Ray: When did you draw your first fairy, and how did that become a career?
Brian: In college, I became interested in folk tales and fairy tales, and gradually I became more and more interested in the underlying meaning of it all and the possibility of the reality of real fairies. I discovered a book of fairy tales by Arthur Rackham. His pictures of trees with faces reminded me of how I felt about the world, how I felt that trees have souls and everything in the world does. I started to draw fairy-tale images. So I was sort of, in a sense, self-taught whilst at college.
I started studying as an artist, but I got fed up with the fact that you can paint terrible pictures and if you explain them in an erudite way it’s called great art. I thought this was rubbish.
I always believed that the picture itself should tell the story. So I then went and studied graphic design, because it seemed to me that advertising is more honest that way — the image actually has a function. But once I started on that, I realized that was really boring.
I graduated college around 1972, and it was a few more years until Alan Lee and I were asked to create the original book Faeries in 1977. That really just focused me in on fairies, and I haven’t stopped since.
Ray: And when you use the word “fairy,” that encompasses fairies, gnomes, sprites …
Brian: Naming a fairy is notoriously difficult, because they don’t particularly like to be named. There are so many of them, and humans have always wanted to categorize them. In that way, we think we can have more control over them. So we’ve always called them by so many different names. But they’re always changing, so pinning them down is actually incredibly difficult. So, yes indeed, the word “fairy” does encompass all those things — gnomes and trolls and all the spiritual beings that are connected to the earth.
Ray: Are the English more open to the idea of fairies than Americans?
Brian: Not particularly. There’s just as much resistance there as all over. I suppose maybe Ireland is a bit more open.
Ray: I apologize. The recorder stopped.
Brian: It’s the fairies!