ARTIST FOCUS: BARRETT BIGGERS
This week, rejoining us for our Artist Focus series we have biologist turned graphic designer, Barrett Biggers. We interviewed him in 2012, which you can check out here, but now he’s back to talk more about all things geek art related.
Just as a quick refresher, tell us about yourself. Where are you from?
My name is Barrett Biggers and yes as is the tradition of Scotland, my heritage, I am true to my last name, haha. However my birthplace is here in Florida, born in Naples in 1982 and have lived in Central Florida - the Orlando area - my entire life. Born to an average family I had a normal childhood I guess. My mother was a Biology teacher and my Father a newspaper editor / creative director. I am married for 10 years to my wonderful wife, Emi who is from Tokyo, Japan and came to America for college ( and stayed for me later on! ). I live in a suburb of Orlando called Casselberry (Not as Knightly as it sounds however) and have plans to one day be able to move to either Japan if it is still safe and not underwater but more likely to the Seattle area, my favorite place in USA.
What is your day job right now?
Art is not something that I was born with or decided to take seriously until I was much older. I grew up thinking you never could make any money with fine art. I was good in science and sucked at math, so I pursued Biology, but I always drew, painted, sketched for “fun” on my own in-between. A true “Closeted Creative” haha. So I have a degree in Biology from University of Central Florida and started working as a Wildlife Biologist after school. I was a bartender all through school to pay for it and didn’t even take a single art class. After 3 years in the Biology stuff I realized I was not going to ever be truly happy doing it and at that time I had started hardcore watching tutorials and buying a Wacom tablet to learn digital arts on my own. As with many stories out there, it’s your passion that dictates your ability, not necessarily expensive schooling.
So I ended up taking a job as a Graphic Designer for a beverage company. Trial by fire, years later and a Lead Artist job past I am now fully self employed working with a “cloud” ad agency as the Creative Director/Lead Artist for Crankshaft Marketing, which I have been doing since 2012 and absolutely love it! I also am the Lead Artist of SIX Nutrition , a multivitamin Men’s Health product.
All of my “Geek” art I do is on the side in-between the day jobs. It is my true passion to be a full time Geek Artist and original concept/character creator once I get more popular! I do fan art mainly now but ultimately want to be known for my own original characters and unique style.
What’s your “origin story” with becoming an artist?
So I started doodling in High School around 16. I have to admit that Nintendo games and Japanese anime got me started in drawing. I sort of became involved in the anime scene and into rpg gaming around that time more and more. When I was younger in the 80s-90s however I grew up with Nintendo classic and Super Nintendo and 64 so they were huge in my life.
In high school I started getting more serious in trying to hand draw characters I admired, from like Dragon Ball Z, Evangelion, Lodoss War , etc… I started in traditional art and got into charcoal, pastels, watercolor, and oils. Looking back I SUPER SUCKED, but it was an important first step to be introduced into traditional fine art media so that I could realize the advantage and versatility of digital later on. It also taught me the fundamentals of light/shadow, perspective, color theory etc… I am super critical of myself and my art, so even though I hated my end product I saw potential if I kept at it over time.
Tell us about what inspires you in the art world. Any artists or genres in particular?
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were huge as a young child and beyond. But Japanese culture, manga, and their animation style called “anime” are probably my largest influences. Japanese pop-culture and products are also Nintendo, PlayStation Saturday morning cartoon shows, etc… So much of Japanese culture has been integrated into my generations childhood, we just didn’t know it until later. However American cult classic fantasy films and sic-fi were also huge influences and still are. Movies like Neverending Story, Dark Crystal, Alien, Labyrinth, Legend, DUNE, etc… I’m not a hug book worm but some books too like Narnia, Lord of the Rings, Communion, Jurassic Park, etc. As for the most influential artists that I look up to I would say there are 3; Yoshitaka Amano, Hayao Miyazaki, and H.R.Geiger.
Yoshitaka is my favorite of the 3 because he has been able to incorporate everything I find interesting in the world into one piece many many times. Not only is he responsible for the Final Fantasy characters, he has been influential as a Modern artist doing all media but most notable his paintings and lithography work. I am obviously a huge fan of mythology and Asian mythology to be more exact so to see his art was love at first site. Hayao Miyazaki is a favorite among many and for me it’s not only his painting and sketching style, it’s his attention to details of all the environments he creates. Every time you see a Miyazaki film you could write a Bible of sorts on the world he created. It’s so deep and the innocence of the characters that comes and goes throughout each film is incredible. H.R. Geiger is a much more macabre and dark painter/illustrator that is most famous for creating the sci-fi Alien film series concepts. Overall his art is very erotic, organic, alien, and extremely geometrically detailed; all things that interest me greatly. His use of symmetry is incredible.
Tell us about your process. How do you tackle new projects?
As for process for a specific game, like Legend of Zelda for instance, it is kind of a hodgepodge of resource hunting, wikipedia reading and even playing the old games over again. For instance I had a lot of compliments but also a few haters on my Rupee poster. Each game had a different color rupee for the price…so I picked the one form my favorite Zelda, Twilight Princess. Ha I didn’t imagine people felt so personal about a rupee color!
Overall it requires research on my part. I’m not the most hardcore gamer by any stretch and I find I like the older games I grew up with more than today’s “perfectly 3d animated novels”. However a great recent game was by Studio Ghibli called Wrath of the White Witch, or Ni no Kuni. Absolutely stunning and great story. I even did a fan art piece for it :)
My digital paintings are always trying to feel like they were originally traditional so I try not to have very obvious “digital” brush strokes of faded overlapping circles. I try my best to use scanned in art resources like watercolor splashes, ink stains, paper textures, etc to make the digital paint feel real. In the end my art files tend to be over 2GB large from all the resources and painting on top of the original!
The vintage line art black and white is more straight forward in process. I get a reference image and sometimes trace out an outline but usually just eyeball out a silhouette to start. From there it is additive construction of light areas and lines, which takes a very long time. After the main character or scene is illustrated I take a coffee break and then get to the more fun stuff like vintage elements, borders, flourishes and typography. Each piece is unique but you can see a vintage advertisement style carried throughout, I think it is very unique and love doing it. I use a lot of old Victorian and Nouveau line art scans and purchase some form the internet stock sites as well. i have a massive resource library collects dover the years. *Prays to the God of Hard Drives that it stays spinning*
A lot of your posters are designed to look like advertisements. How did that inspiration come about? Is there a different approach in creating an ad for something from a video game?
Yeah that is me being me. Ha. I am a bit sarcastic and humorous by nature. Nothing too bad but I can turn a phrase fairly well. So after many years looking at other artists in the Geek art space I wanted to make something that incorporated my love of graphic design/advertising with old time-nostalgic,vintage motifs and forms. Vintage design is a hot art tend right now anyway, but I don’t follow trends so much, they come and go. The flat 2-D shadows thing will be over soon too :)
In fact I have no particular love of one or another historical era, but if I had to choose my favorites, I’d choose Art Nouveau, Victorian, Art Deco, and Futurism styles. My main style of art was given the nomenclature of “Geek Line Artly”. It is a unique art form to incorporate iconic geek ideas with vintage/traditional ornate black and white illustration – symmetrical, geometric and simple and yet deeply complex the more you look. Vintage “Apothecary” style advertisement (a.k.a Snake Oil) is a huge inspiration for my work. The black and white is “stamped” or letter-pressed into antique paper textures to give it a more realistic vintage feel. Its almost identical to traditional advertising. You have your message at the core and the most important elements of any ad are: memorability/uniqueness, branding/logo, and targeted audience acceptance. So I try to incorporate all those elements into a new ad piece, like for the Hylian Shield Legend of Zelda piece I came up with a brand (the Hylian Shield Foundry, LLC.) that is going to be “sold” to a targeted audience of Hyrule, say warriors. Then I came up with a vintage, witty but funny slogan or memorable line that gamers and warriors understand but also the general public can get and hopefully fall in love with. And finished it up using symmetry and ornate vintage typography and themes to make it even more interesting and pleasing. Top it off with authentic paper old textures and letter pressing and then you got yourself a poster for Hylian Shields, by golly!
What is the best art advice you have ever received?
Well I have a degree in Biology. I never once took an art class. I admit, whole heartedly, that if I had the money and time, I would have LOVED to go to a formal art school. However I struggled many years with the lack of confidence from not having a degree to get into the art world, both commercial and fine art. I was lucky to some degree, but the lesson I have learned in life is YOUR PORTFOLIO SPEAKS LOUDER THAN DEGREES. If you have good work form your heart and are passionate about art, you have nothing to fear. I always went online and spent hours, I admit some jealously, collecting other digital artists images and studying them. Eventually I bought a Wacom tablet and just sucked for a couple months straight, but then it clicked and I started to get a little better each time I painted. Learning commercial design has helped me INCREDIBLY, even to fine art painting. Learning about colors and the psychology of advertising is key to making a successful piece. No matter how many fine arts will snuff their noses at commercial artists, you will never know how to make great art without understanding the “retail” psychology of great art.
One of my Biology professors in college once told me, “You can’t do what you think people want you to do, you got to do what YOU think you want to do, or at least try it!” I’m so glad I decided to do that. If I hadn’t “tried” a new career in art I would not be here today and probably still stuck chest high in a 100 degree black water Florida swamp full of snakes and gators! In fact Art has saved my life hahaha!
Tell us about your current projects. Any upcoming shows?
Right now I am doing a 3 part commission for a client of 3 characters in my intense emotional painting style, Fran and Balthier from Final Fantasy 12, Lulu from Final Fantasy X, and then Vincent from FF7. I am also doing a StarFox epic poster series of all the main “map areas” in space from the Super Nintendo/64 versions, my favorites. Also the 4 Arwing pilots too. I did Fox already!
I am going to be at a smaller local art show here in Maitand (right next to Orlando) in December called Big Bang Bazaar.
But the highlight of my art shows will be at MegaCon 2014 here in Orlando Florida in March. I went to MegaCon last year and was blown away because it was my first art show ever and I went BIGGERS!
I hope to see you all there!
What do you like to do for relaxation/fun?
I mountain bike a lot and try to take “hikes” in-between work craziness. My wife and I like traveling to new places and eating at new restaurants and just “hanging out”.
I love drinking new coffees and drinking red wines. My favorite drink is Yamazaki a Single Malt Scotch on the rocks! I think I have a few drinks as I paint to help my “perfectionist” die a little with each sip so I can enjoy the process more - hahaha.
Are you playing any video games currently? Any upcoming titles that you are excited about?
I was playing FinalFantasy 13-2 but not too thrilled with it. I feel like I have been in the ChronoTrigger before hahaha. I’m excited for Lightning Returns next year!
I found Journey on PS network and was absolutely blown away by it!
I need to get the PS4 and Wii U next!
What is your most memorable video game experience?
Final Fantasy X ending - I almost shed tears at the end when Tidus couldn’t be with Yuna. I didn’t ever feel an emotional attachment to characters like that until I played that game. I had played the game for like 3 days straight because I got so into it. It was probably the best overall FInal Fantasy I have ever played.
If you could be a dinosaur with any super power, which would you choose and why?
Velociraptor that can run at Mach 3 and shoot laser beams out of his eyes. Haha raptors are my favorite dinosaur and I think having speed is the most important superpower! Laser beams are for protection, ya know? :)
Want to keep up with what Barrett is working on? You can follow him on Tumblr for starters. Also check out his Etsy shop, website, or DeviantArt gallery for more of his work.