Sneaking out to go to museums as a child, Juliana Pinho has been passionate about art in all its forms ever since she can remember. Currently an English teacher and translator in the Northeast region of Brazil, she has illustrated stories and articles for publications such as the Aiglos Almanac and the Dates Anthology. See her portfolio at behance.net/julianapinho.
You're an illustrator, a teacher and a historian. What is your relationship with those fields? Do you feel like there is a connection between your passion for them?
There absolutely is! These three professions are essentially about the human experience of society and communication, and that’s something I’m very passionate about. Each of these fields look at that subject with their own set of eyes, and through a variety of lenses. I think that means my experiences with one field directly interact with the others. I honestly couldn’t tell you which one influences me the most.
I love the intimacy in your work. Many of your illustrations involve touch and the feelings between two or more individuals, it's very sensory and expressive. What do you like to draw the most?
Precisely that! I’m fascinated by how much we communicate without words and I’m glad I get to convey that through message, and that’s something I love reading about, for example, when I’m reading fiction. I love authors who can convey complex emotions without spelling them out (some of them can’t even be spelled out), and I try to emulate that in my work however I can. I’m also a very touchy-feely person, so that’s probably another reason why that comes naturally to mind when we talk about human interactions.
Let's talk about scenarios. There are a lot of elements of nature present in your work: water, flowers, trees... Would you mind telling us more about it?
I’m afraid it’s a purely aesthetic value! I just really love nature. I’ve been staring at trees since I was a child, there’s just nothing like it. I feel completely absorbed by its mass and movement. It isn’t trying to talk to us, it is a completely foreign existence we coexist with. Sometimes, when I put elements like that in my works, I don’t really know what I’m trying to say either. It’s something to contemplate after the work is done, and I feeling like giving up that control is one of the most pleasant and essential aspects of art.
Can you talk about the regional references in your work? Do you feel inspired by the history, art and culture of the Northeast and Brazil in general?
I feel extremely inspired, but maybe not in the most obvious way. I have lived in Recife my whole life and it is a very interesting place to grow up in. Specifically, the visual art produced here has always had an eye for the ornament and for the symbolic, from its baroque wooden churches to recent visual production by artists such as Samico or Reynaldo Fonseca, and I think I have developed a similar eye. There’s much beyond visual arts, of course. All I can say is that I definitely feel like a product of my environment and like an heir to the history surrounding me, for better or for worse.
How is your art process? From the first idea to the finished work.
I sketch a lot. Like an artistic brainstorm with myself? When the deadline is kind, I like sketching by hand, then doing a secondary sketching on the computer, then doing the final lineart by pencil, and then scanning it again and painting it digitally. It is unnecessarily complicated, but extremely satisfying! Usually I just do all my work digitally, however. In all fairness, my process is still very amateurish.
Most of your illustrations are fan art. What is your history with fandom and how is the experience of being a fan in Brazil?
I’ve had some bad times with fandom, but I think that’s in accordance with the ever-growing viciousness that is becoming typical in such spaces. On the other hand, I met many wonderful friends through fanworks, including my fiancé! So I’m not complaining. I really feel like the fandom experience is just another form of the very common creative process of getting inspired by something, and then messing around with it until it is practically unrecognizable. By that point you realize you gave birth to something entirely new and entirely authorial. How many writers and artists began by doing that? It seems to me that if you have a healthy attitude towards it, fandom usually works at a catalyst for self-study and authorial production.
I think the most frustrating thing about fandom is precisely how dislocated people like me are. Fandom seems like an essentially anglophone experience and that is very alienating, though I also understand how it makes perfect sense. But we are missing out on very interesting experiences with our own aesthetic baggage and running the risk of seeing ourselves as “others”, if we navigate those spaces too much, or too blindly. In other words, it feels lonely.
You were part of Aiglos Almanac, a Polish Tolkienist journal. Can you tell us more about the project and your relationship with Tolkien's works?
Actually, they asked for permission to use some of my work in one of their editions, and I was surprised and very happy!
Tolkien’s works have a level of nuance and authenticity that few authors can match, in my opinion. There’s so much of it, in fact, that I keep rereading his material and still find new things every time. I really admire Tolkien’s attitude towards art, in general.
Something I find interesting is how you started as a hobbyist, and only recently started to illustrate professionally, beginning with Dates Anthology Volume 2 by Margins Publishing. How are the two experiences?
I have always been very reserved with my art, not to say insecure. I have used art as a safe outlet for vulnerability, and for working out personal issues, so the idea of facing it as a profession and putting stakes on it was frankly terrifying. Having people approach me as a professional changed my perspective on my own work, and, frankly, without that as an incentive I might never have taken a step forward in that direction. So I’m extremely grateful that I was able to have these two opportunities, and that they turned out so satisfactorily for all involved.
If you could change the canon of any story with your art, which story would it be, and how would the art be?
That’s such an interesting question, but I frankly don’t know! Normally, I only really get into things I like as works, so I don’t really want to change anything about my favorite stories?
I would like to change the fan attitude towards some things, though. For example, with Tolkien, I think it’s past time to explore aesthetics beyond uninspired generic Tudor-era, especially because that’s not really in the work itself. I feel like with official adaptations, we could also go further.
If I’m allowed to go wild with this question, maybe I’d like to do an installation or exhibition with crafted objects from different eras of Tolkien’s Legendarium. I’d commission artists from all over the world and let them go crazy with the aesthetics. We could have visual art, sculptures, music… each piece connected to a part of the story, so that the audience would have to speculate about how it connects to what they know. That ought to at very least shake people’s uninspired fantasy aesthetics up a little, and hopefully allow them to see speculative fiction in a new light. Although I guess I ended up running away from the question!
Tell us your dream job with speculative fiction.
Illustrating stories picked by me! Or being an editor with very, very gentle deadlines. Or maybe what I’m doing now, assigning short stories to my students and making them read and comment on them, but with more time and reach.