19 Jana Schirmer
Jana Schirmer is a phenomenal concept artist from Cologne, Germany (now living in Irvine, California) who paints digitally on her computer using Photoshop. She's entirely self-taught. She's worked on video game art for Blizzard Entertainment, Guerilla Games, Ubisoft, Riot Games, and Wizards of the Coast. She's also painted covers for Marvel Comics and cards for Magic: The Gathering. From 2010-16 she worked for SIXMOREVODKA, started by comics legend Marko Djurdjevic. She's also married to artist Matthias Verhasselt.
From her Instagram: ". . . this painting from life/selftportrait I did in 2009. It was done in the flat I grew up in and that we had to sell later, so this is kinda emotional to me."
Jana grew up in Cologne, Germany. Her first interest in art came from the Manga comics she used to read, starting around age ten. She attended art school as a child, every friday. She says in this podcast with Bobby Chiu (2018):
"I think I was a troublesome kid, for sure. I mean, imagine me, like, I was really fat too, and kind of bullied in school. That didn't help, you know. And, pretty much I was having bad marks. I wasn't really doing good, and it didn't help that I wasn't paying attention in class. I would always draw in my books. I think that's why it helped me to improve a lot in drawing, just scribbling in textbooks, but then I dropped my marks in school. And, I really had, really, problems in school to the point I developed some kind of school phobia. I wasn't able to go to school anymore. So I dropped out of school, actually, when I as fifteen years old, because I said, 'No, I can't go there anymore.' It made me physically... and it was some kind of depression. Like, other people they got way more bullied than me, but at some point I didn't have any friends. And then, if you don't have friends at some point in school, and if you have bad marks, and think it can go really downhill from there because you don't feel you have any support. I didn't feel like the teachers liked me, so I didn't feel like I could go anywhere."
"So, when I dropped out of school, you know, I think that was kinda stressful for my parents, already. And I'm really thankful for them that they were always supporting my artistic side. They never put too much pressure on me. But then I think when I dropped out of school it was kind of stressful, and I had to go to therapy in Germany, because if you drop out of school, you can't just do that. You have to do something else, like either do some kind of other school or you learn a job or you have to go to therapy. Because, legally you have to go to school, so I did that for half a year. And, I think my parents at that point were probably just happy I found something I can do and earn money with. Because I think they would be more scared I would end up on the street or something [she laughs]."
"And, so I don't have any school degree. Later, when I felt better, I was able to get my middle school degree [she means secondary school - in America, the equivalent of a high school deploma]. Because I dropped out before that. And that was a really amazing experience for me because, actually, when I got back to middle school I was eighteen years old, I think. It was an evening school for people who missed out on school so they can go there to get their school degree. And that time was amazing for me as a person, because I came from that fat bullied kid with really bad marks. I was the best in my class, I had a lot of friends, so it almost redeemed that bad experience and made it a good experience. So, when I think about school it's not just this dark times, I think also about the good times I had in evening school. But I want to say, it's better to stay in school if you can. I don't know how young you guys are who are [listening], but I think it would've been easier."
"I still have that a little bit to be honest, that just because I didn't finish school, and that I was doing so bad, that sometimes I feel like I'm less intelligent than people or something. And, actually during the therapy I had to do, they did an IQ test, and that made me feel better about myself too, because before I really thought I'm really stupid. I'm too stupid compared to other people. That's why I'm not succeeding in school. And, I think it's hard to get out of your system. Even if you know, theoretically, you're not stupid, but since you have thought so many years that you are then it's kinda hard to get rid of this. I think the same way with my weight, for instance. I lost about half of my size in weight, and I still feel like, sometimes, 'You're fat.' Your brain takes some time to adjust. You're brain's more slow."
Jana tells Bobby Chiu about her mom, as the one person she would thank the most:
"I think it would definitely be my mom because she was an artist too, and she was always encouraging me to draw. And I think having supportive parents were a big part of why I'm here now. It would definitely be my mom."
"I'm happy with the kind of job that we do. You don't really need any degree. In the end what counts is your portfolio and your skill. So, in the end I'm glad that I was always really focused on that, so I'm able to live with just what I like to do. I think that's amazing. I think we're really privileged in that way, because you can't do that in any other job. You can't become a doctor just because you like to cut up people. You need a degree in so many other places."
Just a note, when you go to Jana's account on Art Station, which she uses as her main website - there's no résumé. There's no CV. There's no artist's statement or biography. No list of awards. All she uses is her portfolio - and (as frustrating as that is for me writing this article) that really is enough to get her jobs - that and her reputation.
Jana talks about when she first took painting seriously (Chiu, 2018):
"When I was [first] interested in painting, when I started out, when I was fourteen years old, I got my first WACOM tablet. And, there was not too much around at that time. Especially, coming to the US there are so much more schools and stuff. But, back then in Germany there was nothing. And, even now, I feel like there's so much things online nowadays. You just have to go on Youtube and there's so much tutorials on painting and so much more information, you can become easily a self-taught artist. Of course, schools also help a lot. But, I think, if you're smart, you take as much information in as you can from just what you have available."
"I think talent is more about passion. . . . I can tell a little bit about the Deviant Art days, when we were both posting a lot on Deviantart. And, I feel it was a really nice community. I remember just waking up first thing in the morning, you would check out what people have been posting, and you see all the amazing art, and you just feel inspired to do the same. You really get this thing going on where it's really easy to just work a lot. And, I don't know who said that, but it's this common quote, if you find something that you love, then it doesn't feel like working anymore. So, I feel like I never had to... I did a lot of work to get where I am now, I guess, but I never felt it was hard. And that's the sweet spot you guys need to find. To find something that's fun for you. Make it fun for you, and you won't feel you had to put hard work into it. . . . You might look at some people and think they don't have any talent at all, but then you look three years later and they rock. You can't really see that. Everybody starts small, but doing something every day is going to bring you to a point where you improve."
"Well I used to do these Deviant Art commissions, right, like I'd draw a character for fifty bucks or something. I don't know if that counts for a first job. . . . And then my first job was actually a kind of funny story. It was the son of the prime minister of Jordan wanted to do his own comic company. So, I guess he had some money, he was financed by the King of Jordan. So, he was asking people, 'Hey people from Deviant Art can you work for me doing those comics." So, I was coloring comics, and that was actually my first job, it was pretty interesting. Then, funnily enough, Marvel Comics saw those interiors for some reason, those comic pages I colored, and then I was starting to work for Marvel as a colorist, and eventually I was doing a couple covers too. But, that was pretty good. I always tell people, if they don't know where to start, maybe coloring comics is a good way to start because it also helped me a lot to gain speed, because if you have to color fifty pages, you definitely gain some speed doing that. Since it's just coloring, too, if you have the lines already, I didn't feel too pressured, too, because colors were something I was most confident in, compared to the lines. I think that was a nice, easy way to start working. . . . When I started coloring for Marvel, that was straight when I got out of therapy I guess? [When she was sixteen]"
One of Jana's worst moments as an artist was (Chiu, 2018):
"I remember how bummed out I was when I was rejected from art school, because I actually tried to apply to art school, because I thought, you know, this is the place to be. And, since I didn't have a school degree I was denied. In Germany the way how it works, you can always apply to art school, and they will take you if you have extraordinary talent or something, but it's really harder if you don't have a school degree. But, I thought maybe I have a chance, and i got denied, and I was really said. But then, now, I'm working in art and I realize, okay, if I skipped to art right away, and just #@%* art school, that was a very happy change of events."
Jana moved to the US in 2016 to marry Matthias, an artist she had met in 2011 at an artist's workshop event, organized through Massive Black in San Francisco. Jana and this man were both instructors at the event and fell in love. The man she met was working as a concept artist for Blizzard Entertainment in California, so the two maintained a long-distance relationship while she worked in Berlin at SIXMOREVODKA. She tells Bobby Chiu:
"Either I wanna keep that relationship, or work. It wasn't really possible to combine those two. So, then I became a freelancer again. And, it's not easy to just move to the US as a German citizen. Now we are married, but since he's not American, I had to wait for my green card first to be able to work here. Before, I had a wife visa, which allowed me to stay in the US, but I wasn't allowed to work. And, that's kinda sad. I feel like I wanted to stay independent, so I wanted to stay in Germany until the time I could work. Now, I've got the green card. I could flip burgers if I would like to. I can do anything I'd like to. That's amazing."
Jana discusses her digital painting methods with Bobby Chiu on his podcast:
"I do have a lot of brushes, and I only use about four of them [laughs]. So, I came to the same conclusion as you, pretty much, that even if you have all those fancy texture brushes, what it comes down to is airbrush, and hard, round brush. And, I love using the lasso tool, especially the lasso tool in combination with the air brush, I think works wonders. So, you can have this hard edge doing the lasso and you just have an airbrush and you have the hard edge and the soft edge, and this is the most efficient way of painting."
One question from Bobby Chiu's podcast was, "You often use super strong bright lights. But I found those very difficult to pull off. What's the trick?"
Jana answers, "That's a good question. For me, I feel like if you have strong lights, or very colorful lights, I think it's good if you have just one colorful light source and keep the rest pretty neutral. Otherwise, it's going to look very disco, having a bunch of different light sources and colors. . . . I always tell in workshops I only use two layers modes, pretty much besides normal layer, because I don't know how you'd paint without normal layer. But, I always use linear dodge, I think it' called 'at' for my light and I always use mulitply layer for my shadows. But, could probably live with those three layer modes. So, all the lights that you see in my images are probably done with linear dodge."
"When you look at my very old work, it's very, very colorful. And, I was just scrolling through my old work again, lately, and I was like, 'Woah, this is so much color. You almost feel blinded, right?' But, if every color is so saturated, and there's no focus anymore. And, doing a lot of still-lifes, like work, like studies from life made me realize, wow, there's so much grays. There are so much different type of grays that are there that make you feel they have a different color. But, they're very, usually, in the grey spectrum of the colors. And then if you have a saturated color it doesn't even need to be that saturated, but it's gonna stand out."
"I think that doing still-lifes from life really made me realize a lot, actually. Also, when it comes to materials. If you have a glass and you would paint it, you would be able to move it around and see what kind of changes the environment would have on that material, on the reflections. So, just to have something in front of you and be able to study something rather than just copying stuff from a photo made a difference for me."
Jana lists her biggest inspirations (Chiu, 2018):
"Definitely Manga, like Sailor Moon. But, also Alphonse Mucha. I remember seeing his work when I was small. My mom had some prints of him, and I was really blown away by the line work. It looked still so modern in a way. Just the way how he draws folds, and just the lights that he's using for his paintings, it just was so amazing to me. But it's really like a mix. Usually I get very inspired by the artists I hang out with, because we're having conversation, or I see a friend's work. Automatically that inspires me, always. You can find inspiration also everywhere. I try if I can not to get too inspired by other artists because I'm afraid I'm maybe copying to much, so it's good to find inspiration elsewhere. I have a big folder of photography of references. So, I guess Alphonse Mucha and my friends, and of course I'm a lot inspired by my husband's work too. It's hard to pinpoint on a specific artist, there's so many."
In a different podcast with Ricky Martinez (Draw or Die, 2015), Jana includes praise for Craig Mullins.
From her Facebook: "2009, photoshop, from life. It's my Dad and the living room of the flat I grew up in."