This week I had the pleasure to interview Gary Laib, a vastly talented Concept Artist and Illustrator from California. He’s the winner of the creature category of Weta’s Treasures of Middle-Earth design contest. Gary’s art is a breath of fresh air amongst the multitude of generic fantasy art on the market today. His style is dynamic and seasoned and his characters don’t rely on sexualized content to grab attention. The loose painterly brushwork fits perfectly with the lighthearted characters he’s depicting in his work. His sketches are lively, and while they have a cartoonish feel to them at the same time he shows an excellent grasp on the fundamentals of art, marrying the lighthearted cartoon style with realism and creating the kind of fantasy art that opens up a new universe to the viewer.
He was kind enough to grant us a peak behind the curtains and he also shared some of his favorite brushes: the everything brush and the uber blender.
You can read the full interview below.
- When did you start your journey as an artist, and what led you on this path?
I can’t say precisely when I started to garner an interest in art. For me, I’ve always been drawing. I think around the age of four was when I started checking out “how to draw” books from the library and just copying the final stage of the instructions. I found I learned more that way. I bounced from cartoons like Garfield, to Ninja Turtles and comic books like X-Men, always finding some new interest in art. I remember my mom and dad had this big book in it about gnomes. I don’t think it registered so much with me at the time, but as I grew older, I found drawn to the illustrations in that book. I also had a huge collection of fables and fairy tales from Aesop and Brothers Grimm, which helped spark an interest in fantasy, even if I didn’t pursue that particular interest for a few years. When I got to middle school, my middle brother started playing tabletop games and all of a sudden he had all of these books filled with monsters and fantastical characters. While I never developed an interested in playing the games he did, I was always drawn to the artwork inside those monster manuals. From that point on, I started drawing fantasy.
- Do you use any traditional mediums? If so, which are your favorites?
I grew up using a regular pencil. Just a standard #2 HD pencil like you’d find anywhere. I still draw traditionally whenever I can because I feel that nowadays, budding artists forget where it all started. They jump so quickly into the digital world that they pass by the natural one. There’s something to be said for sitting in a comfortable chair or on a stump in the woods and just drawing. I grew up around nature and am happy to say that it’s a big influence on my work. I use a wide range of traditional mediums; pen and ink, charcoal, colored pencil, etc… I’ve even dabbled in watercolors. I never really got the hang of painting with acrylics and oils, much to my regret. I tried for a few years, but something about it just wouldn’t click with me.
- I think that you would certainly agree that there is a lot of digital art work on the market these days, how do you differentiate yours from the rest and what are your thoughts on the subject?
Oh absolutely. There are thousands of talented artists out there, all of them making hundreds of images per year. Being able to stand out of the crowd is something that every professional artist strives for. But in all honesty, I haven’t done anything with the goal of standing out. I’ve always just painted what I’ve been interested in and if it resonates with people, that’s great. If not, it’s still something that resonates with me, and I only hope that people can see the passion behind it. I think that as long as an artist remains passionate about what they’re working on, that passion will reflect in their artwork. That may be an oversimplified answer to what is a more complex question. Obviously, I’m glazing over all of the countless hours of practice and painting, all of the sleepless nights, all of the frustration and agonizing over art that doesn’t work out, all of the months just trying to make ends meet, sacrifices, failures, and more. But all of that, if an artist sticks with it, is about passion. If we weren’t passionate about what we do, wouldn’t make ourselves go through any of that.
- What do you think is the most challenging part about being a digital artist?
Hurdles and challenges are par for the course in the art world. They tend to be innumerable. Aside from the regular day-to-day artist struggles, I think the fact that technology is always changing can create challenges for artists. There are new programs being developed all the time, and it’s hard for a digital artist not to feel like they HAVE to learn all of them in order to keep up. I myself have tried my hand at programs that I thought I needed to know, only to struggle in learning them and realize I really didn’t need them after all. I’ve had to let go of a lot of programs along the way, but in the end, I’m much happier for it.
Another more obvious struggle is developing a personal style. The market is inundated with digital images and artwork from amateurs and professionals alike. Artists tend to compare themselves to other artists all the time. They look at a piece of artwork from companies like Blizzard and just lament at how they’re unable to create such stunning work. It starts to become a strange sort of phenomenon where we need to find a balance between drawing inspiration from artwork we admire and not beating ourselves up for not being able to create that kind of art. In truth, I don’t think we should strive to imitate other artists. It’s something I’ve personally struggled with for a while. An artist needs to draw inspiration from those he or she admires, take what they need from them, and adapt it to their own style. But in order to get a job in the entertainment industry, an artist also needs to look at those artists and see them as competition. They need to be on par with those industry professionals or they’ll struggle to find work. It’s a ridiculous juxtaposition between not seeing them as better artists in order to grow personally, but then seeing them as competition in order to land those types of jobs… Sometimes it’s just better not to think about it!
- How do you promote yourself?
I make sure to put my artwork not only on my personal website, but on several other sites like Deviantart.com and Artstation.com. The more you put your work out there, the more it will be seen. I also attend networking events frequently. Over the past three years or so I’ve tried to get out of my head and actually meet people in my industry instead of hiding away in my apartment. When you talk to someone face to face and start to build a rapport, they tend to remember you when they’re looking for artists. I’ve found a number of jobs that way. It also helps to have your portfolio on a tablet and business cards at the ready. A lot of artists I know, myself included, are not good at networking, but it becomes a really useful tool for promotion and name recognition.
- What’s the most valuable art advice you’ve ever received?
Paint outside the lines.
- Do you have any personal projects going on that you would like to share with us?
Yes! I always have a few personal projects going. Late last year I started working with a collective of artists and game designers called Paper Knight Games. We’ve been focusing on creating a wide range of tabletop games and earlier this year we wrapped development on our first title, Goblinade. We wanted to create a game that anyone can pick up and understand. In Goblinade, you play as a goblin entrepreneur running a drink stand and trying to create drinks to attract different customers. We’ve recently filmed our Kickstarter video for it just last month so in the next month or so, we’ll really put it out to the public. Up until now we’ve been selling it on gamecrafter.com
- What are your favorite art books; or books in general?
There are too many books to name! I can pick up almost any art book and enjoy reading it. For instruction, I’ve always highly recommended “The Artist’s Complete Guide to Drawing The Head” by Wiliiam Maughan. It’s helped my artwork in so many ways, well beyond drawing the head! Also “Color and Light” by James Gurney. It’s an unbelievable resource. Besides that, there are always nuggets of gold in every art book!
As for general reading, I tend to read a lot of fantasy novels. I tend to read and reread a series if I really like it, but Song of Fire and Ice, Harry Potter, The Tapestry, Fablehaven… those a few I’ve read in the past year or so.
- What is an average Wednesday like in the life of Gary Laib?
I wake up at 6AM or so, make sure my wife and I have breakfast and coffee and then I head to the office around 7AM to start my day job. I currently work at a company called Blueshell Games, where I develop and design online slot machines. After eight to ten hours in the office, I head home to continue my workday. In the evenings, I’m usually in my studio working on various contracts for other companies or personal projects, which usually revolve around me doing character design. I have dinner with the Mrs. and then start working again. I’ll sometimes stay up until past midnight to finish a deadline and then drag myself to bed, wake up around 6AM and start all over again. It’s not a glamorous life by any means, but it makes me happy.
- Who are your role models? Could you name three persons — dead or alive — who inspire you, or significantly influenced your life?
There are so many artists I see as role models; too many to mention here, in fact. One of the people that have influenced me the most, however, are my wife, Yuki, who has been a tremendous source of love and support over the years, I can’t imagine what I did without her. We’ve been together through some rough times and she’s always there to lift me up. And then, of course, my mother and father were huge role models for me. Obviously when I was a kid, I didn’t realize just how much they would influence my life, but because of them, I was able to travel the world, head to California on my own to start a new life, and even find my way in the art industry. While neither of my parents are artists, they were tremendously supportive and nurturing of having this weird art kid. Growing up in Wisconsin and having a biology and conservation teacher for a father also fostered an interest in nature in regards to fairy tales and creatures. Whether they know it or not, all of their lessons have been engrained into my life and into my art.
I would like to thank Gary for taking time out of his busy schedule to do this interview, I really appreciate it.
You can check out Gary’s Website at: https://pathbrite.com/gary_laib
Gary’s Deviantart — http://garylaibart.deviantart.com/
He was also kind enough to share two of his favorite brushes with us, which you can download below.
The first one is the Everything Brush, which Gary uses literally for everything he paints. He says that “It has great control, texture, and gives a nice traditional feel.”
The second is the Uber Blender, which Gary uses with the Smudge tool. He says “It most closely replicates a blending in traditional painting. When used correctly and sparingly, it can do great things.”