Meet Illustrator Simon Todd

Meet Illustrator Simon Todd

Simon ToddBorn in Lancashire, England, Simon Todd studied Sculpture at Winchester School of Art, and for the next 25 years divided his time between producing public and private sculptures in wood or stone, and teaching art. Throughout this time Simon continued to be fascinated by themes of folklore, fantasy and mythology. These interests were reflected in his work, as did his passion for the Dungeons and Dragons tradition role-playing game, which he had discovered while on holiday in New England in 1979. Drawing for Simon at first was a means to develop ideas and concepts for stone or wood carvings. In 2005, Simon began using these drawing skills to craft works of art, in their own right. Taking fantastic themes initially realized in sculpture, he began to build up a body of hand-drawn pieces which eventually was noticed by Ernest Gary Gygax Jr. This led in due course to Simon’s collaboration with Ernest and Nerissa Montie on SAMMI-ZOWA VERSUS THE DUELING DRAGONS. Simon Todd currently Iives in Yorkshire, England and is married with two daughters. Simon also is a published writer of short stories, and is currently developing ideas to combine his writing and drawing skills. He continues to work with Ernest and his associate, Benoist Poiré, developing new and exciting projects through their company, GP Adventures, as well as his own personal endeavors.

Today Simon gifts us with an exclusive interview! Enjoy 🙂

How did you develop your plot and characters?

sammiSammi Zowa was the first commission undertaken as a collaborative process. Throughout the period I was producing the illustrations I would first draw rough but reasonable sketches of each piece then use email and social media to show the proposed idea to Nerissa and Ernest. They would comment on the ideas, asking for alterations or sometimes completely different images and they would be bashed back and forth across the Atlantic until we were all happy. I would select the exact subject for the illustrations based on the text which had been forwarded to me, which was usually also in a draft form. Sometimes we wondered who was influencing who in the story development. I found the whole process to be invigorating. Early on the most important decisions apart from cultural accuracy was what the main protagonists looked like. As the story is a tale told of a mythical Japan via an American story teller, we agreed to have the classic western red dragons, but the Emerald dragon is a strange mix of east and west, he has no need for wings familiar on occidental dragons though he is not as serpentine as the classic eastern dragon.

Sammi Zowa being a departure from previous artwork met with challenges of restriction, not just collaborating with the vision of others, but maintaining a consistent look for each piece. I don’t think any of the initial drawings made their way into the final publication. Remember this was a new to me, working with someone else’s imagination in mind, and holding firm to a specific narrative. Almost all the first drawings failed to meet this target, but they were vital as a kind of creative scaffolding to arrive at the right result. What set me on my path was a large scale processional drawing of the whole family from the story including the animals. This acted like a definitive dramatis personae, defined the characters and to some extent defined the drawing style. This large scale work was edited and appears in two parts in the final book, right at the beginning with the children walking along with the animals, and a smaller drawing of Sammi Zowa’s mother and father later in the book. My long experience as an artist had taught me that many days of frustration lead to the best results and no sketch is wasted. Ideas can not be developed until they are on paper, each was something to work with.

What books and artists did you love growing up?

The books I read as a child and into adulthood started with Tove Jansson’s Moomin books, Tolkien’s Middle Earth, to the succinct and evocative short ghost stories of

M. R. James, H.P. Lovecraft, Edgar Allen Poe, and the enigmatic pseudo history of King Arthur as told through all the different interpretations from the Mabinogion to T.H White. Finally into the mix comes my lifetime experience as an artist carving greenmen, dragons and phantom hounds, and taking ideas from the masters of pencil work, Brian Fraud, Alan Lee, Arthur Rakham, Walter Crane, Alan Williams and Odelon Redon, and Gustav Dore.

Tell us about your new book what’s it about and why did you write it?

Sammi Zowa vs the Dueling Dragons marks for me a landmark piece of work. It has been my first major commission as an illustrator. Up until this point my illustration work had been unpublished, a personal response to my two passions for art and the fantasy roleplaying game Dungeons and Dragons. For the last 30 years I had seen myself as working in wood and stone with drawing very much as a means of sketching out initial ideas for future production as a sculpture, usually based on themes of folklore and mythology.

With increasing commitments as a teacher I had less time for carving but continued to carry a sketch book around with me and began producing a prolific amount of drawings for fun, usually on fantasy themes. Through social media these drawings reached the public and eventually Ernest Gygax, who asked me initially for permission to use a portrait of his father Gary Gygax , the founding father of Dungeons and Dragons, as a poster for a forthcoming game convention held each year to commemorate his life, and I was delighted to oblige.

We continued to stay in touch and some time later Ernest asked me to illustrate Sammi Zowa. I immediately jumped at the chance.

What was the hardest part about illustrating this book?

Sammi Zowa is my first collection of drawings which needed to meet a tight criteria. Up until this point my drawings, pretty much like my sculptures, had been self contained narratives, with layers of meaning that I had explored and discovered through the creative process. The journey of much of my work had not been predetermined and the end results came as a discovery for me as well as the viewer. Illustrating a set text brings restrictions for the outcome. In this case the story is set in a fictional Japan but needed to relate as far as possible to authentic cultural details, such as house design, costume and calligraphy. In both the depictions of the tenets of Bushido and the script on the sides of the saki barrels I needed to be as accurate as possible. When Grandpa San is playing shogi, a Japanese equivalent of chess, I had to make sure that his obi, his belt was done up properly as a loose belt denotes laziness. Finally the drawings had to relate specifically to the text. This may seem obvious but for someone used to altering artwork on a whim to enhance or alter a meaning, this provided an especially interesting dilemma where I had to read and reread the text. Even then a number of drawings needed to be edited after completion to meet a closer proximity to the events in the story.

What’s your next project?

Sammi Zowa is only the beginning, this I know. Already I am in collaboration with Ernest Gygax and his colleague Benoire Poirest of GP Adventures on illustrating adventure modules for the fantasy roleplaying game Dungeons and Dragons. I have also started writing my own contribution to their grand project which will be unique I believe in that I will not just be writing the text but illustrating it. This is the culmination of my passions for art, story telling, folklore and fantasy.

Click HERE to get Simon’s book.

Comments

  1. Illustrations are what captivates the readers.

Trackbacks

  1. […] spoke to her love for children, writing, Japan, and fantasy. She was just as enthusiastic when Simon Todd joined them. It reinvigorated her dormant love of drawing and painting. She is now living in a […]

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