I’ve always loved the visual element of fantasy and science fiction. From the illustrations of Games Workshop to the comics of 2000AD. Hardbacks full of adventurers and monsters came along in the shape of Dungeons and Dragons, whilst concept art continues to fascinate me. And let’s not forget Star Wars: A New Hope, an influence from a young age, which features pace and visuals that changed modern cinema (in the shape of summer blockbusters at least) In short I find art inspiring, even Magic the Gathering card artwork has influenced my writing. I’m a visual magpie.
I couldn’t resist picking up The Skillful Huntsman by Design Studio Press when I saw it. I was just about to start planning book 3 of The Erebus Sequence, but needed something to whet my appetite for the task at hand. I needed to know what things might look like in that world, because if I don’t know then I can’t communicate that, and the world becomes vague and inauthentic – to me at least.
The Skillful Huntsman is a concept art book that tracks three very talented artists as they create character designs and environments based on the original tale by the brothers Grimm. Pages of silhouettes, thumbnail sketches, pencil illustrations and full colour art adorn the pages of this book, bringing a wealth of ideas and inspiration. Chapters full of vehicles and beasts of burden run alongside fairytale princesses, kings, captains and the titular huntsman himself. This book is a trove of ideas.
The art doesn’t just linger in the realm of the traditionally fantastic, but takes in post-industrial influences, even science fictional worlds. The characters are deliberately not European-analogue barbarians and knights, but something stranger, more exotic. Eastern influences combine with a modern design aesthetic to create genuinely intriguing characters; even a dash of American Indian seems to bleed into the mix.
Character designs, and by extension the apparel of those characters, also informs the reader about the nature of that person. We make many assumptions everyday based on the way people talk, walk, the way they wear their hair, and not least how they are dressed. So why not fictional characters too?
I’m not intending to plunder any of these designs for my own world, but rather use it as a jumping off point to imagine what Demesne (the castle in my novels) and Landfall, (the island where it takes place) might look like. What do those people wear? What are the customs? How does the environment they live in shape their attitudes and social lives? This may sound like daydreaming for daydreaming’s sake, but if the internal logic of the world doesn’t hold up to scrutiny the reader will stumble and be taken out of the story. Suspension of disbelief is a fragile thing.