Yannick De Smet (a/k/a Norke) is a Belgian illustrator and concept artist. You can find out more about him at Norke.be and at his deviantART page (http://norke.deviantart.com/).
How did you get your start as an artist and what was it like transitioning into a freelance career?
I’ve always wanted to be an artist and I spent a lot of time drawing and sketching as a kid. At the age of fourteen I went to an art school and learned a lot about the discipline. It takes a lot of effort to learn to draw with little effort. Fortunately, I started with some very good teachers who were able to pass on the love for sketching and painting. At eighteen, one of my teachers gave me the tip to buy a drawing tablet and learn to work with Photoshop. I created some little paintings at school and a classmate urged me to upload them to deviantART. Then I started to learn about other artists and tried to blend in.
Your digital paintings are beautiful and really reflect your initial training with traditional mediums. What was that transition like, from paint to pixels? Do you ever work traditionally nowadays? (Either for professional or personal projects?)
When I bought my first tablet (Graphire 4) I wasn’t a big fan. I kept on using the mouse as I didn’t like how it felt. My teacher told me to hang on, saying it’s something that needs time. It took me a few weeks to finally accept it before I used it on projects. By that time I was proficient in Photoshop, so the technical part was easy. Creating single layer paintings feels natural when you’re traditionally trained. Of course when the project asks for a multilayered way of working, it’s just a click of a button. I must admit that using the computer has almost replaced any traditional work. I just like the fast, nondestructive techniques. It’s not smelly, it doesn’t take ages to put up and doesn’t take a lot of space. Whenever I work traditionally, I’m building something like a maquette or a statue.
Your painting “Let Me Catch a Break Guys” is awesome on so many levels, especially after reading your tutorial on how you created it. I have a special place in my heart for a woman with a sword, and loved the preliminary sketches where you talked about wanting to create this real warrior, one with feelings, human limits, the exhaustion of battle. That really resonated with me. How did the idea for this piece come to you?
I fantasized about war and battle and a good story to paint. The idea was to paint a strong female fighter who knows her limitations, not the type who beats twenty well-trained men, then dusts off her shoulders and walks away—not the Hollywood type of hero. A warrior that has feelings and needs to rest; she could be sad about something while taking a break.
Where do you typically find your inspirations and motivations?
Watching movies is always a great start for new projects. Whenever I see a movie about dinosaurs, I want to paint some dinosaurs. After seeing Lord of the Rings or The Hobbit, I want to paint massive sceneries. I’m not a gamer, but my girlfriend is. Watching her play games often gives me inspiration for painting as well.
You’re very involved in art education and art community building: creating tutorials and organizing art events. How did you get started doing that and what are your plans for the future?
It would be unfair to have learned so much from other artists and keep everything for myself. When I heard deviantART had a chat room area, I created my own chat room for helping other artists. By talking to them, I learned that most don’t want to learn how to paint a nose—they want to know how their favorite paintings are created. Therefore, I started to make walkthroughs of my paintings. At each step, I take a screenshot and attach that to the previous screenshot. This way people can see how a painting has grown. Whenever explanation is needed it can be easily provided. Apart from that, I wanted artists to meet each other. I started organizing meetings and workshops around the country. Sometimes we did workshops, such as nude model sketching, or an art exhibition with our members’ art. Often we went sketchcrawling: We would meet in a different city each time and start sketching whatever we saw. It has taught me a lot about other artists’ approach to capturing what they see. Each month I organized the Themed Art Challenges where we would give a theme and a one-hour time span to create their vision on that theme.
I loved your tip about flipping the canvas as a way of getting a fresh view and spotting trouble areas. What other things do you do when you hit a lull in a piece, or otherwise run into an artistic roadblock?
As a kid I used to look at the clouds and try to see all kinds of shapes. This could be used to start projects. A tip I got from Scott Robertson was to draw all kinds of different shapes on pieces of paper, scan those in and import them into one document in Photoshop. Playing with the layers, it’s possible to create random shapes. At one point you might see a huge mountain, at other moments you could see a couple walking in the streets. I sometimes grab random photos from the internet and skew, rotate, cut and paste until I start to see a composition that might work. Another tip might be to start scribbling until you see something you might want to expand.
As a freelance illustrator, what does a normal workday look like for you? What are you doing when you are not working on an art piece? (Do you have any non-art related hobbies?)
I love playing basketball and badminton, but apart from those I don’t have any non-art related hobbies. I love goofing around with Sketch-Up. I constantly measure things up and try to recreate them in 3D. Is watching a good movie considered a hobby?
What are some “level-up” phases you can point to in your education/career: things, events, etc. that pushed you to a better (or different) working method?
I could say the Themed Art Challenges (where you take a theme and a one-hour time span to create a vision on that theme) has pushed me to my limits. What I learned from that is the importance of having deadlines. Whenever you’re working on a project, try to use deadlines to push a rush of creativity. It’s not easy to do so, but it will help you in the future. Projects like concept art or backgrounds for games often have a tight deadline and might push you to finish them in a very short time span.
Who are some of the artists that have inspired you?
I’ve always had a weak spot for James Gurney. The way he masters light and shadow is amazing. Often I browse through his work if I need some inspiration. Old masters like Bouguereau and Raphael often inspired me to push details. On the digital level, I like the work of Stanley Lau, Marko Djurdjević, and Yanick Dusseault, three artists I’ve been following since my early years.
What are you working on right now? Anything you are particularly hoping to work on next?
I’m working on a series of concept paintings for a game. I’m also trying to create a printed artbook and building my own scaled Tardis (Doctor Who fans should understand!).
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