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Gina Nelson: lead artist interview

Gina Nelson

Lead Artist

Mediatonic lead artist Gina Nelson shares work from her portfolio and discusses her career so far…

Gina's Website

3dtotal

Tell us a little bit about yourself: Who are you, what do you do, and where are you located?

Gina

I’m a 2D artist originally from South Africa, now working in London as a Lead Artist at Mediatonic where I'm leading the art team on Gears POP! I started my career directly after finishing high school when I joined a local games company in Johannesburg, learning on the job and teaching myself the rest. I've always worked in games, from indie devs to startups and onto bigger studios.

Over the years my work has changed a lot and my professional career has evolved more into art direction and leading art teams. I still contribute a lot of concept art and 2D game art to the projects I work on, and my focus outside of work has generally been on personal illustrations in both digital and traditional mediums.

3dtotal

Who are your favorite artists, traditional or digital, and can you explain why?

Gina

This one will be a long list... There are the artists whose work I value very highly because they have achieved that level of skill and sense of beauty in their work that I aspire to achieve one day. They're the ones whose work I can stare at for hours, trying to break the pieces down layer by layer, discovering how and what they did. They are technically brilliant and I want to learn as much as I can from their work. For me these will include Géricault, John Singer Seargant, Kim Jung Gi, Peter Polach, Jeremy Lipkin, Ruan Jia and more.

Then there are the artists who speak to me on a more personal level, the ones who tell stories with their work that I can relate to, those are actually more important to me. They're the ones whose work I will hang on my walls because they create the pieces I want to surround myself with, and whose work I want to look at every day. Among my favorites here will be Laurie Lee Brom, Brom, Adrian Smith, Henri Aa Uldalen, Lauren Marx, Piotr Jabłoński, Yoann Lossel, and Mike Mignola.

For personal traditional work my go to medium is bottled ink and a tiny brush, I just love the stuff. I'll also add in pens, gold, and oils into the mix from time to time, but really ink is what I enjoy working in the most.

3dtotal

What software, tools and techniques do you use, either for work or personal projects?

Gina

This will depend on what I'm doing and the project it's for. When I'm working on concept art or game art it's almost entirely in Photoshop. I dive into some other packages occasionally depending on project requirements, such as Unity, 3ds Max, or Spine, but these days I don't find myself doing that all too often.

For my personal digital work I pretty much do everything in Photoshop. I've been dying to get my hands on Procreate but really there's not been much need for me to look beyond Photoshop. For personal traditional work my go to medium is bottled ink and a tiny brush, I just love the stuff. I'll also add in pens, gold, and oils into the mix from time to time, but really ink is what I enjoy working in the most.

3dtotal

How important do you think formal education is for someone aspiring to become a professional artist?

Gina

I don't think it's important at all but I do think there's a place for it, and everyone is different and will need something different to fulfill their goals and ambitions. I have had no formal training at all but I have always been very driven and learning on my own worked for me. Actually a lot of what I've learned has come from online resources such as 3dtotal! We live in an incredible age where so much knowledge is freely available online, not only that but it's easier now to reach out to professional artists and ask for their advice than ever before.

Not having any formal training should never hold you back and it's important to remember that having a formal education will not make you into a good artist, only you can do that. We often see graduates with degrees in various artistic fields who can't be hired because despite having a degree, their work just isn't up to scratch. On the other hand, many people feel that they need the stability and guidance that a formal institution will offer, if that's for you, and you have the opportunity then go for it, but no, I don't think it's necessary if you want to become a professional artist.

It's probably also worth mentioning that whether you study at a formal institution or on your own at home, it's easy enough to see these days what it takes to make it, purely because everything is available online through galleries such as the ones on 3dtotal or ArtStation. Art is a hard path to take because everything is visual and it's very unforgiving. I can't hire juniors who won't be able to achieve a certain level of professional quality on projects, even if they have no prior experience. This makes getting your first job very difficult, but it also means that those who have good portfolios, regardless of experience, will tend to get the jobs. In my opinion, working hard on your skills and a good portfolio is more important than any form of education.

3dtotal

Which piece of work are you most proud of? Why?

Gina

I'd say I'm most proud of the digital painting entitled Friends. Most of my illustrations are purely visual, they're things I see in my head or ideas I think could be cool, sometimes they're just me exploring designs, but this piece was different. I created this piece in 2017 to celebrate having stopped eating meat for a full year. It felt like a real personal triumph and I wanted to create something that spoke about the journey I had been on from a deeply personal level. In the end the picture became a lot more important to me than I could have imagined at the start because I learned so much from doing it.

I think that one of the most important things I learned from it was how drawing on real experiences, and from my own emotions, could impact an illustration. After this piece everything else I had done felt hollow and plain, but there's depth here, layers and layers of it, and it's all because this was a personal piece. It's changed how I work and when I create personal illustrations now, both digitally and traditionally, I try to focus on experiences I've had and how I can tell stories around those. I've started drawing things with more meaning and I think I've grown immensely as an artist because of this.

I think it’s important to remember why you create and why you do what you do. Recognition on social platforms does not necessarily make you a good artist, but I have rarely seen an exceptional artist going unrecognized.

3dtotal

How important is the recognition of your peers?

Gina

Recognition is not really all that important to me. My art has never been about gaining recognition, most of it I just do for myself. I think that measuring your success through the recognition of others is very dangerous, and unfortunately social media has driven that in such a big way. Artists post their work online and measure their personal success through likes and shares and I find this really sad. I know that to make it as a solo artist these days having a strong online presence is really important, but the power behind social media is truly awful. I’ve fallen into the trap myself and have seen many brilliant artists become so demotivated by their lack of insta fame that it’s really highlighted to me the danger behind social media and posting to seek recognition.

I think it’s important to remember why you create and why you do what you do. Recognition on social platforms does not necessarily make you a good artist, but I have rarely seen an exceptional artist going unrecognized. I think if you practice hard and focus on what’s important, the recognition will come, but you shouldn’t, or at least I don’t want to, create art for the sake of being recognized.

3dtotal

What can we expect to see from you next?

Gina

Well, hopefully you'll be seeing the game I've been working on at Mediatonic next! Keep an eye out for Gears POP!  Apart from that, I'd like to focus a bit on creating tutorials as I’ve really been enjoying that lately, maybe you'll even be seeing some of them here. Apart from the digital tutorials I’d like to create a couple that focus on my traditional techniques as well. I was given the opportunity to share some of my ink techniques with ImagineFX in a short article a few months ago, but I feel like a more in depth tutorial would be something really fun to create.

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