Grace P. Fong is a Hugo-nominated illustrator and technical artist, currently living in Vancouver, BC. She has worked on illustrations for authors and publications, as well as on video games. You can view her portfolio at gracepfong.com.
Grace provided the illustration for the February 18th story “Dem Bones” by Lavie Tidhar.
What art inspired you as a child?
It all started with anime and manga, maybe a little ‘90s Disney. My parents would go to a store that recorded Chinese TV shows, made copies on VHS, and then did bootleg rentals. That’s how I was introduced to Sailor Moon. I fell in love with the characters—especially Jupiter, Uranus, and Neptune—even though I couldn’t understand the spoken Japanese or read the Chinese subtitles. That led me to CLAMP’s Magic Knight Rayearth and a huge manga rabbit hole. Mom and Dad were young science professors at the time, so most of my toys were paper, pens, and office supplies. Combined with my discovery of Animorphs and Tamora Pierce, my love for fantasy naturally manifested as illustration.
You’ve drawn a lot of images that show two or more people in positions supportive of one another. Why do you feel you’re drawn to that topic?
Honestly, I just think it’s a more interesting narrative. When you draw a single character, the portrait is about the direct relationship between the subject and the viewer, and as a viewer, you are not in the same world as the subject. When you’re drawing two people, you’re metaphorically visualizing the space and history between them—is it far? Is it close? Is it confrontational? Is it twisted? Not all the relationships I draw are positive ones, but having multiple characters automatically gives the viewer a story to think about that they are not already part of.
How would you say your style has changed over time?
When I was in school, my work was heavily rooted in anime and manga. I tried aping styles I didn’t even feel connected to just because they seemed popular. However, after working in the entertainment industry, I gained enough technical knowledge to add in other influences like video games and television. Watching HBO’s Game of Thrones brought me back to the medieval high fantasy I’d loved as a child (thanks Tamora Pierce!). So now, I’ve got a well-rounded east/west mix that’s uniquely me. It feels like I’m finally coming home.
What’s your approach to sketchbooks?
I’ve basically had a sketchbook somewhere on me since I turned twelve. They’ve varied from folders of printer paper to fancy Moleskines. That said, I prefer spiral hardcover: it’s durable; you can flip the cover around; tearing pages out is easy. Currently, I have a few that I cycle through depending on what medium I feel like using that day—Bee Paper for inks, Blackwing for pencil, and Utrecht Tan for color. I tend to work small because I am a lazy weakling who is always on the move but doesn’t like to carry things.
Sometimes, I switch it up and use an iPad. The UX usability of Procreate unlocked doors for me. And with my Bluetooth keyboard, I can also write—I don’t even own a true laptop (Note: I also have a Cintiq and custom desktop for more formal work.)
What’s your favorite thing to draw for fun, that you find yourself drawing when you’re not really doing anything but doodling?
People say my brand is strong, and that brand is pretty guys who look like birds. I watched a lot of shojo anime, and Tobias was my favorite Animorph. Plus, I'll be real—I’ve had the same high fantasy, falcon-shapeshifting, thief character since I was in elementary school, so I damn well should be pretty good at drawing him by now. Or uh... “generic” characters who look suspiciously similar.
What’s a challenge you’ve recently faced in your art?
I think my compositions are starting to get boring, especially when single character. I think I can liven them up with more exciting angles and lighting, but it’s really technically difficult to make an imaginary space feel real and inhabited. I’m trying to combat this by studying more master work—I love illustration between 1850 and 1930—and doing more environment and architecture studies with other artists. Oh, and time management is always a challenge, too.
What’s a recently finished project that you're proud of, and why?
I created "Flutter," a six-page short comic for a friend’s anthology entitled “Hana Doki Kira 2.” Its theme is the “doki doki” moment of first love. My entry is not very grand, but it showcases how far I’ve come and helps me see where I still need to go. I have a hard time keeping my stories short, so I’m proud I could tell this one in a couple sentences. Also, I like that its visual metaphor means I could only do this in comic form. But most importantly, it’s my first finished comic. Ever. In school, I always wanted to make comics but I never saw them to the end. I was supposed to do a twelve-page entry for my senior capstone, but I only finished three. "Flutter" was proof to myself that I can see something through now, and that’s worth the world.
If you could do any art project in SFF fandom, what would you choose?
I would love to do concept design/visual development for either V. E. Schwab’s Shades of Magic series or Leigh Bardugo’s Grishaverse. Both these series do something very rare and do it very well: they have built-in visual systems. Certain characters have certain symbols and colors. It’s like Hogwarts colors and houses—pure iconography inspiration candy. Also, my fan art for these series had a strong impact on getting my career off the ground, and I’d love to pay it forward by working on the real thing. (Plus, I’ve met the authors, and they are super cool people.)
Or something something Spider-Man. When I was in grade ten, I walked out of Spider-Man 2 (the Toby Maguire one) saying, “That’ll be me in ten years.” I meant I’d be working in film effects (which I kind of am!), but Mom thought I wanted superpowers... though I guess that’d be okay, too.