This is the first of a two part interview with award winning digital illustrator Jason Buhagiar, one of the greatest living artists of our time. Jason’s ability to illustrate in a way that captures the emotion, energy and essence of his characters provides a visual delight for his viewers. Although a static image, he has found a way to create movement in gesture, line and form in such a way that his characters spring to life on the pages!
An outstanding and highly skilled artist, Jason is the illustrator for the Salty Splashes™ characters and a huge list of other children’s picture books. In this interview Jason shares his story about how he came to work with the amazing author of the Salty Splashes™ collection JZ Bingham to create the wonderful cartoon characters which are about to be taken to the next stage of animation. This is the story of how a little boy from the island of Malta who loved to draw grew up and followed his dream to be a full time children’s book illustrator.
Interview with Jason Buhagiar:
Q: Hi Jason, please tell us where you were born, any other countries you have lived in and where you are living now.
A: I was born in a small town called Birzebbuga in Malta, on the 10th November 1976. Malta is an Island in the Mediterranean Sea and it lies 80 km (50 mi) south of Sicily. It covers just over 316 km2 (122 sq mi), making it one of the world’s smallest countries.
In the year 2000 I got married to an English woman and left Malta and moved to the UK precisely in Bedfordshire to build a future there. I lived in the UK for a few years but unfortunately my married life encountered some difficulties which ended up in a divorce.
I moved back to my country where I met my current partner Doreen. She also was just recovering from unsuccessful marriage but unlike me she had two children Brandon and Chanelle. Since they were very young when I started dating Doreen, I developed a fatherly love towards these little two kids and together with their mum they are the most treasured possession I have in my life! I saw these two kids growing up and they are the reason that inspired me to be a Children’s Book Illustrator.
Becoming A Digital Illustrator
Q: Jason, when did you first realize that you wanted to be an artist. How old were you and were there any significant experiences that influenced your decision to become an illustrator at that time?
A: I’ve been drawing since I can remember, but when I was around 8 years old and was in the second grade, art was one of the subjects we studied. The teacher used to give us a pencil and a piece of paper and asked us to draw anything that came to mind and I remember very well that that it used to be my favorite lesson and I always had a grin on my face. As soon as I grabbed the pencil and started drawing, I used to ignore everything around me and concentrate on what I was sketching as if I was in a world of my own. A lot of times the teacher used to hang up my drawings in the class room and I would be ecstatic!
When I was in senior school, I had to decide on what career I wanted to pursue and believe me it was not an easy task since even though my passion was art, making a living out of it in a small country like Malta is very remote, but at the end I went with my instinct and decided that my career was going to be in art.
Q: Did you study art within any formal institutions and if so what were those experiences like for you?
A: In 1993 I attended the Art & Design Instituted School at Targa Gap Mosta Malta, where I was taught by several influential teachers. I was very inspired by one art teacher in particular named Luciano Micallef, whom in the present day is one of the most famous artists in Malta and who has also done loads of work around the world, such as the portrait of the famous Italian Actor, Writer, Director, Producer Roberto Benigni who was the 2008 Oscar winner for the Best Foreign Language Film, Life is Beautiful.
Apart from taking classes at the Art & Design Institute, my Parents Emmanuel and Rose Buhagiar have also paid for me evening classes’ at the School of Arts in our capital city Valletta so I could improve my art skills.
I would like to take this opportunity to show my appreciation to my parents because if it wasn’t for their constant support I would have never achieved this kind of success.
Preferred Art Styles
Q: Your skills range from cartoon to realism illustration. Do you have a favorite subject, medium or style that you work in?
A: I have worked in several mediums, from pencil, pen and ink, pastels and watercolor, to oils and acrylic. Howevermy favorite mediums have always been the pencil and the acrylics until I made the switch to the digital medium.
Digital painting is a method of creating an art object (painting) digitally and/or a technique for making digital art in the computer. As a method of creating an art object, it adapts traditional painting medium such as acrylic paint, oils, ink, etc. and applies the pigment to traditional carriers, such as woven canvas cloth, paper, polyester etc. by means of computer software driving industrial robotic or office machinery (printers). As a technique, it refers to a computer graphics software program that uses a virtual canvas and virtual painting box of brushes, colors and other supplies. The virtual box includes many instruments that do not exist outside the computer. These give digital artwork a different look and feel from an artwork that is made the traditional way.
Bridging The Digital Gap
Digital painting differs from other forms of digital art, particularly computer-generated art, in that it does not involve the computer rendering from a model. The artist uses painting techniques to create the digital painting directly on the computer. All digital painting programs try to mimic the use of physical media through various brushes and paint effects. Included in many programs are brushes that are digitally styled to represent the traditional style like oils, acrylics, pastels, charcoal, pen and even media such as airbrushing. There are also certain effects unique to each type of digital paint which portrays the realistic effects of, for instance, watercolor on a digital “watercolor” painting. In most digital painting programs, the users can create their own brush style using a combination of texture and shape. This ability is very important in bridging the gap between traditional and digital painting.
Digital Illustration Applications
Digital painting thrives mostly in production art. It is most widely used in conceptual design for film, television and video games. Digital painting software such as Adobe Illustrator, Adobe Photoshop, ArtRage, GIMP, Krita and open Canvas give artists a similar environment to a physical painter: a canvas, painting tools, mixing palettes, and a multitude of color options. There are various types of digital painting, including impressionism, realism, and watercolor. There are both benefits and drawbacks of digital painting. While digital painting allows the artist the ease of working in an organized, mess-free environment, some argue there will always be more control for an artist holding a physical brush in their hand. Some artists believe there is something missing from digital painting, such as the character that is unique to every physically made object.
Since I started using the digital medium, I can’t imagine going back to the other mediums since I believe that digital illustrations are the prefect medium for a good quality print and even more for e-publishing which in my opinion this is the future.
I also have 18 years’ experience in the Printing industry as a Printer and as a PrePress operator. Combining all my expertise from art and design to printing and Digital art made me decide to switch to a full time Digital illustrator. Books were always a part of my life and cartoons have always been my passion. I especially am interested in the category of illustrating children’s books.
The reason I took this decision to be a full time Digital Illustrator is to be able to do what I like best every single day of my life.
Salty Splashes™ : The Beginning
Q: Can you tell us all about how you became involved with Salty Splashes™?
A: It all started when I made my website and I was hired to illustrate several books for self-published authors. My name was in the books with some acknowledgements and also my name was in online book stores such as Amazon and Barnes and Noble. All of this boosted my morale and gave me the courage to continue on the right track. So I joined more social Media sites and forums.
One day, I was on one of the social media sites and the Salty Splashes page turned up. I fell in love, straight away, as soon as I reviewed the page and saw the Salty Splashes characters. Salty Splashes™ characters were originally drawn by another illustrator. I really liked the characters but, deep inside, I felt there was something missing and there should be loads of improvement made to these characters. So, I started showing my support and my excitement for Salty Splashes.
Digital Illustrator Dream Come True
One day when visiting a particular social media site, I noticed a message received from Balcony 7 Media and Publishing’S President, Randy Morkved. As soon as I started reading the message, I realized Balcony 7 was Salty Splashes’™ Publisher and they are based in Santa Barbara, California. I was delighted and I could not believe my eyes when Balcony 7’s President, Randy Morkved, asked me to do a sample. Balcony 7 was looking for a new illustrator with a different style . To make the story short, I did a sample and they really liked it. We came to an agreement to redo all the characters in my style of digital illustration and also create new characters for the whole Salty Splashes™ Collection, such as Stump, Crump, Mom, Claire, Foxie, Lupus and Flint.
So far, all I can say is that Balcony 7 has offered me the opportunity to illustrate Salty Splashes’™ ’ book 4 in my style of digital art. I feel honored that Balcony 7 offered me to illustrated their next book. I’m very excited and cannot wait to begin my illustrations.I would like to take the opportunity to thank Randy Morkved, President of Balcony 7 Media and Publishing for the opportunity to illustrate Salty Splashes™ characters and future books.
Salty Splashes™ : The Future
Q: Can you tell us more about Salty Splashes™ ; what is it?
‘Author JZ Bingham’s penchant for rhyme is playfully displayed in her new children’s book series, Salty Splashes™ Collection, published by Balcony 7 Media and Publishing. The series are lighthearted but spirited cartoon tales and were inspired by Bingham’s hometown of Santa Barbara, California, and the Channel Islands off the coast. The series concept of Salty Splashes™ enables an ever-growing stream of content, supported by the prolific writing talent of the author. With a solid foundation of cartoon characters in place, each with defined personalities, the author continues to dream up fresh story lines that are both interesting and entertaining.
What’s unique about Salty Splashes™ , however, is the team behind the author. Her willingness to collaborate with both the publisher and the illustrator on character conception, development and story angles maximizes the effectiveness and entertainment value of each title. With this kind of support, vision and shared passion, there are no boundaries limiting content creation.’
The books are now available to the world and we just need to get the awareness built up for it, as well as for bookstores and many online websites and digital media eBook’s websites, which also provide their enhanced audio eBooks versions that are state-of-the-art. Balcony 7 Media and Publishing are also planning on taking this to film in the near future, as well as an animated television cartoon series.
This brings us to the end of the first part of our interview with Jason.
To read the second and final part of this interview with Jason Buhagiar, please click the link below:
I hope you have enjoyed this interview and please feel free to provide some feedback or ask Jason some questions below.