This month’s Apex Magazine cover artist is Aaron Nakahara, an artist working within fantasy, horror, and science fiction. With wonderful textures and brilliant work with light, Nakahara makes the fantastic seem real.
APEX MAGAZINE: Your cover art for this month’s Apex Magazine, “Painted Strider,” is full of vibrant colors, and in the description of it on your DeviantArt page, you mentioned revisiting the concept from its original idea. Does it become a new piece, essentially, once it is reworked, or do you see it as a continuance of the original?
AARON NAKAHARA: For the “Painted Strider” in particular, I viewed it as a continuance of the original since the core subject was simply refined a bit more while adding in new elements to the piece. If I had changed the original subject more radically, or used it as a springboard to create a very different visual presentation, then I would probably consider it more of a new piece with the original, in essence, becoming more of a ‘rough’ than a ‘final’ image.
AM: You describe your piece “Blood Farm” as being influenced by both War of the Worlds and The Matrix, as well as mosquitoes, and that there was a 30 minute, self-imposed time limit to the piece. What value do you find in smaller projects like this, and how do the pieces, directly or indirectly, influence other, more finished pieces?
AN: The smaller, quicker studies, like the 30 minute illustrations, have actually helped me refine my speed in iterating out ideas for larger projects. The tight time constraint forces me to come up with faster solutions and more efficient paths to resolving an image while also giving me some mental leeway in trying out very different approaches to painting, things that I might normally not have gone to if I had the time to default to my normal work flow.
AM: Many of your pieces, such as “Moonpool Teleport,” use a chiaroscuro-like effect, especially involving fantastical light, fire, or energy. How important are the strong highlights and the overall darkness in challenging or intriguing the viewer?
AN: I enjoy working with fire and lighting effects in general with a lot of my work, and I think the play of contrasting light and dark can be a strong tool in engaging the viewer. It seems that when presented with a dark environment, people tend to find the luminous things all the more attractive and find themselves drawn into a piece, especially a specific area of the piece. The fun play on that is you can throw subtle elements in the darkness, giving viewers something to explore further once the allure of contrast wears off a bit.
AM: In your DeviantArt gallery, many of your works have a lot of comments from viewers. How important have you found communities like that, and social media overall, to be? Has that support, or even lack of in the case of any bad comments, ever led you to change a plan for a piece or other pieces?
AN: Art communities online, and social media, in my experience, have always been a very, very supportive collective, and I think there’s a great camaraderie that individuals can find in like-minded souls so easily. Art can be a difficult thing to undertake since oftentimes you’re putting a bit of yourself out there in all your works, even your sketches and doodles, so to have a mechanism that nurtures and supports that allows you to grow as an artist, gives you affirmation that taking that risk is worth it. It’s something I greatly appreciate and found very welcoming when I first really started striving to become a better illustrator.
Conversely, commentary that only wishes to be contrary and not supportive or constructive in any way I’ll ignore. That’s not to say I dismiss criticism, which is very different, that’s something I welcome. I don’t let commentary sway my plans, not usually, since a lot of my work is personal and it’s just an extension of myself put out there. While I’m a part of a greater whole, a larger community, I feel that I should be ‘me’ when creating work that’s personal.
AM: I was talking with another artist a few weeks ago, and we thought it was interesting to go back through larger galleries, those over 100 or 150 pieces, and see how the progress of both techniques and ideas have changed over time. With 380 pieces in your DeviantArt gallery (as of this writing), what do you feel has changed, if anything, over your portfolio so far? Aside from learning new techniques, how have your ideas evolved with further experience?
AN: I feel the biggest evolution would be that I can express specific ideas much better now and that the work I do has a more individual cohesiveness within each image. Looking back at my earlier pieces, I can remember those feelings of stumbling about, trying to find a brushstroke or technique that could give me that visual element or feeling I was looking for. Those early attempts might have had a bit more ignorant bravado to them, like they were more uncharted explorations of the medium with a lot of guesswork and hope that something would come out ‘correct,’ but time and practice have given me a lot of opportunities to find and refine that journey so it’s a bit less of a mess, a bit more efficient.
I do like having all of my old work up in a browsable gallery, though, and I don’t plan to curate anything out so long as DeviantArt will give me the space. I think it’s a good thing to have, not just for myself to look back on from time to time to see how I’ve come about, but I think it can also be a useful tool for aspiring artists to see a longer timeline of development and maybe give them some insight into how to progress with their own art.
AM: Thank you to Aaron Nakahara for his enlightening answers and a look behind the artist’s curtain. To find more of Nakahara’s work, visit his extensive galleries at cobaltplasma.deviantart.com.
Aaron Nakahara is a fantasy illustrator and game designer born and raised on the island of Maui. He’s done concept illustration work for Warner Brothers Interactive, Collision Studios, Active Gaming Media, White Wolf Publishing, and is currently illustrating cards for Stone Blade Entertainment’s Ascension deck building card game. In his spare time he dabbles with developing games for the iPhone, focusing on Japanese-style RPGs.
Aside from doing fantasy novel covers and promotional art for indie games, Aaron is also working on developing Fields of Eleria, a head-to-head MOBA-inspired card game, set to come out in 2017.