Monday, September 14, 2009

Featured Artist: Liiga Smilshkalne

Artist Profile
Name: Liiga Smilshkalne
Job Title: Freelance Digital Painter
Client List: Northeast Games, LightCon Inc. Butterfly Fan the Inferno, and oodles of private commissioners.
Education: Bachelors Degree in Economics and Business. Currently studying for 2nd Bachelors in Politics. No art related education.
Years Experience: 7+ years
Favorite Medium: Digital
Specialties: Fantasy, somewhat realistic figure painting, whenever possible with a surreal or macabre twist.
Accepting Private Commissions? Schedule varies, please inquire.

Contact Info
Website or Web Portfolio:
Twitter: none
Online Art Communities: deviantArt, GFXArtist, Epilogue -- listed as "liiga" on all of them.

Artist Liiga Smilshkalne (pronouced "League-ah Smeelsh-kuhl-ne") is no stranger many of us who have been around the various online art communities over the last few years. Her captivating artwork tends to ensnare you like the delicately detailed webs she often paints. Her work has been featured in artbooks, such as Exotique, but recently she's seen a fair amount of exposure of a different sort.

Her painting, "Sunlight" (shown above) has become one of the more prominently displayed images advertising the online game Evony. The game has received criticism over it's blatant use of cleavage in it's advertising (among other things), which seems to be everywhere, thanks to Google ads. Liiga and I talked a bit about the Evony ads and what she thinks about them, below.

I think my first introduction to your work was the painting “Captured” over on Elfwood back in 2003. It seems like you’ve been around the digital art scene for as long as I’ve been, but it’s hard to dig up information on you. Tell us a little about how you got started as an artist? Where are you now, in the art industry?

I first got my hands on an easel, paper and paints at the tender and impressionable age of 3 and never quite let it go since then. I started painting digitally around 16, not long after getting a computer. Since it only came with MSPaint, I was originally extremely impressed by the amazing pixelation skills that the artists behind the digital paintings online must have had. After looking into the subject a little more, I came across communities such as Elfwood and Epilogue and the various digital drawing/painting programs out there. Well and it kind of went from there - not having a scanner readily available certainly facilitated my interest in digital painting as well, but mostly I was attracted to the interesting technical aspects and being able to learn a lot from others over the internet. Then I promptly set out to post on various art communities, and eventually commissions started happening. Right now I am gleefully working on mostly private commissions as well as the occasional game related project. Since I am still quite busy with studies at this time, it's the kind of art related employment that I am currently perfectly happy with.

Your work shows an unapologetic love for transparent things and incredibly tiny, delicate details. Who or what are your biggest inspirations, artistically?

I wouldn't be able to name a few specific artists that I've been inspired by, it is instead a long list of changing impressions by many people of different styles, depending on what I am focusing on at the time. At the moment ones that stand out for me the most are Brom with the way he handles colors and values, Ursula Vernon and her awesome texture work and daring imagination, Dali for being, well, Dali, and Lindra Bergkvist with the way she handles skintones.

Other than that, I am perpetually inspired by nature. I am lucky to live in a place with a giant meadow and small forests around, so there's plenty opportunities for observation. Having spent a good chunk of my childhood in the countryside that might be where the fascination with drawing tiny details stems from.
Well and translucent stuff is just awfully fun to draw like that, 'cause lighting is one of the things that I find technically captivating.

You do a lot of paintings that are for website designs—which is fairly unusual compared to how most website designs are typically put together. How is it different from just doing a regular painting or illustration? What kinds of things do you have to work around or keep in mind when working on website illustrations?

The sites I have done design so far have been related to fantasy games, so that makes the perfect excuse to do the whole design in a painterly style - which is helpful since I know more about painting than web design.

The main difference from a regular painting is, of course, that there will be content that is more important than the painted bits. Then there is also the whole technical side - how feasible it is to code, what will work with this or that browser, how large it should be, what happens when the content changes size etc.
Since I'm not much of a coder, I usually work closely with whoever is doing that part at the very beginning while brainstorming over what kind of design to have and how it would work, and the end when the images have to be sliced and otherwise prepared for the final presentation. And in between that lies the actual painting, which is more or less as painting usually goes.

A few months ago you licensed your painting “Sunlight” to the creators of the online game “Evony” for use in their ad campaign and game. The game’s advertising has received a lot of attention, and some criticism, for their overtly sexual messages. Perhaps complicating the situation, “Sunlight” is a self-portrait. Did they give you any idea, going in, that that was what they were shooting for? How do you feel about your image being viewed as a sexual marketing ploy?

The whole Evony thing turned into a bit of surprise, because I didn't expect that they would be quite so aggressive and suggestive with their campaign as a whole. Of course it isn't entirely lost on me that the painting itself has a certain amount of sensuality to it - it is mostly the context of the whole thing that was somewhat surprising, and amusing. 

I have read some of the online discussions about Evony's advertising campaign, and I do agree that the whole progression of the ad contents from the somewhat more timid fantasy figures to what appears at a first glance to be a lingerie ad was less than subtle. On the other hand, the whole concern of objectification of the female body and sexuality seems blown a little out of proportion. I mean, compare to a painting or a photo that depicts a person with the focus on some kind of external quality they possess - be it beauty, ugliness, green skin or three noses. Certain objectification will be inevitably present, because that is the whole point. Now one may argue that when the focus is on sexuality that it gets a little underhanded by appealing to the carnal desires, which I partially agree with - mostly because in this case it has absolutely nothing to do with the product being marketed anyways. However, the extent of concern that some people have expressed regarding the whole thing seems to imply that the ad and the image in it depict something far more explicit and sinister than they really do - although the suggestiveness has been heavily played up with the context of the ad compared to the original, I don't find it offensive in any way. Instead, I'm taking it as a compliment and getting a good chuckle out of the whole commotion - and of course, I don't mind the free advertising that came with it.

I noticed on your dA page that most of your recent commenters have been people who found the image after viewing it in the “Evony” ads. Have the ads increased your site traffic? Have there been any negative effects from the ad?

The ads don't directly state who the author of the image is, so the increase in traffic isn't that large, but enough people managed to find it that the increase was noticeable. There haven't been any particularly negative effects other than having to write more e-mails and notes than ever before, confirming that the image was licenced in a legitimate way. But it really just shows that people care, so I wouldn't call that negative either way. 

While browsing through the comments on it, I found it interesting that so many of us (and I’m including myself in this) saw the ad and immediately assumed it might be stolen, then contacted you about it. I can’t decide if that’s a good thing because it means that more people are aware of the problems of art theft and are willing to support the artist; or a bad thing because it means artists in general have become that cynical. What’s your view on it?

I believe it is a good thing. Image theft is hardly a recent phenomenon on the internet anyways - so a little bit of cynism in this regard and readiness to assume the worst and investigate is a million times better than collective apathy towards it.

What’s with the penguins?

This one gets asked every now and then. The penguins are a sort of romantic art exchange I do with someone special - other people give each other flowers, we give each other penguins. And we can share our penguins with the rest of the world, too, so hey - bonus!

Do you have any advice for other women out there who might be interested in getting into fantasy art commercially?

To not be afraid of drawing boobies? I do believe that it is more useful to think of oneself as an artist who happens to be a woman than a woman who happens to be an artist in this context, because one's artistic ability is the main variable here. Nevertheless, it is always beneficial to be able to identify which parts of one's perspective and approach to art are related specifically to gender, so that they can be used in a beneficial way. Oh and don't be shy to look at men for figure reference purposes - it shouldn't be just guys that get to look at girls like that.

Image Credits:
Above: "Sunlight" ©2007-2009
Liiga Smilshkalne
Below Left: "Rhea Dragonsblood" ©2008-2009 Liiga Smilshkalne
Below Middle: "Defiance" ©2009
Liiga Smilshkalne
Below Right: "Emerald Conundrum" ©2009 Liiga Smilshkalne

1 comment:

  1. I love the portrait above. Very realistic and fairy at the same time.

    Probably, you will be interested in showing my portraits of women in your nice blog one day. Here are links to my corresponding posts:
    Black and white female portraits

    Other female portraits with a little more color

    Good luck!