Artist portfolio - John Kearney

Average time per image: The time that John spends on an image depends on
the complexity and detail required. He says: “there’s a massive time difference between a basic sketch and a completed painting. In fact, there’s even a substantial difference between two complex paintings, depending on the subject matter.”


Talking to John Kearney, it’s clear that John’s somehow unearthed something remarkable within himself;
a natural ability that has enabled him to create work that ranks alongside the very best fantasy art.

“I remember reading about the artist’s ‘First Fire’,” he enthuses, “a sudden flash of inspiration that all artists experience at some point. It’s a moment of crystal clarity and vision, a tantalising glimpse at something exceptional in your subconscious. Whatever it is, it’s important to try to capture the essence of that intensified moment of perception by sketching down all you can before it’s gone.”


Quick learner

While this kind of inspirational epiphany might be a common stage in artists’ development, what is unusual in the case of John is how quickly he has developed the associated technical skill to commit his visions to canvas. “Bizarre as it may sound now,” he says, “before last year I’d never completed a 2D digital painting. I’d dabbled and messed about, but I never had the opportunity to take it further than that in a professional capacity.”

Until a year ago, John had been employed full-time as a 3D texture artist in the games industry, which didn’t offer him the opportunity for expression he needed.  He describes it as “soul destroying.”

“I completely lost all of my creativity and passion for the job,” he says. “I started out like most young artists do, with a romantic vision of how great it would be to create art professionally. After realising how cynical and disillusioned I’d become, I quit my job and decided to go freelance as a 3D/2D artist to try and recapture my motivation.”

Freed from the constraints of the 9-5, John set about developing his portfolio. He completed a number of paintings and posted them to the 2D art site, and quickly garnered praise.

“I was unbelievably surprised by the support I received,” he says. “I had offers of work almost immediately and it enabled me to continue expanding my portfolio and improving my ability at the same time.”

It was through his work on ConceptArt that he came to the attention of this magazine, and he has become a regular contributor, a highlight of course being painting the stunning Beauty and Beast dual covers for issue 8.

John works primarily in Photoshop, though he dabbles with Painter occasionally. The hours he put in at his previous job using Photoshop have meant it has become second nature to him.

“I know it well enough to forget I’m actually using software when I’m painting,” he explains. “It becomes like a pencil or a paintbrush, at no point do I have to stop and work out how to do something, which means I’m able to get into the flow and paint at my full potential.”

Though the majority of his work is created digitally, John doesn’t think the tools are all that important. “I feel I could do whatever I do digitally to a similar level with traditional media,” he assures us. “It’s crucial to improve your eye and judgement for any art related discipline, and digital is just another outlet for that fundamental ability.”


Natural media

So while many Photoshop artists devote hours to creating their own custom brushes, John opts mainly for Photoshop’s default Natural Media brush set and would rather try and paint details rather than let a snazzy brushes do the work.

To keep up the momentum, rather than slavishly working on a single, big project John often works on several paintings at the same time, using reference material for one, while another will be created entirely from his imagination.

“In the long run, I feel it’s going to benefit me and improve my overall technical ability,” he says. “I’m certainly not sure whether it’s the best approach, but I don’t really care – I feel it works for me and it’s a personal challenge that motivates me.”

John is self-taught for the most part and admits his formal education hasn’t really been relevant to his eventual career path.

As part of his studies he undertook a placement at game studio Elite Systems and, impressed by his portfolio, they offered him a job immediately. At the tender age of 18, John describes his move in to the world of work having been “a baptism of fire”, but it was clearly a formative experience 

“The professional experience I gathered through working full-time with other artists helped me immensely,” he says. “There’s nothing like milestones and deadlines to
get your arse into gear.”

Right now, John’s happy working as a freelance illustrator, but would welcome returning to a full-time position should
the right opportunity arise.

“I’d love to be part of an art team with a lot of potential and ability,” he says. “Film work would also be of huge interest to me, designing creatures for the movies would be a dream come true.

“I’ll keep my options open, continue doing the best work I can and see what arises. Whatever I do, I’m going to grasp
it with both hands and see how far I can push myself.”