Go to Homepage   Stephanie Pui-Mun Law: Strength in Whimsy

Stephanie Pui-Mun Law (Photo courtesy of Jean Marie Ward)

In the art of Stephanie Pui-Mun Law, crisply defined trails of light carry the patterns of a dancer's movement from the past into the future. Minute goblins munch figs like greedy children under the gaze of three-eyed mushrooms. Foxes live their dreams of flight, and magic manifests itself in a variety of forms -- weird, wonderful and often quite alien -- frequently at the same time in the same picture.

Fascinated by mythology, legends and folklore from an early age, Law seeks to capture the sense of the fantastic that lies at the root of all fantasy art. Part of her success in achieving this goal derives from the inherent contrast between the strong, dynamic lines of her compositions; the perceived delicacy of her preferred medium (watercolor) and her wicked sense of visual humor. But part of it must be attributed to the contrasting strengths of the artist herself. After all, how many people can combine computer programming and fine art -- and make them play nicely together?

Crescent Blues: What do you find most satisfying about working with watercolor?

Stephanie Pui-Mun Law: I love being able to build up the color intensity with many washes. It makes the colors really glow.

Crescent Blues: Do you use any special techniques to achieve the level of detail seen in images such as Charmed Destinies or Midnight Run?

Stephanie Pui-Mun Law: Well, my usual answer to that question is, "Very small brushes!!!" I take my time sketching out the piece before I begin painting, and even after that, many details are added as I work. My inability to just leave a blank space be!

Charmed Destinies (Watercolor, (c) Stephanie Pun-Mun Law, image courtesy of the artist)

Crescent Blues: How has your choice of media helped or hindered your sales to art directors?

Stephanie Pui-Mun Law: Before watercolors, I was doing a lot of digital work. I had done acrylics and oils in the past as well but hadn't touched them in a while. Anyway, I started submitting my art to various companies and art directors. At first I did not get many responses, but at last one art director told me he had a bias against digital art. I found several others feel this way too.

Now, many years later, most art directors are fairly open to digital art. At any rate, I decided then to switch. It had been a while since I had done much with a real medium, so I chose watercolor, having just returned from a visit to a gallery of Daniel Merriam's work (beautiful vibrant watercolors).

At first my choice of medium didn't do much either way, but now I find that most art directors seek me out specifically for my style, which I think is directly tied to my medium of choice.

That was the first time someone didn't tell me to just put the thought out of my head and continue with practical living.

Crescent Blues: Who determines the media you use for a given commission?

Stephanie Pui-Mun Law: That's usually in the hands of the art director. But as I said, at this time I've built up a portfolio that focuses so much on my watercolor work, that that is usually what they ask for.

Crescent Blues: Do different markets (e.g., book publishers, magazines, game companies) have different preferences?

Stephanie Pui-Mun Law: It depends on the purpose. If it is for print, sometimes they will have preferences, sometimes not. If it is for the Web, or for computer game companies, they seem to lean more towards digital.

Crescent Blues: Your cover for the anthology Charmed Destinies is something of a departure in cover art for Silhouette. Is the image linked to a specific story in the anthology, or was the art director looking for a certain feel?

Stephanie Pui-Mun Law: Actually, I'm not really familiar with what the art for Silhouette is like! But Shelley [Cinnamon, the art director] came to me and told me the concept they had, and mentioned that much of my other work had similar elements to what they wanted. The general feel was to be romantic fantasy.

Crescent Blues: Harlequin/Silhouette runs its art shop out of its Canadian Office. You've also worked for Harper Collins Australia and other overseas publishers. What is the submission process for an overseas publisher or game maker?

Stephanie Pui-Mun Law: It's pretty much the same as it would be for a publisher here. The only difference is what currency the check comes in and what hoops you'll have to jump through at the bank to get it deposited! The Internet makes the interactions a lot easier.

Crescent Blues: What inspired you to venture so far afield?

Midnight Run (Watercolor, (c) Stephanie Pun-Mun Law, image courtesy of the artist)

Stephanie Pui-Mun Law: Well, HarperCollins fell into my lap because the author happened to be a friend of my friend, and somehow we managed to connect up and make it work out. As for Harlequin, they dropped me an email out of the blue one day. It was a surprise to me because I had never before considered that market, focusing entirely on the strict fantasy genre, and not realizing there were other venues.

Crescent Blues: What role did your early family life play in your desire to become an artist?

Stephanie Pui-Mun Law: I started drawing as early as I can remember. My first answer when asked "What do you want to be when you grow up?" was, "An artist." I used to draw whenever I had any spare moment. I didn't ever get bored because all I needed was some paper and a pencil to keep entertained.

Crescent Blues: When did you first realize you wanted to create art for a living?

Stephanie Pui-Mun Law: By the time I got to college, I thoroughly believed what everyone had told me -- that it was impossible to make a living at art. All I would succeed at would be in becoming yet another starving artist. I thought to keep it as a hobby, and meanwhile pursue something practical -- and with the tech boom nothing was more practical than programming. I couldn't cut art out of my life completely, and wanted to take art classes, perhaps minor in it.

However [University of California] Berkeley's lack of a budget for that department worked in my favor in this aspect. They didn't want to support both a major and minor degree of art, and so there was only the option to major in it. I decided to go ahead with that then, and doubled along with computer science.

At some point during those years I was on a long road trip with a friend, and he asked me what my dream in life was. I didn't answer at first because I was rather embarrassed, but eventually he managed to pry it out, and I told him I used to dream of being a fantasy artist but that it was a very silly dream. Instead of laughing, he asked me seriously what was stopping me.

That was the first time someone didn't tell me to just put the thought out of my head and continue with practical living. It gave me pause, but conversations held during twilight hours along empty stretches of road belong in a time and place outside the normal flow of things. With everything else happening I forgot the conversation until midway through my last year in college. I was running around to various career fairs, seeking a software programmer position. One day as I came home after attending a fair I realized I was very depressed. It took a moment to understand why.

Book: mercedes lackey, charmed destinies

Handing out my resume left and right I finally realized that though I liked programming and found it satisfying and challenging, the thought of doing it for the rest of my life and leaving my art unrealized was unbearable. To create art is a need within me. That road trip conversation came back, and it was then that I resolved to begin work on a portfolio.

Crescent Blues: What was your family's reaction to your career choice?

Stephanie Pui-Mun Law: For three and a half years after graduating from college I worked as a programmer at a startup software company, meanwhile moonlighting with my artwork. I don't think anyone truly understood how serious I was about it. Even my manager and coworkers teased that I would one day desert them to be a full time artist, but they didn't believe it would happen anytime soon. It was just "that side thing that Stephanie did."

Anyway, when I quit my job, the tech bubble was just beginning to burst. Dot-coms were starting to evaporate. When I told my family that I was leaving the nice, secure job at a software company that was still strong amidst all the uncertainty and market turmoil everywhere else; that I was voluntarily quitting a job when others were being laid off and unable to find work -- well, they were understandably confused and unhappy about it. Within half a year they changed their minds as I proved move than capable of supporting myself solely on art, and in fact my family are my biggest fans.

Crescent Blues: Did you discover digital art at UC Berkeley, or did you pursue a double major in order to accommodate your interest in using your computer to create?

Stephanie Pui-Mun Law: Yes and no. I did discover digital art while at Berkeley, by virtue of the Internet and seeing the art of others. No, in that illustration and digital art were anathema to the art department there.

It was an art program more focused on modern abstract expressionism. Performance art happenings. Splashes and drips. Dropping sandbags from third story windows onto metal plates to be etched. They were about process, rather than results; and digital art easily skips to the results.

So what I did with digital art was on my own time. The computer science and art departments wanted absolutely nothing to do with each other, and advisors in both departments gave rather scathing retorts at the prospect of any kind of combination.

Crescent Blues: What are the most rewarding and most challenging aspects of creating a digital image?


Stephanie Pui-Mun Law -- Continued