Julie Dillon is an award-winning artist whose work has been seen in RPGs, Magic: the Gathering cards, and on and between the covers of sci-fi and fantasy literature. She recently completed a piece to celebrate the 35th anniversary of Dragon’s Lair Comics and Fantasy®, so we decided to ask her some questions about her work and what makes her tick as an artist.
DL: You’ve created art for Magic: the Gathering cards, interior illustrations, and book covers for science fiction and fantasy novels. What sorts of projects do you find the most challenging, and which the most rewarding?
JD: To an extent, the challenge is what makes it rewarding, when it is something I want to tackle and am excited about. I like assignments that either have a great narrative or allow for some out of the box thinking and abstraction. Whether something is rewarding to me depends on if the project lines up with my interests and the direction I want to grow and push my work.
It’s definitely important to keep challenging oneself. That said, when I’m tasked with something that I feel is well outside my wheelhouse or that I don’t feel as confident in my ability to paint, like complex architecture or realistic machinery, I find that more challenging in a frustrating way. But challenges can be rewarding when I’m given the opportunity to take my interests and strong suits even further, to find a new fresh approach to something I enjoy and that excites me.
For example, I have a piece I’m working on now that I know is going to require some complicated and intricate clothing folds and will be challenging. But, I know I can handle it even though it will be hard, and I’m looking forward to diving in. Whereas if I had to do a technical schematic of a complicated vehicle, I’d just feel overwhelmed and frustrated because it’s not something I’m good at and not a direction I want to push my work.
DL: Your education in art includes a BFA in Fine Arts from Sacramento U, as well as learning at the Academy of Arts in San Francisco and Watts Atelier. What was your biggest breakthrough in acquiring your skills?
JD: Honestly I think the biggest breakthrough I’ve had was recently, taking SmartSchool mentorship classes online these past few years. My previous studies were great for building some all-around technical skills and giving me an idea of where I needed to study further. The SmartSchool mentorships have helped me pull all that together, fill in some of the gaps in my knowledge and push me to grow in a way that I wasn’t able to get from just doing figure studies. Figure studies are very important! But they are just one piece of the puzzle when it comes to developing a style and career, and having one-on-one critiques has helped me synthesize a lot of different disparate areas.
DL: How do you describe your style? When clients approach you for work, what is it that they’re looking for that only you can create for them?
JD: I like to think that my work has a slightly larger than life feeling; I try to capture a sense of grandness and drama while also dialing in closer on the human emotion of a scene. I hope that is what clients approach me for, but I’m not always sure.
DL: The best artists never stop learning, pushing themselves, and tackling new challenges in their craft. Which of your projects do you feel really challenged you or helped you to build new artistic “muscles?” What challenges do you have in mind for the future?
JD: The biggest challenges of the past few years for me have been trying to unlearn bad habits and figure out what I can fine tune to bring my work to the next level. I feel like I’m close to a breakthrough, if I can just keep at it and push my knowledge of light and form, while also trying to embrace stylization and design more. It’s a difficult balance, and it’s tricky to pinpoint what isn’t working and where my blind spots are. I try to keep an open mind and am willing to try methods in new ways to see if they work for me or if they give me any “a-ha!” moments. Sometimes it just takes one new painting method or color theory tutorial to make some things finally click into place.
Our thanks again to Julie Dillon for her great art as well as the peek behind the scenes.