Luke Eidenschink: Epic Fantasy Artist Ad Victoriam
Luke Eidenschink is an award-winning self-taught pen and ink artist who dominates fantasy and adventure illustrations. If you haven’t seen his stuff yet, you have no idea what you’ve been missing - his art will quicken the beating hearts of the heroic adventurers within all of us and make them scream, “Badass!”
JQ: Luke, welcome to Rediscovered Realms. Tell us a little bit about yourself.
LE: Thank you, Jim! To start with the basics, I live in sunny southern Arizona with my wife and three cats, who barely tolerate me. The cats, not my wife . . . I hope.
Originally I’m from the midwest. I lived in Minnesota until I was in my thirties, and I’ve been in AZ about ten years now. So I've experienced both sides of the weather spectrum!
I’ve only made art a full time career in the past year, so I’m just getting started professionally. Up until that point, I worked in manufacturing as a machine operator in a few different industries.
During that time, drawing was just something I did on the side, when I had time. At 41 (just over a year ago), I officially went full-time as an artist/illustrator. It took me a while, but I finally did it!
JQ: You should probably show those cats a couple pictures of your dragons - that should scare them into giving you some respect. Congratulations on taking the plunge to full-time artist! Let’s dive right in, though. What does the word “Mush!” mean to you? 😉
LE: Hahaha! I see you've done some digging! When I was a kid, we had a pack of huskies that we had adopted. Over time we trained them to pull a sled, and we had a lot of fun running the dog team in the frigid Minnesota winters.
We usually didn't use the word "Mush!", we would use the word "Hike!", which basically means “Go!” It's a sharper sound and gets the dogs' attention better. But I digress.
JQ: Cool! I read that your art career started at around 3-years-old when you drew pictures on the back of restaurant placemats. Some of these are apparently selling for $300,000 on eBay right now. Tell us more about your early art journey.
LE: Hahaha!... I’ll sell one to you now for only $100,000!
Like most creative people, I started doodling early on. Apparently, even as a 3-year-old, I would reject crayons. I preferred the crisp lines of a pencil or a ballpoint pen, which my mom always had on hand for such an occasion.
My dad did some drawing as a hobby, and I grew up seeing and emulating that. I never had any formal art education. I learned most of what I know through reading books, observing the work of other artists, and a lot of practicing.
JQ: Wow - no formal training - super impressive! At what point did you get you into fantasy?
LE: So, my first brush with fantasy would have to be drawing dinosaurs. I know that they're not fantasy, but they do require a lot of imagination to draw. And for a kid, it's only a small step from dinosaurs to dragons.
I think fairy tales certainly played a big part in capturing my imagination. I remember some cool illustrated books that really grabbed my attention. From there, I discovered comic books, specifically Conan comics, which I loved; and then there were the classic paperbacks from the likes of Robert E. Howard and Edgar Rice Burroughs, just to name two; movies like Legend, Dragonslayer, and Conan the Barbarian.
Also older films like Jason and the Argonauts and Clash of the Titans. And then there is the art of Frank Frazetta, which truly cemented my love of fantasy art.
JQ: Dinosaurs, Fairy Tales, Conan, Titans and Frazetta. Man, you’re speaking my language! Luke, when did you know for sure that you were going to do art as a profession?
LE: I knew that I WANTED to make art a profession sometime in my teenage years. It wasn't until I was about 30 that I started to really focus back on drawing, after sort of dabbling in it most of my life. Life gets complicated, and sometimes we just need to wait for the right time for things to work out.
JQ: I hear you there. Art sounds like it was the thread in your life that kept circling back to remind you of who you needed to be. How about that love of fantasy - do you read or play any fantasy/play role-playing games as an adult?
LE: I read a lot of fantasy, especially earlier authors like Tolkien, Robert Howard, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Fritz Leiber. And pretty much all the works that inspired Gygax to create Dungeons & Dragons.
I also love very old fantasy, as in Beowulf (my favorite story of all time!), The Epic of Gilgamesh, The Iliad, The Odyssey, the many Arthurian legends, and the mythology of different cultures as well.
Strangely, I never got into role-playing games, even though my older brothers played it for a while when I was very young. Maybe someday I’ll pick up the dice!
JQ: Again - exquisite taste. Luke, I LOVE your style of art. You mentioned elsewhere that your overall theme is targeted to a “sense of imagination and wonder” – I connect with that on a very deep level.
Another big reason I’m drawn to your style and content is it harkens back to what I consider old school style fantasy art – sort of classic early 1900s fairy-tale books combined with early D&D/Conan - but also because many of your works seem to derive from mythological inspiration. And now I can see a connection with many of the authors you read.
Joseph Campbell taught that artists evoke symbols and motifs that connect us to our deeper selves, they can help us along the heroic journey of our own lives. What are your thoughts on that?
LE: Thanks, it's so cool to hear that my work can connect on a deeper level like that. I think that fantasy art is sometimes dismissed as being sort of superficial and childish, and perhaps not everyone has the ability to see beyond the surface.
Fantasy, and all of its assorted sub-genres, offer a lot of room to explore some of those deeper themes in our lives.
Joseph Campbell's writings on mythology are very interesting to me, and inspired what is probably my most popular drawing so far. It depicts an adventurer standing before the mouth of a cave, sword and shield in hand, staring into the blackness. In script above, I have written the famous Campbell quote "The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek". I feel that there's a lot of truth in that statement.
What really caught my attention was when not one, but two different psychologists purchased a print of that one to display in their offices. People connect with that statement and that imagery.
There's another drawing I made a few years back, of a dragon flying up and out of a pool of black. I titled it 'Breaking Free'. But I didn't give it that title until after several people asked if they could get it as a tattoo, because they felt that it symbolized for them 'Breaking free' of something in their lives, an escape. I hadn't consciously set out to represent that, but I had clearly tapped into a powerful symbology there.
JQ: Thank you for those thoughts. I agree with you whole-heartedly. Fantasy art to me evokes deep connection with our past and what it means to be human. It gives “voice” to our imaginations and lets soar our intrepid hearts, and like you said, let’s us explore the themes in our own lives.
I too, connected with your Cave You Fear To Enter illustration. In fact, that was the name I chose for my gamebook series last year, based on that Campbell quote before I ever knew about you and your work. It definitely felt serendipitous to see your amazing piece!
(Featuring artwork from Luke Eidenschink & Clyde Caldwell!)
Now, you’ve also done illustrations for several graphic novels, books, magazines, and even an album cover. Tell us more.
LE: As I'm starting out on this adventure of being a professional artist, I'm keeping myself open to all possibilities, and I think that's opened some doors for me.
Some of my favorite illustration jobs have come from places I wouldn't have thought, and I think I've been fortunate to have so many amazing clients with cool projects.
In addition to collaborating with writers, I also write and illustrate my own comic book stories that I publish on my Patreon. I love telling stories with my art, whether it's a single drawing or a long story of panel art, and the comics are sort of my passion project.
JQ: Super cool! I watched the video of a younger Luke Eidenschink after you were awarded the “Illustrator of The Future” Award from 2009. Snazzy tux, btw! Where were you at in your career when you were awarded this, and how did it affect your artistic trajectory afterward?
LE: Thanks, that’s one of only a few times in my life that I've worn a tux!
At that stage in my life, I was just drawing a little bit, when I had free time. Not focused at all on making it a career. I entered the contest at a suggestion from my Dad, and I wound up being one of the winners to have my art included in their book. There was this whole award ceremony and a workshop, a really great experience. Especially the workshop, which was put on by several working illustrators, whose names you’d probably recognize.
Anyway, that experience definitely got me thinking about my art in a different way, and gave me a nudge in a new direction. Looking back, I'm not sure I would be where I am today if I hadn't decided to enter that contest. It was one of those crossroad moments in life.
Moral of the story: if you have an opportunity to do something, do it. You never know where it might take you.
JQ: Isn’t that the truth! Crazy to think how one crossroads commitment can put you on the path to your fullest self. What are some of your favorite pieces of art you’ve created and why?
LE: There's the two I mentioned earlier: 'The Cave' and 'Breaking Free', both favorites of mine because they are able to connect with people.
There's a drawing I did when I was about 18 that I titled 'Beast Rider', heavily influenced by Frazetta's work, of course. I consider it my first 'real' fantasy drawing, so it holds a special place in my heart for that reason.
There's a handful of others, too, because there are certain pieces that mark points in my artistic development. Sometimes it's something basic, like the first time I drew a face I really liked. Sometimes when I make something, for reasons I can’t define, it just feels like I’ve broken through some kind of barrier or reached a new level.
JQ: The illustrations I commissioned from you for my upcoming gamebooks are amazing. You were able to intuit exactly what I was looking for from a short description and a couple follow up conversations. Is it enjoyable doing commission work trying to wrangle a physical manifestation from others’ imaginations or would you rather just create what you feel like doing?
LE: Thank you! As an illustrator, I enjoy the process of collaboration, especially when it’s directly with the author. And it definitely helps when the author has a clear vision of what they want, like you did. It makes my job so much easier!
Most of my illustration work so far has been for clients who have approached me because they like my style of work and they are looking for fantasy art, specifically. So the work itself is generally enjoyable for me, even if it might not be exactly what I would draw for myself, it’s very much within my wheelhouse.
That being said, I think all artists enjoy the creative process the most when they are free to just create something from their own soul. It's absolute freedom, because you don't have to consider anyone else's preferences. I feel that the work I do for myself is always my best. But that’s totally subjective!
JQ: I see you’re building an audience with your posts and stores on Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, Etsy, and Patreon. I think that’s so smart for creators these days given the uncertain times and the instability of putting all your eggs in one distributor’s basket. What led you down this path instead of doing traditional work as an artist for another company?
LE: Throughout my life I have heard of many, and personally know a few people, who lost their love of art by going to work for a company as an artist.
It’s risky for artists because it turns something that you do for the love of it into something done purely for profit. It’s not for everyone, and I know enough about myself to know that it’s not for me.
I promised myself a long time ago that if I went pro, I would figure out a way to do the work that I wanted to do, and choose the jobs I take on, so that I would not grow to see it as work. So I developed this focus on building a following by staying true to myself, drawing things that interest me. And so far, that has paid off.
I’m also interested in helping and encouraging others, so a big part of my YouTube and Patreon focus has become teaching, explaining the How and Why of what I do. If you had told me ten years ago that I would be making inking tutorial videos on YouTube and publishing an indie comic on Patreon, I would've laughed.
JQ: I love how you recognized your values early on and continually make decisions that stay in alignment with those values. Obviously, times are a-changing though - how do you see AI affecting what you do and affecting art in the future?
LE: AI is definitely on everyone's minds lately, most especially creators. There’s a legitimate concern regarding copyright issues for the source material used for AI learning. I think all creative people need to be aware of, and closely follow developments regarding that issue.
Nobody knows the future, but I feel that AI is going to revolutionize the art industry in the same way that digital art revolutionized it in the 1990’s and after. I think if you had told an artist in say, 1995, that in 2023 this artist would make a living drawing on paper in ink with a dip pen, that artist might have been a bit skeptical.
My point being that, while the landscape is always changing, there is always opportunity. My feeling is that traditional art will always be valued, and always have an audience.
Humans like to see other humans do things with their hands, and want to themselves learn how to do those things. I don’t think that will ever go away. All I can do is stay focused on my own work and enjoy the creative process.
JQ: I totally agree with you. I understand you’ve got your own graphic novel coming out and may be attending some upcoming conventions. Tell us more about that!
LE: As I mentioned, I love telling stories with my art, and comics were a huge influence in my early years. I got this idea to do short fantasy stories in comic book form and share them with my supporters on Patreon. I put up new pages of the story every month. When one story ends, I start the next.
One of the cool things about having them on Patreon is that I can share the process with photos and videos. Early next year I plan to print a graphic novel-sized collection of several of these stories, probably as a Kickstarter.
My very first convention is coming up! I will have a table in the Artist’s Alley at the Tucson ComicCon this September, selling prints and other merch. I’m looking forward to the experience!
JQ: Whoa - way cool! Congrats on being an exhibitor at that ComicCon! Luke, what are your other future plans to rule the world? (Don’t worry – we won’t tell anyone)
LE: To crush my enemies, see them driven before me, and… oh, wait.
Hmmm . . . Many of my goals right now are to build on what I have started: comic stories on Patreon, tutorial videos on YouTube. I’m currently working on putting together a second book collection of my drawings, due out this fall.
Publishing my comics and doing more conventions is also probably in my future. Beyond those things, who knows? I like to stay open to all possibilities . . .
JQ: Nice! I can tell by several of the bios you have written online over the years that you embody the spirit of growth - always developing yourself and striving to be a better artist. I love this about you. Have you always been this way and how do you think it’s affected your craft?
LE: I have a philosophy in life of always growing and always learning, and I carry this into my art practice as well. It’s something I’ve developed over time.
I see every drawing as practice for the next. If I can learn one thing and apply it later, then I’ve improved. Life is the same way, every day can be practice for the next. It’s all in how you look at things.
JQ: That’s a great philosophy. You also follow your passion. You once said, “A good artist will make art about what interests them.” I’m so glad fantasy and adventure are part of your interests. What else interests you these days, Luke?
LE: Yes, I think all creatives do their best work when fully engaged with the subject. It’s never been just about drawing for me. It’s about taking this skill of drawing and developing it, in order to share my passions with others.
When you look at my work, you will probably see the influence of the natural world. I love hiking and being in nature, exploration, travel and adventure. And I think those things come through in my art.
I also enjoy learning about history, human culture, and science, and you will see those influences come through in the stories I tell. So really, my art is a culmination of all of my interests.
JQ: What advice would you give to tuxedo-wearing-2009-Luke, knowing what you know now?
LE: I would give him the same advice I would any other person in life: don’t give up, pursue your dreams.
JQ: Any other advice for aspiring artists/creators in today’s world, considering AI, social media saturation, and the changing global landscape?
LE: Social media is not all about numbers, it’s about reaching the right audience. If you stay focused on creating what you want to create, and don’t fall prey to trying to please everyone, your audience will find you.
Other artists, including AI artists, are not your competition. You are your competition.
Create what you love, study, practice, improve your skills.
Be persistent and stay positive.
Those last two points are the most important.
JQ: There are so many golden nugget take-aways in what you just said. Not trying to please everyone and allowing your audience to find you is especially resonant with me as I continue to publish here on Rediscovered Realms.
Luke, thank you so much for making the time to do this enlightening & inspiring interview with me today! I can’t wait to see your next online post or video of your latest illustrations - and I’ll be really thrilled to see your graphic novel when it comes out.
LE: I appreciate the opportunity to do this interview! Great questions, by the way. You really made me think!
All of Luke’s social media, online stores and upcoming projects can be found here: https://linktr.ee/LukeInk
Here’s a couple other good interviews I found online about Luke:
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