Interview with the Artist: Wolfenshire

Staff Writer By: Ricky Grove (gToon)

Renderosity Magazine: I was wondering, what do you think it is in an image that stops people and forces them to look? In fact, it was your gallery that started me thinking about it because there were so many images that caught me up in their reality.

Wolfenshire: Well, right from the start I have to say, I don't consider myself an artist, at least not in the strictest sense of the definition. I am a storyteller -- whether that story is presented as an illustration or the written word.

Since the dawn of time when we hunkered down in caves for protection, we have been enthralled with stories. The early storytellers scratched their stories on the walls of those caves. As time progressed and complex language was developed, their stories began to be told told around the campfire.

As the eons unwound and we developed civilization, our storytelling became more intricate. The telling of stories was used for the recording of history, lore, religion, science, and of course, entertainment. And, even to this very day, we still use storytelling to teach our children. What is a classroom and a teacher if not a setting for a storyteller? The children gather around the storyteller (teacher) each day and learn from word and story.

Now, to answer your question; "What do you think it is in an image that stops people and forces them to look?"

The answer is partially -- the story it tells.

So, what makes a good story? For that answer, let me take you back to childhood. Perhaps you remember when you sat at a campfire, or other equal setting when you raptly listened to a story being told. As the story progressed, you leaned forward, as if to hear better. But, that isn't what you were doing, you could hear perfectly well. No, you were physically and emotionally being pulled into the story -- and that is the answer.

When an image strikes you first on an emotional level, your chest tightens, your heartbeat races, your throat closes, and your breath catches in your lungs. Those are the physical side effects of viewing good art, but it is the emotion that is the key.

You must touch the viewer on a deep emotional level. Now, I'm not talking about sensationalism, anyone can do that. You must find something the viewer can relate. I use silhouettes to do this, and that is my secret. I remove the unnecessary details, the distracting colors, and leave behind only the emotions.

I think you are right about the importance of story in art and culture. We tell stories to solve problems both individually and as a culture. But it's relatively unique to apply the notion of story to still images since story need time to go from the beginning to the end and images are frozen time.

In looking through your work, I can see how story is so important to you as so many of your images are moments in an on going story. Night Cliff, for example, has such a suggestion of a larger tale behind it. Tell me about this image and how it came to be.

Renderosity Magazine: I think you are right about the importance of story in art and culture. We tell stories to solve problems both individually and as a culture. But it's relatively unique to apply the notion of story to still images since story need time to go from the beginning to the end and images are frozen time.

Wolfenshire: Art that tells a story is often called sequential art, and is most common in comics. But, there has been art throughout history that tells the entire story in one image.

And that is what I'm trying to do, only with my own little twist. The masters struggled with this concept for hundreds of years, and some achieved great success with the concept.

The piece you picked out, Night Cliff, was my early sequential art. And missed the mark of telling the story as I wanted. I was still searching for the formula back then.

There is always more than one story to any piece of art. The public story for the piece is a moment of longing respite as the character gazes out over the vast landscape. Adventure, imagination, and dreams are all embedded into that one moment of searching. But, there is the artist story. The image was my early experimentation with gradients. I wanted to meld the darkness of the night sky with the dawning land below.

I have since perfected the technique as seen here by reversing the effect. But... the above still falls short of telling the entire story in one image. I believe I reached the very edge of my goal with the most recent of my images.

The entire story is there, the viewer needs nothing else. There is in this scene birth, life, growth, nurturing, unconditional love, and endless comfort and acceptance. The entire relationship between a mother and her son is in the image.

The next scene shows a relationship on another level. The patient acceptance of a brother towards his sister as he sits uncomfortably in a chair far too small for him. Yet, he remains and makes believe with whatever game these siblings have made up between themselves -- all for the love of his baby sister.

Renderosity Magazine: I see what you mean about sequential art. The development in your use of story in images is fascinating. Does the idea come to you full born or does it develop as you are working on an image? And why choose silhouette as the form to express your story concept? PS that old master image is remarkable

Wolfenshire: My approach to creating art is similar to Pablo Picasso. I begin with a central subject and build from there. I create the character I want in one of the 3D software programs. I'm not going to say which one, but I've used both of the main ones. Once I have the character created, I move a spotlight facing away from the character; this results in the program (both of them) into giving me a silhouette. You would laugh if you saw the lit character. I'm only interested in getting a perfect outline, so the character might be wearing four pairs of pants, six shirts, five sets of hair, boots, tennis shoes, several coats, hair decorations, and who knows what else.

I load all of this while I'm looking at the silhouetted character. It might take a while to get right, but it's that outside shape I'm looking for. Then I might make several hundred .png files in every conceivable pose.

Now, once that is done, it's time to get artsy. I look through all my saved character poses and pick one. I then load that png into the center of a photoshop blank, usually around 900x1200 pixels, but not always. I then make around twenty blank layers and carefully label each one. The labels are usually: background color, moon, tree, grass, stars, weeds, mid-ground, far-ground, near-ground, reflection, color correction (yes, I'm working in color at first), soft light, hard light, hue, shadows, highlights, props, filter, outline, and anything else I might need.

Then I start drawing. I'll use dozens of brushes to make the many shapes I need. I'll also use several advanced techniques I created to give the illusion of depth.

When it's all done. I usually remove all the color, and I have a finished product. Total time to create... well, I've had a lot of practice, but... if I go over ten minutes, I toss the scene as a failure and start over. Everything must be impulsive, quick, and painted with emotion only. Anything else and the image lacks the spark that makes it my art.

So, why do I use silhouettes? Well, silhouette art has been around for a very long time. In the 1800's silhouette art was made with black paper or black paint, both of which was cheap and easy to acquire. Silhouette art was all the rage back then. I fell in love with silhouette art the first time I saw it, and wanted to take the art form to new heights.

Have I been successful? Only the viewer can say.

Renderosity Magazine: Oh, I definitely think you've been successful creating silhouette art. I love how you frame your scenes and the fact that you often use black & white instead of color.

This is a good time to wrap up our conversation with one last question: many young or beginning artists would love to get your advice on how to develop and grow as an artist. Do you have any advice for them?

The advice I would give is that you cannot just be an artist, you must be fully engaged with life. I have known many young artists that practice their techniques until they are perfect. And, that is what they get; perfect art that doesn't have the spark to take it to the next level. If you want to paint a tree, go know a tree, feel its texture, smell the scent, hear it creak in the wind - then paint that emotion. The Impressionists understood this concept well; they painted 'plein air'. It's a French term meaning plain air, or literally, go outside and paint where you can feel, hear, smell, and experience fully the environment - paint with emotion.

There has been much conjecture that the recurrent character in my art is a self-portrait of myself. He is not. The character was a very real person that now lives only as he runs across my canvas. I have taken all that I remember; his vast imagination, his wonder at the world, his joy for life, and put it into my art.

That is my emotional investment and the reason my art often strikes a note within those that view my art. The viewer can feel the very soul of the character because he is real.

You must do the same. Paint with emotion. Paint your feelings.

And there is no difference whether you paint with oil, acrylic, water, charcoal, or digitally with a 3D character. You must find your emotional commitment to your art.

Create with your soul, not your brush.

Renderosity Magazine: I can't imagine better advice for a young artist, RL. I want to thank you for taking the time to answer my questions and share your thoughts on art and art making.

Be sure to visit Wolfenshire's Gallery at to view more of his imaginative art work. The gallery at the top of this interview features some of Wolfenshire's favorite silhouette images.