Interview with Michael Cross
Watercolor with Pencil and Ink
News for July
Interview with Michael CrossArtist Spotlight
by Constanza Ehrenhaus
Michael, tell us about yourself. What do you do for a living?
I live in Indiana (United States) with my wife and two wonderful children, and I work full-time as a microbiologist for a laboratory. I mainly do routine testing of human samples for diseases. It is not a glamorous or exciting job, but it pays the bills. In my spare time, I like to create fantasy sculptures, illustrations, and humorous cartoons.
How come you are a scientist and a fantasy artist?
Well, I have always had interest in both science and creating art. It was a hard choice deciding which career to pursue, and I had to pick something that could provide steady job. So a career in science won.
How do those two things mesh?
Because of my background in biology, I have a good working knowledge of how living things are built and how they function in their environment. So when I want to make a realistic fantasy creature, I can't help but to approach it in a scientific way and ask myself questions -- what kind of body type, how are the muscles attached, how would it eat, and so forth. I can't just stick a wing or a giant horn on it and call it done... I have to analyze it to death to make it realistic as possible. Sometimes I may base it on a real creature that we are familiar with, and give it a few tweaks to make it more fantastic. I have a pet peeve that when I look at other artist works, when depicting fantastical creatures in realistic way, I would note something like "how could it fly with such small wings?" or "how can it run with six legs?" Of course, I am not always so over analytic. In some of my creations, I disregard realism and just have fun and make all kind of goofy and wild creations. It is all about having fun, and sharing that with the world. And sometimes I make cartoons that deal with the funny side of science.
How do you find the time to be a family man, biologist and an artist?
It is a huge challenge, of which I am always battling. I don't always have the time to be an artist, working at a full time job and spending time with my wife and two children, and also with my dogs and a cat, who are equally demanding of my attention (hey, they are people, too!). But when the mood strikes and I have the time, I work on my art. I would spend maybe hour or two a night, staying up late in my hobby room. People wonder why I am so tired all the time. Anyway, that is how I get my work done -- little bits at a time. Until I can retire from my job or start making good income from my artwork, that will have to do.
Tell us about your love for dragons.
When I was younger, fantasy was not yet very mainstream, so I did not see many dragons on TV or books. That was the time before Dungeons & Dragons became popular and started the fantasy craze. But there were dinosaurs all over the place, and I was really obsessed with them. I drew, talked, read, and dreamed about them all the time. I had pictures of dinosaurs plastered all over my bedroom wall. I knew all their names, too. It was natural that I became attracted to dragons, because not only they were very impressive and dinosaur-like in appearance, but they could talk and breathe fire. They are still, to this day, my favorite creatures to draw or sculpt. They can come in many sizes and shapes, and they have so many interesting features that can be challenging to adapt to art medium. I envision them as a race of intelligent beings, capable of making moral choices and judgments, unlike the mindless monsters in many mythologies. I am planning to write some books on a fantasy world of my creation, and the dragons play a very prominent role in them (uh, shouldn't all fantasy worlds have them?). As for the dragons being real and that they do exist, I would not be so surprised... it is a big universe after all and anything is possible.
What process goes into making your sculptures?
Most of my planning starts in my head and I visualize it as if it was real, and sitting on my desk. Sometimes I sketch it out, but most of the time, I don't. Then I decide on the size, and make an armature for it, which is like a support skeleton for it. It can almost anything -- be coat hanger wire wrapped in aluminum foil (to add shape), castaway toy, or some kitsch sculpture from a yard sale. As long as it is something that will withstand baking in the oven. Most of my sculptures are made of polymer clay, which can be baked and hardened in oven. I shape the basic form, adding on little at time, giving it mass and defining basic anatomical structures. Then when everything looks right, I start the slow and tedious detailing process of adding scales, wrinkles, or hair. That stage can sometimes take weeks or longer, depending on my time. When the creation is done, I either paint it or make mold out of it to make additional copies. I also enjoy working in papier-mache, making comical creations.
Who are artists that inspire you?
Oh gosh, there are so many, and I doubt there is enough space to list them all. I have always loved Todd Lockwood's and Ciruelo Cabral's dragons. I also like Arthur Rackham's old illustrations.
Where can our readers find your work?
You can check my website at www.mcrossart.com. I am also on deviantArt as Vulgardragon.
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