Favourite artists: Norman Rockwell, Aleksi Briclot, Iain McCaig
Software used: Painter X, Photoshop
Average time taken per image: It varies a lot, from ten days to one month
Kerem is an artist, he likes to set a scene, and he does so on this occasion by letting us in on a little secret: “I was scared a lot when I was a kid.” For the rest of us this might be a cause for sadness, or regret, but for a fantasy artist with a dark side, it’s a fond memory: “I’m an adult who really misses that fear.”
Creating monsters and demons gives Kerem a chance to revisit his old fears and bring a taste of them back for us to experience his wonderfully atmospheric work. “I’m doing the job I love,” he says. “I don’t know what more I could ask for.” For the love of drawing
Growing up in Ankara, Turkey, Kerem cut his creative teeth on comic books and cartoons. With such interests, he says: “It was inevitable for me to start drawing.” And the more he drew the more he recognised his natural talent: “I wasn’t making the same mistakes twice.”
But back then there was no internet and it was hard to guess what tools a comic-book artist might use. As a result, drawing remained just a hobby for too long and by the 1990s, with Turkey in an economic tailspin and Kerem now a teenager, his hobby became a secondary priority and he stopped drawing for a while.
Dissociated from his drawing, and realising there was no demand for illustrators in pre-millennial Turkey, Kerem decided to study graphic design. “This probably was the worst decision I’ve ever made,” he sighs. “Not only did it not teach me anything about the job, it actually took a lot away.” Demoralised but qualified, Kerem headed for the job market.
“I was 22 and I realised design was not the profession I wanted. I did very absurd things like selling CDs and realised that I was earning pretty good money.” Then, one dark night, a question occurred to Kerem: “What am I doing?”Black and white realisation
At the end of the 90s, comic books became popular again, reigniting Kerem’s childhood passion: “I started buying comics again and, since all the comics I bought when I was a kid were in black and white, coloured pages were a whole new experience for me.” To cap it all off, Kerem had heard that some of these new comic books were being produced digitally. He was curious: “I didn’t understand how this could be done.”
Searching the web for answers, Kerem found the GFXArtist community, “I felt the same way I did when I was five and first saw a Conan album cover. All my worries and questions were gone. I knew what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.” A little research revealed the tools of the trade, but before a graphics tablet would be of any use, there was work to be done. “I had to learn to draw all over again, so I devised a study programme and for a whole year I drew without even leaving the house.” Practice makes perfect
Kerem turned to past masters, such as Frazetta and John Buscema, as his teaching aids and sources of inspiration, at first imitating, then modifying and making changes. “I learnt from all of them and began to form my own style.”
This school of learning is not for the faint-hearted, though. “Nobody taught me the technique of fogging the background in order to highlight the foreground figures,” says Kerem. “I learnt it by observing.” Once mastered, this process of abstraction opens many doors. “Eyes that can distinguish the elements that make an image beautiful are the key,” believes Kerem. “Those who don’t learn this lesson and just copy others will never create something new.”
Kerem’s only regret is “having made the decision to become an illustrator a little bit too late.” He’s philosophical though. “I know that being young basically means making wrong decisions.” The important thing is to learn from them. “Now I’m doing the job I love and think that this is the key to personal happiness.” Happiness
You can tell that he means it. Even a cursory glance at his work over the last couple of years shows an incredible speed of improvement. “That’s the only thing I’m happy about with myself actually,” says Kerem. “I’m sure you would laugh your ass off if you’d seen my works from two years ago.” You wouldn’t laugh now though.
One of the reasons for the rapidity of his development is that Kerem is his own worst critic. “I can’t remember saying ‘Well, that’s it!’,” he says, with a clap of the hands. “Being hyper critical is very important, because wanting to do things better takes you to the next step.”
Being too critical, however, can lead to over-refinement. Fortunately Kerem has already identified this potential danger. “More details don’t always mean better work. A good painting is all about knowing how to apply the right contrast.” This includes getting the right level of detail: “You should mind this balance and leave some flat areas in your picture in response to the detailed parts,” advises Kerem.Guns, lots of guns
Like any young man growing up in Turkey, Kerem did six months of compulsory national service. “It was like Hell,” he says. But although Kerem wasn’t big on pulling triggers it had an upside: “I liked the guns from the viewpoint of their design and aesthetic value.” First-hand experience is invaluable for an artist.
This brings us to the thorny question of reference materials versus pure imagination. For Kerem this is a non-starter. He believes the solution is simply to attain a balance between the two – study your subject from many different angles, then create your own interpretation. “References and creativity should – and maybe have to – be blended harmoniously into each other.”
One thing that goes without saying, however, is that taking photographs and painting over them has nothing to do with using references. “That’s obviously cheating,” says Kerem.
From issue 23.