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Art Tools of Gracjana Zielinska

For this installment of Art Tools and Gears, we have with us guest artist Gracjana Zielińska from Poland.

Gracjana is a digital as well as traditional artist who is based in Warsaw, Poland. She began her career in digital and traditional art in around 2008 respectively (not counting some earlier commissions), and specializes in illustration, 2D game art and character design. We have invited Gracjana today to share with us her art tools and experiences in art.

Qn: Will you be able to introduce yourself to our readers?

First of all - thanks for asking me for the interview, it was a great surprise! I'm a big fan of Parka Blogs. It's actually the only art-book review site I visit regularly, and I collect tons of those. I'm an illustrator and general graphics artist born and based in Warsaw, Poland. I work as a freelancer and I'm also a part of MoaCube - an indie games studio that we founded with Tom Grochowiak back in 2011.

I'm actually an Art Historian, so one of my hobbies is collecting books on the topic. I particularly like illustrators of Fin de siècle (so-called "Golden Age of Illustration"), Symbolism, Arts & Crafts and Surrealists movements, Japanese art and - of course - lots of contemporary illustrators. I'm also a gamer (though recently I enjoy board games rather than computer ones)... and a pretty big geek. I tend to lose myself in things I'm curious about, and I'm curious about almost everything.

Qn: What are some of your art-tools and materials you use for your traditional art?

I constantly draw on everything I find lying around and always carry a small sketchbook with me. Until pretty recently, I never really cared about the tools, thinking it's what you make with them that counts. But since then I found out both things matter and good materials can help your work a lot. I fell in love with Faber-Castell's Polychromos coloured pencils - being able to achieve painterly effects with a dry medium is something I really enjoy, because I don't have enough space to work with paints.

I used to work a lot in oils when I was young and then with acrylics, but since a few years I rarely have the time and space to use them. Right now my traditional media setup (as you can see on the photo) is just a corner of the couch, and my partner often gets irritated at me for leaving a terrible mess, complaining he keeps stepping on pencils, markers and unfinished coffee cups. I'd say my biggest discovery of the last year was the difference between artist-grade pencils and market ones. The amount of pigmentation in the professional tools really makes a huge difference.

I also discovered that the paper you use matters. It probably sounds like a joke and makes me look completely unprofessional, but before last year I never really finished any of my traditional works and treated them just as sketches. I was solely focused on digital media. When I bought professional pencils and thick paper I discovered being able to achieve smooth, painterly effects, sometimes better than what digital art allows. Having a crisis with digital tools helped a lot. I grew sick of sitting in front of the computer in November 2015 and this is when I started digging about traditional media as an actual art tool for finished works.

This is the result of my "Traditional Media Only" period around December 2015 and January 2016 alone.

Qn: You mentioned on your website that you like ink - I imagine then that you use pens? What type/s of pen and ink do you currently use? (Are they good? How do they compare against those which you have used previously?)

I use Letraset Pro-Markers and various ink pens I find in stationery shops. I also recently bought a Pentel Brush Pen that I really love (it's basically a small brush with ink cartridges). And a cheap, traditional pen holder with four nibs for just $2.50 that I really enjoy using. But I also learnt (the hard way) why using cheap nibs is tricky. They bend a lot and it results in many odd lines. Still, using them is a lot of fun. Here are some Moleskine sketches done with the tools I use most often - thinnest pens and this cheap ink pen I mentioned. I almost always work small, I tend to get lost in bigger formats.

Qn: I also read from your website that you start almost every work of yours with mechanical pencils – any reason for that? What type of mechanical pencils do you use?

Honestly - I have no idea. Any mechanical pencil with HB lead will do. Although when I'm going for actual shading and something more proper than a sketch, I'll grab a box of some more professional graphite pencils, ranging from 5H to 5B, for deeper shadows.

Qn: Can you share with us your experiences using Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Illustrator, InDesign, Corel Painter and Flash for your digital artworks? (And what do you use each one for?)

Digital media are my everyday day tool, and I know Photoshop like the back of my hand. Everyone in the industry has to, it's just such a useful program! I use it for painting but also any general graphic work I have to do - and I often work on GUI (user interfaces), promotional materials, that kind of things. Illustrator is very useful for logotypes and any kind of precise work. And even though I'm not a vector illustrator, it's a surprisingly handy tool for many things. InDesign is just the best for layouts, typesetting, making books. Recently I made an art-book for our game - Solstice - and I just couldn't imagine doing it in anything else. To me, Adobe tools are just intuitive - but maybe it's because I've been using them for over 10 years. I don't really use Flash and - to be honest – i hate it, so I'm glad it's slowly becoming a thing of the past. I used to make some animations in it back in 2004 and it was a frustrating experience. Then again, this kind of work always felt tedious, so perhaps it's just me. I really like Corel Painter's tools, they are just so varied! I also like Clip Studio and Paint Tool Sai. Those three programs make it possible to draw really fine, both sharp and delicate lines. Something that Photoshop just can't do. So even though I use Photoshop for 90% of my work, I can't imagine not having those three around, since so much of my work is line based (both traditional and digital).

My digital media setup. I use the smallest Wacom Intuos tablet. A pretty dated one too, and even on it I tend to use just the middle area (I told you I tend to work small!). I probably should upgrade it, but it works well, even though I can't count how many times I spilled coffee on it.

Artwork for Solstice (released January, 2016). A warm oasis in the middle of an icy desert. The setting for our game where the City is one of the protagonists (in a way), and serves as a background for dystopian mystery thriller.

Qn: What did you use to draw and color the art tribute of David Bowie above? How did you do it? :)

Polychromos only... I think. Perhaps an odd other pencil or two. It's actually a pretty small picture, A5 size (you can see it on the photo of my traditional media setup). I was just sitting on the couch, listening to Bowie's music the whole day the news of his death became public and, well, kept drawing until I thought there was not much more I could add. I became pretty frustrated with it at the end. Got so lost in the mood and having fun with painterly pencil effects, that I didn't think of the composition and how the characteristic lightning bolt made him look like Flash rather than a grown up Aladdin Sane tribute I was going for. Not my best piece, but certainly emotional.

Here are some making-of photos taken with my phone while drawing it. As you can see, I first went for flat, light colours, and gradually added more layers of shades. That's how I achieved deep and varied reds... even though the photo flattened it a bit. I learnt a lot with this piece, and I actually had a whole series of David Bowie tributes planned, but my work caught up with me and I didn't have a free day for that since then.

Qn: I read from your website that you also come up with designs for games – can you share with us more? (Where did you get your inspirations for the designs from? And what did you use?)

I enjoyed computer games since I was a kid. Not just playing them, but also understanding how they work. My "way" of playing strategy games (like SimCity or Civilization) was actually more about noting down the stats I've crunched rather than focusing on the game itself. Even though I'm pretty messy when I draw, I'm actually a pretty logical and collected person. So when doing art for games, well - for our games at least - I like to be engaged in the whole process. All of us at MoaCube work on game design. Of course Tom is the lead here, so he has the last word, but I think he values my ideas a lot. As for inspirations... it comes from games I enjoy... or hate. I always play games and wonder what I would do better. Not in the "oh, that sucks" way, but in the "it's pretty cool, but what would actually make it brilliant". Granted, our released games are more about story than typical game design, but we actually have a few interesting projects going that we didn't talk about yet! Here are some artworks from our test project, though this particular one is on hold. They look like illustrations, but are actually test assets for animating the menu and locations in-game. I really like thinking of my works this way - not only as a flat design, but also how to make it alive in the game's world.

Qn: What are some of your most rewarding experience/s and/or creative accomplishment/s in art that you are proud of?

I really hope those are still before me! But more seriously, I remember that around 2007 (I think) I was chosen for Ballistic Publishing's Exotique art-book. For some reason that made me believe I can actually become a professional artist (even though I did some paid commissions before then). Then I got chosen for their more prestigious d'Artiste and Expose books, as well as many more art-books and exhibitions, but never felt as proud as I did with that first one. So I guess it's all "the firsts" with me. I was really proud of my first game where most of art was mine (Phantasmat), and then of Cinders, where 100% of art was mine. I took part in bigger projects and worked for much more known companies than ours (if you can call a collaborative bunch of friends a company), but honestly it's working on those personal projects and seeing them come to life that counts. I'm most happy when I see that my family and friends are proud of me. That's what makes it real.

The art-piece above is one of my first pieces commercially published (although recently touched up a bit)

And here's a close-up of a piece I recently re-painted to see how much I improved over the years. It's a good practice to do this once in a while. Just grab an older piece and try to make it better.

Qn: Do you have any tips/advice to offer to fellow artists on traditional and/or digital art?

If there's anyone who won't answer "practice a lot" to that question, I have yet to see it ;). But there are a few other things. Carry a sketchbook, always. Read a lot. Not only about art, just read anything to stay inspired and focused. But read about art too. Start with Andrew Loomis's books, James Gurney's Color And Light and Michael Hampton's Figure Drawing. Add to that Scott Robertson's How to Draw (it's about perspective) and perhaps his second book How to Render (this one's about how to paint shadows and values) and you have a full course on drawing.

Explore things you're curious about. If you're bad at something - fix it. Nowadays you can find really useful and free tutorials online for pretty much anything. Don't complain - it serves nothing. I was really bad at perspective, never took any lessons in it and just eyeballed or cheated with 3D when I needed to. I took an online class this year to keep myself motivated and it worked wonders!

Perspective drawing is a great foundation skill for any art you want to make, as it trains your eyes and hands a lot and forces you to practice the relationships of objects in space. Even if all you want to draw are manga girls, it will still be useful. Believe me, now I see how the lack of proper foundations held me back, and since I started learning I became much more confident about my skills. I never actually learnt to draw before this year, even though I have around 10 years of commercial experience, and it's a very rewarding journey to sort of "start from scratch" once in a while. Don't compare yourself to other artists, you'll never be as good as some of them. But then again many won't be as good as you when it comes to other things. And remember - being good at anything means basically constantly learning, right? I never met an artist I respect that was completely satisfied with their work. That's a tool of the trade, I guess. Learn to see your flaws, so you can work on them.

Qn: Have you read any art-book/s or instructional medium/s related to art?

Lots! My collection of artbooks just keeps growing since many years. Here's a small example:

Some of them are about certain artists I love and am curious about (like Grzegorz Rosiński's monography - a fantastic read!), some are about general topics (Secession, Japanese Ukiyo-e), some are game artbooks (wonderful source of inspiration), and some are comics or practical textbooks. Or specific companies' albums.. basically anything I dig the style of. I love books. I tend to buy digital Kindle editions of the ones with almost no pictures, and printed versions of those that you can get lost in just by simply browsing them.

Qn: Which artist/s do you think we should feature next?

Oh, there are so many! I've recently fallen in love with Jakub Rebelka's work, if you could get a hold of him it would be very interesting to read. I also think you should feature Tomasz "Morano" Jedruszek. He's a fantastic, well-known, and very accomplished artist. A very helpful guy too. He taught me a lot over the years, and was the only friendly face when I started out (even though we actually met in person for the first time only last year). I know I'm only recommending Polish artists, but then again - someone should. Right now we have fantastic people working here. Try Marek Okoń and Damian Bajowski too. Also, some very helpful insights could come from Mariusz Gandzel (another very experienced artist, who recently focused more on amazing fantasy acrylic works) and Greg Bobrowski, who's pretty new to the industry and made one of the quickest progress I've ever seen in just a year, already working for professional companies.

Thanks for the interview! :)

We are grateful to Gracjana Zielinska for sharing her art tools and experiences in this insightful interview. For more of Gracjana and her artworks, you may visit her website at or her deviantart-page.

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