Giving female fantasy artists a voice


Leesha Hannigan's Thyst the Indignant proves women are just as good at rendering stunning fantasy art

There has been a lot of discussion of women's representation in science fiction and fantasy, not only when it comes to lack of female characters, but with creators too.

Lauren Panepinto's Muddy Color's blog post What Women Want… In Women Characters attracted a lot of internet attention and feature some brilliant female artists.

These female artists are part of a bigger network and having seen a trend of women being more tentative in their approach to promoting their art, Leesha Hannigan felt the need to have a space that promoted women's abilities and subverted the stereotypes; enter!

We caught up with Leesha to ask her about the site...

Why did you set up a female-only fantasy illustration portfolio? was a result of a few things. I have observed and participated in an increasing number of discussions lately focused on self promotion, marketing and general participation in things like competitions and submission-based publications.

Many women have said they are hesitant to aggressively promote themselves online, even though self promotion is an incredibly important and necessary factor of becoming a successful artist.


Belinda Morris' version of X-Men's Scarlett Witch, created for Lauren Panepinto's Muddy Colors article

How did it start?

What originated as a vague idea to have an easily-browsable gallery for the group of us that have formed an online community, soon evolved into a more conscious decision to give women in fantasy and sci-fi illustration a voice, a sense of community, and to try to remove that sense of isolation that can occur when you don't see as many other female artists in the mainstream.

rhonda 2

Rhonda Libbey proves she can create a seductive, sexual queen of hearts from a woman's POV

Why is it important?

I believe one of the solutions to the obstacles we are focusing on here is to boost visibility and confidence regarding self promotion for female artists, and if the gallery site has helped that along in any little way, I'm happy! I think the only way to break a trend is to make a conscious effort to do so, and if everyone takes part in any way they can, in only a few years these obstacles could all be a distant memory.


Rebecca Flaum is one of the artists featured on the site, she believes girls are far more encouraged to be modest when growing up

Why are there fewer women in the industry?

I don't necessarily think women are sidelined as such – there are just a large number of factors that can affect how prominent female artists seem to be in the fantasy/sci-fi industry and community.

Whilst there may be fewer female artists out there, I think it's more to do with confidence in showing your work than a numbers issue – for instance, if every female fantasy artist suddenly began submitting their work regardless of whether they felt 100 per cent confident or not, I am sure you'd see a large influx of women being hired or featured in publications.

That's not to say of course, that gender exclusion and issues with sexism don't exist – those exist in any industry, and certainly may crop up a little more frequently in an industry that already happens to be dominated by men – especially in the community – but I don't think it's the primary issue here.


Meredith Dillman's particular fantasy niche attracts a very large audience, but this is not reflected in conventions and awards

Are there as many women interested in sci-fi/fantasy/horror illustration as men?

Ten years ago, probably not. Today? I think it would be much closer.

People want to help make the content they enjoy. For example, looking at the percentages of say, female gamers today as opposed to 10 years ago would suggest there are exponentially more and more women becoming interested in these themes.

Are sci-fi, horror, fantasy still seen as 'male interest'?

The majority of it probably still is to be honest, which doesn't make that much sense looking at the more evenly spread out demographic.

In saying that, many companies have been revisiting their content and making it more accessible and relatable to a female audience, so at least they are becoming increasingly aware of this stuff.


Iris Compiet's art verges on horror with a predisposition towards the macabre, something that is by no means "girly"

What do we need to do to change these stereotypes?

As female artists, make a conscious effort to put aside your hesitations. Submit your artwork to every publication and company you want to work with, if you think your work is good enough. Even if you don't, do it anyway. It's good practice.

Give yourself a voice. Talk about the content you love, talk about the videogames you love, or the movies you love, talk about the characters you enjoy, you relate to, and talk about why.

rhonda libbey

Rhonda Libbey is featured on the Women in Fantastical Illustration website (of WiFI as it is tentatively known as)

What do you think we need to do to gain more recognition for women?

While I think a lot of that responsibility rests on the shoulders of female artists themselves, there are certain little things that others can always do to help. If you do interviews with artists, for example, try and include some female ones in there too – there's tons of incredible professional female artists that people can learn from.

Can making a 'safe space' for female illustrators help break down the sexist barriers?

Creating a safe space not only takes away a lot of the pressure and unnecessary stress that can occur whilst trying to say, navigate the internet as a woman, but also reinforces that sense of community, the feeling that we are in this together, that there's tons of other women out there doing what you do, even if you might not see them as much, and that's awesome.

tawny fritz

Tawny Fritz is anything but unconfident but she has nonetheless experienced her fair share of discrimination in the industry

Words: Leesha Hannigan

Leesha is a fantasy illustrator and concept artist, with a strong focus on creative and environment art. To read more about fantasy art's uneven playing field, pick up the latest issue of ImagineFX...

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