Interview with Kenyan Concept artist Peter Gikandi

Interview with Kenyan Concept artist Peter Gikandi

Even a quick glance at concept artist Peter Gikandi’s illustrations and paintings leave an impression on you. His work has transcended the norm and his style fuses strongly with Japanese and Chinese art yet blending his own twist and interpretation to it. Each frame is a story begging to be told, needing to figure out what would happen next while musing on the painting. With such strong focus and style it seems to bewilder one that Gikandi is a Kenyan artist working in Vancouver, Canada and studied art in California in the US.

I got to chat with Peter and he offers much depth and great words of wisdom. Here’s the interview.

What attracted you to pursue art and what did you study?

I always wanted to draw, and I drew all the time. I just didn’t know how one could make money with it because at the time all there was to compare to were newspaper cartoons and street-side artists. It wasn’t till I watched movies that something clicked. I began to notice that here were artists using the computer as an extension of the pencil, and they obviously were making some money. I also wanted to get into film, and after several debates with my dad, I moved to the US and took up animation and illustration. I studied both disciplines in the traditional sense, and then on the computer closer to the end of my studies. My foundation was drawing and painting (and plenty of it) before transferring that skill to the computer, both in 3D and 2D.

How long have you worked as a digital painter & illustrator?

About 4 years, maybe less. In two different gaming studios, and a bit of an overlap period working as a 3D modeller.

What I like about your work is your distinct style in oriental / Asian art. Can you tell me a little bit about your work process and how you developed this style as an artist?

One, I’m an artist who’s not afraid of colour, and always paint with light. I pay attention to picking a light source and heavily communicating it so that the art is grounded in the same sort of reality we’re familiar with.

Secondly, I met an artist named Andrew Jones (goes by Android Jones) who had a similar background. His technique involves making digital brushes out of anything; images of instruments, cityscapes, leaves, whatever, and stamping them across a canvas (on the computer I mean) to start his painting. This fills up with colour and value on the blank white canvas that many artists are afraid of ruining, and then he picks out values from this chaos using more normal brushes, discovering the painting as he creates it. I found this a great way to start paintings and sometimes use it. I’ve once started a painting of a girl using the cityscape of Yemen as a base, and I’ve also made fractals, rendered them and using them as a canvas to start a painting. So I’ve made brushes out of things like a single vertebra, a chinese fan, etc.

Lastly, I like to give a nod to the cultural style of art I’m painting, but put my own spin on it. So that it’ll feel asian to some level, but will look distinct enough.

What are your influences, things that get you excited about your career. What inspires you?

People, thoughts and life.

When I paint characters I like to give a hint of something behind the character’s eyes, what he/she’s thinking, yet leave it subtle enough for the viewer to have their own imagination. Light excites me, how light behaves on anything, how it bounces on everything.

Cultures inspire me somewhat. So do periods, especially the Victorian era. Books as well. I sometimes paint a scene from a book I’m reading. As well, my teachers, some previous classmates, orientalist art, Japanese anime and manga, are all sources of inspiration.

Career wise, you won’t get a chance to make exactly what you want, or even moderately what you want, unless you’re extremely lucky and providence is your flatmate. So work is mostly about “How do I take this not-so-great-idea and make it something I like, and how can I convince my clients and the audience that they like what i like?” This is not easy, sometimes it’s ice-skating uphill (and I can’t ice skate) but solving that kind of problem is just interesting enough to keep you from quitting the job and selling art on the street. To be honest though, there’s immense learning opportunity in a studio.

Can you talk about some of the projects you have created and contributed to?

I’ve worked as a modeller on a few Tiger Woods Golf games, where I learned most of the 3D art I know. I also worked as both a modeller and a concept/storyboard artist on two projects that never saw the light of day soon after Tiger Woods games.

I then briefly worked on Need for Speed Undercover as modeller, storyboard and concept artist. It’s rare that an artist in this field can be used for all three roles but its good street cred and juggling the roles allows you to be less pigeonholed say  just being a modeller.

I’ve worked briefly on another couple of projects, small online games, but most recently I’ve been working on a casual driving game Joyride, under Microsoft, as a hybrid between Art Director and concept artist.
Work samples here.

Having worked for Electronic Arts and being part of the gaming industry have you found any difficulties working as an artist?

Finding a comfortable spot between what you truly want and what your client (or boss) wants presents the threat of getting comfortable and not practicing outside work. I see lots of artists with this problem, and one can plateau if not careful, and some young whippersnapper comes out of nowhere and takes your job. Find something that challenges you and inspires you at the same time, working on a sports game, might not be as rewarding.

See more of Peter Gikandi’s work on his blog and read his rambles accompanying his artwork.