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Alan Pollack
conducted by Tony Daniel
July 2014

An Interview with Alan Pollack

Alan Pollack was born in New Jersey. He studied art at the School of Visual Arts, Parsons School of Design and The New York Academy of Figurative Arts in Manhattan. After knocking about for a bit, he was for several years a full-time staff artist at TSR, and then freelanced for Wizards of the Coasts where he illustrated what must be hundreds of Magic the Gathering cards and other gaming pieces. His art has also appeared on the cover of Spectrum Fantastic Art, the well-regarded illustration annual.

He's done cover art for many publishers, including a great many here at Baen. He is the cover artist for all of Larry Correia's Monster Hunter International series books, from Monster Hunter International to Monster Hunter Nemesis. He's also the cover artist on Larry Correia's Grimnoir Chronicle books. In addition, Alan is the artist for David Drake's horror story collection, Night and Demons, for Sarah A. Hoyt's Darkship Thieves, Sharon Lee and Steve Miller's Fledgling, James Hogan's Migration, and many others.

Alan, can you tell us how you came of age as an artist? Did you know art was what you wanted to do from early on?

ALAN: I did not know I wanted to be an artist when I was young. I did love to draw. I used to collect the old Aurora model kits of Dracula, Frankenstein, Godzilla as well as dinosaurs, pose them on my kitchen table and draw them freehand. I was always considered one of the better artists in school. Later in high school I created large recreations of album covers and pictures of my favorite rock bands. I would display them proudly in the lunch room for all to see. I was very proud…. and a bit dorky. I also used to paint album cover art on the backs of denim jackets.

So what was it like working as a staff artist at places like TSR? I imagine you were surrounded by some very creative people?

ALAN: Working at TSR was an awesome experience overall. Things got a bit messy politically at the end but the experience of working in a closed environment with four other artists was life changing. I learned so much during that period of time. Those artists were way more experienced than I. I learned so much, not only about painting. We were isolated from the rest of the employees. We would shut the door, crank up the music, goof around and, oh yeah, paint! We were left alone, for the most part, to create. Very cool time in my life.

When I look at a Pollack cover for Baen there are two things that usually strike me, at least. The first is the amazing action filled composition. And second is that you seem to have a love affair with the color red, and all its shades. How do you think about color as an artist, and as a book cover artist?

ALAN: Well thanks. Usually my color choices are based on the particular scene I choose to paint. So it could be the lighting that decides it, the mood of the scene, the environment or sometimes it could be as simple as having the lead woman be a redhead so then I play all of the surrounding colors off the red hair. I do like red. I like to use splashes of color lately rather than over saturate everything. I guess I do use red often enough. It does grab your attention which is ultimately my goal. To get you to stop and look at the book cover.

Now about that composition . . . can you even paint an image that isn't leaping off the page?

ALAN: I do admire guys that have a very subtle approach. I tend to not be so subtle. As a painting to hang on your wall I think subtle is great. It can make for a beautiful piece of art. But, again, my goal is for my cover to jump off the book shelf and stand out amongst the rest. I like to use exciting compositions, lighting, color and dynamic camera angles to capture one’s attention.

You did the Correia Monster Hunter book covers. What was your process there and with other covers, as well? How do you go about creating what you know will be the cover of a book?

ALAN: Larry Correia’s books are easy to illustrate for. His stories are so vivid and full of interesting characters, action-packed scenes and fully realized, detailed environments. The problem is trying to choose which one to paint out of so many possibilities. Usually it’s the other way around. You have to dig and dig through a book and almost create a scene of your own that has the flavor of the story. Almost always, the publisher wants the main characters on the cover, and preferably an attractive female. I usually try to find a scene out of the book to illustrate. I never choose one that will give away the end of the story. If there isn’t a particular scene that appeals to me, I will create an alternate scene that maybe takes place off screen or that was edited out. Kind of like a cool scene in a movie that you would only see in the director’s cut.

Digitial, oils . . . what is your usual work medium, if you have one?

ALAN: When I work with traditional mediums I use oils always. I usually, however, start with an acrylic underpainting. Nowadays I work fifty/fifty oils/ digital. Sometimes I start a painting traditionally, scan it and finish it in the computer. Sometimes I do the reverse. When I work digitally I use Corel Painter and some Photoshop.

Any other favorite Baen covers of yours?

ALAN: I love all of the Correia covers for the Monster Hunter series. My fave from the Grimnoir series is the latest one, Warbound. I also love the Migration, Night and Demons, The Ruby Dice and Fledgling.

So what does the Pollack studio look like? What is your working set-up? What's a typical day's work, or is there one?

ALAN: I think my studio is boring, if you even want to call it a studio. It’s more of an office. Let’s see. I have my computer and drawing table here, two windows and a lot of shelves covered with action figures and sculptures for inspiration and referencing anatomy. I also have my amplifiers and guitars laying around. I write and record my own music on my computer. Some day I will renovate the attic, which is quite large, and make it the ideal artist’s loft.

What are some of your influences both in science fiction and fantasy and beyond?

ALAN: I am influenced by life in general. Everything from nature, people sitting in a coffee shop, the way the light cascades someone’s face, video games, movies of all kinds, other artists in all genres. Some of my favorites are Brom, Michael Whelan, Tom Keubler, Mark Zug, Greg Staples, Chet Zar, Brian Despain, Chris Rahn and Bill Carman to name a few…. Oh, let’s not forget Frazetta, who I believe is on the top of just about everyone’s list. I will say I have been on Pinterest a lot and have found so many outstanding artists I never knew existed from all over the world. Quite amazing. Pinterest has been great for not only discovering art but also great reference and inspiration for creating art.

You attended art school. You have been a hard working artist inside organizations and out. Do you have any advice for aspiring young artists?

ALAN: Work hard and with passion. Consistency is key. Have a consistent style and medium throughout your portfolio. In other words, don’t have some oils, some watercolors and some ink drawings. If you want to paint, show them you can paint. An inconsistent portfolio screams “kid fresh out of college.” Consistency is also important when working with clients. Always do your best work and try to give 100 percent or you may lose clients. It takes a constant effort to be an artist. It’s not something you shut off. An artist’s mind is always spinning, anticipating the next masterpiece. Also, the freelance world isn’t for everyone. There are many times where work is up and down, paychecks are not steady and self doubt may creep in. Being an artist takes discipline, hard work, passion, drive, determination , creativity, talent and the ability to belief in yourself, to believe that you are great and deserving no matter what anyone else thinks or says. You have to develop a thick skin. Throughout the course of your career, reinvention is also key. Did I scare anyone away? Ha!

I hear you like to fish. How do you keep yourself inspired? Or do you even have to?

ALAN: I love to fish. Don’t fish enough. Keeping inspired can be challenging when the weather is nice or when you have a job in front of you that is not very…inspiring….