Tiziano Baracchi is a young Italian artist that in a very short time established himself in the fantasy illustration world by means of life like characters and a wonderful technical skill. He is not only a terrific artist but he is very amiable and approachable and everybody that interacts with him seems to love him.
How did you get started?
In art? I don’t really remember when I started painting, but I remember drawing hundreds of robots and spaceships all through elementary school, then the cartoon version of ‘The Lord of the Rings’ made me fall in love with elves, and my focus shifted to fantasy.
Much later, in the fourth year of high school, I went from rapidograph and colored pencils to acrylics. At that time I was also heavily into role playing games (a passion I still have) and the illustrations on manuals and modules by the likes of Larry Elmore and Jeff Easley totally captivated me. I studied and analyzed them to no end, my biggest wish and dream was to become, at some point, good enough to have works of mine on the covers of RPG products.
Even though my very first industry works, back in 1997, weren’t fantasy at all. Back then I worked with an Italian Egyptologist on a serialized publication and 2 CD-ROMs about ancient Egypt.
How has your mother’s artistic inclinations affected you? What have you learned from her? What has she learned from you?
I grew up in a home where both parents painted (even though my father soon moved on to photography), so I can say that the smell of colors and solvents is among my earliest memories. My mother (then an art history teacher) thought me the fundamentals of figurative art (sorry, I haven’t really warmed up to abstract art yet): perspective, color theory, anatomy…
When mother went back seriously to doing her own art, around 1990, she devoted herself to landscapes, while I, just starting, was heavily focused on the human or humanoid figure. Each of us has somehow helped the other in shifting a bit towards the middle. Now she often inserts figures in her landscapes, and I, while still in awe of the depth and richness of her gardens and woods, give more importance to a character’s surroundings than I used to do.
Moreover, starting with acrylics at the same time, we helped each other in learning this new medium, each experimenting and trying out new things and then sharing with the other one.
Having started as a traditional illustrator, why did you change to digital? Do you still do traditional art?
As a traditional illustrator it would have been very difficult for me to break into the industry. Nowadays there are still people working in traditional: Boris Vallejo, Julie Bell, Alan Lee and John Howe come to mind, but those are giants that have already earned their high position and can afford the time it takes to paint traditionally and the expense of top-level tools to scan and photograph their works so that they don’t lose quality in the process.
The industry usually doesn’t want originals; they want print-quality files. Moreover one has to deal with deadlines, which can be very tight. It is way faster to change a composition, re-scale some elements, or experiment with color schemes working in digital than in traditional.
Another element is that ‘real’ colors, in particular acrylics, my traditional medium of choice, are temperamental. Before going digital, summers were a real problem. It was the season where, with holidays, I had the freest time to paint, but with the hot, damp weather we have here everything was a struggle. Colors didn’t mix well, and often dried on the brush before touching the canvas.
There is also the ‘set-up time’ factor. With traditional media I didn’t even start if I didn’t have the possibility of a few hours of uninterrupted work; it wasn’t worth it. With digital I’ve only to turn on my computer and I’m set. I can work even just half an hour during lunch break.
I miss the feel of an original in my hands and would love to go back to paint some personal pieces in traditional, if only because I’m also curious to see how digital has influenced my way to use physical media. My problem at the moment is finding the time to do it. I need to work reasonably big, otherwise I feel cramped (even my digital files are most of the time European UNI A3 size), and such a piece would need time I don’t have at the moment.
Why did you follow the fantasy path?
Because it’s fun (laugh). It’s a field I feel a strong affinity for, even more so than my first love, science fiction.
As I said earlier, it is a life-long attraction; a part of me is still a child fascinated by fairy tales and epic legends, and starting off in the fantasy industry was literally a dream come true.
What do you find to be the most challenging aspect of fantasy art?
Interesting question. I think it is striking the balance between ‘classical’ elements and novelty. Fantasy has a whole lot of canon elements from subjects (fairy-folks, knights in armor, dragons, orcs and so on) to styles (pre-Raphaelite or Rakham inspired for instance), To not to lose him or herself in the crowd an illustrator needs to be able to treat these canon elements in a very personal way, while still keeping them recognizable and appealing to the public (and Art Directors, of course), within the boundaries of the genre.
It is a though balancing act, and one has to accept in advance the risk of a few falls from the high-walking rope.
Your textures are amazing! How is your technique to get those textures to be so real?
When I started working in digital three years ago, for a short while I was enchanted by the possibilities offered by photographic textures. After a while, though, I realized that in that way my works looked artificial very ‘plastic-like’, something I really didn’t want them to be.
So I started again, in the other direction, drawing upon my experience in traditional media, with the added bonus of the specific capabilities of the digital medium.
Nowadays all my textures are fully painted. In all my works I mix Painter and Photoshop, the first color base is invariably in Painter and I find it helps much in giving a more natural feel to the image. Then I start to differentiate the materials with a large use of custom brushes, often playing and fiddling with them for quite a time, experimenting and taking advantage of ‘happy accidents’ (for instance one of my favorite brushes for skin textures was originally made to produce cracks in arid ground).
In my opinion textures most of the time need to be perceived, not seen, and careful observation of the real material and its behavior under different conditions is an absolute must.
Besides having an impeccable technique, you achieve something really hard, which is to load your illustrations with character, how do you give so much life to them?
You are very kind (smile).
One thing I discovered I really need, when painting, is to know the character I’m working on. If it is a private commission, I’d much rather have a detailed bio or extracts from a role-playing session or a full psychological description than a very detailed physical one : a lot of characters can be 20-year old, black-haired and brown-eyed, slim, with an heart-shaped face, straight nose, freckles, and a star tattoo on the left shoulder, but is she a shy, late-come student in a magic school, a tomboyish aspiring paladin, a caravan guard with a lot of experience for her years, a runaway slave, an orphan raised in a gang of city thieves? What does she aspire to? How did she arrive at this point in her history?
Each answer will give me something more to work with, to give her the right attitude and personality, hopefully to make the viewer feel like he or she is meeting a real person.
For personal pieces, of course, I make up the story myself (quite often with the input of my wife, who loves story-building). For industry pieces we either delve into source materials or make up the story ourselves (for instance when dealing with generic non-named characters).
How did you enter the professional arena? What advice you have for those artists that are just beginning and would like to work for publishing houses?
For quite a while I painted only for myself and for the occasional private client. When I started looking for professional gigs in the fantasy field I discovered that in my country the market was nearly non-existent. My real opening with fantasy came through the Internet, with EMG and (a little later) Portrait Adoption. Through these two venues I discovered that there was a market for what I did. The growing number of commissions spurred me on and gave me confidence enough to start proposing my works to art
directors of companies active in the fantasy/SF market.
Advice? I’m still looking for it myself… I’ve learned a few things though: be persistent, never stop studying and never stop promoting yourself. Be realistic: evaluate honestly your strengths and your weaknesses and work on them; then use this to choose how and to whom propose your portfolio.
Be polite. It feels silly to say it, but quite a few Art Directors’ blogs have me wondering at the huge sense of entitlement or basic lack of social graces of many aspiring illustrators. No one with half a choice gives work to people they don’t feel at least comfortable dealing with.
One’s reputation is what brings jobs in. Producing at a consistent level of quality and respecting deadlines are absolute necessities. When in doubt about anything regarding an assignment, ask.
Keep informed: know the field and the industry, keep track of Art Directors and product lines the best you can.
Who have been your most important clients?
The most well established in the field up to now is also my very first and a recurring client: Fantasy Flight Games, for whom I do work for the ‘A Game of Thrones’ and ‘Call of Chthulu’ Living Card Games.
Recently I’ve signed a contract with Imagine Publishing (a UK company) as a columnist for their ‘Corel Painter Official Magazine’
Quite a few of the other clients, for now, are new companies in the field, both in the USA and in Europe, that appear to be off to a good start. That’s quite exciting too.
Having among my works the very first cover of a company that could in time become the new TSR, helping to shape the visual identity of a new line of games, it’s a real thrill.
You seem to be soaring! Tell us about your recent successes.
I don’t know if I’m really soaring, but I count as successes both when a client keeps coming back and when a new one arrives on its own, without me proposing myself, and that has happened quite often in the last couple of years.
The most recent big surprise was being offered a feature in Corel Painter Official Magazine (that was big enough) and immediately after also a freelance contract as a columnist; thankfully I was seated when that e-mail arrived.
Do you still have time for personal art projects?
Less and less. Often when I have some time I use it to paint images that, I feel, are needed to steer my portfolio in a specific direction, or to fill a void, or correct an imbalance, rather than painting purely what I feel like. The ideal, of course, is when what I need and what I feel like are one and the same.
Besides art, what is there in your life?
First and foremost my family, both by birth and by choice (I’ve been married ten years, we live the floor above my in-laws and I often feel like I’ve been adopted by them); then my friends, both those living nearby which we can see often and those I know only via the net, but are nonetheless very near in spirit.
I don’t have much time for regular free-time activities, having a full-time non-art related job (a blessing in times such as these, and a way to be free to build my career as an illustrator on my own terms), when I have illustration work my evenings and week-ends are devoted to painting (thankfully my wife is as enthusiastic about my illustration job as I am), but I enjoy music, games (tabletop, cards and RPGs), the company of our animals (three cats and a dog) and long walks in our beautiful countryside as often as possible.
I don’t have a personal site right now, but one is in the works.
The first thing I noticed about Tiziano is his artwork. (Who wouldn’t?) All I could do was stare at the realism of his pictures, from convincing textures to minute details and vibrant colors.
But aside from being an awesome artist, he’s also a really nice guy. He’s always been encouraging and friendly — and with all that skill, he manages to be modest, too. 😀
Tiziano is a great artist; he makes incredible work with his colors forming a great composition. His beautiful art inspires other artists. Have a look into his gallery, and you will know what I mean.
I’ve know Tiziano for several years, on-line. I consider him a compatriot and competitor! His attention to detail and soft touch is without compare. He has a brilliant facility for believability. I always look forward to his handiwork! Keeps me running…
Tiziano is an artist who just blows me away with his fabulous talent. His work truly is a feast for the eyes. One of the most amazing things was when he switched from traditional mediums to digital. There are pieces where I literally can not tell if they are traditionally or digitally created! To me, the way he has kept his traditional style in digital medium speaks much of his artistic mastery. I am eternally grateful to know Tiziano, to benefit from him sharing his knowledge, and art. The main lesson he taught me: “Less saturation in the background!” 🙂
I remember Tiziano started scribbling before being able to walk steadily. As a child he used to start a drawing with one hand and finish it with the other one. His characters have always been lively, curious, always involved in the war between light and darkness. His art worlds have always been science-fiction and fantasy ones, it’s a joy to be able to see his art grow, mature and be recognized.