Breathing Life into Characters with Kerem Beyit
Character design requires skill and talent. Not only is an artist bringing a character to life, but he or she must also be able to transport the viewer into the world of the character. One must master the ability to bring together several elements, such as: physiognomy, composition, mood, texture, and color.
Kerem Beyit has mastered the art of character design. He is able to create stunning imagery by breathing life into his characters by giving them a unique persona and depth.
In this article we will explore how Kerem honed his talents, while he shares helpful hints that could help you sharpen your design skills by learning more about his process.
DISCOVERING YOUR TALENTS…
You are a highly skilled character and fantasy artist. Can you tell us a little more about your personal background and how your talent evolved?
I am a guy who’s been doodling stuff on every piece of paper since childhood, but I started working as professional artist in 2004. Before that I was a graphic designer, because at the age of 18, I had not fathomed a career in illustration. So I went ahead and studied graphic design in college and after graduation got a job with an agency.
It did not take long for me to realize it was not the right thing for me, and before I knew it I had taken up drawing again. Fast forward, a months of practice and seclusion from the outside world, I came up with my first attempts at digital art. They looked absolutely terrible, but I knew that with enough practice I could only get better. And I think it is safe to say now that I eventually did just that. I mean, I guess I can refer to myself as a self-taught artist. Now I am working as a freelance illustrator with publishers and game companies.
I have worked on D&D titles for years. Also, I did lots of Pathfinder covers and care illustrations for Cryptozoic Entertainment and the World of Warcraft.
Currently, I do freelance promo and card illustration for Sony Online Entertainment’s Everquest and Legends of Norrath. In addition to that, I also recently finished some card and box art pieces for Draco Magi and a SpellCaster board game. With the free time I have left from all of that, I follow my true passion, which is doing cover art. I mostly create novel covers for Pyr Books, Klett Cotta, and Nasza Ksiegarnia. I have been recently awarded the Chesley Award for Best Cover Illustration (Softcover) by the ASFA.
I have read that you have said that in your homeland, art is not perceived to be a way to earn a living… Knowing this, what made you decide to persevere and pursue a career in art? What advice would you give to those who have the same obstacle?
Yes, that is unfortunately true. Realistic trends have just been able to start developing after the Republic era (roughly a century); so I guess it’s normal that we don’t have the artistic accumulation, interest or appreciation like the west. And this affects everything even today.
“You can not make a dime doing this, keep it as a hobby.” I am sure there are lots of upcoming artists all around the world who have heard this at least once. It is an incorrect perception. Do not let other people’s prejudices keep you from doing what you love! I used the internet to get exposure and find clients so that I did not have to be held back by my own country’s limitations. A solid portfolio always attracts clients, so you need to practice as long as it takes to up your game.
What artists have influenced and inspired your work?
Early on comic books and eventually book covers have been very influential in my career choice. Frank Frazetta, who was one of the first artists to do Conan covers and whom I regard as the father of fantasy art, is undoubtedly my idol.
Besides Frazetta, I can mention Earl Norem, Joe Jusko, Lois Royo, Gary Kwapisz, Gerald Brom and Todd Lockwood as my influences and idols.
Other than the traditional generation, the concept artists that I follow closely are Ryan Church, Scott Robertson, Craig Mullins, Sparth and Iain McCaig. Other artists whose style generally makes the greatest impression on me are Jim Murray, Raymond Swanland, and Wayne Reynolds.
I also read that you were inspired greatly by comics. Are there any titles that you truly revered? Or were there any specific characters that you really enjoyed drawing?
There was only one television channel in Turkey when I was a kid, so there wasn’t a great variety of cartoons for a child to watch (though the ones I could watch were really distinguished and quality stuff like Clémentine and The Wonderful Adventures of Nils). This led me to discover comic books. A passion for me that started with Conan, that continued with other American comics (Silver Surfer, Spider-Man, and the Hulk) and then later on with Italian comics (Mr. No, Zagor, Martin Mystere, and Tex).
Comic book covers, especially Conan covers, had a mesmerizing effect on me as a child. That is how I was first introduced to artists like Frazetta, Norem, Jusko and Vallejo. I guess my earlier memories of really enjoying drawing came from imitating these god-like guys with my colored pencils.
Conan was my absolute favorite above all! I keep saying that I will make a new Conan piece, but I haven’t had the time yet. And my second favorite is Wolverine.
You have said that one can learn the elements necessary to create a great illustration by studying fantasy artwork (such as fogging out the background), in your opinion what other elements do you find helpful in creating stunning artwork?
Yes! If you know how to look, a Frazetta painting can give you more useful tips than a two-month workshop. Nobody has ever taught me anything about my job. So I did the only thing I could do and trained myself.
The most important thing is the composition for me. Forget about the color, the values, etc. When you start a piece, if your composition does not work, your final will not work either no matter what you do or how much time you spend on it. Build your composition carefully. Poses, placement, dramatic centre, action, etc. These are the most important aspects of a successful painting.
PROCESS AND PERSONAL STYLE…
How would you define your personal style?
I am not sure… Stylized realism? I heavily use photo references and photo textures in some parts, but I also utilize airbrushing and line art to contour the balance of my work.
Can you define and detail your process for creating a piece? (How much research goes into creating a character, how many preliminary sketches do you do, and how long does it take to create a character when you finally are ready to start, etc.).
Most of the time I decide on the composition with the employer. When they have an exact scene or specific character they would very much like to see, then I have nothing left to do but visualize it. However, expert editors always state a couple of their desires and leave the creative process to me. This kind of agreement always results in better artwork!
To answer the question, if the creative process of an artwork is left up to me, I picture it in my mind first, with all its colors, composition and mood. The rest is all about reflecting the image in your mind to the paper. The closer these reflections get to the first image in my head, the more successful I’ve been. If we are talking about concept designing, the process becomes more technical; you have to do research for the desired character or unit, deciding on the pose, costumes, sketching…
I like drawing single figures since I can really focus all my energy and attention on the character, since there is not a distracting or rather competing element like composition or even background. I can put in the details as delicately as I wish. As a person who has realized many complex compositions, I can say that I always prefer character design; unfortunately that is not what the clients ask for all the time.
When doing a character design, the first thing I focus on is the pose. For me the pose comes before anything else since it tells a lot about the character, you can incorporate traits into your character like sassiness, fearlessness, or fickleness with a simple posture. Once you support that with a facial expression, your character takes his or her full shape. It is a mistake to rely on the facial expression alone, the two must work together.
The right pose is followed by building the body structure, then the face, and finally the whole physiognomy. While drawing faces - especially for female figures - I almost always use reference material, for me that is the right path that leads to realistic and believable character design. Surely capturing simple expressions by following caricaturized and stylized forms and patterns is possible. It is almost too easy to draw a spoiled girl or an evil grin using only your imagination, however a character’s face, whose whole body armor and gear I rendered in a photo-realistic manner has to be done this way as well, and I make use of real photographs at this point. For example, if there happens to be a facial expression that I can’t quite get to work or find too plastic or airbrushy, then I take a look at an appropriate photograph and notice that there are dozens of details I can add to what I’ve done so far, and when I add those details then I realize the end result looks incredibly realistic. Of course every time I add such details I learn new things about the structure and anatomy of the face, which makes me consider using references as an indispensable practice now.
I could talk for hours about the importance of the eyes in character design, and how rendering realistic eyes can bring your character to life, there are pieces where I put hours into making the eye as realistic as they possibly can, surely this results in a certain imbalance in some of my works where you can see I have focused on the face and left the body parts in a rather rough shape or poorly rendered, which is a mistake. No matter how hard you try to maintain a level of detail homogenized balance as possible, sometimes you can only put in as much detail as the deadline allows you.
I mostly do medieval and fantasy themed artworks, so armor references are important to me. I have to say, having drawn armor, clothing and swords for years; I have completely mastered their basics. However every now and then, it would not kill you to look at how real armor takes the light or what kind of pattern folds of fabric follow… There are lots of medieval armor photos on the net. I also collect historical reenactment photos and they always come in handy.
As for the time, it depends on the client, specs, and resolution (level of detail). But a solid full body character design should not take more than five days.
When creating characters do you find inspiration in people you know (family, friends, or even yourself) and/or celebrities? If so can you share an image of a person that inspired a character?
When I am using celebrities as a facial reference - which is rare - I tend to change the physiognomy or only use partial details so I won’t get into any trouble. However, you can clearly make out some celebrities in these character cards since the client insisted that they should resemble certain actors.
If they are not obvious, the first one is Orlando Bloom, the second is Sir Ian Mckellen, and the last one is Johnny Depp - though it seems like I got carried away playing with the physiognomy of that one.
What types of Wacom products do you utilize to create your artwork? How do these tools help your creative process (speed, efficiency, quality, style, etc.)?
I have been using the Cintiq 12WX for years now and it is such a damn solid build that I really do not have any reason to change it. I am sure the new toys are amazing but I am happy with my rig!
What tips can you give other artists when it comes to character design and bringing magical characters to life?
I usually repeat the same thing to illustrators who write me and ask me for advice, so here you go:
There are no magic solutions in this field, the only guaranteed way to improve is to practice. If your drawing and composition is beneath a certain level, you should stay away from the computer and improve your weak spots on paper first since that is the right way to lay a proper foundation. You should learn the basic skills like texturing, shading and tonal knowledge on paper. Building upon those basics, like coloring on a computer, will come easy. I always compared good coloring to frosting that covers a cake. You can cover a bad cake with as much cream as you like, but it will still taste bad.
As for overall artistic advice I’d say, believe in the power of practice, never hesitate to erase your work to do it better, be over critical of your own pieces (that is the key to development) and always make the time to stop and analyze the elements that make a good piece of artwork, once you formulize it the rest will come naturally with practice.
One of my personal favorites is your “Goddess of the Oasis”? What went into creating this image and how long did it take you to complete it?
“The Goddess of the Oasis” was a card illustration for the Legend of Cryptids MMORP. Although it was a client gig, they gave me a lot of independence and let me do my thing. I love short descriptions from my clients. The result is rather satisfying because once a client puts their trust in me, I’ll use all my skills to produce a solid piece.
I believe it took me around one week to finish it since it is a single character piece.
Not only do you create brilliant characters, but you also bring several creatures to life in your work as well. Do you have a favorite creature that you enjoy drawing?
DRAGONS! No actually, I like drawing big cats better, but they are not as popular as dragons sadly. So I am going to have to say dragons, considering my portfolio is full of them.
ESTABLISHING A CAREER…
After honing and developing your skills as an artist how did you start finding clients? How do you go about promoting your work?
The funny thing is that most of my clients found me.
Like I said before, a solid portfolio always attracts clients. But I cannot say that I did not get help. Online art communities are the main reason for my popularity. After all these years, many people still contact me after they see my pieces on Behance and DeviantArt.
So use art communities smartly. Find a niche and fill it, use popular themes, etc. But remember, finding a client is one thing, maintaining a relationship is quite another.
What websites and forms of social media do you utilize to showcase your work? How important is the use of social media and networking to an artist?
Well, I try to limit my online presence because it’s so hard to maintain all your galleries, profiles, etc. I do not think I use social media effectively; to me they’re all galleries that I upload a piece when it is completed. So I do not have any expertise in that field. I don’t remember any clients that came from those channels. To me it’s all about the art communities such as DeviantArt, Behance, ArtStation; which have the most of the art directors and editors looking for talent. Once you got the gig and satisfy your customer that’s it, and that’s how you build your network from the ground up.
What made you decide to link your Behance portfolio to the Wacom Gallery?
Well, I have been using Wacom products since 2004. So, I guess that’s mandatory for me!
Which project in the Wacom Gallery on Behance that you shared do you like the most and why? What went into creating this piece?
I am not sure. I used to be a bulk uploader at first since I had loads of pieces to share on Behance. I guess I can say that my D&D collection is solid. It contains lots of pieces from 2007 to 20013, so it’s fun to see my development over the years.
I have seen some of your work in various books and magazines. How were you able to get your work published?
It is not hard to get in to art book as long as you produce good work. There are lots of art books that you can submit your work for inclusion. I have been submitting my work to Ballistic Publishing for years. And they are kind of enough to showcase my work. They also awarded me three times (Master Award in EXPOSE 7, EXCELLENCE AWARD in EXPOSE 7, and another MASTER AWARD in EXPOSE 11). I am not sure they are still doing these books, but the submissions were free and open for all artists, which is very cool.
There are some art books that demand an entry fee, mostly to cover the expenses. I never tried those, but getting into albums like Spectrum is very important for our profession since these albums are the first thing that Art Directors would look for new talent in.
As far as magazines, they are mostly for interview purposes and once you done quality work for big companies, I guess interviews would pour in.
Other than that, I don’t like forcing my way into anything. Sure being bold helps you sometimes, but I always love to see my work itself open the gates for me.
Where else can we see your artwork (which books, magazines, comics, etc)?
I have been doing all of Tad William’s novel covers for Klett-Cotta, but they’re for the German editions. I also have worked with Pyr Books on Chris Willrich’s Gaunt and Bone series. Other than that I mostly work with online and board game titles. I do not have any professional comic work to show.
What obstacles have you faced as a freelancer and how would you help or advise other artists with the same problems?
Freelancing is a long-term game. Do not expect to make great money in the first couple of years. It takes some years to gather sufficient clientele to support a steady income. Be patient.
Being patient is a requirement for a freelancer. Having artistic skills is not enough, you are also going to need some people skills to deal with your clients.,. to make them see things your own way. If you can’t, you need to let go and do what they asked you to do. Huge egos do not work well in the profession.
Then there is always the issue of unstable income. The workload can be exhausting for months, followed by a complete draught, especially during the summer months. You should anticipate the whole year financially and seriously save.
Having said all that, if you truly care for your occupation and work in a disciplined fashion, countless doors will open for you. It mostly pays pretty well, and this helps you concentrate on your art without having to worry about the bills.
And, as a freelancer, I can safely say that a freelance career provides you with the opportunities like a relaxed working environment in the comfort of your house and the chance to hop between a variety areas and themes unlike in-house workers.
Have you created any interesting projects recently or are you working on anything new at the moment? If so can you share some more info about it?
I have been doing some personal pieces to revise my portfolio. I’ve made some sci-fi art and I am planning to create more. Also, I tried western themes and really enjoyed it. Now I am working on a dinosaur piece, which I’ve been longing to do. If I can find more free time, I’ll do a historical illustration, which depicts Roman legions in the Teutoburg Forest.
It is fun to challenge artists to create illustrations that are different from what they known for. My challenge to you is to create or showcase a previous work that features a cartoon character in your own unique style!
To view more of Kerem’s work please visit his page on the Wacom Gallery on Behance.