Interview with Simon Stålenhag, Swedish illustrator, great digital painter.
Where and when were you born ? and where have you lived since?
I was born in Stockholm, Sweden, on January 20th of 1984. I spent my first three years in a suburb of Stockholm called Sundbyberg. 1987 my family moved to a house in the rural setting of Färingsö, a large island located in lake Mälaren, just west of Stockholm. I lived there until my teens, when my parents divorced and I moved back in to town with my mother. I continued to spend a lot of time out on Färingsö though, since most of my friends lived there.
Do you feel the influence of these places on your work?
I would say that the places I grew up in and around are the singular most important influence to my work. Especially my time on Färingsö.
So, Simon, what is that incredible universe all about? Is there a precise general Story behind your artworks or does it belong to us to create our personal tales?
I have written some about the universe I portray, I collect ideas and notes, coupled with childhood memories and moods. I have pretty detailed ideas about everything I depict, but I’m not sure my stories are better than the stories people watching the pictures create themselves.
Could you tell us more about your process of creation?
I always carry my camera and let the real world around me inspire me. I have tonnes of photos that I’ve been taking for 14 years now. I think I’m getting closer to 45 000 pictures in my archive. I use these as a starting point – I tweak the colors and sometimes sketch ideas on top of them – trying to find mechanical designs that fit the rythm of the landscape. Sometimes I don’t use photos and start from a blank document but the idea is the same – to work up a sketch that contains everything important – the designs, the composition and the general palette. Once I have this I start over from scratch in much higher resolution and work up a detailed painting layer by layer with brushes that are very natural and textured.
Have you experienced an evolution in your style during the years?
I started traditionally with watercolor and gouache. Since I started working digitally I have slowly learned to find that natural feeling that I once had using real paint and real brushes, and it’s due to getting more familiar with the software and getting used to the wacom pen.
Your works remind the atmosphere and design of the ‘Valve Corporation’ video games (Half-life, Portal, …) but I think that your digital paintings go even further. The ambient retrofuturism, the remains of a old giant war and the feeling that the people live their quiet suburbian life amongst these impressive machines is really interesting. Can you tell us more about this side of your work and about your influences?
I love the Half Life games, but I wouldn’t say they’re such a big influence. Viktor Antonov‘s designs are of course very amazing but when it came out I wasn’t very in to sci-fi yet. I did gouache paintings of desolate swedish landscapes. It was later when I discovered the work of Syd Mead and Ralph Mcquarrie that I really got hooked on sci-fi and mechanical designs.
How did you get into illustration?
I started painting landscapes and animals as a kid. I was a birdwatcher in my early teens and my big heroes where Swedish landscape painters like Bruno Liljefors, Gunnar Brusewitz and Lars Jonsson.
I’ve known Tommy Salomonsson and his brother Ola since I was five. Both of them grew up to become very talented programmers and for about ten years now we have always been hanging out and making stuff together. Ripple Dot Zero was me and Tommy’s attempt at making something out of our passion for 16-bit era platformers.
Finally, what’s next for you and what are you doing just after answered this final question ?
I’m going to work for the Swedish Museum of Natural History here in Stockholm, illustrating the history of life on earth. It’s a dream come true kind of project. Right now, I’m just about to hurry outside in a panic trying to catch the bus into town!
Thanks a lot Simon!