Kugali Spotlight: Ronja Melin
Ronja Melin is a twenty-something year old artist from the Stockholm archipelago, Sweden, who’s been drawing since before she can remember. Animals and nature were her main subjects until her mid-teens, when she started reading comics and fell in love with drawing characters. After studying game art at The Game Assembly for two years, she was employed as a concept artist at Ubisoft Massive in Malmö and worked there for three years with the game Tom Clancy’s: the Division. Today, she lives in Lund and freelances as an illustrator and graphic designer. Her work can be seen in Swedish table-top roleplaying games such as Järn, Hjältarnas Tid and >Human.
K: What gave you the courage to pursue a career in art?
RM: I have been very lucky and a bit spoiled in this regard: it didn’t require any courage. I grew up in an artist-friendly environment, with two parents that work with graphic design, have creative hobbies and gave me access to a lot of material really early on. Painting, drawing, sculpting, sewing – all of it and more was around when I was a child, both as recreation and in a professional context. It was the natural order of things. So, to me, art was the obvious choice and it actually took me a long while before I realised I could choose another career path, if I wanted to. Though that might have required some courage…
K: Describe the reaction of your family and close friends when you told them you wish to pursue a career in art
RM: With reference to my previous answer, I think everyone who is close to me always took it for granted that I would end up working with art. It was probably more of a question in what field, for all of us. Would I do animation, illustration or concept art? Graphic design? I’ve done a little bit of everything by now, and everyone has always been encouraging all the way. Again, I’ve been very lucky.
K: Now that you’re professional there’s a certain level of quality your fans have come to expect. Has this changed your creative process?
RM: When it comes to technique: no. Not much. I don’t worry about people being disappointed with the quality of my craft. If I’m not proud enough of a piece, I probably won’t show it and I’d like to think that sifts out the better ones from the worse.
The context of what I produce is another thing, however. I’m amazed and flattered by the sheer amount of people that my art seems to reach, but it comes with a feeling of responsibility as well. Most things I show deal with fictional people from a lot of different places and backgrounds. That requires research, and while I don’t often communicate directly – because I’m shy and pretty private – I try to read everything people say about my art. A lot of it is worth taking into consideration, because many of these people are more familiar with things than I am. Things like cultural contexts and phenomenons. So if anything, it’s changed my thought process and I’ve learned much from it.
K: Describe your favourite job or project and why?
RM: Of the ones I can remember properly, my favourite, also recent job was to make many of the illustrations and the cover art for the Swedish tabletop role-playing game Järn. I was asked to set the style, was given good illustration briefings with just the right amount of artistic liberty, got good feedback and the communication between everyone went smooth. It was a fun and rewarding job that produced results quickly.
K: Describe your worst job or project and why?
RM: This is a tricky question. The answer is obvious to me, but I can’t go into too much detail or say that everything about it was bad, as it wasn’t. Much of it was great! I learned tons, met lovely people, got to be a part of something big… all those things. Either way, I worked as a concept artist for a large video game company for three years and it was one of the most trying chapters of my life. There was bad communication that resulted in confusion and stressful situations, and a lot of work got thrown away in the many sudden changes. On top of that, being a woman in the game industry isn’t always easy. I’m glad I have the experience now, but it was a hard time. I’d like to work with games again some day, but at a smaller studio.
K: Describe your creative process from the point of inspiration to completing a piece.
RM: People sometimes ask me how I do this or that, and I always find it difficult to answer. It’s such a messy process that varies from time to time, but at least almost all of my pieces stem from one of my many hobby projects or another. I text-roleplay and co-write stories just about daily, and these are my ever burning sources of inspiration. Someone writes a scene, creates a character or suggests a topic, which is the spark that kindles an idea. How it continues from there depends on my mood. Some days I sit down for hours on end until I’m done, usually in the middle of the night. Other times I come back to a piece every now and then, change direction whenever I look at it and start completely over after ten attempts. It’s chaotic, unplanned and the pace differs. As it’s so difficult to describe with words, though, I try to put process gifs on my blog for the ones who are interested in seeing how I build my pictures from sketch to finish. I also wrote this (http://uzlolzu.tumblr.com/post/146765529292/long-winded-thoughts-on-levelling-up-as-an-artist) after a lot of people had asked me about my process and how I go about things.
K: As an artist of European ancestry what motivated you to draw characters from other ethnicities?
RM: Before my mid or late teens, I only did it very rarely, and from there it’s been a gradual change so I’m not entirely sure. However, I know I started doing it more regularly at about the same time as I studied arabic at the university. That probably opened my eyes a bit, since I came in contact with a more diverse group of people than I had before – I grew up on a somewhat isolated island a bit north of Stockholm and was pretty clueless. After that I made other friends who introduced me other concepts, cultures, and ways of thinking, and I started reading more and exploring it all myself. Now it just feels strange, boring and dumb to not include many different ethnicities in what I do. The world is not homogenous and the ones I build shouldn’t be either.
K: What do you think separates good art from great art?
RM: It’s definitely individual and art is such a broad term, so my thoughts on this are a bit fuzzy and speculative. I think a subject or detail that “speaks to you” separates any piece of art from the rest, even the craft isn’t the best. Most people can tell if the artist is skilled, and a piece can be technically brilliant, but still lack the spark of recognition. I look at tons of fantastic images every day and don’t feel anything, but then I see a doodle with a context that I feel a connection to and I suddenly love it. I think that to be able to relate to a piece increases the perceived quality greatly.
Another thing that, in my opinion, adds to any art is confidence. It sounds abstract, but I imagine it’s visible when someone believes in their abilities, know their weaknesses and work them both beautifully. And you don’t have to be an experienced artist to have that either. This is partly why I have a weakness for loose sketches, because it’s often most tangible in those.
K: When you think of beautiful art what’s the first name that comes to mind?
RM: It varies, but at this point in life it’s my sister’s. After many tough years of not knowing what she wanted to do, she seems to have found her passion(s) and I’m both happy for her and completely blown away by everything she does.
K: Kugali Laboratories has created a device that allows you to could call yourself five years into the past, however, the call only lasts 15 seconds what would you say? only lasts 15 seconds what would you say to your younger self?
RM: Ha, ha! Apart from the very personal things I wouldn’t tell anyone else? Well, I’ve no idea! I was twenty-one, it was a somewhat turbulent period of my life…hm. I’d probably tell myself to talk to people more. Don’t lock yourself up, all alone.
K: What is your favourite Illustration or design?
RM: To tell the truth, I don’t think I’ve ever had a favourite one. I’m too fond of including the surrounding factors in how I look at images to isolate the graphic element enough for an uncluttered opinion. I love when art just fits in somewhere. Context is king. Also, there’s too much to choose from that’s beautiful and that enormous selection might be my favourite thing, not just one part of it. Anywhere you look, there’s so much talent that’s great in its own unique way, and the work of any one artist will be different from everything else. There are endless of ways to illustrate and design, and I love so many of them. It’s impossible to pick just one.
K: Describe your art in a sentence?
RM: I’d like to say “Getting there” but I’m not sure where it’s heading… A comic-esque style, with a dash of realism and everyday charm, maybe?
K: What can we expect from you in the future?
RM: I really want to make more and longer comics, but my current, big project is to make and print an art book. The reason I haven’t been as active on my blog lately is partly because I’m collecting and making illustrations for that. I want it to be filled with pieces that no one has seen before!
(P.S. Take a look out her awesome mini comic!)