Welcome to the interview of Mike “Daarken” Lim.
Daarken is an incredible digital artist that has worked in the industry from Wizards of the Coast to Blizzard. He creates wonderfully creative, illustrated works that captures a scene filled with energy and color. He has also released a tutorial site that are filled with helpful, knowledgeable tips. His downloadable brush set is also worth checking out!
I thank him so much for doing this interview with us and he has given in depth, well thought out answers. There is definitely a lot to away from this interview and I’m so glad I had the opportunity to have this interview with him.
His Official Site: SITE
His DeviantArt Page: DEVIANT-ART
His Tutorial Page: TUTORIAL
1. I have been a follower of your tutorials for some time now but for those who may not know you, how would you describe yourself and what you currently do?
I am a freelance illustrator and concept artist. Basically that means I work from home, create my own hours, and I pick and choose which projects I want to work on. Right now I am working for four different clients. One is for video game concept art while the other three are illustration related. I would say at any given time I am working for at least 3-5 different clients. Working for many different clients simultaneously is essential as a freelance artist.
2. You have worked on many projects in the industry, what was it like working for a game company and being a professional freelancer?
It is great! I love being able to work from home. Being a freelance artist is extremely flexible in that I can decide which hours to work. If I need to run some errands during they day, I can. I don’t have to worry about asking my boss for time off.
Working on video games is very rewarding because you get to see your creations come to life. There is nothing better than seeing your designs realized and played by people. Sometimes I create illustrations that are used in video games as character portraits or some other asset, but many times I concept the look of the characters and/or environment.
Being a freelance artist in the gaming industry is tough. You are going to have to work a lot of long hours and getting your foot in the door can be a nightmare, but it is worth it in the end.
3. Your tutorials on your Enliighten.com site are wonderful and a great learning tool. What made you decide to start creating tutorials?
I don’t know, I’ve always enjoyed helping others. When I was working as a staff artist at BioWare Mythic, a lot of times I was the go-to guy when people needed help, whether it be technical issues with their computer or for painting related concerns. I actually created my very first video tutorial (the Liche Priest tutorial) while I was at Mythic because they wanted me to teach a workshop for all of the in-house artists.
4. When you have some free time, which can be hard to come by, how do you enjoy spending it?
I watch a lot of movies and I used to play a lot of video games. Lately I haven’t had much time to play any video games due to work. I just now started playing Borderlands, hah! I remember when I bought Rage it took me over a month to beat the game and that game is only about 20 hours long. Sometimes I can go 6 months without playing a single game. That may not sound like a lot to some people, but it is for me.
Movies are a bit different since I can put them on while I work. I hate working in silence, so I always have either music or movies playing. I also try to go to the movie theater with my wife when the big titles come out.
Back when I was still in college I played a lot of roller and ice hockey. I actually played for the Longhorns at UT (University of Texas at Austin). I wish I played more now. These days I just skate by myself in the parking lot next door. There is an ice hockey league a few blocks away from my apartment, but I am so out of shape. I would probably die if I tried to play ice hockey again.
5. Your attention to detail and laying out scenes are incredible, how do you go about starting these illustration works?
Haha, thanks! I blame Mythic for my attention to detail. Before working there my paintings were incredibly loose, but when you are a concept artist you can’t leave your paintings too loose because a modeler has to be able to understand your painting and create a model from it.
Usually I just start by sketching something out in Photoshop. Most of the time I have a description I am working from, so I already know all of the elements that need to go into the illustration. I don’t worry about the details at this point, I just try and get down the composition and values. After I have those working it is just a matter of refining the painting.
6. I downloaded your brush set on your site and they work wonderfully, what brushes do you find yourself using the most in your pieces?
Most of the time I only use a few brushes. I use a rectangular chalk brush and a round bristle brush the most. I have a few custom brushes i use too.
7. I love movies. What are your all time favorite movies and what about them make those movies your favorites?
I love movies too, they are one of the only things that I collect other than music and video games. Trying to pick my favorite movie is pretty hard because there are so many good ones and each one is good in its own way. I’ll try to name a few.
I think probably most of my all time favorite movies are ones that I grew up watching and that I still watch today. Movies like The Fifth Element, The Princess Bride, Alien, Predator, and Nausicaa are among some of my favorites. As you can see, they are all either fantasy or sci-fi movies, which is probably why all of my work is in the sci-fi or fantasy genre.
I remember the first time I saw Nausicaa when I was a kid. We rented the VHS from the public library. It was called Warriors of the Wind. I didn’t know this at the time, but the version I grew up watching was the horribly chopped up version that cut a huge chunk of the movie out. It was also dubbed. I believe one of the voices from the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles TV show was the voice of Asbel. I think maybe it was Leonardo? I can’t quite remember. Anyway, I watched Nausicaa probably at least once a month for years. I bet I drove my parents insane.
The great thing about all of these movies is that they showed me these wonderful and fantastic worlds that people could realize through the use of storytelling and effects. I think they probably played a large roll in my love of the genre and jump started my interest in creating art.
I think back then storytelling played a much more vital roll than a lot of contemporary films. Nowadays it seems like people focus on special effects to drive their movie. People also have a very short attention span these days, so if a movie isn’t fast and exciting within the first 5 minutes, people lose interest.
8. How do you go about choosing your colors when you work?
Again, sometimes the color scheme is determined by the description from the client. I might be painting a character that has a certain outfit, so I already know what colors I have to use. Other times, like with Magic cards, there are color schemes you need to stick to based on the type of card you get. Honestly, coming up with color schemes isn’t the easiest thing for me to do. Sometimes if I get really stuck, I look at other artists for inspiration. After I have the base color scheme down, I’ll go through a lot of trial and error playing with the color balance.
9. As a successful concept artist, what are some mistakes you see younger digital artists making when just starting out?
I don’t know if I would really consider this a mistake, but I think a lot of younger artists don’t really spend enough time on the basics. They always want to charge ahead and start painting the “cool” stuff before they learn the foundations. I think people need to spend more time studying life drawing and making sure that their foundations are solid before they start working from their imagination. This includes figure drawing, perspective, and analysis of form (fruits, spheres, inanimate objects, etc.).
10. Lastly, What advice can you share out to those aspiring to become concept artists themselves?
Make sure that you can draw anything and everything. A lot of people only want to draw characters or they only want to paint environments, but a lot of times concept artists are going to need to paint anything. Usually the people that can get very specialized concept jobs are people that are already established or they are incredibly good. From my personal experience as a concept artist, versatility is more valuable than specialization.