Todd Wills Lockwood is an American artist particularise in fantasy and science fiction illustration. He is best known for his work on the role-playing game Dungeons & Dragons, and for his covers for the books of R.A. Salvatore.
Where did you grow up and what was your childhood like? Did you have any particular experiences/stories that shaped your adult life?
I started drawing before I can remember. I always had a pencil in my hand. Both my parents were artistic, and I remember Dad drawing funny cartoon animals for me as I sat on his knee. Mom sewed and painted and drew, and helped me with projects I came up with. If I wasn’t drawing, I was building something out of cardboard or wood. I had a fleet of flying saucers for my plastic spacemen that I made out of paper plates and empty tissue boxes. My 12” GI Joes had Star-Trek style space shuttles made from bigger boxes, complete with seats, controls, a medical station, and operating doors. I guess I was a little precocious, artistically.
I assumed I was going to be an artist because I liked it, and my parents told me as much. I was always the “best artist in class” and got good grades. Not very good at sports, so I made up for it with my imagination. I wanted to be a cartoonist, but my parents told me that cartoonists don’t make much money. I believed them as if either of them knew anything about the lives of cartoonists. I pursued commercial art instead.
I attended the Colorado Institute of Art (I enjoyed telling people that I learned art at the CIA) from 1979 to 1981, graduating with the award for “Portfolio par Excellence,” went straight into a design job for a year and a half. Then I quit to freelance as an illustrator and never looked back. I spent fourteen years doing commercial art for beer sellers and other products. In the mix, I tried to market a comic book of my own creation, only to discover that comics was a poor career move for a guy with a mortgage and three children.
Throughout those advertising years I played D&D with my friends, to preserve my insanity. I kept the story-telling muse fed with scraps from my D&D table.
By the end of that period, I too wondered why I had decided to make art my living. I was done with the world of advertising, ready to hang up my brushes and get a real estate license. An art director threw me a lifeline—I got to do a cover for Asimov’s magazine of fantastic fiction. I asked her how I could get more such work, and she suggested that I hang a show at a science fiction/fantasy convention. I didn’t even know what that was at the time, but I attended my first event—the World Con in Winnipeg in 1994. It changed my life. Within two years I TSR Inc. hired me to work on Dungeons & Dragons—a dream job that boosted my career in the right direction at the right time.
What is something you wish you would’ve realized earlier in your life?
That advertising is not what I wanted to do, and that you need to put some money aside from every paycheck towards saving. Every. Paycheck, no matter how poor you are.
What are bad recommendations you hear in your profession or area of expertise?
That’s difficult to say. There are so many ways to go wrong, but they don’t generally come from bad recommendations. Aspiring artists all want to work for high-profile clients, like Wizards of the Coast or Blizzard Entertainment. But you’re better off seeking your own audience, especially in this day of contraction in the business. Jobs are fewer, and the pay rates never seem to go up. Save some passion for your own projects, do what you love, and your audience will find you. But be sure to learn something about marketing yourself—extremely easy to do in this day and age. Don’t expect an artist’s rep to find you the work you want to do—they won’t. They’ll find you clients that make them happy.
Tell me about one of the darker periods you’ve experienced in life. How you came out of it and what you learned from it?
In the early 1990s, Photoshop entered the marketplace and changed the art world. Suddenly every airbrush artist I knew, every type-setter, and every retouch artist was out of work. If you don’t know what those professions are, look them up. You’ll see why they went away. I survived by getting rid of my artist’s reps and taking my career into my own hands. I found work with TSR (which eventually sold to Wizards of the Coast) and saved my career. I was able to finally start doing the sort of work I wanted to do. Very soon after that, digital painting mediums started to become really good. Corel Painter forced Photoshop to evolve from a retouching tool to a painting tool, and the industry changed again—now digital paint looked like real paint. I adapted by learning the software and buying computers.
These days, my advice would be to learn some real media before you commit to digital paint so that you know what real paint looks like texturally. Painting in traditional media forces you to think and plan ahead as you go, which is invaluable. You can’t ever think you’re “good enough,” or that you’ve learned everything you need to do. The truth is that art is a passion or it will kill you. Try everything, take interest in everything, especially all the sciences. Geology will teach you why mountains look the way they do; Biology will teach you how to draw people and animals better; Meteorology teaches you why clouds look the way they do, and so. Have more than a passing interest in the world, it will teach you tons. And remember that no teacher ever helped a student who wasn’t eager to learn.
What is one thing that you do that you feel has been the biggest contributor to your success so far?
Follow through. Don’t drop the ball. If you run into trouble on an assignment, contact your client a.s.a.p., don’t leave them wondering. Hit your deadlines. Communicate clearly and thoroughly.
What is your morning routine?
Ha! I wake up somewhere between 5 am and 10 am. Within two or three hours, I’m through my email, I’ve had some coffee, and I get to work. I try to keep my “chore” work—billing clients, answering emails, etc. to the “morning” so that my creative hours are uninterrupted. Close the door. Stay out of Facebook and off the internet. Set goals for the day and try to hit your marks.
What are your strategies for being productive and using your time most efficiently?
The previous two questions can be answered by rereading the answers that came before them. Also, have a process that moves you efficiently through your routine. Understand composition, lighting, dynamic of narrative, anatomy, and then use your knowledge to anticipate your upcoming needs: gather great references, use models, study your contemporaries. Solve the big questions of shape and movement first: details come last. They are the skin—start with the bones and muscles. This applies to more than just figures. Everything has an anatomy, composition works because it understands anatomy and psychology. The process can save you when inspiration lags or time is short.
Love what you do, or do something else…;)
What book(s) have influenced your life the most? Why?
My favorite book of all time is To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. Such a well-told and powerful tale about prejudice and humanity, set in the old South. The voice, the pace, the brilliant coming together of all the threads in a tragic but uplifting finale. Read it if you haven’t.
My favorite sci-fi novel was The Mote in God’s Eye by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle. Spacefarers discover a world inhabited by aliens who have been trying for millennia to escape their solar system. It made me think about mankind’s trajectory on this finite world and what happens when civilization fails… again and again and again…
There are a number of movies that opened my eyes to things as I grew up. Great fiction teaches as it entertains.
Do you have any quotes you live by or think of often?
A friend gave me a list of quotes he had gathered over the years, and I’ve been adding to it since. So, yes, I have a few…;o}
“True religion is the life we lead, not the creed we profess.” —Louis Nizer
“A man who works with his hands is a laborer; a man who works with his hands and his brain is a craftsman, but a man who works with his hands and his brain and his heart is an artist.” —Louis Nizer (again!)
“Fantasy, abandoned by reason, produces impossible monsters; united with it, she is the mother of the arts and the origin of marvels.”—Francisco Goya
“Though we come and go, and pass into the shadows, where we leave behind us stories told — on paper, on the wings of butterflies, on the wind, on the hearts of others — there we are remembered, there we work magic and great change — passing on the fire like a torch — forever and forever. Till the sky falls, and all things are flawless and need no words at all.”—Tanith Lee
“Be excellent to each other, and party on, dudes!”—Bill & Ted