posted on Apr 27, 2020
Interview: Max Grecke
Max Grecke is a Swedish freelance artist with a distinct and fun personal style. Max’s work with shapes is easily recognizable, as well as his mastery in adding emotions and dynamics into his characters and illustrations. Over the time of his career, Max has worked with Blizzard, Riot Games, Volta, and Hasbro and has released a book of his sketches called SHAPES. You can learn from Max by following this link.
Hi Max! Thanks for giving us this opportunity to speak with you a little about life and art. First off, let’s start with simple things.
I’ve noticed that you are quite active on social media - you got Artstation, DeviantArt, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube profiles, and they are all regularly updated! Which is your favorite social media channel these days and why?
When it comes to social media, I have been hooked on whatever as been trending at the time. Starting out on, DeviantArt was the big thing at the time, and also the platform that got me started to get jobs in the industry. I think that’s the difference between some of these, where Artstation is much better to treat as a portfolio and be more serious. And Instagram is just a fun place to share more of your stuff and being part of the art community. Putting in hard work will make you a successful artist, but social media can really speed up that process!
And in terms of connecting with other artists be it through social media or offline events - do you think peer support has played a role in your way as an artist?
Getting the support and appreciation from amazing artists in the industry has played a huge role in where I am now. Especially as a beginner, not having done art for too long. That someone you look up pays the tiniest bit of attention to you does such a difference in your journey as an artist. There are a few people I’m incredibly thankful for, who even reached out directly to me to just say that they liked my work back in the day. If you are a beginner, don’t ask for attention. But also if you are someone experienced in the industry, small words can go a long way for a lot of people starting out.
As far as I know, you are self-taught. There are a lot of us out there! What advice can you give to the people just starting out and worried they will not be able to make a career without an art degree?
I’m very glad that I decided to be self-taught, even if I didn’t have much of a choice at the time, with the type of education existing in Sweden at the time, with that specification in art. Even though I can’t compare it because it’s the only perspective I have of it.I knew I wanted to become a character artist, and going on that journey by myself allowed me to focus on just that. The thing I have stuck with from the start to keep myself motivated and never stop making art is to, have fun with it. Even if you want to educate yourself and learn new things, pick a topic that makes you excited about it. You always have to step outside of your comfort zone as an artist to improve, so try to at least enjoy some of the struggles that come with art.
Your work is mostly character-oriented. Has it always been something you’re more interested in? In general, what are your thoughts on having a specialized portfolio versus being a generalist for those just getting into the industry?
Environment and non-organic matter have never excited me. Characters with stories and personalities have always been what made me want to draw in the first place. But to also keep things exciting for myself, I like to explore different styles. I think that has played a big role in me being able to find a lot of work. Being able to adapt to what the client asks for, and still being able to produce decent quality within that style. So I think it’s important to show range in your portfolio, but also important to keep your subject narrow so you can become experienced within that!
Your works have a very distinct and memorable style. Would you say that at this point it is fully developed, or is it still changing? Lead us through its evolution.
The cliché is that if you are happy with your art and style you won't improve right? And I think that’s because it’s true. Even if you have to try to evolve a style you are otherwise happy with. Or the eternal suffering of being very self-critical as artists. I might not always consciously improve my style, it’s a lot about adapting to what I do for work, and being able to perfect that as much as possible.When it comes to personal art, I just like to explore different styles within what I do, a realistic rendering on cartoon proportions, or clean lines with very minimal shading. Sticking to just one art style all the time would make it too boring for me. And you learn a lot about shape language exploring things you usually don’t do. How to simplify and push proportions.
A couple of years ago you were doing a daily drawing series called Headshot (you can find a hundred of them on Artstation). What was your motivation to do this kind of daily activity and what did you take out of it?
My first inspiration for Headshot was actually from Even Amundsen! He was making daily drawings at the time, and I believe new years were just around the corner so I wanted to make a similar challenge for myself.The idea of daily challenges was how I started with art in the first place, doing something every single day, no excuses. That was how I improved in the first place. This time I wanted to have some sort of direction instead, making portraits (headshots) and try to explore different and unique styles for most of them. They didn’t have to be time-consuming or very detailed, the focus was to keep each and every single one original.
If you look back, what project or piece of art do you consider to be a breakthrough (either on a personal level or something career-related) and why?
I have one very specific memory, back when I was still very active on Facebook! There was this group called Daily Spitpaint. Every day they released 4 themes, and you were supposed to draw that theme with the limit of 30 mins.
Side-note: Also amazing tip if you want to be efficient as an artist, do speed paintings!
So one of the topics of the day was, “monk”, and I had this very specific idea of a monk in a crowd with rain that I wanted to do. I started drawing and 25 minutes in Photoshop crashed. I lost everything, but I really liked the outcome so I gave it another try, now knowing exactly what to do, to make it even better. And Photoshop crashes again… I do the painting a third time, and with the experience from making it almost 2 times before, it turned out way better than I could ever imagine. This piece also got a lot of attention, and appreciation in the group. Practice does make perfect it turns out.
What are the personal qualities that you think help you stay in demand in this industry?
The idea of doing art every day, to improve. I still try to do as much art as possible. And with how social media works these days, that will give you attention. Always posting new fresh things, work-related, personal art. Since I post a lot of things with different styles, I also have the opportunity of being able to work on these different projects. The style that I typically do, I think is very mobile friendly. And there is always a big demand for mobile game artwork!
Nowadays, the technology is evolving fast, and to stay current many artists are incorporating a lot of 3d and VR in their work. What can you say about your view on that and how, if at all, it affects your pipeline?
I think I’m the 1% who truly enjoyed 3D movies, and I love VR gaming. When it comes to putting it to good use in art, I’m not really convinced yet. But when it comes to incorporate the use of 3D software in 2D art, that’s something that feels very smart! The way media is built, demanding more from artists, being able to make quicker art with the help of 3D is amazing I think. And it’s something that I wish I knew more about myself. Learning more 3D and using it in my 2D art is definitely on my list.
We are doing this interview amidst the COVID-19 epidemic, when a lot of people who never previously worked at home, have to work remotely due to lockdowns. Do you, as a freelancer, have any secrets of how to stay sane and productive living and working in the same physical space?
I have never worked in an office space, not being able to compare it to that maybe helps. I like the idea of flexible hours, work when I want, and when I feel inspired. That’s might not be a luxury you have in an office. This can also be a curse, either it’s hard to get work done, or.. hard to let go of work. I think you have to treat your home office space as any job you would otherwise go to. You need restrictions to appreciate the freedom that comes with it as well.
What are the things in the freelance lifestyle that you enjoy the most?
Being able to work on sooo many different projects, different art styles, concept art, illustration. Always something new and exciting to keep work fun for me. It kind of reflects how I explore different things with my own art in my spare time, which I also have more time for, thanks to freelance where my schedule is a bit more flexible. That is if you are able to stay away from too many exciting projects at once!
Do you have any hobbies apart from digital art? Tell us about your other passions.
My hobbies always inspire my art, whatever I do I think it goes always goes back into my art. Games, movies, working out. The first two great sources of inspiration and fresh ideas to fuel your art. I usually also have a show or a movie on by the side while I work, for the lack of social interaction as a freelancer from home! And the last to give yourself more energy to stay productive. Being more physical has been a big change to feeling more positive, and also have less body aches, spending so much time in front of the computer.
And do wind down, let's talk about your dreams and plans for the future. What is the next big thing you want to do? Maybe a personal project you’ve been thinking about for a while, or a dream client.
Disney/Pixar has always been on my list of dreams, ever since I started out. Working on more animation related things, in general, is what I’d like to do moving forward in my career.When it comes to personal projects, I have learned that smaller is better. I don’t have a big goal but trying to set smaller achievements along the way, and projects that excite me. Keeping them on a small scale, (even though they never turn out small) allows me to finish them most of the time.
Thanks, Max! It was great having a chance to speak with you. All the best to you in your future adventures!
Portrait by Björn Hurri