Conan the Barbarian artist reveals his unique road to success

From building sites to Victorian Classicism, Patrick J Jones's art journey has brought him far.

Conan the Barbarian artist describes his unique career path

Conan the conquered! Patrick recorded each stage in the process of creating this oil painting for inclusion in his Masterclass sessions, which are available to buy on his website

Patrick J Jones was born in Belfast, Northern Ireland, and grew up amid the conflicts of the time. This, he admits, motivated him. "I was inspired by the artists Boris Vallejo and Frank Frazetta and decided to follow in their footsteps come hell or high water."

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Today his hero Boris Vallejo has this to say about Patrick's art: "I expect to be impressed by every piece that comes out of the hands of Patrick. His control of the paint and brushes is truly amazing. His technique is impeccable..."

Here, Jones tells us about his career path to date...

You're a kid, you see a painting that changes everything; where are you and what's the painting?

My Uncle Jim sent me to the local newsagent with a shiny 50 pence piece to buy the latest issue of The Savage Sword of Conan #4. The year was 1975, and the cover artwork by Boris Vallejo changed my life.

Which person helped you get your first break as an artist?

Against all odds, art director Janette Diamond from Orbit Books gave me my first break. I had naively left Ireland to be an artist, but I didn't know anyone in the art business and ended up working on building sites while living alone in a London bedsit.

I spent a week's wages on promotional postcards and sent them out cold to all the publishing houses, simply addressed to 'the art director'. Back then there was no internet. I didn't have a clue. Just when I had all but given up hope, Janette got in touch with me.

Conan the Barbarian artist describes his unique career path

Darkdreamer: Patrick upped his game to produce Darkdreamer, which was shown at the first IlluXCon in 2008

Was there anyone you remember who tried to get in your way?

No-one really, but there have been some sour encounters. In the early days I built up the courage to ring a famous sci-fi artist who was pretty pompous and angry at my gall.

That was the first time I'd ever talked to a real artist, but a few months later I met another famous artist, Chris Achilleos, and he was just terrific. We hung out together for a short time and I was in awe of him. Overall, there are more good than bad folks in the fantasy and sci-fi art community.

Conan the Barbarian artist describes his unique career path

During Patrick's career, the thing that annoys him the most about the industry is 'art direction by committee'

What was your first paid commission?

A black and white illustration for a glossy sci-fi magazine called Extro, which was published in Belfast. I meticulously shaded the art with a ballpoint pen. An art director asked me whether it was airbrushed art. That was a clue, so I bought an airbrush and did the next artwork in no time at all.

What are your painting rituals?

Procrastination, coffee, then a delve into art books for inspiration until the clock tells me to stop making excuses. Then I start painting and don't stop until around 7:30pm. If I left out the procrastination I would have a regular nine-to-five routine.

Is your art always evolving?

Always. I'm becoming more and more interested in Victorian Classicist methodology, which is reflected in my latest works, such as The Captive.

Conan the Barbarian artist describes his unique career path

This painting 'is 5 per cent Illustrator, 15 per cent Photoshop, 80 per cent Painter'

What's your most recent experiment?

Water-soluble oils.

Do you remember the first image where you felt you'd nailed it?

Darkdreamer back in 2008 felt like a turning point. I knew my fantasy art heroes at the first IlluXCon would see it, so I pulled out all the stops.

What advice would you give to your younger self to aid you on the way?

Go to life-drawing classes.

What sucks about the industry?

Art direction by committee.

Why is it still the best industry to be involved in?

Painting art for a living sure beats the hell out of digging holes in the wintry streets of London.

Conan the Barbarian artist describes his unique career path

This is a shadowed bow to a marvellous composition by the great Frank Frazetta for his work for A Princess of Mars

Who's the first living artist you turn to for inspiration?

Boris Vallejo. I still have the original Conan magazine that lit the spark, all crumpled and worn.

Through the hard times it stayed with me as a reminder to hang onto the dream. It recently made its way to Boris's home where he signed it. It now hangs framed on my studio wall.

What's the first thing you teach a pupil?

Don't be afraid to make mistakes.

What are your plans for the next decade?

To help bring beauty back to the art world. Classical art has seen a huge resurgence, yet schools still teach mostly modern art techniques. I recently filmed every stage of the oil painting Conan the Conquered, available to download from my website as Masterclass sessions.

Also, Korero Press will publish the first of two books on my art this year. These two events mark an important beginning to my work as a teacher and as an exponent of classic oil painting and the fantastic.

Words: Patrick J Jones

Patrick J Jones was one of the first people to be awarded a Prince Charles Trust Fund, and he has since worked as a concept artist for films at Lucasfilm and Disney, and creating numerous book covers. He offers downloadable e-book and video tutorials from his site.

This article first appeared in ImagineFX magazine issue 107.

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