Featuring Petra Rudolf
I am forever amazed by the talent of illustrators. Like writers, they possess natural abilities that separate them from mainstream society. Creativity, imagination, and vision are not rare commodities. There are many people that can boast having those attributes, but a select few have the skill to bring their visions to life.
A sculpture will often see the silhouette in their piece of wood or stone, before their hands shape the piece. A story will come to life and play itself out in the mind of a writer; characters take on personalities, and will often wake you from deep sleep in the middle of the night, demanding a new scene.
Illustrators are unique, in the way that they can find the shapes and textures for their subjects that will separate them from the rest. Even with today’s amazing computer generated technology, an illustrator’s visualization is channeled through her fingertips. She still guides the energy that will define her vision through a pencil, or paint brush, in a way that will shape their subjects into being.
Petra Rudolf is one such artist, hailing from Germany, Petra has been an illustrator for nine years. I asked Petra if she could tell us a little about herself.
“I’m a self-taught artist and trained my skill by working with other illustrators, concept artists, painters and cartoonists. The paper which says that I learned Media Design means nothing to me; the classes taught me exactly nothing new about art by the time I took them.
Besides visual art, I love writing, which I discovered while I worked as a Game Designer. These three fields of work were my job for eight years, after which I started into freelancing with them.
Most of my recent jobs are book illustrations, which I enjoy a lot, last but not least because of the great writers I meet. There’s also the occasional game, and I hope to be able to dedicate more of my time to the fantasy comic Wayfarer’s Moon by Single Edge Studios, a project that I joined as comic artist for pencils and inks. It would be kind of a dream job to make comics for a living.
I’m happy to provide art or whatever else for creative projects. I always like to dedicate my work to a project, however small a part of it I might be, not only “draw a picture”. :)”
Petra did the cover art for my first Novelette, “Fire and Ice” as well as my other stories. I’m really looking forward to the upcoming cover for my book, “The Bonding”.
Petra has been kind enough to answer a few questions about the life of an illustrator.
Q-First of all, do you prefer to be referred to as an illustrator or an artist?
A-That depends on context. There’s always a reason behind an illustration – a story, a topic, whatever – but art as in “fine art” doesn’t need a reason, only some spare time, painting tools and fun to doodle along or practice anatomy, architecture, light, whatever. Of course there’s fun in illustrations too, even more so as I feel more motivated to work with a goal. Basically, when I do illustrations, I do art, but when I do art, it’s not necessarily an illustration.
Q-Did you always know you were going to be an illustrator, or is this something that just happened?
A-Actually I started very late into illustration. At school I wanted to dig into archaeology or something similar, then chose Game Design when I met the opportunity, and ended up as half writer, half artist. Book illustration happened along the way naturally as I had many connections.
Q-Do you have any advice for a young person in high school, who has the skill and passion for drawing, but is feeling intimidated by the huge software programs like Illustrator and Photoshop? How do you make the transition?
A- The only advice I dare to give is: Find out what motivates you. There are countless ways to draw and paint with many media, Photoshop and Illustrator being but two of them. If you started traditionally, ask yourself what you like most about it and what you would expect from software. Photoshop is common, but your weapon of choice might also be Krita, Art Rage, Mischief or another one that allows a painterly style and “feel” easily. If you work digitally from start, pick up a pencil. Art directors usually expect that you have some basic traditional sketching practice. In any case, it’s best to know a variety of tools even if you focus on one.
Q-I think most artists start off by copying other paintings, inanimate objects, and live models. Did you go through this, if so, when, and how did you progress to drawing from your own imagination?
A- I could say that I always drew from imagination, but that’s not totally true: I started by copying a horse from the “Asterix” Comics by Albert Uderzo. At least that’s what I remember as my first serious attempt to draw after loads of children’s scribbles. Then I stuck to the style for years as I had no ambition to draw anything than doodles in my school books. Later I switched to realism, learned the basic theory, and went on with almost no reference. Drawing “from life” has unfortunately always been hard on me, I prefer to study and learn the background, then draw. In the end, each artist needs to find their own way. It’s a never ending story, you learn, change, and learn more … 🙂
Q-What are some of the different avenues a young artist, illustrator can take?
A- Many. 🙂 I don’t suggest freelancing from start; it’s hard even after some years in a related business. Most of all you need connections. You need to be good at what you’re doing, and be a business person to some degree. Starting at zero or with art skill only would be a pretty bad idea. So, for most artists, it’s a job. There are concept artists, 2D and 3D digital artists, and animators, mainly for games and movies; illustrators for books, magazines, advertizing, greeting cards; cartoonists; designers for everything that has to be designed etc, etc. Almost each of these jobs also exists for freelancers. As nice as self-educated art sounds, it’s nothing to rely on. A good art-related education will save loads of time and provide knowledge and experience about markets aside of the art itself, and make it easier to find your own style.
Q-We can see some of your stunning renditions of characters from the game world that you’ve been working on. Can you describe the process of bringing game characters to life? What are some of the tools used in this outcome?
A- That could be a huge topic if told in detail. 🙂 The tools are mainly pencil (no must have), 2D software of choice and graphic tablet, and sometimes additional tools like 3D software for basic poses, light, objects … as well as reference and, if need be, textures. For a start there are ideas and doodles to put them down and see how they work. Watch references, collect ideas, change real world influences into fantasy / SciFi or the other way round; be creative. Most important at that stage is the silhouette of the character; an interesting outline makes for an interesting impression later. Doodles are reduced to basic shapes and basic colors. Once they are done, talk with fellow artists and to the game design department, choose ideas and change if need be, and call into mind what the final art – no matter if it’s 3D or 2D – requires. For example, bulky shoulder armor will make the animator curse because it cuts into body and head easily when the character moves. When all the requirements are met and you’re content with your work (and others are too), start into the detailed concept art. Some do character sheets for the 3D artists to work upon, but I personally prefer the way to show the person which the character should be, including facial expression, a pose that belongs to this character naturally and an overall feel of this person, not only what they look like. At this stage, decorative elements are added, the face gets detailed features, colors may be changed. The more important a character is in the game, the more concepts they will get, including at least some doodles of different poses and expressions. Concept art is not a process done by one person only; there will be feedback all the time, though a really experienced concept artist puts out amazing work even on their own.
Q-Can you describe having to create under the pressure of meeting a deadline?
A- Quoting Douglas Adams: “I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.” Of course they should not fly by. But it happens. The best thing to avoid is start early, get feedback from time to time, and thereby avoid to redo huge parts of stuff that your boss or client never saw. Over time, artists learn how long they need to accomplish a certain task; if they fail to meet a self-set deadline, it’s a personal challenge gone wrong. Nobody likes personal fails. Personally, I like to work under some pressure because it keeps me focused, but I absolutely don’t want to end up with a half-finished book cover two hours before the publisher plans to send them to the printer, though I might learn some new curses from them. 🙂 Most deadlines aren’t induced by bad time management of the artist, but are dumped on them from their boss, the project manager, or marketing (the latter being particularly good at dumping deadlines so shortly that it’s often impossible to meet them). If that happens, forget the deadline. There’s no use in rushing through the remaining work. Overtime happens, and it’s most important now to do good work. Most of all if it’s something that customers will see, because it’s your reference. They will not ask: “wow, you worked a whole weekend on that?” But they will say: “Why did they put such a crappy picture on the game cover?” if it was finished in a rush and actually looks crappy. Personal pressure can help, and the thought that each picture people will see is a part of your portfolio also provides motivation. Overtime doesn’t hurt in such a case; it means to face personal success in the end. On the other hand, someone looking over your shoulder constantly or waiting to employ the whip on lazy artists effectively stomp creativity into the ground.
Q-Any last thoughts or parting words on the topic of illustrators in the 21 first century?
A- The world gets digital. That does not mean you have to paint digitally, but that you need to know how to make a file ready for print or web, no matter if it has been painted in Photoshop or on canvas. You also need to know what your customers expect, personally as well as what the market says. Literally everyone can see many book covers at once in their online store of choice. Know how to reach focus groups without drowning in the mainstream. Know the boundaries – like thumbnails online, black & white on some e-readers, print issues – and the possibilities. Dedicate yourself to your work.
It is easy to connect with other artists worldwide, easy to learn, easy to show off your art. That also means the competitive pressure is high. Art directors stumble upon marvelous artists everywhere – they don’t even have to look out. For illustrators that means they have to be really good in everything they do, and to stay true to themselves, their style, their way to work. Illustration is a job one needs to love, because it will likely never lead to big money or even so much as a stable income. But as I love it, I work with a smile, and my alarm clock is safe from being killed each morning.
Thanks so much Petra for a very insightful look into the world of an illustrator. And also thanks for being a part of my blog, and for helping me bring Calasia to life. The honor is mine. I look forward to working with you in the future.
Please visit Petra Rudolf’s blog for a closer look into the life of a truly gifted illustrator.