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Interview with Kervin Brisseaux

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Kervin Brisseaux is a digital art hobbyist bursting with talent. While he has no big-name design gigs in his portfolio, partly due to his commitment to studying architecture, Kervin's work speaks for itself. Those of you interested in blending Illustrator and Photoshop elements will find particular inspiration in Kervin's work. In this interview we delve into the making of an intensely likeable Photoshop genius.

Could you introduce yourself to Psdtuts+?

My name is Kervin Wilbert Brisseaux. I am a 23 year old Southern NY native (specifically from Spring Valley, a small town 20 minutes outside of NYC) and I'm currently residing temporarily at Syracuse in upstate NY, pursuing my Masters in Architecture. I received my Bachelor of Science in Architecture from the Catholic University of America in Washington D.C. I have some internship experience working for some small to mid-size architecture firms in Washington DC and Harlem, NY and I have very little professional experience in the Graphic Design and Illustration field. While I'm still in school, it's currently just a been a passionate hobby of mine which is slowly leaning towards having some profit potential. I'm hoping it goes somewhere within the next 2 years after I graduate and am finally working full-time...hopefully in good ole NYC!

When did you first discover the wonders of Photoshop?

Well...where to begin. It really started during my early High School days, playing around with a free copy of Adobe Photodeluxe 2.0 that came with my first family computer, which was an I.B.M. Aptiva if I remember correctly!

I was fascinated with the little pixel graphics that were big on Internet forums back in the late 90's to the early 21st century and I really was curious as to how it was all done. I was like an excited little kid on Christmas when I discovered all the neat little tricks I could do with a program you would consider to be less than a "Diet Coke" version of Photoshop, which is really the most accurate way I could describe a program like Photodeluxe 2.0. I really wasn't able to touch upon the magic of Photoshop until my college years when my architecture curriculum first exposed me to the Adobe Creative Suite programs. Needless to say... I was hooked and would literally waste hours just playing around in Illustrator and Photoshop doing small, pathetic graphic pieces rather than doing my own school work. And like any other aspiring 18 year old graphic novices, I went onto various mediocre art forums to showcase my work and see what others thought of it.

Of course, I was bashed in with the blunt criticisms of my sub-par online submissions... but it really pushed me to just try harder. During my online endeavors, eagerly searching for inspiring work and artists to draw from, I stumbled across the depthCORE collective and what this gang really revealed to me, other than what good digital abstraction and illustration really looked like, was that I had a long, long long way to go before but my work was considered to be at such a caliber.

To bring this rambling story to an end, I went back and took my hobby a bit more seriously in hoping to bring my work to the next level, and that's basically what brought me to the point I'm at right now.

What is your typical design process like, from sketch to finished product? It looks like your work is often partially hand-drawn.

Funny thing is this, for a while now I've sketched a lot and I've played a lot with the mouse, but rarely have these two mediums ever crossed paths within my design process. My sketching tends be much more affiliated with my architectural studies. You'll find that a lot of the hand-made models I have shown online (and there is really only a few) have gone through this sort of conceptual phase where I would get pages of doodles and sketches at multiple scales in my sketchbook to get the look and idea right. But then the design process rarely stops there; I find myself making alterations in my sculptures as I go too, which is a pretty normal thing.

With my digital work, I've dabbled into preliminary sketching every now and then...but it hasn't really felt natural. To be honest, I can't really say why. I guess most artists seem to sketch out their ideas on paper before even looking at a blank white computer screen...but I seem to do just the opposite. My process when it comes to digital work seems to be more like, "hmmm, let's play around, click here and there...let's see what happens." And this was definitely true during my earlier days when I was getting over that learning curve. Once the learning curve was absorbed and I finally knew my way around the interface, I often found my moves with the mouse being much more intuitive rather than planned, even with a concept or certain direction in mind.

Is that a bad thing? No. I don't necessarily think so. Every artist has his or her own agenda when it comes to the creative process. I see no "correct" way of going about this. The important thing, is that it's a process that is not just about "how do I get from point A to B", but to be open about the other variables that could come into play. It's this that has a huge influence on the development of one's artistic style and taste. With my own process, for example, I sometimes find that my pieces are heavily influenced by whatever it is my eyes are recently exposed to. I could be creating some form of abstract with one intended end in mind, but then the next day I may witness some film or look at some static image on the wall and notice something that could potentially be applied to my current project either conceptually, aesthetically, or both! The influence isn't so heavy that I end up creating a 1 to 1 replication, but my work can become this sort of melting pot of certain techniques and ideas that I have absorbed over time which would hopefully lead to a unique and satisfying result.

Nowadays, now that my style is a more established, I know exactly what I need to do a certain technique, almost any one. So that sort of technical intuitiveness goes away, but the idea or the curiosity of what could happen if I went in a different direction still remains, it's just a much quicker process now since I've become far more fluent with the program now than I was 1 or 2 years ago.

Recently, however, I've taken on this blending of traditional and digital techniques, recently releasing a series of pieces on depthCORE incorporate my hand-made architecture models and treating photographs of these sculptures in Photoshop as you would with some 3dmax/C4d rendering. The process is pretty entertaining and experimental and I hope to delve into this style further!

You're studying to become an architect. What prompted the decision to pursue architecture as a career instead of graphic design? You certainly have the chops to do the latter.

What I like about architecture is the level of flexibility that is available to me in whatever I pursue within the design field. With an architecture degree I have the opportunity to take on multiple design scales, from the graphic layout to a friggin' building! There are a variety from past and current architecture firms that have expanded their practices into other realms of design besides buildings. The possibilities of what you can pursue after you graduate are seemingly endless.

From the old school genre you had firms run by Charles and Ray Eames, two American designers whose firm covered industrial design, furniture design, art, graphic design, film and architecture. Or the notorious architectural collective known as ARCHIGRAM, who released 9 densely illustrated issues during the 60s and 70s about the world of tomorrow and tackled issues such as urbanism and socio-economics, meanwhile displaying some of their many concepts as comic book spreads that many argue were heavily influenced by science fiction.

Today you've got guys like OMA run by Rem Koolhaas (publishing S,M,L,XL with graphic designer Bruce Mau) , or MyStudio's Meejin Yoon and Eric Howeler (designing the 2004 Olympics light installation in Athens and an electronic mechanism known as "defensible dress") who are really pushing the conventions of how architecture is more than just "making buildings."

As architects, we literally try to do everything when it comes to design, and because of the curriculum requiring us to really indulge in variety of design theories, abstractions, and concepts it's probably the only design discipline that is capable of being highly competent in all aspects of the creative spectrum. So there really is no reason why I couldn't aim to run a firm that jumps scales between graphic design to building construction in the distant future. That would be a dream come true.

What is the one Photoshop technique you find yourself using all the time?

Layer Masking. I just love how I can manipulate something and just bring it back to what it was before whenever I want. Flexibility in my design process is very important to me as I tend to go on tangents as work. So I always try to stick with moves that allow me keep that level of flexibility.
On the other side of that though, it's important for an artist to discover a multitude of different techniques to execute. Like Bob Ross going through his painter's palette, you really want to know all your "colors" and how a variety of different combinations could lead to the same or multiple results. The more dense your knowledge base, the more effective your arsenal. I'm definitely a firm believer in this.

Your portfolio blends both urban and futuristic elements. Where do you draw inspiration for your illustration/design work?

Well I'm a serious closet geek...not to sure if I should've of admitted that? Anyhow, my love for the arts in general started really young and I would just draw endlessly in my school text books and notebooks. Later I discovered my love for science fiction and really got into the genre across a variety of mediums. So I watched your Star Wars Saga, Star Trek: The New Generation, Battlestar Galactica, Stargate, TRON and so on, played your video games like Rogue Squadron and Star Fox as well, gotten through science fiction novels and comic books, really for the imagery, gotta admit that reading wasn't really more forte! However, I have gotten better at that, I promise.

Various mythologies and fantasies have influenced me as well, like the Ancient Greek fables or playing games like Final Fantasy, anything that really sparked the imagination of alternate realities really drew me in. So really one aspect of my work was influenced by whatever I chose to expose myself too. In a much broader sense, seeing sophisticated patterns, mosaics, or color combinations can influence some the aesthetic moves in my work, and these influences have knack for happening accidentally in my day to day life.

Music has a huge influence on me as well. So while I have any Adobe program open it's usually accompanied by my iTunes or Winamp player with a DJ mix or made up playlist and my musical tastes have expanded so much over the years that I really don't have a "favorite" genre really. I'm the kind of guy who will like a certain song in almost any music category, but won't necessarily be heavily into that said category. For example, I'm a big Kenna fan, but I don't necessarily like Indie rock as a genre. I will admit that of all the available types of music genres out there, the two I listen to the most are electronic (specifically progressive) and Hip Hop. If you where to look at what I had going on in my iTunes playlist right now you see just what I'm talking about. I'm listening to a song by Twista and Snoop Dogg and it's a about to transition into some Thrillseekers mix. The sounds going through my speakers can be pretty eclectic.

How did you learn what you know about creating digital art?

I taught myself everything I know. If I was exposed to some type of aesthetic that I've never seen before, I was really curious to see how it was done. But rather than send mass emails annoying the artist as to how he or she did what they did, I would go back into my room, open Photoshop or Illustrator and just play around until I figured it out on my own. I think that's probably the best way to go about it. Yes, you could say that I was still imitating what the artist was doing, but I'm probably 95 - 100% certain that how I discovered the way the technique was done was different from the way the greater artist originally went about doing it. Which I think is a bit more respectable than asking how it was done and just replicating it like a monkey. Don't get me wrong, I think tutorials can be a very helpful thing, but the mistake a lot of new hopeful artists do is they don't try to EXPAND upon what's been shown to them. They stick with what they've been shown because they know it works and there is either this negligence or ignorance of reassessing what they can do with their newfound technique.

The moves you make should change depending on the type of work you're going to execute and that's where you really starting learning about what you and the program is capable of.

I can tell you that when I was just starting out, shock value really hit me every time something new was shown to me, mainly because I didn't understand how they did it. But now, since I've been into this for a while now, I can look at any form of static work and immediately understand how it was done, but with that comes a level of respect in the cleverness and/or rigor of how the artist's work is performing. Being awestruck and respecting the piece of art are two different things for me. How can you really respect something that you don't really understand?

What equipment, software and tools do you use to produce your art?

It started off with just Photoshop, soon enough I moved onto Illustrator which has really become the front man in my creative process nowadays. During my current schooling here at Syracuse I've further expanded into Rhino, 3dmax, In Design, and Flash, but I really have yet to seriously incorporate any of these softwares into my graphic hobbies. I definitely do plan on it. In a more traditional sense, I've gone through a few a sketches for school projects and have a pretty expansive model palette, using chipboard, foam board, plexi glass, acrylics, spray paints, various metal and paper materials, etc.

Do you have any words of advice for intermediate graphic artists who want to raise their skills to an elite level?

Funny that you say "elite" because I don't really consider myself as such just yet, although I am definitely flattered! Really the only thing to say to you guys aspiring to be great at whatever it is that you're pursuing is that you need to learn to be curious. You have expose yourself to not just graphic design, but really immerse yourself into the full art spectrum. Film, photography, illustration, animation, architecture, industrial design, typography, fashion, comic books, robotics, the list can really go on. Just learn to have a hunger for knowledge. The more you know, the more you expose yourself to a variety of outlets, the more of a cultured artist you'll be and it'll really start to show in your work. I can assure you on this. If and when you do get GOOD, always acknowledge what it is you are capable of but always carry with you a level modesty.

And please, when stuck on how to do something in Photoshop, learn to press F1.

What's your biggest challenge as a digital artist, and how do you try to overcome it?

The one thing I've discovered is that I fall for the trap of beautiful aesthetics. And by that I mean I used to, and sometimes still do, only evaluate a piece at face value. Intuitive work is always a healthy thing to do. Always. But it also is nice and sometimes more meaningful, if the work comes along with a very specific narrative. That's what I feel my work used to be weak on, part of it being a side effect of my typical design process I expressed earlier in this interview. I think I've improved upon this somewhat, but either coming up with a term or concept to work around and let the story just unfold as I am working.

What is the best piece of work you've ever created, and why is it important to you?

Well that's not really a far question, haha. I really can't close it down one but maybe top 3? In no particular order, I can start with a more recent piece called Nikita:

This was a collab with photographer Saligia for depthCORE's latest release, NOIR. I always wanted to delve into minimal illustration so it was a really fun and experimental piece to work on.

Next is The Ultrabot versus The Sugarplums:

A Charlie's Angel's theme with a futuristic sub-plot and a hint of manga aesthetics. I couldn't ask for a more fun concept to work with!

Lastly. Man on the Moon:

A self-portrait. It only makes sense for this to be a personal favorite of mine!

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