Cool People doing Cool Things: Interview Rhonda Libbey

This week I interview another great artist.


Hi Rhonda. What cool thing do you do?

I am an illustrator. I work primarily in oil paint.

What are you working on now?

I can’t really say, as usual I am under NDA. But later this year the projects will be published or put up on Kickstarter, respectively. Anyone following me on social media will hear about them as soon as I can talk about them.

How have your personal experiences affected your projects?

A: Sure, absolutely. I can’t imagine how they wouldn’t. I think that every experience we have in life effects and adds to the pool of knowledge we draw from. Even working at jobs that might not directly seem related to our goals could make us better at painting, drawing, or story telling.

What made you start and keep at your craft?

I decided I wanted to be an artist when I was 6 years old. That is a very long time ago now, but I know that I wanted to be able to draw well because I wanted to be able to communicate ideas clearly. I drew every single day and didn’t accept failure. I didn’t see it as failure anyway, I was learning. There were a lot of people back then that treated me like I was some sort of freak, I guess they didn’t think it was ok for little kids to strive for greatness. When I turned 10 years old I had my first real breakthrough in drawing. I never stopped trying to grow and evolve.

What led you to your craft? 

Well, in the house I grew up in there was Art Nouveau everywhere. My grandparents built the house and that was the popular art style of the time. I think that I couldn’t avoid a Nouveau influence in my work if I tried. Also I was 7 when my brother and I started playing D&D. Larry Elmore’s artwork on the cover of the red box set blew me away. I knew right then and there I wanted to be an illustrator.

Anything spooky ever happen to you?

Spooky? Yeah, lots of stuff. Hmmm what story to share…..

When I was a teenager a family friend was teaching me to fly his personal plane. It was a blue and white Piper Cherokee we called the Juliet. Our family fiend, Howard “Sokie” Sokoloff, was an old fighter pilot so he definitely knew his stuff. We did all sorts of things like this one trick where he would ascend as hard as possible so that the engine would stall and we would free fall until the plane was nose down and the engine would cut back in. That only works with low wing planes. But the great thing is while you are falling you are actually weightless. I can’t tell you how freaking awesome that feels. It’s really dangerous, so don’t try that at home unless you have an experienced fighter pilot with you. But I digress…

This one night we were out for some practice night flying.  The airport was just this tiny little thing because we lived in a small town. It wasn’t super bright out that night and the airport only had the necessary lights on and the runway was dark. We couldn’t see until it was too late that there were 3 deer standing on the runway. By the time we saw them we were almost touching the ground. They started running, but they ran in a straight line ahead of us and we were definitely moving faster than them. “Well,” Sokie said, “Its been nice knowing ya.” I laughed a little and said “That’s not really that funny. We’re going to be ok though. Right?”  He replied with, “Um… nope.” Just then one deer darted off under the left wing. Then one to the right. That last one was so stubborn.  All I could see was that giant white fluffy butt that was about to get caught up in our propeller and kill us all. Then at the last second, it darted under the right wing. When we were putting the plane back in the hanger we could see deer fur all over the front of the plane, we were making contact with its fur… inches from death.

How long did it take you to get up and running once you really set your mind on your goal?

That’s a hard question for me since I had to grow up before I could begin to start down the path toward achieving my goal. I’m not sure I have ever achieved my goal entirely. I’m an artist, yes, but I feel like I have so much more to say. I need more time before I will know if I am close.

What one thing do you dislike about doing what you do?

I hate having to chase clients down for payment. I always send an official invoice once my work is done, but so often I have to remind them. Payment is literally the only thing I expect from them, it’s their end of the bargain.

What’s fantastic about doing what you do?

Creating is always fantastic. Seeing something in my head become real in the world is the best. Knowing that I can show you pictures from inside my head is everything.

If you had a cat…what hat would you put on said cat?

I think a medieval hunting cap with a feather, that way he would have a cute little Robin Hood hat on.


That is a fine looking hat!


 Where do you see the craft going in the future?

For myself I would say that I still want to do some more book covers and illustrations. I love doing concept art, but I don’t think I could move to a city where most of that happens. If they don’t mind me working remotely then I would love more of that. Eventually, I want to be more involved as a fine artist.

As for the over all future of illustration? I think there will always be a need for illustration. I don’t think that technology will nullify it. Photography didn’t and they thought that would kill painting when photography was invented. I don’t think digital painting will over shadow traditional either, I’ve heard some noise about this and it’s just rubbish. Digital is simply another medium, no different in some ways than watercolor or oils. Some folks think digital is so much faster, I argue that it isn’t and anyone who thinks so has no idea how fast a traditional artist can be if they have been working in the medium for 20+ years.

What advice would you give to your younger self?

Don’t worry so much about relationships. Art is everything, boyfriends at young ages never last so don’t let that distract you. Oh, and yes… you do need a consistent style. The teachers who told you that it’s important to be good at everything and have a diverse portfolio are clueless.

Do you have a specific space where you create and how did you make it your own?

I have a room in my home that serves as my studio. It’s actually considered a bedroom and gets the most natural light. But there’s no bed in it. When my boyfriend and I were looking for a place a few years ago We had to have at least a 2 bedroom because I needed one to be my studio. I have the types of things in it that you might imagine. Drawing desk, easels (I have 3), floor lamps, tables with palettes on them, a computer, various reference stuff everywhere, sketches taped to walls, tons of books on shelves, and some armor. I have a helmet and a ladies breastplate with a gryphon on it.

What’s your creative process?

Coming up with an idea is the hardest part, but inspiration can come from many sources. Once I have an idea I do a bunch of thumbnail sketches. Then once I have a handle on where to go from there I gather any reference material I’m going to need and shoot any models necessary. Then I create a good drawing, then once happy with that I do a few color studies so I can explore what colors are best. Then from there I transfer the drawing on to a prepared surface and begin laying in some tone for underpainting. Then I work to completion on the painting, typically I work in transparent glazes.

It might sound like a lot, but it is all necessary.

What’s your artistic outlook on life?

I’m not sure how to answer that. I don’t know how to be anything other than an artist and wouldn’t that make any outlook I have an artistic one?

Maybe you mean how do I view life in a way that translates into my artwork? I feel that life is fragile, beautiful, and largely taken for granted. The human race has found a way to wrench control away from every other species on our planet. The fate of all life on earth is in our greedy controlling hands, and so many people truly believe that humans are masters of everything and that we are entitled to use and destroy without any accountability. Huh, it’s kinda dark when I see it written out, but that’s behind some of the new direction my work has taken. There are lots of areas that are organic and flowing, but there are areas that are graphic and metal. The graphic and metal bits sort of represent something manmade or the presence of mankind’s control.

Which famous person (living or dead) would you like to work with and why?

Oh man, why do I have to pick just one? Klimt or Mucha would be the bees knees… but maybe I would pick Vincent Van Gogh. It would be fun to work with someone who worked much looser than I do. Then afterward we could get a nice glass of absinthe.

What is your view on the commercial aspects of your craft?

It doesn’t bother me it’s a way of making money. Besides, it’s fun to work with art directors. It’s like they come up with a puzzle that only I can solve in my way.

Can one ever work for the “love” of the craft or do you always need to create what’s desired to put food on the table?

Sure you can work for the love of the craft if you have some other means to earn money. Lots of artists have day jobs while they work on their portfolios and try to put together a client list. If one wants to make a living at being an artist then I would say make sure the work you put out there is exactly what you want to do, the right clients will find you.

I hope that one day I can be well known enough to make a living off of art sold in a fine arts manner, but right now I make most of my money selling or leasing the copyrights to images I am hired to create.

What would be your dream project?

I would love to create some covers for Tor or Orbit. Man, they really are publishing some awesome stuff.

How can people discover more about you and your work?

I suppose they could find me on Twitter, Facebook, Etsy, or Instagram. Just search for me by name, I’m really easy to find. Other than that they could view my portfolios on my or on my Pittsburgh Society of Illustrators page:

I’m also going to have showcase table at this year’s IlluXcon. Come by and see me!


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