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Bright lights, big city: Romain Trystram’s neon nights

The renowned Parisian illustrator creates a trio of stunning signature pieces.

Romain Trystram’s use of rain-drenched colour and dramatic light looks sumptuous on our screens. We wanted to find out more about what inspires him to create such stand-out art.

Romain’s illustration Neon Alleyway graced our homepage

We asked Romain to create a series of illustrations for us and, after being blown away by the results, we caught up with Romain for a Q&A on his inspiration.

What career path did you follow to become an illustrator?

I gained a degree in graphic design and after that I worked in the animation industry as an art director and colourist for seven years, and was a colourist for several comic books at the same time too. After that I really wanted to try to do more personal projects and develop my techniques some more because in that regard I felt I was still very limited. At the beginning I wanted to work as a background artist for animated movies, but after working for a studio I realised I didn’t have any freedom. So that’s why I set out on the path to become a freelance illustrator. I wanted to be free to work in a way that pleased me, with my own rhythm, and working as freelance illustrator seemed to be the best way to reach that goal.

The Shard, part of Romain's series of downloadable wallpapers for I Like Architecture, January 2014

When I started out as an illustrator I was commissioned to produce 12 architecture illustrations as downloadable wallpapers for I Like Architecture. That was a great project because it was the first to give me the opportunity to do my own thing—so they weren’t the biggest client I worked with by any means, but they helped me make my first steps as an independent illustrator and that makes it a favourite.

Where does the design process start for you?

I think inspiration is often based on culture; when somebody delivers a brief, it’s your culture and background that frames your ability to explore references. It’s then that you can research and explore the possibilities, when you know the context. It’s an important thing to remember because there are so many tools available to designers today, but it’s the context, the reason for the exploration that matters. Personally, I am searching a motivation beyond inspiration, something of the desire to make the first step and start to build and play. Cultural references are very important in this. I always try to develop a system more than just a picture, using shapes and colours to give the illusion of lighting. I always try to give to shapes a function and to eliminate all the stuff that has no function. I build all my systems on that principle. Regarding the technical aspects, I just use a combination of basic techniques to make more complex pictures.

Aerial Intersection was one of the three pieces Romain created for us in Affinity Designer

“I love to work on extended series of pieces, it makes my relationship with time very different. I try to take this time to think more, about how to create new and better elements. I try to go out of my comfort zone too, because when you are commissioned to produce work it’s often doing what you’re used to, what you’re known for. It’s really important to try something else—if you don’t try to make something different you can’t learn anymore.”

Romain Trystram
Are there references and motifs that you return to in your work?

Of course, I was particularly influenced by the work of my grandfather, Roger Trystram, who was a painter and a great colourist. I watched him work at home in his house, painting all day everyday. I definitely use my memories of him as both an influence and a reference. Since then I have discovered the work of so many people and have been amazed by Japanese illustrator Tadahiro Uesugi. His work is fantastic, he has an incredible sense of lighting and composition. I also love the work of Kazuo Oga, a background art director at Studio Ghibli. Plus Jon Klassen and many others, more than I can name.

What was different about using Affinity Designer as a tool for your illustration work?

I had never worked with vector software before! But I was intrigued, I wanted to give it a go…

For 13 years I’d only worked with Photoshop so I was afraid of not knowing my way with something else. Now I’ve worked on other professional projects with Affinity Designer and I am very happy because I haven’t had to spend a lot of time adapting my technique or style.

I never usually work on multiple projects like this, I much prefer to focus, to try to fully understand what the client wants and develop the appropriate design response. Neon Alleyway is probably my favourite of the three, it was the last I worked on in the series and it’s when I had become most fluent with the new software. Having more practice by this point meant I could focus on ideas not the ins and outs of using the tools; the creative flow was really smooth for this.

A version of this article was published in June 2016 on Creative Bloq.

PR manager

John heads up our public relations and is co-editor of Affinity Spotlight, as well as being responsible for a lot of what we post on our Facebook page and Twitter feed. When he’s not trying to charm journalists into giving us more great media coverage, or serving as butler to an elderly cat, his interests include music, Cuban cigars and American whiskey. Get in touch with John if you would like to contribute to Affinity Spotlight or have any press enquiries.

Credits & Footnotes

See more about how Romain created these pieces on his Behance profile.

All artwork is copyright of Romain Trystram.