Thoughtful, Creative, Detailed, and Whimsical – these are just a few of many words that can describe the work of digital concept artist, Robert Grafström. The Swedish artist currently works for Ubisoft Massive Entertainment and his portfolio includes concept art from famous gems such as Far Cry 3, World in Conflict, and upcoming game Tom Clancy’s The Division. Getting in touch with artists and designers within any major industry is always an insightful event. Today we’re happy (and lucky) to bring you an exclusive interview with Robert. Take a look and see what he has to say about his artistic process, how he got started in the video game industry, and advice for artists looking to follow in his footsteps.
First, tell us a little about yourself. Where you’re from, where (and what) you studied, and what you do for a living.
My name is Robert Grafström, I sprouted in the south of Sweden where I still currently live. I’ve studied natural sciences and some general computer graphics. Now however, I’m enjoying life and working as a concept artist at Massive Entertainment, Malmö, Sweden!
When did you realize you wanted to become an illustrator? Was it something you always knew you wanted to do?
I never realized it! I’ve always tried to go down the path of least resistance. I just always kept falling back on drawing or using my imagination in one way or another.
Where do you get inspiration from? Some of your work invokes religious imagery and I’m curious to know what motivates your personal work.
I get my inspiration from experiencing; Nature, friends, feelings, questions, ideas, my lives and others – the whole shebang in other words! Its easy to forget that inspiration can be found anywhere. When you can’t see it you’re simply not looking at it the right way.
I’m wouldn’t consider myself religious. Although, I think the world actually would need a religion right now to align peoples values. There are some good aspects of the different religions that I know of, which is great, but they’re all bundled with a lot of weird stuff that I don’t find either relevant or attractive. Also, I kinda think that what you do is more important than what you believe.
What draws you to concept art? Was this always a passion for you or did you happen to end up in this particular field through a series of events?
“Concept art” is a tricky phrase.It usually refers to art for the use in games, movies etc. something you do before the final product – Stuff I do at work, of which I have nothing on my homepage. MY stuff is made with no real thought of what it’s meant for. I often try to catch a feeling or idea. For me it’s often a meditative process, a way of wasting time like any other activity. So in that respect they could be called concepts of all the things meta, like the relationships between theory and practice – materialized in what you might refer to an “artistic” mash of symbols. Or simply one can see them simply as the aftermath of where I’ve been. It’s hard to have a reason why I’m doing it really. I guess its my destiny if there is something called that. When I’m painting on my own, I often want to surprise myself in some way so only loose plans, perhaps a composition, some colors or a feeling that i want to capture, then trust the subconscious to decide a little
Without a doubt, the above image is one of my favourite pieces by you. Can you take us through the process from start to finish behind this work? How did you go from an idea to the finale image?
In a cabin on a mountaintop in Norway, I saw a series of round abstract photographs of clouds. I think that awakened my conscious attraction towards trying out a round composition.
Then I wanted to capture something classic and timeless within this circle. Like the clouds – Something very relate-able yet with a touch of surrealism to capture your attention and because that’s what i like to draw. A human a portrait is timeless because its so familiar to us. Without fancy crazy angles or advanced stuff to show off my skills. I simply rendered it straight from the side to catch the natural in a graphical, easy to read way.
I peeked at your LinkedIn and saw that you currently work for Massive Entertainment. Can you tell us what it’s like working at an artist for one of the most famous game studios?
It is nice! For me at least, I’ve found a place I really feel comfortable in. Lots of super-nice people, fun things to do and challenging tasks but not impossible tasks, what more do you need?
To describe what its like is pretty hard tho. It depends so much on what kind of person you are and what you value in life. There are ups and downs with every job, sometimes this is really hard and I come home in the evening totally braindead and exhausted. But I like that, it’s like being soar from training, then you know you’ve actually worked! And I do get to paint tons of cool stuff. Although, I sometimes feel the lack of not being pushed to use my imagination enough tho. At the same time, we’re in the end stages of The Division so it’s not so much about exploring anymore, more helping out with paintovers and such to assist people who have lots to do to make their lives better. Which is fine too, I like helping out.
Pertaining to the previous question, how did you end up at Massive? There are literally hundreds of artists who would love to be in a similar space.
I didn’t have a summerjob the summer of 2006 so I gave it a shot and applied as an intern as a 3d artist. Which was my hobby at that time. Back then I studied “digital graphics” which gave me the foundations in game development and all of its implications (art wise). But also some compositing for movies etc. Anyways, I got in! About two months later I got hired on a temp contract that grew into a permanent after a little while. So I did 3D for about 4 years and then switched to the concept art department.
I noticed you have some photography on your portfolio website. Is photography a passion of yours? How does your photographic work cross over with your digital art? Are there similarities between the types of pictures you take and the paintings you make?
Yeah, I’m all about the visual thrill. I see the camera like my lazymans journal. But it’s also a time machine that allows a fraction of a passed moment to stay in the present. Its a great tool to enhance memories or capture compositions. When it comes to art-production its also a great tool for synchronicity when you overlay, textures, colors, references and.. anything really. I’m not a pro or anything at it, but I like doing it and that’s what matters in the end.
Do you have any secret/useful tips for artists who aspire to produce digital art on your level? A good set of brushes or resources perhaps?
No brushes, sorry. It takes a while to find what brushes works for you. Its good to explore and try out. Time will tell which brushes works for you and which doesn’t. On the non-technical side, my tip is to follow your gut and dont be afraid. That actually goes for pretty much anything in life, if you do what you think is fun and what you think is interesting, then you have the foundation of will. With a strong enough will you can do basically anything! If you have a genuine interest for art or whatever, you will spend time doing it without really forcing yourself. My life have flowed along my interests the whole way and people generally find me to be a happy, optimistic guy. But we’re all different so maybe it doesn’t work like that for everyone. Another tip is to try finding the balance between working on your skillsets, workflows and the technical bits, along with experiencing the full spectrum of life, so you have something to paint about.
Finally – do you have any favorite contemporary artists that make you go “Wow!”?
Ouh.. Almost too many to mention. A lot of people wow me in different ways. My strongest wows are with the people I’ve been lucky to work with however. And of course my girlfriend Ulrika Kestere who is a fantastic photographer! When I see where the art comes from I can relate and understand in a way that affects me deeper than what any image or artistic expression detached from its creator. But I can appreciate most things in different ways. When it comes to digital art, just swing by artstation or some similar site and it wont be long till you find someone completely fantastic that you’ve probably never even heard of before.
- Portfolio Website: http://robertgrafstrom.com/
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Robert-Grafstr%C3%B6m-Art/228589130620396
- ArtStation: https://www.artstation.com/artist/robertgrafstrom