Craig Mullins, John Howe, Michael WhelanFavourite book:
Lord of the RingsSoftware used:
Melodrama lives and breathes in the pixels of Kuang Hong’s rich and imaginative illustrations. The artist has an old head on his young shoulders. His work has both the air of an accomplished artist and the energy of youthful idealism. These qualities enable him to open a window on a weird and wonderful futurescape. “Drawing these kinds of images gives me a sense of freedom,” enthuses Kuang. “It translates into a way to present totally what I think, without restrictions.”
He combines this outlook with a natural aptitude for creating characters. And his degree of empathy with them produces compelling results. “When I look at my characters’ eyes I feel illusions sometimes, as if they’re really trying to say something to me,” adds Kuang. Without that connection it would be easy to produce work with technical flair that still felt cold.
“When drawing characters I try to find their thoughts,” he explains. This gives him a way to look out through his character’s eyes. Kuang then paints the world he envisages around them. “I put down their feelings and environments next, adding the markings of time to their bodies and faces.” This is crucial if the characters are to gel with their scenes. “This is more obvious in some pieces than others,” adds Kuang. “I want their thoughts to be independent, cold, but still as one with their environment.”
He likes the viewer to feel able to take ownership of the characters; too personal and they become a turn-off: “The connections between the people in the paintings are treated more vaguely, to give viewers space for their imagination,” the artist points out.
Surprisingly, the painterly beauty of Kuang’s work is not the product of long years of traditional training. “My schooling was just like any regular kid in China,” he reveals. “Nothing I’ve studied ever had anything to
do with drawing.”
He admits to scrawling on the walls of his family home while still in short trousers, but recalls: “It wasn’t until I got into university that I started teaching myself to draw.” A personal style emerged quickly. “It probably formed a couple of years after I graduated.”
2B or not 2B
He first joined a game development studio back in 2001, as a young artist fresh from university. There, he was introduced to Painter. “I was extremely attracted to digital drawings,” he muses. “It was easy and fast, and I loved the brushes. They seemed so real! I’ve been working digitally for five years now.”
Today, Kuang lives and works in Beijing, as an art director for an online game company. He’s in charge of character and environmental illustrations and concept designs, but speaks of his work with characteristic modesty: “I’m pretty satisfied with the characters. The environments are at the experimental stage, but I feel I did them quite well.”
Not having been drilled in the traditional school, Kuang took to the new media with relish, but he still kicks things off with a pencil: “I love sketching with pencils, so usually I draw plenty of studies.” This gives the artist a chance to work out the details of an environment.
“Pieces that will be coloured are sketched with a blue pencil first and then the lines are further defined by a 2B pencil.” Then the studies are scanned and completed digitally. Although he has obviously got the technical aspects locked down, Kuang is aware that Painter skills alone do not make an artist.
A wise idea
“Foundations are important, but on their own they accomplish nothing. It’s the ideas that matter,” he stresses. Of course, it is important to strike a balance: “Even if you have the best ideas in the world, you won’t be able to communicate them without the basic hand-to-eye skills. Whenever I’m free, I try to practise as much as I can, with figures, perspectives and colours.”
There is no denying that we all need a certain amount of technical polish, but as Kuang points out: “If there is only technical strength and you draw every image like a photograph, then you might as well become a photographer.”