A pair of dogs chilling in a convertible, a condescending goose, and a duckling that surfs the waves on a pizza slice. No, it’s not your meme folder we’re talking about – it’s the ludicrous art of Tiberius Ciucinciu, a Romanian artist gifted with a truly outlandish imagination. In this week’s On The Spot, he walks us through his creative path, where memes meet artistic freedom and creativity clashes with grind. Jump in, it’s quite a ride!
What were your first steps as an artist?
I remember my first effortful art I did as an amateur artist was just drawing the prompts of my high school friends. I created a character and each friend came up with a trait which I then drew on the spot. I still have those four drawings.
Then I went to art university which made me extremely jaded. I didn’t create anything personal for 4-5 years. Looking back, I think I maybe could’ve taken more out of school, but I was in a place where creativity was frowned upon by the main teacher, which made me even more uninterested in drawing. Anyways, 18 till 24 was my period of being very distracted with partying, having fun, hedonism and experimenting. Creativity was at a very low point. I mean I had ideas and all, but they would evaporate quickly, since I almost never put them on paper.
Then I took a job in advertising as an art director (spoiler alert: it wasn’t about art but it was still creative) – it was time to take some serious responsibilities in my life! This made my artistic drive to bloom again. Dealing with limited time, learning to get serious with work, and being surrounded by colleagues who enabled creativity (and production of it) really gave me motivation to start putting effort in drawings. Some of them felt finished but most remained scribbled experiments.
The first thing that officially made me a professional artist was some watercolor food illustrations for a cookbook. And though I never saw that book in a finished form, with the money from that I bought a Wacom Intuos 5 which I still use today. Before that, I had a nice cheap Genius tablet that my brother Maximilian bought me. I thought the Wacom would be a great upgrade, but the difference was marginal.
After 2-3 years I started a Facebook page with illustrated puns and funny drawings, and reached 10K followers. It was a nice period but I slowly realized I was kinda bored of puns and I wanted to show the world my true art, not just some drawings of silly words. That’s when I created my biggest personal painting so far, The last comfortable man. It was a redo of a drawing I did 10 years ago. And that changed my whole approach towards art. I even woke up at 6 in the morning, full of energy, just to spend an extra 2 or 3 hours on the piece before I had to leave for work.
Slowly I became more interested in doing my art than in my stale advertising job. So I transitioned towards making art my full-time career. So far, that’s the best decision in my whole life.
Where is your studio and what does it look like?
It’s in Bucharest, in the apartment I used to live in. Before that, I had a really cool room on the 10th floor, right in the city center, which my friend Andra had lent me. I just had to restore it, which I did with the help of my father. He also built me a pretty big easel, based on some plans I found online. The room had a very inspiring and contemplative view – I could see for miles ahead. Damn, I miss it! The building itself was pretty old though and didn’t look too safe for the next big earthquake, so I left and moved into a bigger apartment where I now have a bigger room for my studio.
I currently have a wall easel which is extremely easy to use. I found it in Andrew Tischler’s video. My workbench is a tall table on wheels, which my father built for me.
It’s very important to me to be able to work standing up, that’s why I recently bought an adjustable height desk for my digital workstation. If you’re an artist reading this, I highly advise you to try and work standing up – a standing desk is the best investment you can do both for your health and workflow.
That’s why I never bought a screen tablet. It forces you to slouch down, causing nasty back problems. But a non-screen graphic tablet is perfect: the drawing takes place below eyesight while the screen can sit at eye level, allowing you to keep your head and neck in a healthy position. I will buy an iPad though, but I’m still going to use it on my easel.
How did you develop your current art style?
I don’t really think about art style, never really chased the concept of it.
For me, the core of my art is the idea and narration. Everything orbits around it, and realism always did the job better than any stylization attempts I tried. And by realism I mean an accurate depiction of lighting, as true as possible to how it works and interacts with materials in the real (or maybe imaginative) world.
In my first 5-8 years of making art, I relied only on black and white drawing. I was afraid of colors but I still tried to convey (with very little success) realism and true lighting. But I kept studying more art, especially from Borodante’s YouTube channel – that dude really leveled up my art skills! It turned out colors are not that hard and are, in fact, very fun once you get the hang of their logic.
For me, it’s always about how I paint and draw right now rather than how I used to paint and draw. So if I have to paint, say, a Judgmental Duck, seen from below, who declares PATHETIC to everyone around it, then I’ll first think about the mood. And the mood is given by the scene lighting. So a sunny lighting with blue sky above the duck wouldn’t really convey this dramatic mood I aimed for. In this heavy drama scenario, a yellow light from below with a white rim light way above the duck makes way more sense.
After I started painting in digital, I realized it’s everything I needed: I have all the colors in Photoshop at my disposal along with every kind of trick and effect, and unlimited undos corrections. I never went back to pencil drawings, it felt pointless and obsolete. Then my friend Liviana prompted me to start painting in oil on canvas, but I was pretty arrogant about it and didn’t see the benefits of an actual painting. But then one day, I was at my desk job and wanted to watch something on YouTube during my lunch break. The algorithm recommended Andrew Tischler’s tutorial, where he painted some New Zealand mountains. I devoured all of his content that day and then I realized I had a new fever, and the only prescription is more oil painting. That’s when I started renovating that 10th floor room for my painting workshop. It felt amazing to paint with real life objects: sticky and thick paint with lush colors, the unpredictability, the textures of brush marks on rough canvas, getting dirty, having to clean after myself… It was a ritual that made me feel alive in a different way that I never knew was possible. Soon, I painted two portraits as a test from some internet psychology celebrity and I managed to sell them both. That’s when I realized I could do art for a living and lost all interest in my advertising job.
You create a lot of funny animal meme artworks. Where did the idea come from?
I got inspired by Marcos Lopez and his angry “Cat no like banana” meme-painting. This piece rang some alarm bells in my head, like “WAIT is that possible?! I can paint a meme with a personal take on it? Hell yeah I’m in!”. So I made The Crooked Cat 1, inspired by a “cringe cat” meme, and people went wild. I sold 3 copies and a good number of prints. One guy even tried to convince me to retrieve the original painting from its new owner, so that I could then sell it to him at a higher price. Dude was rabid and relentless about it! I never knew that art, especially my art, could have that effect on people.
What does your creative process look like?
For my original works it’s like directing a movie, a theater play or a photo set. I’m thinking about the subject’s position, dynamics, camera angles, lighting, and everything that those variables can symbolize, the meaning they can convey. I try to make the most out of each variable for the best artistic effect.
But for the meme-inspired artworks I just find a meme or a funny looking animal and try to add my personal twist or a different but related narrative. For example, in The Intervention I reinterpreted this photo of a fat dog that I had for a long while, and enhanced its narrative using the good old imagination.
With each type of artwork there are two parts, the creative and the grinding. The first one is always where I mix and mash ideas without constraints, giving myself maximum freedom to just conjure anything. I establish each idea in a very rough sketch, then somehow the piece itself starts to give me hints that guide me into a particular direction. Sometimes it’s great success, other times it’s just whatever man. Then I select 3-4 best ideas and really put them to fight each other! Most of the time only one idea survives and others die in a gruesome death. But other times a few ideas engage into some sweet kinky mingling, morphing from three different pieces into one – a nice mutant idea that deserves to live just because other ideas loved each other. I’m fine with that kind of weirdness. This whole part is fueled by motivation and passion, but these alone can never make a piece finished into its final pleasing form.
That’s why there’s part two of artmaking, the grind, which is the least fun of them all. It’s the part which I have failed so many times to latch onto and left so many projects to dry out in darkness. I bet this is where many artists don’t dare to go and happily stay in their comfort zone of “art that looks the same like it did 10 years ago”. It’s because the grind is mostly fueled by discipline, which burns slow and steady for a long time, instead of motivation, which is a nuclear rocket fuel that burns fast and intensely. So it’s just the process of just building the product of art with minimal creativity, just grinding away the shapes and forms, calculating the light, and adding those interminable details of trees or whatever. Really jarring stuff that needs a lot of patience.
It’s like in this BoJack episode when he started jogging, fainted after just a few meters, and then another runner told him: “It gets easier, every day it gets easier. But you gotta do it every day. That’s the hard part”. I swear to God, that part changed my perspective! You really have to do it at least every day, even just a negotiated minimum to get the train rolling. After that, the pains of starting to create something new really go away. And the nice part about grinding is that it isn’t really that mentally tasking. You can easily listen to awesome books and podcasts, or stand-up comedies while you do the grind part. And that’s a major win-win for your life, to be able to get knowledge or leisure while you do your work.
Which of your artworks is your favorite and why?
I think the piece I mentioned before, Last comfortable man, had the first major impact on me. After I posted this in a Facebook group, it made a real splash with many people. One guy commented something like “This artwork made me feel things I never knew I could and wanted to feel”. Dictating people’s feelings like my art is a Scottish shepherd felt really empowering and made me realize I had unraveled something really important and meaningful. The unraveling still goes on to this day and I remain surprised by how much art can stir things up deep in people’s psyche. I mean, remember the dude who went nuts after The Crooked Cat 1? That’s just a silly painting of a weird cat, man! I still don’t understand how things like that happen.
One of my recent favorites is Road to garden of Eden. It was a commission from this guy who wanted a Biblically accurate depiction of heaven. He gave me some things I should paint, like the trees of life and knowledge, the flaming sword, the angels near the gate, etc. The rest is my own creative choice. It was the sweet ratio of 20% requested choices of the client and 80% of my creative freedom. I knew that paradise meant something like “enclosed garden” from ancient Persian, and I finally put that piece of trivia to good use. I’m very pleased with the design of the whole environment, it was really a massively difficult piece to grind on. I painted it for almost 3 months straight, without touching another serious project. I wish I had 3 months more to really dive into details and all, but it wasn’t financially feasible. One day, I will make a huge oil painting and spend as much time on it as I please!
What are your passions, other than creating art?
I enjoy biking, cooking, testing my cat’s limits, growing hot peppers, spending time in nature, cloud and star gazing, judging sunsets/rises and especially playing guitar and composing music. Too bad my songwriting went dusty for 4 years and now I only have these songs from a long time ago.
What do you consider your biggest success so far?
The last major success was putting my artworks on Displate. I think in November 2021 I put some prints to be sold. Forgot all about it, because life has kept me busy with adjacent stuff. Then one day I remembered the uploads and checked it out. And I was like “YOOOO I MADE SOME SALES! NOOOO WAAY!” Then later in June, I became overwhelmed with the love of people who bought so many prints of my art. And it came just in time after a major setback I had with NFTs, where I sold 4 or 5 artworks and then some of the Ethereum got stolen in a lame hack. The rest of my art got “whatevered” into cryptomarket nothingness. I saw countless artworks that gave me the most repulsive feelings I’ve ever felt in my life being sold at obscene amounts of money. But my bruised artistic pride and confidence got healed after I came on Displate. Not only healed, but seriously expanded to heights I only dreamed of years ago. I still have a very hot amount of gratitude towards Displate and the people who discovered my art. Much love!
Another major success was when I was commissioned an oil painting inspired by my Stoner Doggers. Instead of dogs enjoying the seaside in a convertible, the client – a buddy of mine – wanted his two cats in his offroad 4×4 Suzuki Samurai riding the mountains. It was a perfect challenge. Once I finished the painting after working on it for 4 months, I had this idea: instead of just giving it to him like a regularly sold object, why don’t I just throw a mini vernissage in a bar, cover the painting with some sexy red cloth and do a big reveal? And so I did just that and surprisingly, people showed up, more than I expected! I think there would be even more if the whole thing wasn’t badly timed just 2 days before Christmas. The reception was excellent, people loved it. They overwhelmed me with a huge round of applause, it was a good evening. I’m very irritated that I didn’t have a chance to take some professional photos of the painting and upload it on Displate. But I’ll do that soon.
It might sound tacky, but I feel like every artwork I finish has a present dose of success, because I try to put a level of challenge in each piece I do. I’m nowhere near the craftsman narrative skills I intend to have, but I acknowledge each little success and I see the artist I am now and compare it to the one I was at each step of the past. It feels like the success curve has been rising, which professionally is really gratifying.
What are your plans for the future?
I also seriously plan to restart my songwriting again and upgrade my instruments and all the technical gizmos. My inner musician screams louder to be fed again. Hopefully soon!
As for my visual art, I plan to stick to the trajectory. I want to expand my collection of digital and oil paintings of silly animal memes, work on major commissions from people who need my creative input, and also expand my arts skills into ceramic sculpture and modeling. I also have some business ideas I started a few months ago but put on hold to finish a major project. There’s a lot to do, and I’ll try my best to accomplish most of what I have in mind. It will always be with the sole purpose of creating nice and silly but beautiful art. Because beauty will save the world, and through chasing the deepest meaning of this truth I feel I’m becoming a better artist than I’ve ever dared to dream. Amen.