Favourite artists: John Singer Sargent, John William Waterhouse, Masamune Shirow and Yoji Shinkawa
Software used: Painter and Photoshop 7
“I have a fascination with finding beauty amongst chaos,” says Daniel Conway, when asked to describe his work, and it’s a theme that manifests itself throughout his images. The delicate red parasol of Her Silent Silhouette highlighted against an apocalyptic landscape; bright blue flowers flourishing between decaying skeletons of long-dead robots in Forget Me Not – Daniel adds a tinge of hope to these otherwise melancholic scenes.
“I’ve always found the most memorable pieces of art are those that had some kind of an emotional impact on me,” he says. “I really enjoy creating something that people can engage with. Emotion can be conveyed visually in many ways, from lighting and colour to the poses and facial expressions of characters…”
Daniel first got involved in digital art five years ago. Inspired by the work he saw in online galleries, he admits that he couldn’t initially grasp how the images were created on computer, struggling as he was to produce images with a mouse. He says, though, that he made a big leap forward when he acquired a Wacom tablet.
“I often say these days that trying to colour with a mouse is like painting with a brick,” he explains. “It doesn’t really work.”
Having previously only worked using pencil and in black and white, he describes the move to digital art as being an enormous learning curve.
Daniel now works using a combination of Photoshop and Painter with a Wacom Cintiq, the hybrid LCD display and graphics tablet. Working from sketches he uses Painter’s Artist Oils for quick colouring and blocking, but he says he tends to stop using them as his work develops, because the tools aren’t designed for detailing. “With the blending tools I can work in a very messy style,” he says. “Because I know I’ll be able to blend my colour seamlessly when I need to.”Turning Japanese
Japanese manga is major influence on the futuristic sci-fi visions of Daniel’s work. His illustrations frequently feature recurring Japanese characters amid desolate cityscapes, but he insists he’s not going to completely immerse himself in that world.
“I’m not going to be painting any bug-eyed, pointy-nosed characters soon,” he smiles. “However, what I do find influential about a lot of Japanese animation is the sheer attention to detail.”
He’s also paid homage to his favourite example of the genre with his rendering of characters from Masamune Shirow’s Ghost in the Shell. He cites the artist as a major influence on his work along with Yoji Shinkawa, the conceptual artist who has worked on the games Metal Gear Solid and Zone of the Enders.Traditionalist
While his work might feature contemporary fantasy subjects stylistically, Daniel’s influences come from more traditional painterly sources. He expresses a strong admiration for the work of portrait painter John Singer Sargent and Pre-Raphaelite John William Waterhouse, who, he says “demonstrates a very strong and natural understanding of light.”
It’s these fundamental principles that Daniel has tried to work on into his most ambitious work to date, Sub Emergence, which features extraordinarily detailed lighting. “Light is an incredibly hard thing to get right in an image,” he says. “The only way to really learn is to simply observe the world around you, just look at the way light interacts with different surfaces. If you’re going to paint water droplets then it’s fairly important you know how the light is refracted, which will cause inverted reflections of the environment around the droplet. Most people know what a droplet of water looks like, but not exactly why it looks that way.”Day job
Daniel studied traditional and digital animation at university. Though not directly relevant to his current work, he says he learned new skills that then enabled him to expand on his artwork. After graduating, he secured contract work for Universal Records, counting the Fightstar album artwork among his projects, but he’s since found full-time employment as a conceptual artist at games developer Activision. He’s currently busy working on the eagerly awaited Enemy Territory: Quake Wars.
Time, he says, is the only difference between the work he does in his day job and for pleasure. “I don’t have deadlines when it comes to my personal work, however, in the studio I do,” he muses.
The upside to this is that the constraints of time have led him to develop some new techniques. “I’m finding new methods of speeding up my workflow,” he says. “Instead of painting in all the texture details by hand, I’ve found that photographic texture overlays will suffice and produce a similar effect.”
These skills developed under the pressure of the studio environment have fed back into personal work, enabling him to make light work of the more tedious parts of digital painting so he can focus on the more interesting bits and make more intricate artwork. “Painting in all the individual bits
of dirt on a muddy river bank isn’t the most exciting aspect of digital painting, so these days I might be inclined to use photo sources mixed in with my painting,” he says. It’s a technique though, he warns, that could be overused: “I’m not an advocate of digital artwork that’s simply a photograph painted and smudged over to trick the viewer into thinking it was all done by hand.”
In the future Daniel hopes to return to animation and art direction: “starting out in music videos and ending up in film” using the skills he’s acquired as a digital artist. Looking back at his earlier work, he says it’s clear the progress he’s made. “My early work is embarrassing due to the improvement I’ve made over the past five years,” he concludes. “I hope that I’ll feel just as embarrassed by my current stuff in another five years time.”