Michal Dziekan

Where did you grow up? At what age did you start thinking about pursuing an artistic career?
I grew up in a small town in south-western Poland. I wasn't really interested in art when I was younger, no one in my family was related to art at any angle. I've just started to draw because it was a lot of fun for me and I stuck to that. When the Internet era arrived, I was about 15, or 16 years old and I started to look for stuff I was interested in. I started to follow digital painting and 3D art forums, soon I managed to buy my first tablet and I started to paint in Photoshop, I sucked at it, since I never drew before, but as I said – it was fun. Then high school ended and I had to choose what I will by studying – I've always wanted to do something related to mathematics, cause I really liked it, though later I focused more on art then math – finally I've made a choice to connect both interests and I started to study architecture and then I was learning digital painting on my own after hours. In 3 years I moved from university to animation studio. 

Did you go to an art school or are you self taught? How did you develop your skills?
I'm mostly self-thought with a few exceptions – the first time that I got a proper education in drawing was when I attended a drawing course before my exams for architecture – I've learned a lot about perspective there and I still use lot of that knowledge. Then years later I took two coursers that ended up becoming true milestones in my education – the first one was 'Anatomy for Artists' with Scott Eaton, then I took 'Character Design' with Steven Silver. Besides that, I'm learning a lot from just experimenting, I try to develop my style and constantly try to test new approaches. There are lot of mistakes and dead ends but it's satisfying to see the progress!

Have you always been supported in your artistic path or has it been challenging to let your family and friends understand your choice?
My parents have always supported most of my decisions regarding career, they never planned a life for me and it was very nice not having any pressure from their side. Also my wife was always extremely supporting. Sometimes I made pretty bold choices – for example when I left architecture for a digital artist job in Warsaw – it was pretty hard decision to make, but with my girlfriend's (which is now my wife) and my parents support I felt a bit more confident. At the end it was kind of a breakthrough for me, as this one decision started my proper artistic career. 

What was the strongest influence you had when you were growing up ( artists, movies, cartoons, comics etc.. ) ?
Films comes to mind - first one I remember is Tim Burton's Batman, then my father showed me Monty Python's Holy Grail – I loved that one, even if I was too young to understand it. Then video games came – there were so much inspiration in that world for me. At some point, when I was 11 or 12 years old, my cousin introduced me to Magic the Gathering – I loved it straight away, not because of the gameplay itself, but the art on the cards. Though, most influential were cartoons. All the Disney, Hanna & Barbera and some of the anime that came to Poland (I've seen Ghost in the Shell pretty early in my life and I didn't understand it at all, but I loved it). I was fascinated by Inspector Gadget and I still like to draw lot of the wacky machines and tools. I remember I couldn't wait until I get back home from primary school to watch stuff like Ulisses 31, He-Man, Batman animated, TMNT and in fact all of that 80's best cartoon series or (a bit later in time) Cartoon Network's best pieces like Tartakovsky's Dexters Labolatory or Samurai Jack. Later, the Internet brought a whole new set of inspiration.

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've never had favourite subject until I'd discovered my current style of illustration, which is based not only on how I draw, but mostly on topics and ideas. I like to take on social related themes, and I try to share my thoughts about the world that surrounds me with my art. I like to illustrate problematic situations and conflicts of a 'not-so-perfect' world, the darker side of life. I'm pretty sensitive on that matter.

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?
The most important phase is coming up with the idea, especially when the client doesn't suggest a specific one. I doodle a lot and I choose the ideas I like the most (not to many though, 2-3 max). Sometimes I choose my favourite idea and I send it to the client, my rule is to show to the clients only the ideas that I like, that will work, and that I could have most fun working on (at least when it's possible). When the idea is finally accepted I'm starting the designing phase. My sketches are very rough, so the first thing I do is drawing a proper sketch. I focus a lot on character design in my pieces since they are often character driven. I don't have a single working method for coming up with ideas, in most cases it's very spontaneous process, but doodling everything that's coming to my mind helps a lot.

What is your process in creating your art and what are your favourite tools?
I'm using a Wacom Cintiq and Photoshop with about 4 different brushes. My process starts with an idea, then I draw a sketch of the whole piece – besides character design I devote a lot of attention to composition, as it's very important in storytelling. Then I do all the line work, flat colors come after that. At the end I do lighting and shadows. I sometimes use a layer in multiply mode for shadows, but in most cases it's just painting over flat colors, beneath contours. 

What part of the creation process is the most fun and easy and what part is the hardest?
Coming up with the right idea is the most fun part, but also is the hardest one. Because of that high difficulty it's also the most satisfying part. The easiest and most boring part is the final rendering – that's why sometimes I try to limit it to minimum (but also sometimes I get lost in mindless rendering and I'm taking it too far ).

What is a typical day for you, and who are the people you work, collaborate or share your creative time with?
Since the birth of my son I've came up with strict workday routine. I start work at 10am and I work till 6pm with some short breaks for running, drumming, lunch or just to clear my head. I try to work for 8 hours a day the most and I really care about work and free time balance, since I want to have time for my family and for my other passions like drumming. I work in my studio alone, but we got this cool online, closed, art group made of friends where we talk a lot on a chat and once in a while we meet for a beer.

What are some of the things you have learned from other artists who you have worked with or whose work you have seen?
I worked in an animation studio where I've started as a concept artist as I got some basic knowledge and experience in it.  But I was eager to learn new stuff like motion design, animation, composition – I was starting from scratch with all of it, so it was very helpful to have other artists around who were specialized in those fields, when I got stuck I could always catch somebody and ask him for advice. Without it the learning process for me would have take much longer. Also I've started to experiment with drawing with a little push from one of my friends from the studio, it was very important as my style of illustration was born because of those experiments. In my opinion, when you are mostly self-thought and you don't attend any courses or you're not in art school, it's important to look for people who are able to give you good feedback.

Is there something that you have designed that you are most proud of?
I got a little problem with being proud of the stuff I do, as I'm pretty self-critical and I'm never fully happy with what I draw, there is still so much to learn! Yet, if I had to choose – I like the editorial illustrations I used to draw for the Polish reporters magazine Duży Format. I had almost 100% freedom in what I draw. I did about 40 pieces for them in 3 years, and that was very satisfying. I'm also pretty happy with the set of illustrations for Disney-Hyperion for Magic Delivery novel. The Polish Bank also asked me to draw a set of 13 illustrations for the digital restoring of some Polish classic films, (for their 2015 calendar). I had a lot of freedom doing that project too, and I was quite happy with the final result. Besides illustration,  I'm proud of "O Energocyrkulacji", a music video for the polish artist L.u.c  I did back in 2009 – it's cut-out based 2,5D animation piece made entirely in After effects. The catch was that I didn't actually know anything about AE when I started this project and I had to learn everything on the go.

What projects have you worked on in the past and what are you working on at the moment (if you can tell us)?
Advertising agency DDB Warsaw choose to base a big ad campaign for the Polish National Bank on my illustration style, so I drew about 300 illustrations for them over last 6 years. It was a pretty big thing, but this cooperation has just ended, so currently I don't have any bigger projects on the plate and I'm focusing on various smaller projects – from editorial to advertising, these days most character designs I do are for ads. Also there are few personal projects on the background, I'm also working on a children book in between these commercial projects. 

Do you have a longterm career goal? What would your dream project be?
My goal is to work less on commissions and spend more time on my personal projects. The ideal situation would be if I had my own project I could live from, though since I'm still thinking what it could be, I have to stick to commissions. My dream commissioned project would be something that gives me lot of freedom to express myself and at the same time being well budgeted and with comfortable timing.

Working in-house for a company or freelancing: what suits you best? And why?
I've used to work in-house in two studios, 6 years in total. Now I'm at my 6th year of freelancing so I can look at this from both angles, and so far I can say that freelance is more suitable for me – more flexible, less stressful and I can spend time in a workspace that is best for me and designed around me. I can take breaks anytime I want without explaining anything to anyone and I can work from anywhere I want. I'm a very organized person and I don't need anybody over my head to tell me what to do, I've never missed a deadline in my life, even when I was tackling a few projects at once. But still, I miss some advantages related to in-house working – for sure there are benefits employment freelancer won't have – all the work is already there, you don't need to promote yourself, you don't have to contact clients and spend a lot of time writing emails or on conferences. Working in-house, a lot of stuff is taken care of for you, also medical cover, paid holidays etc. Also you don't have to think about all the paperwork and bookkeeping. And the most important thing – you have your fellow artists around you and you soak with knowledge and inspiration just by working with them – as a freelancer you need to take care about that on your own.

What advise would you give to an artist who is dealing with an artist's block? How do you boost your imagination and keep yourself creative?
Go outside :) I try to live in balance between family, work, personal art projects and things I do for fun. Also, I try to keep myself fit and eat good food. That balance keeps me in good mental shape and so far I've never complained on lack of creativity. In my opinion balanced life is the key.

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?
Haha, who am I to advice anyone as I have changed my mind so many time over the years. I think it's best to just go with the flow, do what you love, try to make a living out of it if you can (or need to), or make money the other way and do art as a passion. Just be happy and don't push yourself too much – it's not a race and in my opinion there is not one right decision, you can do lot of stuff and you don't have to stick to one decision you made. If you are unhappy try to change things. I always followed my instincts and I'm doing pretty ok right now, so maybe it was the right thing to do. 

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 develop many different ones?
I would say experiment a lot, try new stuff. Find your own voice even if it won't be anything new, I mean, everything was done already, there are 7 billion people so don't push to hard to be one and only but try many different approaches, for sure there is something that will fit you best. When I was younger I tried very hard to draw things that wasn't really my thing, it was hard and stressful, for sure I've learned a lot through it but when I started to experiment and finally had that "eureka" moment with stuff I do today it was very relieving.

If you had to recommend only one art book (a comic book, graphic novel, children book, ''how to'' book) to a fellow artist, what would it be and why?
Too hard! I would say one title and 10 minutes later I would change my mind as I don't have this one book I go back to. Too many good stuff out there and it's currently very easy to find, so maybe we can skip this one :)

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?
I think in this industry there is so much to choose from – animation, games, publishing, commercials – all of it needs whole spectrum of artists. For example there is a lot of well paid work in the advertising sector, though it might not be the most satisfying thing to do, advertising commissions in most cases are not the place where artists could express themselves, so if someone is ok to be more of a craftsman then an artist, he could make a pretty nice living out of it. I also think advertising is pretty steady when it comes to budgets, though in other fields it varies a lot – I worked on editorial illustrations that were paid nicely and I worked on others where payment was more symbolic and I still draw them mostly for self expression and fun as they were more like my personal illustrations then commissioned ones. I  jump from world to world, I do advertising illustration to make a living and editorial pieces mostly for myself to feel fulfilled as an artist. 

Who are the artists who inspire you the most today and what are some of your favourite designs out there?
I run an inspiration blog on Tumblr ( foodiloo.tumblr.com ) There you can check what inspires me when it comes to painting or drawing. Besides that there are so many things where I take inspiration from: books, films, music, stories I hear or ones I observe in motion, nature, people, world, everything. There is so much great design out there and it's so easy to find it these days. I've started my inspiration page to see If i could post new artist I like each day, it's been 3 years already and mostly it's artist a day and I see no end to that. 

We have a soft spot for hand drawn animation, what is your opinion about the future of this art form?
I love hand drawn animation – it's so unique and expressive! My friend Szymon Biernacki works in SPA Studios on Klaus film. I'm sure you've seen the teaser trailer. I got very high hopes for this film. I've also felt in love with Song of the Sea, I can't wait for new film from Tomm Moore - Wolfwalkers. Speaking of Tomm – I watch Puffin Rock with my son – it's so cool. Samurai Jack is back too! I think future might be bright and I think there might be more and more people becoming slowly tired and bored by all-the-same 3d animations that look almost the same, but I understand 2d animation is much more expensive then 3d and unfortunately numbers dictate it all. Anyway I won't stop hoping to see more films like mentioned above or Belleville rendez vous - my personal all time favourite hand drawn animation.

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 much easier to reach people these days. I'm not sure If I would be where I am now if it wasn't for the Internet. I couldn't imagine myself promoting and sharing work in any other way. To me websites and social media are perfect galleries – finally art became fully available to anyone, everywhere, for free. And yes, the Internet brought people together, I'm sure it's very nice having this option to directly write to someone who's work you admire. Also, all the knowledge that became available thanks to the Internet it's priceless. Let this interview be the best proof of Internet connecting people! Crowd funding is great too, I think in some cases it worked miracles for game industry – Banner Saga – beautiful, hand drawn game or reborn of old school roleplaying games for example. I'm waiting to see some hand drawn animation film to be funded this way. 

Finally, where can we see your art online and get in touch with you? How can we buy your creations and support your work?
If you wish to contact me, send me an email to ( md@michaldziekan.com ). You can also write directly via Facebook on  my fan-page ( facebook.com/Michal-Dziekan ). My official website is ( michaldziekan.com ), and you can also follow me on Instagram, where I post more loose stuff ( @michaldziekan ).

Thanks you Michal :)