Interview with ENRICO VALENZA

Two weeks ago we announced the end of our journey into the art of Enrico Valenza (part 1, part 2, and part 3). And yet, here we are again, with an interview kindly granted by the artist himself. But wait, there is more: as we wrote in our first article, Enrico Valenza is a versatile artist, ranging from 2D to 3D, from digital to analogic, and from realistic illustrations to more cartoonized ones. Between one Q&A and the other, you’ll find a small sample of his art.

1) Your books greatly influenced my view of the Mesozoic. Can you tell us something about your artistic career?

Thank you for your interest. As long as I can remember, I’ve been drawing: it’s always been a passion and it’s always been about imaginary subjects, and when I was young dinosaurs were one of these subjects. Growing up I decided that I would have been either a paleontologist or an illustrator; in the end, it was the latter. I attended the Liceo Artistico Statale (Editor’s note: art school) and I am self-taught, because at that school (mind that I’m speaking about the 70s) you learn how to draw, but not how to do the “real work”, that you learn by working. I bought every illustrated book I could find in bookstores, Frazetta, White, Vallejo, the Hildebrandt brothers, Burian, Gurney, all about fantasy and all in English and I translated them to try to grasp their secrets, then I experimented by mixing the various painting techniques. Later I also met great artist Giorgio Scarato, who taught me a lot.

2) What role did dinosaurs play in your career?

Extremely important. I remember the first time I met them, I was 5 or 6 years old and I discovered them through the encyclopedia Conoscere; I was immediately fascinated by them because they had that “fantasy” quality that, because of my interest in science fiction and superheroes, drove me crazy; I spent hours drawing them, basically I wasn’t drawing anything else. Then there were those old science-fiction movies with dinosaur-like monsters, but the turning point was a Rai (Editor’s note: national public broadcasting company of Italy) documentary, from the 60s or early 70s, named Il Pianeta dei Dinosauri , I think (not Piero Angela’s from the 90s), I didn’t miss a single episode and I still remember it, with a wonderful opening with rock formations that looked like dinosaurs and animations from various films and documentaries.

3) Your illustrations have very recognizable traits, such as the splotch patterns. Can you tell us what techniques you used?

Of course, for those illustrations I used Ecolines, which are very bright synthetic watercolors, and then I finished with gouache tempera, which is instead opaque. There are also some lines, quite light and not very defined, made with colored ink, mostly in shades of brown. The base was Shoeller paper, which now has basically disappeared but back then, in the pre-digital era, was the illustration paper par excellence.

4) What is the process you follow up to the definitive illustration?

The classic one, that is, I start with small sketches to “brainstorm” and find the idea, then I sketch on light paper; at this stage, there is also the research process. Once the sketch was defined, I enlarged it using photocopies (today I use scanners and printers to do the same) and then traced back the photocopies on paper. Then I started painting, and so on. Although now I use digital techniques, the process is more or less the same.

5) Among your Mesozoic-themed works, are there some you’re particularly proud of or that you particularly enjoyed making?

There is an illustration I made for myself, “for the portfolio”, with mixed media. It represents two generic Allosaur-like theropods running at sunset. Apart from the freedom to represent the two animals without constraints, it was fun to mix the different techniques to achieve the various effects: the sky is made in oil painting, the dinosaurs began as colored inks and I finished them with gouache tempera.

6) So many illustrators drew and draw dinosaurs, today more than ever. Were your works inspired by any of them?

I’ve always liked John Sibbick, but I love James Gurney, Dinotopia, and his paleoart for National Geographic. And Henderson, with his beautiful natural landscapes, too. Special mention to great artist Zdenek Burian, even if from a scientific point of view his dinosaurs have aged; apart from that, in terms of technique, I think he’s still the very best. Before him, there was a series from the now-defunct AMZ publishing, Guarda e scopri gli animali; I have studied and re-studied the book about prehistoric animals with its artworks from various Italian illustrators such as Festino, De Gasperi, Faganello and others. It is so beautiful and, from a technical point of view, still very well done.

7) Among the various dinosaurs and other prehistoric animals, what are those that you prefer to draw?

Well, I’d say large theropods like Tyrannosaurus, Allosaurus, Giganotosaurus, and so on, but sauropods are also particularly enjoyable to draw.

8) A trait of your illustrations is the compositions of animals from different times and places, creating a view of a geological period. Can you tell us about this artistic choice?

A necessity, more than a choice; those books were aimed at a target of teenagers – young adults, and for practical reasons we needed to show as much as possible in a few pages, even sacrificing (within a reasonable limit) the exact dating. Let’s say those are large summaries of some Mesozoic ages.

9) Throughout your career, dinosaur iconography changed almost constantly. How has this affected your art?

The new discoveries had an influence as long as I have been able to have some information about and integrate them into my drawings; this was not always possible, because back then Internet wasn’t as widely available as today and it was very difficult to find information about such a particular topic as dinosaurs (in Italy, I mean; in other Western countries, probably not). And I had incredibly tight deadlines, like a couple of months at most for an illustrated book for which I had to write the texts, too. To try to keep myself as up-to-date as possible, I was “forced” to find inspiration in what was then considered the best documentary on the subject, i.e. BBC’s Walking with Dinosaurs.

10) Besides what we may refer to as paleoart, you have also illustrated dinosaurs in fantasy and science fiction-like contexts: what do you think of their role there?

I think dinosaurs always had two places: the paleontological one, the scientific accuracy that tells us that, although alien to our present-day experience, they were still animals; but they also rightfully belong to the world of fantasy, since they are monsters or dragons that we know existed, a thing that makes them exceptional and has made them famous everywhere. These two areas often overlap (i.e. Jurassic Park or Walking with Dinosaurs), or diverge (Jurassic World o anche 65 – Fuga dalla Terra), thus making media with no claim to accuracy.

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