Dan Rempel is an illustrator from Lawrence, Kansas. He likes to create images that evoke mood and a sense of narrative. He's especially drawn to depicting scenes of imagination, mystery, adventure, and the macabre. You can view his portfolio at danrempelillustration.com.
He provided art for this month's story "On the Occasion of a Burial of Ernest Zach Ulrich" by Mary Kuryla.
This interview was conducted by email in February 2018.
Tory Hoke: As an illustrator, how did you get where you are today?
Dan Rempel: I came to illustration later in life than most who pursue this field. I'm 40 now, and I became interested in an illustration career about six years ago. Following that initial interest, I went to college and got my BFA in illustration from the University of Kansas. It's been about a year and half since I graduated, and l have been busy honing my skills, developing my portfolio, doing the occasional commission, and attending conventions to promote my work and learn more about the industry.
Tory Hoke: Your work uses the whole cinematic toolkit—lighting, composition, color, and performance—to tell a story in a single frame. What inspires this approach? What's most rewarding about it? What's most challenging?
Dan Rempel: Thank you for the compliment. It kind of sums up what I'm trying to do. My main goal is to intrigue the viewer—to make them interested in what came before and what comes after the moment depicted, or to pique their curiosity about a character. I also like the idea of creating an image that's like a portal to another world—something the viewer could step into.
I think the rewarding part is feeling that I've successfully met the challenge. The challenging part is balancing the needs of depicting three-dimensional reality with the needs of composition. The basic composition is processed as flat and abstract—thinking in terms of shape, line, movement, etc.—so the brain has to deal with the work on two levels.
Another rewarding part is getting feedback from viewers and discovering that my intentions for the piece—as far as mood, narrative, intrigue—are coming across.
Tory Hoke: In your work there's a love for horror—from Dracula to Raw (2016). What draws you to those subjects? For you, what makes good horror great?
Dan Rempel: I can't really say where the interest in horror comes from, but if I look back over my life I can see a thread that goes back to when I was a kid. One of the first art projects I have record of is a "monster book" that I made when I was three or four. It's just two pieces of paper stapled together to make a saddle-stitch booklet. I think it has only three pictures in it; two are monsters and one shows a man trapped in a hole in the ground—like a well or something. So the interest goes back. It's hard to say why, though, without feeling like I'm retconning, because I have to account for the interest I had when I was a little kid. I mean, where does that come from? It wasn't something the other members of my family were interested in.
I think what distinguishes great horror from good is the singularity of the vision. There are a lot of good horror stories out there—well-crafted, entertaining, but also familiar in a way that causes them to blend in to the mass. The great stories are surprising, and they also tend to hold up over time because they are so tied to the author's personal vision that their effects are difficult to emulate. I'm thinking of works like Charlotte Perkins Gilman's "The Yellow Wallpaper," Shirley Jackson's "The Haunting of Hill House," or Clive Barker's "The Books of Blood."
Tory Hoke: What inspires your creations? What effect do you hope to have on your viewer?
Dan Rempel: I'm inspired by stories I read. Movies. Things I see in real life like trees, faces, and light. A sense of mystery and/or danger.
I hope to intrigue the viewer enough to think about the story. I hope to excite their interest and give them a little rush.
Tory Hoke: What is the art community like where you are?
Dan Rempel: So far, my experience indicates that it's pretty friendly and accessible. There are a few different sketching and life drawing groups that I try to participate in when I can. We have an arts center that offers classes for children and adults and has gallery exhibits and performance space. There is a sort of generalized support for "the arts." It's something the community values. I think we're missing something of the stakes and competition of larger communities. And also the resources for more disciplined practice. There are some opportunities for that in nearby Kansas City.
Tory Hoke: What other artists inspire or interest you?
Dan Rempel: I like Greg Manchess and Dave Palumbo quite a bit. They're both oil painters who do realistic narrative illustrations with bold compositions and brushwork, and both do a fair amount of genre related work. Ted Nasmith is another favorite. He's known for his beautiful and moody Tolkien illustrations. Santiago Caruso satisfies the darker and weirder side of my tastes. I've noticed some affinity between some of my recent paintings and the work of John Jude Palencar. So I've been thinking about him as a good example for a more austere compositional style.
I also look to the past a lot. Howard Pyle and his students: N.C. Wyeth, Frank Schoonover, and Harvey Dunn, to name a few. So many others. I could go on.
Tory Hoke: What would you like to see more of in contemporary F/SF art?
Dan Rempel: More variety. Specifically, I'd like to see more abstract approaches. I'm thinking back to cover artists from the 50s, 60s, and 70s, like Richard M. Powers, Jack Gaughn, Paul Lehr, Leo and Diane Dillon.
Tory Hoke: What's your dream project?
Dan Rempel: I'd like to do a fully illustrated horror anthology, something like Great Tales of Terror and the Supernatural with a pen and ink illustration for every story and a painted cover.
Tory Hoke: What's next for you?
Dan Rempel: I've got a general idea of the next four paintings and three ink drawings I want to add to my portfolio. I've also been communicating with some book publishers about projects, so the portfolio work might have to take a back seat.