About the artist

This week we meet LoFi. LoFi is a graphic illustrator and fine artist who works in a mix of digital and traditional media. Her inspiration is comic art and she gravitates towards sci-fi and apocalyptic themes. Although mostly self-taught, she completed an art foundation a few years ago.

At present, she is concentrating on getting ready for her first show with VisAbility, a group dedicated to providing a platform for artists with invisible illnesses. Having herself struggled throughout her life with depression, her art is central to keeping her going when things are rough.

LoFi’s art can be seen at the VisAbility Arts exhibition from 9th to 13th August 2019. Click for more details.

How did you first get into digital art?

Comic art has always been an inspiration. As modern comics pretty much default to digital; it was natural for me to move into digital as soon as I got serious with art.

I’ve done a lot of photo-manipulation and digital collage work, too. Mostly it started as a way to make joke images, memes and so on, but I’ve racked up a lot of hours in Photoshop on those jokes and the skills are transferable.

Why did you choose digital art as your medium?

I don’t exclusively produce digital art; in fact, I finish the majority of my work using traditional mediums. There are very few pieces that don’t have digital work behind the scenes as part of their process.

I think it’s a mistake to think in either/or terms with traditional and digital art. It’s more like a continuum; I might compose a picture in Blender that’ll eventually be rendered in watercolours, for example. If I have an idea for a painting, I’ll test out different colour compositions and palettes in Photoshop. A quick Hue/Saturation adjustment can show me how well other options will work.

To which artistic styles are you particularly drawn?

As I mentioned, comic art has always been close to my heart, the European Ligne Claire style in particular – Tintin is probably the best-known use of it. The style has a strong focus on character simplification combined with detailed backgrounds and subtle colours that really works for me.

I’m a big fan of Mike Mignola, creator of Hellboy. His heavy use of black is something I’ve really been pushing in my own art recently. I think it really helps give a better balance to my work.

Tell us about the process you use to make your art.

I’ll always start by sketching thumbnails in pen. I like the low-key nature of pen sketching; it’ll never be perfect, so it takes a lot of pressure off. Thumbnailing is something I’m devoting more and more time to as I develop artistically. I was converted a couple of years ago by a picture that just would not work; I spent hours tweaking this thing with no success. In the end, I had to admit to myself that the basic composition was just rubbish. I realised how much time I’d have saved if I’d done proper thumbnailing. At that point, I thought of it as a chore, but it’s actually one of my favourite parts now, the freedom of having nothing set in stone yet.

I’ll look up a ton of references to help pin the idea down in my head. Once I’ve got the basic idea down, if it’s any more complicated than a simple figure, I’ll make a mockup in Blender. Doing this lets me explore lighting options and move parts around quickly, including the viewpoint, and I’ll usually make a dozen or so quick renders as I explore options. This method works exceptionally well for complex environments; the trick is to simplify everything down to boxes. I used Blender loads for comic work, especially, where you might stay in the same location for multiple shots and pan the camera around.

I’ll do my initial drawing with a nice chunky mechanical pencil, and either scan it and ink digitally or ink with markers on a lightbox. I’ve not found a way of working digitally that can give me the feel of a real pencil, though I do keep tweaking my process. I’m finally getting my digital inking to a place where I’m happy with it. I’ve got a brush that replicates markers pretty well, and that gives me a good starting point. I think the sheer range of what a digital brush can do makes it hard to get an intuitive feel for it. I know how my fountain pen will handle when I use it, I have much less of an understanding of my various Photoshop brushes.

Colours could be traditional or digital, whatever I’m in the mood for creating. Digital is more precise, better for reproduction, but I enjoy the freedom and simplicity of watercolours a lot too. I’ll quite happily bounce back and forth between digital and traditional; I don’t like to confine myself to just one. Both mediums have strengths and weaknesses, and you can get some excellent results by mixing them.

What inspires you?

Grungy textures really do it for me. I love urban decay, abandoned buildings and rust. There’s something poetic about stuff falling apart. I’m working on a project around that at the moment, and it’s a great excuse to go poking about condemned buildings with a camera, it’s research! For a long time, I was focussing on outlines and I didn’t really pay attention to textures; it’s this whole world I feel like I’m still discovering.

What is your artistic motivation?

Wow, hard question! I think about that a lot, and I’ve never really figured an answer. I love drawing and I find it does great things for my mental health. Beyond that, well, I’ve got a journal full of navel-gazing that hasn’t reached any conclusions yet.

Right now, I’m working on beefing up my illustration portfolio and picking up more commissions. It’s a pretty prosaic motivation, but it’ll do for now.

Of all your images to date, which is your favourite, and why?

Usually, whatever I’m working on at the moment. I’m all about the process, all about the image I’m working on right now. It’s the problem-solving that I love about art. Once I complete a picture, I don’t feel as connected to it, and I lose interest.

Recently I’ve made a piece called Except Cycles and I’m pretty pleased with it. The image is a really clean graphic rendering of a very confusing street sign I saw. It’s sort of a joke; I’m not even sure the humour would register for everyone, but this street sign was blacked out except for the ‘except cycles’. What aren’t cycles meant to do? Are they still meant not to do it? I love that sort of thing; the weird non-sequitur moments life throws up.

How do you think you’ve improved as an artist compared to when you first started?

I didn’t start drawing much until I was about 20. I was a really serious kid, super academic, and it led me into a breakdown at university. Being housebound for a while, I figured I might as well use the time for something; I’d always wanted to be able to draw, so I started. My early stuff was pretty dire. If I believed in talent, I think I’d have been put off pretty fast! Luckily, I’m far too stubborn to let that stop me, so I kept at it. The quickest I’ve ever improved was when I spent a year using the Pixelovely online gesture drawing tool. I found figure drawing for an hour a day did wonders for my skills.

Doing an art foundation a couple of years ago was eye-opening. I expected it to be ‘how to be technically good‘, but it was very much focused on teaching idea development and how to approach making art. I tried a ton of different mediums and different ways of working. I’d say the actual ideas I’m coming up with now are way better than they used to be.

What advice would you give yourself if you could go back to when you started making art?

I was obsessed with those horrible How to Draw Manga books when I first started drawing; I was convinced that if I could find the right one, then I’d suddenly be able to draw people really well. If I could go back and give myself some advice, it’d be to stop trying to use shortcuts and get on with drawing.

Oh, and to stop ignoring textures! Again, it’s the comic/manga influence, I used to just focus on the lines, and you lose so much from an image that way. Textures are a lot of work to render, but they add incredible depth to an image.

What devices/equipment do you use to create your art?

At the moment I’ve got a giant Intuos 4, the thing’s about A3 size and looks like the monolith from 2001! I struggle with it a lot; I’ve never managed to find a desk set-up that feels right for me. I always end up hunched over the thing like a horrible art-goblin!

I switched to a dual-monitor setup a couple of years back, and I’m completely hooked. Having twice the desktop space to fling stuff and being able to have two apps fullscreen, it’s so convenient. As an added bonus, you get to see what an image looks like on two differently-tuned monitors. More than once before I’ve finished a picture, opened it on someone else’s computer to show it off and been surprised by the colour-difference.

The local library has an A3 scanner, and that gets a ton of use! I’d love one of my own, but I looked up prices and, yeah, maybe not! I’ve been booking the scanner for a couple of hours at a time and digitising my old sketchbooks; they’re so much more convenient to look through in .cbr (Comic Book Reader) format. I can fit everything onto my keyring thumb drive; it’s nice to know they’re backed up!

Which apps/programs do you use to create your art and which are your favourites?

The open-source 3D modeller, Blender is probably my most-used tool, though you wouldn’t guess to look at most of my art. I don’t use it for making finished art; instead, I create really crude and fast models to test out lighting and composition. It’s amazing to just throw up a few basic cylinders for people, a couple of cubes for buildings, add some mood lighting, and wander around the scene with the camera.

Photoshop is my workhorse; I don’t really like it, and I find Adobe’s subscription model offensive. I’ve put a lot of hours into it, and it can do most things I want. I’m trying to wean myself off it, though; the idea of not owning the tools you use bothers me. It’s a difficulty with digital art in general; Adobe’s just leading the way.

I’m also using Krita, an open-source digital painting app; it’s what I’m learning to use instead of Photoshop. It’s not as powerful for photo-manipulation, or maybe I’ve just not got the skills yet. Better for drawing and painting, though.

Do you use images from stock sites as well as your own photos and if so, which are your favourites and why?

I’ll use them for pose references, but that’s about it. I wish they’d stop clogging up search results, though! So many times I’ll be looking for a reference and have to wade through pages of badly-acted stock.

And finally, do you find that people dismiss digital art as a valid art form?

I’ve never had that directly. I think one of the problems with digital work is that you can’t control where someone views it. Someone sitting on their phone on the Tube, glancing at an image on Facebook, isn’t going to feel as moved as they might be by the same image in a gallery setting; so of course, they don’t value it as much. When you print something out nicely, stick it in a fancy frame, you’re saying to the audience ‘this is art; it deserves your respect’, and they’ll respond to that.

There’s also the problem of competition. When your work is digital, it’s effectively hanging in the same gallery as the best digital artists in the whole world, so it’s really hard to stand out. That goes double as an illustrator; you’re also competing against great digital artists who have currency exchange rates working in their favour. Asking a fair price is a lot harder when other artists’ fair price can be a lot lower.

Thank you for sharing your work with us, LoFi!

Find links to more of LoFi’s work in her entry in our Artists’ Directory

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