Growing up relating to dark folklore, myth, and magic, I was the sort of child who found myself playing Queen of the Underworld or fending off monsters with a clan of other misfits while others were playing house. My fascination with the darker aspects of imagination and art continued to develop, and when I first discovered the captivating work of illustrator and digital artist Bastien Lecouffe Deharme, memories of my own made-up worlds came flooding back. Every image Bastien has created speaks of strength and wonder, exploring worlds of fantasy and sci-fi that emit echoes of energy reverberating from their creator. I had to find out more.
With an ever-growing and loyal fan base Bastien’s work has caught the eye of thousands around the world. Among successes, he has published his own graphic novel Memories of Retrocity, worked for clients including National Geographic, Random House, Applibot, Tor Books, and SFX Magazine, and has most recently extended to have some of his characters published onto collectible Magic Cards. Ever attentive and amiable, Bastien was more than willing to talk to beautiful.bizarre again as part of his feature in the current Issue 009 of beautiful.bizarre. Enjoy!
Natalia: It’s lovely to be speaking with you again Bastien! With such a busy lifestyle as an artist, can you give me an insight into an average day in your life? (Does average exist?)
Bastien: Yes, average does exist. I made sure of that. I used to have a very chaotic way of life. If sex, drug and rock n’roll is a cliche, it used to be my reality.
Today I am far away from chaos and I purposely installed my very personal routine as I need it, in order to be more efficient in my work. It’s like a frame that I set around my work flow to make sure I get the best out of it. It will sound boring, but I really work all the time. That’s what my days are made of. I work for clients and commissioned work, and sometimes, when I get some room for it, on my personal pictures and graphic-novels. I wake up in the morning and half-open my eyes to watch my spouse getting ready. I feed the cats, drink some orange juice and go for a run. Sunny or rainy days, it doesn’t matter. When I come back, my body is awake and I can start working. I usually sketch in the morning, and as the day goes on, my senses get sharper and I can work on finished detailed projects. The nights are time for personal artwork or writing. I work with music, accorded to what I am working on. From Dead Can Dance to 16Horsepower with a lot of classic music and Black metal in between. And sometimes I just need silence. When I write, I listen to some thunderstorm or rain loops. I am not trying to be dark or anything, but that is where I find my comfort.
Natalia: Growing up in Brittany seems to have had an affluent affect on your artwork. In our last interview, you said that you talk about childhood because that’s “the place where personality is forged’ – can you develop this more for our readers?
Bastien: My artwork is the result of what I am, and what I am is an accumulation of factors, moments, places, people and all the things I experienced so far in life. I wasn’t born in a “home” place. My parents left Paris to live in Brittany a year before I was born. So I grow up away from the rest of my family, in a place that was new even for my parents. I was a kid born from “city” people, growing up in the country. Because of that I was always some kind of outsider. In Brittany I was the “city guy”, the Parisian. And in Paris I was the Breton. I think this made me understand early on that “home” wasn’t a geographic place, but a mental one.
My artwork has been defined by this duality. It takes as much from the winds and the forests of Brittany, than from the grey walls and monuments of Sad Paris. My artwork connects with both of those aspects. Brittany is a place where myth and legends grows, and it forged my childhood dreams. They influence my artwork today obviously, but not always directly. Let’s say that Brittany gave me a taste for mythology, folklore and legends from all over the world. I grew up in the forests, close to the ocean. And even if today I live far away from there, the sound of rain and wind always brings me back there, to the place where I grew up. Where I am mentally at home. When I write or illustrate Retrocity (the place where my graphic novels take place), I paint those massive concrete walls, those skyscrapers. An empty city. A silent one, where I can focus on the sound of the rain and the wind.
Natalia: While Retrocity creates a place for silence, Brittany feels so much more full of life…I can see how the place has affected your art. Other than Brittany, do you have a particular source of inspiration? Has this maybe changed over the years?
Bastien: Brittany really is not my main source of inspiration. It is only a place. A place with engraved doors opened to inspiring materials. Music, books, movies. I grab inspiration from outside of my own field. Stories inspire me to make my own. It can be stories from a myth, or the story in a Nick Cave song, or perhaps the local news from the weird town I live in. In fact, I am always inspired, as I try to live my life as fully as I can. I accumulate experiences, ideas and stories to tell. Then I just have to give them some kind of shape.
Natalia: Speaking of mythology, do you have a favorite story or concept?
Bastien: I am obsessed with myths. Symbols and stories. They give a shape to some essentials ideas.
Through symbols and stories we can process and communicate the essential concepts of our existence. They can be guidelines and mater for thoughts. The fall of the angel of light. The one who spoke his voice against the almighty, was sentenced, fell and took pride from it. Icarus, Sisyphus and many other symbols of ascension, struggles and fall. Those obsess me because they are symbols of quest, fight, willpower. They picture what I consider being human should mean: more than just being alive, the duty to exist. The more I process this question, the more stories come to mind, ancient or modern. From Lady Godiva to BladeRunner…
Sentinel of the Ethereal Watch (detail)
Natalia: Ah the famous Lady Godiva! There are often women of courage in your works, in particular, is there a reason that you predominantly portray strong, warrior-like women?
Bastien: In some ways, those might be some kind of self portrait. This is a weird answer, but the more I question that part of my work, the more I realize that I paint myself through my desires. When I say “desires”, I am not just talking about the sexual sphere. I portray what fascinates me, attracts me. The female figure, obviously, but not in a lascivious, submissive way. I have no interest into painting a “male oriented” side of desire, and all those [macho] clichés. I see beauty in strength, confidence, willpower. And that’s where my picture come from. Also I’m not into some kind of mission. I never sat at a table to think “I’m going to paint a woman this way!”. I started by doing a lot of academic drawings with models, and I loved doing that, I never stopped. Today most of my illustrations include flesh, bones, hair and some kind of erotica. And if you spend some time looking at it, you will see that I portray males and females the same way.
Natalia: You use Photoshop for your digital artwork and I believe you have even made your own brush effects for others to use? What has the response been like from followers of your digital art, do they tend to wish to re-create your style?
Bastien: Yes, Photoshop brushes are essential to digital painting and there is some great sets of brushes available online. I started to create my own brushes, as I wanted to work with some personalized tools. This is a technical matters, but to put it in a simple way, the more you become specialized with a tool, the more you know what you need and you tune your instrument in the best way possible to fit your work. As a duelist could ask for a specific custom sword. I created some brushes that are excellent for what I need, and I decided to share some of them online. Adobe liked them and commissioned a few set for the Photoshop license.
I am not really worried about people trying to recreate my style, as it means nothing to me. The true artist will find his own path, by accepting the influence of others and combining them into a new “code”, a new identity. Unique. People who copy or just try to re-create someone else’s work are hurting only themselves, because they lack the honesty of the artistic path. The travel from point A to point B. From the first lines on paper as a kid, to the ones I draw today, there is 30 years of searching. A quest that will not end with any kind of final accomplishment and reward, but with death.
“I consider that my duty as a human being is to become the best person I can be. This is my duty toward myself, and toward others…Who am I? Where am I? Do I agree with what I see right now? Am I happy? What should I change? Those are questions that should be faced every day. And I also apply the answers to my artwork as it is not separated from my self.”
Natalia: Does religion play a part in your work?
Bastien: Yes…and no. I am not a religious person. More than that, I am opposed to the idea of God. I have no beliefs. I do not use the word “believe” in conversations, I use “think”. I refuse to have religion having any kind of influence on my life and my choices. This being said, I mentioned earlier that I love stories. As inspirations and containers for the essential concepts, ideas and symbols of our existences as humans. Religions are the greatest stories and myth, and the foundations of our civilizations. In that regard, I am fascinated with religions, the meaning behind those and the rituals that comes with it. Because they are part of the story of humanity, reflections of its fears and weaknesses.
Natalia: As humans fear and weaknesses often arise. Where would you say your inner strength comes from?
Bastien: Me. I forged that strength myself. I am obsessed by the idea of the self. The ego. I consider that my duty as a human being is to become the best person I can be. This is my duty toward myself, and toward others. Making sure that when I wake up in the morning, my face in the mirror doesn’t make me want to puke. Who am I? Where am I? Do I agree with what I see right now? Am I happy? What should I change? Those are questions that should be faced every day. And I also apply the answers to my artwork as it is not separated from my self.
Natalia: So as someone who moves between both worlds and takes both mediums just as seriously, do you feel there is a touch of rivalry between predominantly digital and more traditional artists?
Bastien: I guess there is something of that kind. I can observe that online sometimes, on social medias or internet communities. But this is not something I see in the professional sphere any more. I think art is one of those places where one should be able to create without thinking about any kind of rivalry. Or having anything to prove. I do what I want. I always did and always will. I can accept rules and laws of society, the principles of living together. But when it comes to my art, I am the decision maker. When I work, I use whatever I feel necessary to reach my goal. Pencils, charcoals, oil, Photoshop… those are tools and I don’t see any reason not to use all of them if that helps me creating the images I want.
I guess this rivalry that you mentioned comes from this legend about digital artists who use a computer because they do not know how to draw or paint. This is an idea that is thankfully slowly disappearing. Digital art is still very young, but old enough to claim its credibility. When confronted to the idea that digital art means that I do not ‘really’ draw, I usually show my sketchbooks. That usually cut things short. I couldn’t do the digital pictures I create today, without a very strong traditional education as a background. And I keep practicing traditionally everyday!
Natalia: Were there ever any particular difficulties that arose that may have stopped you becoming the digital artist you are today?
Bastien: It is easy to give up. I mean in general. Many people give up and get satisfied with what they have, what is easier. I’m not saying that we should all be obsessed with personal achievement, but I am the kind of person who can not go to bed and sleep if I didn’t do more than what I intended in a day. I am obsessed with death as a deadline. The end of the day is a little death in itself. A day is one life. If I do not wake up tomorrow, I will die with the certainty that I didn’t waste a minute. Death is good for that. It’s a reminder of our “duty to exist”. I wasn’t always like that. I used to be lazy, when I was younger, in my 20’s. Those years were good for that, and today I’m glad they are far gone. I think laziness, the absence of the idea of death, of ending, is the danger. When you understand that, then it’s only a mater of doing it. Making things happen. Whatever it takes.
Natalia: Wise words. With that in mind, if you could give one pieces of advice to aspiring artists…
Bastien: I could talk about techniques and skills, but the internet provides so much of those everywhere. Being an artist, making a living with your artwork is not easy. A lot of people assume that it’s some kind of dream life or ultimate creative freedom. This is the opposite. It is dedication, a massive amount of work and frustrations. The satisfaction and content is a rare thing that fades quite quickly as you are already looking at a new piece with new intentions, new goals, new challenges and frustrations. I see the creative process as I see life. A quest, a battle, with no reward other than the fact that you are fighting it. That’s what it takes to “exist”.
To find out more about Bastien Lecouffe Deharme, be sure to check out his website and beautiful.bizarre’s first exclusive interview with him, Androids, Waterhouse and Retrocity. Bastien is also a feature artist in Issue 009 of beautiful.bizarre – check it out to discover the exclusive unveiling of a special piece created especially for the publication!