I’m so happy to introduce the new Featured Artists interview series with Raf Sarmento. It's funny how making brushes has opened up conversations with people I might not have gotten to know otherwise. Rafa and I began speaking around the time I launched my first brush packs and we quickly became friends through a shared love of art and Procreate. I'm always thrilled to help empower artists with my brushes, but one of my favorite and most unexpected outcomes of creating my MaxPacks brushes was forging a close friendship with Rafa, whose work I had long admired. His aesthetic is so fresh and iconic. I'm confident that if you weren't already a fan, you will be after this.
It is my hope that this series will give you a greater appreciation for each artist’s mindset and working methods, and help you find an even deeper understanding of them through the creation of a brand new, personally crafted brush that we made together based on their individual preferences and guidance. I want to help fans to find a deeper connection with these inspiring artists by using a brush that is personal to them, to feel the artist’s hand in a unique and creative way.
Please read on and enjoy your free brush:
Max: Hi Rafa, I'm excited to have you as my first artist feature. I have the pleasure of speaking to you regularly about your art and how you work and I thought it would be great to share your interesting artistic insights with everyone.
Raf: Well the pleasure is all mine! This will be an absolute blast.
You're doing some of the most creative sci fi and fantasy work out there now. Where do you find your inspiration?
Very kind of you to say, sir! I think my work is maybe a little bit too specific…? But honestly, the whole thing comes from the principle that I have a certain way - let’s say a “filter” - through which all these things that inspires me gets shapeshifted into these “bent” versions of sci-fi and fantasy (which sometimes I dare to call “sci-fantasy”). It’s not that I don’t like the traditional stuff, it’s just that I naturally envision things with my own mind’s eye and I pursue that through the images I create. With that said, I draw inspiration mostly from sources that are not directly related to illustration, like minimalist sci-fi movies (Tarkovsky’s Stalker and Cuarón’s Children of Men are great examples of what I mean), photography, cinematography, music, and architecture.
I can totally see that. Given that mix of inspirations, what would your dream job or client look like?
Hmmm I guess I’d have to say doing movie posters for companies like Black Dragon Press and Mondo would be at the top of the list. Working with Criterion Collection would be mind boggling! Doing pure illustration at the core of this craft - working out the compositions and solving problems to embed the storytelling and mood into a single piece of art - is something the inspires me a lot, so developing the synthesis of a film into a poster (in the way these companies I’ve mentioned do with their superb art direction) is one I’d call a dream job, absolutely.
How did you get into painting in Procreate and has it changed the way you work?
Well to be honest, my first contact with Procreate was actually way before I really got into it - it was when I first got an iPad, the third generation model back in 2012. Since there was no really good styluses options back then, I only used it for occasional sketching and fun. I sold the iPad a few years later and totally lost touch with the app. Then in 2016, when the iPad Pro was already in existence and I absolutely knew Procreate would be a blast to paint with, I got myself the smaller 9.7 inches model… and then it was the beginning of the creative revolution in my life.
The way I could describe how it changed my work could be put like this: before Procreate and the iPad Pro, I was in the Stone Age. It made me realize I was relying too much on Photoshop tools, many of which became “vices” in the way I was working, and with Procreate I’ve started to develop and trust my drawing and painting fundamentals way more than before, which certainly contributed to my ongoing development as a draftsman.
I had a very similar adjustment myself, getting away from my own “vices”. It also changed my ability to change up the scenery a bit. Since making art on the iPad allows you to work anywhere, where do you like to paint?
At this point, I’ve been working at a coworking space near where I live, but occasionally I go to some great cafés that we have in my city. I almost never work at home, since we moved to this tiny flat a few years ago, but with the arrival of Aurora (my baby girl), we’ll move to a bigger space, so I might do a home studio place again. But you know, the actual power of being able to move around with the iPad will always draw me to spaces and places I’d never be able to work at with my previous setup, so I’ll always take advantage of that.
It's an honor to have a role in your creative process. Do you have any favorite MaxPacks brushes?
Oh boy, there are some of your brushes that I literally can’t live without anymore!!! I’d say the most recent brush set, the Gouache MaxPacks, brought me some surprisingly addictive ones, such as the (now already one of my all time favorites) 600 Series Pencil - I just can’t wrap my head around how you managed to create this masterpiece - but also the Gouache Smooth became a favorite, the Gouache Shader and Gouache Detail Sharp are also great, GREAT brushes. And of course, one of the most used in my pipeline is the Gouache Grain Cloud, which I use for overlaying shadings and gradings. But not let’s forget the Comics MaxPacks! The Toothy Inker and Mechanical Pencil will always be some of the best brushes ever made.
I always like to remind people that there’s no “correct” way to use any brush. I know that you’re a fan of using the pencils more like paintbrushes. How did you come up with that technique?
Haha I know it’s kinda weird, but damn I just can’t avoid using the pencils for rendering and basically everything! I think that I’ve started developing this technique (which is still ongoing, allow me to say) because I feel I have this strong inspiration from the Golden Age of Illustration masters like Dean Cornwell and (especially) J.C. Leyendecker, who have a direct influence into my own mark making because of the hatching strokes, that it’s a way for me to apply the principal of optical color mixing (which is something yourself influences me a TON).
Do you have any interesting Procreate tips?
I’m not sure I have many tips that are really useful for others, because of the specific chaos vs order nature of my creative process, but one recent thing that got into my workflow is to use the Liquify tool in a different way. I set Distortion and Momentum while using some of the brushes like the Crystals, to “destroy” elements in separate layers, then I get these chaotic distorted artifacts and set them to Darken, Overlay etc to achieve some pretty neat textures!
I love that you’re opening yourself to surprises in your process like that. Do you think that mixing in some spontaneity keeps you from getting too close to your work or overthinking it?
Totally! Putting in the chaos factor (into a manageable way) adds the juice I need to prevent myself from being stagnant sometimes. This is exactly what I mean when I say my creative process is an ongoing balance between chaos and order, it’s the mix of abstract vs figurative, geometric vs organic, aligned and organized in a way that feels “right” to the feeling I’m pursuing in my mind when I’m creating an image. The spontaneous things I throw into the caldron keeps the movement between both aspects of my image making, not in the same way I’d do with traditional painting but certainly just as important for me.
What would you like to see in a future MaxPacks release?
It would be really difficult to imagine how you could make better MaxPacks than the ones you already did, but since you somehow ALWAYS manage to surprise everyone at every new release, I’d love to see what an Oils MaxPack could look like… I think nothing would prepare me for it!!!
Well it’s funny you mention an Oils MaxPack, because that’s definitely one I’m very excited to tackle in the future. But let's talk about this brush we made together. I’m excited to use the Sketchy Sarmento pencil more. Honestly it might be my new favorite brush for sketching. I like a gritty pencil and apparently you do too. What is it based on and what about it feels personal to you?
Oh wow dude, oils!
Man, the Sketchy Sarmento brush is like if you just picked inside my brain, absolutely fantastic! It’s inspired and based on a chunky, pretty brutal Staedtler 8B brush I’ve used a LOT when I used to draw on sketchbooks more often. It feels very personal because it brings back that feeling of playing with almost a chalk-like pencil into paper, with the varying pressure and angle that I’ve used to articulate with on my Moleskines, but with the digital wizardry of having it now on Procreate in a way that, sincerely, only you could do, man.
Do you have any projects coming up that you are excited about?
Oh yeah, I’ll be attending the UNHIDE Conference in São Paulo in September 27th to 29th (which is the greatest digital art event in South America), and I’m absurdly honored to say I’ll be actually representing Procreate at the event! How cool is that?! It will be a massive honor. I’ll be doing a live demo showing my Procreate process, which will also be a great opportunity to show folks how I use the MaxPacks for my image making.
I really wish I could make that show. You'll have to let me know where to catch you when you're on your inevitable world tour. Thanks for sharing Raf.
Absolutely my honor and pleasure! Can’t wait to see what the future of MaxPacks will unravel!
Follow Raf Sarmento on all the things because you’d be crazy if you didn’t want to see more:
And if you’re going to be in São Paulo in September, don’t miss Raf’s presentation at the 2019 UNHIDE Conference:
“Procreate: The Digital Revolution”
September 28th - 11:20AM at the Inspiration Stage
UNHIDE Conference / September 27-28-29