Interview With Artist Kekai Kotaki

Kekai Kotaki is the artist behind the U.S. cover for The Quantum Thief by Hannu Rajaniemi, one the books on the Locus recommended reading list. You may also recognize his work as Lead Concept Artist for Guild Wars 2. We thank Kekai for taking time out of his busy schedule to grant us this interview and show us his amazing artwork.

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Since a huge part of your work consists of Guild Wars 2 concept art, we thought we might open with a GW2 question. You mentioned that you would be playing a human. Have you chosen his or her profession yet?
I’m pretty sure I’ll be playing as a warrior. Thinking of rocking either a greatsword or hammer as my main. Duel axes or a bow as my secondary weapon set.

What are some of your non-artistic hobbies?
I like to read books, watch movies, and tv shows. Everything else is art-related in some way.

 

In one of your Q&A sessions, you stated that you first drew inspiration for your art through the fantasy novels that your mom would bring home from the library. Do you remember which novels inspired you the most?
I remember Glen Cook’s Black Company being one. I really loved that book. What was really great about it was he was fairly vague on descriptions that didn’t involve the main characters directly; it gave my imagination lots of room to play around in. Piers Anthony’s Xanth series also was source of fun ideas—even though it is all puns, and I hate puns. Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman’s Death Gate Cycle also helped me craft my imagination.

On your blog, Cake Mix, we see a lot of sketches that you seem to draw in a very short amount of time. How long did it take you to draw the sketch to the right?
This took me around 30 to 45 minutes. It is a sketch, so there is not that much thought going into it.
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That’s pretty impressive to us! Can you please explain your sketching and illustration process? Do you always use a graphics tablet? Do you ever first sketch things out on paper?
I do all my work in Photoshop. I use a Wacom Cintiq tablet. I still draw in a sketchbook every once in a while. I used to draw with charcoal and then scan that into the computer to paint with. But right now I do everything directly in the computer. Though the overall process is not that different for other forms of art. I start with rough sketches and then proceed to the finished piece.

You draw a lot of fantastic creatures and landscapes. What do you use for inspiration? Do you reference any photographs, sculptures, or live models?
I look at a lot of photographs and reference. Though the way I interpret this comes from my imagination and instincts.

We love the cover art for The Quantum Thief. What directions were you given for the cover? Did you get to read the book? Can you please walk us through your process of creating this cover?
I was given a couple scenes to work off of from my Art Director, Irene Gallo. I didn’t read the book at this point, even though it was in print in the U.K. for over a year. Sometimes it is easier to jump in and trust your A.D. and editor to guide you. I was provided the chapter each scene was in. After reading the chapters I then started to work on “roughing out” what I wanted to draw.

One chapter I was given was Isidore meeting his father. The other was Jean Le Fleur and Mieli getting into a little scuffle in an art museum. I did a couple “roughs” for each scene, which I then turned in to see what direction everyone wanted to go. Everyone liked the more action-packed “rough” of Mieli lifting Jean out of the explosion. Irene liked how I rendered her wings, something she had pointed out to me that shouldn’t be regular, everyday wings, and I tried to keep that same effect in the final version. I had to work on getting Mieli’s clothing to be more future sci-fi ninja rather than fantasy warrior girl.

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Another book bearing your cover art is Fuzzy Nation by John Scalzi, which will be released in May 2011.  Can you please walk us through your process of creating this cover?
The scene that they wanted to show on the cover was the first meeting of Jack and the first Fuzzy. I read the chapter containing that scene and did some “roughs” of different moments of their encounter. People were pleased with the “rough” with both of them in front of the window. I then went to work rendering out the piece. The only thing they had me add was the hover craft in the background. This was to help push the sci-fi aspect to the piece. I didn’t read the book, only the chapter that contained the scene I was concerned with.

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We here at the Ranting Dragon have also really been anticipating the release of The Unremembered by Peter Orullian. What directions were you given for the cover?
The scene that they wanted me to work on is of the main character doing his morning ritual of greeting the sun when it rises. This occurs on a high cliff or hilltop overlooking a giant tree called a Cloudwood. I was given quite a bit of details of the character, too. Using these details I then drew a rough sketch showing off different compositions and poses of the scene. They liked the environment of one, but the act of him shooting an arrow didn’t work with the story. So I tweaked that “rough,” keeping the same surrounding but changing the pose to something more suitable. After this was done, it was fairly straightforward. However, because the scene was simple, it put more pressure on me to make it that much more beautiful.

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It is indeed very beautiful! Of your many works, do you have any favorites?
I have always liked my Jora piece; it was the first big image that put me on the map. The Snow Battle piece won a Silver in Spectrum one year, so that’s a fond memory. I like Lorthos because it was one of the first Magic the Gathering cards I did, and because he is a giant octopus. The rest shown below are just personal favorites I’ve done over the years.

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Did you get to read any of the recommended books from Locus this year? If so, can you please tell us your favorite(s)?
Um, looks like I have some reading to do.

 

Do you have any advice for aspiring artists?
Practice is key. Work on the foundational skills first, then you can move onto creating things from your imagination.

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Thank you so much, Kekai.

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A fuller résumé of works is available on Kekai’s website and blog. Kekai also offers online workshops at CGMW from time to time. Finally, don’t forget to write-in Kekai Kotaki as your favorite science fiction/fantasy artist of 2010 in the Locus poll!

About Benni Amato

Benni was born in a theater playing Star Wars, and has loved science fiction and fantasy ever since. She did go through a non-fiction phase, but now that her 50-70-hour/week job keeps her plenty occupied with non-fiction, she escapes when she can into the world of fantasy. Though clinically cleared of ADHD, Benni requires constant engagement, whether through good pacing, character development, or world-building. And while she would like to believe that she has more discerning taste than a child, she considers herself otherwise a good measure of whether a book will hold a child’s attention and do well if the movie rights are sold.

View all articles written by Benni Amato.

17 comments

  1. Wow! His work is amazing :D Thanks for this interview. Definitely going to follow his blog.

  2. Wow! His work is amazing :D Thanks for this interview. Definitely going to follow his blog.

  3. Awesome as always Kekai!! :)

  4. Awesome as always Kekai!! :)

  5. Jhass777

    Kekai’s artwork is wonderful. It was interesting to read details about the process of developing the cover art, what directions are given, and how it all comes together. Great interview!

  6. Jhass777

    Kekai’s artwork is wonderful. It was interesting to read details about the process of developing the cover art, what directions are given, and how it all comes together. Great interview!

  7. Kekai’s artwork is wonderful. It was interesting to read details about the process of developing the cover art, what directions are given, and how it all comes together. Great interview!

  8. Kekai’s artwork is wonderful. It was interesting to read details about the process of developing the cover art, what directions are given, and how it all comes together. Great interview!

  9. I’d love for him to be called upon to do one of the Malazan Sub Press special editions, especially if he gets to paint some K’chain Che’malle or Forkrul Assail.

  10. I’d love for him to be called upon to do one of the Malazan Sub Press special editions, especially if he gets to paint some K’chain Che’malle or Forkrul Assail.

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