I got to the point where I found myself missing the “organic” feeling in my workflow, so I started to download more and more traditional art for inspiration[…]
Greg Rutkowski has been our friend for five years now, but he’s been a friend to the online art community for much longer. This is why we’ve decided to invite him back for a catch-up interview on Vox Groovy this month. After all, many things have changed. He’s now a father to two daughters, he has a completely new outlook on art and life, and I’m assuming that we can all agree on the fact that the quality of his work has skyrocketed since our last proper sit-down with him. In light of this, we’re really excited to tell you about Greg’s shift towards a more traditional, oil-on-canvas-like style, and we think he may have voiced a popular sentiment when he spoke about how an artist can get tired of the artificial look that digital art often carries with it. When we first asked about it, he said that, “I got to the point where I found myself missing the “organic” feeling in my workflow, so I started to download more and more traditional art for inspiration.”
It’s true, traditional art is slowly becoming sacred from the viewpoint of a contemporary artist. Why…? Well, it’s chock-full of hidden but invaluable lessons that the old masters were kind enough to impart through each individual masterpiece. As Efflam Mercier once said, if you’ve got a problem, odds are that a great artist has already resolved it in a painting from long ago. In Greg’s case, this was about learning to adopt the abstraction of certain shapes, like the people in two of his famous pieces—”Revolution” and “Castle Defence.” He also managed to reignite a portion of our community’s passion for traditional art, and you’ll notice that this style is popping up on ArtStation’s homepage a lot more nowadays.
Greg has been able to find new clients and even posted his Photoshop brush pack + tutorials on ArtStation for us! So, if you’re a fan of his work then look forward to learning more about his unique art style, the new work for Dungeons & Dragons and Magic: The Gathering, and finally, how the people behind ANNO 1800 made his dream of commercializing his “risky” approach into an incredibly successful reality.
It’s been five years since our last interview, tell us a little bit about what’s changed in your life.
I can easily say that these last five years were the most difficult and most beautiful years of my life. I have two daughters now, I’ve built a house for my family and we’ve made lots of life-changing decisions throughout this period. I’ve also rethought my entire approach to work and painting itself, but that’s a much bigger story to tell.
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ANNO 1800 – Revolution
Yes! I’ve noticed your change in style and watching you develop that has been an absolute joy! I feel that our community has been missing the more traditional, oil-on-canvas-like look so I was quite excited when you started moving towards it. Tell us a little bit about that, what made you want to use it and how did you go about developing it?
I started to notice how both the world and our industry have changed over time. Even our approach to the work that we do has changed now… We started to become more efficient (which isn’t necessarily a bad thing), but at the same time, we began to forget about the precious small details that were key.
I got to the point where I found myself missing the “organic” feeling in my workflow, so I started to download more and more traditional art for inspiration. I asked myself, “Why is this happening… am I tired of the artificial look of digital art?” And honestly, I’m still not sure, maybe something entirely different guided me towards this new style. Either way, there’s a ton of illustrations that you can see online and I always stop when I find something interesting in terms of artistic freedom. Brushstrokes that look like acrylic/oil, or maybe even exciting uses of colour that bring the old masters’ techniques to mind. This natural “organic” style started to become my goal, and my dream was to convince others to go down that path. To bring the joy of creation and to re-introduce the old masters as the main point of inspiration.
A few years ago, I had a totally different attitude when comparing work and personal paintings. Work for me was a struggle to fit into someone else’s idea/style whilst personal paintings were an experiment. Even if I was always pushing myself forward and trying new things, those two were so different. Today, it merges almost entirely and my approach is pretty much the same across the board. I’m trying apply all the thought and all the techniques to the client work. I think that we should fight for a style in the industry. It gives so much more variety!
Oh wow! Well, I’d love to learn about your favorite artists, classical or contemporary. Please tell us, who your favorite masters are and why.
There are too many great artists who influenced my work at some point so it would be impossible to mention all of them, but I’ll try to name the few that come to mind!
From the “old masters,” I’m hugely inspired by: Aleksander Gierymski, Jan Matejko, Jozef Chelmonski, Ilya Repin, Joaquinn Sorolla and many, many others.
From the “digital masters,” I like Tyler Jacobson, John Park, Jamie Jones, Craig Mullins, Piotr Jablonski, Eytan Zana, Michael Komarck, Sergey Kolesov, Wesley Burt, Slawomir Maniak, Wangjie Li, Yizheng Ke and many others (I could easily add two or three times more).
I appreciate them mostly because they have artworks with that “organic” factor I like. Their pieces stand out from the many others and I’m always finding lots of new things that I can learn from them.
Could you tell me a little bit about your work on ANNO 1800? I saw that this is one of the games where you really go all out with your style so I’d love to learn a thing or two about your work on it.
ANNO 1800 was one of my best projects and I feel that working on it was a great honour. The freedom of the creation and style was awesome! We worked as a team together with the KARAKTER Studio Design. I was responsible for the painting part and the guys from Karakter delivered my a 3D/photobashed scene as a base. And from there I was painting in the “1800s style.”
I can honestly say that this job was a milestone for me because, for the first time ever, I could go with my style 100% on a bigger project. And hey, it ended pretty well, the client was happy and the same can be said for me.
And what about your work for MTG? The style’s very different there but you’ve been working alongside them for a long time now, right? How do you usually approach that kind of job?
Yes, it’s different. ANNO 1800 wasn’t just a great project when it comes to the freedom given to us by the client, it was also a project that should be as close as possible to the aesthetic of the 1800s. That’s why I could go with the natural lighting, realistic colours and values. My folder of inspirations was filled with old paintings and old photographs. I pushed the style towards traditional painting as much as I could, just trying to keep what’s important in there. For MTG art, it’s a little bit different. We have fantasy world that doesn’t exist, we have settings that are unnatural, and we have to fit the composition into the card’s size. It’s a little bit different, although I’m always trying to get close to the “organic” feeling here as well.
Tobias Mannewitz – Creative Direction
Benjamin Schulte – 3D Artist
Grzegorz Rutkowski – Illustrator
What was your favorite piece that you’ve made since our last interview and why? How did you go about making it?
It’s really hard to pick a “favourite” piece. But I think I’d pick “Revolution.” In this piece, I was really trying to follow the “old master'” approach and transfer it onto my digital canvas. I’ve learnt that a focal point shouldn’t just be detailed, or interestingly lit. A focal point is also determined by a paint’s structure/thickness, which is really hard to show in digital art. Next, I’ve learnt that I can show many objects in a more abstract way and our brain is still going to read it as an actual object. All of those aspects are ones that I’ve discovered through analysing old paintings.
It’s funny, there’s so many abstractions, whereas nowadays everything should be detailed, even the things you can’t actually see! They’re usually on the other layer so the clients could change the composition whenever they want. Like a more structured way of painting, but it’s still kind of annoying.
Can you tell me a little bit about the Polish art scene? I remember you were at the forefront of it all alongside artists like Darek Zabrocki when we last spoke, so I wanna ask, what’s the atmosphere like over there now?
We have all been doing good!
I’m very thankful and proud of Szymon Biernacki and Marcin Jakubowski for their work on Klaus. They did an amazing job! But I should also mention the rest of the Polish badasses like: Maciej Kuciara (although he’s in L.A. now), Marek Okon, Slawomir Maniak, Tomasz Jedruszek, Michal Lisowski, Piotr Jablonski, Michal Dziekan, Grzegorz Przybys, Wojtek Fus, Darek Zabrocki, Michal Kus and many more. I hope no one’s gonna be mad if I forgot to mention them, you’re all great!
You know, as much as I am concerned, the atmosphere here is truly great. I’m trying to keep in touch with most of them.
Caption: Remorseful Cleric
Illustration done for Magic the Gathering.
What’s your #1 piece of advice for aspiring concept artists who want to not only make a living, but perhaps also make a mark?
My number #1 piece of advice is to follow your dreams and never give up!
Sure, it’s an obvious one but that doesn’t change that it’s one of the most important and universal sayings. It fits a person’s entire life, career, personal goals, etc., etc.
What’s next for Greg Rutkowski?
Heh, no one knows what the future will bring, but I can say that there are courses, an artbook and my very own IP. And I know a lot of you are going to want to know when, but it’s hard to tell exactly. All I know is that these are all going to happen for sure.
People are in a bit of a rush these days. We expect quick results. We learnt that the Internet brings an answer for just about any question that you might have. But try to find your goal and keep pushing forward, step-by-step. Don’t run, just walk, and from time to time, stop and sit for a while… look what you’ve managed to achieve up until this point. It’s very important that your path, whether it’s digital painting or some other goal, is full of understandings about what it is that you do and what you achieved so far.
By Vox Groovy staff writer;
All images used with permission by the artist
© Greg Rutkowski or respective copyright holders
Reading by Ariana Rosario
Article in Slovak language;