I asked my wife and a few friends about Indonesia.
I wanted to see if they knew five facts about it.
The best answer was three options from my wife:
It is made up a lot of islands
They eat a lot of fish (beef and poultry are a bit more of a luxury item?)
Their major climate concern is earthquakes and tsunamis
This interview revolves around two things: artist Billy Christian and his home country of Indonesia.
In preparing this interview, background is definitely necessary. Most Americans know very little about Indonesia. We often confuse it for Singapore .
More informed Americans will know it is half of Papua New Guinea and Java is the big island. The vacation destination Bali is also in Indonesia. That's about it.
What is often lost is how many islands combine to house the nearly 275 million residents, fourth in the world behind the USA. It has over 17,500 island with roughly 6000 inhabited. If you live there as an artist, finding reference for coasts, shoreline, or islands is to Nebraskans as is painting corn.
It is the country with the largest Muslim population, though it would be considered moderate to most Americans compared to our news broadcasts our conflict in the Middle East. Since it was previously the Dutch East Indies, their penal system is based upon that one, and while not militant or strict per se, it has its quirks like any country. Being humble, considerate and doing a little research goes a long way. In the larger cities like Jakarta, tourism is common and culture has adapted more to clueless foreigners.
I have personally never been to an Indonesian restaurant, though one of my neighbors growing was from the Philippines. Americans tend to first learn about a culture through their stomachs. For example, Thailand is known to us through peanut sauce, therefore we visit their beaches.
But today? Today we learn about a little about their phenomenal artist community, and the nucleus that should be a standard across the world. The sheer amount of Indonesian Magic artists all working together on Magic's current roster is unprecedented.
For a little insight into Billy Christian, let us dive into who he is and how he got to us.
How old were you when you first decided to become an artist?
I was around 18 years old when my friend introduced me to Magic: the Gathering. We were in high school back then, and we used to play Magic after school almost every day. I think it was around Mirrodin Besieged and Innistrad. At the time, I was really mesmerized by the quality of MtG's artworks. That's when I realized you could get paid doing art. Since then, working for MtG became like a goal for me, and it seemed impossible back in the day. Still feels quite surreal even now.
I went to art school in Indonesia and got a degree in art. However, I studied graphic design and it has no direct relation to my illustration progress (but I met great friends there, so it was kinda worth it). There were lots of tutorials online and mostly I studied painting from them.
As we all learned in pencil, crayon, etc. when did you transition to digital creations? do you still do any part of your process traditionally? (Scan sketches etc.)
Yes, I also started from pencil. It was around the time when digital painting became popular that I began practicing digital. Nowadays I always do every part of the process digitally. But, we are always curious to attempt a traditional approach.
What is your favorite warm-up sketch to do?
We rarely do warm-up sketches. But since I do mostly human characters in my daily job, I like to sketch dragons or any kind of monsters in my free time.
More fun to draw: horses or back lit characters?
To be honest, I suck at horses. Unless some photo-references are prepared beforehand, I won't be able to draw anatomically correct horses.
So it's back lit characters. Although drawing horses is sometimes refreshing.
Favorite type of dog?
A fun question! Even though I'm more of a cat person, I also love cute dogs! In fact, my parents have a small shih tzu.
But if I get to choose, I'd love a Husky or Shiba Inu. Samoyed is good too! :)
What is your favorite personal work you have created?
If you notice, I paint Jack-O'-Lantern characters annually (almost) every Halloween.
I wasn't planning to do it annually, but every year I kind of want to create a new one. Since then, I'll just make one every single Halloween, and it has been really fun. Last year, I was even paid to paint him for a game!
What keeps you motivated, keeps you pushing your art to new heights?
It is most of the time after seeing others' artworks that I feel motivated to improve.
Observing artworks from old masters is the best slap for me to keep improving, like Dean Cornwell.
The presence of my friends around the studio helps me a lot as well. We are learning from each other every day, even non-art related stuffs. Mian Sit inspires me as well:
If you would go to an IMC, or Watt's, or Illustrative intensive, etc. which skill-building class would you want to attend?
I would love to learn there someday! I'd really like to polish my penciling, oil medium, and figure drawing fundamentals.
Besides that, I'd also love to meet the teachers and hear their thoughts!
How did you and Livia meet?
We met at an art convention in Indonesia. However, we got close working at the Polar Engine studio. Since then, we work closely with each other, and even at the same desk.
For Magic, we would read each other's brief and exchange some thoughts on them, trying to find the best idea to put in the artwork. Sometimes when we hit dead-ends, we would paint on each others' artwork. We both have strengths and weakness in our field, so we feel we complement each other. Livia is great on figure drawing and anatomy, while I excel more at detailing and doing lighting.
(Not-so) Fun Fact: Livia can't really paint at night. So after our day job at the studio, I will be the only one working on my freelance at home.
We love hearing you're human. You rest, and sleep! We interviewed Livia a few years ago on Snacktime for folks who might have missed it.
Ok so, your day jobs. You work together at Polar Engine. What is Polar Engine?
Polar Engine is an art-outsourcing studio managed by Lius Lasahido. We have two offices in Indonesia, and soon will be expanding our studio and coverage. Livia, Wisnu Tan, and I currently work there as Art Directors.
Every day, we paint artworks and concepts for various game companies. Notable clients would be: Riot Games, Square-Enix, Capcom, Bushiroad, Games Workshop, and many more. Currently, I'm also building my own team of artists.
Our team is pretty close to each other. We eat lunch together every day and sometimes go on vacation together! :)
Changing gears a bit, your Nahiri fanart is one of my favorite fan artworks ever created. how did you decide to make her and Sorin? What did you hope to happen?
Thank you so much! I am so flattered. :D
Around that time, it was the launch of Shadows over Innistrad. My friends and I were pretty hyped on Sorin and Nahiri's conflict. So, we decided to make some fan-arts about it! It was also a great time to practice my portrait painting.
Ok that was a few years ago and ridiculously good. But is this correct as I read it, are you seriously only 25 years old?
Haha, yes. Both Livia and I are 25. We will both turn 26 this year.
In our industry, age doesn't mean a lot. In fact, what really matters is when you start.
I will let all the age forty and up artists know that.
Let us talk process.
How do you go about making an illustration?
After deciphering and playing with many ideas for the brief, I will start collecting references. The initial step is as important as the other steps, as it sets up the mood for the whole process. Afterward, I'll begin sketching some rough ideas and see which one is good to send to the client. After client's approval, I'll add colors to the piece.
With Magic, sometimes I sent some rough color options to the client, but at times it went straight to final. In the whole process, most of my time is spent on rendering the details. Occasionally too much time is spent on rendering, but I'm looking for a more painterly look these days.
Aether Vial rough color
Eternal Servitude rough color
Returning to the fun facts, when do you paint best? Early morning? Late at night?
Both actually works for me. But if I have to choose, I think I paint better in the morning or the afternoon.
If given the option to visit the USA for a Magic event, what cities would you love to visit?
I have never been to the USA, not even for a holiday, so I would like to visit every city there! :)
But for a MTG event, I would love to visit Las Vegas, Washington DC, New York and Seattle. At the moment, any city is fine by me.
We should work on getting Billy and his colleagues here to the USA collectively, because it is quite difficult to do so.
As a sidenote, the reason you don't see Billy or Lius or Livia working on concept pushes or working at MagicFest events, is that Indonesia is not on the Visa Waiver Program.
The Visa Waiver Program (VWP) enables nationals of certain countries to travel to the United States for tourism or business (visitor visa purposes) for stays of 90 days or less without obtaining a visa. Not all countries participate in the VWP, and not all travelers from VWP countries are eligible to use the program.
Let us try to get him here.
And in closing, Billy's bio on his company page:
Hahaha, they are things I made up when I was asked to fill my profile for the studio.
Another piece of fun-trivia: Besides MTG, I am also a big fan of Monster Hunter franchise. :p
Thanks BIlly, we look forward to more of your art soon!