The High Priestess - Anne Stokes

Published: 22 August, 2011 - Featured in Skin Deep 202, August, 2011

For many interested in pursuing art as a career, it’s nothing but a pipe-dream. For others, the stars align just fine and they are able to embrace their ambition – and for some... well, for some whom the Sun chooses to shine upon, they even get to work on the very thing that inspired them in the first place. Ladies and gentlemen, Anne Stokes.

Personally speaking, I find that any game that has a dice with more than six sides to it, is not a game, it’s more like trickery from another dimension – and don’t be getting all up in arms about the singular of ‘dice’ being ‘die’ either. That went out with mobile phones that had pull-up aerials. To some though, the multi-faceted dice of Dungeons and Dragons is embedded deep in the psyche. So imagine if you would, how a young girl in love with the game could grow up to illustrate more work for the game than said dice had sides. 

Anne Stokes happens to be that young girl – so influential has her art been amongst her fans, that many of them have gone the whole hog and committed her designs to tattooed permanence. With a new book available – ‘Stoked’ – celebrating this relationship between artist and fan, today seemed like a fine day to sit in the woods with Ms Stokes with a bottle of ye olde mead.

“A lot of people don’t understand the game, but that’s OK. As a child I loved to play Dungeons and Dragons and many of the fantasy artists that illustrated the rule books were my inspiration. As a teenager, I discovered heavy metal and there is a strong tie-in with fantasy art and imagery there also. 

“I actually started my art career as a jewellery designer and sculptor and as a result of this, my art often has quite a strong design element to the compositions. I was fortunate enough to get to work on the Dungeons and Dragons rule books a few years ago. I wish I could go back in time and tell the kid I was once that I would end up doing this. I think she would have been amazed! 

“I now produce my own ideas and concepts for license. It’s a really great way of working and allows me the freedom to paint pretty much what I want. This is not just about the rendering of the art but the design and choice of what to paint, and I enjoy this challenge and opportunity to share what’s in my head with others.”

Like I said, not many get that sort of opportunity - working as a full-time artist is a dream to even the most talented. I know many who have fallen by the wayside, sometimes I can even honestly sit here and say “this person who is struggling is actually much better than this person who seems to be doing OK”. Was the road long and hard?

“It was not an entirely ‘easy ride’! Being a professional artist is not just about the art itself. You need to be determined, consistent and take criticism on the chin. I am a kind of ‘never give up, never surrender’ type of person and kept battering away at it. The only way in life to fail for sure is never to try, and I am grateful that I followed my dream and it all worked out in the end.”

Stoked is a lovely book – it’s obviously been put together with a lot of love, care and respect on all sides, and this is something that shines through every aspect of Anne’s work.

“A few years ago someone emailed me a photo of a tattoo they had done from one of my artworks. I thought it was great that they had liked my art enough to get it tattooed and I put the photo up on my website. More people started sending me tattoo photos and I put a gallery on my site for tattoos done from my art. I guess since then word has got round and it has snowballed. The photos I’ve been emailed are just the tip of a very large iceberg. 

“I have seen many tattoos on people at shows, and just randomly when I’m out, that have been done from my designs. When I decided to do the book, I put a message on my website and my Facebook page for submissions and we were overwhelmed by the response. It was amazing. I was also really touched to learn some of the stories behind why people chose my design for their tattoo and to see their faces – mostly before I just got sent photos of a bit of arm or leg, and never saw the person behind them.

“As for the book itself, as with many of my better ideas the book came to me in a flash. Earlier this year I was driving back home late at night and just thought I must do a book with all these tattoos and I must call it Stoked. Once I get an idea in my head there’s no stopping me. From initial concept to printed copy in my hands was about four months. 

“I knew it was a big task but it did turn out to be more epic that even I expected. We got so many submissions and wanted to make the book look interesting, so a lot of work went into the layout. I worked with an excellent graphic designer called Richard, who did a great job and kept a calm head despite so much work and chaos.”

And with Anne being a genuinely lovely person, in the production of Stoked, she made sure that all parties were well taken care of for their time and effort, striking up respectful relationships with fans and tattooists alike. I point out that you can’t buy that sort of loyalty with anything but action and ask her if that’s something she likes to cultivate wherever she can.

“I have great respect for tattoo artists and their work. No room to make an error and something that will be there for the rest of a person’s life. It means a lot to me when they have in turn complimented my work. Art is a wonderful thing that can unite many people in their common interest of it. It’s really a way of communicating a concept and idea without words. 

To expand on that a little, my art is fantasy in subject and contains a lot of symbolism that can relate to people’s everyday emotions and lives. I think this is perhaps why it has been favoured for tattoos. I love what I do, but it does involve painting on my own quite a lot. I am really quite a people person, so it’s great to get out and meet other artists and fans at shows.

“The tattoos in the book are a mixture of styles, which in itself I think is really interesting. Tattoos are a very personal thing and personal taste is involved. I am amazed by some of the effects, vibrant colours and subtle shading that can be achieved in tattoos. Not to mention the conviction and bravery of the people having them done.”

To the casual reader, it might seem like an easy project, but not all artists are willing to set their work free and find a home in various guises around the world - not that it’s something any artist can control whether they like it or not:

“True - this would be hard to control, however if someone likes my art enough to want to get it permanently tattooed, I see this as a great compliment and I am happy for them to do so. I do like to see photos of the end results and it’s always nice when people send them in. The internet is a great thing and spreads my art instantly all over the world. 

“The people who have liked my art, told their friends, bought products featuring it, got a tattoo, etc. are the people who have made my art career possible. It is my pleasure to give a little something back, and tattoo permission seems the least I could do.”

Personally speaking, I never get tired of words and what I can do with them. Occasionally, I will go out and buy sketchbooks thinking that maybe I’ll try my hand at sketching. Inevitably, not much later, they will find their way into my kids’ hands – a man’s got to know his limitations I guess, but I’m always curious as to whether artists feel inclined to walk the way of the alphabet and put the things in their head into words.

“My interest is always with pictures. Many of my images have a story or concept behind them that I like to try and convey in the art. For me that is the best way to touch people with an image, no need for words or language translation, just take it as you see it and read what you like into the meaning. Before I ever put pen to paper to make a new artwork, a good deal of thought goes into the idea for the picture and the design so the desired effect can hopefully be achieved.

“I live in Yorkshire which is a lovely part of the UK. Before this I spent my life in London, which also has many great qualities and some fantastic architecture. I draw inspiration and stories from all around me. Sometimes from the most random things, like the way rocks line up to form a shape, or a person looks over their shoulder to suggest a mood. The world is a brilliant place and there is wonder in the smallest things all around us.”

And that, in a nutshell, is Anne Stokes. Buy her book. Love her book. Knock yourselves out with tattoos of creatures from slightly behind the curtain. The address is tattoo@annestokes.com when you’re done.

Pencil or Graphics Tablet?

I do both, but mainly now it is digital. This is still essentially the same technique as painting on canvas but I have a graphics tablet and pen and I choose colours on the screen and paint with a virtual brush. As my art is used on many different products this allows for easy resizing or tweaking the background or composition to fit the format. I think the key thing with any art medium is to use what is right for you and not be controlled by it. It’s a means to an end and the end point is always what is important.

Win!

Anne has kindly handed over not only a signed copy of her book but also a killer sculpture of her Hellrider! A simple email to editor@skindeep.co.uk with the subject line STOKED will ensure good n proper entry into the draw.

Credits

Text: Sion Smith; Photography: Anne Stokes

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