Where did you grow up? At what age did you start thinking about pursuing an artistic career?
I was born in Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria, during the last decade of its communist regime. For a variety of reasons my parents decided to immigrate to Toronto when I was twelve, and I've been here ever since. I've been drawing since I was a little boy, making comics, little flip animations, etc. The first time I made money from my art was around grade three when I learned to draw crude Care Bears and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. I would bring a thin stack of drawings to school and sell them to classmates on the cheap and use the proceeds to buy sweets. Around that time my best friend and I would walk around our neighbourhood, armed with black markers, and cover any plastic playground slide we could find with drawings, varying from the Smurfs to really inappropriate stuff. I never actually considered art as a career until my grade ten midterm exams when, exhausted from studying, I began flipping through a GamPro magazine (late 90's) and had an epiphany, upon seeing a wire-frame model of a robust female-warrior character. In a deeply felt sense it occurred to me that someone was paid to do that, that their job was to create characters, and through this realization it had now become possible for me too.
Did you go to an art school or are you self taught? How did you develop your skills?
I attended an animation school in Toronto which offered good anatomy classes and plenty of life drawing. When it came to the finer aspects of drawing for animation, it was all about learning from whatever art books were available at the time and the comics I collected. This was just before the surge of animation related art became available and flooded the web. I got better by copying a lot of my favourite comic book and fantasy artists. For some time I would pause Disney VHS tapes and draw from the stills, until their “Art Of” books became more available. “The Illusion of Life” and “The Nine Old Men” books helped me glimpse into ways of infusing my drawings with more vitality. The first time I loaned out “The Illusion of Life” from the library (before the reprints were available) it was like peeking into a forbidden and mystical sex manual. There were all of these secrets and wisdom, it felt like glimpsing at the hidden clockwork gears behind a reality. At that time Glen Keane's Tarzan was very influential to me, especially in how I gradually learned to transfer the feeling of body tension and weight into a drawing. I copied his drawings repeatedly. There was also a time in animation school when I was deeply inspired by Golden and Silver Age American illustration. Here I found incredible draftsmanship combined with powerful compositions, elegant storytelling, and inventive styles. I have deep respect for these artists. Around this time I also paid close attention to black and white photography which made me aware of strong design and the way shadows sculpt form and create an interesting composition. Gradually, the act of drawing started feeling like sculpting with a pencil instead of just scratching a pencil on a two-dimensional plane. This a was a major step forward. Overall, my art developed through the influence of classical representational drawing and painting of the masters, mixed in with the kinetic excitement of comic book art, and all of that at some point started being interpreted through a more graphic filter of angular design.
Have you always been supported in your artistic path or has it been challenging to let your family and friends understand your choice?
As is tradition for many artists, my family was suspicious of my choice initially. My father wanted me to have a traditional university education and be immersed in academia and the classical texts, to at least be well rounded as an individual before I made my choice. I was stubborn and continued on my path, while diligently educating myself on a variety of topics outside of art. Other than some of these initial hesitations, my family has been very supportive of me. I think a lot of my friends viewed my choice with curiosity, and some are still puzzled by my ability to sustain myself successfully. But overall, my non-artist friends are supportive of me as an artist, just as I am supportive of them as non-artists; it turns out they too are human...
Did you have a favourite subject to draw when you were a child and do you still have one today? If you do, what makes it so special?
I think it's pretty clear that my art is very human-centric. It's not something I've intended for, but whenever I put pencil to paper I begin to sculpt the human form in it's various incarnations, emotions, failures, triumphs, frustrations, etc. I'm a fan of anatomy, and lately have been enjoying drawing grotesque proportions and shapes. I often find myself just exploring contrasting shapes, or follow an inner sensation of a certain aesthetic. I sometimes just draw the shapes, or turn that “shape-feeling” into some sort of humanoid.
What was the strongest influence you had when you were growing up ( artists, movies, cartoons, comics etc.. ) ?
Growing up in Bulgaria we had two channels on TV, which had infrequent animated children's programming. The shows that were actually broadcast were true events. Around New Year's Eve (the notion of Christmas was banned so we celebrated NYE instead, with it's own Soviet version of Santa Claus) we'd get special animated features from Russia, like the “Snow Queen” and others. Later we started getting more imported shows from around the world. So traditional animation held both a unique aesthetic appeal and sense of mystery. The vivid and vibrant world of all hand-drawn films, especially Disney's, had an aesthetic that bordered on the miraculous, and inspired me profoundly. Children's story books were also a huge source of wonder in a time when we weren't desensitised by ubiquitous imagery. My parents and especially my grandma would buy my brother and I lots of picture books and illustrated encyclopaedias, drawn in a variety of styles. There was an Italian illustrator called Maraja, whose images had a notable impact on me. His storytelling and emotive abilities were excellent. It was one of his illustrations that introduced me to the concept of the power of violence when I was in grade one.
Later, I was into TMNT, French comics like Lucky Luke, Asterix, and whatever Disney films we could find on VHS tapes. There was an awesome Bulgarian comic anthology series called “Duga” (Rainbow) that I loved. Then at about the age of nine, my friend showed me VHS tapes of the legendary “Fist of the North Star” and “Akira”. That definitely planted a seed. Supplanted by some Francisco Goya art books that my grandma had on her bookshelf, things got more interesting. Later, shows like the animated X-men, Animated Batman, Aeon Flux, comics like, Spawn, Battle Chasers, and Hellboy. As a teenager and into my early twenties it was Frank Frazzetta, Joe Madureira, Marc Silvestri, Chris Bachalo, J. Scott Cambell, Greg Capullo, Glen Keane, Masamune Shirow, Milt Kahl, Mike Mignola, Sergio Toppi, Moebius, Jeffrey Jones, Claire Wendling. And then classic illustrators like Dean Cornwell, Howard Pyle, N. C. Wyeth, J.C. Leyendecker, Robert Fawcett, Bernie Fuchs, with some Klimt and the master Daumier.
From the initial client idea to the final work: What goes through your mind and what is the method you use when starting a project? Could you describe it?
When working for a client I tend to start quick and loose and draw on a large digital canvas so I can move through ideas quickly. I interpret the client's wishes and gauge what approach will suit their needs. Here I play with style and personality, and try to get the cliches and bad drawings out of the way early. It's ideal to approach the drawings with a certain feeling of the character or a felt sense of the aesthetic before putting stylus to Cintiq. The results are always better when I manage to enter this level of engagement. One thing I've learned to be mindful of is the different way that a designer and a client see a drawing. Designers tend to focus on the overall aesthetic, shape language, appeal, and originality of a given character design. Whereas most clients look for that “right feeling” they get from a drawing, and it's correct expression of the personality they have in mind for that character. So what happens very often is that an original and strong design is overlooked by the client because it doesn't express the personality they are looking for. So the job of a good designer is to convince the client of the good design by infusing the outer aesthetic, with the inner personality that the client is looking for.
Is there something that you have designed that you are most proud of?
I will potentially be proud of my upcoming short “In Shadow”. I art directed and designed the whole thirteen minutes. I made many artistic compromises just to get it done, but I feel that learning to let go of perfectionism in order to serve the whole, has been a great step forward. I also designed a self-published book of some of my art in 2010 called “Deviations”. I like how that turned out. There was a really cool show I helped develop with some Toronto friends for Disney XD, about four years ago, created by Howie Shia. It was never picked up, but together we did some really unique work. It's unfortunate that I can't show any of the art.
What projects have you worked on in the past and what are you working on at the moment (if you can tell us)?
When it comes to design, my best work has often been on projects in development that never went into production. So conveniently I can't show much of it. But I started out doing layout and environment design for a few Canadian shows, then developed projects at what used to be Starz Animation in Toronto, House of Cool Studios, Arc Animation, Disney XD, and have done design for Reel FX, Warner Brothers, and numerous other small entities. I production designed “The Lebrons” web-series, and designed a number of the main characters for the upcoming “Arctic Justice: Thunder Squad”. About three years ago I started dipping my feet in storyboarding after it began enticing me more than design. I ended up doing brief work on “The Book of Life”, storyboarded on a number of Blue Sky features, and recently have helped develop some other local indie ideas. I spent 2016 as the head of story on a traditionally animated indie feature called “Koati”, directed by my friend Rodrigo Perez Castro, due for release in 2018. I also served as a character design lead while on the project. I'm currently boarding on another studio feature in development.
Working for a company or freelancing: what suits you best? And why?
I enjoy the structure and collaborative possibilities of working in-studio, as well as the inspiration I derive from talented co-workers. I've also made good friends and creative allies in studios throughout the years, and connections for future endeavours. But working from home provides me with the freedom and extra time for my personal tasks and pursuits. It also spares me the experience of the existentially bleak rush-hour commute.
Concept art, animation, illustration, comics, you name it. There are so many careers and when you are very young, sometimes you know only one thing: you simply love to draw. In your opinion, what should a young person take into consideration to make the right decision when choosing an artistic path?
Drawing is a discipline with many rewards and possible areas of deep focus. Some enjoy detailed explorations of patterns and textures, others like world-building. I think that looking into what type of drawing opportunities each field offers would be wise. Some jobs seem interesting from the outside, but turn out to be dull and tedious. Some industries seem sexy, but turn out to be creative prisons. Do you like carrying out tasks or do you want more creative freedom, do you want to work in a team or work alone? Do you want to evoke emotions or explore beautiful aesthetics? Or both? Do you want to tell a story or experiment with design and style? Answering some of these questions will bring you closer to the field that may suit you best.
In your own experience, what would you suggest to someone who is inspired by your work and wants to follows your footsteps: should they work in one consistent style, or work on many different ones?
It depends on how strong the creative pull is. Someone may strongly identify with their style and interpret the world through their drawings in that style, and that is beautiful. If this style is appealing to a lot of people, then the artist will also eat. If it isn't, then the artist can at least be privately satisfied and maybe fulfilled. Other people are fascinated by a variety of styles and delight in the pleasure of exploring all of their inspirations. This may lead to versatility and an eventual union of the strengths of all of those styles. A versatility of technique is a mark of strong craftsmanship and thorough understanding of the filed. I feel that's an extremely valuable type of individual to have on any production job, but not everyone is interested in production work. On the other hand, a bold and authentic individual style obviously calls attention to the creator, and may be more marketable. I don't really advocate any one approach, but encourage a natural unfolding of one's gifts and inclinations.
What’s your point of view about the industry today: what are the expectation for someone who wants to make a living with an artistic career?
The expectations are the same across all industries; do good work, support the overall vision, have respect and integrity in dealing with other people. When being paid for your work, artistic freedom is earned and not owed to you. Working on a variety of projects in a variety of positions and situations will make you better in many ways. If you've accepted a job, regardless of its calibre, do the best work you can on it. You will most likely have to have passion and energy to improve your skills outside of working hours.
Who are the artists who inspire you the most today and what are some of your favourite designs out there?
There is so much incredible talent out there right now that it's hard to say. I actually find it difficult to keep up and often don't remember the names of the artists whose work I see and enjoy. I like the animation art aesthetic and a lot of the artists that work in the field, but unfortunately a lot of our art and subject matter starts looking the same because many people seem to cross reference each other. So while I definitely appreciate and seek out good technique, it usually is the subject matter and the artist's original point of view that draws me in. But some people that come to mind are Mike Mignola, Robert Valley, Paul Pope, Alex Grey, Man Arenas, Florent Sacre, Christophe Blain, Studio 4C among others. But also so many other masters out there that I follow on Tumblr and Instagram. I also enjoy videogame and film concept art. There are a lot of interesting short films coming out of Europe that I find compelling.
We have a soft spot for hand drawn animation, what is your opinion about the future of this art form?
I feel that hand-drawn animation has serious potential to make an impact with original content in the lower-budget market. Streaming services are creating room for content that can leap over the monopoly of the monolithic distribution companies. Obviously this is difficult, but it's achievable; ten years ago it was impossible.
If animation is seen as a storytelling medium instead of a genre, it can create more possibilities. I optimistically envision small production super-teams of producers who understand and trust their directors, and directors mindful of production realities who understand and care about their stories deeply. I think that a strong artistic vision executed with honest craft can go far if planned intelligently.
Social networks, crowd funding websites, print on demand online services and so on. New media on the Internet are connecting the artists directly with their fans like never before. In your opinion, how is this affecting the industry and what are the pros and cons?
It's allowing animation creatives to establish independence and thrive off of their unique voice. I really like the idea of content being voted into existence through monetary support by the audience, as opposed to being filtered through the maze of current market requirements. Some ideas are not meant to have a wide audience, but they can still be of impeccable quality, innovation, and originality. The times we're in allow for that more than ever before.
Finally, where can we see your art online and get in touch with you? How can we buy your creations and support your work?
My online presence is limited to my Tumblr page ( lubomirarsov.tumblr.com ) and my nascent Instagram account ( instagram.com/lubomirarsov ). I can be contacted through the e-mail provided there. If there is enough interest, I may put up an art-print online store. And lastly, my short “In-Shadow” is coming out soon, which I feel will be worth looking at.
Thank you Lubomir :)