Inspiration

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A journey into the dark sci-fi dreams of a concept artist - #MemberSpotlight

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From lovecraftian creatures to the insurmountable forces of nature, Stijn Windig certainly loves capturing ideas and crystalising them into a beautiful work of art.

As a concept artist with indisputable talent, Stijn has the honour and burden to display moods and characters with his creativity. And we say he's been doing quite well for a long time.

For this Member Spotlight, we learn more about what makes Stijn tick and what he loves about the industry, as well as some incredibly fascinating insights into his passions and creative process. And get ready to admire some amazing paintings too!

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How did you get into the industry?

I was always drawing, so it was natural to go to an art school. I studied fine arts, and animation. After graduating, I started a 3D animation company with my friend, Michiel Krop, (https://mixil.nl/) in 2001, in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. At that time, 3D was booming, and we were lucky to be able to get interesting work immediately. We worked on television commercials and made our own animated short films. We got into trouble during the financial crisis in 2008, because a lot of the commercial work dried up.

Michiel had left the company already, we were essentially bankrupt, and I was disillusioned with the advertising business. I always found the pre-production phase the most enjoyable in the animation pipeline, so I decided to go solo, so to speak, and transition to concept art and illustration. It took me nearly 10 years, learning new skills, figuring out where to find work, and supporting my family at the same time.  This was by far the most difficult time in my career, I really had to start from scratch again, and I’m still finding my way. 

Where are you based now and who do you work for?

I’m based in Castricum, a small village slightly north of Amsterdam. I’m working freelance, for various Dutch companies, and also for international clients.

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If you weren’t in your current industry, what would you be doing?

I’m not sure… realistically, I’d probably be a teacher, I’ve taught at several art schools and I really enjoy teaching. If I’m allowed to dream with this question, I’d move to the Caribbean, start a diving school, and help clean up the oceans.

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Can you explain your creative process?

It depends on the job, but generally, I start with regular pencil or digital sketches to generate ideas and composition. These are sent to the client (or, in the case of personal work, I pick one), and after feedback on those, I build stuff in 3D, using Blender and VR modeling software like Adobe Medium and Gravity Sketch. Since I’ve been doing 3D for a long time, I’m very comfortable with it, and I can be pretty fast too. I’d say about 60 to 80% of my time in any given project is spent in 3D.

When I’m happy with my scene, I’ll render out a couple of render passes, (z-depth, ambient occlusion, and a clown pass, mostly) and start working on top of the render in photoshop. Then it’s just noodling in photoshop until the image is finished. That sounds simple, but I find this the hardest part, actually, deciding when it’s finished. Digital tools are so versatile that you can easily end up trying different things forever, whereas, if you’re painting traditionally, you’re committing  to a certain path much earlier in the process. 

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How would you describe your style?

Scifi-fantasy-surrealism? I don’t really know, it’s hard to describe images with words.. When I attend art festivals and such, I bring a stack of really tiny books with my work, so that I can give them to people who ask what type of work I do :) I find it works better to show than to tell.

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Which individuals do you gain inspiration from? Do you have any heroes in the industry?

I grew up looking at images by Moebius, Bekzinski, Michael Kaluta, John Bolton, Otomo, Syd Mead,  Loisel,  Geoff Darrow, Liberatore.. there’s so many! I still get a lot of inspiration from the old Metal Hurlant (Heavy Metal) magazines. From the ‘newer’ artists in the digital age, I look up to people like Craig Mullins, John J Park, Theo Prins, Simon Stålenhag, Gilles Ketting, Jad Saber, Florent Lebrun, Jama Jurabaev…, again, this is just what comes to mind now, this list could be huge.

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How has technology affected the way you work?

I was trained as a traditional painter, but included digital as soon as computers got fast enough. My first was an amiga 1200.  I’ve always been keen to try out new programs and ways of working, even to the point where it’s actually distracting from simply making a good image, which is always the end goal.. Having spent so much time with different 3D programs and renderers, I’m now making a conscious effort to concentrate on painting fundamentals. 

That said, the last 4,5 years have been amazing in terms of hardware and software. Fast graphics cards, Blender, so many useful resources like sketchfab and quixel, working with 3D right now is like a dream, compared to a decade ago. VR sculpting is a big one for me, being able to hold your objects in your hands while working on them still feels like Sci Fi to me. It literally is what I dreamt about when I was a kid!

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What’s your secret to staying inspired and motivated?

As long as I’m not stressed out, I’m generally inspired and motivated by default. Reading comics, watching movies, meeting other artists are all excellent ways to stay inspired for me as well. Going to conferences like THU, IFCC, or the Dutch Playgrounds Festival is great! Traveling is always super inspiring too, and I wish I could do more of it, especially to remote places and different cultures.

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What’s the work achievement you’re most proud of?

Frankly, I’m most proud of the fact that I’m able to make a freelance living from doing art at all. Working from home, being able to support my family while and spending time with my kids is exactly what I wanted to do, and I’m very grateful that I get to live like this.

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How do you recharge away from the office?

I live close to the beach, and if there’s wind, I go kitesurfing. Without wind, I go running, walking, or cruising on an electric skateboard. (or a regular one ;)) Since I’m always at home, I really have to take care to go outside, otherwise I end up not leaving the house for days and that gives me cabin fever and I get grumpy.. I moved out of Amsterdam to enjoy nature more, and that worked out really well. I also meditate every day. 

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What is one tip that you would give to other aspiring creatives looking for work?

I’d advise them to really do in-depth research into the type of work that they want to do. If there’s a certain illustrator or concept artist that you admire and you want to do that type of work, investigate what their clients are, and what those clients need from an artist.

What type of industry are they working in? Talk to people in that industry and find out how they get their work. Learn the skills that they have. Go to art-meetups as much as you can, and (politely) ask a lot of questions. Set a specific goal, and plot out a path to get there. Make it like a detective game, and take your time for it. This process can take years, since there is no obvious roads or map, and the industry is changing rapidly too. Adapt, adjust your path and goals where necessary, there’s no end to the path, just a lifetime of practice and navigating. Enjoy the ride.

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What’s your one big hope for the future of the industry?

I would like it very much if the mainstream entertainment industry becomes less money-driven and more risky and underground. Both in games and film, there are these massive  blockbuster productions that require huge budgets, and therefore look amazing, but are very safe in terms of story and content. We’re constantly re-hashing the same couple of stories, which I find very boring. If the economic systems would allow for more freedom for independent creators, I think the whole industry would benefit. This is already well on it’s way, so I’m hopeful. Simon Stålenhag is a great example of someone who is successfully doing his own thing for example, or Inside, by Playdead, which is a gorgeously freaky indy game. I’d like to see (and work on) more of those. 

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If you could change one thing about the industry, what would that be?

Netflix would realise that Dark Crystal Age of resistance really does need more than one season, and they would hire me to work on it.

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Do you have any websites, books or resources you would recommend?

Comics! Read more comics, folks! :)  

I recommend Hellboy, BPRD and everything to do with the Mignolaverse, really. Everything by Moebius and Otomo. The best comic I discovered recently is CODA, by Simon Spurrier and Matias Bergara. It’s wonderful and I keep re-reading it.

Art-learning books: Alla Prima by Richard schmid, Color and light by James Gurney, Framed Ink, by Marco Mateu-Mestre. 

I would also very much recommend William Gibson’s latest 2 books: The peripheral and Agency. I read Neuromancer when I was about 18 years old, and it really changed the way I looked at the world; it made me realise that we’re already living in ‘the future’, which made everything so much more interesting to me. He is doing that again with this new series, and it’s absolutely brilliant.

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