Favourite artist: Albert Edelfelt
Software used: Photoshop, Maya
Average time per image: Two days
While a select few are lucky enough to earn a living creating the outlandish and fantastical, for many the dream of turning a passion for art into anything more than a hobby remains just that. But there is a third way – one where artistic skills are harnessed for more commercial endeavours at work, and then free to fly away unfettered from the office. It’s exactly this practical approach that’s been adopted by Mikko Kinnunen. An environment artist at veteran video games studio Team 17 by day, he creates his dark, moody, often painterly fantasy art by night.
“At work I do everything from concept paintings to in-game 3D objects and textures,” says Mikko. “It’s very different from my painting, but though my personal work tends to be rather dark much of the time, it’s not the only style that I enjoy. And I find that the balance of different styles and subject matter keeps everything fresh.”Monster scribbles
While many dream of working as an artist from an early age, Mikko says the thought never even occurred to him when growing up in Finland. “Drawing was just a way of having fun,” he recalls. “I did draw quite a lot, but it was mostly small scribbles of monsters and disturbing stuff that quite often made my teachers contact my parents!”
Then video games entered the frame, and when Mikko and his friends decided to try writing their own, he found himself trying out a Wacom graphics tablet for the first time. “The problem was, none of us knew anything about the basics of art, so everything I did I pretty much figured out myself,” he recalls. “This led to very bad results most of the time.”
The experience did, however, inspire him to enrol for art school, but even there he found little to encourage or inspire him: “There were lots of cool people talking about art and drinking lattes, but none of us actually produced anything worthwhile.”
Frustrated, he left, took a day job and began practising painting in his spare time. A year later, after much practice, he landed his first full-time art-related job, designing graphics for mobile games. This offered financial security and a chance to become familiar with a professional production environment. Ironically, though, it was the continued dedication to building on his own personal portfolio that ultimately brought him to the attention of a recruiter for the games industry, to his current position here in the UK at Team 17.
Though Mikko’s art leans towards the organic, the creation process is 100 per cent digital, with Photoshop the program of choice. The only other tool used is Maya, which is utilised for occasional help with 3D grids and model blocking. The painterly style is all achieved without the aid of any additional plug-ins.
“The brush set includes a few of my own, which are mainly scans of acrylic paint stains, and I used a mixture of basic techniques, including painting with opaques and using texture overlays – nothing unheard of to the average Photoshop user,” he says. “If you want something to look painterly, then it has to be done by hand, there’s really no shortcut or magic tool to help you out. The real difficulty, is to add true content to the work, and that goes way beyond the use of a tool.”Dreamlike moods
When it comes to choosing subject matter, Mikko says the best results often spring from a dreamlike idea of a certain mood – a somewhat abstract approach that results in finished pieces often looking very different to how they were originally envisaged.
“I believe there’s nothing that you can’t make a beautiful picture from, and while sometimes it’s good to avoid the biggest clichés, you can also intentionally pick an overly used subject matter and give it a twist of your own,” he says. “But really the lighting and colour composition, more than the subject matter, define what I’m trying to achieve in a painting.”
Not surprisingly for someone who opted to drop out of college and teach themselves, Mikko is highly motivated when it comes to developing his personal portfolio. “You need to be able to work quickly in a professional world and I like to keep that in mind when doing my own pieces as well,” he explains. “All of the best artists I’ve met are very hard working, and that serves as an inspiration to me. But the truth is that it’s the work that pays the bills, which is always the priority. I’d like to paint much more in my spare time than I’m currently able to.”
Moving forward, Mikko remains just as level-headed: “Many areas of illustration really interest me, but I’m taking my time to learn before trying to master all of it. I want to keep things realistic and not try to spread into too many directions at once.”
He’s equally realistic about what time invested in his personal portfolio will yield. “My personal work is mainly a tool to help me get better, and hopefully that can lead to new work opportunities when I improve,” he says. “My first aim with my work is to keep the food on the table. After that, it’s all about enjoying what I do. So I’ll simply try to have as much fun as I can on the way. There’s really no such thing as a ‘ready artist’, so there’s always going to be a journey to something different.”