PLEASE INTRODUCE YOURSELF
I am Kirsten Zirngibl, a concept artist and 2D/3D illustrator with a current focus on game creation. I live in San Diego and am working on multiple game projects in addition to freelance projects. Exploration and creative play lie at the heart of my work, and I always seek to combine new forms and concepts. I love hiking and exploring nature, and lately have been into mineral microscopy/photography.
HOW WOULD YOU BEST DESCRIBE YOUR STYLE?
My work tends towards intricacy and layered/nested patterns. It balances biomorphic forms and faceted geometry. Procedural generation is a frequent element, as is recursion and symmetry. It often reads best when read at the “sub-object” level, when the viewer is focused on details first and slowly takes in the entire composition. It tends towards an optimistic high-tech vibe, reflecting how truly exotica full of smart matter might be.
HOW DID YOU GET INTO ART?
I have been drawing for as long as I can remember. I felt compelled to make things with my hands in general, like modular construction toys and crafts, and liked thinking up worlds they belonged to. I didn’t always think that being a professional artist/world builder was viable, but art-making always held some part of my identity. I am happy to have been designing and illustrating professionally for a decade now.
WHO OR WHAT ARE SOME OF YOUR MAJOR INFLUENCES?
I am very inspired by nature. I spent a lot of time exploring in the woods as a child. I later became captivated by minerals. They awakened the concept of “emergence” that I still keep coming back to. Inspiration later came from insects, fish, shells, and diatoms. M. C. Escher was my first favorite artist. I later became more inspired by mechanical design in my teens and considered a career in engineering before discovering video games and concept art, which seemed like the best compromise between creative aesthetics and design thinking.
Fractals later became a big inspiration, and 3D fractals are still one of my biggest touchstones. They capture a kind of natural proportions in such a pure way that I feel joy every time I look at them. I don’t often use them directly in my work but have internalized their essence after generating many over the years. The procedural design has been another inspiration, and I look at a lot of examples of it in modern architecture, product design, and VFX. I got into playing video games later than most of my peers, but their potential as a medium hit me pretty hard, fueling the desire to be a concept artist. I don’t spend much time gaming anymore, but I admire many. I also have synesthesia, which might act as an inspiration, I rarely try to portray it consciously.
CAN YOU TELL US ABOUT YOUR WORKING PROCESS?
My working process varies a lot, but generally starts in the sketchbook. The early stages unfold in the land of ideas, in the form of quick iterative sketches. If I am working on a large, complex scene, I often design the individual components and then compose, sometimes jumping directly in 3D software, other times through further drawing. Going back and forth between 2D and 3D often works well, such as screenshotting a 3D viewport and then drawing over it to figure out composition, then using that as a reference for the next 3D pass.
I use many pieces of software to create assets, but final scenes are typically constructed and rendered in 3DS Max/V-Ray. I enjoy learning new digital tools and am often tinkering with unusual workflows. I’ve been doing some custom stuff with point clouds that I’m pretty excited about. For 2D drawing, I have been using the ProCreate app lately but I still prefer a ballpoint pen/mini sketch for brainstorming on the go. I also use pen and watercolor when I want a break from the digital world.
WHAT MOTIVATES YOU TO CREATE?
I am motivated to create for many reasons. Since I can remember, I’ve had this urge to “crystalize my time” – to freeze the sequence of thoughts into a kind of artifact. Creating is also a kind of thinking tool. My drawings often function as handholds and footholds for ideas. They let me outsource my working memory. In a sense, drawing helps me become a better self, which means more to me than expression. Art is also a kind of beacon for finding like-minded friends. Sharing a piece is like flying a flag that says “if you like this, chances are we might have some good conversations.” I also just create to share things I find beautiful!
WHAT IS YOUR STUDIO LIKE?
My studio is small and versatile, and mostly digital right now. The primary work machine is a beast of a gaming laptop so I can work at full capacity at a client’s studio, or staying out of town with family/friends. When working at home, I have a mini treadmill under my standing desk to help me stay healthy while doing tasks like research and light writing. The open area functions as a VR workspace for 3D creation. Bordering that is a shelf with reference and inspiration books, and a bunch of small mineral specimens in compartment boxes which I can take out and rotate onto my desk for passive inspiration or texture capture. The whole setup can be converted into a traditional media studio when I get the itch to work with physical paints.
WHAT ARE YOU CURRENTLY WORKING ON?
I am always juggling several projects. I prefer it that way, even when factoring in the cognitive cost of multiple irons in the fire. I’m currently working with two video game clients. For myself, I’ve been working on a Myst-like puzzle game called Intopolis, and am licensing the world (Called “Synthara”) to a new kind of tabletop video game hybrid developed by Streeper. games. I am currently doing a feasibility study for a Synthara racing game as well. I’m also going to be publishing a sketchbook compilation through Kickstarter. You can sign up for my mailing list or join Discord at https://intopolis.com/ for updates on what I’m working on.
Images with courtesy of Kirsten Zirngibl