Artist Feature: Tom Björklund

An Interview With An ArtRage Artist

Tom Björklund is a scientific and historical illustrator from Finland who paints stunningly realistic wildlife and engagingly personal moments from history. He’s an award winning traditional artist who has made the transition to digital media with barely a smudge.

Juvenile great grey owl by Tom Björklund
Juvenile Great Grey Owl

Who are you? What do you want the internet to know about you?

ArtRage Editions: ArtRage 4.5

Platforms: Mac OS 10.9

Background: Traditional Art

Website: www.tombjorklund.fi

I’m Tom Björklund, living and working in Espoo, southern Finland. I have studied art history, arts and crafts, and finally finished art school 1992.

Besides art, nature and history are my two major interests, both personally and professionally.

(Editor’s Note: Tom has also won awards such as the Bjorn Kurten Prize in 2011 for his scientific illustrations, and the Public Information Award in 2010).

What kind of artist are you? (how would you describe your style and niche?)

I’m a realist, no doubt, both in the way I paint and what I paint. Though a funny detail is that during my studies, I was driven towards abstract expressionism — something I still like very much. But the truth is that it’s quite difficult to make a name and a living as an artist in that category. By combining my interest for nature and a realistic way of painting, I found my audience a lot easier.

Men at arms by Tom Björklund
Men At Arms

Currently, historical motifs have become more and more apparent in my work, giving me the opportunity to use my imagination and to paint people, which is always fun and challenging. Altogether, I guess I could be described as a scientific illustrator, even if it isn’t something I have striven to become.

Viking dress by Tom Björklund
Viking Dress

Do you come from a digital or traditional art background?

Traditional. My first contact with digital painting was through ArtRage only a few years ago, and until that date it was traditional art exclusively.

Do you use other programs or traditional media?

ArtRage is the only program I have ever even tried for digital painting. Earlier I thought I could gain something by using other software, to be able to handle bigger files, for example, but now, thanks to the new updates, I don’t see a reason why I should consider anything else.

Even though I mostly work digitally for the moment, I paint traditionally too whenever I can, mostly in acrylic.

How long have you been using ArtRage?

2-3 years

What ArtRage works or projects are you most proud of?

I have already completed several illustration projects using ArtRage, but it seems like the project I’m most proud of, is always the project I’m currently working on or planning to do in the future.

For the moment, it’s a rather ambitious project within education, and public information in general. My goal is to show how art could be used more in teaching by collaboration between schools and artists, improve the quality of illustrations in educational material, and study whether it could positively affect learning and motivation in students. It will be exciting to see how it turns out.

Water vs. Stone by Tom Björklund
Water vs. Stone

As for smaller projects and individual paintings, it’s true that the ones I’m satisfied with are not necessarily the most popular ones. But sometimes, when I’m making the last brushstrokes on a painting, I do know that it’s going to be successful.

Why do you use ArtRage?

When I started considering digital painting as a media for my illustrations, I came across a review of ArtRage by Charlie Parker on his excellent Lines and Colors blog. It sounded very much what I needed, and encouraged by that, I purchased the ArtRage Studio Pro immediately, as well as a 27” iMac, and a Wacom Intuos4 tablet.

Where does ArtRage fit into your workflow?

Most of the time, especially when I’m making illustrations, it’s ArtRage from the beginning to the end, everything else would be a waste of time. But also, when I’m painting traditionally, I often use ArtRage for sketching. It’s faster and simpler, and helps me keep all the sketches and other reference material in order.

Cave hyena cob by Tom Björklund
Cave hyena Cob
by Tom Björklund
Medieval Garden

What are your favourite ArtRage features?

I have found the oil brush to be the most versatile and useful tool of them all, and I’m using it for almost every style of painting, in combination with the palette knife.

Least favourite?

There are some features I practically never use, like the different canvas options, stickers and stencils (except for the rulers). But that doesn’t mean, of course, that they couldn’t be useful for others.

Do you have any tips for other artists who might want to do the same thing as you?

Because ArtRage allows you to paint in the same way as in any traditional painting or drawing media, you can forget it’s digital, and find your models among the traditional painters you like. Look carefully at their choices of themes and motifs, the lighting and compositions, and do the same with the stuff and people (if they let you) you have around you.

Study closely the brushwork and try to achieve the same effects with digital tools. It’s fun and really challenges you to find out how to use the tools and improve your skills.

Young shepherdess by Tom Björklund
Young Shepherdess

Any ArtRage specific tips?

For my illustrations, I normally work with thin transparent layers, but sometimes, for my personal projects, I may like to give the painting a rougher feeling with thicker and more prominent brushstrokes. But while I want to retain the smooth passages — which can be difficult to achieve when the paint is very thick — I will, at first, paint in my usual manner and then add the rougher brushstrokes on a layer below the layer (or layers) with the actual painting.

This way the more heavily patterned brushstrokes don’t interfere with the painting, but the 3D effect becomes visible anyway. For settings, choose around 50% pressure, minimum thinners, maximum stiffness, and disable the insta-dry function.

Red fox by Tom Björklund
Red Fox

Is ArtRage suited to professional artwork?

I’ve been using ArtRage for my professional work practically from the beginning, so absolutely. Actually, my commissioners and my audience have hardly noticed that I have changed media from traditional to digital.

Hunters by Tom Björklund

Any question(s) you wished we’d asked and would like to answer?

What my favourite brushstroke(s) looks like?

A brushstroke is very personal, and it would be interesting to know how other artists use their tools. My brushstrokes may look like one single layer of colour, but in fact it’s a combination of several layers, more or less transparent, on top of each other. Also, instead of using standard settings for my tools, I keep changing them all the time, and for the finishing touch I may use the palette knife to soften the otherwise mechanical appearance of the brushstrokes.

Stone Age children by Tom Björklund
Stone Age Children

You can view more of Tom Björklund’s work at www.tombjorklund.fi and on DeviantART

(Can you spot the difference between his ArtRage paintings and his traditional artwork? We can’t!)

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