Asni’s Art Blog: Interview with Tais Teng

Tais Teng is a well established and prolific science fiction and horror writer and illustrator from the Netherlands. As an illustrator, he has made several hundred covers and interior illustrations for science fiction, horror, fantasy and young adult fiction – most notably the Jack Vance e-books. He has a particular affinity for the work of Lovecraft.
image © Tais Teng

The third crow, by Tais Teng. Image copyright Tais Teng

Tais Teng is a writer and illustrator from the Netherlands. The name he was born with—Thijs van Ebbenhorst Tengbergen— was rather unpronounceable, and would also be hard to fit on the spine of a book! For this reason, he came up with a shortened version. He has also been working under other pseudonyms.

Tais Teng is a well established and prolific science fiction and horror writer in his own language Dutch: he has written everything from radio play to hefty fantasy trilogies. He has also had several stories and one novel published in English. As an illustrator, he does not have to restrict himself to the relatively small Dutch language market, and he has made several hundred covers and interior illustrations for science fiction, horror, fantasy and young adult fiction—most notably the Jack Vance e-books.

Q: You work mainly as a writer. How does the illustration work come in?

A: “I like to do both writing and illustration. With some Dutch publishers I could do it as a kind of multimedia project, writing the book, doing the a wrap-around cover and lots of interior illustrations. I next make a dedicated website and a book trailer: see for instance my Gran Terre trilogy. For the novel The Emerald Boy, which was published in the USA, I even made some mini computer games.”

Q: Do you mainly work for commissions, or do you create the art and then offer it for licensing?

A: “One of the most important things for an artist is to keep painting and developing. It is as important as breathing for me. When I first aimed for the English language market I mostly sold pictures I had already made. That is now changing slowly with more commissions coming in. It feels nicer if I am painting something that is going to be used. I am very prolific: doing several pictures a week.”

Q: What is your work process? You often use a combination of photo manipulation and fractal graphics. Do you generate the fractals yourself and then combine them with stock photos? Is there another step in the process?

A: “Like most of my generation (1952), I started out as as a traditional artist. I can still use all those techniques : scraper-board, oil, airbrush, etching. And before the computer I did anything from very small logos to murals. Thank all the gods and demons for the computer: the paint on your screen dries in a millisecond and doesn’t take a fortnight like oils!”

“Nowadays I mostly work in a kind of mixed media, using sketches, photographs and digital painting. All the pictures I uses for photomanipulations are my own: I am also an avid photographer. I hate using stock made by others: it feels like cheating. I want a picture to be my own creation. If I use photographs they are always HDR, which already have a painterly look at the start. ”

“I use fractals for about anything: texture, sky background, moving water. I have hundreds of them and I make them using the free-ware program Apophysis. The start of a picture looks like pure chaos: half a dozen fragments I am down or upsizing, warping, moving around. it is a bit like making a mosaic with all pieces as changeable as chameleons.”

image © Tais Teng

Young Ophelia, by Tais Teng. Image copyright Tais Teng

Q: Please tell us something about this piece.

A: “This piece is called Young Ophelia. The Pre-Raphaelites and horror writers like Edgar Allan Poe saw death as something exquisite and beautiful, with their dead lovers lying on the bier, pale as porcelain. The epitome is Ophelia drifting down the stream. I have seen the corpses of of several of my best friends, and there is nothing beautiful or aesthetic there. Young Ophelia is about death being horrible and hopeless. I made a series of Creepy Dolls because those old Victorian dolls seemed to me the opposite of cuddly. My friend and colleague Mike Jansen published a collection called Ophelia in my arms, and this was the perfect cover. ”

image © Tais Teng

The Witch’s Holiday, by Tais Teng. Image copyright Tais Teng

“The Witch’s Holiday is a picture that almost straight from photograph to painting: a goat skull I saw at the terrace of a Greek tavern, with some greek orthodox altarpieces and Roman grave gifts added. Mostly photomanipulation. It has been used twice: once for one of my own e-book versions of my best known YA horror series, and later as a cover for English poems that are still to be published.”

image © Tais Teng

Hindu Steampunk, by Tais Teng. Image copyright Tais Teng

“I deeply love Steampunk, and India is quintessentially British, more than England itself. Steam-driven gods, miraculous rays, it all fits.”

image © Tais Teng

Fishing for Shoggoths, by Tais Teng. Image copyright Tais Teng

“Fishing for Shoggoths is one of my Lovecraft pictures, mostly composed of fractals and a photograph of a Greek fisherman who was wading through a shallow harbour. The idea was that even in a Lovecraftian setting economics still hold, letting outsiders do the real shitty jobs like fishing for shoggoths. I like pictures where the caption suggests a story, or with the story an integral part.”

Q: A lot of your art has a Lovecraft theme. What attracts you to this writer?

A: “When horror was popular in my country, I was at least middling famous as a horror writer. And Lovecraft, he is about our patron-saint. Cthulhu rules, Ia Shub Niggurath! and more heartfelt gibberings. I even have a Lovecraft inspired English e-book collection, Lovecraft, my love.”

image © Tais Teng

The Opener of the Way, by Tais Teng. Image copyright Tais Teng

image © Tais Teng

Tales of the Rabbi, by Tais Teng. Image copyright Tais Teng

image © Tais Teng

Colour Out of Space, by Tais Teng. Image copyright Tais Teng

image © Tais Teng

Lovecraft-Hastur-Insurances, by Tais Teng. Image copyright Tais Teng

image © Tais Teng

Tea with Cthulhu, by Tais Teng. Image copyright Tais Teng

Some of Tais Teng’s stories are available online on his website. And if you are looking for a book or ebook cover, make sure to check out his DeviantArt gallery—several of his artworks are still up for grabs and available for licensing.

The images on this blog may not be reproduced without the permission of the artist or the respective copyright holder.

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