The Art of Exploration
Please take us through your creative journey in terms of initial influences, related education, noteworthy projects, and achievements.
Manuel Piedra: I discovered my passion for art when I was about ten years old and then went to a local academy to learn techniques for two years, which was my first contact with traditional art. I never had a specific art education per se but I consider my artistic journey a never-ending learning process. From Dragon Ball to Caravaggio, the range of my influences is wide open, including nature, video games, the animation industry, and, of course, other artists.
How has living in Barcelona influenced you as an illustrator and concept artist both artistically and in terms of opportunities or exposure?
Manuel Piedra: I have lived in different countries around the world due to my architecture career but geography never played an important role when becoming a concept artist. This current global world we live in, fortunately, brings incredible opportunities without even having to leave your house. That being said, I feel those years experimenting in such different environments from my native one have done nothing but enriched my creativity and filled up my mental library with resources.
Please tell us all about your crypto art with digital hand-painted illustrations–what got you interested in it; the effort it involves and your process of execution.
Manuel Piedra: I believe art is an independent concept, not tied to the medium. Blockchain technology allows artists to discover new ways and unleashes new paths of creativity, which is tremendously interesting to me. There is certainly a shared pattern between artists who have been producing work for clients.
That’s when we suddenly find ourselves within that immense freedom of actually creating anything that is intrinsically ours, entirely from our mind and carrying our soul, for everyone who resonates with it to enjoy. In the beginning, I started learning out of curiosity but then immediately realized an exchange of knowledge, inspiration, and talent that I never experienced before.
It is very early and the ecosystem is far from perfect but the future looks very exciting and I will always use every possible resource to keep learning and growing as an artist.
How do you technically achieve realism in seemingly contradictory genres of fantasy and architectural works, considering the former is an imagination while the latter projects a reality?
Manuel: We wouldn’t ever be technically able to achieve realism unless we understand reality and how the world works. After that, there is no other limit but our imagination when it comes to representing an idea, whether it is about a fantasy world or a real one. I have come to understand that architecture and concept art share the same creative process i.e. problem-solving.
The thought pattern when undertaking the design of a building, combined with the imagination and hunger for creation, makes for one of the best combo tools to tackle even the most surrealistic world-building.
Please take us through your Warlords of Terra series in terms of the brief, concept, storyboarding, execution, etc.
Manuel: It was probably the project that led me to fully understand I could make a living from art and to start considering it professionally, so I hold it in high regard. We were an amazing young team full of talented people and it was fun to contribute to creating a whole complex fantasy world with deep lore and charismatic characters that also made for a game with advanced and very fun mechanics.
The art direction was very open and we were all allowed to participate with our own ideas to shape the concepts. I will always remember that first moment when a person approached me to sign a card with my art on it.
Your use of light & shadow, contrast, and deep color tones comes across starkly in your style. What methods and approaches do you apply to use these aspects effectively?
Manuel: I really do believe in fundamentals and I have been trying to develop ways of painting that don’t rely on “happy accidents” (although those still feel incredibly satisfactory) so as to deliver my best while avoiding stress. It really depends on the type of image and finishes required but I believe that a solid foundation of deep understanding of light, color, and values is much needed in order to be able to focus on other important aspects such as ideas or storytelling.
“An explorer mindset will most likely open more unexpected doors”
Considering your decade-long experience in the field, could you share the greatest insights you’ve gained so far with fresh illustrators just starting out?
Manuel: There are so many things to share from my personal experience but I would always encourage everyone, no matter the age, to stay curious, proactive, and hungry for learning. An explorer mindset will most likely open more unexpected doors. As a very inspiring person said once, most success comes from experience and experience comes from trying. So we are on the right path as long as we keep trying.
Can you take us through one or two specific projects or artworks that you found most enjoyable and exciting as a process?
Manuel: My overall portfolio is a bit of a rabbit hole because I have done so many different things that I couldn’t pick a representative one. I constantly adapt my style according to the specific piece and I like to think of it as a strength but I can certainly state that the most exciting part of the creative process is when the idea sinks in and starts blossoming with different branches and possibilities that keep adding sense and building the overall harmony.
What kind of effort does it take to get the hand-painted, watercolor effect in your portraits and similar works, since it seems to be such a big part of your preference and approach?
Manuel Piedra: The biggest effort, I would say, always relies on that first stage where the painting happens inside your head, followed by the time to put it down in a simplified way while making sure everything reads as it is supposed to.
Fortunately, we’ve got tons of digital tools to achieve any possible effect but I tend to think that approaching paintings in a more traditional way will result in a more traditional finish. I believe decision-making plays a big role when achieving a more painterly style, solving big problems first and going into smaller ones after – the same way an oil painting would be tackled in a tangible way.
Finally, what’s next in your upcoming works? And what kind of projects are you looking forward to, going ahead?
Manuel Piedra: On a personal level, I would like to experiment with technology and new ways of art. Professionally, I would like to collaborate more with other creatives and focus on building a solid artistic identity.