Jon Sullivan has featured on my blog before. He is a renowned fantasy artist who has worked on the likes of Games Workshop and Wizards of the Coast.

I have been pestering him for some words of wisdom and some insight into his fantastic ability for some time and he has kept promising me in spite of his fantastically busy schedule.

So, today his answers arrived. Here is the work of a man who obviously takes great pride in his work and appreciates his fans. : )

My questions are in blue...

How did you start to develop your (astonishing) talent ? Was this complimented by classes? life drawing and painting (presumedly) ?

Hi Chris appologies not getting back to you sooner..hey I have had Dwarfs Trolls Robots Androids large mechanical wasps, flesh ripping regenerating creatures,Crazed cyborg Scientists, Spacemarines Orcs Barbarians, Elves do this year so take it up with them. :o).
Answering your first question I started like any of us really..drawing at an early age just enjoying the hell out of sitting down doodling away. suppose the first inkling I had of knowing sci & fantasy illustration was the one for me was when I was around the age of 10.My Uncle Collin Sullivan an illustrator himself was doing cover at the time for scifi&fantasy book covers..I used to love just pooring over his portfolio of work.For any kid at that age the usual thing was to draw comic characters.Around about this time I remember my first attempt to realistically paint with oils.I have still got all those pictures.The picture was of a storm trooper riding a dewback from a movie still. From that moment I became hooked but at that age your almost treating it something that's just fun to do.The real obsession came when I left school at 15 and just painted absolutely nonstop.I never really treated artclasses at school too seriously as I knew I would go into this line of work so It was almost a matter of passing the time away at school.I had a portfolio of work by the time I was 16 and took it around the publishers..I never got any comebacks which set me back abit ( temperamental teenager stuff).I took a year out from nonstop painting ( I was doing 15-18 hour days even back then.Then i got into something else I loved back then which was cycle racing (timetrialling).Keeping the body active helped keep the mind active and is crucial in developing fresh ideas it is so easy to overlook the fact that your getting stale when your putting so much time and effort into what your doing .I would never ask technique advise from my uncle..I just wanted everything I learnt to be from my own studies. A big turning point for me was when Colin was exhibiting at the World Scifi Convention in Brighton in a spindly 14 year old it was very overwhelming to me.Lots of well known scifi fantasy artists were exhibiting there.It wasn't so much a turning point in my ability to paint better,although I was inspired..but it was turning point in the subject matter I would paint.Alot more hard fantasy scifi.So I spent the next 6 years learning how to paint realistically with oils. I spent many years developing my ability with the aid of 2 art books that really helped me understand the stages of painting a picture,the books were Boris Vallejo Fantasy art techniques and The Fantasy Art Techniques of Tim Hildebrandt.Its very easy for an artist to look at a piece of work and get overwhelmed and confused in how it was created. These books broke down the stages and also the myths in my head that that was impossible to paint.
I have never been to any form of art classes I did not go to college or Uni I just painted at home ..learning studying learning studying.....I have always had the belief that being tutored in art can stifle the true artist in you.Yes there maybe certain techniques that a tutor can teach a student but to become individual you have to face your fears and demons yourself. I suppose I had those inherent skills in art as mostly everyone in my family was good at rather than me being natural as I don't think I was it just became natural for me to pick the skills up easier.The problem with the school I was at was that there was no real interest in spotting or nurturing talent.

Is there a 'best way' to get into this industry? Is entering competitions is a good idea? I was thinking of maybe trying to send some work in for the Spectrum album competition and perhaps some other publications/webzines too.

Chris the only way In my book to get into the industry is to be good at what you do. Just apply yourself rigidly to what you do ..don't let it be in someone else's hands to tell you your good or bad.Be your own master. I could say yes sending into competitions would increase your chances of getting work but then your being judged whether you are worthy or not to be included.When your starting off in the industry there's only one thing you have to be sure I good enough to earn money at this. There is a massive difference in being good at what you do and earning money at what you do ..because that is usually another step up.Wh en I set my website up I was still entering these competitions to get my artwork into books just for promotional reasons but once you have a good client base and you are getting in the work you dont need to promote yourself through these books.So over last few years I have not entered competitions.But for you Chris as your interested in getting your work out there promoting yourself is the main task at the moment.Its nice sending work into these competitions but its not necessarily going to get you work..whats going to get you work is sending directly to the publishers your portfolio.That should be your goal..amasing a large portfolio of work..diversity is what they will be looking for.The more pieces of work you send off the more chance you have of scoring a commission. Maybe one publisher will like one picture more than another and vise versa.

Did you have to flaunt yourself a lot when starting out by visiting clients, showing your portfolio etc, when you started out?

Well the first time I go together a portfolio and sent it around to a couple of publishers was when I was 16.. I thought yeah yeah I`m ready ..I just wanted my work on a book cover. Thing is my portfolio was good but not what they wanted..not diverse enough.Not to mention the fact that I was taking a month at the least in painting the pictures.Some paintings 2 months.But the publishers never got to that stage of knowing that as they were not interested in the artwork.When I was 20 I exhibited at my first convention,British fantasy convention in Birmingham..I remember a guy coming up to me from one of the publishers and asked me how long it would take me to paint one of my pictures as I think he was pretty keen on me doing a cover for him..I told him 8 weeks the answer should have been 2 weeks then I most probably would have got the job ..see be as dishonest as you can be..( only joking) ..I am sure I could hear him gulp and he said well good luck and hope things go well for me. Deadlines , that was the thing that I worked on for my portfolio..painting faster learning quick. I never had a loose technique so for me as I couldn't just switch styles from tight to loose it would be more difficult to create the pictures in such a quick time.Nowdays you don't need to take your portfolio of work around to the clients them your work or send a CD.But when I was starting off I was so behind on all of that I was only just using a fax..and this was up till 2005.Most of the time I would be sending faxes off of sketches.or spending hours at the library getting prints off of my paintings.. believe me its difficult putting an A1 size painting on a A3 size laser flat panel printer. So forget the trudging round to publishing houses with your portfolio that time by presenting your work on a cd to send to the publishers.It saves you time and also them as they don't have to rush through your work but can browse through it in there own time .Never be put off if they completely ignore your email or happens to all of us no matter if your starting out or experienced pro.Just send to as many as you can.The first time I took my work around was to an art agents in London. I think they were based in Charing cross road. and I was 21 I think the appointment was for 1-3pm..( alarm bells should have rung as it was there lunchtime) but never the less I struggled up town with huge portfolio.They were a 3 man agency ..the next 2 hours was just completely wasted as they had no real intention of taking me onboard but just whiling away the time.From that day on I knew that I was not going to be used in that way again...but I was very polite and shook hands etc..never heard from them.Be your own master I thought.

Do your clients contact you personally? Do you meet with them? Are they repeat clients? Do you need to use an agent?

I did have an agent in this country and usa back in 2000 and before. I did not really understand about agents all I knew is that they where there to get work for you.
Be very certain you want to start off with an agent before you make that decision.In my case it wasn't a great decision .I was eager to get my first commission though and jumped at the chance to just get work ..In 1995 i was exhibiting at the world scifi convention in glasgow and agreed to accept going onboard with an agent.What I did learn in those years is that i could communicate better directly with the publishers and art directors than an agent could..((say no more).So my advice is to be bold and go alone but be very understanding of what the publisher wants and get as much info on the job as is possible.Just be confident in your self and your ability to succeed.Its not as hard as you think it might be.And also minus an agent saves you lots of dosh.Yes the clients would contact me with a commission.It is also good to limit yourself to certain publishers that you feel comfortable with.The better the relationship with the client means more work and greater understanding of what's needed and what the client expects from you through all the stages from rough to final picture.

What percentage of your work is digital and how much traditional?

All digital now but I keep my hand in with the oils when I can get an hour or so spare time.(as I bloomin well miss painting). But I come from a differnet angle now with accepting digital as the main way i create the pictures..When I used to paint for publishers the down side for me was that what overtook the scene I was painting was the fact that I was rushing to get it it was almost a matter of losing a lot of the detail I had in mind when starting out with the idea of creating the picture.Now I treat it as creating what's in my mind without worrying or spending time on the process I create it with .Sometimes with painting you are restricted from what vision you have in your head to whittle it down to something you can create in the given time .It to some extent similar to digital creating but with digital you can expand your vision..and for me if it looks good on a cover that's all I am worried about not the process I used to get there.If it looks original and believable and striking then that's fine by me.

What sort of work forms the majority of your commissions? How long does a brief normally last?

Well all the work I do is scifi & fantasy and everyone of the commissions I have done this year has been different from the last..even if the same character appears in the scene the challenge is to make the picture different .At the moment I am working on a winged archer character ,black dragon , and a spacemarine.As you do.
Originality is the main thing.From elves dwarfs to spaceships robots and androids. have ventured into doing more Sci-Fi recently but do try to veer away from the cliches in sci fi when designing a cover.But if the client wants that as it tends to sell then I will do it. A job would normally last from 1 week to 1 month.but if you want to earn a living from this than the former is the closer figure.

last one.. Do you have a studio that you go to work in? Do you share your workspace?

No I don't have a studio studio is in the front room in a corner with just computer a screen and a pair of headphones with a good view out a north facing window..which I have not needed for some time.( the north facing light not the window).Saying that it would be nice though to work away in a rooftop studio. Wistful thinking.

Hopefully answered some of your questions here and not bored you senseless. ( I dont think so )
Chris good luck on all your work and if this goes on your blog and to everyone who is intent on getting into book cover illustration. Right now I am off to design mad worlds.
all best
Jon Sullivan.

Here are some more examples of Jon's work and this link to his site where you can see some of his sketchbook work as well as many of his finished pieces for books etc.