Todor Hristov is a concept artist and illustrator, currently working fulltime for Norwegian Software and Web development company, Kaizen Web Productions.
Iulian: Tell us a little bit about yourself: where did you grow up and how did your early life influence your future as an artist?
Todor: Hi, my name is Todor Hristov and I am 30 years old. I’m originally from Bulgaria and I grew up in a small town called Novi Pazar. I have been drawing ever since I can remember. Our town town has a well-developed silicate industry and we have a good professional high school, preparing professional designers and decorators for that industry. Since I had an interest in arts from a very early age, it was natural for me and my family to go study there. After I graduated, I went to university studying Commercial and Graphic Design. Over those couple of years I learned to draw and sculpt. I acquired a good level of knowledge about lighting, anatomy and perspective, but I tended to avoid and disliked working with colors. That’s why now, after all those years I try to keep up and learn color theory as much as I can.
The biggest influences to developing my drawing skills were all kinds of fantasy and medieval movies, books, encyclopedias, animation, and comics. I am also very interested in bodybuilding, the human body, and anatomy. Even now I train a lot and always try to have a casual fitness goal. And the dedication and discipline required achieving that goal transitioned into my art development and thus it has helped me significantly.
What are your favorite design tools and how did you get to learn them?
When it comes to exploring new ideas and designs, for whatever subject, I prefer line drawing with some basic perspective. Back in school we designed silicate objects (vases, glasses, bottles, etc.) drawing them accurately on paper with exact sizes and proportions in different views and perspective. I’m used to this way of thinking even now when I draw digitally. I also had a lot of experience with traditional modeling with clay and harder materials. I had learned Photoshop back in my university years and worked as a graphic designer for a few years after that. Then, 3 years ago, I had decided that I can achieve my dream of becoming a concept artist. So I started learning digital painting. I struggled a lot at the beginning, watched tons of tutorials online, and kept pushing. I’ve taken a few online classes last year at CGMA and Schoolism, learning color theory and environment design. There’s still so much more to learn.
Are there any other artists out there that you admire and whose work has helped shape your work?
I admire A LOT of artists. I can write 100 names here and still may miss some. I had the pleasure to meet some of them, and boy it feels like I’m meeting my idols, my rock stars! That’s what they represent for me. Some of the names I can’t miss though are: Feng Zhu, Level Up team—Jonas De Ro, Vojtek Fus, and Darek Zabrocki. Their online tutorials and sessions with other professionals offer help to so many new artists, and I’m happy to be one of them.
Stylistically, I admire Wei Wang, Dave Rapoza’s rendering techniques, Jonas De Ro, Raphael Lacoste, James Paick, Aaron Limonick’s environments, Scott Robertson, and Michal Kus. There are so many more…
Where do you find inspiration?
As I mentioned above, all my life I have been enjoying fantasy and historic movies, books, encyclopedias, animation and comics. Later on I was fascinated by the cool CG effects in the movie industry. And as a gamer I was amazed by the graphics of the new computer games. This was the time I started looking into concept art for games and movies. This is what I wanted to do one day. Overall that’s it: games, movies, books and other concept artists and illustrators.
How would you break down your workflow in steps?
When I do illustrations and characters/creatures, I always start with rough sketch, and gathering reference. Sometimes I clean the sketch and define it if it’s more conceptual work, to make it clearer. Then I block in the basic shapes and values choosing my main color, and then I add different light sources with their colors. Keeping in mind the color harmony and color relationships, I add the additional local colors and after that just render it out.
For environments I start with small color thumbnails. Sometimes I skip the sketching phase and go directly to painting. I often use photos for reference, and sometimes I use them as a base of the image, utilizing the color palette. I experiment with a lot of custom brushes here—not that much for characters. At the end I introduce some photo textures for a more realistic feel. I like using SketchUp as well for some more complicated architecture images.
This is my basic workflow when I do client work. When I do my own stuff, I tend to experiment a lot and sometimes I just improvise.
Your work is very fantasy-driven. What drives you to that subject?
I just love fantasy. I like Sci-Fi too but, I just prefer fantasy more. I love dragons, demons, big hulking barbarians and sexy female wizards. I love fantasy books, movies and games. Some of my favorite books are: Raymond Fiest’s Riftwar saga series, J.R.R Martin’s Song of Fire and Ice, Warcraft novels. Movies: Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, Willow, Legend, How to Train Your Dragon, and more. Games: Legacy of Kain series, Warcraft games, Diablo, Dragon Age, Elder Scrolls, Heroes of M&M, Forgotten Realms Games, and many, many other fantasy and non-fantasy titles.
If there was one piece of advice you could give other beginning artists, what would that be?
To the beginning artists I want to tell: practice a lot. You must devote your time to learning the fundamentals first. I know it’s tempting to try to paint that epic landscape piece already, or that shiny armored knight with a flaming sword and a fierce dragon behind him. But before that you need to have patience and motivation to learn the fundamentals. Composition, lighting, color, perspective, anatomy, etc.
And motivation is one of the things of paramount importance. Sometimes there are moments when artists just want to quit and give up because certain things are not working out, because we keep failing in painting something right, or because there are some other problems in our life. Remember, you are doing this for fun in the first place, so just take a break, clean up your head, or even start working on something else. Then get back to it and push again and do it. Because nothing is impossible. Even if you have to start from scratch, you can do it.
I live in very poor country and 5 years ago I never imagined that I can actually work as a concept artist and make a living from it. I had very unhealthy way of life and when I decided to try and change that by working out, eating clean, I saw results right away. So I just decided to use the same dedication and push and develop my art skills even more. And here I am. Few years later I work with something that I love, something I hadn’t imagined possible.
Be patient, and work hard.
This coming from me feels rather strange because I’m so far away from being a complete professional, and I have so much more to learn. But I will!
We selected one of your pieces for the cover of our magazine. Tell us a few words about how that piece came to be.
This is a personal piece I did for fun a while back. You can say it’s a portfolio image where I show my anatomy knowledge. Looking at it now, it has some problems but that’s normal. I have improved a bit since then, but the piece actually worked its purpose because I had few job offers thanks to that image.
Where can we find you on the web?
I’m most active on facebook – https://www.facebook.com/todor.hristov.50
As I mentioned I am working for Web Development Company in Norway, and we are developing few game projects where I’m the concept artist and illustrator. Most of my works are owned by them and are currently under NDA. Hopefully in the near future I will be able to show some of them. So in the galleries above you can see my personal work, stuff I did for fun, for practice, and a few contest entries as well.
Todor, thank you very much for being a part of our magazine. Good luck to you and we hope to see more of your works on our covers!
Here are some samples of Todor’s works:
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