The States of Emotion: Digital Portraits by Laura H. Rubin
Exclusive Interview with Laura H. Rubin, 3rd Prize Winner, ZBrush Digital Art Award, 2020 Beautiful Bizarre Art Prize
With so many muscles in the human face, it is no wonder that facial expressions so easily convey a vast array of emotions. While many of them are easy to see, there are subtle micro-expressions which aren’t as easy to spot, or to understand. Fortunately, Laura H. Rubin, 3rd place winner for the Beautiful Bizarre Art Prize, ZBrush Digital Award, is an adept at conveying various states of emotion in her exquisite digital paintings. With her submission titled Apophis, one can see why her art has become so successful.
Coated in liquid black and often staring directly at the viewer, Laura’s figures are reduced to a frozen portrayal of feelings reflected not only in their expression but in the composition of the pieces as well. By adding these intimate details, the portraits become stories. The shadowed bodies pulls the focus of the viewer towards the captured emotions. The accessories, the flowers, and the use of both grayscale and color in her pieces all provide an exquisite work of art.
Laura H. Rubin is a Swiss artist, illustrator and graphic designer based in Thun/Bern. She has been drawing since she was a child, inspired by her father’s realistic drawings. Later she studied Film and VFX before she started working in the advertising industry for several years. Laura is searching for aesthetics in imperfection and loves to give her characters strong emotions. She wants people to wonder what her characters might feel and try to understand what the characters are all about, not just focusing on the surface.
“Apophis”: Apophis is named after an asteroid and Egyptian god, who is the embodiment of dissolution, darkness and chaos. The feathers in the picture symbolize the dissolution of the human being, because already in the Middle Ages black birds or ravens were considered as harbingers of disaster and death.
Who are some of the artists that have inspired you and what is inspiring about their work?
There are probably hundreds of incredible artists that keep inspiring me. Currently it’s predominantly artists like Aykut Aydogdu, with his breathtaking implementations and new ideas which you have hardly see. Or Jaw Cooper, with her wonderful, unique style, and also Eliza Ivanova, who manages to give an incredible meaning to a sketch.
What are some of your favorite pieces from them?
The artwork “Summoning” by Jaw Cooper, “Fanny Flutters” by Aykut Aydogdu and the work “Hungover” by Eliza Ivanova.
What made you want to move away from film and visual effects you were studying in school?
Unfortunately, there are not many opportunities for filmmakers in Switzerland, except in the advertising industry, so I was forced to change industries after I graduated. Fortunately, there were many parallels between my work as a VFX artist and as a designer, so I was able to benefit from my education.
What are some of the jobs you had before you became a professional artist?
For a long time I was not sure which job would be suitable for me, so I was trying quite a few. After finishing school, I started learning painting as a trade (not a painter-artist, but a painter who paints new buildings). Later, I was working as a stylist for a short time, and at the age of 19, I started my training as a film and visual FX artist. At that time, I earned my money as a photographer. After graduation I became a graphic designer in an advertising agency in Bern.
Psychological themes are also very inspiring, as their complexity allows you to make the artworks even more surrealistic.
If you could make the choice again, would you have become a freelance artist sooner?
No, I don’t think so. It took me every second I was working as a designer to develop and learn how the industry works. If I had gone into business for myself earlier, I would not have had enough experience to be successful.
What sort of things keep you occupied when you aren’t working on art?
I love reading books. I buy new books every month in order to learn more about any subject that fascinates me. Learning new things gives me a certain feeling of security. I also love spending time outside and taking photos or filming anything spectacular that nature has to offer. The rest of the time I spend with my better half or do sports.
I think the most inspiring things for me are my feelings, things that occupy me and that I try to process in some way. It’s like writing a diary. What is probably present in almost every painting is this melancholic feeling. Although I am basically a very happy person, I am also quite a melancholic person from time to time.
I noticed that one of your bio mentions you were influenced by psychology and mythology. Can you explain this more?
Mythological stories are fantastic foundations for new artworks because they are universal stories that almost everyone knows, so you can rely on the general knowledge of the viewer. A story automatically emerges in their minds without having to explain anything to them about the artwork itself; which is wonderful, because mythological stories are so complex and result in great conversations with the viewers. Psychological themes are also very inspiring, as their complexity allows you to make the artworks even more surrealistic. A small example: the concept of the psychotherapist and communication scientist Paul Watzlawick. He developed the concept of first and second order reality. He, therefore, assumes that several realities exist at the same time. Trying to paint a portrait on this subject is incredibly exciting, as it forces you to leave your comfort zone.
What else has inspired you?
I think the most inspiring things for me are my feelings, things that occupy me and that I try to process in some way. It’s like writing a diary. What is probably present in almost every painting is this melancholic feeling. Although I am basically a very happy person, I am also quite a melancholic person from time to time. This always sounds a bit negative at first, but without this characteristic, I would not paint. I need these feelings to work; as if melancholy was my pencil.
After watching you use Procreate in a video on Instagram, I noticed you use a skeletal frame to sketch your figures. Is this something you do every time?
Most of the time I use this method when I have no reference image. This is a modified form of the Loomis method, developed by Andrew Loomis, in order to be able to draw portraits and also bodies without a reference picture.
Tell me more about your artistic process. Are you still creating art in other mediums such as clay or photography?
Originally, I drew traditionally on paper and later also on canvas. The change came when I could no longer afford the material during my education, as the tuition fees were very high. During my studies we spent a lot of time drawing storyboards, which made me realize that painting on a tablet is faster and saves paper. I fell in love with digital drawing because the possibilities are actually endless as long as the battery is full. Nowadays I still work with clay or tinker around with other materials, but mostly these are only small projects.
How do you see your digital art fitting into the world as it is currently?
In a world ruled by social media, international communication, and digital friendships, we are lonelier than ever before, so we have stopped looking as closely at things as we have in the past. In all the hustle and bustle we don’t notice when someone is not feeling well, and that’s why the facial expressions of my characters are often so strongly in the foreground. I want to make the viewers look closer and try to understand what this character might feel.
Is there a direction you want your art to take in the future?
I still see myself at the very beginning, so I hope to give my work an even deeper meaning in the future. I myself am curious where my work will take me.
I mistakenly was under the impression you had collaborated with Ruben Ireland. Have you done collaborations with any other artists?
I never had the pleasure of working with Ruben Ireland. In the very beginning, I was inspired by George Mayer, who uses light and shadow to create stunning black and white photographs, which are very similar to Ruben Ireland’s work. I hadn’t even heard of Ruben Ireland until people suddenly started asking me about him. Now that I am aware of his great work, several of his paintings in extra large formats hang in our apartment. However, I’m not sure if I’m suitable for collaborations with other artists, but I would definitely not say no to a collaboration with Ruben Ireland!
Why did you enter the Beautiful Bizarre Magazine Art Prize?
I found out about the event only a few hours before the deadline and spontaneously decided to give it a try. But to be honest, I didn’t have high hopes of winning anything at that time.
What do you feel you have gained from this experience?
Incredible experiences! I got to know many new artists and the great and helpful team of Beautiful Bizarre. And, of course, it was great that I was able to present my work “Nocturne” at the Midnight Garden exhibition in San Francisco. Many thanks for that!
Would you recommend it and encourage others to enter? If so, why?
Of course! You only lose for sure if you don’t try. The participation was a great chance to meet new artists and like-minded people. So you win something either way.