|Martina Pilcerova: Rising Slovak Art Star|
When you start winning awards for your art at six and make your first professional sales at 15, you'd think it would be easy to get into art school. Not so for Slovak artist Martina Pilcerova. She waited five years, re-applying five times to enter the Academy of Fine Arts and Design in Bratislava, Slovakia.
The Academy's resistance to the science fiction and fantasy art Pilcerova loved slowed her down, but only a little. She worked while waiting to enter the Academy, she worked in the Academy. Today she ranks among the most decorated and recognized artists in the Czech and Slovak Republics, and is expanding her horizons to the United States. Crescent Blues caught up with Pilcerova on her way to Con Jose, the 60th World Science Fiction Convention in San Jose.
Crescent Blues: You mentioned that you received your art education at Bratislava. What was your course of study, fine arts?
Martina Pilcerova: Yes, but I had some problems, because I always did science fiction and fantasy art, and at other universities, the pictures don't tend in those directions. They want more abstract art or illustration. So, it was very hard for me. I wasn't accepted [into art college] for five years. I had to try every year, and on the fifth try, I was accepted at last.
I studied graphics. I studied with Professor Popovich in the experimental studio that was called "KRESBA." It's a really funny word, because "KR" is short for "creative." "E" is "experimental." "S" is studio, and "BA" is for "Bratislava."
Crescent Blues: Ah, it's an acronym.
Martina Pilcerova: Yes, it's like "Creative Experimental Studio, Bratislava." It was really fun, because I could try many more techniques. I could try casting bronze. I could do short movies. I could do drawings, graphics, paintings -- anything.
Crescent Blues: Persevering that long through the application process required a tremendous amount of dedication. Why were you so intent on pursuing science fiction and fantasy art? Did you read it when you were younger?
Martina Pilcerova: I'm not sure why. I don't know if I saw a movie when I was very young. But ever since I can remember, I was drawing spaceships and astronauts. Much later, I started reading fantasy and science fiction. I also saw the Star Wars movies. I always liked mathematics and physics and astronomy, and I think that had something to do with it.
Crescent Blues: Which do you prefer, science fiction or fantasy?
Martina Pilcerova: I like to read science fiction more, but sometimes I also read fantasy. But it doesn't matter when I paint; I also like to paint fantasy.
Crescent Blues: I wondered, because the new material on your site seems focused on The Lord of the Rings.
Martina Pilcerova: Yes, because I saw the movie, and I was so inspired. I never read it before, actually.
Crescent Blues: But you read the book after seeing the movie?
Martina Pilcerova: Yes.
Crescent Blues: But from your art, it looks like you read Dune a long time ago.
Martina Pilcerova: Yes, I am a really big fan of Dune. I wanted to get onto the set of the new TV series that was made in Prague, but I guess I don't know the right people. I thought I could do some conceptuals, because I had already worked on one movie before.Crescent Blues: Your bio on the Association of Science Fiction and Fantasy Artists site mentioned that you did work for something called When the Music's Over. Could you tell our readers a little bit about that?
Martina Pilcerova: The story for When the Music's Over was written by a German writer named Myra Cakan. She was asked to do the script by Red Beat Pictures. It's a German production company. She wanted to write the script with John Shirley, who did the script for The Crow. The producer contacted me to do eight script illustrations. Two of them were designs for aliens and the alien ship. Others were the conceptuals for the location. So I had to go to the locations in Berlin and Hamburg. I had to use a real building and put futuristic elements on it that change the world into something more apocalyptic. But the movie hasn't been made yet. I hope it will be.
Crescent Blues: But you also did your own short movie. Was that in school?
Martina Pilcerova: That was in the studio. I tried to do the short movie, because I'm really into movies. I took a few lessons at the Film Academy in Bratislava. I took animation, storyboarding, scriptwriting and camera operation, because I would like to work for science fiction movies.
Crescent Blues: Is that one of the reasons you came to the U.S.?
Martina Pilcerova: I have a few meetings with some producers and some people in movies in Los Angeles. This will be after the Worldcon in September.
Crescent Blues: So you'll be in the U.S. for a couple of months. Will you be doing any painting while you're here?
Martina Pilcerova: I have to do one painting for the Czech publisher who publishes [the Czech language version of] the Lois McMasters Bujold stories. I always do the covers for the series. Also, I've been working on this new collectible card game for George R.R. Martin related to the book A Game of Thrones. I have already done ten cards, and now I have to do an additional ten.
Crescent Blues: What do you think of Bujold's novels?
Martina Pilcerova: I really like them. They are relaxing and funny.
Crescent Blues: Do you read them in English or in Slovak.
Martina Pilcerova: I usually read them in Czech, because the publisher sends me the translations. But for the cards I'm working on, I'm reading A Game of Thrones in English.
Crescent Blues: I noticed in your illustration for Bujold's The Warrior's Apprentice, you dressed the characters in what almost looked like Renaissance costumes. What prompted your decision to evoke that period?
Martina Pilcerova: I was trying to come up with some new kind of costumes, and that was my feeling when I read the book. The Warrior's Apprentice was first book by Bujold published in the Czech Republic, and I had the feeling that I should show something related to the aristocracy of the planet. Maybe, after reading more of her books, I would have done it differently.
Crescent Blues: Well, Barayarran politics do have a decidedly Machiavellian spin to them. Getting back to something you said earlier -- you said you waited five years before you could enter the university at Bratislava. Were you working as an artist at that time or did you need to take another job?
Martina Pilcerova: I've been published since I was 15. So I also did some covers while I was studying. I was at the university for six years, and I wanted to go to science fiction conventions while I was there. So I had to work to be able to pay for the trips. And it is not good to stop when you are working in a profession, because they will forget you, and you will need to work harder to get back into the business.
Crescent Blues: What's your favorite medium for painting?
Martina Pilcerova: I started to paint with oils a few years ago, but I changed to acrylics, because acrylics dry much more quickly. Acrylics allowed me to work better with color, because before, with oils, I used to blur them too much. Now I realize which color works for what, and I have a feeling I understand those pigments. So I came back to oils, because I feel much more comfortable with them.
Crescent Blues: So you were working with oils even before you went to the university?
Martina Pilcerova: Yes, but now I usually do about 40 percent of the painting in acrylics, and on top of that I work with oils. Because with acrylics I can get a really glossy surface that really shines through. Then, when I want to have something more matte or opaque, I work with oils. It gives me the feeling that I want.
Crescent Blues: Do you feel stronger in your drawing skills or your coloring skills?
Martina Pilcerova: In my coloring skills.
Crescent Blues: What do you like particularly about working with color?
Martina Pilcerova: If I should compare it somehow, it's like, when I work in pencil, in black and white, it's like two dimensions. But when I put the color on it, it's the third dimension. It's like more space, more possibilities to express something, because colors tell much more about feelings.
Crescent Blues: You've done so many different kinds of things, even postcards. There are a couple on view at Paper Tiger, one called Kremnica. What's the story behind the postcards?
Martina Pilcerova: They should have been postcards, but in the end they were not published as postcards. The one called Kremnica was done in the university. It was a trip to this place that the university owned. We lived in this old castle, and I was really inspired by the rooms. So I started to draw it from reality, using the room as a model, and I put these monks into the drawing. At that time I didn't know, but some friends told me that in the past, monks lived in that place. But I didn't know about it. They also told me it was a kind of haunted place.
Crescent Blues: Do you like haunted castles?
Martina Pilcerova: Yes, I do. But the funny thing about this drawing was, at the time I was working on it, I didn't know about it. It was just coincidence
Crescent Blues: And now you're doing the cards for George R.R. Martin's Thrones series. Did you read the books before you started doing the cards?
I always try to read the story, because then I can get the right feeling from the story. There are always some details that tell me a lot, even if they're not important.
Crescent Blues: When you were drawing the castles, did you use any Czech or Slovakian castles as references?
Martina Pilcerova: Yes. I usually take a lot of photos of everyplace that I visit. I used a lot of existing castles -- and not even in Slovakia. They were from all over Europe. I tried to use very different places for every description.
Crescent Blues: For every card in every land, you tried to have something different. That makes a lot of sense. What do you enjoy more: book covers or interior illustrations?