Go to Homepage   Brom: Humoring the Dark

 
Brom (photo courtesy of Brom.)

Seductive and scary, decadent and dark -- but funny -- the art of Brom brings together concepts and emotions that should conflict but don't. Not quite. Unsettling juxtapositions of line and color attract the viewer to the horrible or inspire uneasiness at the sight of apparent beauty. You know something's wrong, and you're forced to conclude that something is you.

Brom says his obsession with the weird, monstrous and beautiful dates from his earliest childhood. The ability to depict his obsessions with verve and skill soon followed. At 20, Brom started working as a full-time commercial illustrator. Four years later he began illustrating TSR's Dark Sun. By 1993, he returned to freelancing full time, providing art for every kind of fantasy from comics to novels to films. Now on the eve of publishing the second collection of his work (Offerings), Brom talked to Crescent Blues about his next transition -- from illustrating other peoples' visions to painting his own.

Crescent Blues: What do you enjoy most about painting monsters and other fantastical creatures?

Brom: The fact that they exist only in my imagination. When I paint from my imagination I am creating something that has never been seen before.

Crescent Blues: How does that relate to your vision of yourself as superstitious and easily frightened?

Dritz (© Brom, courtesyBrom)

Brom: The down side to having a photographic imagination is that it gets the best of me. One odd creak or pop in the basement and my mind conjures up all manner of horrors slinking about in the shadows just waiting to gnaw the marrow from my bones.

Crescent Blues: What's the greatest challenge you face when you paint something not found in nature? How do you "flesh out" a creature that exists only in your head?

Brom: The easy part is painting something that does not exist, there are no rules, just let my imagination flow. Painting reality is where it gets difficult.

Crescent Blues: Do you use live models for the human figures in your paintings? Do they have any notion of the types of paintings they may appear in?

Brom: I prefer dead models. The only draw back is that they do not last very long, plus we end up going through a lot of air fresheners.

Tight deadlines never allow me the luxury of getting in the mood to paint before I start.

Crescent Blues: What are the pluses and minuses of working with three-dimensional models versus using static visual references or painting straight from the mind?

Brom: Painting is at its best when I can paint straight from the imagination, but there are areas where having a model whether live or photographs can really help. The trick is to not become a slave to the photo, to understand the structure -- to go beyond the photo -- altering and exaggerating where needed to take the image to the next level.

Crescent Blues: Certain images seem to recur in your work, specifically figures with eyes masked, missing or obscured, and threatening people (usually women) with bloody hands. What particular message (if any) are you trying to convey with these images, or are they no more than a reflection of the subject matter?

Brom: It is not a conscious direction, certainly no messages. I am simply attracted to certain types of subject matter, items and themes so they have a tendency to reappear from time to time.

Crescent Blues: Do you have a "typical" or preferred way of approaching a painting? What rituals do you use to put yourself in the mood to paint?

Brom: Tight deadlines never allow me the luxury of getting in the mood to paint before I start. I usually have to dive right in and hope I get in the groove. Listening to moody music or a book on tape can help.

Crescent Blues: Looking at your paintings, I've got to ask -- what kind of music and books-on-tape, specifically?

Hero (© Brom, courtesyBrom)

Brom: A sample of music would be: Nick Cave, Tom Waits, Johnny Cash, Tindersticks, the Doors.

Crescent Blues: Do you get much chance to research the games or read the books for the covers you design?

Brom: Most of the time the product is not completely written or fully developed when I start the painting. I usually get a synopsis and a description of the main elements that need to go on the cover, from there it is up to me.

Crescent Blues: Did you read much science fiction, fantasy or horror growing up? What were your favorite books (or comics), regardless of genres? How has that list changed or grown over the years?

Brom: Lord of the Rings of course, a lot of Robert E. Howard, [Edgar Rice] Burroughs and all of the Michael Moorcock novels. As an adult I have read most of Stephen King, Clive Barker. These days I am particularly drawn to the works of Neil Gaiman.

Crescent Blues: You recently turned your hand to writing and illustrating a novel. How far along is that project?

Variety is everything, it keeps painting interesting.

Brom: The story is done. I am now working on the illustrations.

Crescent Blues: Can you tell us something about the story and its illustrations? Any estimates on when fans might be able to see the results either in exhibition or on store shelves?

Brom: The idea and theme have a real punchline to them, so I am reluctant to give anything away, but I will say it is a twisted little horror tale. If all goes well hopefully I will be able to start previewing it in about a year.

Crescent Blues: Any plans to create a series of illustrations for books by other writers -- classic or modern?

Brom: Not at this time, I have spent the last 15 years painting pictures for other people's books, I would like to focus as much as I can on my own projects now.

Crescent Blues: Who do you feel were your greatest artistic influences? Do these influences continue to play a large role?

Brom: I think a list of artists that did not influence me would be shorter, but if I had to narrow it down to the individuals that made the most profound impactů[Frank] Frazetta, of course. I thrived on Richard Corben when I was growing up. Dead people I like: [John William] Waterhouse, [Alfonse] Mucha, N.C. Wyeth. And some people find this hard to believe, but Norman Rockwell has always been a favorite -- to me there simply is no better draftsman.

Crescent Blues: What prompted you to start mixing media in your paintings? How does this process affect the final result?

Brom: I work up an acrylic underpainting first. Acrylics dry very fast, so it allows me to get a lot of paint on the board fast. After the acrylics are dry I go over them with oil to do the soft rendering of forms and shapes.

Radience (© Brom, courtesyBrom)

Crescent Blues: How stable is the combination? Could we be looking at another scenario like Leonardo's Last Supper?

Brom: No, acrylic is pretty much the same chemically as the gesso I prime my boards with. It acts as an extra protective layer between the paint and the board.

Crescent Blues: Do you prefer to paint quickly (as you do for the "Dark Age" collectable card series) or in a more leisurely fashion?

Brom: Variety is everything, it keeps painting interesting. I find if I do any one type of painting or approach too much I start to become bored, it's good to try different things. I really enjoyed the card art because it allowed me the freedom to experiment, to be subtle.

Experiencing different cultures helps broaden your vision.

Crescent Blues: The "Dark Age" series also gave you the opportunity to work as an art director. Would you like to pursue more assignments of this kind? What did you like best about wearing two hats on the "Dark Age" project?

Brom: I liked being my own art director, it gave me the freedom to pursue my personal vision. I feel the work I did for Dark Age is some of best for this very reason.

Crescent Blues: Have you ever played the games you paint? If so, which is your favorite and what makes it so?

Brom: I play a lot of computer games. Having designed most of the characters for Heretic 2 made it a blast to play. It is terrific fun to slaughter my own monsters.

Miss Muffet 1 (© Brom, courtesyBrom)

Crescent Blues: Speaking of multi-media monsters, you've been involved with some of the biggest fantasy movies of recent years: Tim Burton's Sleepy Hollow, Galaxy Quest, Ghosts of Mars, Scooby Doo... What sort of work did you do on those films?

Brom: I am usually called on to do creature designs. I draw up many versions Of various creatures and costumes, the sketches are gone over by the director who picks which elements he likes best. Then a final drawing is done of the combined elements. .

Crescent Blues: How different was that from working with a games company?

Brom: Less freedom, more guessing.

Crescent Blues: Since Ghosts of Mars is in the theaters now, and Scooby Doo should be following soon, could you get more specific about those films?

Brom: I wish I had some good stories, but the truth is rather boring, just nice enthusiastic, creative people all working together trying to make a film.

Crescent Blues: How do you think your childhood as an Army brat influenced the subjects of your painting? Do you find any particular locale crops up again and again in your work?

Brom: Experiencing different cultures helps broaden your vision. I lived in Japan as a small child. I feel this early exposure to anime shows itself in my work to this day. Also living in Germany with all its gothic themes and medieval history had its effects as well.

Crescent Blues: Do you attend science fiction or fantasy conventions?

Brom: I spend most of my life in my little cave scrubbing out paintings. At times I feel no one but me ever sees the work. Conventions are wonderful because I get to meet face to face with the fans and hear their feedback. Their enthusiasm is contagious. I always return from cons excited to create.

Crescent Blues: How involved were you in the creation of your Web site? What prompted the recent change in format from the original design?

Brom: The first site did not go over that well with fans, the focus was mostly on the design of the site, not the art. The new version is much more user friendly, the art and information is very accessible.

Click here to learn more about Brom.

Jean Marie Ward

In addition to editing Crescent Blues, Jean Marie Ward writes for a number of Web-based publications. Her interview with Farscape's Virginia Hey appears in the October issue of SciFi Weekly.