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Todd Lockwood Interview – The Summer Dragon

Todd LockwoodI went to Dragon Con (a convention held in Atlanta, George) in the fall of 2016. Amid the hustle and bustle of the massive crowds, attending author panels and going to workshops we decided we needed a break. My sister-in-law’s husband wished to go see a friend in the Marriott, so we entered into an elevator to ascend to the upper-level hotel rooms. When I stepped over the threshold of that elevator, I spied a man standing in the back. Something was nagging me about him as the elevator began to make its smooth ascent. I was positive I was sharing a confined space with none other than the famous dragon artist Todd Lockwood. Of course, I had to confirm my suspicions swiftly, if I didn’t, I would probably regret it for the rest of my life. Gathering up all my courage I posed a question into the empty space and he [graciously] answered back:

“Are you Todd Lockwood?”

Todd Lockwood warmly smiled, friendly, and openly. Immediately I got the impression that Mr. Lockwood was a really nice, easy-going guy.

“Indeed, I am–”

However, before I could express (both my excitement and humbleness at meeting him) I was interrupted by my sister-in-law, “Summer, this is our floor.”

I struggled to get off that elevator and step back into the cold, distant halls of the grand hotel. I really regretted leaving, but I know if I had remained in that elevator, I might have assaulted the poor artist with a series of questions. The man could had probably used a nice break from the voracious demands of Dragon Con. But alas, I digress.

The Summer Dragon (cover)I did hunt-down Mr. Lockwood later in the Art Gallery and was able to have some of my questions answered (as well as express my appreciation for his artwork and talk about graphic design). He had just released the first book in his new series The Evertide called, The Summer Dragon, that I really loved. I also regret not purchasing the special black edition of the cover, as well as bringing my copy of his book to be signed. I did purchase another piece of his artwork and had him sign that. Ultimately, I loved the time I spent discussing our love of art and would love to get back over to Dragon Con when I graduate to discuss in-person that love again.

If you ever get the chance to attend, I recommend you find Todd and discuss art and writing with him. He’s one of the friendliest artists I had the pleasure of speaking with at the convention and one shouldn’t be shy about approaching him. If you don’t know who Todd Lockwood is than I strongly suggest you stop everything right now and view some of his artwork on his website. You will immediately recognize many of his pieces, for many grace the covers of various authors, such as R. A. Salvatore, Mercedes Lackey, and Steven Erikson. His artwork has also been used for Dungeons & Dragons, as well as Magic the Gathering.

Lastly, I’d sincerely like to thank Todd Lockwood for taking the time to conduct an interview with Fantasy-Faction. You are a gem in the fantasy community, and I am humbled to haven been able to interview you.

– – –

You beheld your first dragon (Disney’s Maleficent from Sleeping Beauty) on the windshield of a car. Were there any other influences that inspired your fascination with dragons?

I was a huge dinosaur geek when I was young. I still am, so movies like The Valley of Gwangi and King Kong (the original is the only one that matters, imho) had an impact. But I loved animated special effects too, so Ray Harryhausen was one of my heroes. My fascination with dragons began with my interest in Dungeons & Dragons, but really took off when Wizards of the Coast initiated a style guide for 3rd Edition. Sam Wood and I found ourselves exploring dragons in detail. We wanted to understand them—literally—inside out.

Dragon from Sleeping Beauty

What are some of your other favorite movies?

That’s a question with a long answer. I’m not an automatic fan of any genre. I want a story with great character arcs and something to say about society or the human condition, but I also love the mysterious, the unknown. Pan’s Labyrinth is an excellent example of that. Also, The Lord of the Rings Trilogy, 2001: A Space Odyssey. To Kill a Mockingbird is probably my favorite books of all time, and the movie ranks high as well.

The Valley of Gwangi (poster)I was never a comic book hero fan growing up—I found superheroes sort of silly. But the Marvel movies have surprised me with their quality. The Avengers was well written and produced. Endgame was outstanding. I truly enjoyed the second Spiderman movie with Toby McGuire as Spidey, because I had the issue in which Dr. Octopus appeared, and the tale was well-told. My favorite superheroes are the ones who aren’t alien beings or recipients of radiation or spider venom, though—but like Batman are ordinary humans with extraordinary tech and ambition. Iron Man and Doc Oc both fall in that category. The Dark Knight was exceptional.

Science fiction was really my first love. Children of Men, Road Warrior (watch the classic western Shane some time and see if they don’t both tell the same story, almost scene for scene), Alien, Aliens (and the franchise ends there, as far as I’m concerned), The Abyss, Terminator (1 and 2, but, again, stop there), Avatar. This list could go on and on. I love a redemption movie, like Sommersby, or Pitch Black. I’m sure I’ve forgotten one or two hundred other movies that ought to be in this list…

Could you give a brief summary of The Evertide series?

Maia from The Summer Dragon (illustration)Maia and her family raise dragons for the political war machine. As she comes of age, she anticipates a dragon of her own to add to the stable of breeding parents. But the war goes badly, and the needs of the Dragonry may dash her hopes. Her peaceful life is shattered when the Summer Dragon—one of the rare and mythical High Dragons— makes an appearance in her quiet valley. Political factions vie for control of the implied message, threatening her aspirations, her aerie, her entire way of life.

The bond between dragons and their riders is deep and lifelong. Maia knows that she has only so much time to find a dragon of her own to train, to fly, and to love.

She is swept into an adventure that pits her against the deathless Horrors—thralls of the enemy, and a faceless creature drawn from her fears. In her fight to preserve everything she knows and loves, she exposes a conspiracy, unearths an ancient civilization, and challenges her understanding of her world—and of herself.

Any chance you could give us a peek into the process of writing the next Evertide book?

The process: sit and stare at the computer for an hour, write like a madman for another, delete or rearrange most of what I’ve written, try again. Get angry and have lunch. Repeat.

The truth is that the whole series has been outlined, but only to the highest tentpoles—the most important events. I originally planned it as six shorter books, each with a complete story arc. But when DAW bought the first, my editor wanted a longer book, so I combined the first two into a single volume. It’s a better read for having done that, so now each two books have been combined into three volumes instead of six.

The trick is keeping all the threads alive, feeding every character’s arc, and choreographing the pace of events.

It’s like a million-piece jigsaw puzzle without a picture on the box.

How fun was it to be able to write, as well as illustrate, your own book?

Dragon from The Summer Dragon (illustration) (detail)Extremely rewarding. I’m now doing for a living what I did to entertain myself as a child. I had to go the long way around to get here, though. That said, everything I experienced contributed something to my base of skills and knowledge—even the horrible advertising years.

I know you really grew to hate beer cans and satellite dishes. What advice would you give to an artist compromising their love of art in order to make a living? And what helped you cope with that difficult time?

I’d quote Joseph Campbell here: “Follow your passion, and doors will open where you did not know there were doors.”

I pursued ad art because I thought that’s what I was supposed to do. My parents told me that I couldn’t make a living doing fantastic art, and I foolishly believed them—as if either had ever tried. I loved to write and draw stories—it was the storytelling that drove everything. I wish I had listened to myself first.

When did you become serious about being an artist? Or, rather, when did you decide that art was your ultimate passion of pursuit?

I guess I always knew. I had a pencil in my hand before I can remember. One of my earliest childhood memories is sitting in my father’s lap as he drew funny cartoon animals for me.

My favorite pastime growing up was creating my own comic books. I learned to draw by telling stories and learned to tell stories by drawing. In the end, narrative is the most important thing. I fell in love with D&D and ran games for my friends. D&D kept my storytelling muse fed through fourteen years of advertising.

Song and Silence - A Guidebook to Bards and Rogues (cover art)

When TSR and then Wizards of the Coast hired me, I got that fantasy appetite fed every day with art. The Summer Dragon was conceived as a book of dragon art, with a basic story to hold it together. But when I started writing that background, I discovered that I had more to say than pictures alone could tell. The muse was awake, and hungry. They say that a picture is worth a thousand words. But do you know what else is worth a thousand words? A thousand words.

What was it like growing-up in a house with parents who were artists? How much did they influence your career as an artist?

I think all artists were in it at least in part for the praise they got from their parents. Not all; I knew several artists whose parents did NOT want their son or daughter to pursue art. It was never a question for me. I liked art, they liked art. I lived in a very creative household. My mother and father also wrote, and all were musical. If I hadn’t been so shy, I might have ended up on stage like my brother and sisters.

Is there a “secret inner circle” of dragon artist you’re apart of? If so, how does one go about joining this club?

Ha! Well, I count Michael Whelan, Donato Giancola, Sam Wood, and a few others as friends, but there’s no dues or passwords or secret handshakes. You have to attend the conventions, hang out and meet people.

Besides dragons, what else do you love to draw?

I love nature, so trees, rocks, mountains, skies. But also, people and any manner of monster. The only thing I don’t love is architecture, not because I don’t appreciate it, it’s just tedious. I prefer the architecture of living things.

Observant Alseid - Nymph (MtG card art).jpg

Do you have any favorite brand of paints or drawing pencils? Or any brand you’d recommend?

Not really. I tend to buy Winsor Newton paints and brushes (and only their Series 7 brushes will do when painting details), and locally, Daniel Smith’s Art Supply makes their own line of oil paints which are outstanding.

As a beginning artist does it matter what they use to draw or paint?

That’s tricky. Economics presents a problem, for sure, but once you’ve used quality media it’s hard to go back.

What programs do you use for your digital work? If one can’t afford programs like Adobe Photoshop, what would be the next best thing they could use?

I use primarily Corel Painter, with a little Photoshop. But there are a number of less expensive and very good programs out there, I am told. I don’t recall their names because I don’t own them.

Sorry that wasn’t a more helpful answer…

Niv-Mizzet, Dracogenius (MtG card art)

Do you use a drawing tablet for your digital work? If so, what are you using at the moment?

I am using a Wacom Intuous 4 tablet. I never got on the Cintiq craze. They weren’t very good at first—too much lag time. I’ve gotten used to not having my hand in the way as I draw or paint, and I hate greasy fingerprints on my monitor. I’ll be damned if I’m going to use a mahl stick to paint digitally. Plus, there still isn’t a Cintiq style monitor as big as my Cinema Display. I’d be giving up real estate.

Do you find it difficult to switch between digital and traditional methods as an artist?

A little bit. I honestly don’t miss cleaning brushes or scraping pallets. Digital paint is fun and liberating in many ways. “Undo” is very different in oils than it is in pixels. But though I don’t necessarily miss painting, I do miss paintings—the end product.

The cover for The Summer Dragon was done in oils, though. I needed to have that one.

Do you have any art pieces that are your favorite?

Sure. I’m proud of most of the Drizzt covers, for R. A. Salvatore’s books, but especially The Thousand Orcs, The Lone Drow, and The Two Swords. Mech Hunter. Zhai. The covers I painted for Marie Brennan’s Lady Trent series were some of the most fun I had in my professional career: A Natural History of Dragons, The Tropic of Serpents, The Voyage of the Basilisk, A Labyrinth of Drakes, and In the Sanctuary of Wings.

Designing the look of D&D with Sam Wood for the 3rd Edition release was one of the highlights of my career. We got to reinvent the dragons for Dungeons & Dragons—how can you have more fun than that?

Three personal pieces also come to mind—Cerberus, Kali-Prakriti, and War of Angels.

War of Angels (detail).jpg

Has religion affected your art at all?

Clearly. Joseph Campbell opened my eyes to the true importance of religion, which is not the rote and dogma, but the journey to experience the mystery of life, to look within as well as without. To look beyond the primitive framing devices we call words and seek the deeper meaning behind them.

Do you have a favorite artist?

Zedislaw Beksinski. Emotional, ethereal, painterly, evocative. Brilliant.

What artist would you recommend studying? Or does it matter, so long as one is practicing their craft?

Study all of them. I can tell you who influenced me first, of course: both my parents, then Walt Disney; Frank Frazetta; Michael Whelan; the D&D artists Brom, Larry Elmore, Keith Parkinson, and Jeff Easley; Rembrandt; John Singer Sergeant; Tidema…the list goes on. If you want to study one, buy Creative Illustration, by Andrew Loomis. He was an illustrator in the 40s and 50s, but his art texts are considered bible by many illustrators working today. He expresses the basic fundamentals in a clear way.

The Thousand Orcs (cover art)

Any art schools you’d recommend for an artist?

The SmART School (look it up) has mentorship programs for all levels of skill. I’d stay away from college art course—too many of them don’t focus on the fundamentals of perspective, anatomy, design and composition, narrative. Touchy-feely art course might be fulfilling if fine art is the route you want to take, but most fine artists of note started out as illustrators. When you get right down to it, any artist with clients is an illustrator. Rembrandt and Michelangelo were illustrators.

Do you have a favorite book you loved growing-up as a child?

A single book? Not really. There was a book I read three times in the fifth grade about lions in Kenya, written from the point of view of a young lion. But I couldn’t tell you the title or the author. I enjoyed Sherlock Holmes stories a lot, and who doesn’t love Dr. Seuss?

Besides Joseph Campbell, are there any other authors you love reading?

Isaac Asimov; Larry Niven (who together with Jerry Pournelle wrote my favorite science fiction novel, The Mote in God’s Eye); Tolkien, of course; Robert E. Howard; H. P. Lovecraft; Alfred Bester; Roger Zelazny; David Gerrold.

A Natural History of Dragons (cover art)

What book are you reading at the moment?

I just finished three books in a row by David Gerrold. I almost never finish a book anymore. I don’t know why. I don’t read myself to sleep like I used to. But I get bored, can’t follow through. So, to finish three in a row is remarkable, let alone by the same author. That hasn’t happened since I read the LotR trilogy to my kids twenty+ years ago.

Besides art and writing, I read in another interview that you enjoy gardening and home improvement projects. Have you completed anything recently that you are particularly proud of?

I converted a giant crawl space with 9-foot ceilings into studio space a few years ago and finished the landscaping outside in time for my daughter to be married on the patio.

Do you have any pets?

I have a gentle fourteen-year-old American short-hair cat named Paikea. A pretty little tiger with a Neapolitan ice cream nose (from left to right it goes vanilla, strawberry, chocolate).

Leonin Elder (MtG card art)

Have you done any traveling out of the country in your lifetime? If not, any place in the states that you loved visiting?

I’ve been to Japan three times and love it. Italy twice, and England/Scotland twice. I’d love to visit Southeast Asia, especially Bali. I’d love to visit Australia and points south of the border in the Americas. I’ve never even been to Mexico, despite attending the San Diego Comic Con for a decade.

How has your experience been when it comes to attending conventions?

Conventions are a lot of work and a lot of fun. The best part, for me, comes after hours when I hang out in the bars with my friends. My favorite conventions are the ones that let me chill a little bit.

Draconomicon - The Book of Dragons (cover art)

What project are your working on at the moment (if you can share it)?

I’m 114,000 words into book two of The Evertide. Apart from that, I have some projects coming up with Grim Oak press that will be announced soon.

Any advice for an aspiring artist or writer?

That’s a simple question with a million answers. I actually have an FAQ on my website that provides many of them. Click on “ABOUT” and scroll down.

But the most pointed answer there is this one:

Art is a passion, or it will kill you. Your love of art will have to sustain you during the lean times. That said, once you have paid your dues and built a following, it can be very rewarding personally, and possibly financially.

Does the phrase “starving artist” ring a bell?

A career in art is, I suspect, much like a career in any of the other arts. A certain tiny number will achieve fame and fortune, another few will achieve fame, but little fortune, others will find good jobs, if only somewhat satisfying, and very many will toil in obscurity until they give up or find something better.

I don’t mean that to be discouraging, but if you’re lazy, don’t be an artist. If you want to spend your weekends lounging around the pool, doing nothing, don’t be an artist. If you expect to graduate from college, land a terrific job and start kicking asses, don’t be an artist.

However, if you love to create things, if your primary means of entertainment for yourself was drawing pictures and/or storytelling (D&D, making your own comics, writing short stories…anything that fired your imagination) then you may have what it takes. In fact, if you have all those qualities and don’t pursue art, you may spend the rest of your life wondering whether you had the chops, and if you missed your calling.

Talent is only part of the equation. There are many artists more talented than I who have failed and disappeared. I work my ass off. I go to conventions; I network with other artists and enjoy the company of people around the industry. I spend a lot of time in research (which I find enjoyable), put a lot of thought into every painting, and am always seeking to improve my craft. It’s a matter of desire. After fifteen years in advertising, I HAD TO DO THIS. I started attending conventions in hopes of landing more enjoyable work, or I was going to hang up my brushes and get a real estate license. Art was and is my lifeblood. Creating is what I do. If you are the same way, then challenge yourself and study art. If you are just a guy who draws occasionally and thinks that art might be a good way to make some money, you’re on the wrong track.

As I quoted above Joseph Campbell once said, “Follow your bliss, and doors will open where you did not know there were doors.” It’s true, it worked for me. You need to ask yourself what you enjoy most. What gives you the greatest pleasure? What do you do when you have leisure time and want to entertain yourself? That’s where your greatest level of satisfaction in a career will be found. You will excel when you love your work. If art fires your imagination and inspires you, then follow that bliss.

The Summer Dragon (cover art detail)

We would like to thank Mr. Lockwood again for speaking with us today. The first book in the Evertide series, The Summer Dragon, is out now! You can see more of his art and learn more about his writing, on his website. You can also follow him on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.


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