APPRECIATION & INTERVIEW
The exquisite digital paintings of Isabella Morawetz
Of all the Breaking Bad art I’ve posted on this site, I’ve always had a particular fondness for those by Australian Isabella Morawetz. Her talent is undeniable, but for me, the attraction was simple: She captures the right moments, in just the right way. So it’s with great pleasure and a bit of giddiness that I share this email interview we did a few weeks back.
In our exchange, I learned that the 22-year-old design school grad was raised in a family that valued art and technology (no surprise really), and like many digital artists, she struggles with the perception of her work (eg. “isn’t that just a paint-over or a photoshop filter?”) and the overwhelming freedom of choice that being digital provides, though you’d never know from confidence that appears in the end result. She has a charming openness on social media and a certain humility about learning her craft, both traits that bode well for her future and continued success.
Congratulations on your recent graduation from design school at the University of Canberra. What’s next in your professional career – freelance & commissions or a full-time design job?
To be absolutely honest I really have no idea what I want to do. If it involves using Photoshop, and getting my butt out of the house I’ll gladly give it a go. I’ve been freelancing/taking commissions for over 2 years now so I think something full-time is in the cards. The idea of working in advertising doesn’t do much for me (although Mad Men makes it look pretty damn fun I’ll admit). Painting in Photoshop is my main hobby, but I don’t really see myself doing that as a main profession. Editing, airbrushing, photomanipulation, matte painting, etc. is more along the lines of what I’ll get into. If it involves Photoshop, I’m cheering.
When did you start creating art and how did you get started? I’ve read that you are completely self-taught after discovering Photoshop at age 12.
Both my mum and her mum were into drawing and art. So it came naturally growing up - I was drawing and scribbling and colouring-in all the time. Art was the one subject I felt confident at throughout school. My dad works in I.T. so I was on the computer from a pretty young age too. I remember coming across free pic-editing programs like Photoshop and becoming rather obsessed. I think eventually my dad was able to get a free copy of Photoshop for me and from then on I just went wild. Anything I didn’t understand or wanted to learn how to do I simply Googled it.
What artists do you consider influences?
My favourites: Jeff Simpson, Lane Brown, Jason Mann, Charlie Bowater, Miles Johnston, Dave Palumbo, Jana Schirmer, John William Waterhouse, Norman Lindsay… The list is endless.
Which pieces are you most proud of? Which ones are your favorite?
I’m rather proud of my Tread Lightly piece and then of course the only master study I’ve managed to complete, The Lady of Shalott by John William Waterhouse.
Most of your work is digitally made. What’s your process for creating digital illustrations and what tools do you use when making them?
I currently work on a 27” iMac, in Photoshop CS6 and use a large Wacom Intuos Pro graphics tablet. When I first started painting in Photoshop I was using a mouse and quickly realised how difficult it is (I received my first little graphics tablet that following Christmas, so I wasn’t struggling for long). I download a lot of custom brushes from DeviantArt and fiddle with the settings in PS. I also like to use realistic textures on top of my work, too. [For more on her techniques, check out Isabella’s tutorials]
Why do you paint in greyscale first, and then add color after? Is that to give you flexibility later, in case you want to make adjustments?
I do this for the majority of my works these days as there is something rather therapeutic about painting in greyscale, not to mention it’s just simply easier. Colour-picking can be pretty intimidating, especially if you’re working from a reference image. I don’t like cheating and picking the colours from the reference so I go for black and whites first. This eliminates the worry of hues and whether to use warm/cool light and lets you focus on just getting the simple shadows and highlight values down. I essentially paint the entire piece monochrome, and then through multiple layers I add touches of colour and alter the blend mode accordingly.
What’s the biggest challenge of working digitally?
Apart from the fact that people can’t see you’ve painted something from scratch (or think you’ve traced over something), the biggest challenge is having so much at your fingertips that you feel overwhelmed and not sure how to go about things. Obviously it’s much quicker than painting traditionally; different mediums at a click of a button, no mess to clean up or paint on your clothes, mistakes are easily erasable… Feeling confident with what you’re doing and how you’re doing it is part of that challenge. Also, forgetting to save and having the computer crash…
You always seem to be experimenting with different brushes and techniques. Is that one of the keys to your success - trying new things? How much time do you dedicate to experimentation each week?
Certainly not enough. It’s hard to put an exact time to it, I either get in an experimental mood or adapt as I need. I still feel there’s plenty out there for me to discover, but at times it can be daunting leaving my comfort zone. I admire artists who have such a consistent style, as I find that I can’t settle with one for long. I like the buttery smooth look of the standard Photoshop brushes, but also the rough traditional looking ones, too. So I like to go between both. I’m always on the hunt for interesting brushes and textures I can use.
How many hours does a typical piece take?
Anywhere between a few hours to 40+. It depends on the level of detail going into the work. For example, the painting I did for “Ozymandias,” involved a fair bit of fiddling. I grabbed various screenshots from the episode and compiled them into a single collage, then on a new blank canvas I mask in large areas for the background and paint in the main values. Using a grid works wonders for getting everything to look how they should (I enable it on both the reference canvas and what I’m drawing). As I get into detailing faces and fabric, I’ll tighten the grid’s rows/columns and use smaller brushes. There’s a lot of adjusting and re-painting to get proportions down, and then colour tweaking and curve adjustments… And then I can grab my textures and overlay where I feel necessary.
How prolific are you? How many pieces do you create on an average week?
I go through stages where I’ll be super motivated and polish off three pieces a week and then there’ll be times where I slump into an art block and can’t finish anything for a good month. I guess it also depends on what I’m obsessing over at the time (shows/movies/games).
Do you have a ritual or routine when you are creating art? Paint us a mental picture of you working in your studio.
I lack any real ritual - there’s usually a lot of coffee and procrastination before any magic starts to happen.
You’ve created a lot of fan art for shows like Breaking Bad, Mad Men and Sons of Anarchy. How do you chose a subject, or is just as simple as whatever inspires you? Where do you get your inspiration?
Typically I just do what I love, be that a character or a particular scene. I get inspired by the great work others are doing and the great shows we’re being given. It could be a moment, or a screenshot or promotional image that grabs me. Most of the time, it’s a particular scene or shot that gives me that jolt of inspiration.
You’ve done a considerable amount of stunning fan art about Breaking Bad over the last 2 years. What about Breaking Bad inspired you to create so much?
Oh man, pretty much all of it. I was swept up into it from the pilot and it grew from there. The characters, camera angles, music, scenery, and of course the plot. Every single component is perfect.
I’m particularly fond of the way you capture light in the Season 5 scene pieces. I think you really understand and pay tribute to cinematographer Michael Slovis’ use of “a painterly light” on the show. Can you talk about how important capturing light is to your work?
There were countless moments thoughout the series where I would stop and be like ‘I have to paint this’. I’d grab a screenshot and save it for later. Moments where the light hits a character just right, or their expression says something that I want to recreate. Maybe a moment in the show that encompasses the whole episode. For instance, the piece I painted for “Granite State” doesn’t include any characters, but it didn’t need to. That shot of the glass on the counter just says everything on its own, don’t you think?
What’s your favorite of all your Breaking Bad pieces?
Felina is definitely up there. It was a bit of a roller coaster when it came to painting it. I’d been unwell when the series ended so it hadn’t truly hit me that it was over until I was painting this shot. And it hit me hard. I purposefully took my time finishing it, I was that emotional.
Your first Walter White is so different from your later pieces. How has your style evolved across all of these pieces? Was there anything specific you learned - a technique or style - doing these pieces?
I’ve learnt so much in terms of digital painting techniques and styles over the last few years, and I’ve branched out with brushes and textures. I go through obsessive phases with people’s work and their particular styles, so that would certainly have influenced my work at the time.
What’s your favorite episode of Breaking Bad and why?
Part of me wants to say it’s “Ozymandias" purely because it was just so intense… but on the other hand I’m still in denial that Hank is gone and seeing Walt and Jesse’s hate for each other boil over was almost too much. And man… poor Skyler. Like, I almost dread getting up to this episode because it’s just so painful.
What’s your favorite character on Breaking Bad and why?
Honestly? Everyone except Gomie … haha.
During Season 5b, your Breaking Bad work became wildly popular. On my Tumblr alone, your art got more than 15,000 notes. You even got featured on BuzzFeed and the home page of Tumblr. What does that kind of popularity translate to?
I sold heaps of prints and posters and my likes/followers went mad for a good week. And I scored lots of lovely feedback. It was wonderful.
How do you go about promoting and selling your fan art? Do you have particular strategy when releasing new work?
Not really. I post it, tag the hell out of it, link other networks, etc.
What’s the biggest challenge of selling your art?
Not being able to afford the cost of printing and shipping myself. I love the idea of personalizing the packages and writing little thank you notes… And artists only receive like 4% from Society6, Redbubble, etc. which sucks.
You have a presence on just about every major social network, even Reddit. How important is it to be active on all these networks? A lot of artists are just on one or two networks, what’s the benefit of being on all of them?
Primarily just to branch out and reach a larger audience, every social network has its pros and cons. I’m on Instagram all the time since it’s on my phone, and Reddit pretty much the same. I don’t think there’s any major benefit to being on all networks, it’s a matter of how much you are willing to promote your work and put yourself out there.
Do you worry about your work being stolen? You don’t seem to watermark any of the work you share online.
I’m not too fussed when it comes to something like fan art as I don’t completely own any of the rights to whatever it is. I think it would be pretty easy to prove I was the one who painted the work if necessary.
What advice would you give to a young artist trying to get a start?
Practice all the time. Focus on the joy you get from making your art, rather than comparing it to the work of others.
What are your goals for the next few years of your career? What does success look like for you?
To improve and broaden my audience. I don’t care where I am - as long as I’m still enjoying what I’m doing!
As an artist, where would you like to be 20 years from now?
Earning a living purely from digital painting (and fan art) sounds like a dream right now, so I’ll go with that.
– Interview by Shayne Bowman, Heisenberg Chronicles
The blowfish puffs himself up four, five times larger than normal but why? Why does he do that? Because it makes him intimidating, that’s why. Intimidating so that the other scarier fish are scared off and that’s you. You are a blowfish. Don’t you see? It’s just all, all an illusion. It’s nothing but air.
You know, I don’t get it. Why would anyone paint a picture of a door, over and over again, like, dozens of times?
But it wasn’t the same.
Yeah, it was.
It was the same subject, but it was different every time. The light was different, her mood was different. She saw something new every time she painted it.
And that’s not psycho to you?
That door was her home and she loved it. To me, that’s about making that feeling last.