I really love art that tells a story and art that can evoke an emotion in the viewer. I also love it when lighting and color are really striking and pull you into a world. And when all of these get mixed together with fantastic understanding of form and drawing skills, I won't be able to stop looking at it..."– Jan-Wes
Based on his observations in the above excerpt, Jan-Wes might as well have been describing the very reasons why viewers find his art so visually stimulating and engaging. A concept artist and illustrator from Germany, Jan's considerable creativity is highlighted in his personal world-building project, exploring a struggling, underdeveloped society in outer space where resources are scarce and controlled by one group, resulting in an oppressive dichotomy between advancement and stagnation. Delve further into this intriguing narrative framework in the following interview, and learn how Jan developed into the artist whose style commands our enthusiastic attention.
Thanks for chatting with me, Jan! Let's explore your artistic background and development: When did you discover your passion for art and what steps have led you to your current position?
Hello there! Thank you kindly for the opportunity! Well, regarding my background, around 10 years ago I really started to get interested in art. Back then I was fortunate that my family paid for a basic painting course with a local artist. I guess that was the starting point of it. I began seeking out art on the internet that connected with me, and the growing digital art community made me want to start working digitally as well. A small Graphire 3 from Wacom was my entry into that area. Posting stuff in a German art-forum and on DeviantArt kept me going until I actually saw some progress.
At some point, the only thing I could imagine doing after graduating from school was art. I was always a big fan of gaming and was always amazed by the concept art I saw online. So right after my final tests I got on board a local game developer as a concept art intern. After having a great time there, I thought it would be nice to have a bit of a broader perspective instead of going straight into a full job, so I enrolled in a college (not as expensive in Germany as in other parts of the world, otherwise I don't think I would have done it) and studied Illustration for about 4 years. Since then I have been working in the games industry as a concept artist!"
A prominent project showcased in your gallery is Celsius 13. What is this story all about and where do you draw your inspiration in creating its world?
Ah yes, that is my current personal project that I have been spending quite a bit of my free time on for about 2 years now.
It's basically an overarching world design that I use to give my personal work a frame. I always have stories I want to tell or experiments I can try out and I don't have to worry about coming up with all the details every time.
About Celsius 13 itself: It's a colony planet that has had its contact to Earth broken off a few centuries ago. Back then the planet was still in the process of terraforming. When a civil war back on Earth prompted all the colony-ships that hadn't landed to leave back towards home, they took the vast majority of experts and scientists with them, stranding the remaining colonists on a half-terraformed, ecologically unstable planet.
Due to the rushed exit, a lot of high tech material was left behind, out of which this new one-city civilization sprouted. The city is ruled by a brutal division between those possessing knowledge of using and creating higher technology and those who depend on it. The poorest in the slums live their life almost as if back in the 19th century on Earth, while the most powerful guard their knowledge in spires above the smog of the colony, enjoying the luxuries of the modern age.
The Victorian touch that the inhabitants favor in their style comes from lots of the artifacts from the founding years, which were taken from an industrial magnate that was particularly fond of the style and themed his products in this way, being spread among the colony and thus influencing the culture profoundly.
My main inspirations for Celsius 13 are films and manga like Ghost in the Shell, Akira and Blade Runner, as well as artists like Norman Rockwell and Ian Mcque."
Your paintings are distinguished by a focus on tangible textures and mood. Take us inside your creative process in revealing some of your key techniques and how your style has evolved over the years.
I always start a painting with a pretty strong idea of what I want to paint already present. I find this part is probably the most important thing for me, because this is what gives me the most motivation. I usually will put down a sketch of what I am planning, too. However, most of the time once I start going into color, I end up working more erratically, working over different parts of the image lots of times until I am satisfied (or tired of it), and usually I will extensively make color corrections during and after painting it. If I work on a job I will be a lot more planned though, keeping all parts of an image on separate layers or groups and working on them individually, which makes adjustments a lot easier.
Another aspect I tend to find important is thinking about a story when I make art. It also helps you answer your own questions about parts of your painting you might not know how to work on. For example, if you paint an illustration of an old man sitting in a toll booth, you might add a bicycle leaning to the side of it to tell the viewer how he gets to work every day. These aren't necessary details, but they can enrich an illustration and make it expand greatly in the mind of the viewer!
The biggest change in my work has been that I am starting to integrate 3D into my process, but I am still just at the beginning and haven't grasped all the possibilities yet. I need to learn so much in that regard; I think it will benefit me greatly in the long run though!"
Do you have a favourite painting in your gallery? If so, what would you consider to be the strengths of the piece, visually and/or conceptually?
My current favorite is actually a drawing of mine called "Celsius 13 - Repairs Sketch". It's not a very exciting piece, but I like the story that can be told about the world it takes place in, with little details that might get lost in a big action scene. I feel like a simple snapshot of the life of a character can make you empathize with them. I also enjoyed how the yawning dude turned out; he has been screwing with those cables all day, he really needs a break! I might make this one into a full painting at some point."
Is there a tip or trick of the trade that helps to improve your workflow which you can share with readers?
I think being aware of why you are doing things the way you do, and noticing if you don't know and consequently asking yourself until you find out, will probably help you sculpt a workflow that is exactly right for you, personally.
I am guilty of doing things without thinking of purpose as well, which can result in pictures that I let rot in a forgotten folder on my hard drive because I don't like how they progressed. If you don't know what you want to achieve, it's gonna be hard to find the right workflow. For example, let's say you would like to make abstract landscapes. You can then ask yourself if doing a preliminary line-art maybe just impedes your process and try working without it.
For a more immediately useful tip: Organizing your reference material in a sensible way so that you can always find and access everything easily can be very helpful. Same goes for brushsets/textures/photoshop layers or even your own image files. The better organized you are, the more time you have that you can spend on the actually important part: making art."
What qualities do you find inspirational in your favourite artists or those you admire in the field?
I really love art that tells a story and art that can evoke an emotion in the viewer. I also love it when lighting and color are really striking and pull you into a world. And when all of these get mixed together with fantastic understanding of form and drawing skills, I won't be able to stop looking at it. The current favorite contemporary artist of mine is Ruan Jia!"
As an artist, how do you deal with creative setbacks or lack of motivation? Is there a particular challenge you overcame that you can relate to us?
Developing a project like Celsius 13 really helped me in that regard, because I literally never run out of new things to think about. When there is an entire world you can design, it becomes like a snowball effect. One idea sparks the next and it builds up motivation for new pieces you could paint based on the ideas.
Another thing that is always a calming thought is that if you spend time making art, you will always improve in some way. There is basically no escaping it. When I feel like I suck and nothing seems to work, I know that if I keep at it, I will overcome it.
The biggest challenge I have yet to overcome is being disciplined and working on parts of my art that are lacking in a focused way. I tend to switch between things too much, so it can be hard to see progress sometimes."
What advice has influenced you?
Honestly, I don't really know. I have a terrible memory, but there must have been something. I don't remember any life-changing advice, though. If I think about it more simply, a good advice comes from my parents: Do sports and take care of your body. Sounds simple, but seeing as I struggle with that still, it's quite important. I hope to be able to make art until I die, so it’s probably a good idea not to sabotage myself in that respect!"
What is your dream project?
I really love having a physical compilation of an artist's work. Something like graphic novels, comics, manga or art books. So at some point I really want to make a big fat tome of art that people love to leaf through and get gleamy eyes at."
What has been the highlight of your DeviantArt experience so far and how do you see the community as contributing to your growth as an artist?
My highlight was finding my ancient DeviantArt profile with my earliest stuff and seeing how far I got from there. When I was starting out, I really got inspired by tons of art on DeviantArt and it contributed greatly to me becoming a concept artist."
What other talent do you possess that others might be surprised to know about?
I played tons of League of Legends and wasn't too bad at it (purely casual, though ). I can also eat pasta every day without getting sick of it... wait, is that a talent?"
Is there something you are currently working on, or are excited about starting that you can share?
Yes! I am currently working on a game called "The Mandate" as a concept artist! I make lots of spaceship concepts and maybe I can show them off soon! You can check it out on the website or the KickStarter.
Thank you again for letting me ramble on here! I enjoyed it and hope you did, too."
Explore more of his work at the following sites: