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Artist Paul Wembabazi: ‘I imagine the scene is a movie set and I have to place lights strategically to guide the story’

The beautiful light in the digital paintings of Paul Wembabazi captured our imagination when we worked with him on 100 Days. 100 Commissions. We spoke to Paul about his inspirations and how his style has developed from watching cartoons on TV as a child to creating his own concept art and inspiring others through teaching…
Tell us about yourself and how you got started as an illustrator and concept artist?

My name is Wembabazi Paul Steve, from the Pearl of Africa—Uganda. I live and work in Kampala, where I took a Bachelors Degree in Industrial and Fine Arts, majoring in illustration, advertising design and anatomy. As a child I loved cartoons and when I learnt that they didn’t magically appear on screen, but were drawn by a group of artists, my dream grew to start learning art and creating such colourful cartoon worlds.

What equipment do you use in your creative workflow?

I mainly use a Wacom Bamboo drawing tablet and a laptop. I also occasionally sketch on paper with a 2B pencil and do darker tones with a 4B. These give me good grip especially when hatching and cross-hatching.

Talk us through your workflow; how do your illustrations usually develop?

After I’ve selected an idea to take on, I start with research and mood board creation on the subject matter. The highlights of the shot/story (this could be a prop or character body type, expression etc.) will get an in-depth study. This study then enables me to come up with informed thumbnails and a few detailed sketches.

If the shot has a complex lighting set up, I start with value study and painting and then add a colour layer above to overlay the basic lighting. I’ll then add more layers to enhance the lighting and some more colours until the image creates the desired mood. If the lighting isn’t complex, I’ll block in colours onto the selected sketch and paint the tones straight on without first having to paint in a value layer. Then guided by the mood boards and a lighting reference shot, I’ll enhance the scene accordingly.

Which other illustrators/designers do you admire the most?

I like the artists Feng Zhu and Scott Robertson. Scott has got amazing neatness and accuracy with his sketches and representation of light. While Feng Zhu’s scene setups are incredible. Though I usually draw and paint in a cartoony and animation style, my design and painting approach is greatly influenced by these two artists.

What is the creative scene like in the city where you live and how has it inspired or influenced your work?

The creative scene here has mainly been bent towards the performing arts—that is music, theatre and some TV shows. However the visual arts have in recent years gained ground, and there’s a good integration of the two fields. I’m also a musician and work with a multi-talented team of artists under the name Milege Heritage Foundation, who excel in both the visual and performing fields. This has helped me integrate knowledge and ideas from the performing arts, to strengthen and inform my designs. For example, learning music scales helped me understand storyboard design, and teaching children also taught me how to break down complex objects and scenes into simplified shapes.

“…learning music scales helped me understand storyboard design, and teaching children also taught me how to break down complex objects and scenes into simplified shapes.”

The light in your work is beautiful and well-observed, how did you become so good at depicting light?

I paint and study lighting scenes from movies, animations and photographs, observing how and where the directors place different lights and how each placement creates a different mood. I also took time to study how light affects the simple shapes i.e. cube, sphere, cone and cylinder. When painting, I imagine the scene is a movie set and I have to place lights strategically to guide the story.

How did you discover Affinity Photo and what appealed to you most about the app?

I had been searching online for photo editing software and Affinity Photo appeared in one of the searches. I visited the beautifully laid out website, downloaded the trial and was totally blown away. The interface is so user friendly with many key features conveniently displayed. The app is also really fast and easily handles heavy files, yet is still light on the PC. I enjoyed the layering capability, effortlessly adding working layers into other layers. The software is very fairly priced and yet delivers loads of power.

What has been your proudest moment as an illustrator/concept artist?

Taking part in the 100 Days. 100 Commissions challenge and having my artwork selected made me really proud. I had been looking forward to platforms of this kind.

What advice do you have for upcoming illustrators and concept artists?

Collaborate with different artists from various backgrounds and disciplines. Their inspiration will inform your craft. Engage in teaching and information-giving programmes. This develops mastery of your practice.

What are your hopes and ambitions for your future creative career?

A lot of my practice has developed because of learning from great minds. My hope is to develop teaching material that will improve the field of illustration and concept art in Uganda.

You can see more of Paul’s work on his Behance portfolio.

Artist relations

Charlotte is an illustrator and arts lecturer who is passionate about the creative industries and is now part of our artist relations team. Her interests include mid 20th century inspired design, comic books, board games, movie memorabilia, baking cakes, feminism and yoga. She shares her 1960’s home with her graphic designer husband and her toddler son who likes to hide her iPad. Get in touch with Charlotte if you have work you have made in Affinity apps to share with us, or tag your work with #madeinaffinity in the usual places.

Credits & Footnotes

All artwork © Wembabazi Paul Steve and used with permission.