Soon to graduate from San Francisco Academy of Art, Jason Chan has a passion for comic book art and a newly discovered love of traditional masters.Software used:
Painter, Adobe PhotoshopWeb: www.jasonchanart.com
Life is made up of many moments, some of them just stick for no apparent reason. These are the question marks that we all carry about with us, Jason translates them into paint: “I love to depict tragic beauty, innocence, loss of innocence, sadness, pain, and silence.”
“In a way,” says Jason Chan, “my art is a way for me to show people my mind and how my mind interprets the world.” That interpretation is rich with something we all too easily overlook in our daily lives: “The feeling of other worldliness and mystery.”
“Fashion, people I know, and life experience, I can draw influence from anything.” Jason channels it through into that fantastic mental filter and out it comes: “If anything sparks my interest, you may see it again somewhere in a painting.” Art is the expression of a person’s experiences.
“I have a three panel piece of my angel character leaping from a highway overpass. This image was born from me observing a fence on an overpass,” he explains. “I used to draw a lot of love themed images and more sexual images. Before that I drew a lot of monsters and demons,” says Jason. So the choice of themes represent a step away from past considerations, and are definitely a side-effect of Jason’s training.
From Mario to Warcraft
As a kid Jason used to reproduce his favourite cartoon characters, “I’ve always loved to draw. I would draw Mario and MegaMan, then I moved on to X-Men, Final Fantasy, then Warcraft.” It’s a scenario that will be familiar to many. Jason’s imagination quickly made it clear that other people’s ideas were fine to practice on but there were other fish to fry. Soon he was making up characters of his own and his development continued at a pace with Jason creating his own ideas: “I learned by drawing the art that I liked.”
And the art Jason likes is such fertile ground for the imagination, to the right viewer it flicks the ‘anything’s possible’ switch in the brain: “Growing up, my favourite movies were Aliens and Terminator. My favourite books were all fantasy books.” Jason was kind of immersed in this whole new world: “It was only natural for me to want to illustrate those as well.”
Talent plus hard work pretty quickly led Jason to employment, but like many artists, those early commissions were learning experiences. Jason’s first big job was a series of black and white interiors for “an RPG book that will remain nameless.”
As you’d expect, Jason was quite excited, this was the first time his work would be published. “It was a lot of work and was for really lousy pay,” Jason recalls, but that was outweighed by the lure of seeing his drawings in print.
Jason was new to the business and made a fatal mistake: “I signed a contract saying that I was going to be paid when the project was complete, not just my portion of the work.” Jason finished his part of the job only to find that the project had crashed: “One of the artists didn’t deliver the cover, deadlines were missed and then silence.”
It’s a tough break, but a professional artist needs to keep an eye out for this type of thing. It was another four years before Jason heard from the publisher, things were finally picking back up: “The book was published, but I never received a copy and I’m still waiting for my pay.” Lesson learned.
Style and process
Though Jason’s work speaks of an artist with a strong vision and the talent to back it up, the artist himself feels his particular style is only just beginning to emerge. “My work,” he says, “is a sort of mishmash of manga/anime style with traditional western painting aesthetic.”
“I came from a background of drawing video game characters that were mostly Japanese in origin,” says Jason, trying to give us a clear picture of his evolution as an artist. “But in college, I began to study the western aesthetic.” This unlocked a number of doors which are now in the process of being explored to the full.
Jason’s art may be moving forward, but his roots are still exerting a strong influence over his work: “I still find myself playing games and watching anime and thinking they’re cool.” A more considered, painterly approach is beginning to take hold: “I’m still working on every aspect of my work,” says Jason. “I want better design, colours, lines, anatomy – everything.”
Jason’s methods are as varied as the images he creates, in fact there may be some connection there: “Sometimes I will begin with pencil. I’ll doodle a lot and look for a good composition.” The doodle might form a starting point or lead to a nicer sketch before scanning: “Other times I go straight to the computer without any sketches.” A single process would tie Jason down and risk losing the spontaneous feel his images radiate: “I like to change up my process,” he says, “to learn more and to keep things exciting and fresh.”
This approach stems from a kind of artistic self-diagnosis, you see, Jason has a one-track mind: “So if I want to play video games, I’m not going to really do anything else. If I have a book I’m reading, I won’t be watching TV.” The myth of multi-tasking has passed him right by. There’s a silver lining though: “I suppose it’s helpful when my focus has to be on my work.”
Creating with coal
Another thing that helps is having a clear idea of where the focus of your creativity lies. “The key to digital painting,” says Jason, “is not in the software.” You can know Photoshop and Painter inside and out, “but that won’t make you create good art in those programs.”
What makes a good image is the same today as it always has been: the artist’s knowledge and skill. “I think sometimes people lose sight of this,” argues Jason. “The computer is just a fancy pencil.” Do not be seduced into thinking otherwise.
“A good artist could make an amazing piece of art with a piece of coal,” but to do that takes practice as well as talent: “It’s studying anatomy, people, objects, colours, composition, and light that make my pieces work.” The program really comes last.
Now that the creative floodgates are open, there’s no limit to what Jason can draw on – painting, illustration, the lot, “I’m even starting to draw from fashion and just every day life.” It’s all going into the pot: “We’ll see where that takes my art.”
But this phase, exciting as it may be, has its own perils. With choice comes consequences: “My interests pull me in every which way,” Jason admits. “One side wants me to stylize my work more and focus on design and rhythm, while the other wants me to master realism.” It’s a creative tug of war.
The one thing that can guide you through that is a clear idea of where you want to be. Here’s what Jason has to say on that subject: “I would like to try and do a lot of things. I want to be involved in a good videogame, a film would also be nice and I’d also enjoy doing book covers.” Given his ability, that’s all within reach, but he wants even more for himself. “Maybe one day I would like to write a novel.”
In his stride
Jason is aware that Rome wasn’t built in a day: “I’m just taking it one step at a time,” he breezes. And one image at a time, too: “I just have a lot of ideas in me that I want to express in different media.” The trick here, like with many things in life – and art – is to find your equilibrium.
But there aren’t a lot of people with the requisite skill to produce images like ‘Undersea Romance’ and ‘Angel Kiss’. “Undersea Romance was something I did for fun over a weekend,” says Jason. “It’s not my most technically impressive piece, but the mood was dead on.”
The feeling in the creative cross-hairs on this occasion was “beauty and the beast, but between two other worldly beings.” These frisky fish-people embody that perfectly, ‘Angel Kiss’ on the other hand is a shocker. “It’s not overly gory or complex, but it’s very potent for so few elements.” Indeed, this picture is an inspired composition, cleverly relying on the viewer to fill in the back story.
Jason’s goal is to move people, to affect them directly with the power of his imagery. “I’m always happy whenever I get a reaction from people,” he says. “Whether it’s warm tenderness, sadness, or disgust.” It’s the artists’ age-old desire to connect directly with his audience.