The Future Fire: For the story ‘Nasmina’s Black Box’, you produced very striking black and white images, including the piece showing the soldier and the corrupt priest that we loved so much we used for the cover image of that issue. Could you describe the process of creating these images, from deciding what scenes in the story to illustrate, through to the technical production of the art?
Rhiannon Rasmussen-Silverstein: I think that this would be easier to demonstrate as describe (as many visual processes are). That said, I start every illustration by reading the story I’m working with and noting down which scenes stand out to me. Then I read it again the next day, this time with an eye for details or anything I might have overlooked the first read-through, and do a few rough thumbnail sketches.
For Nasmina’s Black Box, what immediately struck me was the main character, Nasmina, a girl stranded in a conflict that she’s really too young to understand. I wanted the uncertainty, alone-ness and danger to come across, so I chose to do the illustrations as stark black and white ink drawings. The first image came to me strongly (Nasmina encircled by a supportive shadow) which represented her family, but the second image, of the church, I struggled with more. I knew I wanted to do the scene in the church, since that’s the climax point of the story, but the final illustration really arose out of my frustration with executing the image. I think the finished one is the third attempt. The first two had a lot more white in them, and at some point on the second I got fed up, took my brush and covered most of the image in ink. Since it looked a lot better than I’d expected, I redid the picture with black instead of white, and then did a few final tweaks in Photoshop, most notably making Nasmina slightly transparent.
In my opinion, getting angry with one’s work is often an undervalued part of the creative process. It’s definitely crucial to my process!
TFF: I understand you’re studying art at Portland State University. How is that going? What have you learned in the course of this study?
RRS: I’m currently in the Fine Arts department at Portland State, which is a brand new program (it’s in it’s second year). Its a tiny program (thirteen students total), which I love, because we have a lot of one on one time with both the instructors and each other. I’m due to graduate in June, which is very exciting. Anyone who knows me knows that I’ve had a tumultuous relationship with school at best throughout my career as a student and I am definitely not terribly broken up about moving past this stage in my life.
That said, school has given me opportunities and taught me things that I wouldn’t have otherwise learned. Mostly related to life and talking about art. If I had to choose one thing that I treasure above everything else I’ve learned, it’s printmaking. And astrogeology. Okay, so they’re not related...
TFF: How do you think art makes a difference in the world?
RRS: To be frank, I don’t think art itself can or does make a difference in the world. People make a difference in the world, and one way we communicate or express opinions is through art. What art can do is plant ideas. Without action also being taken to follow up those convictions, art is just window trappings. Decoration. And that’s fine.
TFF: What or who inspires you?
RRS: Illustration-wise, I tend to draw a lot of my inspirations from older works by printmakers like Yoshitoshi Tsukioka and Käthe Kollwitz. The contemporary artist Lee Bul continually does work that blows my mind. She works in this huge, elaborate installations, but the compositions and forms she’s working with are beautiful and disturbing, monochromatic, and expertly composed, something that I work for in my own illustrations.
Fiction-wise, I’m currently reading the David Hawke translation of The Story in the Stone (also titled as Dream of the Red Mansions) which is just crazy inspiring and I’m not even a fifth of the way through yet. Anyone interested in world fiction, Chinese history and culture, good literature, or just an entertaining story should pick these books up.
I also love comics! I work in an editorial capacity with a host of incredibly talented artists on an annual comics anthology, Tankadere, which can be found at the small press Crab Tank’s website, and working with them is fun and incredibly rewarding. There’s nothing like holding a finished book in your hands and knowing that it’s filled with amazing stories and that you had a role in bringing it about.