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Digital artist Manuel Camino: translating a dream into a work of art

Affinity user Manuel Camino (aka Xebius) is a digital artist who has worked for some of the world’s biggest brands. We spoke to him about finding inspiration in his dreams and turning an idea into art.
Tell us a bit about yourself, did you grow up in a creative household?

Absolutely. I was born in the Canaries and then moved to Malaga in the south of Spain, where I grew up surrounded by oil paintings created by my mother and grandmother. Watching them create such beautiful art inspired me to create my own.

You’ve lived in a total of nine countries to date, with Japan being the current place you call home—do you find where you live has an impact on your work and style?

It definitely does. I have found that where you live influences you as person—it opens your mind and somehow changes you forever. These days I consider myself mostly Spanish, but also a bit British, American, Singaporean, Vietnamese, Japanese, etc, and all of these different cultures have hugely influenced how I approach my work.

You’ve worked for some huge names in the industry—do you have a favourite project to date?

I would say working on the design of the Xbox 360, mostly in terms of the UI, was pretty amazing. But to be honest, the best projects are not necessarily those for big names, but those for clients that trust you and make you feel appreciated and respected.

That said, as much as I enjoy doing commercial work, my favourite projects are the ones where I’m being paid for my art, whether it’s commissioned work, limited rights for a piece, selling prints of my work, etc. I can’t think of anything cooler than that!

How did you get to where you are today? What would be your top tips for someone starting out in the creative industry?

Well I still don’t feel like I’ve ‘made it’, so to speak, as there is always so much to learn and discover. But I guess that’s my main tip—to keep learning and always stay curious.

People tend to expect the usual response of ‘work hard’ or ‘make sacrfices’, etc., but I feel that the most important thing is to find something that is really interesting to you, so it feels like ‘playing’ rather than ‘working’. The best effort is the one that doesn’t feel like effort. It took me a long time to understand this.

My next piece of advice is don’t live with an artistic goal in mind that you need to reach in order to become happy—it’s a trap! It’s not the destination that’s so relevant, but the journey. Artists are never satisfied, so if you live with only the destination in mind, you’ll never be happy. You can always learn more and get better, so enjoy the ride, regardless of the end goal.

My final tip is to remember that you are not what you do. This may sound simple, and it is, but it’s also deeper than it seems and something I always try to keep in mind. If you are just starting out and your work is not as good as you want it to be, that doesn’t make you a ‘bad artist’. Creating ‘bad art’ is something you may do, but it doesn’t define you. In fact, you need to make mistakes and create a lot of bad art in order to learn and create great art. But again, it’s just stuff you do—it’s not who you are. Don’t let skills become food for your ego or define you as a person.

“don’t live with an artistic goal in mind that you need to reach in order to become happy—it’s a trap! It’s not the destination that’s so relevant, but the journey.”

What has been your most challenging brief to date?

To be honest, pleasing a client is easier than pleasing myself most of the time. That’s the most challenging thing for me; I always feel like I could have done better. Besides this, I would say working on the Xbox 360 project I mentioned was probably the hardest. Working for Nike has always being quite challenging, too.

How would you best describe your approach to design?

For me, design is utilising your artistic abilities in order to reach a desired goal. So I first try my best to understand what the end product is that I need to work towards, and then I use my artistic abilities to create that. If you are thinking first in shapes, composition or colours before getting this right, I believe you are not working for a client but for yourself.

Ideation is another essential part of my process and I try to spend as much time as I can forming different ideas and concepts rather than jumping straight into the execution. Of course, the approach to art is completely different for everyone, and what works for me may not work for someone else.

When did you first start using Affinity and what has your experience been of it so far?

It all started when I was looking for apps that would allow me to work the way I like on my new iPad Pro. After trying many different ones, I saw a great review of Affinity Designer from one of my favourite youtubers, Brad Collbow, and so I decided to give it a go. I was impressed with it from the start. It reminded me of a software I loved called ‘Fireworks’, which was discontinued, so I felt really comfortable using the app from the beginning. There are still things that I am trying to get used to, but I guess that’s normal when you are adapting to a new way of working. I also love the fact that there are no subscriptions involved. That’s very cool.

Where do you see your work taking you in coming years?

Well, I want to learn more, much more. So if my work helps me to learn and grow, that would be awesome.

Jellyfish by Xebius for Salamandre Magazine
You say your dreams are often the inspiration behind your work—where do you start in translating a dream into a work of art?

It all started when I was trying to describe my dreams to other people, and they would look at me like ‘what?’. I remember wishing that I had a camera and could take shots of what I saw in my dreams, but then I thought, what if I can be that camera? What if I just use whatever I can to bring that memory from the dream world to this world? And this was, and still is, the motivation behind a lot of my work.

“I remember wishing that I had a camera and could take shots of what I saw in my dreams, but then I thought, what if I can be that camera?”

Your personal work is under the name Xebius—is there a story behind the name?

The way I see Xebius is as an alter ego. It’s the fantasy version of me, existing in another dimension where you can live off of creating art and simply translate your dreams and emotions into visuals and sounds. The name was inspired by ‘Moebius’, the artistic name of Jean Giraud, one of my favourite artists ever. It’s my tribute to him and the amazing work he created.

On your website you said, “Always willing to learn, always ready for new creative adventures”. What do you think/hope your next creative adventure will be?

It’s very common to hear people saying that creatives should think ‘out of the box’, but then they want to put you ‘in a box’. And as much as I understand specialisation to a certain degree, I think we kill creativity when you can’t just do this or that. Having multiple skills means having more tools to communicate as artists and that’s why I’m always willing to learn all I can—from concept art to 3D, from storytelling to animation, from drawing to composition, from matte painting to visual effects. The more I learn the better the ride will be!

In terms of my next creative adventure, my overall goal is to do really creative work. It may seem obvious, but it’s very common to see creatives being used for stuff that is not that creative at all.

As an artist, I would love to have the opportunity to live off my art and move from mostly being ‘a service’, to becoming ‘a product’ (if you allow me the business analogy).

On the commercial side of things I would love to do more storytelling and art direction for filming, motion and animation. I would love to one day work with companies like Psyop, Ars Thanea, Man vs Machine, Zombie Studios, Lightfarm, Laika, even video game companies or places like ILM. I am open to trying anything!

You’re currently freelancing with some of your work appearing on music album covers. What sort of music could we expect to be playing in your studio as you work?

While I opt for more hardcore music when skateboarding, I usually listen to more chilled music when I’m working. I find a lot of inspiration from the music I play and sometimes I even show my gratitude by tagging the artists I was listening to when I did a certain piece.

Tell us about your latest piece for us—where did the concept originate from and how long does it take to create a piece like this?

The concept for that piece came to me in a dream following ‘Kodomo no hi’, also known as Children’s Day in Japan. After chatting with you guys about how much you liked my piece ‘Okane’ and seeing the decorations on the street for Children’s Day (mostly flags with the shape of a Koi Fish, called ‘Koi no bori’), I dreamt of children leading an army of animals and insects that you would normally see in a Japanese pond. They seemed to be flying rather than swimming, even though they were somehow underwater. It was strange but magical to see this. It felt like a revindication of animals and children, fighting against the pollution and greediness of this modern world we live in.

Since it was created in such high resolution, it took two weeks to complete from conception. To see how I normally work I invite people to have a look at my site where I explain my process. Thanks so much once again to Serif for the support!

Koi for Affinity Photo

You can see more of Manuel’s digital art here and some of his professional advertising work here.