If you read a lot about artists these days, you will notice a recurring theme: overcoming hardship and finding power in your own wounds. Of course, it is a timeless, universal theme, but nowadays, human beings are not afraid to show their weakness and to use it to turn it into power. This phenomenon is especially visible with women. The once fragile flowers are now more and more associated with proud notions of strength, bravery and victory. This new image of femininity is of course visible in the digital art of Justin Gedak.
This Canadian painter is indeed rising an army of female warriors, either coming from a Gothic Fantasy novel or a surrealistic dystopia. Their beautiful faces remind me of the classic Valkyries, while their badass armour and war paint are definitely more contemporary. They are angels of the apocalypse, fierce and drop-dead gorgeous. So, why did Justin Gedak created them (and how)? We asked him some questions to investigate (and see if we could enlist in his dark troops).
What is your artistic background?
I’ve actually only been creating digital artwork for about 4 years now. Both of my parents are oil painters so I started traditional oil painting as a young kid, and have about 20+ years experience with that. There have been a lot of different themes and styles I’ve explored over the years with oil painting, from numerous abstract series and smaller landscapes to larger scaled and darker surrealism works.
I remember doing a big surreal monster themed mural in a music studio a long time ago, and someone there had said that my artwork looked like a cross between Picasso and Satan. I’ve always found that funny, and it’s probably still my favorite observation on any of my paintings.
I had such a difficult time trying to figure out how to paint digitally! There were quite a few times when I got so frustrated that I gave up completely. After a little while of feeling sorry for myself, I kept coming back to it though, and I’m glad I did. There’s a whole different kind of freedom to creating artwork digitally compared to traditional methods. Being able to save a ton of different versions of a painting, and being able to go back to previous versions when experiments don’t work out, is very freeing. Also not having to deal with toxic fumes from paint thinners is also a big plus.
How did you come up with the theme of female warriors/strong women?
I think there’s probably a lot to how I ended up in this theme, but I suppose mostly it comes from an admiration for people who’ve grown stronger through hardship. A term I’ve used quite a few times is warriors who refuse defeat. I’ve known so many women who’ve gone through such traumatizing and horrific past experiences, but who’ve still manage to thrive in everyday life despite everything.
To be fearless enough to still be vulnerable–and to maintain a sense of strength and beauty, even after going through nightmares–is something I have a lot of respect for. I’m both haunted by the stories people have told me over the years as well as inspired by that sense of endeavoring through darkness–and I’d say that’s mainly how I came up with this theme.
What are your sources of inspiration, your references and main influences when working on your digital paintings? Are they mainly artistic or do you have models, pop culture references etc in mind?
I’d say they’re mainly artistic, in that I don’t necessarily have any pop culture references in mind. I do use photography and models as part of my creation process, so the models themselves would definitely be a source of inspiration. Besides being haunted/inspired by people’s difficult pasts, the portraits are actually also very much focused around how I see idealized beauty.
Beautiful faces are a lot of fun to paint–and I also think it’s kind interesting that the characters in the portraits often evoke notions of sensuality and beauty without showing off a lot of skin, or other more traditionally themed aspects of sensuality. It’s more so brought out by the expressions in the character’s faces.
Emphasizing a sense of genuine strength in the portraits without falling into overly macho or cheesy cliché’s is also something I’m really proud that I’m able to fit into the artwork.
Creating artwork is also like a form of therapy for me, and tends to keep me sane, while helping with depression. When I go longer stretches without creating anything, it tends to really affect me. Having something productive like this to work on kind of feels like working towards hope if that makes any sense. Like it’s something really worthwhile. Like a purpose.
How do you proceed to create each of your artworks? Which technique(s), tools and specific creative conditions are you using?
The creation process always starts with a photo. There’s been a lot of different ways I’ve gone about finding photos. Sometimes I’ll hire models to do photo shoots, sometimes friends and other various people online will send me photos, or other times I’ll actually ask models who live far away if I can base some artwork on them. Another thing I’ve done in the past is use and/or buying stock photography. Basing work on my own photography is usually ideal though.
Most of my digital painting process is done with Corel Painter and a Wacom Intuos Pro drawing tablet. I’ll also use Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom for resizing, tweaking colors, etc., but most of it is done in Painter. From there I’ll digitally paint on hundreds –often over a thousand– paint layers onto the image while scratching parts of the layers off with layer masks as I go.
I save numerous versions of the artwork as I go, because I’ll often overdo it with layering, and have to go back to older versions of the portraits so that I can scratch off most of the overworked spots I painted in. For creating one-off originals, I’ve been usually printing them myself onto Hahnemuhle photo rag using Epson Ultrachrome inks.
Then I’ll wet mount them to cold pressed art boards, hand embellish with different GOLDEN acrylic mediums, varnish with removable Gamvar painting varnish, and then finally put them in frames. It’s a bit of an aggravating process creating the originals like this though (I tend to ruin a lot of expensive materials with numerous mess-ups along the way) so I’m always experimenting with different ways to go about it.
Creating originals from digital works is still sort of a strange beast, I think. We all seem to have our own ways of doing it but, at the same time, I also think that makes it extra interesting. Another thing worth noting is that I never really have any idea of what I’m going to do once I start a portrait. I pretty much play around and experiment until something starts to develop, and then I let the character and theme kind of create itself as I go. It makes creating artwork more exciting this way, not knowing what’s going to come out next.
What do you want to show with your art, now and in the future? What are your next projects?
Long term, I’d ideally like to get more into larger scale works. The small to medium sized portraits that I’m currently doing are really fun but I’ve always loved how large and powerful artwork can completely change the mood and feeling in a room. I see myself doing more of that someday, changing feelings in rooms with large paintings.
I also want to experiment more with different ways of creating originals and limited edition works with digital painting, as well as further pursuing my writing that I based on the portraits. Possibly even writing some novels eventually. And also applying to more galleries, and getting out there more! I tend to live like a bit of a hermit out here–alone in the woods on the side of a mountain near Vancouver Canada–so being more social, and seeing more artwork in person is something I plan to do more of as well.