3DTotal: Wow… Marta Dahlig! I never really know where to start with names this big, so can you help me out a little and ease us into the interview with a little information about yourself; how you originally got into the digital painting field and how things have led you to where we find you today?
Oh, please don’t say that! As uncool as it might sound, I am very far from what you might describe as “artistic”. I have an immense talent for making a great mess wherever I go, and sure, it’s a great excuse
to blame it on my “artistic soul”, but other than that I am as normal and down to earth as it gets, really!
As for my beginnings, I have been painting since my earliest childhood – art started as simply a way to spend my free time and has gradually become a means of expressing my opinions and emotions.
I was introduced to digital art around seven years ago, at the age of fifteen, by an acquaintance whose CG manga fan art I adored. I fell in love with the technique instantly! I started painting with a computer using a mouse in Painter 7, and, after a couple of months bought my first cheap (and very trashy) tablet. In search of feedback, I started displaying my works on various Internet forums, which helped me to evolve in terms of technique as well as the content of my work. The evolution of my so-called career as a digital artist came quite suddenly. Actually, I think I was a bit lucky to paint something that became popular so quickly. The first big breakthrough in my artistic life came in 2004 when I released the first of my Seven Deadly Sins series – “Vanity”. The warm, enthusiastic feedback came as a total surprise! Basically, from that point onwards, everything progressed at a rapid speed – thanks to the “popularity boost”, I got my first corporate projects and have been working commercially non-stop ever since!
3DTotal: Looking at your portfolio as thumbnails on my monitor, I am pleasantly met with a vast array of stunningly beautiful character illustrations, all of which are highly regarded images in the digital art community! So how do these images generally come about? Can you talk us through the creation of your artworks from concept through to final image?
In general, I would say my working process consists of two stages: planning and actual painting. The thinking stage is as important as it is painful. I never paint for the sake of depicting something pretty – there has to be at least some edge to a painting or a hidden meaning to keep me interested in it! I am extremely scientific about the whole process, which might not sound super cool, but I can’t imagine myself painting first and then thinking about what was it that I wanted to convey afterwards. Art, in my understanding, has to be as intellectually appealing as it is visually. I devote hours to planning my works out. Usually I take something I find aesthetically attractive and push the idea to make it intellectually challenging. I introduce contrasting symbols or storytelling elements that will enrich the piece’s narrative. Of course, more often than not I end up changing things as I paint, but having a plan for an image ensures that I know what my goal is – what it is exactly that I want to achieve. Only when I know what to paint and how, can I start the actual painting part. If the chosen subject is especially challenging, I dig for references and research on the topic to understand its historical and cultural contexts.
Quite often I end up planning an image for a longer time than what is required to paint it – I sometimes spend two weeks on and off thinking about an image, while the actual painting takes a couple of evenings. For a standard painting, the technical execution usually lasts from 20 to 40 hours spread among a couple of evenings, powered by cups of steaming tea or coffee and obligatory almond chocolate!
3DTotal: It’s really great to learn a little about the thought process that goes into your artwork creation – thanks for sharing all that with us! Have you ever tried to paint something without putting thought to it beforehand, letting your mind and hand roam freely? Or do you find (like me) that a blank canvas can be pretty daunting if you haven’t already decided on what you’re going to do? With this in mind, how do you keep your motivation up and the ideas constantly flowing? Can you work on more than one piece at any time, or do you generally take each as it comes?
To be honest, I feel absolutely lost when I try to paint something without any plan. I can do loose practice sketches or speedpaintings without any preparation but, as the meaning of a piece is far more important to me than anything else, I would simply not feel comfortable painting a full blown image without having anything to convey.
It is very frustrating at times, since it requires much more pondering and “theory crafting” than spontaneous painting would. To keep my motivation up and my ideas flowing in harder situations, I
simply try not to think about painting! Usually, the more I try to force myself to think of something,
the harder and longer the process gets. So I do other things instead; I listen to music, read and generally try to relax my mind. For more “active” remedies, I sometimes write down word associations with a theme of choice to boost creativity or browse art online in search of inspiration. When it comes to workflows, crossed deadlines quite often require me to work simultaneously on a few images at a time but, whenever possible, I try to work on one painting at a time. Feeling emotionally involved in most of my pieces requires my full attention in terms of planning and execution, which makes multi-tasking for various projects quite complicated. For example, I never work on personal and commercial projects simultaneously, so that I don’t distract my attention for one project with the other – I prefer to carefully plan one image at a time and be sure every painting gets my full commitment.
3DTotal: Viewing your works you can actually feel the emotions of your characters – almost as if the works were photographs of real people captured in life. I’m sure you get told this all the time, but it’s really quite exceptional that you can illustrate a character in such a way that we can feel exactly what he or she is feeling through the strokes of paint applied to your digital canvas. Incredible! So do you have any artist secrets that help you to achieve this depth of emotion in each painting?
I suppose that is where the aforementioned painful planning stage comes in. If an artist knows exactly what they want to depict, it is a natural step to extend their idea onto the facial expression. It is such a common problem of fantasy art, modern as well as past – you see a beautiful character, an original design, but no emotion at all. Especially nowadays; the search for perfect technique replaces the
ambition to actually state something through a painting. My remedy for this is treating my characters as real people – I underline their personality with facial features. I love to paint strong women – no weeping princesses or bland fairies, I prefer “my girls” to be provocative and daring (never sexually though). This doesn’t mean I never paint subtle characters though; I just always try to search for something original in a face and make it less sugary-perfect. And so, I tend to paint stronger jaws, bolder eyebrows or bigger noses than the beauty cannon would suggest.