My goal is to make digital portraiture the next evolution of portraiture: a conversation with Ian Spriggs

By Luke Whyte, Editorial Director

Seven years ago, Ian Spriggs left his job and set off on a journey. Working as a character designer, he was always under deadline, cranking out work that was interesting but, he felt, often fell short on quality.

“So, I took some time off and decided to see how far I could push it,” he said.

And by “push it”, Spriggs meant, push forward the genre of digital portraiture – a pursuit at which he has been very successful.

Ocean, 1 of 1

“In 2014, there were a lot of digital humans out there but most of them felt like they were about technical achievements like, ‘look at our digital human, look at how realistic they’re becoming’”, he said. “But they didn’t, in my opinion, feel believable because they weren’t trying to capture the human emotion. They were just trying to capture the human realism.”

So, Spriggs set off to do something different. Beginning with self portraiture, he began experimenting with techniques to elevate the medium of digital portraiture.

Marie, 1 of 1

“The way I approached it is I looked back at the Rembrandts and the Caravaggios – all the masters of art history – to see what they’ve done with their work and how it feels alive centuries later,” he said. “I’ve got to somehow capture that human emotion into the digital human. And so my primary intention was not to make a realistic digital human but to try and make a digital portrait which is a representation of the human essence.”

“My goal is to make digital portraiture the next evolution of portraiture”, he said. And, certainly, his work reflects that – combining digital techniques like sculpting and texturing with techniques learned from study of the greats that came before.

Self portrait, 2020

It starts with a relationship to the subject

Spriggs work begins with his relationship to the subject.

“If you see my work as a collection it is like all the parts of my life, like all the people in them are my friends and family,” Spriggs said. “So as a collection it is almost like an autobiography of my life, of who I am.”

You can capture the likeness of someone just by drawing them, he said, “but it’s not really a portrait because they don’t really know who that person is. I’m trying to show you not only likeness but actually show you in depth of who that person is.”

“It’s kind of like a book cover,” he said. “I’m trying to show you everything in that book through the image on the cover.”

Erica, 2020

Creating the artwork

“Once I’ve picked my subject, I’ll do a photoshoot with them,” Spriggs said. “I’ll take about a thousand photographs from different angles. It’s almost like I take a scan of them, but I do it manually.”

Once he has a 360 scan of the subject through photos, Spriggs uses Maya to block out the cameras, Mudbox for sculpting and texturing and V-Ray for Maya for rendering the lighting. Finally, he’ll use photoshop, “for any color changes or something like that,” he said.

The results are genre-pushing works of art that he’s now bringing into the NFT space.

Tony, 2018

Moving into the NFT space

“It’s an absolutely great thing that has happened,” he said of NFTs for artists. “I think creating an NFT is actually giving value to a digital artwork. Before NFTs, everything was just a copy of a copy of a copy – duplicated a hundred times until everything gets diluted.”

It’s important though, he said, that as humanity moves further and further into this digital space – through NFTs or otherwise – that we not lose track of our humanity.

“It’s so easy to hide behind avatars,” he said. “That’s why with my work, my portraits are real people. They are real emotions I’m conveying. I try to bring it back down to earth but, also, to head into that direction of what’s possible while maintaining that human aspect of it.”

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Luke Whyte is SuperRare's Editorial Director.

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