Kamila Szutenberg on Building Fantastical Worlds

Kamila Szutenberg is a Polish freelance concept artist currently living in Germany. In the past, she had the opportunity to work with studios such as Warner Bros., Wizards of the Coasts, PUBG, Bethesda and many others. When we interviewed her, she said that "I completely fell in love with creating worlds."

Concept art is an essential part of worldbuilding, be it for a book, movie or video game. By creating environments, characters and objects that blend seamlessly together, Kamila’s art is a beautiful invitation to explore. Perhaps it’s a nostalgic reminder of the days in which we used to daydream about fantastical worlds with no limits too. So maybe we can expect to see some of Kamila’s new imaginary worlds soon. Of course, there’s a lot of talk about what influenced her, techniques she uses, but we’ve also spent a good chunk of time discussing where it could go next.

With that said, go and take inspiration from bringing ideas to life. Strive to connect with her worlds and leave yourself eager to explore further. In every case, we hope you enjoy reading the interview.

We noticed that your start with concept art was a spontaneous decision. Can you tell us something about yourself, what led you to art? How did you first get into the entertainment industry? Have you been formally trained or self-taught?

Like a lot of artists I was drawing more or less my whole life, but I never considered it a career path until I discovered some concept art tutorials on YouTube. Back then I already started painting digitally, but it was mostly portrait studies. At one point I painted my first landscape and I completely fell in love with creating worlds. I posted my work on every possible social media and after some time I began to get commissions.

I don’t have a traditional art education, but I highly recommend taking online courses and mentorships. When I started, I did not know anyone in the industry and I met a lot of amazing people this way.

Can you tell me a little bit about your first piece of art that you were genuinely proud of?

This might be a bit unusual, but at the beginning I was proud of every piece I did. I was just enjoying the process and each time I felt like it was the absolutely best thing I could possibly produce. Once I started freelancing full time, it forced myself to leave my bubble and I started comparing myself to other artists. It can become a double-edged sword, because on one hand, you are constantly motivated to do more and better stuff, but on the other hand, you can become overly critical of your own paintings.

If I had to pick one piece of art, it would probably be the ‘Angel of Death’ that I painted for the Gnomon Workshop monthly challenge back in 2015. It did pretty well, and it was exactly what I needed in this moment, to regain a bit of my self-confidence.

Where does your inspiration come from, and how do you keep yourself motivated?

It depends really on what I am working on, sometimes you can find an inspiration in most random places. These days I like to visit new places, it is a completely distinct experience to see locations for yourself and not a photo of it. Reading is also great. When I find an interesting description of something, I like to take a second and try to imagine it in my head. Naturally, I also watch a lot of movies and I especially enjoy the ones from Christopher Nolan. They are an amazing inspiration for mood and composition.

I found out that having a routine works really well for me, I get up and start my work around the same hour every day. If I am trying to learn something new, like Blender recently, or I am doing some kind of personal challenge, I will take time to do so either before work or directly after. If I shut my PC down, I am not coming back to it.

Could you walk us through some of the techniques and processes you like? I'm sure our readers would be delighted if they got to learn something new today!

If I am working on a personal piece, I like to have at least a simple idea of what I would like to do, a blank canvas is the most terrifying thing. I have a lot of rough sketches, when the inspiration strikes, I tend to do a quick 2-minute lineart, just to get the main design or composition down. After that I would take time to do some research, I like to gather mood references and stock photos at this point.

The next thing would be a rough 3D block out where I put my main elements in place and find interesting camera angles. I would render it out and go back to Photoshop to paint on top of it, figure out the architecture or lighting, then back to 3D. I will redo these steps until I am satisfied with the result. I am working with a lot of layers, so it is not an issue to render some additional elements and add them to the piece.

Now that we've touched on technique, I'd like to ask you about the meaning of your art. What are some of the messages you want people to find in your artwork?

This is the hardest question for me to answer because my inner critic wants to answer that my art is not that meaningful. What I would like to achieve with my pieces is an emotional response. It is the biggest compliment if someone says that he would love to live in one of the worlds I created, or someone wouldn’t like to walk alone in a dark forest. It’s just amazing when people come up with different stories about the pieces, what is happening etc. That is also a reason why I stopped naming my art, I don’t want to influence a viewer in any way.

You've worked with famous clients like Warner Bros., Wizards of the Coasts, PUBG, Bethesda and many others, so we would like to know what was the most exciting project you've worked on so far and why? Were there any challenges for you to overcome? What did you learn from them?

Looking back at my projects, I was the most excited about ‘Shadow of the Tomb Raider’, simply because it was my first AAA game, and it was the same for my first movie gig. I cannot dive into the details, but there were two jobs, which caused me to change my workflow completely. On one of them I had to switch from my 2D photobash style, to using mostly 3D in a matter of few weeks just to keep up with the needs of the project.

Right now, it is much more important to me to have a great working environment, nice colleagues and bosses than working on something just because it is a big company or a famous director.

Many artist we have interviewed talk about importance of personal art. What do you think? Do you have any ongoing personal projects at the moment?

I agree, I think it is very important to work on personal pieces for many reasons. For one, as a freelancer, you cannot allow yourself to vanish off the grid, especially in recent years with the situation on the hiring market. It might be a clever idea to try some new workflows and just have fun with it. You are your own boss and can take as much time as you want with it. Crazy camera angles and vivid colors? Completely up to you!

What advice would you give to a 16-year-old?

Don’t fall into a trap of constantly comparing your work to industry veterans. It really doesn’t matter how many likes you get, what does matter is that you put your work out there. It took me long time to accept that fundamentals are important after all. Take your time to study composition and materials. Learn 3D software, Blender might be your best choice, since it is free, diverse and there are a ton of tutorials online. And do not get discouraged, it might take some time, but if you’ll stick with it, you will eventually get there.

You have an impressive portfolio of imaginary worlds on your ArtStation. What do you want to focus on in the future? What's next for Kamila Szutenberg?

Haha, I do not know that myself! The last year has been a bit challenging, and I am not sure what the future might bring. My goal is to stay flexible and to learn new things along the way. I am also considering offering mentorships, since I really learned a lot this way in the past.
Currently, I am working on personal challenge, where I attempt to design 30 environments. I tried to do that each year, but failed miserably in the recent years, so I am all set up to make it to the end this time.

Visit Kamila Szutenberg’s

By Vox Groovy staff writer;
All images used with permission by the artist
© Kamila Szutenberg or respective copyright holders

Audio profile: Devices
Reading by: Asha

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