Keeping fresh it Keeping in 2017
New skills Leading artists tell Julia Sagar how they’re going to push their craft forward in the new year
As 2017 sails into view, there’s no better time to stop for a moment, take stock of the past 12 months and set some goals for the coming year.
Continually striving to evolve your skills is the key to being a successful artist, but it’s easy to lose sight of the bigger picture. There’s the usual tight deadlines, demanding clients, and all-consuming work or family commitments to manage, but becoming too comfortable can also cap your creativity.
One thing’s for sure: to stay motivated, in-demand and creatively stimulated as an artist, it’s important to continually push your practice forward. So what are your aims for the next 12 months? And how are you going to make them happen?
“In 2017, I’m finally tackling traditional media, which I’ve neglected for way too long,” says São Paulo-based artist Ursula Dorada. She specialises in illustration for the entertainment industry, but recently ventured into book illustration and has a number of goals for the new year.
“I’m going to start painting in oils,” she says. “And since every start in new media is painful, instead of diving in and trying to finish images, I’ll begin by doing more anatomy studies – you can never do enough of those.”
expand your visual vocabulary
Her other objective is to paint a set of images that are free from client input. The plan, she says, is simply to explore her visual vocabulary. “I’ve been working on a focused portfolio for too long,” Ursula says. “I’m feeling a bit smothered, but I’m certain that tackling a new medium and having more freedom with the art direction of things will remedy that pretty quickly.” Danish illustrator Esben Rasmussen also recommends taking a measured approach to stay motivated: “If you allow studies into your workflow before starting a piece, you’ll pick up new ways to accomplish a certain task,” he advises, “which is always good. It’ll help you keep your spirits high.”
Esben recently moved to the US to work at video game developer Riot Games, and says that the next year is all about settling into life in LA, while growing and
If you allow studies into your workflow before starting a piece, you’ll pick up new ways to accomplish tasks
nurturing his craft. His biggest career goal is to become a senior illustrator at Riot Games in 2017 “and make my new best piece”. But for Esben – whose interests outside of drawing include beat-boxing and magic tricks – staying fresh isn’t just about concentrating on work. “I want to focus on life. Having new experiences other than just art is going to give me the energy to study and work hard,” he says.
in search of new experiences
For illustrator Miles Johnston, staying fresh in 2017 means seeking out new, inspiring experiences. “I’ve been in discussion with a few online connections to put together a group show, where we build a body of work together. Often a group of people come up with ideas they never would have found individually,” he says. “I’d also like to start a Patreon and put together another art book.”
A digital artist by trade, Miles has built a striking portfolio of pencil drawings over the past few years [see page 108 for Miles’ pencil workshop]. He’s been feeling the pull of traditional media for a while, he says, and intends to compile a large body of oil paintings and drawings in the new year that feel as though they belong together. “It isn’t necessarily a permanent move into traditional, and I don’t want it to be confused as some pointless nostalgia about the good ol’ days,” he explains. “Sometimes I think I want to do a 180-degree leap and dive into VR and emerging technologies, but it feels more effective for me right now to slow down and focus deeply on one thing, instead of being scattered all over the place.”
Miles’ main goal for 2017 is to stop accepting work that doesn’t fit him anymore. “I did a few jobs this year," he says, “where although the client was happy with the end result, I felt like I was dragging my feet.”
Tricky deadlines are something that Ursula would like to leave behind in 2016. “If there’s anything I’m always trying to fix, it’s accepting tight deadlines for enormous projects,” she says. “While I love doing them, I intend to focus more on quality than on rushing pieces out to meet deadlines.”
early morning art work
One artist who’s focused on personal growth all year round is prolific Naughty Dog art director Robh Ruppel. He wakes up early to focus on his self-initiated projects – which range from plein air paintings to faux pulp paperback covers – before heading to work at the video game developer in Santa Monica. This year, though, creative growth has come courtesy of a particularly exciting commercial project that’s pushing him to become an even better designer. “It’s an amazingly artistic project," Robh says. “It’s like getting a PhD in design.”
However, while personal growth in a commercial context is arguably the Holy Grail for artists, it’s also an area that can be fraught with fear. How can you be sure you’ll deliver, when you’ve never done it before? Robh agrees that it can be unnerving: “But that’s what motivates me,” he explains. “If I
It feels more effective for me to slow down and focus on one thing, instead of being scattered all over the place
were cranking out the same images I was producing 10 years ago, it would be depressing. There should always be an evolvement of taste, style and skill.
“As far as not delivering, I believe that you can always find a solution, if you keep trying. That’s why self-growth and study are important: the more experience you have, then the better odds there are to come up with a solution.”
For busy artists who feel swamped with work or family commitments, Robh recommends “wood-shedding” – cutting yourself off from all outside influences to pursue an idea – as an effective method for making time for side projects. Furthermore, ask new questions: “What if I did an entire image using just coloured squares – could I make it look real? Does everything need the same amount of detail? Where are the visual rests? What can be eliminated and make a stronger design?”
As for his own plans for keeping it fresh next year, Robh’s working on fewer tricks and better design. “Real growth and progress come when you go beyond what you feel comfortable with," he says. “The job of an artist is to present new takes on what it is to be human, and that comes with experience – miles of experience.”
Clouds, by Robh Ruppel. “Everyone is different, but mornings are when I’m freshest,” he says. Exploration sketches for Program Lissandra, by Esben Rasmussen for Riot Games. “The sketch stage is crucial for a good illustration.”
Miles Johnston inverted a women’s face in his pencil drawing, Receiver Portrait of actor Sterling Hayden posted by Robh on Instagram. A cover illustration for The Elephant and Macaw Banner series by Ursula Dorada.
Like Clouds, Culver Hotel is another image from Robh’s book, Graphic LA.
“To stop your work getting stale, look after your body, relationships and mental health,” recommends Miles.
“I work almost entirely in traditional media right now,” says Miles. Marketing artwork created for Albion Online. “I’m always trying to improve my craft,” says Esben. Astro Mage, created for gaming peripherals company Steelseries, demonstrates Esben’s skill at depicting light. Ursula’s character art from the game Hex: Shards of Fate. “If you don’t seek momentum, then you stagnate,” she warns.