Having graced both the covers and pages of ImagineFX, and enthralled audiences with her popular “Seven Deadly Sins” works, amongst many others, Marta Dahlig has become a well known name in the digital art industry. Her paintings are captivating and detailed, and her skill is seen in her wonderful compositions and enthralling and fantastical ideas therein. We spoke to to Marta about her art, her processes, and her passion for creativity.
Hello Marta, so nice to speak with you. We’d like to congratulate you on your recent marriage also! What have you been doing in the digital art sphere recently?
Hey! I am very excited to take part in this interview. :)
Well for the past years I have been extremely busy with various computer gaming projects. In fact, I have been so busy, that I have recently realized that the last full personal piece I have painted was about 4 years ago. This discovery was so horrific to me, that I decided to take work things a bit easier for a while and devote next couple of months to developing my personal portfolio.
There is nothing wrong with commercial work. After all, it’s the purpose of our freelancing efforts. It is, however, important to have time for personal development as well. So this change of pace and focus is my newest resolve.
You work demonstrates a very high level of painting skill – when did you start drawing and painting?
Thank you very much! Drawing has been my passion since I can remember. In fact, a story that goes around my family is that I have started drawing before I learned how to walk. I was not even a year old, when I sat on the floor and passionately smeared crayons on any surface that was in the vicinity. I was not picky about those surfaces either, oh no. Walls, floors, carpets – everything was good enough to paint on for me….
As I grew up, I gradually moved onto pastels, watercolors and acrylics. Nearly 12 years ago (yikes!), when I was 15, I started learning digital art. I am rather ashamed to admit, but since I was introduced to painting on a computer, I gradually neglected traditional media…
Nowadays I try to balance my art life with traditional sketching or small watercolors, but I must admit that my technique is not as good as it has been a couple of years ago. I definitely have to do more of those.
What things and which people inspire your artwork? You cover such a broad range of fantasy and imaginary themes, what is your creative thought process?
It’s one of the trickiest questions I could answer, really. The problem is, anything can become inspiring, if it hits the right note and mood in me. It can be a graffiti I have seen while going to work or a piece of music. It can even be product packaging, a movie, a flower – anything.
Actually, let me give you an example. A few months ago I was working on a set of futuristic gown designs. I sat at my desk and wondered what to do… During those five, maybe six, hours I have done dozens of sketches and none felt right. So I went to the other room to get some change of scenery. I see my old telephone and a plastic bag left after grocery shopping next to it. And there it was – I felt a spark. The translucent plastic with the black curly telephone cord were so inspiring, I prepared the whole concept of the clothing set within 20 minutes. :)
When you’re starting a new painting or artwork, what is your general workflow in terms of structuring the piece? Do you have a set workflow, or do you work instinctualy?
I don’t really have an “officially” set workflow. When I think about it, however, I’d say that even though my process is rather subconcious, it’s still consistent for all my projects. Always before I start, I have to have an outline of an idea for the piece. Whenever I can, I base my paintings on contrasts. Those contrasts can be graphical (light vs dark, bold colors etc) or, preferably, in narration. I like to use elements that don’t logically fit together, so that viewers, upon closer examination, question their first impression of the piece.
Once I have the idea, I prepare some quick thumbs to decide on color balancing and composition. After that, I usually paint in the first color blobs marking main elements of the image (I seldom do actual sketching) which I polish and/or alter as I move along.
Once the idea develops, I often add little narrative elements – touches which help me underline the core idea of the piece to a bigger extent.
Your style could be described as realism, what is your view on your own style? Was it a decision you made to create art in this way, or did it evolve as you created more artwork?
It was never a conscious decision. For most of my teenage and early adult life I was under great influence of academic art. I perceived this style as an ideal, epitome of artistic excellence. It was simply a dream, a goal to strive for, so I have tried to learn from the techniques and mimic all the details as best as I could. Moreover, since as mentioned I am greatly attracted to contrasts, I found it fitting to convey something abstract or distrubing, whilst the outer form remained natural. It’s more rewarding to hide a a narrative surprise if it is contrasted with actual technique.
In terms of your working environment, what are your primary tools for creating your stunning paintings?
All I need is a computer, tablet and a cup of tea. Chocolate is very welcome as well… I have not upgarded my computer for nearly two years and it is getting a bit old, but I did purchase a new Wacom Cintiq two months ago. And, dear lord, it is to die for. I have always worked on Intuos tablets and got really used to not seeing my hand when painting. Working with Cintiq is so much more natural and intimate. It gives me this physical connection to my art which I have missed so much with digital painting. It really introduced a new quality to my life.
Even though I always repeated that a piece of equipment won’t make anyone a better artist, well, in case of this Cintiq it might be a bit different… The sheer pleasure of using it gives you such a boost of energy and joy, that it’s transfered onto the canvas. It’s magic.
What single art secret of yours would you be willing to share with readers?
Here’s a dirty one: When I have problems drawing a specific object, I sometimes over detail it… The details, when placed right, help get the attention off the problematic area… ;)
Haha, I know it’s rather wrong, and I do not do it anymore (or try not to!). However it is a technique quite useful when you have a deadline approaching or are forced to handle a subject which is not among your strengths. But shhh…
What are your views on formal art study, versus individual self-learning? What resources could you recommend to new artists?
I might be partial, since I have not received any formal education in art. It might make a fun story to tell how I learned on my own, practicing on the side, while I studied something completely different etc, but it was very hard. Finding time, energy and motivation to study art books and work for countless hours in the evenings required a lot of sacrifices… So yes, I won’t deny that there were times when I wish I went to an art school. :)
On a positive note though, the beauty of our industry is that you do not need formal education if you have the skill. If you are good at what you do, it won’t be crucial what papers you have to back up your portfolio.
So as a summary I would say: if art is your passion and you have the possibility, go to an art school. If you haven’t went to one – your case isn’t lost. It takes hard work, but it is definitely possible to make it.
What is the best advice in terms of learning to paint, and entering the art industry, you would give to someone just starting out??
Don’t let yourself be discouraged. I think it’s an “artistic thing” to feel anxious at some point in your life… Every artist I have known had had this moment. :) It’s not necessarily bad, as self-reflection is useful. The key is not to get down for too long. Every single experience of your life can be constructive. If it’s positive – great, cherish it. If it’s not – learn from it and use what you learned in the future.
Along your path you will see people who are better than you. Learn from the best without envy or discouragement – they have surely went through their anxiety as well. :) Remember what your improvement goals are and what you want to learn, but remain positive about them. After all, the bigger progress you will make, the prouder you will be. Mountains can be moved with enough hard work, so think of every goal as a matter of work and devotion – not luck or miracles. You are the driver and the sole key to your success.
But the most important of all – never do anything against your inner self. You should simply have fun. Even if you work hard, you should do it out of love and passion, not duty. If the process becomes a drudgery, if you feel sick and simply cannot proceed anymore – just rest and rethink your goals. It’s easy to impose artificial goals or push yourself in directions you think are “cool”, but which might not necessarily be good for you. Let the process, goals and solutions come naturally to you and everything will work out.
Photo reference is always a hotly debated topic amongst artists still learning. What are your views on using photo reference, and what do you feel are the advantages and disadvantages of doing so?
To be honest, I don’t find anything wrong with photo reference if they are used wisely. After all, we all need to learn from something and you don’t always get a chance to paint from live models. So I would say copying parts of photos and learning from them is a good supplement to live sessions. Moreover, when you deal with tough subjects or animals, photos are usually the only source which you can rely on.
At the beginning when I learned about composing my palettes, I used to eye-drop on different photos and paintings to see what colors flesh tones consist of and so on.
As all tools, however, references should be used with care. By that I mean that learning from photos will not replace live drawing sessions. With photos you perceive everything in two dimensions instead of three, so while you might learn a lot about some aspects (such as texturing, which photos are great for) you are still missing out on the fundaments. That is, even if you learn how to copy a body of a man from a photo, it’s just one environment, pose, body type, light setting and perspective. That is why we need books and live models, to actually understand how structure and dynamics of each shape “work”.
You’ve got over 4.5 million page-views on DeviantArt, and have been featured on many art sites and in great art magazines – how important is marketing ones art online?
It’s crucial. You can be the best artist in the world, and noone will ever know that if you don’t show your work anywhere. It is therefore important to use those opportunities that life throws at you to showcase your portfolio. It might lead to friendships, learning via constructive criticism or even business opportunities – all of which are great. :)
We’ve enjoyed having the opportunity to speak with you Marta, thank you!
Thank you, it’s been a great pleasure!
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