A Fine Creepy Texture: The Illustrations of Aleks Sennwald

S.J. Chambers is an articles editor for Strange Horizons.  Not only has her work appeared in that fine forum, but also in Tor.com, Yankee Pot Roast, Mungbeing, Fantasy, Bookslut, and The Baltimore Sun’s Read Street Blog.  She is also currently working with Jeff as Master Archivist for The Steampunk Bible.

Hi, everyone.  As you probably gathered from above, I’m S.J. Chambers and I  am a writer and editor.  I really love talking to people and finding out why they do what they do and love what they love.  As a result, I’ve come to befriend really interesting and creative people who I’d like to introduce to the Ecstatic Days readers though a series of “conversations.”

Rom by Aleks Sennwald

Rom by Aleks Sennwald

Aleks Sennwald is an up and coming freelance illustrator living in New Jersey.  Her work has been showcased in various online forums like Jewcy magazine and can be found popping up within the pages of esteemed publications such as The Oxford Press, The Deal, Paste, The Vegetarian Times, Fantagraphics Books, Spectra Pulse, Games For Windows, Rizzoli Publishing, and Bantam Dell Publishing.  Her work is characterized by tight compositions and excellent attention to texture, as well as bold and unique color combinations. Aleks was kind enough to sit down at her computer and chat with me for two hours about her work and the illustrator’s life.

S.J. Chambers: You have been illustrating for some pretty commercial publications.  How do the demands of that type of audience influence your work, or do you pretty much approach everything with your vision?

Aleks Sennwald: Starting with a bang, huh.  Well, it depends on the publication. Some clients have some very specific ideas. And some just let me do my own thing.  I definitely take into account the type of audience that will see my illustration.  Doing something for a children’s publication will definitely have a lighter feel and different subject matter than something I would draw for a trade magazine.

S.J.: How would you generalize the feel of a trade magazine?

Aleks:  It really depends on the story and the art direction. I probably wouldn’t use as many rainbows and monsters. Though I have also been able to do that, so I guess that invalidates my previous point!

Autumn by Aleks Sennwald

Autumn by Aleks Sennwald

S.J.: Rainbows and monsters are pretty good keywords for describing your work right now. Any reason why you are currently into these motifs? Actually, I wouldn’t say you have rainbows in your commissioned work.

Aleks: Yeah, they show more throughout my personal work. No reason, I enjoy the visual effect and I love monsters, but I’m at a loss to think of a person who doesn’t.

S.J.: Weirdos, that’s who. Well, your uses of rainbows are interesting to me because rainbows have almost been secularized to a single connotation–gay pride, etc. But you’re rainbows are completely outside of that contemporary connotation. Do you worry about people reading mass culture connotations into your rainbows or any other motifs?

Aleks: I’m not really worried about that. Everyone interprets art from their own frame of reference. I draw from my own experiences and they mean something specific to me. It’s inevitable and ultimately a good thing that other people are going to interpret symbols in a different manner.

S.J.: Well, how did you get started in freelancing? For instance, like with writing, you query editors, did you query or was there more self promotion involved at the beginning?

Aleks: At the beginning, my self-promotion was pretty minimal. I made a website and I sent emails to a few art directors. Most of the jobs I got at first were from people finding my website. In the past year or so, I joined The Loud Cloud creative agency and that really boosted my exposure. Joshua Gorchov and Ellen Gould have been really wonderful to work with. They handle all the mailings and the contracts and I mostly focus on illustrating nowadays.

S.J.: Well, what have been your  favorite assignments so far?  And what sort of assignments would you like to see coming your way

Aleks: Oh, that’s a tough choice.  I just finished illustrating 20 black and white illustrations for a myths compilation book for Oxford Press. And I really, really loved doing that. I think I would like to illustrate children’s books in the future.

S.J.: Let’s talk about your art itself; screw this industry crap.

Aleks: Alright!

S.J.: Who are your influences?  What are your favorite colors to use?

Aleks: I like orange, white, gold, and turquoise and lately I’m really into kimonos and patterns found in Japanese textiles

S.J.: Oh?  As costume, or as something for your palette?

Aleks: Yeah, there’s some beautiful intricate patterns.

S.J.: You paint a lot with texture, which I think is something really unique in your work.

Aleks: I just love how complex and textured they are. From far away it looks like blue but the closer you approach you realize it’s really blue with tiny light blue flowers and the whole thing is shimmering.  I love textures. I like to take pictures and zoom in 1000% to find new textures and patterns that I wouldn’t have noticed at first glance.

S.J.: Oh, that’s awesome! Do you think that is something that comes along with your tendency to work in illustration? In painting, you need textures too, but it’s more about color….

Aleks: I’m not sure. I’ve always admired the work of Harry Clarke and Albrecht Durer and their obsessive attention to texture in their drawings. I’m much more a drawer at heart than a painter I think.

Daffodils by Aleks Sennwald

Daffodils by Aleks Sennwald

S.J.:  Well most of your work is done on the tablet, which I’ve always viewed, even when you are painting, as sort of 100% drawing.  Even when you are in “paintbrush” and are filling in the parts, you are still drawing on the tablet.  Is that why you prefer tablet over traditional or is it something else?

Aleks: Well, I don’t know if that’s necessarily true. I would say it depends on how you use the tablet.  I’d still stay some people are painting on it. I’ve seen some artists use colors to build their piece in the same way that other people would be painting with oils. They don’t focus on line they focus on color and shapes.

S.J.: Yeah, ok, I see what you mean.  So you love Clarke, what is it about his work, other than texture, that influences you. Who are other artists that influence you?

Aleks: It’s creepy and it’s awesome.

S.J.:  Ha, ha. Do you strive to be creepy?

Aleks: No, not really. I try to just draw something that feels right.

S.J.: Well, I was joking mostly.  I think you stuff is pretty inviting.

Aleks: No, it’s great if you think it’s creepy. I don’t mind!

S.J.: Who else has played a big role in your artistic development?

Aleks: The Internet. I’m pretty sure I would have never shown anything to anyone without it.

S.J.: What do you mean?

Aleks: Well, I’d never really shown my work to anyone until I started posting it on the Internet. And the positive responses I got from it allowed me to be less self conscious about it, and in a way I gave myself permission to continue drawing after that.

S.J.: Was the Internet faceless to you–was that why it was easier to go public that way?

Aleks: Yeah, I think so. People can look at your artwork and like it or not regardless of who you are.

Aleks Sennwald’s work is represented by The Loud Cloud and prints of her work is available at their website.