This is a reprint from my book ESOTERIA-LAND, which is out of print. There are a few copies floating around if you look hard enough. Enjoy….
Interview conducted by Sandy DeLuca and Michael McCarty
When you think of Boris Vallejo and Julie Bell, mesmerizing images come to mind – larger-than-life sword-wielding warriors, beautiful women in exotic fantasy settings, magical beings and mystical creatures galore. Together, the husband-and-wife artists create fantastic universes with energy and vision.
Vallejo was born in Lima, Peru, where he attended the National School of Fine Arts before immigrating to the United States in 1964. He has since worked for nearly every major publishing house with a science-fiction/fantasy line. Vallejo also has illustrated album covers, video boxes, and movie ads. He has been one of the world’s leading fantasy artists for over three decades, with a mastery of the human form comparable to classic artists such as Leonardo da Vinci.
A former competitive bodybuilder, Julie Bell was born in Beaumont, Texas, where she studied art and drawing, especially of the human figure. In the last decade, Julie Bell’s work has awed the science-fiction and fantasy communities as well. She is an accomplished and bold painter, capable of depicting the human body with breathtaking depth and power.
Muscle, skin, and glorious color are transferred onto canvas and pages by these two masters with finesse and amazing discipline. This is what they have to say about science-fiction and fantasy art.
(Photo of Boris Vallejo & Julie Bell)
MIKE McCARTY: How do you achieve such perfection for your mystical beasts? Do you use reference material or are they purely from your imagination?
JULIE BELL: First of all, I want to talk about the reference material. Yes, we do use reference material – but of course we don’t use reference for the entire beast because they don’t exist in real life. We use reference material to get the feeling of an actual living being so that it’s believable. It has to have the same kind of structure that animals and humans do. So when they look at the beast they recognize certain parts of it and that will make it feel like something that really exists.
BORIS VALLEJO: Most creatures you can think of are going to have arms, legs, same kind of a spine, a rib cage, some kind of basic structure. In addition to that, I am pretty fascinated with insects and spiders. I love to go around in the summer and just start shooting – with a camera – different kinds of spiders. That also gives me a good basis for creating creatures.
BELL: It adds more reality to something that isn’t real.
VALLEJO: Of course, vertebrates have a different structure from the invertebrates. We can combine things and the rest is up to our imaginations.
BELL: As far as perfection, that is purely a figment of your imagination, because it doesn’t exist (laughs).
MIKE: If it isn’t too personal, how did the two of you met?
VALLEJO: No, that isn’t too personal. Julie was a competitive body builder and she came to model for me. Through the modeling sessions we became acquainted to each other and we realized that we were highly compatible. The rest is history.
MIKE: Do you two share a studio or do you work separately?
BELL: We share a studio.
VALLEJO: We work side by side. We work approximately four feet from each other. We’re mostly together twenty-four hours a day. We enjoy doing it and it works best for us.
MIKE: How many book, magazine and CD covers has your work graced?
VALLEJO: To tell the truth, by the time it reached about 500, I stopped counting (laughs). I can’t tell you how many we’ve done … quite a few, probably in the thousands.
BELL: I have no idea.
VALLEJO: We’re really not mathematically inclined (laughs).
MIKE: Do you do a series of studies before beginning a project? And if so, what mediums do you use? How long does it take before you are satisfied with the results?
BELL: First of all, it depends what kind of project it is. If it is something to be commissioned for a cover, we will need to produce a sketch to be approved so we can start working. First in pencil, sometimes it goes into an ink sketch.
If it is something just for ourselves, sometimes we don’t do any kind of preparation. It just happens, we’ll be inspired by a photograph or an idea. We’ll put it down on the board and start painting it.
It depends on what is necessary, if there is a client involved. If not, it depends on what we feel like.
Occasionally I’ve done a quick oil sketch – just to get a feeling of how I want the colors arranged – but that’s pretty unusual to do that.
VALLEJO: There are times that we’re just reckless, that we just jump in the water. We get inspired by the pose of a model. We take pictures of the model, put it on the board and build around it. It all comes down to experience. We’ve done this for so many years and we do it all the time.
The way Julie does her sketches, she starts out with a very concise and tiny thing that nobody else is able to read.
BELL: You know those stick-it pads that are two-by-two square? It’s sitting at the table – it is always there. Sometimes it turns into a list of things that I have to do. When I’m thinking of a painting, I’ll do a rough little thumbnail sketch. It gives me a feeling of composition – I can see a lot of squiggly lines before it turns into the beginnings of an idea.
VALLEJO: I get a little more elaborate when I do a sketch. Mostly because I really do enjoy doing sketches. I like to sit down, with no reference and I want to get it out of my head and let it happen.
BELL: He does it like magic. It’s amazing.
VALLEJO: I can sit there with a pad of tracing paper and go over things and changing things around and so on. Until I get it the way I want to.
That is about 50 percent of the time. The other 50 percent is just doing it on the board.
MIKE: Boris, you take photographs for some of your drawings and paintings. Does that add realism to the artwork?
VALLEJO: Absolutely. I don’t think it could be realism without using life models or photographs to do the things that we do. All the old masters and anybody who wants to do realistic work have to work with models. By using either the life reference or photographic reference, there is no question in my mind – that is the way to do it.
MIKE: What are some of the inspirations for your art?
VALLEJO: Movies, exhibitions, art museums, students – it doesn’t matter what. Anything is an inspiration. It comes from all over the place. We mostly inspire each other.
MIKE: How many art works have you collaborated on together?
VALLEJO: At the most, a half dozen or so.
BELL: We always do one together every year for the calendar.
MIKE: You use layers of paints and colorful combinations. Is there a name for this technique?
VALLEJO: You’re thinking of glazing. We don’t do much glazing, although people always mention that about our work.
We work very fast, for one thing. We put the painting on the board with brown acrylic. Then we put one layer, one wash of acrylic to give more to the surface. Then we start rendering at it. That’s really it.
We don’t layer any more than that. We don’t glaze any more than that, unless it is absolutely necessary, which is very, very seldom. After the painting is finished, we say, “We should make this darker or lighter,” or whatever. That seldom happens.
We work the painting as we go along. Once it is finished, that’s it. There is almost nothing related to layering or glazing.
(A photo of Dark Whispers)
MIKE: Let’s talk about some of your paintings, starting with “Dark Whispers.”
BELL: It has a girl standing and holding her hand down and there is a dragon drinking water out of her hand.
VALLEJO: I like the image of the massive and threatening beast and the gentle, innocent-looking female. There is obvious trust between the one and another. The small little woman is really trusting this gigantic beast to come and drink from her hand. The enormous creature really trusts the woman to be there. I like that image. That is basically the concept of the painting. From time to time I like to paint dragons. That is one dragon I actually pulled from out of my head. I also like putting the scene in this canyon-like setting.
(Photo of Wings of Night)
MIKE: “Wings of the Night.”
VALLEJO: This is a model I have been working with for many years. She has a dark complexion and I thought she was ideal for this painting.
I wanted night just folding her wings and going to sleep.
I like the idea of the bat-wings because I think the leathery quality of the wings is really cool. I wanted to make the connection with bats, because bats are creatures of the night. All those elements create the feeling of night.
(Photo of A Time So Brief)
MIKE: “A Time So Brief.”
BELL: I really do love wolves a lot. This year, I have been doing more wolves than ever. We went to a wolf preserve and shot a bunch of pictures of them. I think they are so gorgeous and magical looking.
I wanted to do something with a wolf. I like the idea that the woman and the wolf are competing, measuring themselves against each other – in a good way. They are competing to push themselves. They use the energy of the other person to push themselves to be better.
Boris and I work that way with each other. We use competition in a really good way with each other, which makes us both work harder.
MIKE: Do you have any exhibits scheduled?
BELL: The best collection, if people want to see it, is our website, http://www.borisjulie.com. That’s the most complete collection of what is going on. We’re trying to be a little more diligent with putting newer pieces in. We have a page of newer pieces that are available for people to see.
MIKE: Last words?
BELL: I think you asked some really good questions. I can’t think of much more that we haven’t covered.
VALLEJO: I think it went really, really nice.
If you liked the Boris Vallejo and Julie Bell interview and want more interviews with Horror icons such as Elvira, Linnea Quigley, Ingrid Pitt, George Clayton Johnson, Ray Bradbury, Dean Koontz, William F. Nolan, Richard Matheson, John Saul, check out
35 Interviews with Horror and Science Fiction Writers and Filmmakers