Dan Dos Santos exploded into the sf/f art world in the early 2000s, pretty much straight out of college. His highly rendered realist style combined with saturated color and exotic costuming create a great sense of otherworldliness. When it comes to it, Dan simply has a knack for making fantasy look cool.
Besides being a great artist, Dan is a remarkably curious and giving individual. He can often be seen on Conceptart.org and conventions making the first move to reach out to younger artists, looking over their portfolios and giving advice. No one is allowed to be shy around Dan.
Do you remember the first time you knew you wanted to be an artist?
Drawing was an obsession that happened instantaneously for me. When I was 5, I watched my father draw a picture of Optimus Prime on a smooth beach rock. Until then, I hadn’t realized that people drew the cartoons I watched, nor did I realize that I could draw them myself if I wanted. It was like an epiphany, “You mean, I can draw the Transformers doing whatever I want?!” From that moment on, I became obsessive about knowing how to draw all of my favorite cartoon characters.
Do you have a five year plan or do you just take each job as it comes?
I always have a plan. Right now, I am trying to diversify my clientele a bit. In the next 5 years, I want to split my time evenly amongst movies, comics, book covers, and personal work. It’s really important to be conscientious about the direction your career is heading in. Otherwise, one day you’ll wake up at a dead-end wondering how you got there.
Do you have a set image in your mind when you first start sketching or do you start out abstractly and let the process of sketching take over?
Both. When I first sit down, I usually have an image in my head. Unfortunately, that image is almost always too trite of a solution. Once the obvious answer is down on paper, the real challenge begins… developing new ideas. That’s when I just start drawing, and drawing, and drawing. Eventually, through sheer volume, I stumble across a fresh idea.
How do you feel your schooling prepared you for real life?
For real life… pretty well. Like school, “real life” is just about working hard and having clear goals. Learn from the competition, and play nice.
I do wish that they spent more time on running your own business though. Business ethics, contracts, invoices, taxes, etc. I was fortunate to have a great mentor that helped me with these issues, but I can only imagine my peers had to learn through trial and error.
Do you have to like the book/comic/movie to be excited about the project?
Surprisingly, no. In fact, the opposite is almost true. Often times, if I like a book too much, I have a really difficult time deciding on an image that I feel does the text justice. Usually, excitement for a project comes in the form of visual inspiration. If the A.D. is describing a cool scenario and I instantly get a great image in my head, I get pretty excited about the gig regardless of the quality of writing.
Favorite painting you did in the past year?
Green, for Jay Lake. (Alternate sketches seen here.) The painting itself isn’t any better or more complicated than any of my others. But the concept was so simple and effective, that it really made the process enjoyable. I think if you ask most artists what their favorite painting is, they usually pick the one that was most fun to paint. (Hot ninja girls don’t hurt either)
I’ve been asked this many times, and every time it’s different. Illustrating Dune would be pretty sweet though. A nice deluxe edition, with full color illustrations. Yummmmm.
A career highlight?
I’m really hoping it hasn’t happened yet.
What are you working on now?
Right now I am working on the designs for an upcoming movie. It’s a fairly large production and presents a lot of unique challenges. I am designing the costumes that the three main characters will wear. When designing them, I have to consider how these costumes will look at 360 degrees, as well as how they will function when the characters are in motion. In book cover illustration, we can get away with some pretty ludicrous outfits (especially on the women), since they usually only need to be seen from a single angle, preforming a single task. Here, I am concerned about function as much as form, and am spending a lot of time picking fabrics and patterns. It really is a ton of fun and a nice break from my usual assignments.
Your biggest influences?
Some of my favorite artists (in no particular order): Moebius, Katsuhiro Otomo, Katsuya Terada, Hiroaki Samura, Paul Pope, Jack Kirby, J.W. Waterhouse, William Bougeureau, Jean Gerome, John Singer Sargent, Gustav Dore, Arthur Rackham, Michael Whelan, James Jean, and Adam Rex.
Rembrandt’s “Yellowish Green.” Aside from looking really yummy on its own, it makes the most beautiful flesh tones when mixed with reds.
How do you balance personal time with work?
I know I’ve heard that somewhere before.
Advice to a young illustrator?
Get a real job.
What do you do outside of art for fun?
Spend time with the kids, and cook. Man, I really, really love cooking.
You can see more of Dan’s work on his website and Tor.com gallery. You can also see a time lapse video of Dan Dos Santos painting the cover art for Brandon Sanderson’ s Warbreaker, (including a way cool soundtrack by Ratatat) soon to be a full length instructional DVD from Massive Black.