Vlada Monakhova is an illustrator and concept artist of fantasy, horror, and science fiction. She provided art for this and last week's story, "Utrechtenaar" by Paul Evanby. This interview was conducted by email in June 2015.
Tory Hoke: A lot of your work blends eerie with appealing. What attracts you to that?
Vlada Monakhova: Thank you! I find a lot of appeal in the eerie, the creepy, the unsettling. I am not entirely sure what attracts me to it exactly—I remember being told that you grow out of that kind of phase like you grow out of a pair of shoes, but mine just turned to hooves and booked it straight for the woods. There's a thrill in being able to capture that feeling without being overtly monstrous. Most dangerous things in life are very beautiful, anyway, from poisonous flowers to frothing rivers to scales and spines of predators. Or maybe I'm just morbid!
Tory Hoke: What effect do you like your work to have on your viewer?
Vlada Monakhova: I'm still discovering what that is, but the best feedback for me is always "this is scaring me on a level I don't quite get and I can't look away." I don't think I always aim to scare, it just comes out on its own, even my "cuter" concepts bring in some element of malice. I try to mash my three priorities together when I work—make it spooky, make it beautiful, and make it entertaining; pull them into the piece and keep them captive in my world for a while.
Tory Hoke: What inspired the "fat bird" velociraptor?
Vlada Monakhova: I am very into dinosaurs and prehistoric animals. I follow paleontology blogs and podcasts; I have a shelf of dinosaur models—I guess I never grew out of that, either. Anyway, there was a series of pictures floating around, and in them was a T-Rex covered in enough feathers to make him look like one of these fat, puffy robins. It was cute, but it made no sense! I went off on my poor friend, saying how the T-Rex is too large of an animal to need that kind of insulation. If anything, a smaller raptor-like predator is more likely to sport that coat to help them with temperature regulation. So I painted it to prove a point.
Tory Hoke: A charming point! How are you handling the feathered dinosaur revolution? What would you say to a Greg Paul fan having a hard time adjusting?
Vlada Monakhova: The feathered dinosaur evolution is one of the best things that has happened to paleo art, in my opinion. There are so many variations to the coats of birds, so many applications for color and function—as an illustrator, that's a million opportunities for creative license! I would recommend anyone that feels otherwise to check out Feathered Dinosaurs: The Origin of Birds by John Long from your local library. While a bit dated, it offers a compelling argument for the diversity of raptors and their kin. I especially loved his conceptual notes on every piece, detailing the choice of coat, environment, and attitude.
Tory Hoke: I see from your Twitter feed you have coyote experience. How do you coyote-proof a home?
Vlada Monakhova: Do not live at the edge of the suburbs, do not keep chickens, and do not go out at night. Especially in early spring. They get louder and hungrier. Build tall fences and get big dogs.
Tory Hoke: What does a loud and hungry coyote sound like?
Vlada Monakhova: Like something out of a nightmare. I've had to hear packs stalking the field near our house and tearing things up at around three in the morning twice this year already, and I will take an angry bear or wolf over coyote screams every time. It's like they are laughing at you.
Tory Hoke: What other artists inspire or interest you?
Vlada Monakhova: Man, there are too many to list. I guess the people I draw the most inspiration from are the ones I interact with the closest. Sam Guay inspired me to give the world of illustration a shot. Brian G. Wood is my creative partner in crime, I draw a lot of inspiration from his writing and concepts. A short list of my other top influences: H. R. Giger, Ivan Bilibin, David Cronenberg, and Stephen King.
Tory Hoke: What would you like to see more of in contemporary F/SF art?
Vlada Monakhova: More ladies creating, pushing boundaries, and being visible! I cannot even begin to describe what an enormous boost of confidence it is for young girls to see other girls making worlds, stories, monsters, and heroes. I'd also like to live long enough to see F/SF art push itself into contemporary art galleries, to break the barrier between "entertainment" and "fine" art, to show that it can be a wonderful fusion of the two.
Tory Hoke: What's your dream project?
Vlada Monakhova: A dream project for me is rich with narrative, character, and story—and able to translate them all visually in a way that connects, creates a small universe. I used to think this is the soul of film but now I am consuming a lot of animation and finding it to be much more pliable. It's a long shot, but I'd love to take on art direction of a feature one day, or at least contribute to its styling significantly!
Tory Hoke: Your concept art makes a compelling case. Is film work something you're pursuing?
Vlada Monakhova: Thank you so much! Yes, film and animation have always been a very treasured medium for me. I adore illustration, but I am really itching to see it move, to learn what a big production is like.
Tory Hoke: What's next for you?
Vlada Monakhova: I am currently working on a 20-page comic for Brian's Analyst universe. The best way to describe it is to imagine Men in Black and The X-Files take a field trip to the New York subway tunnels. It's an exciting—if a little bit daunting—project, but it's teaching me a lot about pacing and sequential structure. We are hoping to release it in full by the end of June. Another project is in conceptual stages at the moment. I have free rein on that one as far as style and design are concerned, and a slightly bigger team, so I am very stoked!
Tory Hoke: Dragon Age: Inquisition. Who did you romance?
Vlada Monakhova: A very important question. My heart is forever with Josephine. I was a bit disappointed that there were no "romance" cards for the Advisors in game, so I painted my own.
Tory Hoke: Lovely. And you included her red candle! I wonder if leaving out certain tarot cards was BioWare's invitation to fans. Had you been moved to make fan art before?
Vlada Monakhova: Not really—not until Inquisition's art style made it impossible not to take a shot at it. It's been so great to see that so many artists were moved by the tarot cards as well. I am wondering the same thing!
Tory Hoke: Thank you for your time, Vlada. It's been a pleasure.
Vlada Monakhova: Thank you for the opportunity and great conversation. It's been wonderful to contribute to the world of Strange Horizons. I look forward to seeing what other stories come to life through your phenomenal creators!