|Tony: Would you please describe your process for creating art?
I avoid approaching every painting the same; sometimes I start with an underpainting,
other times I jump right into it with direct paint. Though in general, Ill try to
describe how I approach most of my paintings.
First, I start sketching, and sketching, and when I get something I like, I continue
sketching until Im pretty sure what I want. Then I photograph a model or models and
continue to refine the idea. Though I NEVER change the design to fit the model. During the
sketching phase Ive worked hard to create shapes that work together abstractly, and
to change the shape to fit the limitations of a particular model, well, this I wont
do. Yes, my poor models are often asked to do the nearly, if not absolutely impossible. I
model for myself as well and I ask more of me than any other model.
After this I then go over all the photos to decide if I have anything that will work. I
rarely work from any one photo, rather the photo reference is treated as though the model
is there and I use many separate images to create the figure in the painting.
Then I produce a color study, sometimes detailed, sometimes, most times not. Mr.
Frazetta advised me to refrain from putting too much detail in the studies, suggesting
rather that I allow the happy accidents that happen in discovery to happen on the finished
work, instead of on the study.
Once Im happy with the color study, Im ready to start on the painting. And
unlike many in the business, I never, ever trace photos, or trace or transfer a sketch
onto the final canvas, but rather go through the process of discovery for the painting in
an honest search. With a brush in one hand and a rag in the other (again, Mr.
Frazettas suggestion [ John Sergeant among others did this as well ] ), I knock it
around until everything is where it needs to be. Sometimes Ive gone to bed thinking
its done, walk in the next morning and realize Ive gotta move one thing or the
other. So, with a brush in one hand, a rag in the other and tears in my eyes I wipe off
the last nights work and go at it again.
When the blocking in is complete, then its time to paint. I dont like art
that is evenly detailed throughout the painting, where everything is given equal
treatment. Our eyes dont work that way, and anyway, the artist, particularly the
illustrator, is a storyteller as well. If a painting, well, if one of my paintings is
working, itll move the viewers eye around the canvas the way I want it
to. This can give a painting impact and a particular feeling
and I try not to over
finish my paintings.
Tony: How does your process differ based upon the tools, subject and goals?
(ink verses pencil verses oils, fantasy verses science fiction, book cover verses game
Charles: Im working on a black and white private commission as we
speak and I gotta tell ya, I did as much if not more preliminary work than I would on a
painting. Working with ink, there is less room for experimenting. Doing a painting, if you
dont like something you can wipe it off or paint over it. Not so with ink and brush,
its pretty unforgiving.
With card art, there is no consideration of copy, and it doesnt have to be a
billboard. A cover is the billboard for the book. So you can play more with card art,
theres less risk because if one particular card isnt so great, not much of the
product is lost; but a book cover now, thats it! Its gotta work, and do
Though I gotta say, the work I did for Doomtown was above and beyond what anybody with
a brain would do for what they pay and how game companies treat artists in general. I
would do more card art, but the companies want copyright of the work for next to no money,
and that I just wont do. I retain copyright for all the art I did for Doomtown, but
when ownership changed and they then wanted copyright for all art for them in the future,
I wouldnt do it.
I still do work for two game companies particularly because they let me retain
Tony: What kind of research preparation is involved? Why is this important to you?
Charles: It differs piece to piece but I think if I err, its on the
side of too much research. If Im doing a fantasy painting with an Eastern location,
then all the armor, and architecture, if not the terrain needs to feel eastern. Not to
keep things completely historical, but the feeling must be there. So, rather than finding
a single piece of armor and copying it, I like to find many examples of armor of the area
and look for consistencies, what makes it have the look of eastern? Then I
dont have to copy anything, and it still works.
Once I painted a Civil War trilogy and bought $300. worth of books on the subject and
it paid off. Now, if anyone needs a Civil War painting, Im better prepared. I also
got the help of Civil War reenactors, which was invaluable. They helped me through the
quagmire of history.
Tony: How do you feel you differ from other artists in regards to research and
Charles: Ive seen some really great illustrators make silly mistakes,
such as a really detailed painting that included a flintlock musket in which the flint was
missing. Of course without the piece of flint, a flintlock wont fire. Im sure
the prop he used looked just like what he painted; it didnt have a piece of flint in
it either, a minor detail, but an important one.
Also, most artists have no clue as to how swords and other weapons are used, or held.
Each type of sword is different, the form does fit the function. For most illustrators, a
sword is something handed to a model as nothing more than a prop. Lots of otherwise nice
pieces of illustration are wrecked by swords held as though they were some sort of stick.
The swords I put in paintings are never props but rather a part of the warrior. I heard an
illustrator recently say something to the effect that soldiers dont need weapons in
their hands, giving some sort of banal allusion to the idea of weapons in the art being
merely phallic. What a load of crap! Soldiers in war, warriors, adventurers who expect
trouble or are in hostile territory go to the john, even sleep with their weapons, and if
they can help it are never without them. The only reason anyone with a brain would go into
a fight barehanded out of choice is if its all in good fun. The history of mankind
is the history of war, and of who developed the best weapons systems in a timely manner.
Oh, and the other side of the coin is when any given warrior society gets soft and lazy,
the next warrior society is waiting to push it aside; and history is clear, they always
The best fantasy art can be believed, and just like in an otherwise okay movie, a
glaring mistake of something wrong can jar the viewer out of the fantasy.
As Ive said earlier, the main difference between other illustrators and myself is
that Im not really sure how the finished painting will look til Im done.
I do not make a drawing that I then stay within the lines of throughout the process.
Whether it be projectors or painting on transferred Xeroxes and the like, I use none of
these tools that many, if not most illustrators use today, everything I do is
done freehand, every choice on canvas is from my eye and my hand.
Tony: You have published works in many different genres (fantasy, science fiction,
western fantasy, etc.)? Which do you personally find the most interesting and rewarding
Charles: I guess the genre I find most rewarding artistically is fantasy. By
its very nature, it lends itself to playing with shapes that are more organic than in
sci-fi, generally. When I sketch for fun, more times than not it is of fantasy themes or
characters. And talking about research, sci-fi requires more research than fantasy by a
mile. Dont get me wrong, I like doing research; but when a deadline is looming and
youre still figuring out tech problems, its tense.
With any painting involving history, youd better do your homework or you will
hear about it.
Tony: You produce art in ink, pencil, and oil; which do you prefer and why?
Charles: Yknow, each medium has its own pleasures and pitfalls. Ink of
course is the most risky, the least forgiving; but it requires strong shapes to succeed
and this further develops this thinking for other work. I love drawing in pencil, but
its very underrated and it takes a developed eye and art sense to appreciate it. So
which do I prefer? I suppose its got to be oils, its freer, more forgiving and
controllable; and as a finished product gets the biggest response.
Tony: How much of your artwork is commissioned verses speculative?
Charles: That would depend on any given year. I do art for a living and so
when the commissions are coming, either professional or private, any art I may want to do
has to wait.
Tony: From a business perspective which of these areas has been the most
productive for you?
Charles: Without a doubt, getting commissions is better for business than
doing paintings and then hoping to find a market or buyer for them. But Im an artist
first and when I do paint my own stuff its for me, and if it can sell it, good.
Sadly, Im not much of a businessman, and usually dont paint with selling in
Tony: What are a few of your favorite pieces or most memorable works and why?
Charles: This is the toughest question so far. Lets see
Ill give ya two, okay, the first has to be Vengeance in Ice. Its a
painting inspired by an incredible unpublished Conan story by Ferrell Snow. What makes it
so special to me is that it was done for a friend and the nature of how it came about. I
had been working on the sketches for it for quite a while and was unsatisfied with them.
One morning as I was waking I saw, for about one and a half seconds, the horse and rider-
just them- no background. I jumped out of bed and drew the sketch and knew that was it!
That kind of help or inspiration or whatever you call that is rare. And special.
I guess another one has to be Held by Honor, as it really was a recent
breakthrough for me. It is one of my most effectively balanced paintings as regards to a
fine art approach for an illustration. Its painterly while having enough detail for
most folks taste. And while the mood of the piece is somber, there is enough light
and color to keep it from being gloomy.
Tony: What do you think has been your most humorous work and why?
Charles: Geez, the most, huh? Just one? Well okay, it has to be
Shotgun Wedding, it still makes me laugh and when someone sees it for the
first time, they seem to get a pretty good chuckle. I really did enjoy doing that
painting. I dont usually get a chance to do that sort of thing.