Creature artist Kristina Lexova discusses how her background in biology inspires her art and why you should give your creations room to breathe...
3dtotal: Tell us a little bit about yourself: Who are you, what do you do, and where are you located?
Hello, my name is Kristina, and I am a creature artist located in the Midlands of the UK; where I enjoy a tranquil existence learning, working, and dodging torrential rainfall. I was in the middle of my biology studies when I made the decision to fully commit to art a couple of years ago, and it has been quite the journey since!
In order to capture the likeness of particularly active or fast-moving animals, it's important concentrate on the main gesture and shapes. Details can always be added later via observation
3dt: Tell us about your creations and the type of work you love to make.
I've always felt equal amounts of fascination for art and biology alike, and the two fields tend to interlace with everything I do. Nature is truly a boundless source of artistic inspiration. I enjoy exploring the rhythm and flow of anatomy along the body, and how it is influenced by different poses. Another aspect I draw on is the expressive yet decidedly subtle nature of animal body language, which often tacitly conveys the personality of a creature in a piece. If in my work you can feel the coarse fur under your hand, hear a mighty call echoing from the cliffs, or perhaps see a shadow flitting across the ground; I'll know I must have done something right!
3dt: How does your background in biology inform your art?
The importance of being familiar with your subjects, both inside and out, cannot be stressed enough. Spending time around animals has given me a sound sense of direction in making a creature feel a certain way, while a knowledge and active interest in anatomy and behaviour allows me to seek out the information I require to bring a design to fruition. Another wonderful benefit is the constant contact with animals, which absolutely plays a role in keeping my mind healthy.
Preliminary sketches like these, completed in pencil, help me pinpoint where I'd like to go with a design before any rendering takes place
The Himalayan tahr is a type of caprid native to mountainous areas of Central Asia. These sketches depict female tahrs resting on sun-warmed rocks
3dt: What has been the most exciting project you've worked on?
Any work that allows me to undertake a good amount of research stands out in my mind, and I am grateful when a deadline allows for it! Seeing an animal or specimen up close conveys sensorial information that would otherwise be hard to come by; an idea of scale, perhaps a particular smell or sound.
For a recent article with Graphite magazine, I was able to spend an afternoon studying cetacean skulls and foetuses at a zoology museum, which subsequently informed my design for a whale-like creature.
Personal projects, too, present ample opportunity for learning. This winter, I frequented the zoo in freezing weather in order to observe a male Himalayan Tahr in full winter coat, a sight that cemented the final look of my Graphorn design.
My version of the Graphorn, a gold-horned beast from the Harry Potter universe, is well adapted to life in the mountains. A rugged and battle-worn creature, it is known for its dangerous temperament
3dt: What software and plug-ins do you use in your usual workflow?
In the initial stages, I'll often resort to good old pencil and paper, as the nature of the medium allows for brisk and gestural renditions; perfect for determining where I'd like to go with a given creature. It is also my preferred method for studying animals in the field. Any sketches that hit the mark can then be taken into Procreate
for a first pass before finalizing the image in Photoshop
3dt: What are your artistic ambitions?
Recent portrayals of creatures in popular media had left a sour taste in my mouth, although I couldn't quite pinpoint why. After some scrutiny, it dawned on me that some of the issues I had perceived, most notably a lack of emotional depth, had been plaguing my own work just as much. I'd like to continue tapping into a more emotionally reliant creative process, hopefully resulting in designs that are not only aesthetically pleasing, but have a palpable feeling to them as well.
Eventually, I also wish to make a difference in our approach towards animals, and, by extension, creature design. There is a tendency to underestimate just how perceptive and intelligent they are, and many still view them as lesser beings, condemned to be props in a narrative rather than characters of their own.
Animals (and creatures) are charming in ways that are quite different to humans; making them all the more fascinating to study
Ungulates, or hoofed mammals, are amongst my favourite animal groups. They have an inherent grace to them, no matter their size
3dt: What new skills, software or techniques would you like to learn in the future?
As a general rule, anything that helps me better communicate the intention of my designs is great. When a creature takes shape in my head, it not only encompasses the visuals; but also how it would act, sound, and even smell! I've recently picked up ZBrush
, which I hope to become proficient in, and I've been toying with the idea of trying out simple animation and sound design to bring my creations to life.
3dt: How do you keep your portfolio up to date? Where do you keep it?
I have a bit of an aversion towards focusing on "portfolio pieces", as it often generates unnecessary stress that can impact the success of an image. What yields far better results is making sure I stay restless and approach my projects with an innate desire to learn and progress, giving my art the space it needs to develop.
Recently, my rate of improvement has sped up once again, and I have found myself replacing most of my work. I've recently set up a proper website over at klexova.com
, and anything new will be uploaded there.
This desert creature laps dew from hollows high up in trees to survive. Strong legs help it gain entry to termite nests, while its tail acts as a counterbalance
3dt: If you weren't an artist what do you think you'd be doing?
That's an easy one - judging by past experiences, you'd probably find me doing anything that would allow me to interact with animals. My passion has already led to me volunteering at a veterinary office, a pet shop, and a parrot shelter, to name a few; and ultimately, it has brought me to where I stand right now: creature design.
3dt: What can we expect to see from you next? Any cool projects we should look out for?
It would be wonderful to be able to apply my knowledge to games and film at some point, as these are media that are in need of creatures in their entirety; movement, vocalization and all.
At the present, however, I'm enjoying learning and exploring my art as much as I can with the time available. Luckily for me, I am forever chipping away at a massive backlog of creature ideas just begging to be brought to life, so I don't see myself running out of things to do anytime soon!
An anatomical piece completed for Tyler Rhodes' charming ‘evolution!' project, where childrens' drawings of creatures are fleshed out by artists
See Kristina Lexova's work at her site
Read Kristina's article on creating creatures in Graphite 4
There are more great tips on sketching and creating animals in Masters of Sketching