What I'm about

Well, I'm not brown.

Greetings! My name is Arne Niklas Jansson. While Arne is technically my first name, and the name I use to sign drawings with, Niklas is actually my first name when spoken to. I was born in Sweden, 1977, and still live there.

When I was a kid, my unrestrained imagination would make simple games feel like real living places where anything could be behind the next corner.

Now, as an adult, I try to capture that feeling by drawing characters and settings from old games, expanding upon them, trying to come up something that feels more alive than whack-a-mole cabinet (which unfortunately is how most games feel to me now).

I like to draw and program, but it's that 1% inspiration part which is so appealing to me, not the 99% perspiration, so I easily derail and start new projects, never finishing anything. However, right now I have so many projects that I occasionally derail back on old tracks, actually making progress, so it works a bit like preemptive multitasking.

Perhaps I'll finish all of my projects simultaneously, sometime far into the future.

I'm bad at working with other people because I'm not passionate about other people's ideas. I have poor communication skills and procrastinate a lot. I'm also not passionate about fun games.

As an artist, I'm much more amused by interesting settings where interesting things keep happening. I strongly believe that dictatorships or small teams, and small target demographics lead to more interesting design, even if it comes at the price of treading economically treacherous ground. I would rather make a game that 500 people will play for decades than a successful game which everyone will forget in a year.

Artistic development

Ever since I can remember, I have liked to draw, sculpt, and design little games on leftover pieces of cardboard (computers weren't very advanced when I was little). During 199x, I painted mostly with acrylics. Eventually I discovered digital coloring and painting. When doing concept art, I prefer to draw thumbnails with pencil, then scan, scale, fix, ink and color on the computer.

This process allows me to experiment. Undo, transformations, replace color, etc really makes me a more efficient explorer. Also, lately I began to notice that my eyes sees things a bit skew, so all my figures lean a bit. This mean I have to flip and 'unskew' digitally (or use a mirror when working traditionally).

Sometimes when I struggle with a design, and don't know how good it is, I try to imagine if I would REALLY want it as a toy/figure on my desk. Somehow that provides me with a good way to measure the strength of a design. I think a good design should have a powerful silhouette/mass. It should be to the point and no part should be filled with "I guess I'll just draw some lines here". Every part of the design should contribute something, suggest function, flow or be quiet so others can be heard.

A 1992 ink drawing revisited. I used to ink a lot throughout the 90's, but was never any good at it. I'm still not. I hide a bit behind rough lines, making it a style, I guess. I don't think that I've got the wrist (or arm) to ink clean.

My style has undergone some changes. First I wanted to paint like Simon Bisley and Paul Bonner. Then, around '99 (the Pendako years), I started making attempts at drawing in a manga/animé style, but I think I was too reluctant to embrace cartoony simplicity, curves and flow at the time. Craig Mullins inspired me to really paint digitally (Sijun years, early 2000), and I developed a blotchy painting style out of that.

I don't use this style much anymore, because I think it's inefficient when doing concept art. I've discovered that line art forces me to think about every area of a design more carefully. I can hide nothing in blotches. I don't have to spend time rendering shapes when I want to add or change a detail, so lines are actually faster. Working with lines also puts focus on the strength of the flow of the forms, because they're there describing things 'raw'.

Late 2008, I started experimenting with more curvy characters for my Bomber Queen project. Eventually I drew a thumbnail of a figure on a Rygar sheet which just felt right. I really liked the proportions, because they feel like they would be effective for game characters, whilst still allowing for body detail and gender identity.

My journey alongside the computer evolution

In the early 80's I was exposed to the Game & Watch games, Mattel Intellivision, Vectrex, NES, Vic 20 and the C64. I remember 'modding' the Game & Watch screens by drawing new backgrounds on overhead film. I also drew game graphics on cardboard tiles and made my own levels.

The Commodore 64 introduced me to programming in BASIC. Later I got an Amiga, but I wasn't very good with Amiga Basic. Eventually I bought AMOS and made a few games with it, but there was no internet back then and I didn't have a modem. I don't think my games got very far in the wild, but I did release a few. Now I use BlitzMax. It's quite scalable, being a BASIC based language as well as having some more advanced OOP stuff. I mostly use it for making tools and prototyping games.

I also have experience with more C oriented languages such as Quake C (and other game mod languages) and a bit C/C++. Recently I enjoyed FCEUX's LUA capabilities. I'm not very good with the ASM debugger though, but I'm learning. When I do research for my projects I often have to dump data from games, and it's kind of fun to figure out how things were stored, perhaps finding hidden messages and unused graphics.

Then there's web page 'programming' which I don't particularly like. I have some experience with HTML, CSS, JS, PHP and I've also dealt a bit with Perl, ASP and SQL. I still have a Java book on my shelf I've never get around to reading. I really need more hours per day.

Workstation

I've had this setup since summer 2008. The vertical monitor is great for text editing and vertical docs. I also put up lots of ref pics on it when painting in Photoshop on the main (the Wacom is mapped to main). Had to turn the subpixel font rendering thing off though, since the LCD matrix is rotated physically.

Oh, I use Mac gamma on the iMac, and PC gamma on the Lenovo. This way I can just slide stuff over to calibrate colors and such. I'm left handed but I mouse with right. I would probably be a lot better at FPS games if I didn't.

Preferences

I have a lot of favorite artists, and I don't even know the name of some. To drop a few names though: Paul Bonner did some amazing orks for Games Workshop back in the day. Simon Bisley needs no introduction. Judgement on Gotham is amazing. Nadeara Bukichi does excellent flat volumes. Shimada F/Humikane renders well too, and does great mechanical designs. Masamune Shirow is a genius in many ways, Range Murata for his diesel punk, Toriyama for his sense of animation (liveliness) and mechanical designs. Frezatto, Frazetta...

I listen to all sorts of music (but rarely rap, soul, jazz, rnb). I had a period where I listened to NIN, ToN, Tool, but now I listen to internet radio and game music, OSTs and freely available music. It's hard to list all the movies I like, but I have to mention a some lesser known ones: MoonTrap, Excalibur, Barbarella and Flash Gordon.

My favourite (if I have to pick six) Pokémons are: Scyther, Diglett, Typhlosion, Furret, Magnemite and Tentacruel. Team Galaxy has nice outfits.

I dislike social activities, esp. applauding, singing and dancing. That stuff makes me cringe.

FAQ: Contact

Can I mail you about this and that?

Yes. I'll reply if I remember and aren't absorbed by some project. If I don't reply, it probably means that I thought I would reply later and the message scrolled off the first page of my inbox, and into oblivion. Occasionally I visit there and reply to the forgotten ones.

Because I'm paranoid I keep my email as a little rebus. The answer is Diglett. It's that little potato-like Pokémon with a big nose (just like me) (and soon I'll have the same hair style as well).

Gmail: Rebus

Can you give me some tips on painting?

There are no shortcuts, but there are dead ends. My (now dated) art tutorial is a compilation of feedback I've given to people on various art forums. That's why it's a little messy. If you want crits on a specific piece, well, I'll probably end up saying what's already in my tutorial.

Do you have MSN, AIM, ICQ or Skype?

Not publicly. I'm comfortable with using email. It's less interruptive.

FAQ: Work stuff

So, you're a freelancer?

Yes, when I need the money. I have a company called Android Arts and an 'F-Skattesedel'.

What are your fees?

It depends. 200 to 1000(+) USD for a 'piece', mostly. Over 50 USD per hour.

Have you done anything notable?

Aside from the stuff which is published on my various sites, I've also done: RPG stuff (D&D), Videogame stuff (Kuju/Nintendo), Various game pitches (under NDA), Cortex Command (DataRealms), Movie concepts (Disney), Miniature concepts, The FSM (Adam & FSM), Newspaper illustrations.

Have you worked on any games which have been released?

I'm not quite sure, I don't keep track of what happens to everything I do (NDA work). I do work on Cortex Command intermittently though.

I like your project based on that old game. We could do something except we change the project into something else to avoid copyright issues.

No. I'm passionate about being faithful to the original, taking on the challenge of working within design constraints. Just changing a few things feels half-arsed and disrespectful. Changing everything is no fun, because there's no challenge and it means starting a completely new project anyways.

We have a secret project but we won't tell you what it is until you've done a bunch of paperwork. Does this make you excited?

No.

Dig your style. Can you do some art for us?

If I need money, maybe. I learned how to draw (and program) so I could have fun with my own ideas though. I didn't go into art with the intention of submitting to other people's ideas.

But we own the license for one of those old games which you like to redesign, and you can have it. We have also built a space fortress for you. It is full of exotic dancers, and at the center there is a golden throne upon which you can sit and design games!

I knew it! Woohoo!

We're working on an iOS/mobile/browser game and...

Mobile. Clumsy fatty fingers reach for the colorful moving shapes, occasionally bobbing against the sterile plastic surfaces. Ah, there it is! The button! Happy sounds ring out to briefly satisfy a fluttering mind. But what is this? Something has distracted the baby, and it loses interest for the one dollar toy.

FAQ: Misc. Stuff

Why don't you finish your projects?

Actually, I don't like doing art much, especially not illustrations. It's so laborious. Of course, having an idea is where the real fun is. I do like having fun! Realizing the idea with finished art and code can take years. I've tried to learn doing both art and code so I would be able to work on my own stuff, but perhaps I forgot to learn discipline*. I've always enjoyed universe design more than painting or programming, anyways.

I've made very few 'art for art's sake' paintings. Here's a Lizardman I drew when I was 13.

*I'm not sure if my lack of focus is a disorder or not. I can go from deeply passionate to repulsed in a matter of minutes. It's like a nice hot meal when you're hungry, suddenly going to half-chewed cold food that rests in your mouth like a disgusting swallow-reflex disabling lump. I can hold out in that state for a few hours (with a school-food-lady aka deadline threatening me), but it grows increasingly hard when the fluttering brain keeps serving up other delicious smelling dishes which I'm still very much hungry for.

At any rate, concept art jobs seem to suit me the best, because they can be finished rather quickly. And people who say that I should just get my shit together and focus on a project until completion (a year or so) probably don't understand that "I'm dead sure I'm gonna finish this one" - every time, before the great distraction hits me. But, perhaps I am just lazy and other men have real manly discipline, and I'm a little bitch not for taking the fine advice to just get my shit together.

What kind of education do you have? Are you self taught?

I did some art in school, but consider myself mostly self taught. I'm only living one life so I can't say how important an education is. I know it's possible to teach yourself art, but it's probably a slower process than studying under a master of some sort. We don't live in a society with master-apprentice relations anymore though. It's one teacher, 30 students, and the teacher doesn't know what an Ork is.

I'm still in school and I'm struggling with finding a style and skills. How do you go about finding a job related to art after school?

Art skills grow slowly in many dimensions. It's like those Japanese RPG character leveling diagrams with axes going off in all directions forming a spiky blob. I do think some brains are better equipped to work with art than others. When I was still in school, I was somewhat notable, but certainly not a prodigy. I became good enough to pick up some nicer paying jobs at about... 24-26. Some people who study hard and have talent can be at a professional level (though not well-rounded) right after school, but it's pretty rare. I think that you need to put at least 5-10k hours in to get anywhere. I don't know if starting late matters. I'm still learning new things, and I'm over 30.

As for finding a style, I remember the confusion and frustration of searching for one too... as if it was a tangible thing that you could find and stick to for the rest of your life. To be honest, if you have already forced yourself into a stylistic confinement in your teens, you risk missing out on artistic growth. You have to balance the advantages of peak skill against the idea that the sum is greater than the parts, the synergy of knowledge.

People say they can recognize my style, so I guess my stuff has some sort of identity. I didn't end up where I did deliberately. I've had periods where I have tried to learn a certain styles, but ultimately I can't control what sticks in my brain and not... and it's probably for the better.

My skills are not extraordinary, but not many people do retro-game related art so I have nice pageranks because of this. A lot of people are nostalgic about old games and some of them are now art directors / potential clients.

Which tools do you use? Should I get a Wacom tablet?

I currently have an iMac 24" with a 22" Lenovo ThinkVision. I keep the latter flipped so I can browse, do text editing, and work with other vertical documents. I also keep refs on it when painting. Painting I do in Photoshop CS3/CS5, and I use a Wacom Intous 3 A5 Wide Special with that, or my newer Intous 4 Large. I used to have a larger A4 sized one, but it was a bit unwieldily. I also have an Airbrush pen. It has a little scroll wheel which is great for controlling the opacity of the stroke, but it's clumsy to hold.

I really like working digitally. I like being able to scale, flip, distort, undo, experiment with colors, get started instantly, not having to clean up, etc. etc.. A tablet will not magically make you better though. It might make you worse, initially. It took me a few weeks to get used to the hand-eye coordination, and it took years to develop a digital workflow. I have not used a Cintiq (screen tablet) yet. I don't know if you should get a Wacom Tablet.

Your page is a mess!

I think it's more interesting if everything is not visible at the first pass. It creates a feeling of inexhaustibility. Actually, the entropy increases and I have surrendered to that principle. It makes it easier to update.

Why don't you update more often?

I'm lazy and unfocused. Too many projects. It's hard to get anything but fragments down on paper. I only upload new project pages when I have achieved a certain critical mass.

Will you link me? Link exchange maybe?

No. It feels like... selling spots for a top-20 list, cluttering it up. I'll link what I feel belongs on the list. It'll be more interesting for everyone.

Can I link you?

The pages which are clearly public, sure.

What projects would you like to work on next, or aren't showing us?

I've made a section about that.

Are you an anarchist? I see that you use that (A) thing in your sig.

In a very loose sense, perhaps. I just wanted to avoid writing my name too plainly. Labels are pretty silly because they're too broad to be applied to someone you don't know. If you apply them to yourself you confine yourself, becoming ignorant, and you also risk getting aggressive when just the label is attacked.

Dude, it sounds like you're miffed, jaded or something.

This is a FAQ, but since I'm not responding to any particular person here, I can be a bit more honest (or blunt, or rude) than I could be in a personal correspondence.

Kickstarter / IndieGogo something?

Maybe. I'd feel like the weak link, being so unfocused, so I should finish my part beforehand.

FAQ: Art usage permissions

Can I use your art for personal stuff, like a wallpaper? Maybe print it out and tape it to my SKATEBOARD?

Sure.

Can I use your art in non profit publications or on my website?

I prefer to have control over how my art is published in case I want to update it. Feel free to use my tutorial in education though.

TO-DO

Here's a list of projects which I'm working on. I haven't got any pages for most of these yet though. This list if from 2009 so some projects have now gotten their pages.

I've been researching old MSX and PC88/98 games.

Derailed settings

Original settings

That's all I could think of atm.


Art by Arne Niklas Jansson

AndroidArts.com