J. V. Duncan is an artist based in Cincinnati, United States of America. He attended the Indiana Wesleyan University where he studied illustration, his biggest inspiration at the time being the chair of Illustration, Ron Mazellan. Fast forward a few years, and Duncan would find another inspiration—ArenaNet, the team behind the Guild Wars franchise. I think that it’s easy to see how these two styles have influenced each and every one of his artworks. Although it would appear that his pursuit to form personal style was the most difficult, his biggest challenge was actually creating art that communicates feelings, thoughts and ideas as they are.
How did you first get into art?
Since childhood, I had made a habit of drawing copies of whatever was around me. This typically involved copying comic books, magazine pages, and video game manuals. It was November 2001, when playing Metroid Prime and unlocking a concept art gallery, that I first realized that art for the entertainment industry was an actual career that could be pursued. It was in that moment that I weened myself slowly off my video game addiction by supplementing more of my free time with drawing.
Tell us a little bit about your training and your influences.
I graduated from Indiana Wesleyan University in 2011. The chair of Illustration, Ron Mazellan, was my biggest visual influence on me at the time. When graduating I gravitated towards the artists at Arenanet: Daniel Dociu, Jamie Jones, and Richard Anderson in particular. Currently, my greatest influences are João Ruas, Rick Berry, and some fine artists that are too numerous to mention.
In this day and age, most artists are influenced by movies, games and more. How do you think that’s affected art as a whole?
What is attractive and accessible to the public eye will be a society’s natural inclination, so I’m certain strong influence from media is still as present as ever. The most important thing an artist can do about this is question where ideas came from and where they’re going. Syd Mead, for example, creates timeless futurist concepts that affect how most artists today romanticize the future.
If we don’t know about where Syd got his ideas, we could see 50 straight years of Syd clones without even realizing it.Then, all related art just becomes an echo chamber of what’s accessible to the status quo, and that’s a shame!
But there is a positive side to this idea. Independent creatives, be it in gaming, movies, or literature, now have the Internet to bolster their voices. Unconventional, intimate, and powerful experiences (like ThatGameCompany’s Journey) are now celebrated by millions and redefine what is acceptable for media and intimacy. Yet, just twenty years ago, Journey could not have existed due to societal and technological limits.
Why do some people respond negatively to digital art? Is it that we resent the idea that we should be breaking away from traditions?
The biggest distinction I run into with traditional versus digital is that digital does not provide an original for collection or display. Aside from that, I find the public and most art communities are largely accepting of both options. I gravitated towards digital first because of availability and online influence and later stuck with it because of the robust and unique challenges it offered me.
When digital first started blowing up, the commercial art industry freaked out. “We just got the hang of airbrush and now there’s computers?! We all need to jump ship!” If the end product is great, illustration doesn’t care about the rest. When it comes to the fine art/collector world, I imagine traditional will be king until emerging technologies can make originals of digital pieces in new and interesting ways.
Digital Painting Study
Oftentimes, I see people debating about whether beginners should go to art school or not. Do you believe that a formal education is necessary to become a great artist?
No person needs formal education to see quality work and then emulate it.
Do you think that studying different cultures is important for artists?
Studying different cultures is only important if you value learning and understanding. The only way you can truly understand your own culture is by seeing it from an outsider’s perspective. And once one realizes how great cultural diversity is, one can never go back to an incomplete picture of life. As a white low-middle class Midwest American, I grew up thinking I had no culture until college expanded my horizons. Now I try to make it a priority to learn about cultural diversity as much as possible to be a more effective communicator in my art and language.
By making cultural diversity a priority in my life, I’m hoping my desire for empathy will be contagious.
How far do you think interculturality should go?
We don’t get to choose our cultural upbringings. They are our origins story, ingrained in who we are. I think as cultured as a person becomes through experience, he should still own and promote the best parts of his own culture. This way, diversity doesn’t dilute culture.
Describe the types of software and processes you use to create artwork.
I built my career upon experimenting on a regular basis to avoid stagnating, but eventually I settled into one main digital work flow: I do most of my work in Alchemy, a restrictive but open source Java-based program that is meant for experimentation and not image completion. The dynamic tools and limitations help me nail gesture, energy and motion faster than I otherwise would in more robust programs. If my image is not completed in Alchemy, I will adjust and finish in Photoshop.
My traditional process is not nearly as fine-tuned, and ends up being an interpretation of my digital process through real media. Currently, I’ve been enjoying the opportunities that come from working traditionally on top of digital prints. This heavy experimentation is why I currently do not take traditional commissions.
What messages are you trying to communicate with your art?
In my current series, I’m focusing on almost covertly sexual images. From my history with sexual addiction, I was tired of seeing pornography used for only a fraction of its full potential. Rather than blacklist pornography I thought I’d try to create porn that did justice to how sexual activity truly feels . I’m hoping with enough effort I can take complicated feelings and experiences and somehow portray them honestly. The end result ends up being so ambiguous that many miss the sexual element in the images, or prefer to call them “sensual”, and that shows I’m heading in the right direction!
How do you feel about your own work?
I feel thankful that I have the means to express my feelings in sincerity. I feel thankful that the feelings I aim to convey, that some have told me are impossible aims, are still being translated through my work. Still, I feel conflicted, knowing my work is becoming esoteric, and I’ve garnered the reputation of “an artist’s artist.” This makes it easy for my personal work to gather fans, friendships, and start excellent conversations about what’s important to me. But as an artist’s artist, my sales towards my personal work are not where I would like them to be yet.
It is a gift and a curse that my beliefs, personal work, commission work, and mental health appear to be one analogous force. Currently, I feel happy and healthy, so all spheres of Jonathan seem to be in good standing. My Patreon afforded me the opportunity to spend more time on personal work than ever before, and gave me a platform to share deep and intimate notes on my work to a private sector, and that was one of the greatest positive influences in my work and my conveying my feelings.
What is your state of mind whilst when you’re painting an artwork?
For personal art, I rough out a gesture and follow a subtractive process. If something doesn’t feel true, I redraw my gesture and start again. If every mark seems to convey the feeling I want, I keep going until any one mark would detract from the finished product.
In commission work, I have employ empathy to reach my clients wants and needs fully. During character design commissions, when the client and I are in a voice call, I get to flex my empathy to its fullest extent to give someone an avatar that will make them a better person for as long as they choose to use it. Once I know what my drawing needs to be, I can unwind and ride a balance of spontaneity and experience until the job is done.
How does your personality and your beliefs affect your art?
I consider the most important thing in my life to be the pursuit of Truth. For this reason, I am only interested in creating artwork that is honest to myself or encouraging honesty in others. This plays a largely restrictive role in where I can find work, because I have little interest in accepting commissions for intellectual properties unless they are of the highest quality or somehow make the world a better place.