It’s Autumn here in L.A. which means a bit of rain slips into the forecast and the temperature falls to a frigid 55 degrees. Ryan Harvey likes to roll into our Redondo offices with a large coat, collection of Blu-ray discs in this arms and a smile on his face. It’s a good work if you can get it, and as I sat relishing the sun warming me from my beach-side window I got an all too familiar buzz from my receptionist’s desk.
Somehow, someway, there is a different kind of sound when Kandy transfers a call from John O’Neill to my office. I’d like to say it comes off more urgent, but instead I’m going to confess it feels more like evil…
Nonetheless, I picked up that phone and was greeted by the all too familiar vocal styling of our displaced Canadian Editor-in-Chief. After a handful of sentences, all finished with ‘aye’, I was directed to LAX for a flight to Philadelphia.
Normally I’d protest such an abrupt departure from sunny southern California for the northeast in November, but John always has a carrot well worth the trip. This time, I was crossing the Delaware River in reverse to George Washington’s famous sneak-attack as I slipped into New Jersey for a meeting with fantasy artist extraordinaire Daniel R. Horne.
Now Daniel means something to me for many reasons, but two of which come directly from role-playing.
First, Daniel did some of the finest covers for Dragon Magazine to ever exist, and that’s saying something. In fact, he is credited with one of my old DM, Mark, and I’s greater arguments, that being his painting ‘Saving the Best for Last’. In this particular image, a female ranger has used up all her arrows and weapons on a huge undead giant… all save one arrow that has a faint glow at the tip. I suggest it’s a undead bane that will slay the giant, while Mark of course insists its of no real consequence and she’s going to die a brutal death [just like any evil DM would want].
Second, Daniel painted two covers for I.C.E.’s Middle-Earth the Role-Playing Game, and as I’m a stupid-crazed fan of those 80s covers, Daniel moves inexorably up my list of awesome artist just by having been involved.
So, with great anxiety and elation, Daniel and I finally had our first ever meeting set at Ponzios, a wonderful little restaurant in Cherry Hill. Although cold outside, the interior was a family-friendly comfort, and Daniel greeted me with a smile and hardy handshake that held the strength of over three decades of using his hands for his craft. He is a mirthful fellow, filled with life and a shine in his eyes that comes across as someone just now hitting his stride both in the world and in his art.
It was a great meal, Daniel ordering up Chicken Bertaccio, which is a delectable pan-fried in Italian breadcrumbs chicken breast layered with roasted red peppers, prosciutto and marinara sauce before being topped with sharp provolone cheese. Myself, I couldn’t resist trying the Jones Burger, a grilled flour tortilla internally layered with diced tomatoes, chopped onions, shredded lettuce, cheddar cheese and Russian dressing. Seriously, I’m a sucker for Russian dressing, and I’ve never had it on a sandwich before.
The meal was finished off with individually cut and served pie, mine being Apple Crumb and Daniel indulging in a slice of Snicker Cake. Leaning back into the cushions of the booth, I turned the conversation from freelance work to Daniel’s illustrious history in the genre. What follows is an interview well worth the price of admission.
An Interview With Daniel R. Horne
Conducted and transcribed by Scott Taylor, November 2011
DH: I was trained in the Brandywine tradition by my mentor, Ken Lagger a 6th generation Pyle student in a direct line of teacher to student, so I’m the 7th generation. Howard Pyle’s art and teaching made it possible for me to express myself in art.
HP ‘S art inspired me to find my own voice in the story-telling tradition. Pyle was the master Jedi, we who follow are the pupils [or Padawan in this case]!
BG: You’ve done over 400 book covers. With so many, is it possible to have a favorite or even a few that are closer to your heart?
DH: My all time favorite is the cover of MY SON THE WIZARD. It has all the things I love to paint, beautiful women, funny/drunk dragons, heroic heroes set in the Errol Flynn mode all set in the deep, cool eastern European woods
BG: During your early to mid twenties you did work for TSR as a cover artist for several Dragon Magazines. Can you relate the creation process for any of these or how the topic was delivered to you by the art director?
DH: Wow now that is going back!! It was way before the internet and email so when Rodger Raupp would call me and ask me to paint the next Dragon cover. He would just say ‘pick a monster from the D&D world and build a story around a scene’.
Roger was a GREAT art director, he let me use my love of story-telling and character development and come up with the cover art.
BG: If you’re doing a book cover where does the process start for you?
DH: Well it all starts with the story. But sometimes the editor or art director has some marketing images that they want on the cover. Book cover art is VERY different from when I started in 1982. But to cut to the chase, I read the story and there is usually THE SCENE that sums up the tone of feeling of the book. I don’t do several sketches, I tend to think about the composition for a while then when the painting is finished in my head, I just paint it. I have always worked that way.
BG: Do you own any original art that isn’t yours?
DH: My wife, Joy, and I really love Thomas Blackshear’s EBONY VISIONS line sculpted by the very talented, Mark Newman.
BG: You seem to have a strong love of the older horror genre. Can you tell us a bit about this?
DH: I have loved the classic horror genre ever since I was a small boy back in the 1960’s. I really identified with those poor creatures, Frankenstein’s monster, the wolf man, etc. It was not their fault, they were misunderstood is all.
In modern horror films, everyone is really unlikeable, both the good and the bad…
BG: After so many years painting with oil you moved to doll making. How has that transition affected you as an artist?
DH: I feel that an artist should express him or herself with as many different mediums as they can. Back in the day, artists were trained in painting, sculpture, and textiles. It has been pounded into students now to focus on one thing and drive it. It’s a shame really…
Art is art, it doesn’t matter what medium you use so why not use them all?!
What I’ve learned as a doll maker and sculptor has made me a much better painter and what I bring to doll making and sculpting is my eye as a painter. Folks say that they can see my painting style in my 3D art, I still can’t though, but I’ll take their word for it!
BG: If you were to have a choice of season to portray on canvas, what would be your favorite?
DH: AUTUMN! It is the season of real change and reflection, warm days and cool nights I just love it. For an artist you just can’t beat the Fall for variety.
BG: What is a day in the life of Daniel Horne like? Can you take us through a freelance work day?
DH: Now that my wife and I are empty-nesters I work all the time but I tend to paint during the day and sculpt at night. But when I’m in the groove I will paint for 15 hours straight. Well, I don’t create covers for books anymore but my painting time is booked up with private commissions. I love being able to really finish a painting, spend the time to get it right.
That’s where I am now. I don’t produce as many paintings as I did when I was an illustrator.
I am over 50 and I feel that I am just now coming into my own as a painter.
DH: Karloff’s Frankenstein monster
BG: You’ve done some incredible work with the female form, many paintings coming off in a kind of Frazetta-school tone. When I see them I’m often reminded of the works of Vallejo, J. Jones, Krenkel, or even Ken Kelly. Is there a link, or is this just a subject matter that is a common muse?
DH: It’s the female form that connects us all. There is nothing more challenging than painting the female form. Women, and children for that matter, are VERY difficult to paint well. There is no room for error in painting females but they are very rewarding to paint. There is a beauty in the soft curves, a women is beautiful just standing there. The themes I paint are of unrequited love and loss. I honor women in the way I paint them. It really pisses me off when I see fantasy art that is nothing but a hustler magazine photo pin-up and the artist just slapped wings on her, that’s cheap throwaway art.
My female centered art starts with a theme, a sketch and I then shoot my own reference.
The painting ARCADIA that was on the cover of SPECTRUM 9 came from a sketch and a story that I created. It’s a fertility ritual.
BG: So much has now gone digital, and of about 2003 oil as a medium was laid to rest in the corporate world, but if there are those still out there actually painting a canvas, what advice can you give them?
DH: Oil painting has survived virtually unchanged for 500 years, it will be with us forever, its not going anywhere. I tried my hand at digital art, I wanted to see what it was about. I just could not get the same feeling that a brush in your hand gives you. I also love that I have an original oil painting at the end to sell to collectors. My advice to artists is just paint, it’s all what you are comfortable with and best expresses your thoughts. Digital art is a wonderful new medium, it’s just not for me.
BG: It’s a Friday night and you’re going to watch a movie on the couch at home, what do you see?
DH: F.W.MURNAU’S FAUST
BG: What is the largest painting you’ve ever done?
DH: Four feet by five feet
BG: I ask this in every interview I do, ‘Would you consider digital art ‘real’ art?’
DH: What is real art? Is the PISS CHRIST real art? I’m not sure how to answer that one my friend.
BG: If you could give your younger self a call, what would you say to him?
DH: I would say “Daniel, just believe in yourself and stay strong and true”.
DH: When I painted SEA OF TEARS, the painting of a mermaid that I did. I was unsure that I had my own voice, being an illustrator for so long and painting other people’s ideas, I wanted to do it and find out.
BG: Having done so many covers, is there a common element you always search for when reading a manuscript?
DH: I look for character background, something that I can add to the character to make them believable, I try to get into their head.
BG: Do you have a favorite color that seems to find its way into your work?
DH: HORNE GREEN! That is what some artist friends call it. It’s a lemon green, I just love that color for some reason.
BG: You’re from Pennsylvania, so I have to ask, Steelers or Eagles or don’t care?
DH: The EAGLES but I really follow the FLYERS most of all.
BG: Describe your work space? Paints at hand, brushes, materials, visual aids, do you have a view, etc.
DH: My studio is 25×25 divided in three sections painting, sculpting, and doll making. I have a library of reference books, about 1500 volumes. The painting section has my easel, the same one my parents bought me when I was a freshman in art school so there are bits of every painting that I have ever painted on it!
The sculpting section has a 12 foot long counter with a mirror (to check my sculptures in) cabinets that contain my sculpting supplies and deep drawers to store drawing in.
The doll making side has ceiling to floor cabinets filled with hundreds of different fabrics. My own sewing machine that NO one is allowed to touch! I store my costume patterns (I make them myself) under the sewing machine. I have a convection oven as well to cure the doll parts (I sculpt them with super sculpey)
So comes the end of the interview, but I must say it was a true pleasure to get a chance to pick the brain of so talented an artist. Daniel is a great guy, and if you ever have a chance to get to a show that he’s doing please make every attempt because you won’t be disappointed. If you can’t make a show, you can always find out more about Daniel on his website.