Henrik, welcome to Reprehensible Digest. Tell the audience a little about yourself – your background, where you're from, what you specialize in as an artist.
My name is Henrik Rosenborg and I'm a freelance illustrator hailing from Sweden. I work as a concept artist for various trading card and role-playing games. Early in my life I grew fond of mythology. I loved the fantastic tales and endless possibilities. Swedish folklore and the connection to nature especially shaped my young mind; it helped form the vivid imagination that I carry with me to this day. It started with knights, trolls and goblins – and that's pretty much what I still paint today. Not much has changed, other than the fact that I have gotten better at doing it. Tabletop RPGs (role-playing games) were very important to me early in life and still remain so. I'm glad my illustrations can help inspire other nerds out there.
At what age did you realize you loved drawing and painting?
I had always been doodling without any real plan to take it to a professional level. At first it was just about occasional fun, sometimes with months or years in between. I think I was 22 when I sort of ransacked my mind and asked myself, "What am I good at?" I figured I was decent at drawing, so I started to explore my options in that field and began studying game design and computer graphics. Around nine years ago I really began to try improving at this.
As a professional concept artist, what are some of the challenges you face in your specific industry?
I think one of the hardest challenges is to keep your imagination keen; to always come up with new ideas, inspiring color schemes, getting a good story... When you start out, it's hard to find clients, to get your name out there. Building your reputation takes a lot of time and hard work. There are even more challenges in finding a good balanced lifestyle, because sometimes you have 20 illustrations, sometimes you have none. This definitely gets better with time as you build your brand, but it can still be challenging at times. There's a lot of things surrounding freelance work that can get tricky. Having a regular job helps you with keeping a good routine most of the time, whereas freelance doesn't. All of the sudden you have to plan everything yourself and form healthy routines to stay in both mental and physical shape. I guess these things are very general for anyone having their own business.
Explain your creative process, how you determine what a character should look like and how you develop a convincing atmosphere and lighting.
When it comes to designing, I try to doodle a lot and sort of roll with the punches. I never remove a line that "isn't supposed to be there" because I want to keep my options open. Who knows, maybe that line will bring new ideas further in the process. Also, I never lock down a design. I keep changing, adding, removing things throughout the whole process – even in the final stages. To summarize: Keep it loose. Keep an open mind to the possibilities you see in your lines and roll with them.
On how to create a convincing atmosphere: I've always loved rendering; spending time with the wrinkles, subtle color shifts in the skin and textures, etc. All because I want to bridge those crazy designs with reality. First and foremost, I have a decent understanding of light – what light does to different materials and colors. I like to build it up slowly; always in color from the very beginning. There are so many wonderful color mixings that happen naturally as you go. I generally start with light values and keep adding until I'm satisfied.
Is there a particular branch of character development you prefer working with, such as orcs, dwarfs, dragons? What is your specialty?
Great question! Naturally I LOVE all of those, but if I had to pick one or two, I'd have to say goblins and dwarves. There's just something about them – exaggerated features, big noses, meaty colors. There's still a lot that I do to reinvent them. I try to figure out how I want MY dwarves and goblins to look – something I encourage everyone to do.
Were you trained in school as an artist or are you self-taught?
I spent my high school years in art school, but there was less and less art over the second and third year. Of course I did pick some things up there, but it didn't improve me significantly. After that I spent one year in a folk university where I learned LOADS. We got to try everything; sculpture, pottery, life drawing every week, color theory... That year really changed me as an artist, a huge difference.
After that I spent three years in university; gaming design and computer graphics – unfortunately it was mostly 3D – but what I did have during those three years was time. I spent all my free time painting. I learned so much during those three years and a few really amazing teachers helped me land my first freelance gig halfway through my final year. Ever since I've aimed at growing a bit each year, which I think I've succeeded in doing.
Name three other artists who have been a major influence for you as a professional.
1. Paul Bonner: He was the first artist to really make me want to do this. I looked closely at his work covering all the tabletop RPGs we were playing and remember how I felt to this day. I just didn't understand how someone could paint something so damned cool and imaginative. Before you've really tried your hand at becoming a professional, you don't really understand how skillful they are. He set me on this path with his wonderful work and to this day he's my biggest inspiration.
2. Jesper Ejsing: I wasn't familiar with Jesper's work until a few years ago, but now I'm hooked. His work is so crazy and dynamic. It's so fun to look at and his colors are just nuts. I'm very inspired by this guy.
3. Even Mehl Amundsen: Even's work is just so gorgeous. He's taken all these classic fantasy creatures and really made sense of them in a whole new way. His characters and line work feel very alive and dynamic. I'm constantly impressed with this guy.
There are many critics who look down upon creature artists and are very dismissive of the genre. What are your thoughts on this attitude?
Are there? I wasn't even aware honestly. I don't understand why you would look down on any genre. I spend little time staying updated on the art community these days. I mostly just sit around and paint what I think is fun and looks cool. Having fun has been a massive driving force for me, so as long as it's fun than I'm happy.
What is your perspective on different styles of art, such as abstract painting, comic book illustrations, or tattoo art?
I think all of them have their charm. Since I'm an illustrator, I mostly enjoy what I know I'm looking at, so sometimes abstract doesn't really do it for me, but sometimes it's also wonderful. Comics, tattoo artists, animators, musicians, chefs – anyone passionate about what they do are inspiring to me. People doing interviews and sharing with the world are also inspiring.
As a concept artist, do you ever consider working full time, or do you have more freedom as an independent freelancer?
I have considered it many times. I look at job sites at least once a month when I'm having a bad day, but in the end I really love what I'm doing. I enjoy the freedom it offers and the variety, that it's so specialized. I paint creatures, that's what I do every day and it's great.
When you were young, were your artist dreams ever called into question by adults?
For a brief period of time, yes, my parents were a bit concerned with me building a good life for myself. I do appreciate their concern and I understand why they had these thoughts, but after my first year in art school they have not questioned my choice. In fact, they've been even more adamant in their belief that I'll make it big in this business. They've been incredibly supportive, both financially in tough times and with love and emotional support when needed. Couldn't have asked for better, more caring parents.
What are your long-term goals as an artist? Where do you see yourself in 10-15 years?
I've had a few goals for a good while now and I'm closing in on them, hopefully this year even. What I've found more and more is that I want to spend time working on my own projects. I hope that within 10 to 15 years we have a big successful studio. My interest for collaboration between different kinds of artistic expression has grown. Perhaps some animations, perhaps some major events or something that can contain a lot of ideas. We'll see, but definitely something surrounding my IP which is a tabletop RPG called Ö.
What would your dream opportunity or venue be as a creative artist?
Other than freelance and my own project, Blizzard Entertainment has always been a something I've looked up to. I've played many different Blizzard products throughout my life and I'd like to contribute at some point, especially to World of Warcraft.
Who are some of your most frequent professional clients? Do you ever struggle to meet their demands or challenges?
Some recent clients have been D-Verse, Volta and Bläckfisk Förlag. All of these have been amazing to work with. Getting work done at a standard that I feel comfortable with occurs more often than not, so most of the time I don't struggle. Sometimes it happens when I'm thrown out of my comfort zone and I lose momentum, which is very frustrating of course, but I have a some experience now to help me overcome them.
What brings you the most satisfaction as an artist?
I'd have to say it is the colors and textures, dressing a creature character in all of these wonderful trinkets, stitched clothing, and different kinds of fabrics and leather.
I notice you work mostly as a digital painter. How has this evolved to be your creative medium? Do you ever work with real paints and canvas?
I first started out with pencils, just drawing all the time, but at some point I realized I had to start painting to manage the whole process from sketch to finished illustration. Why i chose digital was because there was only a one-time cost for a tablet. I didn't have to buy any materials. There's also the fact that everyone at my university was doing digital art, so it's easy when you're working and need to change things around. It's just convenient, but my favorite artists are still traditional painters, so I've started playing around with it in my spare time.
From start to finish, how long does a random visual take to develop using design software? Do you prefer the initial sketch or working with realistic details?
So much of that depends on whether it's a massive painting or a single character without a background. For example, Escaped Spleen Team Worker took me around eight hours of effective painting, which is my average. Some of the others took nearly 20 to 30 hours to complete. Process-wise I've worked hard to remove the "ugly-phase" that everyone hates, but now I like all the steps in the process. I enjoy sketching the idea, laying down the first values and tones, and taking it to the finish.
How much time do you spend learning new techniques in various design programs?
I don't spend a lot of time learning to tricks, it's quite the opposite. These days I mostly use normal layers and merging a lot. I try to keep it as close to a traditional process as I can simply because I just want to paint everything. I do throw in the occasional color dodge to spice up a glowing eye or a flame, but I've cut off a lot of the special effects layers.
Do you ever create your own unique monsters directly from your imagination, or are these selections at the request of a client?
Oh yes, I do that quite a bit. I have to in order to stay sane honestly. Some days I just need to let loose what's in my head and not follow any instructions or plans. Most of the time when I work, the client will give me very loose directions – or none at all – and leave me with a lot of freedom. That's where I produce my best work!
Many gaming artists are locked in on creating established industry characters. Would you ever consider penning your own stories with your own monsters and ideas?
I am doing that all the time through my IP. They all bring new ideas and stories to mind that I write down and refine together with my friends and my brother. We're currently building this tabletop RPG together and it's gonna be great!
What fascinates you as an artist? Do you have any other interests or skills that people would find interesting, such as fishing, history or architecture?
I love fishing. Whenever I have time and the weather is nice, I like to go fishing. I love nature in general and have spent countless hours deeply immersed in nature documentaries. That's part of why I like fishing and spending time by an ocean. I'll walk around and just try to watch fish in their natural habitat. So yeah, I'm a huge animal nerd. I even have a favorite fish species. Go check out Arapaima, Alligator Gar and White Sturgeon if you haven't. Other than that I like gaming quite a bit. It's a good way to relax and get inspired. I also read a lot and watch documentaries on organized crime and serial killers. There's something about it that's always fascinated me.
As a freelance artist, what has proven to be the most effective method in promoting your services... social media, industry conventions, personal connections?
A mix between social media and personal connections that I've made through social media. Social media in general has been good to me. It's insanely easy to throw your work out there, and it's been a good way to promote myself and help potential clients find me. It's also a great community where we help each other out.
Based on the flavor of your characters, do you enjoy horror movies or science fiction?
I've stayed away from horror movies because I'm easily spooked. Although I do enjoy the stories and creativity in some of them for sure. Science fiction I haven't watched that much. Guardians Of the Galaxy counts yeah? I do love those movies. For me it's always been about fantasy, Lord Of the Rings, Game of Thrones, Harry Potter – anything where I can escape to another world. Oh, and Penny Dreadful is pretty amazing.
What advice would you give to aspiring artists trying to break in to your industry?
Dare to walk your own path, paint what you enjoy painting – not what you think others would enjoy if you were painting. Work hard, experiment and find your way. Remember that it's a long distance race, you won't be successful in your first year. Also remember to rest and have fun, build a good balanced life. I didn't and it punched me in the face eventually, so try to avoid overworking. Bring some of that energy with you to the next day!
What are your fears as an artist and how does this influence your work?
That's a tough question, never really reflected on it. I feel fairly sure of what I am and where I'm heading as an artist. Sure, there's sometimes a fear that people won't enjoy it, but I love to show my work and see what people see, so for them to find it boring would be the worst. I think that's why I am always keen on doing exaggerated characters and colors so they'll leave an impression.
What are some other fascinating things about Henrik Rosenborg that the audience might love to know? Feel free to elaborate:
I asked a friend and he told me the following: You're very enthusiastic about whatever interests you, whether it's fishing, painting, a new game... and you inspire others to feel as passionate about them as you do. You're always talking to people, always interested in them and you bring them together.
I agree with him. I am very interested in people and their stories and I love bringing them together through online hangouts or in real life. I get very passionate about things, usually RPGs, nature or art. I want to spread my enthusiasm. I enjoy walking through life with people, making the journey together is very important to me.