Behind the art of Blake Henriksen
Thanks for taking the time to talk with us, Blake. Can you start by giving us an overview of your professional background?
No problem, thanks for reaching out to me! I’ve been working professionally since 2010 in the world of fantasy and sci-fi illustration as well as concept art. During that time I’ve worked on some bigger projects and some smaller, as is often the case (especially as a freelancer).
I’ve worked as an illustrator on Star Wars The Card Game, Star Wars: X-Wing Miniatures, Lord of the Rings The Card Game, Warhammer, and Legends of Norrath.
As for concept art, I worked on the iPhone games Ninjump: Deluxe and Army of Darkness: Defense for Backflip Studios back in 2010.
I also had a stint as an in-house illustrator/concept artist for Dire Wolf Digital back in 2011. I did lot of design work for them, as well as numerous card illustrations for the Facebook game Mystic Warlords of Ka’a. It was based on the card game they play on “The Big Bang Theory” and had a tie-in with the show.
Sadly, it never really took off, but it did have a following of hardcore players that still contact me even to this day about the work. Since that time, I continue to do concept art, mostly for smaller indie game studios.
How would you characterize your artistic style?
You know in many ways my artistic style is open and fluid, especially since late 2011 when I decided to go out my own exclusively as a freelancer. However, generally I would say that I work predominately in two styles.
The first (and my favorite) is what I call my comic book style. This is what you find most often if you do a search for my art online. I characterize my comic book style as having exaggerated proportions with dynamic lighting.
Some good examples would be my X-Men Animated and Batman Animated group paintings, which you can see throughout this post.
The second style that I work in from time to time is what I would consider to be my hyper-realistic style. It’s heavily influenced by Drew Struzan’s work and I would consider it pretty realistic, yet having a lot of texture and grit to it, giving the feeling of paint and colored pencil work.
The most well-known pieces of work that you will find of this are my Doctor Who fan art, which is based on the classic Indiana Jones movie posters.
You’ve worked on a broad range of projects. Do you have a favorite?
As far as professional projects, my favorite ones have probably been working with Fantasy Flight Games on Star Wars The Card Game. However, I most often enjoy when I work on personal pieces like my Batman Animated and X-Men Animated Collage pieces.
Can you walk us through what it was like working on Star Wars The Card Game?
For card games like Star Wars the Card game, it starts out with getting a brief. Usually, it’s something very simple like a sentence or two describing what’s happening in the card.
For instance, in the game there’s a “Rash Action” card. For this card, the brief called for a painting of the Ewok from Return of the Jedi, but from an angle that would be different from what was seen in the movie.
From there I worked on a few quick sketches and sent them in over the internet for approval from my Art Director. Once one was picked, along with some feedback on head placement, I began the painting process.
After it was turned in, that was it! It’s not always that easy (sometimes there are revisions) but that’s generally the process.
A lot of concept artists stick to 2D while others swear that 3D is an integral part. Do you use 3D in your concepts and if so, how have you found it helpful?
When it comes to concept art, I often have a certain amount of 3D in the work. Generally, I’ll use a 3D model as a base, such as taking a Daz 3D model (for instance the base Michael model).
I’ll position it accordingly and render out the image as a TIFF document. At that point, I’ll take it into Photoshop and paint over it. The benefit of doing so is that it helps to save me the time of painting up the body.
Having that base already there allows me to paint on top of it and get some out concepts very quickly. Time is money, after all.
So I think that, for me, it’s definitely a tool that I use, especially for increasing my speed.
I think that’s quite common in the world of concept art, although I do caution everyone that they should learn how to paint first before doing so as it can easily become a crutch.
Let’s pretend you’re starting a new concept. Where do you typically start your projects?
With concept art, it can sometimes depend on how quickly the job needs to be done and what the needs of the client are. In the past, there are times where I’ve just done sketches with blobs of color.
At other times, it was more of a drawn out process. It really can just vary from job to job.
Ideally, I like to start with silhouettes and then work on the grayscale, focusing just on value and blocking in a simple general idea. If I have time, I’ll play with color passes and then once the color is decided I’ll move from there to a finished color concept.
With the concept that I did for Quick Charge Games above, I started with a few quick silhouettes that I then blocked in. They were just simple value studies, very fast and messy. From there I then went to a finished grayscale painting.
Later they came back and asked for some color passes. As you can see, it just varies from client to client depending on their needs.
What are some ways your process has evolved over the years?
My style is always evolving. When it comes to concept art, I probably like to spend more time blocking in shapes and designs early on.
I also really like to use line art more for the final concepts (and when I’m illustrating that is the same). This is a development that started around a year ago or so. I like having line art because I can use it as a guide and really answer a lot of my questions before I move into the final painting stage.
However, truth be told sometimes I just go straight into painting and don’t use lines. I’m never entirely beholden to any single way of doing something. Sometimes I just switch things up to keep things interesting for me.
What’s something you know now that you wish you had known when you were first starting out?
The biggest thing that I wish I would have known when I started out is that there is so much information online. While the school can be good, I didn’t need to go to art school.
I could have learned everything I did for far cheaper if I had tailored my education to focus on learning online through sites like Digital-Tutors.
As a huge Dr. Who fan, I love your fan art. Can you walk us through the creation of those?
With my Doctor Who pieces, I sadly did not document the process as well as some of my others. I get kind of lazy sometimes [laughs].
However, if you go far enough back on my Instagram page, you’ll see some pictures I took of the screen as I was painting. They’re not great quality, but it gives you an insight into my process.
Basically, I start out by going online and finding good photo reference of the characters that I’ll be using. Then I use the grid method to create a line drawing.
If you’re not familiar with the grid method, basically it involves putting a grid over the photograph you’re using for reference. Then I have my canvas in Photoshop with a grid over it as well.
I focus on just one small grid at a time trying to recreate in my Photoshop document what is happening on that one small grid in the photograph. It’s very tedious work, but it allows you to have an almost flawless line art representation of the proportions of the face that you’re trying to recreate.
From there I begin painting everything with a default soft-round digital airbrush in Photoshop. It allows me to blend the colors easily and have a realistic look.
You have to be very subtle, though, and work on a low opacity. That’s the only way to get those value changes correct on a realistic human face.
The final step is to go over everything with various texture brushes to give it the grit and feeling that traditional paint has, as well as the colored pencil effect. Since Drew Struzan uses so many colored pencils in his movie poster work, I spent a lot of time trying to mimic that digitally. It took a lot of trial and error and I’m happy with the results.
While I don’t have any good process pics of the Doctor Who pieces, I was much better about documenting my process for realism early on when I was doing my Walking Dead series. If you go to my YouTube page, I have a video that accurately shows my process.
Who’s your favorite Doctor?
Good choice! Thanks again for your time. Do you have any parting advice for other artists out there?
Thanks for having me! My parting advice would be as follows: It’s hard to be an artist. You’ll face a lot of discouragements and you’ll have a lot of opportunities to quite.
Unless you’re super lucky, you’re going to face years of hard work with no financial pay off until much later. Really, this is not an easy road so if you’re looking for a way to make money easy this is not it.
Seriously, if all you want is money, you’d be better off studying hard to become a doctor. To become a good artist, you’re probably going to have to put in just as much studying time as a doctor does. Except you won’t have as much certainty getting a good job as an artist.
So seriously think it over and count the “cost”.
Now, if you’re still here, you know that this is for you and you’re ready for the challenge then good!
Don’t give up!
And remember that this is a marathon and not a sprint!