Stéphane Wootha Richard is a freelance concept artist and illustrator for television, animation, video games and publishing based in Lyon, France. His lively eclectic art style has a sense of emotional storytelling that has become recognizable.
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In this interview, Stéphane talks about his unique art style, inspiration and his tips for standing out in the crowd.
How would you describe your art style?
I think I’m still looking for a style and I will probably always be looking. Just like in composition, I prefer to think about negative space instead of actual volumes. I feel that my style is more defined by what I can’t do rather than what I’m consciously trying to achieve. For my personal work, I like to work in series and often, I iterate over the same subject or theme in order to discover and improve weaknesses and things I don’t understand. After each series, I feel that my style shift a little bit because my technical playground becomes a bit wider.
Abstract composition plays an important part in my image making process, and I give more importance to strong abstract shapes and value contrast than to physical correctness. I often compress some value ranges, like we can do in color grading for film, in order to have simpler shapes and give a feeling of strong vibrancy.
Where do you go to find inspiration?
I find inspiration in my fellow artists of course, but also in cinema, photography, fine arts, contemporary arts, architecture and literature. I’m passionate by things as varied as economy, quantum physics, political philosophy, raw concrete architecture or Persian classical music. I am by no means a reliable source of knowledge in any of these fields, but they inspire me in my art journey as much as old masters works. I often wonder what makes the difference between a gorgeous painting executed with absolute mastery but easily forgotten, and a memorable scribble that can durably impact someone’s life. I think there’s something about art, be it fine art or or game art, that can be deeply connected to what people live and the quest for that tenuous link drives my approach of making images.
How do you make your work stand out from the rest?
I’m not sure if my work stands out from the rest, but at least I try. I do it with a savant blend of super-sized ego, over-trained humility, a bit of social hacking and a lot of hard work! I think that for anyone who wants to “succeed”, the key to growing toward that success is first to make peace with a super-sized ego, and second, to train humility as any other skill. Ego can be a powerful fuel if it’s well canalized, but can be very self-destructive untamed.
I believe that humility is not only necessary in work relationship, but it’s also key to identify my weaknesses, accept criticism as a vector of improvement and most importantly, see talent in people around me so I can learn from them. I don’t think humility is something spontaneous we develop by magic when we grow up, I think it’s a skill that needs to be trained each and every day.
Then, there’s the social hacking part. For me, it’s been decisive to understand that “success” in art is before anything a matter of talking the right language to the right people. When I put my work in front of contemporary fine art lovers, they hate it. They think it’s terrible and I think they’re right: within their frame of reference, my work sucks, period. I can try as hard as I want to make my work stand out in that context, that won’t happen, because I’m not talking the right language for these people.
So, in order to make my work relevant in the context of entertainment art, I try to understand better the codes (and they move fast, so I got to stay up to date), and pick an appropriate vocabulary and grammar so people in that social group will be more inclined to listen to me. Finally, comes the hard work part. There’s nothing special about it, I just make my life easier by working on subjects I highly enjoy, I’m putting in the hours, and I try to improve artwork after artwork.
What is the best art advice you’ve ever received?
I think this advice still hold metaphorically today. Sometimes when I feel that I can’t figure out what doesn’t work in an image, or what choice to make next, instead of fixing small things over and over, I try to shift and “just look straight”.