Paul Bonner (2008)
I’ve always loved Paul Bonner’s artwork. I think he’s one of the best fantasy artists out there, and I used to spend hours gazing lovingly at his pencil drawings of Orks in Games Workshop’s sourcebooks as a youth. This interview is from Death Ray 10. You can read a short review of Out of the Forests… a collection of his work, here.
Q&A Paul Bonner
Paul Bonner has been painting for as long as he can remember, like most kids he used to mess around with paints, and later make and paint models. But unlike most, he never stopped, and transformed his love of creating fantasy scenes and creatures into a fully-fledged career. Now based in Denmark, he spoke to Death Ray about his influences and methods.
Guy Haley: What methods do you use?
Paul Bonner: I use watercolours, from tubes, and brushes and water. That’s what I’ve used probably since I was given some as a present as a kid. You get used to them, and I’ve never found a reason to change. I’d have to start learning right from the beginning if I swapped to something new. I don’t need that! I have played with airbrushes, I borrowed one from a friend of mine and I used it to get a really smooth gradation of colour in blue skies in a four or five paintings, and just for a cheap thrill. I know if I mix this paint in that way then I’ll get this effect. People think that certain media should only be used in certain ways, but as a youngster I didn’t know any better, so you find your own way of doing things. Most media are a lot more flexible than people think. It’s too easy to get caught up in technique.
GH: Why have you worked for so many gaming companies?
PB: I guess it’s where the fantasy is. It’s not through any choice of mine. If I’m allowed to do fantasy stuff, to be honest it doesn’t matter who I do the job for. It’s kind of irrelevant to me, the mechanics of the gaming never interested me at all, it’s just purely visual, and at the moment, games and computer games are the most visual form for expressing fantasy. I’m now doing work for Riot Minds and some Magic cards for Wizards of the Coast, they’ve just come up with some interesting new worlds.
GH: You worked at Games Workshop for a while.
PB: Yeah. It was fun sitting in a room full of other people, I’d never done it before, and I’ve never done it since. It was very inspiring because the ideas would feed off each other, and there was this healthy competition. And there was an automatic social life. But they had me doing just black and white art, and I began to miss my colours. I work on my own now, like most artists, it’s just the way it is. When you’re working you don’t need anybody else around. You’re aware of noises, so you know there’s a world going on outside somewhere!
GH: Your artwork focusses quite a lot on noses. Why is this?
PB: With goblins and trolls it just goes with the territory. But, with humans? Do you think? I can’t really think of an answer, I can only agree with you. Looking at my artwork there’s only a few human beings in it, so I’m not often drawing what you’d consider normal noses. I suppose my figures are, not cartoony, but they’re a bit caricatured, or grotesques. So even when there is a human, yeah, the noses do get exaggerated because they do give a lot of character as well.
GH: You say you also paint for yourself. What kind of thing do you do?
PB: The same kind of thing really! Deep forests, caves, waterfalls and trolls. And more forests! It’s almost become a kind of landscape painting for me the last few years, where the characters almost become secondary. I’m really enjoying painting an environment, like a stage, and when I feel it’s ready the characters can just walk on and do whatever they do.
GH: Who are your influences.
PB: Jan Bauer was a really big influence. When I was a kid my mum would home books of Swedish folktales home from the library. All these pictures of trolls scuttling round these deep green forests. I just wanted to be there. I’ve never been that keen on American high fantasy, it’s too polished. It was never quite as gritty or realistic as the fantasy we tend to do in Europe.