Giuliano, tell us a little bit about your history as a designer and digital artist.
My career in design has developed over twenty years, studying the great designers, both from books and my closest colleagues. The arrival of the internet then changed and accelerated everything.
I am completely self-taught in illustration, but I come from a family with a passion for art. Many of my relatives were devoted (professionally or for pleasure) to painting, illustration, sculpture or design. My home has always been full of paintings of all types hanging on the walls.
Something which only occurred to me later in life was that I never heard any of my relative’s exchange opinions, critiques or suggestions on their respective works. They were always very reserved and deferential about their own personal artistic journey. So that I also grew into this idea that my art was only something of ‘my own’.
“I had not dreamt that it was possible to paint space ships… in oils!”
The turning point which drove me to try and draw occurred in the 80s. I was ten and someone gave me The Great Science Fiction Encyclopaedia. A series of volumes crammed with incredible illustrations. Planets, space ships, creatures… it bowled me over. What I mean is, I was a child, but I was already used to seeing traditional figurative art, romantic landscapes, female figures, abstracts. But I had not dreamt that it was possible to paint space ships…in oils!
How do you come up with concepts for your digital paintings?
I try and build up worlds, stories and adventures which I would like to experience. It is pure entertainment. Like reading a book, watching a film or playing a videogame. At times, I am inspired by something that I have seen or read, and I try to ‘prolong’ the experience. I believe that all those who produce fan-art and tributes to films, animations or books do so for that reason.
I understand you sketch using very few or no analogue tools, what has driven your move into a solely digital process?
I was an early adopter of the (Wacom) Inkling, although now it gathers dust in a drawer somewhere. But using it was a very interesting experience. It filled a gap, allowing me to produce digital sketches produced in an analogue manner. Today, we have evolved products which, in some way, try to fill that gap between the two worlds. This drives me towards a completely digital workflow.
I think that once you are completely at ease with digital instruments, there is no great difference between the two ways of working, at least from the ‘sensory point of view’. A completely digital workflow though is undoubtedly much more productive. It is faster and more practical, and above all emerges from its natural environment. Meaning that the electronic format is maintained throughout its whole existence—from distribution to printing or video production.
You’ve been on board with Affinity from very early on. How did you discover Affinity Photo and what made you want to experiment with it?
I always keep a little time for trying out new tools and to stay updated. I had for some time sought a valid substitute for Photoshop—which for me has become burdensome and obsolete for many aspects, not to mention decidedly expensive. I decided to take a look at the Affinity Photo beta after having read an article in a blog.
I was impressed by what was already complete in that phase, but I became aware right from the start that everyone was very focused on optimising the software from the point of view of photographs, yet it seemed to me that no one was focusing on artists. Thus, I started using it and to point out some gaps which I had found, raising them in the Affinity forum. I was also impressed by the response of the Affinity dev team.
How does working with brushes in Affinity compare to other apps you have used?
Nearly all digital artists tend to produce, gather and collect hundreds of brushes of every kind. Partly because we think that using brushes by, I don’t know, Craig Mullins, turns us into better artists. In reality, we end up using the usual four or five that we have created for ourselves.
I used Painter in its very first versions, but I never managed to digest the software interface and particularly those of its brushes. I have used Photoshop in the 2.x version but it has not been able to keep up with my most basic requirements. Instead, preferring to add features on features, neglecting to improve the painting tools.
I find that the brush creation system of Affinity is ingenious in its interface. Light and clear. Everything is there, understandable and intuitive in customisation. Furthermore, the possibility of importing a Photoshop ‘.abr’ is the cherry on top of the cake.
I currently use a fistful of brushes of the Affinity Photo default set, where I have slightly modified some of the parameters. I also use some of the DAUB set by Paolo Limoncelli, of which I have not modified anything.
Can you explain a little about your digital painting process? How do you build up colours and lighting?
I am very instinctive and I try not to adopt rigid processes. I observe anything and everything. I try to keep a mental library of references. There are inescapable basics in the theory of colour and composition, but nothing very complicated. Rule of thirds, complementary colours, those things which we have all read and digested.
It is always recommended to use references and models of anatomy and objects. Although I do this before starting and not during my painting process. Indeed, it is a practice driven more by the search for amusement than productivity. I find the challenge more stimulating.
If I have to illustrate a particular scene, I study the references first. I collect various photographs and details, create a mood board onto which I throw everything, then I observe it carefully. Only then do I start to draw.
“I collect various photographs and details, creating a mood board onto which I throw everything, and observe it carefully. Only then do I start to draw.”
Usually, I do not do line-art or sketches, but paint directly with very thick brushes. I always start with a dark canvas (usually near a 70% grey). I do this so I can ‘sculpt’ the lights and shadows from an intermediate position.
Then I let go with very vague and approximative brush strokes, but I never use the zoom and do not apply details, just shapes. I then detail the shapes that I consider require attention. This is the most fun part but also the most delicate because I often tend to exaggerate with the detail at the expense of freshness.
An example of the process can be seen here.
You enter a lot of online art challenges; do you find this is a good way to hone your skills? Would you encourage other artists to challenge themselves in this way?
Yes, absolutely. The artist communities are possibly the last happy island on the net. The competition is healthy and stimulating, the feedback is always constructive and the opportunities to learn are priceless. All that is in net contrast with the self-promotion arising on social networks.
The activities, the mini challenges or the more important events, are the occasion to re-appraise oneself with personal challenges (such as improving one’s skills) and to measure up against professionals in a decidedly stimulating context.
Furthermore, those forums are the main resource for all the art directors, art buyers and the talent scouts.
What are your thoughts about Affinity Photo as a tool for digital painting? What are the main advantages compared to other software you’ve used?
It is probably Adobe passing to their subscription model that was the reason I decided to concentrate on a search for an alternative. When I found Affinity Photo, I stopped because it has all that I needed. Rapid and stable right from the very first versions; features which I had expected not to be added for years had already been implemented. I sensed a great deal of work was done on the architecture and on the management of memory, because working so comfortably on very large files full of levels was unthinkable before.
I think that it has all that’s required for competing with more established products. In our design studio, we are currently converting the whole production process to Affinity (Designer and Photo). Mainly because of the speed of execution, productivity, and features that are in step with the times.
How long on average do you spend on a digital painting?
Less than I would like. I alternate very intense periods with breaks. My work takes up much of my free time, but when I am not drawing I immerse myself into art-books. I read and leaf through artists portfolios. And then it should be said that my day job is in a certain sense assimilable. I paint continuously on photo-retouching, mock-ups and marketing illustrations.
When I take part in challenges or activities, I dedicate three or four hours a day over the necessary period, which can vary between one or two weeks.
What or who have been your biggest creative influences over the years and are there any themes or motifs that you find recurring in your work?
I have been profoundly influenced by the cinema and by sci-fi literature. When I saw Star Wars for the first time I was very small, but it conditioned my cinema viewing for all the years to come. Seeing this impossible world so real and buzzing! The space ships for the first time, represented as they were, dirty and lived in, seemed to me to be fully believable.
I think that this brought me to highlighting the storytelling component in my illustrations. I never draw pin-ups for this reason. There are always stories behind them and I try to make them readable.
There is a wonderful Francisco de Goya quote on your website “Fantasy, abandoned by reason, produces impossible monsters; she is the mother of the arts and the origin of marvels.” How do you feel this concept inspires your creative process and what can others learn from this great artist?
Goya intended to show those ‘impossible monsters’ as the ultimate evil produced by the sleep of reason. I, on the other hand, like to think that imagination might get the better of reason because, in the end, who is there that does not love impossible monsters?
By day you run a design studio, how does this differ from your hobby of digital painting? Do you find yourself moving towards digital painting/illustration as a career?
The creative components in advertising have only a small part to play within a series of processes which are often very schematic. They are at the service of more prosaic motives and must follow very precise rules and techniques, and battle against rigid constraints. To sum up, it is fine and stimulating, but I don’t work at being an ‘artist’.
For now, it pleases me that illustration remains a hobby, it makes me feel more unrestrained.
Your artwork has been published in magazines like ImagineFX and has won numerous awards. Which of your many achievements are you most proud of and why?
As a hobbyist, every individual recognition, even the smallest, has been very important as it is always unexpected. Perhaps my most successful image is ‘The Leviathan’, produced for a weekly activity on conceptart.org. This is a forum which I have always frequented. It finished up on the cover of Lightspeed Magazine, which publishes sci-fi stories even by very famous authors. Then Exposé of Ballistic Publishing gave it an Excellence Award in the sci-fi category. I said to myself “OK, this is my limit; I could not better this”.
What tips would you give to other artists who might be considering using Affinity Photo as a tool for their digital painting?
In addition to the obvious, practical reasons tied to performance, the cost, the features, the very easy learning curve, there is one thing that pleases me; switching to such a critical tool can be very exciting and is surely a breath of fresh air for your creativity.
As I often find myself recommending Affinity Photo, I am worried that my contacts will start to think that I have an endorsement relationship with Affinity. If they read this interview, they will be sure of it. “Hey, no, they don’t pay me, OK?”
You can see more of Giuliano’s work at www.giulianobrocani.com