Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Advice of a lifetime

By Jesper Ejsing

Here is a very personal epiphany I want to share with you guys.
before getting to the point you might need a little background story. The last one and a half year I have been doing a lot of concept art mostly for a local game company here in Copenhagen. Concept art is great and it is fun. For me it was a very well deserved pause from doing fully rendered and much detailed cover works. I was being a little fed up with the whole work load it is to do giant covers. Mind you, not that I do not like it, it is just becoming more and more predictable over the years, since I already know where this will go in the sketching stage: Already while defining the characters I almost feel tired from knowing how long a road it will be to render it all to perfectness. If anything that is the downside of rutine and of having done the same thing for so long.
So; the workday of sketching and concepting drawings that didn't have to be final rendered was a fantastic time. I could go with an idea, quickly sketch it and splash some colours on it and on to the next idea. It felt good and spontaneous and was just what i needed for awhile.
But after a year of doing that I was becoming like Bilbo Baggins "Like to little butter, spread over too much bread". I felt like a creative sponge that had been squeezed too much. The day in and day out of constant inventing and getting new fast ideas was draining my ability to create. I longed back to the pauses of actually rendering details and letting the mind go a little. I was tormented by the thought of never being able to be content as an artist if I couldn't do the one or the other way. If I couldn't be a concept artist and I couldn't be a cover artist, where would I find my place?
This was when I started doing the Plein Air paintings that gave me a release from the pressure and at the same time revoked my joy of painting. When painting a tombstone or an oak tree from life you can for the most part aboard the idea of thinking illustrative. the painting needs only a minimum of compositional thought and you can easily get lost in just painting what is in front of you. It was all I needed at the time.
Then I went to France with some friends to play roleplaying games for an extended weekend. My friend we stayed with had a neighbour who was a landscape painter and just in case he wanted to paint I brought my stuff also. His name is Paul Rafferty and he is a fantastic painter. We arranged so that I could paint at his studio with him. He was painting a cityscape and I started painted him painting from a spot in the back of his studio.

the final version
Pauls portrait
I started out as if I was doing an illustration. Sketching everything up in pencil lines and trying to get every detail right. I then proceeded to add colours, but after half an hour I noticed that the painting was going fast downhill and looking more and more like a shitty illustration no emotion and no drive. I was doing something wrong and was apparently oozing out my frustration. Paul asked me what was wrong and he looked at my painting/illustration. "Jesper, you are thinking too much like an illustrator" he grabbed a wooden board from a shelf and started painting me while talking. "you should concentrate more on shape and light than on line and composition", he said while dotting away on the board he held in his hand. I took a long look at my helpless situation and brought ot the biggest brush I had, and proceeded to do bigger more spontaneous strokes. When Paul showed me his quick little portrait I knew exactly what he meant: In less than ten minutes he captured everything needed with only blocking in shape and adding light. With that in mind I proceeded and ended up with something much more alive than when I started.
When we were done and talked over a coffee Paul suggested something. " you should try to loose all these narrative thoughts you have. Forget the composition and the idea of telling a story all the time. Because it will be there anyway. you have been painting for a long time anyway, it is with you whatever you wanted it or not and will be added subconsciously anyway, have no fear". When he saw the horror on my face he laughed" I know it must sound awful to you, having been an illustrator for so long but you should try to paint thing y ou like more, rather than solving assignments. In letting go and just doing what you like you will rediscover the joy of painting and the rest will come easier".
these were the words that stuck with me, and has ever since. There hasn't been a day where my mind hasn't gone back to those ideas. I have been, as many of you might know, obsessed with telling a story and being very focused on controlling every aspect of an illustration to maximize my narrative angle best. I have been developing a system for illustrating, a system that over the years has tired out. This "letting go" idea, will be my new road.
I will stumble, I will fail and I am sure to be extremely frustrated, but I will have fun!  


  1. Thank you for the very personal post Jesper.
    Your confession is really meaningful and this is not the kind of words we usually read on the internet, especially from long time artist such as you.

    This is part of why i love coming here at muddy colors, you guys are not only some of the greatest fantasy artist i know but also great human beings sharing knowledge, doubts and self questionning.
    It's a nice coincidence to read your post just after dan luvisi's text, these words are powerful reminders that making art is a long, difficult but hugely rewarding trip :).

    Here is a gif to express my gratitude:
    LETTING GO, letting goooOOOOooooo!

  2. This resonated a lot with me. Wishing you lots of fun times in your new path.

  3. Excellent Post it will be interesting to see over the years how this wealth of knowledge will blossom in your mind. and translate into your painting, i love seeing when artists breaks out of there Cocoon or is Refuelled from there old ashes like a Phoenix so to speak, you See it a lot with Musician more rapidly especially from album to album, so its cool to see it in a artist that inspires me a lot think about changing it up

  4. Jesper - jeg var Illustration Masterclass sidste sommer med Brian Froud. Hans metode er at finde motivet på et lærred hvor han først har slået nogle tilfældige streger eller lagt tyndt, ujævnt lag af grå guache. I disse tilfældige mønstre dukker der så et ansigt eller en form op som han arbejder frem. Det er en virkelig befriende metode som jeg kun kan anbefale. Samme metode kan bruges i naturen ved at finde former i træets bark, i sten eller lign. Prøv det :)