Ray Toh is a Singapore based freelance illustrator, concept artist. He developed his passion in Art when he first entered Temasek Polytechnic. Moving on, he started his working life as a background painter, and went on to become a concept artist, 3D artist, then, senior artist under companies like Creative Technology Ltd and Imaginary Friends Studios respectively. He yearns to seek his own creative voice in this ever changing world. Relooking at what he has on hand and rethinking what is possible, he decided to pursue his own career as a full time freelancer in 2007. Read below for the full interview…
You’ve recently worked a bit on Robotech and we were curious to know what you favorite mecha anime series or films were!
Ray: Patlobor and Robotech ( Mospeada ) . Anything with huge giant robot is cool with me too [laughs].
Last year you dropped your Ideabook! Could you tell us a bit about the creative process behind this and what kind of works are contained inside it?
Ray: The Ideabook is actually a collection of my sketches that I have done for the past years. It’s a collection of random ideas of things that I like and personal project that I’m trying to pull off. So a lot of the stuff in there is personal R and D work. I printed it to share my sketch results because I realize I can only do so much. Some of the sketches may not even have the chance to grow into proper ideas. So with a good intention of just spreading the raw developing ideas, I publish the ideabook. The design is handled by You&Me creative studio (http://www.youandme.sg/) The designer, Jasmine, push the idea even further by designing the book to have a feel of my original sketchbook. So if anyone is wondering how my sketchbook looks like, it’s exactly the same but slightly bigger.
What type of challenges are you facing with painting versus digital work? Is there a certain level of focus you need, working with oils? Oils is actually pretty ok to work with.
Ray: I try to blur the line between the two. End of the day is getting the shapes and values in the right place. Digital is much more forgiving and faster. Oil takes longer, if you have the intention of achieving certain effects with certain techniques. As for the level of focus between the two medium, you need just as much. Attention to details, brush works, relationship of the shapes and forms. For commercial jobs, I use digital. I’m doing oil more or less to practice. Through oil, I try to learn to be more sensitive to small color shift in the real world. I try to bring whatever I learn in oil over to my digital work. I’m hoping that when I’m more mature with my skill, something different may grow out from all this.
As a concept artist, I would imagine the hardest part of the process are the different variations you play around with in order for the concept to make people happy. Is this aspect frustrating or have you been able to adapt well to various ideas and concepts?
Ray: I’m pretty much O.K. with the idea of doing various types of concepts for different clients. I see myself as a commercial artist and service provider. So I put myself in the position to help client put their vision down on paper and help them solve visuals problems. So it’s not really problem to me.
What are you currently working on?
Ray: Quite a few things but I can only be general with it. There’s NDA to most of the jobs I’m doing. I’m working on a map, doing some concept artwork for a short film and a book. I have a few book projects in line. So, that’s basically it.
Do you do any preliminary drawings before you model, or do you just start and see what happens and how long on average would you spend on an image?
Ray: It really depend what I’m doing it for. If it’s commercial illustration, most probably I will have preliminary drawings. If it’s concept development work or if I’m just doing it for fun to test some techniques, I may or may not have a preliminary drawing. I don’t really have an average timing for my work. It may range from a few hrs. to say a few weeks. Depending on the complexity of the piece I’m trying to achieve.
What is the biggest challenge when creating a fictional figure (robots, dragons, demons, etc.) versus a human being? How important does realism play a part in your art?
Ray: I try not to differential them too much. The process is about the same. Research, Explore and Develop. The stress and challenge is always with trying to find new ways to come out fresh and original fictional figures or characters. Realism is quite important but not to the point that it kills off the design or work. I try to push it a bit here and there to see what I can get out from it once in a while.
We interviewed Kendrick Lim from Imaginary Friends Studios a few months back and we were blown away by the studios talent. Having worked under that umbrella as well as other agencies, could you give us some perspective on working conditions under an agency versus freelancing?
Ray: Working under an agency is stable. You have a stable income and you have artist friends to talk to when you are bored. Working as a freelancer, is like running a business. So you need to look after everything yourself. From talking to client, getting the work done and following up with invoices, you need a lot of discipline because you are all alone and the only person that can get you to work is yourself. It’s fun working in an agency but I felt that there’s a limitation to the growth of any artist. Although it seem like I’m doing more work now, I’m earning more than what I can fetch from an agency. That is basing it just on singapore’s market standard. My brain is more active than ever and I really enjoy that but there’s this invisible stress that will linger in the back of the mind whenever I rest. So both have their plus and minus. Survival of the fittest. Those artist with character that fits well into either one of the working condition will work best. Agency or freelance.
Having the priviledge to give lecturers and instill knowledge in aspiring artists, what is the single most important piece of advice you try to educate in your students/audience?
Ray: Learn, explore and be creative. When I say creative, it applies to different aspects. Be creative in your business model on how you market yourself and leverage benefits from your work. Be creative in the topic you choose to do and be creative in the technique you use. Always keep an open mind.
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