Designing the Fantastically Real
What led you to the world of design and to pursue illustration as a career?
April Solomon: That was an easy decision. I’ve been illustrating since I was a child. I loved putting my pencil on the paper and seeing what I could make up on the fly. It’s what I love doing the most. Painting and drawing for a living was decided very early on.
A lot of your work features dragons, is there a specific reason why it is your favorite subject?
April Solomon: I get asked this loaded question a lot, and I love answering. Honestly, I don’t remember my first dragon drawing, but somehow they always spoke to me. I know that some of my earliest inspirations came from the artists that worked at TSR.
I was most inspired by their dragon oil paintings! One day, I hoped to be just as talented as their artists. The dragon is a powerful symbol of strength, beauty, and chaos. I enjoy finding a way to express those attributes in my work through the dragon’s performance.
You describe your work as “fantastic realism”, it sounds like an oxymoron, how do you bring balance between the two?
April Solomon: The definition of fantastic is “extraordinarily good or attractive”. When I aim for something like a dragon to look realistic it can be difficult to do for obvious reasons. So, not only is the challenge to make something fantasy appear alive and exist in our world, but to also render its appearance to capture realistic colors, lighting, and shadow. The knowledge I’ve gained in my Fine Art classes such as proper paint application to paint a nude form, or a still life helped me to examine reality. It is my pursuit to capture that life essence through the study of nature and anatomy, and then exaggerate it through the use of values and color to go beyond mere realism.
How do you come up with the concept for your illustrations? What do you need to know, before you start putting the first lines on paper?
April Solomon: For me, there can be three ways to begin. I can be inspired by something I saw outside in nature that sparks an idea then I’ll draw or paint it and see where it goes. Alternatively, I’ll start traditionally with thumbnail drawings (the size of a small business card) and determine the composition before I begin a final drawing.
The third method calls for enjoyable music, hot tea or boba from a nearby coffee shop, and a drawing supply kit. It’s just me turning up to draw in this environment, which I enjoy. Without a goal in mind, I am free to playfully explore my imagination with no means to end.
What is your process for creating an illustration?
April Solomon: Honestly, it changes every time. My process may change based on the surface preparation and the media I’m working with. Typically, however, my process for creating can go like this…
I figure out what I’m making. Is it for a client or personal work? I’ll follow it up with some rough sketches and concept explorations. Then comes the final drawing. Before I start the final painting, I also create value and color studies. Gathering photo references is also extremely important so I can use them as roadmaps to know where I need to go. Occasionally I’ll build my dragon reference using sculpting clay and take photos of the maquette for later reference. Once the final drawing is finished, I can start the painting in several ways. I can transfer or mount the drawing onto an illustration board or masonite. Or I might use thick 300 lb watercolor paper if I’m using watercolors.
I normally seal the drawing before starting to paint over it. Depending on the medium, I’ll seal the painting once it’s finished with the appropriate finish. That is a really quick step-by-step procedure.
Your illustrations are very detailed, is it all from your imagination, or do you take some sort of visual references, to begin with?
April: I can go back and forth between observing from visual reference or remembering what I’ve observed and going from mental and physical memory. It’s crucial to me that I get the details right because it’s one of my favorite stages of creating a painting. I’ll sometimes use over 50 images for a single painting to get the reference I need.
What do you enjoy the most about what you do?
April: It truly is a slice of heaven when the painting or drawing is turning out exactly as I intended. When you fall into what you’re making, it’s a moment of enlightenment. It’s the part I live for. If I was to choose a specific part, I would say it’s the eyes. I love painting eyes! It’s the window to the soul they say, so why not spend more time on them?
Are any upcoming projects/work you are excited about?
April Solomon: I’m currently working on my passion project – The Periodic Table of Dragons. It’s a big assignment and has taken me years to get this far. I thought it would be fun to create dragons using the periodic table of elements as a source of inspiration and background for each dragon. So far, I’ve done Gold, Copper, Arsenic, Sulfur, Neon, and Mercury. Many more will follow.
What mediums or tools do you use to make your illustrations? What is your favorite?
April Solomon: I use anything from pencils, colored pencils, ball-point pens, watercolor, gouache, acrylic, and oils. I’m currently learning how to paint digitally so I’m keeping up with the moving trends. It’s hard to pick a favorite cause it changes all the time.
Each of your illustrations is so unique, what is the 1 piece of your artwork you would like to be remembered for?
April Solomon: My Sulfur Dragon painting. I was pleased with the way the oils were applied and the size I tackled for its completion. The final painting took only a month to create. In the end, the painting was purchased from the Laguna College of Art and Design to be added to their permanent collection. Which I’m also honored to be a part of.