How do you start with copying Bob Ross’ colorful paintwork only to end up in grim and menacing ancient worlds? Ask Julian Bauer! Inspired by dungeon synth and mountain biking, this German artist uses his paintings to tell some frightening stories. We sat down with Julian to talk about his design background, his unique style, and also – chickens.
You’re an illustrator and concept designer. What did your first artistic steps look like?
Over the course of my design studies, between 2010 and 2015, I taught myself digital painting in my free time and developed a great enthusiasm for this field. I then started taking on small commissions in fields that I practiced in my studies – things like logo creations and UI visual designs. Shortly after I uploaded my first personal paintings to my online portfolio, other opportunities popped up, and so I painted a few book and music album covers.
Back then I also started working on a 2D multiplayer video game with my programmer friend. We spent a good few years on it, but were never able to actually finish the development. It was still a valuable experience, which helped me learn a lot about building websites, animation, asset creation and particle effects.
During that time, I have also been freelancing as a concept artist and illustrator, mostly for book covers, music albums and video games. Over time, my commissions shifted from graphic design to paintings, but the amount of knowledge that I gained in different fields of design still helps me today, especially when I am working on a project with an interdisciplinary team.
Can you walk us through your artistic process?
The beginning differs depending on whether I am working on a personal project or a commission. Ideas for my personal work are mostly inspired by music and often the lyrics, while commissions usually already come with specific requirements from the client.
Depending on the artwork’s subject, I use a broad range of tools to get the first draft going. If the scene requires a complex composition and lighting, I prefer to start working in 3D, using programs such as 3D Coat for sculpting, Character Creator to pose humans, and Blender for composing and rendering the scene. It is important to me that the composition of the 3D scene already works without any additional paintovers – if it doesn’t, I will have a hard time fixing it later.
When the base 3D composition is finished, I continue working in Photoshop, giving the whole artwork a painterly feeling and adding additional details. When I work on album covers, I sometimes receive demos from bands, which I listen to while painting for additional inspiration, as well as to get into the flow.
How did you develop your current art style?
Looking back at my earliest paintings, I have been using digital brushes that aim to imitate the brushstrokes of analog paintings for many years now. I experimented with multiple brushes I found online, until I stayed with the two or three that work really well for me.
However, brushes only can bring your art style so far. I probably won’t be able to list all influences behind my art. For example, I used to watch a lot of “The Joy of Painting” with Bob Ross, which helped me learn a lot of basics as I tried to copy some of his techniques. I am also a big fan of the mixer-brush tool in Photoshop, which allows you to paint a lot of detail with a relatively low amount of effort.
The brushwork and the use of light in the works of the old masters like Rembrandt, Vermeer, Bierstadt and Wyeth, as well as today’s masters like Rutkowski, Jabłoński, Ruan Jia and Boedges, have all been a big inspiration, too.
What are some of the most memorable responses you have received for your work?
When I was in 4th grade, we were assigned the task to paint a tree with some watercolors and a bottle cork as the only tool. When I submitted my painting, the teacher told me how beautiful it was. Today, I am not sure if she really meant it, but this stuck in my head ever since.
Apart from that, every time someone wants to buy a print of my work is the biggest compliment I can get. It shows that I made a painting that someone really likes to look at for a long time, assuming they actually place the print in their home.
What do you consider your biggest success so far?
The biggest personal success for me is that I managed to make a living with what I am doing as a profession. I did not attend any art school, I studied design. This helps me for sure in certain projects, but the painting is self-taught, with the help of online tutorials of course.
The biggest success in my career so far was to work on my first animation short at E.D.Films in Montreal as a background artist and matte painter for all nature environments. The director put a lot of trust in me, meaning I had a lot of freedom in the choice of the art style and composition of the scenes. Working at E.D.Films in general was such a positive experience for me, especially in the way they treat their artists.
What are your other passions?
Music is a big passion of mine, since it is one of the main sources of inspiration for my paintings. I play guitar a bit as well. I also like to go mountain biking in the Black Forest. Discovering new paths and riding somewhere where I haven’t been before without any map or detailed plan is satisfying and rewarding, especially when I discover a beautiful place or a fun downhill trail. Just riding ahead and seeing where I end up is a nice change compared to the regular structured daily life. This freshens up my mind after working for many days on the computer. When I see something interesting, I also take reference photos for my work on the way.
What are your plans for the future?
Professionally, it would be great to find more opportunities to work on animated movies and game projects since I enjoy those contracts a lot. As for my personal life, staying healthy is important – and maybe one day moving to a peaceful place with my partner, getting a cat, a dog, and some chickens that run around in the garden is something I look forward to.