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Henning Ludvigsen

“One thing I like to do is add strangely skewed elements that make the viewer stop and think,” Henning Ludvigsen is playing with your mind.

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HENNING LUDVIGSEN
Age: 30
Country: Greece
Hailing from Norway, Henning now resides in sunny Greece. He has 12 years of design, illustration and digital art experience and is an art director for a game developer.
Software used: Adobe Photoshop
Web: www.henningludvigsen.com

Sometimes everything comes together at the same time, and I wish I could slow down time to get around to doing it all.” Henning Ludvigsen is getting close to critical mass and it’s clear why. His work is just so damn good.

Ten years in the advertising business has taught him how to focus on what matters and for Henning that means fantasy art: “I’m not one for hidden symbolism in my art. I settle for simple ideas like ‘chicks on a bat’, or a ‘nurse with a sword’, just because I think it is cool.” And so it is!

Early days

Henning, like so many kids, recognised his talent young and spent his childhood with a crayon in hand. At the age of 16 he started at art school in his native Norway and not long after that discovered the joys of digital art… on the Amiga, believe it or not!

“On the Amiga it was a trend to copy pictures of the old-school fantasy artists, like Boris Vallejo and Frank Frazetta,” Henning recalls. “The program I used was called DeluxePaint, it had very limited functionality. Everything I did had to be manually anti-aliased, it was more closely related to pixel art than painting.”

After just two years of art school, Henning spent a couple of years clocking on as an ad agency designer, where he got to know programs like Photoshop. “I had a top position as the creative director in a nice advertisement agency in Norway while working on a computer game project – Darkfall – on the side, just for fun.”

Henning and his collaborators had been plugging away at Darkfall for years when, out of the blue, they got an offer. “Suddenly one day we got a once in a lifetime proposal from an interested investor and we all had to move to Greece,” he explains. One day you’re within a stone’s throw of the Arctic circle, the next you’re sipping Ouzo, perfectly normal behaviour.

As the computer game project got extended, Henning had to sell all his belongings and quit his old job in Norway, but he wasn’t perturbed. “Today, I am very happy things came down to this, as I was more than ripe to get a break from the advertisement agency industry.” There are some complications though: “I’m not sure whether to call myself a digital artist, computer game developer, or graphic designer. Guess time will tell.”

Fantasy world

“At art school we went through all the stages of traditional art,” says Henning, casting his mind back, “from still life to live, nude models, from pencil drawing, to pastels and permanent paint.” And you can clearly see the benefits of this training in the artist’s control of composition and tone but classical subjects weren’t what drove Henning’s imagination.

In case you hadn’t guessed: “What really interested me was the fantasy related themes that I couldn’t study in detail at school.” Try as they might, Henning’s love of fantasy art proved resistant to all forms of training, a particularly good stroke of luck for his rapidly growing army of fans.

The theme which kicked in while Henning was still twiddling bits on his Amiga has made it to the sunlight of public attention but this situation is not without its pitfalls, as Henning explains: “I get all my commissions from random people on the internet. I have no idea how they got in touch with me, or why they ask me to do their art.” So far so good.

“All I know is that I am really thankful to get these requests but it’s a risk doing commissions over the internet, as you never know if the person at the other end will pay you at the end of the project. I’ve lost many hours and money to people who’ve tricked me the past couple of years.” What kind of person would do that?

The realistic depiction of a stranger than life universe is the quintessential goal of the fantasy artist, and Henning fits this mould perfectly: “What I’m trying to achieve,” he says, “is semi-realism combined with drips of weirdness?” The question mark perhaps suggests that Henning himself is being led by his art, not vice-versa.

The artist confirms this: “I will always do my art the way I enjoy doing it. Making art based on other people’s opinions is something I would never do.” That’s not to say he doesn’t have goals: “I’ve always pursued the skill of mastering realism. Before, I was focused on mastering as many different styles of art as possible, but as I got older I grew away from that and am now sticking with what interests me the most.”

Surprisingly though, Henning doesn’t see his images as coming from an internally consistent personal universe. “I am not a storyteller, I guess I’m more of a character creator and pure illustrator.” The back story isn’t Henning’s concern: “All my characters have their own stories, I’ve never thought about creating a special world for them.”

Self-training

Henning may work digitally now but his background is entirely analogue. “My art education finished just before they started using computers as part of the curriculum,” laughs Henning. “This caught me a bit by surprise when I went out in the market looking for a job.” Our boy was unfazed though. “When I got a job as a graphical designer I just had to teach myself how to work digitally.”

The forced march style of learning obviously suited Henning: “I’ve never taken advantage of all the great digital art courses that are available at schools or online.” Instead, he prefers to rely on the good graces of fellow artists, out there on the web, “with their feedback I feel I progress fast enough on my own.”

If stagnation was a problem, he would most definitely look elsewhere for help. It’s unlikely he’ll need to look far, though: “My girlfriend moved in with me last year, I’m getting a lot of input from her as she is also working as a digital painter.” Sounds like things are really coming together.

Digital fidelity

It’s not just that Henning works primarily in the digital medium, it’s all digital: “The last time I made a pencil sketch must be over six years ago.” That shows real commitment, particularly when you consider that his training was exclusively traditional and that background is hard to shake.

There’s still a soft spot for the old school ways and Henning is willing to admit that he occasionally strays back to the analogue, but it never lasts. “Once I discover the absence of “undo” functions in real life art creation, I go crying back to my computer,” he laughs.  And the computer will always gladly take you back.

So a new image starts life as a digital sketch. “The resolution on my sketches is usually medium to prevent lag on the computer,” explains Henning. Any break in the feedback loop between brush and artist would be fatal to the freedom of the piece, so sketching digitally requires fast kit.

“Also, as I’m very interested in realism, I usually use a grid on top of the reference picture I’m using.” This technique ensures correct proportions. “It’s an old trick but it works just as well digitally, as on paper,” says Henning. Working in greyscale also helps to focus the mind: “I like getting the shape ready before adding any colours to break my concentration.”

It turns out there is an element of classical training that stuck: “I believe that you simply have to look at pictures to emulate realism.” Drawing from the imagination is clever, but, as Henning explains: “There are things that your imagination just can’t emulate, especially when it comes to light and shadows.”

Reference pictures have another selling point for Henning: “When painting characters, you already have the personality in the facial features, ready to be painted. It’s too easy to make faces look “perfect” or generic if painting from imagination.” Our eyes are trained to look for these subtle inaccuracies in what we see, “so human flaws are important details that make a character convincing.”

Now and then

For Henning, life seems to have its own rhythm at the moment: “Living in a foreign country means it’s hard to make any long term plans, so I live more in the moment than I did before,” says the artist, “and lately I’ve had too many requests to be able to deal with half of it, and have to turn down decent offers.”

It’s not surprising that time seems to be slipping away given the number of projects Henning has on the boil: “Besides working fulltime on the Darkfall game I’m also working on some more trading cards for Fantasy Flight Games, a website and a magazine.” Then the thing to watch for: “A secret project I can’t talk about yet.”

“I’ve always been quite ambitious,” says Henning, “I work hard to reach the milestones I set for myself.” Fortunately, those milestones are things we can all identify with: “I want to be able to work fulltime with things I really enjoy doing, like 2D digital art.” Looks like he might just get that wish.
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