Interview: Steven Gilberts

Steven Gilberts is an artist with a fondness for horror and the fantastic. He lives in a “Dunwich-esque village of southern Indiana” where he “concocts odd illustrations for the small press industry.”

IFP: How did you get your start as an illustrator?

SG: I suppose my actual career as an illustrator began with my first paying assignment for Space & Time Magazine back in 2003. Also that year, I was invited to be a member of Chad Savage and Alan Clark’s project. That opened up a lot of doors for me. As an illustrator in general, it would go back to childhood. I was always shy, but drawing “cool things” like dinosaurs and spaceships would garner desirable attention from my classmates.

IFP: What is the creative process for your illustrations? Do you get to read, say, a whole anthology like Dark Faith and then paint a cover? Or are you given a brief with exact information of what should appear?

SG: With the Dark Faith anthology, Maurice Broaddus sent me some of the stories to choose from. I get a lot of projects that work that way, with me reading some stories, or even a whole manuscript, and working out the cover illustration from there. I get just as many projects where there is a specific description provided for me to work from.

IFP: How much self-marketing does an artist have to do these days? Is it harder with the Internet? Easier?

SG: In my experience, it is always in an artist’s best interest to self-market as much as possible. Of course, the more covers an illustrator has to his or her credit, the more they will show up on Google searches and such.

The Internet has definitely made being a professional illustrator much easier. Up into the 90s, an illustrator would have to travel to New York with a portfolio in hand and hope to score some interviews with publishers. Now publishers can correspond with illustrators near and far, and online portfolios can be viewed instantaneously.

IFP: What draws you to horror?

SG: In regards to illustration, I have found that horror art tends to lean towards surrealism. Since my college days, my work has been predominately surreal, so making the transition from gallery art to cover and interior illustration was rather simple. As suggested by my friend and fellow illustrator Alan Clark, I just needed to “go darker” with my subject matter.

As far as horror in general, I was always drawn to ghost stories and monster movies as a child. Of course, I was one of those kids that would begin Halloween preparations as early as Labor Day. All year, on Saturday nights, I would watch the local horror movie double feature Fright Night, hosted by The Fearmonger (the late Charlie Kissinger). Most of the movies creeped me out, but I always went back for more. And, of course, I was big fan of horror-based television programs such as Thriller, Kolchak, and Night Gallery.

IFP: What is your dream project?

SG: To work on a Ramsey Campbell project. It was Ramsey’s phenomenal collection Cold Print that introduced me to world of the Cthulhu Mythos back in 1983. The stories gave me wonderful nightmares.

IFP: What scares you?

SG: Too many things. Taxes, politics and disease, to name a few. I have a curious love/fear thing going on with spiders. I can actually handle spiders without a problem, provided that I’m familiar with the species, but the thought of working in our crawl-space, and having a large one suddenly run across me, gives me the willies. I have a similar thing going on with deep, murky water. I love visiting lakes and rivers, but nearly drowning in a Wisconsin lake as a child has stuck with me all these years.

IFP: When we’ve talked to other artists, they’ve discussed the difficulties of creating Lovecraftian images. What are some hurdles and some of the great things that come with these assignments?

SG: One of the strongest elements of H. P. Lovecraft’s work is that entities are sometimes not fully described, thereby forcing the reader’s imagination to step up to the plate. One’s own imagination can be the greatest engine in creating a fearful image, so when something is specifically illustrated, it might fall short of the reader’s personal vision. On the other hand, a creature not completely described becomes a playground of ideas for a talented illustrator. I enjoy illustrating reptilian creatures, arthropod forms and sea animals, so it is like being a kid in candy store, given all the odd beasties that abound in the Cthulhu Mythos.

IFP: If you could be a Lovecraftian creature or character, whom would you be and why?

SG: A cat! The cats of H.P. Lovecraft’s universe are revered. They know a lot of hidden knowledge, can travel through space, can take down a Moon-Beast, and are just all-around cool.

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IFPInterview: Steven Gilberts