Today, we are talking with steampunk illustrator and Lovecraft enthusiast Bethalynne Bajema. Her work offten incorporates Victorian and fantastical elements into a bizarre collage:
IFP: Your work has been defined as steampunk, what would you call it?
BB: I consider my artwork to simply be fantasy as far as having to define it or putting it into a genre. I was your tragic goth type in high school and, through my early twenties, I was very devoted to dark fantasy and horror. Now, more relaxed and in my thirties, I enjoy things that come from different time periods like the Victorian era and turn-of-the-century France, or the Roaring Twenties. As a result, my artwork tends to reflect whatever is my main interest at the time. With those older time periods being my focus as of late, my work seems to be falling nicely into the steampunk genre. But to define yourself as one particular style is to limit yourself and your audience, so I still think my work is simple fantasy. No matter the content or style, I enjoy things of pure fantasy.
IFP: What are some sources of inspiration for your work?
BB: Music is a big inspiration for my work. Music always sets a mood for me and I use that as a way to always be able to go back to a particular mood to help with whatever I’m working on. I take a lot from the artists I admire, as well, such as Brom and Joachim Leutke. For the most part though, just about anything offers room for inspiration.
IFP: What are some recurring elements in your art?
BB: The most reoccurring element in my art would be the attempt to offer the audience something that might be dark but at the same time incredibly beautiful. I especially like doing this with the women I focus on in my art. I want to present a very beautiful creature that is very pleasing to the eye in a very unconventional way. I don’t want her to be seen as threatening or outright bad, but there is an air of uncertainty about her. I also focus a lot on eyes. I have few paintings that offer an individual with normal eyes. I want the eyes to always be unsettling or unreadable. Eyes are supposed to be the gateway to a person’s soul, or who they really are. I don’t want you to be able to read any of these characters.
IFP: What’s your background? Did you go to art school or are you self-trained?
BB: I’ve had no formal art education beyond one semester of art in 10th grade and a graphic arts night class that was sadly interrupted when I had to have surgery on my primary hand (I’m ambidextrous but still tend to favor my right hand for detailed pen work or handling a mouse, which put a damper on the class). I come from a family of artists, especially my grandparents. I was in the custody of my grandparents for a bit when I was quite young and they encouraged any type of creative hobbies. From there on, any type of creative outlet occupied the majority of my spare time. My older brother also taught me a lot as I was growing up. He was a fantasy, Lord-of-the-Rings type of obsessive and an incredible pen-and-ink artist. I watched him draw many fantasy-oriented scenes and often annoyed him by trying to copy his work.
IFP: How did you become interested in fantastic illustrations?
BB: I guess this would go along with what I mentioned about my brother. My older brother was your typical geek. He loved horror, sci-fi and all types of fantasy. It probably did little for his popularity among his schoolmates, but he often spent his free time babysitting me and introducing me to all the stuff he enjoyed. He used to read me bits from the LOTRings books and took me to the drive-in to see the Star Wars movies, among other films. We also played Dungeons and Dragons, as well as a variety of silly fantasy-based games in our backyard after school. He’s a straight-edged, crew-cut Republican (his words) these days who sadly no longer draws or lets his head get lost in fantasy anymore. But when I was a kid, he helped keep me immersed in this wonderful world of make-believe that I really prize now as an adult. I count myself very lucky to have had him practically raising me as a kid. As I mentioned in the previous question’s answer, I looked up to him and often tried to mimic him. It’s how I really got hooked on drawing.
IFP: Where did you get the idea to combine Lovecraft with steampunk?
BB: I don’t know, really, I’ve never honestly looked at them as two things I set out to combine. The timeline that much of Lovecraft’s work revolved around just seems to go hand-and-hand with some of the steampunk genre stuff. And, as I’m a big fan of horror along with fantasy, it just seemed natural to have weird monsters and tentacles as a part of that timeline. It also helped that my fiancé is an artist who is just as into the Lovecraft mythos as I am and who also liked the steampunk genre. When you embrace Lovecraft’s stories and dark worlds, you’re already sucked into a much-older time period and some of that Victorian background.
IFP: So, I hear you have an alter ego called “Etta”. Can you tell us more about Etta?
BB: Everything I do I want to be something more than just a painting, just a store or what have you. I want a fan of my work and fiction to be able to experience an entirely fleshed-out world. If I do a portrait of a character and she’s holding a book of rare things or what have you, I want the fan to be able to go into my world and be able to find that book and read it, as well. So, when I was putting together something that was going to in essence be a brand name and shop for the combined work of my fiancé and me, I wanted that to also have a story. So, I created a shopkeep who also had a story and background that could be explored. I wanted the Etta Diem’s Attic Shop to be its own tale and I wanted Etta to be an interesting character. So, not only are you just buying something with the Etta Diem brand on it or using our online shop, you’re being introduced to a character with an entire background and ongoing story. The items that she talks about in her stories are items you can actually go into her shop and find, like – for example – the insect shears. In the Etta Diem stories, she became a collector of these enchanted or cursed shears. You not only have the story of these strange tools, but you’re able to actually go and buy them. And, since it’s always fun to play dress-up, I designed it would be fun to have an alter ego that I can adopt when doing our conventions and selling Etta wares.
IFP: You’ve been working on a tarot deck project. Can you tell us more about this?
BB: I think most artists into certain genres of art have the desire to put together their own tarot deck. Sadly, most artists never see such a project through because it is quite a bit of art to create and work, unless you simply stick with the major arcana. I began making some artwork that was meant to simply be the major arcana. I didn’t have any intentions of actually making a full deck. But, as it progressed and I began coming up with ideas for the minor arcana as well, I decided to see the project to the end. I’m quite proud of it, actually. My Sepia Stains tarot deck is the largest collection of original and similiar-themed artwork that I’ve ever put together. I had the entire deck done a few months back, but I’ve been tweaking and adding to it to make it a better deck. I’m not sure I want to actually do another deck, so I’m dead-set on this deck being as perfect as it is in my power to be. I’m basing the symbols and usage of the deck on a pretty basic tarot design. I want the deck to be unique to me, but I don’t want to create a deck that is so involved and customized that the individual has to completely learn a new tarot system and possibly have to refer back to the deck’s notes during readings. And, for people who don’t care for the tarot or believe in it as a means of divination, it’s still a nice collection of my art.
IFP: Who is your favourite artist?
BB: Without question Brom. I adore his subject content and his characters. But most of all, I like his attention paid to details and his colour scheme. I like how his work is very colourful, but these colours are still somewhat muted. I must confess, I model a great deal of my colour usage off his style.
IFP: What are you working on right now?
BB: I’ve been creating small collections of themed art and writing in my “Bajema’s Web Collections”. I’ve also been putting the finishing touches on the two graphic novel titles I wanted to begin releasing seasonally. Basically comic books, but I think “comic” kind of suggests the content isn’t as serious as it is. I’ve also been working on some joint projects with my fiancé Myke Amend, a wonderful fantasy artist in his own right.
IFP: What is your favourite Lovecraft/Mythos story?
BB: Ooh, hard to decide. I’m a fan of the overall world that Lovecraft was able to create. I think it’s incredible that he put together the beginnings of a unique mythos that was able to be added to and fleshed out by authors who were friends of his. I have to say (though perhaps cliché as a Lovecraft fan) I’m most fond of the places where Cthulhu is mentioned and his background/mythos is added to.
IFP: If you could be a Lovecraft character or creature, who would you be and why?
BB: I’m not sure I’d want to be any of his characters. All too often, those silly people who seek to gain power through the various creatures or what have you in his mythos come to dark ends. I’m obsessed with water, though, and all myths and characters that are connected with the Earth’s water ways. I’ve always been fond of Dagon and the different ways it’s referenced, sometimes as an actual figure and other times as a type of old, water-dwelling humanoids. Although my fiancé and I have a silly affection for the Dunwich Horror, who we’ve turned into a somewhat emo teenager-type character that we use on our Miskatonic Archive site. A lot of the people who visit the site don’t quite get the joke, mostly because they’ve never read the original story.
Bio: Bethalynne Bajema was brought to this world some years past, spring time-ish, in a dark ceremony using stolen languages since unspoken by man. From an early age, she was taught sewing, storytelling and unconventional warfare…all this in preparation of her foretold future as Dread Overlord & Tailor. What prophecy could not see was the impact her older brother’s comic collection would have on her and the siren songs of India ink, the arts and the written word. These talents have since been nurtured and have been showcased in a variety of magazines, books, cover artwork, as well, for more than ten years online. Mixing equal parts Victorian horror, sepia erotica, clockwork logic and Industrial music, Beth carves her dreams on the skins of Tibetan holy men before transferring their contents to the computer’s screen.
Beth currently has returned from the East Coast to Michigan with her fiancé, their rather bizarre not-so-little cat, a laptop, and her dark army. Online, she can be found at her personal site Bajema’s Web, or the Miskatonic Archive, a steampunk-meets-Lovecraft site she helps maintain with her fiancé Myke. The two of them also stock and run a rather successful internet store: Etta Diem’s Attic Shop of This and That, a place to get a variety of prints and merchandise from both Beth and Myke, along with the unique and dark Etta Diem brand items.