From Modern Mythcraft to Magical Surrealism

Artist Spotlight: Jenny Laatsch and Madame Thenadier

This month’s cover was created by Jenny Laatsch and Madame Thenadier. Both work primarily in digital format, using their cameras, Photoshop, and other tools to create photomanipulations and artwork of various kinds. Wisconsin-based Laatsch came to photomanipulation with a background in drawing and painting, and has been working in the medium for a couple years. Thenadier, who resides in the Netherlands and is “Marleen Vorster” in daily life, went to art school for sculpture and ceramics, with sidelines in photography and animation. The two met via and have been growing and learning from each other ever since.

The Voodoo ShopCan you describe your process for creating “The Voodoo Shop?”

MT: “The Voodoo Shop” was made in Adobe Photoshop. After determining what the subject should be, I started creating an empty room with the right atmosphere. I sent the layered file through a large file sharing site to Jenny. She added several items and a bookcase and sent it back to me. I added the Voodoo man and returned the layered file. This went on until we both felt it was completed. While creating this we had some conversations about the color scheme and subject matter. Mutual respect and communication were central to the collaboration.

JL: When Marleen asked me to do a collaboration with her, I was so thrilled and honored. We went back and forth, throwing ideas around about what kind of crowded room we wanted to create, and in the end we chose a Voodoo shop. Marleen and I both searched for source pictures and sent each other links to the images we wanted to use for the room. When we chose one, Marleen started the process, added a few items, and sent the file back to me. Then I added some items… We went back and forth like this for a few weeks until the image was completed.

What brought the two of you together to collaborate on this work, and how did you decide on the subject matter?

JL: When I first started out doing photo manips, I was entering contests on They have an amazing mentoring program (which Marleen actually runs now), and I signed up. I was paired with Marleen for two weeks and she taught me so much! When I joined Deviant Art we started talking a bit more, and that’s when we decided to do the collab. Marleen had previously done a crowded room collab, so she suggested it.

MT: I was mentoring Jenny, and I saw that she was learning very quickly and had a feeling for fantasy. I suggested we do a collaboration and fortunately she agreed.

Do you have future plans for collaboration, and, if so, what are they?

MT: At the moment I’m working on two new collaborations. The “Crowded Room” projects are mostly made in collaboration with other artists. As to future plans with Jenny for a collaboration? It would be cool if we would make something together in the future. I feel we both have grown enormously as artists since making “The Voodoo Shop.”

JL: No plans as of right now, but I would definitely be willing.

Jenny, some of your art has a whimsical or humorous cast, from a boy fighting nighttime monsters to a piratical meerkat. What draws you to these images, and how do you see them interacting with the rest of your work?

JL: I am an overly happy person, so I can see how my art might come off that way. I do think it’s changed and grown a lot since the making of this piece, but generally I like to make peaceful, happy, beautiful images, with a darker one to spice things up every now and then.

Madame Thenadier, many of your creatures have a dark, otherworldly way about them. Do you strive for a dark or horrific effect with your art, or do you let the work guide you?

MT: Most of my creatures and work are created for Worth1000 contests. I wouldn’t describe my work as “dark” or “horrific”… “Otherworldly” sounds cool to me. All the characters are based on human figures with something extraterrestrial to them. Most of my characters are already in my mind before they hit the canvas.

Where do you go for inspiration?

MT: I’m often inspired by other artists. I look at Steve Argyle, Michael Kutsche, and also Brian Froud. In literature, Raymond Feist and Bernard Hennen.

JL: I get a lot of inspiration from my everyday life. I try to stay pretty active and do a lot of outdoors activities, and I just keep my eyes open. My children also inspire me a lot; I listen to them play and take in all their imagination. My battle piece was made after my then-three-year-old was ridding our house of monsters, and I thought it was such a cute idea, so I made it into a piece. When I get totally stumped and am feeling no inspiration at all, I go to the Deviant Art stock resource gallery and let the stock models lead my art. Sometimes you can come across the perfect model and know exactly what you want to do.

What drew you to digital art, and what sort of preparation or schooling did you have for it?

JL: I have a degree in IT-Multimedia … So basically I was taught a little bit about everything, but not enough about anything—music and video editing, 3D design, Web development, 2D animations. I’ve always drawn and painted, so getting into digital art was a pretty easy transition for me.

MT: I went to art school and focused on 3D design, meaning sculpting and ceramics, etc., and I also attended photography and animation classes. After graduation I lost track of everything and found my way in our family business, which is an ICT company. Besides many other things, I was involved with the marketing of several of our products and came in contact with Photoshop. When a colleague showed me Worth1000, I was hooked immediately. After a year of experimenting I finally “clicked” with digital art and followed lots of tutorials and books. Once the technical aspects are mastered, the only thing that keeps you from making what you want is your own fantasy.

What draws you to fantastic art, either looking at it or making it?

MT: My mind gets crowded sometimes, filled with everyday troubles and ordinary stuff. It’s a relief to be able to withdraw into a magical world created by others or by myself. You can see it as a sort of pleasant escape, a nice holiday trip to a fantasy land.

JL: I love fantasy art because it really lets you see through the artist’s eyes. Whether it’s a landscape or a creature, I find it so wonderful and awe-inspiring to see the imagination of the artist. You can get lost in all the details the artist has added, and it takes you to places that you’ve never been before, and without the artist you never would. Generally speaking, I think fantastic art has to have a great concept and be executed well. There needs to be an overall balance to the piece, and for me it needs to tell a story or show strong emotion.

Each of you uses creatures of myth in your work, from dryads to the Phoenix. How do you decide which mythological traditions to draw from?

MT: That is mostly determined by the contest series on Worth1000 called Mythological Creatures. Whoever wins the contest gets to decide which creature will be next. But besides Worth, I also get inspired by literature to create such creatures.

JL: We both have a lot of mythological creatures in our galleries because we both have been competing in a series of contests on called Mythological Creatures. The contests run about a month and the winner of the contest gets to choose the next theme.

What sort of art do you want to be making ten years from now?

JL: Lately I have been really trying to improve my digital painting skills. I’m not really sure yet where this is going to lead my art; either down the road of more painting in my manipulations, or solely digital painting. I guess time will tell. All I know is that I strive to make every piece better than my last, and I want to keep learning. Hopefully in ten years I will be better than I am now, but not as good as I will be later.

MT: I feel we are on the verge of a new artistic trend combining digital art like drawings and manipulations with sounds and motion. Art that interacts with all human senses. I would like to go with that flow, to be able to stimulate viewers’ senses in many ways. That means I want to know about 3D sculpting, creating effects, making music, etc.—act like a sponge. But first of all, for the upcoming year, I will focus on illustration in combination with movement and lighting.

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J.T. Glover

J.T. GloverJ. T. Glover has published fiction, non-fiction, and poetry in Dark Recesses and Underground Voices, among other venues. Born and raised in the Pacific Northwest, he currently resides in Richmond, Virginia with his wife and a not inconsiderable number of aquatic friends. By day he is an academic reference librarian specializing in the Humanities.