Anne Stokes is an infamous fantasy artist whose critically acclaimed work encompasses various themes spanning from epic and fairy, all the way to atmospheric dark/gothic pieces. Throughout her career she contributed to a number of projects, including the games, print, record industry and more. Her presence is especially notable in the goth and heavy metal communities.
In this installment we discuss her artistic journey, the challenges along the way and the importance of being yourself no matter what.
– As far back as I can remember I was always filled with the need to create and the pleasure and achievement of drawing a picture or an object. So right from when I could hold a pencil I started to draw.
Anne explains that her mother has been very supportive while she was growing as an artist – a career path that is often unjustly stigmatized and staggeringly misunderstood to this day.
– My mother was and is a very lovely lady. She is quite old now and since my father died, she now lives with us. I am pleased to be able to look after her after all the things she did for me. She was not creative herself but always encouraged me to be so. As a child I would often watch children’s television programs where they showed a craft project to make. The minute it was over I had to make the thing.
She was always so supportive, supplying all the materials and letting me take over the table to make my project on. When I was a teenager she was a bit worried about me drawing skulls and dragons as she did not quite understand the fantasy genre. However, now she is proud of her unusual daughter and how I have made a career out of my artwork.
Her artistic interests continued to grow exponentially throughout high school and eventually she decided to apply for formal art education. However, the actuality of the art curriculum turned out to be less attractive – a recurring opinion that artists I’d met with often share in common.
– I studied art at high school and was keen to go to art college. I got into both the art colleges that I applied for and I chose what was said to be the best one. However I did not have a good experience there. The teaching was not good and very narrow-minded. They had no time for anything fantasy. I was extremely disappointed and left after six months.
I took a job in a restaurant to pay the bills and taught myself computer programs and art techniques. I did many art jobs, anything at that time I could get work doing. I did jewellery design and sculpture and worked in the merchandise industry. All the time improving my art. Then, I was able to get work as an illustrator in the games industry and now I make my own ideas of art for license.
Regardless of the unsatisfying academic experience, Anne still encourages aspiring artists to seek training. Unlike the past couple of decades, today there are far more opportunities and tailored programs that offer abundant practical knowledge focusing in the entertainment industry.
While the idea of pursuing art sounds nice and sweet, in reality it takes a great deal of effort and commitment to make it through.
How did you approach the learning curve?
– One of the things I think was most helpful to my art was my great love of animals and the anatomy I studied as part of my Biology lessons at school. To understand the underlying structure of humans and creatures is very helpful in painting them realistically.
Among the most certain things in taking such a bold leap and go for art as a job is the outnumbering obstacles that challenge the artist to an unimaginable degree. When I asked about this, Anne pointed out an example that I hadn’t really considered.
– There was a lot of sexism in the games industry. It was hard to get taken seriously as a young woman in a very male dominated world.
In spite of such a serious challenge, which unfortunately is still very present today, it is obvious that nothing can break the one who is determined to go through fire and flames for the sake of reaching his/her dream.
Let’s talk about inspiration. Aside from myths, folklore and fantasy creatures, what are some unusual sources of inspiration, which fuel your muse?
– Although, it is fantasy much of my art is actually based on emotions. I used fantasy themes to illustrate a particular emotion or sentiment. Real life event can inspire these.
While getting familiar with Anne’s extensive gallery, I realized that dragons are a recurring figure in her illustrations.
How do you perceive the role of creatures such as dragons in your pieces?
– In my art the dragon is almost always the hero and the friend. Much as a person would have a relationship with a loyal dog, the people in my pictures have this with their dragons.
I found it quite interesting that even some of the darker aspects of her pieces, including vampires, ghosts, and Grim Reaper, are not portrayed as the opposing force, but rather complement or even complete the main protagonist.
– Yes, now you mention it they are, aren’t they? I guess I never really paint pure evil, just a different side of things. Perhaps that is a reflection of my world view.
Another interesting aspect of the overall body of her works is the portrayal of feminine strength, beauty and fragility. Anne provides a video, which sheds more light on the essence of female characters.
It is evident that each artwork features series of important building blocks that coexist together, thus creating such a lively vibe. In that regard, achieving such detailed results demands lots of effort, which is why overworking is so common among artists.
– For sure this can be a problem and the mood of an artist can affect their inspiration. I find it very hard to be creative if I am sad or upset. My mind is just a blank void of ideas then. Fortunately, I am generally a positive person and don’t suffer from artists block that often. Sometimes even if you have a lot of work on, if you feel overwhelmed it is better just to take a break and come back more productive after that.
What are some healthy habits that you incorporate in your routine to stay productive?
– I start off the day walking my 3 dogs. Good to get going with a little exercise and I adore then and love to walk outside surrounded by nature.
Another problem that artists face too often than some might admit is the fact that sometimes it is so hard to let go of a piece and move on.
– For sure it is hard to say done, but you can certainly overwork a picture and loose something in so doing. Maybe all the details become more perfect but you loose the soul of the piece. I always look at my art and see things I could maybe have done better but there is a time to put the pen down and say it is done.
Arguably, what’s harder than moving from one project to another is putting up with a job that may have nothing to do with who you are. More often than not people identify with their jobs and that has a direct influence in their life and worldview. Anne shares that choosing a career path that appeals to you is of significant importance.
– I’m very fortunate to be able to earn my living doing something that I love. I see so many people caught up in jobs that make them miserable. It seems crazy to me to do that, although of course some people do not have a lot of choice. I would urge everyone to follow their dreams.
Anne’s success is inspiring and worth looking into given the wide range of works she’s produced over the years. Here is a plain answer of what it takes to make it as an artist:
– 10% talent 90% hard work. If you want to make it, you’ve got to be really dedicated.
Finding your style as an artist is arguably among the toughest parts of this endeavour and often discourages aspiring individuals to go on. While it’s hard to pinpoint specifics, Anne emphasizes that it’s fine to be influenced by other creatives, but you need to be yourself – doing what comes natural and fulfilling. She insists that you should never strive to copy them – a critical mistake that novice art practitioners often fall into. Instead, go for your own thing.
Meanwhile, could you share a glimpse or tell what you are currently working on?
– I always seem to be working on a few things at once. The main project at present is a series of dragon illustrations.
Your artworks are highly regarded in the Goth communities. To what extent do you manage to keep up and engage with the gothic culture?
– I love heavy metal and gothic music. I often attend festivals where I get to meet a lot of alternative people which is great fun. At this present time a lot are cancelled of course but there is a big community online.
Before we concluded our conversation, one of the most crucial questions that I had reserved for last was the following:
What’s the most important lesson that art has ever taught you?
– Never give up.
An ending that couldn’t have a more powerful message.