Interview with Simon Stâlenhag
Concept art is a highly requested media today, not only for movies, books, comics and animations, but mainly for the videogame industry. Simon Stalenhag is a Swedish illustrator and concept artist with an outstanding talent for this craft, he already worked on the game concept of Ripple Dot Zero and other videogame titles. Recently we had this awesome conversation with him and Simon told us more about his life, career and insights.
You can see more from Simon on the following links:
1) First of all I would like to thank you for doing this interview, it's an honor for us to present more about you to our readers. I would like to start asking you about when your interest for illustration and art started?
I started drawing as a little kid. My grandfather on my mother's side was an advertising illustrator and he was very encouraging. He had all this special office supplies that he let me use as much as I wanted to. So to be more specific - somewhere around the year 1988, when I was four years old and regularly started to hang out in my grandfathers home office.
2) Which artists do you use as reference?
Traditional wildlife and landscape artists like Bruno Liljefors, Anders Zorn and Lars Jonsson. Many russian landscape painters aswell. And for mechanical designs and vehicles I'm very inspired by artists like Syd Mead and Ralph Mcquarrie, but I'm in great debt to contemporary concept artists like Ian Mcque, Scott Robertson and Ryan Church.
3) Your style is quite influenced by science fiction and realism. How did you develop this style and how would you describe it?
I started drawing and painting birds when I was a kid. I was a very outdoors oriented child. My family lived out on the country outside of Stockholm, we had a summerhouse and went camping on holidays. So I had this landscape painter inside me since age 8 basically. Then in my early twenties I really got interested in science fiction and that kind of design.
I discovered the likes of Syd Mead and Ralph Mcquarries and developed a passion for mechanical and vehicle design, although I never dared to try it out myself. I just admired it from a distance. It's the same with the dinosaurs. I always had a big passion for natural history and dinosaurs in particular but I neved had the guts to draw them. Too hard. But then I finally took a deep breath and started to practice that kind of drawing. So two years ago I combined these these different artistic passions - the landscapes, the dinosaurs and the sci fi into what is the art on simonstalenhag.se.
4) Describe us a bit about your creative process while creating a piece.
I take tonnes of photos. I always carry my camera around and my photo library stretches back to 2002 and contains over 40 000 photos. Sometimes I start from a blank document and just work my way up to a finished painting but most of the time I start by going through my photo archive. When I find a photo I like a start playing around with it.
I remove elements that I don't like and add stuff onto the picture. I really treat it like clay. This is also when I lay out the basic mechanical design or architectural design. When I have a sketch that I like I start over from scratch. I create a simple palette from that sketch and starts to build up a detailed version of the sketch, layer by layer, much like I would in a traditional medium, like gouache.
This is when I start over and carefully treat that sketch as a reference for a high res render. I try to avoid digital effects like filters and gradients and do everything with brush strokes like this:
5) You've created a whole new and fascinating universe thru your paintings that we can see on the first page of your website, please tell us more about it and how you came with all this ideas.
It's a kind of extrapolation of the time and place I grew up in. I grew up in the late 80's, early 90's Sweden, just in the beginning of the modern era of intense privatization and deconstruction of the welfare state. But we still had big state agencies running electricity, telecommunications and television.
There was a sense of altruistic use of technology back then, not the kind of consumer driven gadget craze of today. In my paintings I just extrapolated that into this huge government run research project that permeates every part of the society where the paintings take place. It's some kind of very experimental research facility deep underground. Unexpected side effects occur. Dinosaurs roam the landscape. Something like that...
6) How do you describe your daily routine?
This is my office. It's a cabin I rent outside of stockholm in the same area as I grew up in as a kid actually. I go up early in the morning, around 7:am. I go out for a walk and then have my breakfast at 8. I like to begin work no later than 9, or I get anxious and restless. I use to take a big break sometime during the afternoon when I go out for a long walk again. When I get back I continue work for a couple of hours.
My girlfriend is a musician so when she's out playing I usually don't stop work until 8 or 9 in the evening. But if she's at home we try to spend some time together. Since both of us are involved in creative lines of work with often very odd hours, we really have to schedule in our time together. It's hard sometimes.
7) Being a multimedia artist, please tell us what's your favorite media to work with? Why?
I actually love ink and pencil. I don't get to use it very much in the final work that I do. Sitting by the computer and staring into a monitor get's tedious and uncomfortable after a while.
8) Tell us five lessons you believe are really important for every illustrator.
1. Be aware of your visual economy - don't waste effort on details that doesn't help the illustration - every detail that is added should, like a good line of argument, improve the clarity in what you're trying to say. I fail at this every time.
2. Think before you draw. Knowing what you are trying to say before putting the pencil to the paper is crucial. Even if it's only a quick sketch.
3. Don't look too much on what other people are doing - look at HOW they do it, and perhaps WHY they do it could be also be interesting, but somewhere you have to step in and add something new to the world.
4. Have other influences than other illustrators. Please. There are books, music, poetry, architecture, theater, film, typography, history, science, pottery and knitting. To name a few other areas where you just might find that crucial piece of inspiration.
5. Be open to criticism but be careful. The importance of this property has been blown out of proportion by job postings in the entertainment industry. They call it feedback and iterative work process but that's been borrowed from the world of software development and it's not necessarily the path to novelty. Of course criticism is useful when dealing with basic skills of the craft. But if you have an idea, no matter if it's about technique or subject, that resonates with you - to hell with what everybody else thinks.
9) Tell us five websites that you like to visit.
1. Wikipedia. Just think about what it is.
2. Newscientist.com. This is also a daily visit for me.
4. Conceptart.org - This place taught me how to paint digital. Huge forum with tonnes of help for the beginners.
5. ffffound.com - the simple randomness of it appeals to me.
10) Thanks again for your time, please leave a final message for the ones who are starting out on this kind of business.
Take your own ideas seriously and set aside time to realize them. Be careful to not spend your time being a photoshop cursor for other peoples ideas.