Interview by Lizzy Carft for the Chinese Fantasy Art Magazine published in June 2011
Please introduce yourself.
My name is Christos Achilleos. As you may have guessed this is not an English name. I am in fact from Greek origin, born on the island of Cyprus. I am a working artist and illustrator well know in the fantasy and erotica world. My work has been published in 4 books and translated in many languages. My original paintings are much sought after by collectors.
Could you tell me how you found your way to being an artist?
I was lucky enough to know from a very young age that I wanted to be an artist. This helped me enormously in focusing my later education to that goal.
Could you tell me the story on how you got your first job?
I got my first break at being a professional artist when I was still in my last year at art college. One of my tutors was working on a publishing job to do with the first landings on the moon in 1969. He had to do a lot of illustrations in a very short space of time and so he asked me to help him by doing some of the artwork. These were later published in a book titled “The Moonflight Atlas” by the famous British astronomer Patrick Moore. I know you had work for many subject of illustration, from fantasy to science fiction.
Which is your favourite subject ?
When I first started working, I would work on anything I could get in order to build up my portfolio and experience in different fields of illustration. A lot of the work was advertising which paid very well. But some of it was in publishing, mostly book covers. In time, I stopped doing advertising and concentrated on just doing fantasy art, which is what I much prefer.
Many artist have created the Dragon subject. How and why did you begin your Dragon series?
By the late seventies, I completed many hundred of book covers. I always had in mind and wanted to paint a dragon, but there weren’t many fantasy novels written with the subject of dragons. To my delight I was given a book to illustrate by Anne McCaffrey, at the time she was one of the first author to specialize in stories with dragons. The book titled “Dragonquest” was published in 1979 and it gave me the chance for the first time to paint a dragon. I was really excited about this and I painted it twice the size that I normally paint a book cover. The artwork was very successful and helped to sell many copies of the book. In my opinion, it was also the first time that a dragon was shown in a realistic way.
How have you found your style? Some artist told us that it's not the artist who find their style, but the style that find the artist. What do you think about this?
I have been asked this question many times, and my answer is that: I personally don’t think that I have a particular style. My styles change with the medium that I use. Unlike most other artists, I change my painting mediums with the subject matter. Some subjects require a more painted style while other require a more highly finished style, and this will require different techniques, such as airbrushing on smooth board, for a more highly finished look for example.
Could you talk about your artbook Amazona?
“Amazona” is my 4th book and was published in 2004 by Titan book UK. My previous book “Medusa” was published in 1988 by Dragons World Ltd. For a long time, they wanted me to publish another one but I refused to do so. Eventually I found the publisher who is publishing my new books, Titan. It has been my long ambition to publish a new book to show some of my many drawings which are well liked by my fans. A few drawings have been published next to the finished paintings in my second book “Sirens”, originally published in 1986, which was reprinted in 2009.
Which Artist that still lives today is your complimentary?
As a young artist I was influenced by many artists and their works. Too many to mention all here, but I would like to give you a few names such as, Frank Frazzetta or Frank Bellamy.
What is your point about the Digital Arts? We know many younger artist do art this way.
Some great and wonderful art is created digitally nowadays, mostly by a younger generation of artist who have grown up with computers. This is also very helpful to publishers as these images reproduce really well and cost less. Painting the traditional way takes an artist much longer to complete the image, and in my view is also a more difficult process as it involves risk taking.
How long does it take to create a new Image?
It can vary from one to four weeks, depending on the image.
Do you still draw every day? How did you keep your skills growing nowadays? We all know you stand on a pinnacle, how do you transcend yourself?
Being a professional artist one has to work at it every day. This helps enormously in constantly improving my skills and evolving as an artist.
When you do a new painting, what is your first thought? Could you tell us more about your work flow?
For a book cover for example, I would read the book first, and take notes about the descriptions of characters, the scenery, etc. I like to be as accurate as I can on this. Then I would think of a concept and draw a little thumbnail sketch of it to see how it could fit the book format, leaving space for the lettering. From this I will then proceed to a larger drawing, adding more details, working out anatomy and enlarging it to the size that I want to paint it. I then transfer it to the board or canvas and start by painting the background and working to the foreground.
You have a long career. Could you tell me, what is the most important thing that the artist must have in mind?
Here is a formula on how to become a successful artist: Firstly you have to be born with hand to eye coordination, with imagination, inquisitiveness. Secondly you have to be a perfectionist at what you do and have that competitive spirit that goes with it. And at last, I would add self-confidence, a lot of patience and being prepared to work by yourself for long hours.
What is the most difficult thing when you work? How do you conquer it?
The most difficult time is when I am just starting the painting. Having worked out and drawn the picture on board or canvas, I have to make a start … not knowing exactly where I am going regarding color and light.
We know you have worked on some films, like The Last Legion and King Arthur. Why are your interested in this type of work?
One of my earliest interest and inspirations when I was very young came from going to the cinema. I have always loved films and in another life I would have loved to pursue film studies and become a director.
What do you think is the difference between concept artwork and illustration? Which one do you like more? Will you do more film work?
I don’t think there is much difference in it. Both of them are fulfilling a brief, one is from a book, the other one is from a script. I would love to do more work for historical and fantasy films, which are the styles which I enjoy most.
You did various work for different Comic Cover. Could you tell us why you did so many Dr. Who?
At first, I wanted to do comic art. I was a big fan and collected many comics, mostly for their artwork. Later on, I made the decision to go to full color artwork for book covers instead. The Dr Who artwork was done for book covers and I did so many because there were very successful and the publishers were bringing out one or two a month. These are still very popular and collectable. BBC Books have just republished my original covers as special collectors editions.
I have not found many new personal artwork, is that because your had lot of other work to do? Will you create some new ones?
By personal artwork, I assume you mean art that is not commissioned by anyone ! I manage to do quite a lot of it between commissioned work because I keep myself busy all the time. There are many concepts that I like to explore further in my art, like the one which I used in my painting titled “Eve and the Serpent”.
How do you usually collect inspiration?
My main inspiration is nature and nature is all around me.
Can you tell us how you create the fantasy world that belongs to your?
When I was working on book covers, I would concentrate on showing mostly heroes and creatures. The creatures were usually designed around the human form and some other animal. I found this to be the most successful combination for creatures and monsters.
Can you tell me which is your best painting? I mean, do you think you have a perfect one?
I don’t really think I have ONE best picture “my masterpiece”. I do like some of my paintings more than others, and these are all hanging framed on my walls. Among my favourites are “The Lovers”, “Penthesilea” and “Cleopatra”.
What reaction do you want from people when they look at your artwork?
I paint to please myself above all, but I appreciate when others like it too and I am especially pleased and humbled when people are willing to pay for my artwork.
Do you listen to music when you are working? What kind of music is your favourite?
Music has always been very important in my personal and professional life. It is especially needed when I have to start a painting and I am gazing at the white canvas. I usually pace up and down with loud aggressive music to get my spirits up, a bit like if I was going into a fight. Later, when I am into the work, I turn the music down or listen to a play on the radio. This way the time passes very quickly and I get a lot done.
Apart from art, what are your hobbies?
I suppose you can count these as hobbies: I enjoy working with wood and gardening.
Which company you have worked for has impressed you most?
One of my memorable and pleasing experiences was working directly with Mr Antoine Fuqua for the King Arthur Film.