Bewildering Stories Interviews
Over the years, Richard Ong has become Bewildering Stories’ artist in residence. We’re very glad to be able to add his interview to our distinguished list of interviews. Links to Rich’s works can be found in Michael E. Lloyd’s Titles, Authors, Genres Index.
Where do you live, if you don’t mind saying?
I live in Scarborough, Ontario, Canada. It’s located in the northeast suburban section of Toronto. I have lived there with my family since 1980. Before we came into this country, I spent the first 14 years of my life in the Philippines.
Richard on a visit to Iceland
Where do you think you might like to live either in reality or in your imagination?
In the real world, I would love to live in London, England. I have only been in that city for about a week some years ago while on vacation. London alone has everything I could possibly want to visit in a city full of history: tons of museums, palaces and Highgate Cemetery.
In the speculative universe, I would love to live in a spacefaring train like one described in Leiji Matsumuto’s famous Galaxy Express 999 manga, dining in Pullman Coaches with my Victorian outfit while stopping from one planet to another for a visit.
What is your occupation? What do you do in real life?
My current occupation enables me to process data for a company in a way that will enable the business to consume the information in the form of various reports, thus helping them make key decisions based on their analysis. It’s not quite as exciting as traveling in a train in space, but it helps pay for my expenses. (Laughs)
Has your occupation influenced your art?
It’s more like the other way around. My art projects allow me to visualize patterns of colors and understand which combination will produce a desired effect on a viewer. When I develop charts or colorful presentations of reports for the business, I usually have a particular objective in mind on how the end product would impact the business and therefore, design them accordingly.
How did you come in contact with Bewildering Stories?
Many years ago, I was doing an online search of publications to submit my short story to and Bewildering Stories came up on someone’s web page detailing a list of publications.
Is there anything BwS does particularly well? Of course there’s always room for improvement: is there anything in particular you’d like to see added or changed?
It is difficult to answer this question in an unbiased way. After many years, Bewildering Stories has already become an extended part of my family. I don’t just see Bewildering Stories as a publication site. I see it as a community of writers and artists who love doing what they do with a passion. I guess that answers the first question. In addition, Bewildering Stories maintains an open-door policy, welcoming all contributors from all walks of life from around the world. It is truly a United Nations of writers and artists. As for the second question, my answer to that is: Keep doing what you’re doing because you do it so well.
What do you do in your spare time (aside from reading BwS stories)?
I paint. I take photographs and morph those images into art like what you would do on clay. I also read modern gothic novels and enjoy the weather when it’s not too hot in the garden.
II. About Reading
Is there anything you’d like to tell BwS authors to do or not do?
Make time to read. I know that for those of us with families and day jobs outside of writing, time is a valuable commodity that is often elusive. If you are taking a coffee break, even for 10 minutes, read your favorite novel instead of emails and social media rants. Load a PDF version of a novel into your mobile if that is more convenient. Writing is not the only practice we need to do in order to improve our own scribbling. We also need to read the types of writing that we’d like to do ourselves.
What’s your favorite book? What’s the last book that you read and really enjoyed? Who are your favorite authors, and what about their works appeals to you most?
I have too many favorite books to list down. I like to read modern gothic novels written by the late Barbara Michaels and Heather Graham. I have always enjoyed reading gothic mysteries, haunted rooms and corners of an edifice with great character development. I like to explore haunted places at night and walk in a cemetery. Reading gothic novels with a supernatural mystery to solve offers me some kind of a similar escape.
If you could be any character (other than one of your own) from a book or movie, who would it be? Why?
Hmm. I would like to be the engineer of a Starfleet vessel in Star Trek. In my opinion, Chief Montgomery Scott had the best job of all in the Federation. He maintains the warp engines that can bend space and time and enable the Federation to expand its scope in the universe.
My first career before moving into the realm of IT was in Chemical Engineering Technology. In my spare time back then, I would spend countless hours designing a nuclear-powered engine on paper in the hopes that it would one day enable us to reach Mars or Venus in days and not months.
If you could invite any other writer to dinner, whom would ask? Feel free to choose from any time or place.
I would invite the following to partake on a sumptuous rib-fest dinner: Barbara Michaels, Heather Graham, Emily Bronte, Ray Bradbury, C.J. Cherryh and Jane Fancher. I have actually met C.J. Cherryh and Jane Fancher many years ago when they were living back in Spokane, Washington. They were fun people to talk to and we became good friends. I still remember us reading a translated copy of Leonardo da Vinci’s notebooks in their living room while watching “Galaxy Quest.” That was back in May 2002 during the Bloomsday walkathon week. Those were fun times!
III. About Art
How long have you been drawing and painting?
Let’s see; I have been drawing since I was three or four, over five decades ago. My earliest memory is doing sketches of ice cream cones using a ballpoint pen on the white areas of old magazines. Why ice cream cones, you ask? Because, I was living in a hot tropical country back then and ice cream was a daily treat for us.
As for painting, I learned how to use acrylics for the first time when I took a night course back in 2009. Bewildering Stories Issue 406 featured “Parisienne,” a project that I did in that class.
Have you always known you had a talent for art?
I wouldn’t call it a talent but, rather, a passion. I love reading comics and graphic books. I love going to art galleries to study the techniques used by both classical and modern artists. I love collecting those fantasy calendars that feature works by artists like Boris Vallejo, Julie Bell and Larry Elmore. But I digress. I guess you could say that I like to sketch and paint whatever I can envision in my mind’s eye. Being an artist is like being a writer. We all create. We create worlds that germinate in our imagination. And I enjoy that process.
Do you have a favorite among your works? Of your titles at BwS, which one you would recommend first to someone who hasn’t seen you yet?
I would introduce them to Issue 828’s “Gladiatrix.” This was one of the most challenging pieces that I have done. It has mixed media (paint and other artifacts such as crushed gravel) on the canvas. I also like to show off the warrior’s body tattoos.
Do you have a favorite character in your own artworks?
I like them all at the moment of their creation, so the answer is no.
What inspirations have you found? Where do you get your ideas?
As mentioned earlier, I like reading comics. You could say that’s how I got started. I salivated on the beautiful renderings of George Perez and John Byrne. Years later, I admired the fantasy book covers that showcased paintings done by Boris Vallejo, Rowena Morrill and The Brothers Hildebrandt. As an adult, I discovered the works of the French Impressionists and Realist painters like William-Adolphe Bouguereau. I like making up stories in my head and I’d like to see my own characters on canvas for others to enjoy, so I render and paint them myself.
In composing a picture, which do you think of first: a story or the image?
I would say, both. Sometimes the picture would emerge from a story that I’ve thought of. Sometimes, I would see a page from a magazine and re-imagine the same model wearing who knows what posing beside a fearsome dragon instead of showcasing the perfume that she was advertising.
What do you consider the strangest picture you’ve ever made?
Define “strange.” They all look normal to me. (Laughs)
What do you consider the most revealing picture?
The most revealing picture in any form of art is one that cuts deep into the soul of the viewer. If the image moves you or compels you to feel in a certain way, then that’s gratifying for an artist.
Where do you paint? When? At set times or as the mood moves you?
I don’t have a studio so I paint in my cramped bedroom whenever I can find the time (usually at night). I use the same desk where my laptop sits during the day when I do my office work.
Some artists say they have to do a certain amount every day. Do you do set a quota?
Not me. When I paint, I would continue to do so during the day or night until I hit a roadblock on my ideas. That’s when I’ll need to get up, stretch and walk outside the house for a while to clear my head of excess clutter.
Do you ever have a problem with artist’s block? If so, can you offer other artists tips on how to deal with it?
In writing, Neil Gaiman once said that it’s better to write bad stories than not having written anything at all on the page. The same concept applies to art. I’d rather sketch badly than stare at a blank canvas. You need to constantly exercise the part of your brain that creates and directs the movement of your hand.
So what if your one-hundredth rendering looks bad! At least you’re still drawing. You can always do a positive spin on your not-so beautiful princess and say, she’s really an ogre in disguise. Then a new story would emerge and you continue to sketch based on that new idea.
The point is, it’s better to do bad art than not do any kind of art of all. If you want to be a painter, you need to pick up that brush and paint whatever comes to mind even if you feel “blocked.” Mix the colors up. Paint the sky purple. Anything. The great thing about art is that there are no rules in art.
Do you use the Internet or the library to check facts?
Absolutely. The Internet is a great resource not only for inspiration, but to fact-check certain designs especially when it relates to historical artifacts.
Does anyone else critique your work?
I am my own worst critic. I am often hard on myself and would whip myself to do better each time.
Some artists have said that their parents were supportive of their efforts when young, and some have said they had to sneak around and hide. What was the case with you?
Well, my parents gave me tons of discarded magazines and paper where I could draw my ice cream cones in all shapes and sizes! So yeah, they were supportive in that way.
Some artists have started later in life. If that’s the case with you, what brought you to art rather than to some other activity?
I could honestly say that I did not seriously treat art as anything more than a passing hobby till about eleven years ago. I’ve always loved art, but more as one who appreciates someone else’s work than one who makes it. I guess you could say that I got tired of being a spectator and decided to become a creator.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
It’s been a great pleasure doing this interview and walking through the memory lane.
Copyright © 2020 by Richard Ong