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The Art of Cole Eastburn

“I like the idea of ancient beings, battles, monsters, and legends.” Concept artist Cole Eastburn demonstrates the importance of natural affinity...

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Age: 25
Country: US
Client list:  Stratogon Entertainment, THQ

 Web: www.eastburnart.com

Cole Eastburn has an interesting take on the strange worlds and characters he depicts. “Most of my ideas and creations are inspired by the past,” he says. “Even in my futuristic stuff, I like a sense of ancient wonder, something that has stood the test of time.”
These venerable beings and structures have purpose: “Usually being killed by some bad-ass soldier-looking guys.” But not always. Cole’s work takes a historical or mythological point and extrapolates from it – and thanks to the chaotic nature of imagination, this process quickly finds us looking into uncharted territory.

Use your imagination

Oddly, for a man whose life drawing displays obvious ability, Cole chooses not to work from life. “As far as reference goes,” he says, “I don’t like to use it.” As with many in the concept art world, Cole chooses his own imagination over the real thing but crucially he acknowledges that: “Everything comes from reference. Either you know the subject or you don’t.” So although the concept artist hasn’t got time for life models, you need to develop an understanding from life. He gives an example of how this works in practice. “If I were to do a Roman soldier design, I’d look at several pictures of armour and designs, study those, and then move on to my concept.” That’s all the reference he uses: “I don’t like the whole ‘just take a picture and copy it’ as my painting thing, because you don’t learn that much from doing that.”

Cole’s approach is a demanding one: it requires building up an internal copy of the world from which you draw inspiration. “I’d rather know why the armour has a bolt there, than just slapping it on there,” he says. “ That way, next time I’m working on another character, I know his armour would need a bolt so that piece pivots and whatnot.”
There’s a steep and potentially never-ending learning curve involved, but the dividend is the freedom to let your imagination run wild. “It’s a matter of really studying your references and knowing the whys,” explains Cole. Until then the gaps in your knowledge will be filled by research and enforced creativity.

Roll with it

New images can occur in a number of different ways for Cole, and his approach to a new production takes account of this: “When it comes to design and composition, I like to let things roll.” And giving intuition a free hand can lead to startling results.

Cole doesn’t work entirely without structure, though. “For example, when it comes to lighting, I feel like you have to plan that out because it determines a lot of things in the painting, such as form, mood and where the viewer’s eye will flow.” It’s a structural approach as opposed to a purely prosaic composition, one that would naturally favour free-flowing ideas.
This is borne out by the fact that Cole enjoys working concepts up from shapes that he’s discovered. “If I don’t have anything in mind, and I just want to create something, I use the whole inkblot method of painting,” he says. Cole finds this process “cool and very exciting” and when it’s done it’s done: there’s no goal set out in advance, it’s a process of evolution.

Bookstore training

The source of this freestyle approach is intriguing. One possible answer, Cole suggests, is that he was never traditionally trained. He did dip his toe in at the Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale, but unfortunately, this wasn’t a good experience. “It was horrible, so I dropped out – much to my dismay of my parents and girlfriend – and got a job at a small game company in South Florida.”

Training meant going to bookstores every day after work and studying there. “I did a lot of life drawing while I was there too,” says Cole. But there was a priority: “I wanted to learn digital first because it’s faster and it’s usually what the industry calls for.”

Traditional materials have much to offer, though. “I love traditional, and I love digital,” he says. “Although all my painting is done digitally, I use traditional to do my studies, character design sketches and life drawing.” One need not exist at the expense of the other: “Both have their place.”

Digital fits the concept world better because it’s more forgiving and flexible than most traditional media, Cole says. “If an art director walks in and says: ‘I want that to be blue, and that to be smaller,’ you just have to do some Lasso and some colour adjustment and you’re done.”

What makes traditional irreplaceable is its proximity to nature: “There’s such a raw chaos that happens with texture, and colour that’s just amazing to look at.” Getting to know and understand this relationship is essential for any artist, digital or not.

Always learning

Growing up in South Florida, Cole had a couple of important moments courtesy of Blizzard Entertainment: “Ever since I saw the booklets for Warcraft 2 and Starcraft, I have wanted to do concept art,” he enthuses. The importance of this cannot be overlooked as Cole and others in his position develop and progress: it’s their work that will be inspiring another generation. This, it turns out, is the ultimate goal for Cole: “I just want to continue to learn, and teach others what I can.”
Those Starcraft moments have stayed with him and influence him today. “My biggest dream is to work next to Samwise and the talented art team at Blizzard, creating quality artwork all day, learning everything I can, teaching whatever I can, and quoting movies!”

That’s quite an ambition. In the shorter term, “I’d love to have my art on a magic card one day.” And even more directly, Cole would like some permanence. “My plan is to submit to every company I can, get a job creating awesome art with a creative team of people where I can learn, teach, and grow as an artist.”

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