Susan Rowe has a particular affinity for Wizards — they’re one of her favourite subjects. Susan’s wizards have illustrated games produced by Quicksilva and The Edge, as well as on the cover of a certain computer magazine by the acronym of C&VG. There’s more to Susan than wizards, however. Her work is very delicate and detailed, executed in watercolours — very different from the work of airbrush merchants (such as her husband, David) who are much more common in the software illustrating world.
In the mid seventies Susan Rowe studied illustration at Brighton Polytechnic. Like all the other students on the degree course, she exhibited her work at the end of year show organised by the college for graduating students to display their talents. Susan’s chosen specialism was for children’s book illustration and she was approached at the exhibition by Roger Dean, a local man who was setting up a publishing business. Immediately after she graduated Susan was commissioned to illustrate The Water Babies and she began a successful career as an illustrator working for Dragon’s World and Paper Tiger.
Susan became involved with the software industry in 1981 — she produced the painting for Quicksilva’s Christmas card and was invited to paint pictures for cassette inlays by the company. Castle of Jasoom, The Wizard, Velnors Lair, and Mighty Magus are all included in Susan Rowe’s portfolio of Quicksilva covers.
Rather than produce a large expanse of painting and achieve detail by reducing the original, Susan prefers to work small in the first place — her original paintings are generally about the same size as the printed artwork. She works exclusively in watercolours, occasionally using a pen for textures and painting, not surprisingly, on water colour paper. ‘I have always preferred working small — I once did a mural for a shop when I was sixteen, but since then I haven’t moved away from working close up on a small painting. The largest piece of work I have done recently was A3 size, and that was quite a departure for me!’
Susan’s style is suited to detailed work: ‘If I produced larger paintings, they would have to be reduced to fit the space allocated for them during printing, and much of the detail would be lost. It would be pointless to work any larger.’
When it comes to illustrating a book, Susan is not given a brief which details the scenes the publisher wants illustrating. Instead she will read through the book herself, marking the passages which she feels a child reading the book would want to see in a picture. Illustrating a book can take as much as two years — not that long a time, given that each painting can take three weeks or so. Susan’s style is appealing to children — this is not a deliberate attempt to paint for children: ‘I know that children like detail, lots of little things in the corner, and I just draw what I want to once I’ve chosen the text to illustrate. I don’t set out to produce a painting specially tailored for children — I just paint!’
When it comes to illustrating software, Susan takes a similar approach, loading the game and playing it for a while whenever possible. Her interest in wizards and fantasy subjects lends itself well to certain game scenarios.
Susan is fascinated by literature and art produced at the turn of the century in the Victorian and Edwardian eras and admits to taking some influence from book illustrations produced then. She admits to a strong interest in William Morris who was something of a Victorian Renaissance Man (!) whose decorative influence has had an effect on Susan’s work. In this light, it is not surprising to learn that Susan is interested in botany: ‘I suppose I’m a bit of a botanist on the quiet, if I’m given the opportunity. For relaxation I’ll happily potter about in fields or in the garden — where I grow some of my reference material — just looking at the plants and flowers.’
Given her natural talent for detailed paintings and her love for things botanical, it might seem logical for Susan Rowe to produce an illustrated botanical work? ‘No, I couldn’t. I’ve no desire to work from life, I’m much happier working on fantasy pictures...’
With two artists in the house (David, Susan’s husband acts as her agent as well as producing his own paintings — See CRASH 15, April 1985), do things become a little fraught at times as deadlines approach? ‘No, it works very well. If we were working separately, shut up alone for most of the day, it would be easy to get too involved in painting. As it is, we can share artistic problems and paint together in the evenings when the outside world is less likely to interrupt. On occasions we collaborate on a painting, with David doing the airbrush work leaving me to fill in the detail — it can work well. We can communicate as people and as artists and it’s good to be able to discuss an aspect of the painting you’re working on with another artist.’
An interesting marriage of talent, Mrs and Mr Rowe. On the one hand the painter of striking and eyecatching large paintings; on the other the meticulous, delicate painter of detail.