It has been some time since the first time I talked to him. I couldn’t believe that someone I had admired for so long was so willing to chat to a (back then) young girl that he didn’t know. Interviewing him now also feels surreal. I was surprised, though, to see that so many artists did not know him: they are familiar with his art, particularly his dragons, but they didn’t know the artist. I hope this interview brings more attention to him, an attention that he amply deserves.
How did you realize you wanted to be an artist?
Ever since I was a small child, I expressed myself through drawing, as everybody else. I just never stopped, and when I was 16, while I was listening to Yes records and was looking at cover art done by Roger Dean, I had already decided this was my profession.
How did you come to the conclusion of leaving your country and emigrating to Spain? Was it a hard decision?
I had to leave because in Argentina I couldn’t do what I liked, which was “fantasy art”, because there were no editors in that style. I was working very well as a publicity illustrator but I needed very much to do more creative things. So I had to go out and search those editors in the world.
Spain was a logical choice because of the language. Besides I had friends there. It was 1987 and I was 23 so it was a hard decision on one hand but full of adventure and illusions on the other hand.
Some of your earlier work includes commissions for magazines like Fierro®, who kept the originals. When did you get to the point in which you were in the position of naming the rules of the game? How did you realize it was the right moment?
It is all a matter of time and to earn a certain position based on the work’s quality. It is a slow progression.
Your style is very “classic fantasy“, who do you think were your influences? How did your style evolve to be your own?
In a way, each person has their own style that needs to be discovered first and built up later. That is why the influences by other artists help to enlighten the way. Some of my masters are: Frank Frazetta, Roger Dean, Alan Lee, Brian Froud, Juan Gimenez, Moebius and a lot of classic painters. Currently my style is still evolving and that is what I like most about my job.
You paint the best dragons I’ve ever seen, they are extremely believable. How do you achieve that believability?
For a painting to be realistic, it is needed to dominate the pictorial technique, and that is more or less easy to achieve. Regarding to achieve realism on something that does not exist, I achieve that by visualizing the figure in my head before painting it. I have stored in my memory the texture of crocodile’s skin, or a snake’s, the wings of a bat, etc. All that helps me to achieve realism in the figure of a dragon, for example. After that there is the issue of ‘atmosphere’ or the ’emotion’ that a painting transmits… and that belongs to a field that it is not possible to be explained.
Why do you find dragons so special?
I always liked all mythological figures, but when I came to live to Barcelona, in 1987, I found the figure of the dragon was predominant since Barcelona is the dragon city for historical and traditional issues. Soon after, I published the Book of the Dragon, published in England and Spain and distributed to the rest of the world very successfully. In USA I was known as a dragon artist since 1990 and I started to be hired as such.
The dragon always has a very special place in most ancestral world cultures, which intrigues me and fascinates me at the same time. My dragon paintings transmit magic and power to people that I cannot explain; I just have to use my brush as an instrument for the magic to continue.
Looking through your work, most of it is what could be defined as “high fantasy”, why do you do mostly stick to that?
I always was interested in the fantasy world. As a child I was attracted to fantasy movies and books, so it was very natural to dedicate myself to draw that kind of things. When I became a professional, that tendency became a basic necessity. Big part of my career shows epic fantasy, of a medieval European style. Now I am trying to reflect more of an atemporal universe, with elements from ancestral cultures as Maya, Inca and Mapuche.
For being color blind, you have a great management of colors. What is your way of bypassing this problem? Did you ever feel that you were “handicapped?”
My daltonism gave me serious trouble when I was working for publicity companies, and I had to find a way for it not to be a paralyzing problem in my career. I achieved that working in fantasy art, where I find a great freedom to use colors. Now I take it as a quirk and I don’t worry about it.
I do not know how others see my illustrations, I know they see them different than I do. I can’t identify colors when they are too light: greens, beiges, pinks, grays, browns, and also when they are too dark: blues, violets, grays, reds, etc. I also have a hard time with certain oranges and greens and ochres. I tend to “value” the colors, that is, I perceive the value in the grayscale more than the color itself.
In the past, this used to make me feel uncomfortable, but with time I got used to it and I learned to take advantage of it. Since I have a good management of values I can manage well volume. This give me the skill of seeing shapes in rocks and this is how I developed my technique in Petropictos.
Can you tell our readers about petropictos? Do you still work on that?
Petropictos was born from my passion for rocks, which is nothing more than my passion for nature. I am attracted both to the textures and shapes int he rocks, and I take advantage of those to achieve a tri-dimensional figure just through painting. With this technique I achieve a sculpture through painting. many think that it is impossible that I have not sculpted the rocks due to the compenetration of my work and the preexistent shapes. It is something very magical. When I do this I feel it like a dialogue.
You have tried many media, oils, pens, acrylics and rocks in petropictos. Have you ever tried digital? Why do you decide to stick to traditional?
I do sometimes use digital technology to create images and I find it very stimulating since I have not to worry about technique, or materials, I just face the creation and the process is faster than with traditional art. However, I will still be a traditional painter, since there is something in the exercise of painting that gets impregnated in the original and the public receives when they are facing it.
Not only you work as a visual artist, you also compose music. How did that start? Do you feel both your paintings and music complement each other?
Yes, music and painting empower each other. I also must mention that other art perform is writing, which, as well as the former two, I’ve been practicing forever. There are just different languages to express the same ideas in different ways.
My relationship with Steve was born from the admiration I feel for him since I was dreaming to be a guitar player. I had the luck of meeting him in 1992 and started a friendship that has been growing since then. He is a very special guy, a great master. I collaborated with him in two of his albums doing the cover art and his work is still a great source of inspiration for me.
What are your current projects?
Recently I made a painting for George Lucas, with whom I collaborated several times since 1993. This new project includes publishing a book and an exhibit with other artists. Also I have just writen a new books: Cuaderno de Sueños (Dreams Notebook), which is a continuation to Cuaderno de Viajes (Travels Notebook). And I am working in several other projects simultaneously.
Where can our readers find your art?
My art is distributed through the world as books, calendars, book and records covers, posters and all kinds of merchandising. You can find it all over internet, but my official site is is: DAC Editions
What Others Say
His dragons have a distinctive look to them – regal, serpentine, yet their appearance hint at hidden deviousness, like a snake ready to strike at appropriate moment. I would say that he is one of the top dragon artists, and even though I was not previously familiar with his name, he has inspired me in many ways.
Ciruelo is not only one of the premiere artists working in fantasy today, he is one of the nicest people you could ever hope to meet. I have the privilege of sharing an end-cap with him at Comic Con again this year, which is always one of the highlights for me of Convention season.
The guy’s amazing. He’s versatile, his technique is flawless and he’s a walking, talking expert on how dragons should be painted. His work just keeps getting better and better.
Can’t say much about Ciruelo, I only meet him two times quite some years back: first at “Spiele Essen” and in the same year at Book-fair Frankfurt. It was great talking to him, he’s a very nice and gentle guy.
First time I got into contact with his art was when I bought the book “Dragons.” I was blown away by his dragon illustrations at the moment, the book still has a special place on my bookshelf. What I especially like about Ciruelo’s art is the diversity; he does high quality illustrations for publication purpose as well as stunning artwork with his Petropictos (paintings on stone). I love it when artists try several techniques and styles and Ciruelo masters so many several techniques. Maybe I love this so much cause I myself try to experiment with new techniques all the time.
So what shall I say, I’m a huge fan of Ciruelo, his art is awe inspiring to me!
*this interview was conducted in Spanish and later translated by me. Please, forgive the clumsiness of it, it is by no means Ciruelo’s fault but all mine.