Only a handful of people
out of the thousands
are able to contribute
Scrolling through ArtStation’s “picks” section every week since the site’s founding has allowed me to make a number of observations about the entertainment industry and the artists who adorn it with its echoing aesthetic. Today, we only have time to talk about one; it seems that there is only a handful of “trendsetters”. These are the artists who can post a new artwork and watch as the community produces hundreds of pieces that were inspired by (or copying, depending on your point of view) their vision. This chain reaction paved the way for a peculiar relationship between aspiring concept artists and the industry they are striving towards as it is often defined by a game of catch-up. But there are others who, like the Old Masters, find inspiration through introspection and first-hand experiences in the world.
This is an interview with Tomas Honz, a Czech artist who chose to wander in search of something new, and my hope is that his artworks can show us what it looks like if we stop using AAA games and blockbuster movies as our main source of inspiration.
Tomas graduated at the Academy of Fine Arts in Prague, but he also studied in Taiwan and the US. This means that, aside from being well travelled, he’s had the opportunity to try his hand at Chinese calligraphy, Chinese painting and illustration. When asked about his experiences, he described one of his teachers, “Watching him paint was a transcendental experience. It seemed that every mark he made was deliberate and spot on. If you have a teacher like that, and if you are excited about your own thing, it’s pretty easy to learn.” This stood out to me because we often hear about how great self-teaching is. So, in-between this and Tomas’ approach to art and life, this feels like an interview full of new perspectives and alternative viewpoints for all of us.
Of course, it’s also got everything you might have come to expect from a RVG interview—the journey so far, exciting stories from the artist’s past, an outline of his process, etc. If you’re an aspiring creative who is looking to explore new avenues and innovate, Tomas might have the answers you need.
What sparked your interest in traditional painting?
I was always a creative by inclination. When I was young, I was drawing dinosaurs and air planes, then landscapes together with my grandfather. He was an amateur artist but that doesn’t mean he wasn’t equipped with some decent skills. Then there was this period in my life when I thought I would become a programmer. Luckily, that aspiration wasn’t supported by my marks in maths so I chose art.
Although something else had to happen later on in my life, and that was what finally set me on the right path. Back then, I was working full-time at a VFX company in Prague. I was getting paid decently so I could afford to live in a big apartment with my cute girlfriend. We were thinking about getting a dog. Sounds like a pretty comfortable life, huh?
Not for me, though. It’s gonna sound like a cliche but something happened one day. I had a serious accident. For a while, I didn’t know how I was going to end up. And at that time, things became clear. I realized that being glued to computer in a dark room for 8 -12 hours a day only to return home too tired to do anything but watch movies was not the life I wanted. I needed freedom. I wanted to learn and experiment. So I quit the job, broke up with my girlfriend and started travelling. And I also bought a set of oil paints and an easel.
It turned out that painting and wandering was everything I wanted from life.
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Caption: Paintings from Kutna Hora.
Kutná Hora is an old medieval town that feels like frozen in time. In the 14th century it was rich and famous for it’s silver mines which were bringing enough wealth to finance building of grand gothic monuments. Most of them are still standing today,
There is a convention for painters held every year in the local gallery.
If you had to choose one “old master” as your favourite, which one would it be and why?
I have different favourite old masters at different periods, it really depends on my focus at the time. In recent times, my hero has been Joaquín Sorolla. I visited the Museo Sorolla in Madrid which used to be his former residence and studio. I was blown away. His technique is like Sargent’s, but even more expressive. The guy had balls too—he didn’t shy away from attempting to paint on two meter canvases right out on the beach. And with some unbelievable success! I currently have prints of his work pinned on my wall to remind me how boldly I can paint and still keep the image realistic. That’s something I’d like to get better at.
Could you walk us through your creative process for your favorite portfolio piece?
Actually, the process is the same most for most of my portfolio pieces. When I’m travelling (it can be to a nearby forest or some place on the other side of the world), something usually catches my attention. It sort of injects an idea into my brain. Now, to get rid of that idea, I need to develop it into an artwork. So I do some sketches, take pictures, write notes or even record videos. Later on, I try to combine these in Photoshop. The goal is to find the best way to express what I had my mind while making the least amount of compromises.
Sometimes, it takes months or even years of trial and error before I find the right way to do it. But when I do, the painting itself can be finished pretty quickly. This approach is the same for both my traditional and digital artwork. I never do random stuff like “lunchtime paintings”. Even my studies are always linked to a specific project or a piece I’m working on. There are just too many ideas that are waiting to be realized to waste time doing anything unrelated.
Caption: Path of Exile loading screens
Do you think that formal training is better than self-teaching when you’re a beginner?
For most people, yes. Having an able teacher who can recognize your mistakes and give you feedback and guidance is invaluable. They can save years of striving with the right tutor. Not to mention peers and connections that they naturally acquire while attending formal training at a real university. So, I would suggest that anyone who wants to get a job in the industry and become a fully fledged artist gets a formal education at the right institution. There are—at least here in Europe—real options, even though people often like to say otherwise.
You have studied Chinese painting and calligraphy in Taiwan, so please, tell us about that experience and the mark it’s left on you.
That’s actually one of the fundamental experiences in my career. There was this teacher of traditional arts at the university I was going to. I recognized that he was a master of his craft. We had similar ideas about art and life, too. In time, this master-pupil relationship was established between us. Sometimes, I stayed in the classroom for longer so he could do a demo for me. Most of the other students didn’t care so we usually ended up alone or with one or two other fellows.
Watching him paint was a transcendental experience. It seemed that every mark he made was deliberate and spot on. If you have a teacher like that, and if you are excited about your own thing, it’s pretty easy to learn. Doing assignments and putting in extra hours was something I did without thinking. I still smile when I remember how I spent dozens of hours painting just bamboo leaves. And I’m still not good at that.
I was then—as well as I am now—fully aware of how lucky I was to find such a great teacher.
Dining Hall – Inspired by a taoist temple in China.
You are well travelled, having spent time in Europe, Taiwan and the United States. Do you feel that today’s artists ought to spend more time discovering new places as opposed to trying to find inspiration in the newest films and games? Sometimes, I feel as though digital artists get stuck in the comfort of their own homes and or studios, looking at reference photos, art of books, film stills, etc. But the reality is that the freshest ideas are often waiting for them outside. So, what has travelling given to you and how has your artwork changed because of it?
That’s exactly what I’ve been thinking recently. It as though today’s digital artists severed all connections with the real world. Instead of focusing on what’s around them, they chose to replace them with video games and movies, and it shows. Only a handful of people out of the thousands are able to contribute something fresh and truly personal. I believe that if you want do better than just repeat what you have seen in the latest blockbuster, you really need to dig deeper. Both in yourself and in the world around you. All the ideas that you will ever need are already out there. It’s really hard to go back to playing video games or watching movies after you taste the real thing…
Besides, I believe that one can only understand things after seeing and experiencing them in person. Like if you want to paint horses, you better study actual living horses. And you ought to pay someone to teach you how to ride them. Or go try fencing and archery if you are into fantasy. It’s fun and it will help you. I paint in plein air (not the virtual one) to understand light and colour. Photographs have that completely distorted. How can anyone seriously consider doing landscapes without going out and studying them in person is beyond me.
Do you have any travel memories that you’d be willing to share with us? Ones that you’re particularly fond of would be great.
This one is tricky because there are so many and I’m such a miserable storyteller. But there is one that I can tell. It has nothing to do with art.
A few years ago I went to Philippines. There were these small islands with secluded beaches. I always had this dream of becoming a castaway for couple of nights. So I chose one of the islands, rented a kayak and paddled there. I arrived right before sunset. The beach I chose was perfect. I would have never dared to dream of a more beautiful place. Being there alone made it even more exciting. This, however, was soon to change.
An hour later, I heard some noises whilst I was setting up camp. Two Filipino guys who looked like criminals on the run appeared out of nowhere. I knew I was in trouble. After a couple of unsuccessful attempts to communicate with them, I gave them most of my money. They left shortly after. I was relieved to be alive but I didn’t feel safe anymore. It was too dark to paddle back to the mainland so I hid further in the jungle. I put on my dark clothes, grabbed a kitchen knife and waited. After a good two hours, I saw a flashlight. They were obviously looking for me. I crouched. Unfortunately, their light was strong and they easily found me. I could just see one guy at that moment. I had no idea where the other one was. I was ready to fight for my life.
It turned out I didn’t have to. The guy turned the light off and sat on a rock next to me. No one said anything, and he was just melancholically starring into the darkness in front of us. So I joined him. I felt no more danger in the air. He left after some time and I sensed a big relief. Could he just be here to have a moment with company other than that of his comrade? Maybe…
I left the island early in the morning thinking about how easily things can turn into nightmares. Naturally, this has not stopped me from embarking on new adventures.
Because It’s these moments that remind me what life is about.
Caption: The Church of St James is the oldest stone church in Kutná Hora.
Can you tell us a little bit about the Czech art scene? I saw that you took part in a number of local exhibitions, and I have to say, I’m quite curious about what the country’s artists’ attitude towards the craft is like.
It’s complicated. On one hand there is the official establishment (currently made up of artists who are around 50 years old, grew up on conceptual art, and who occupy the posts at art universities and major institutions). Their rigorous refusal of everything that doesn’t fit their idea of what art should be is becoming iconic. Naturally, no kind of traditional painting or sculpture has a place in all of that.
On the other hand there is the art market. It’s open for anyone and anything with bit of skill and determination. This market is largely independent from the guys above.
So it’s okay. Nowadays is still the best time for artists to be living in. We can do what we want the way we want and make living out of it. There is really nothing to complain about.
What’s next for Tomas Honz?
I still haven’t abandoned commercial work completely. Sometimes, the commissions that are offered to me seem too tempting or the pay is too good. I’m not sure if I’m ever gonna do it but one day I’d like to leave all that behind and have the confidence to say no to even most lucrative offers.
Other than that, there is lot of travelling ahead. Currently, I’m liking the idea of spending a long time in one place or returning to a destination I’ve already visited. I feel like that way I can have more meaningful experiences, learn more and get under the surface of things. It’s also much easier to paint when you don’t have to rush to see all sights on your checklist.
By Vox Groovy staff writer;
All images used with permission by the artist
© Tomas Honz or respective copyright holders
Reading by Josh Portillo
Article in Slovak language;