James Knowles is a talented digital illustrator with an interesting and unique artistic style featuring 3D renders and Sci-fi imagery. In our interview James breaks down some of the steps he goes through to create his amazing art, James also gives a lot of insightful advice throughout the interview to the other designers out there.
Q Welcome to Psdtuts+, please introduce yourself. Could you tell us where you’re from and how you got started in the field?
Hi. I’m James and I was brought up in Liverpool, England, and now live in Stratford-upon-Avon. I’ve always been a creative person since childhood, and discovered digital art in my final year at university (2000) when I discovered Photoshop for the first time. Ever since then I’ve been hooked!
Q Is there a certain finished product you have in mind when creating your abstract 3d models? Or do you simply freestyle until you see something you like?
A bit of both. Sometimes I have a clear idea of how I want the image to turn out (based on a sketch or simply a form in my mind) and so will strive to recreate it faithfully, and other times I completely freestyle until something ‘clicks’ and I have a nice render to go with.
Q A lot of your work revolves around Sci-Fi themes blended with abstract 3D models, could you tell us how you developed this style of design?
I guess it’s a result of spending a long time looking at Sci-Fi, surrealism and abstract art over the years, and absorbing certain tried and tested techniques, whilst trying to create something original. I think of all the genres, Sci-Fi is my most favorite, so I mostly have it in mind to create futuristic/fantasy based abstract art.
Q Tell us a little about the programs other than Photoshop that you use to create 3D models and scenery. Have these programs influenced your design process in any positive ways?
Other than Photoshop, I mostly use Cinema4D as I find the whole interface to be a lot more user friendly and intuitive as opposed to Max or Maya. I also sometimes use Mandelbulb3D, a 3D fractal generator, to create abstract/surreal scenery.
I think once I understood the basics of these programs (as well as grasping their limitations) it gave me a great working knowledge of the functions I can exploit to help in the creation of a lot of my images, so there have been plenty of positive outcomes by using them effectively.
Q How exactly does Photoshop factor into your workflow when you are creating an illustration?
Apart from working on photographs or for sketching/painting purposes, I always use Photoshop to ‘fine tune’ an image. For instance, virtually every image I create in Cinema4D is going to need some serious color correction as well as other forms of post processing. For me, Photoshop is the final equation to getting a great looking image, as I find the tools it provides (adjustment layers, filters, etc) are invaluable, and can turn an average image into something quite special.
Q “The Guardians Of Tanmaugh” is an extraordinary abstract 3d illustration that features some stunning models. Please walk us through the process of creating this piece.
I started this image in Mandelbulb3D, and it was originally going to be just an abstract. Firstly, I must say that Mandelbulb3D takes a fair bit of getting used to, so if you haven’t tried it yet, give yourself plenty of time to experiment. I used a couple of built in parameters, and also used the 3D navigator to move in and around the fractal image until I found a ‘sweet spot’. It was at this point that I played with the lighting and atmosphere settings which are great tools for helping to create surreal landscapes etc. As I did this, it began to resemble (in my mind) some kind of huge futuristic vehicle, so I naturally went with it, set the render parameters and rendered it out.
Once this was completed, all I had to do was enhance the atmosphere
by using a soft brush in Photoshop to add some clouds, then I painted in the small ‘fighter craft’ using local colors to keep the overall theme consistent. A final bit of color correction and slight levels adjustment and it was finished.
Q What do you think is your biggest challenge in terms of your artistic process? Have you overcome this obstacle yet? If so tell us how.
I think my biggest challenge is occasional creative block – a lot of artists will be familiar with this! I’ll sit at my desk, ready to create something, then nothing happens!! I suddenly find myself struggling to conceive an idea and it feels literally as if my creative juices have completely ran out!
When this happens I do one of two things; I’ll either go online and scour through art galleries (typically DeviantART, The Luminarium, Behance, Shadowness etc) and find something which will
kick-start an idea, or I’ll get away from the desk completely and read something, play a game or go for a walk, as sometimes ‘switching off’ from being creative and absorbing other influences can help spark ideas also.
Q Thanks again for providing Psdtuts+ with this opportunity to interview you. Any final thoughts for our readers?
It’s been a pleasure! I guess my final thought is somewhat cliché but just to keep on creating and never be afraid to try something new. Also join as many art communities as you can and try to get involved in forums, as you’ll always find new techniques and advice which can only help you become a better creative!