/ Adobe inspire: spotlight on Jarek Kubicki

When digital photography was in its infancy, much of the discussion centered on how to move the image-making process away from analog (film and print) toward digital (files and pixels). Now, as the digital side of the craft has matured, there is just as much discussion about how to reintroduce some of the magic of analog image capture back into digital images.

The best analog workflows of the earlier days of photography brought with them a certain delicacy of tone and subtlety of texture that can be difficult to reproduce digitally. For image makers who used those techniques, the process of converting continuous tone negatives, slides, or scenes to a series of numerical values always seemed a little soulless. However, the push to represent photographic colors and tones digitally has been unstoppable and has helped revitalize an industry that had changed comparatively little over the previous 30 years. So most of the „analog-ists” (okay, not a real word) succumbed to the prevailing winds and switched to digital capture, process, and output. Nevertheless, the subtle tones and textures of the analog days were never far from their minds, or their hearts.
Jarek Kubicki is one such analog-ist. Coming from a background that combines photography and design with traditional painting, drawing, and illustration, he understands the tactile qualities that a simple analog system, such as charcoal on paper, can produce. His work revels in slow transitions from the darkest grays to the deepest blacks, and the subtle flow between the white of the paper or screen to the first hint of discernible texture. He makes little attempt to hide the strokes and marks used to produce his illustrations, instead incorporating their texture into the very fabric and design of each image.

That said, Jarek Kubicki is also a realist. So when he creates his signature images, he readily combines the best of both digital and analog methods. In the process, he manages to capture the gentle textures and subtle tones much heralded in photos created traditionally, and combines them with 21st century speed and efficiency, taking advantage of the almost infinitely variable enhancement control offered by Adobe® Photoshop® and a digital workflow.

I receive many questions from other image makers about the brushes i use in photoshop. I have just two: circular and squared, without texture. This surprises people, but when I want to gain a more brushlike effect, I take a piece of paper, use a real brush and some paint to apply some strokes, and then I scan it. Then, inside photoshop, I ‚paint’ with the scanned brush texture, and even though I’m working digitally, the effect looks more natural. Like real paint on paper.

The Interview

So many examples of digital painting and illustration use predictable fills, gradients, vector based-edges and lines that they feel more like architectural drafting than free-flowing illustrations. You have chose to work in a completely different direction to this style. Is this a reaction to typical digital illustration styles or is it a natural transition from your traditional painting and illustration roots?

When I started to work with digital images or illustrations, and that was over a dozen years ago now, most of works you could see at that time looked like trying to prove that they were indeed made on the computer.
These works were synthetic, often flat, and all visual experiments were based on using as many different digital tools as possible. These included various vectors strokes, rendering objects and scenes in 3D and adding unnecessary typography. It seemed that the main goal for image makers was showing what was possible with computer programs rather than making images. In the poorest images from this period you will see lack of life, lack of depth, and a lack of dynamic visual elements. These are all things which can be rectified with the incorporation of subtle texture, deliberate brush movement and careful tonal control. During this period I used scanners, and later, digital cameras, more than Photoshop itself as a basis for my work.
At the beginning, I found illustrations containing a lot of gradients, vectors, or other mechanical drawing functions, not really that attractive. These drawing techniques all result from being a slave to the program’s inherent features and functions, which, in my opinion, means the image-maker’s involvement extends no further than that of using a tool created by the producer of the program … and not of the image-maker’s imagination, Also, at the same time, I found myself feeling that there was a lot of tiring pop culture in the images of the time. A lack of innocence, and increase in rapacity which lead in the end to too much predictability. I have always felt like a child of an alternative culture so all this provoked some kind of strange rebellion in my head.

60541 / 2008

If i was asked to characterise your work i would say that it is both organic and freeform with plenty of texture and subtle strokes, and that these factors then combine to form a very distinct stylistic signature. How did you come to produce images in this style?

I started to become interested in creating unreality by putting together textures that don’t normally fit together in a way and a style that create a new entity with new qualities. I wanted to echo some of the ideas of surrealism, not conceptually, but more the form and juxtaposition of textures. I wanted to create images which can not, from many reasons, exist in reality. I wanted to create a visual world with no limits or restrictions enforced by notions of reality and, in the case of editing and drawing programs, what is programmatically possible. And at the same time I wanted to recreate the distressing, anti-plastic atmosphere of my traditional paintings and drawings. Incorporating and using traditional techniques in my images has a lot to do with my artistic education, during my training, I gained much respect for the physical contact which comes about when a painter creates – the texture of the canvas, the consistency of the paint, the hardness of the brush hairs. Despite the advances in the technology, these are all characteristics I feel are lacking with my work on the computer. I still vale what the computer brings to production of images though so I found a way to combine the speed of working with digital techniques with the visual poetry of traditional techniques.

Where do you find your inspiration?

First of all – history of art – I adore The Italian painter Caravaggio. I also like Turner and the Impressionists. I like the underlying thought and the intention which they brought to the creation of each work. Their ambitions were to experiment and to play with the means of expression and the tools which they had at their disposal. There were a lot of very interesting developments at this time in art history. I suggest researching the period as their approach and ideas can be very inspiring.

Are there particular photographers or illustrators who you would see as your role models?

I have them a lot of people who influence me and you could say are my role models such as Zdzislaw Beksinski, Jan Saudek and Helmut Newton. Also I love classical art, especially the work of Caravaggio and painters from Netherlands like Bosh, Vermeer, Rembrandt. I appreciate the work of Dave McKean, Ian Francis, Russ Mills, Nicola Samori, and love photography of Alina Lebedeva… too many to mention them all.

60572 / 2010

Do you combine digital and analogue techniques? For instance do you sketch with pencil and then scan the results as a basis of a new work? If so, how do you convert your analogue work to digital for further processing?

Starting a new work with a sketch would be an ideal beginning for me. Very often I start my work without visible or concrete idea in mind. As I work I am looking for a foundation or a structure which could be a container for textures, shapes, colours, atmosphere, and ideas. All sketches are then scanned and transformed digitally later in the process.

What role does digital processing play in the production of your images? Where does photoshop fit?

Photoshop is a perfect bridge for me between traditional painting and the digital world. I use it without any extra plug-ins or fancy filters. The only filter I use is the Unsharp Mask, which I apply at the end of all the editing work. I receive many questions from other image makers about the brushes I use in Photoshop. I have just two: circular and squared, without texture! This surprises people but when I want to gain a more brushlike effect, I take a piece of paper, use a real brush and some paint to apply some strokes and then I scan it. Then inside Photoshop I ‘paint’ with the scanned brush texture and even though I am working digitally, the effect looks more natural. Like real paint on paper. Photoshop is definitely a tool which gives you an amazing feeling of creative freedom. I can compare using it to freedom of movement found when flying a plane.

If you were giving advice to image makers just starting their artistic
journey, what would that advice be?

Forget everything you know, everything you’ve seen before, forget about the appearance of objects and nature, set your mind free from these constraints. And when you feel free, then start to work!

Adobe Inspire, Philip Andrews, 2012