any comments directed at the work. Most artists have some insecurity because their efforts are right out in the open (in a show or on a publication) and they know they are always being judged.
Who are some of you favorite living artists?
As I mentally go through the usual list of artists I answer that question with, I realized that all of them have just died in the last 5 or 6 years.
Do you have any one subject you like to cover more than others?
Beautiful and mysterious mythological women. That’s what most of my fine art paintings are of.
Do you have a dream project that you would most like to complete before your time is up?
Not really. I try to paint the images I most want to paint each time I start. I have been fortunate in being happily surprised with many of my completed pieces. At least the personal ones.
What are you feelings on death and such?
I try not to dwell on that subject except to figure how to put it off for as long as possible.
What was it like to be asked to illustrate George R. R. Martin’s upcoming Clash of Kings?
It was very flattering. George has the right to personally select artists for the Subterranean Press editions. For him to seek me out to ask was an honor and I have tried to justify his choice by doing the best illustrations I could. He had to approve every image himself so I feel I did a good job of matching his mental images. I spent more than a year on the project with over 70 images created.
Are there any little known things about you that your fans might be surprised to learn?
Aside from my birth on the planet Krypton, I really can’t think of anything mysterious about me.
What projects are you most excited to bring the world next?
I feel the most pleasure when I find that a painting I have done, and which I feel a huge aesthetic charge from, has also touched others in unexpected ways. The communication I strive for has to be felt by viewers of my paintings on a deeper than literal level. Therefore I am most excited about creating the next painting that achieves that.