The Art of Anja K. Lassin
Main combat scene for Gladiatores: Blood for Roses

We talk black chalk, spoon music and ancient civilisations!

We had the great pleasure recently of talking at length with our amazing artist for Gladiatores, Anja Kryczkowska Lassin, famous for the look of Gloom of Kilforth, 1066 Tears for Many Mothers and Paradise Lost for Green Feet Games to name a few. We got a chance to dig into her background, her fascination with different art styles and how she approaches working for the gaming industry.

BadCat > Hi Anja, its lovely to have you talk to us today. Please tell us a little about yourself; where you are from, how long you’ve been an artist and what art style did you start with?

Anja > Thankyou! I was born in Gdansk to a family with a French background – it comes on my mum’s side. Unfortunately though, I don’t speak French. Polish is my first language and English is my second one. I live in Poland at present. It has been a while since I started to work as an illustrator. I loved the cartoony style at first and it was my first true art love before I discovered Michelangelo, Buonarroti Simoni / Caravaggio / Leonardo da Vinci / Jan Matejko and many others. My second huge fascination was and still is realistic painting – mostly referring to Caravaggio’s style. I’m leaning more towards simplicity of presenting form at the present time.

The Incredulity of St Thomas (Caravaggio)
The Incredulity of St Thomas (Caravaggio)

Badcat > Has your art style changed over the years then or has it simply evolved?

Anja > I’ve always tried to keep both feet on the ground, so staying with one technique seemed like a stagnation of the creating process and the most important part of it, which is to express myself. I started from a more cartoony style ( black outlines, idealized body building, pretty faces, clean colors etc.). I have been progressively going through new ways of drawing (or I should say painting). I abandoned the sketchy style in the development of experimenting with lighting, studying such masterpieces like Caravaggio’s paintings (The Crucifixion of St. Peter – Church of Santa Maria del Popolo or The Martydorm of St. Matthew for example) – shimmering patterns of shadows and light! It could play tricks on your eyes you know? That’s what I like the most!

At the moment I’m fascinated by the simplicity of form – Lineart is very close to that but that’s not the comforting part. I think that ‘Samurai Jack’ by Genndy Tartakovsky (the american animated series) or ‘Batman Beyond’ developed by Bruce Timm, Paul Dini, Alan Burnett or ‘Hellboy” by Mike Mignola is what I’m looking for at the moment. But it is strictly relevant to animation only. But who knows maybe combining simplicity with realism (‘Ghost in the Shell’ by Masamune Shirow for instance) would be an interesting connection. My primary goal is to keep it (my art style) moving 🙂

BadCat > Who would you say has been your main inspirations in developing your art style so far and what about them inspires you?

Anja > Actually, my fondness for drawing/painting has strictly to do with comic books plus the history of art. When I started to learn English I found out that it’d be really cool to read as much as I could in the original language. I remember my earliest try to translate one of the comic books published by DC Comics titled ‘Superman vs the Demon – City of Lost Souls’ by Byrne & Giordano and then V for Vendetta by Alan Moore and David Lloyd.

Why these particular titles ? I had only two examples of graphic novels which weren’t translated into the Polish language :)) . My English teacher figured out that if I liked art soo much I can try to read books on art history and then I found Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni. He exerted an unparalleled influence on my whole further life.

And as a result, I started doing sketches based on his work. I remember when I was trying to get the effect of an old High Renaissance drawing (sanguine or sepia on paper). My goodness, that was good old times!

As a matter of fact, that reminds me about one funny story relating to ‘David’ – one of the masterpieces of Renaissance sculpture created by Michelangelo. It happened in high school. I was told to draw ‘David’ for one of the scenic props. I had to make him as realistic and visible as he should be on the stage. So I did it!

Organisers asked me if I can handle it and after I said ‘Yes’ they left me alone with the task. Still don’t know how this happened but nobody came back to check how ‘David’ looked like. Well, I was trying to map the original and there was no such things like leaves covering his private parts.

15 minutes before the performance – one of the organisers started yelling and groaning:
Organiser: ‘Oh my God !! What made you think to make David like that ! He’s totally naked! There’s no time !!
Me: ‘But this is art …(resigned facepalm gesture)
Organiser: He can’t stay like that !! You must do something !! This is inappropriate !!

[Small reminder: It was the early 90s.]
There was no other painting stuff available, only black chalk left. And no time to redraw. So I took some chalk lying around and I drew him some black shorts.
The stage was set, the curtains raised and all I heard people in the audience saying: ‘ He’s got pants….. He’s got pants……He’s got pants…… !
I thought the organisers would kill me after the performance but luckily they didn’t :)).

And that’s how my earliest nickname was created: ‘ Black chalk ‘ 🙂

BadCat > Thats a great story! Your art has been described as almost photorealistic but we feel there is still a feeling of detailed sketching behind it that also reminds us of some of the late 80’s British comic styles
(e.g. art from 2000AD magazine) and some of the black and white European comic styles. Do you generally work from sketches or approach a new subject with the idea firmly in your mind?

Gladiatores characters set 1

Gladiatores characters set 2

Anja > My primary goal is to create interesting / eye-catching compositions or poses etc. I think that designing an illustration, character, landscape …. is like telling a story.

After getting the description I must devise / develop the whole plan that I have. As a result of this preparation process I have many initial sketches. It’s always better to discuss the project during an initial phase than changing an almost finished one. Saving you lots of time and hassle. By the way, I like making sketches ! 🙂 There’s a lot of different ways I can express the image. I use my face as a mannequin to create facial expressions – sometimes with modifications, of course. The same goes for character poses. It’s a lot of fun when you realize that you are using your own face as the basic model for a screaming female orc for example. Sometimes I ask one of my friends to be my model. This is a great way to study how the human body can be illuminated from different directions.

You can also use a camera to record a short movie with a scene comparable to what you want to achieve as a final result. But what about fantasy creatures, you can ask? Well, in that case there’s always imagination – like making one strange new species connecting to two already existing. As a result I have many, many sketches in my workshop :)). Maybe I should arrange some workshop tour or something like that ! 🙂

BadCat > Many artists nowadays seem to prefer working completely within digital media. Are you the same ?

Anja > Well, I must say I’m not a fan of creating something completely within digital media when it comes to the drawing process. Maybe it sounds weird since I’m doing digital stuff as well. But there’s always something like one original painting for example. It’s really hard to imagine the tastes, the textures of oil on canvas for example when it comes to digital painting. ‘There are specific brushes’ people say. Sure, there are but still that kind of painting can be copied millions of times. Digital painting looks cool but hasn’t got that special something what drives viewers the most.

On the other hand, I understand that digital painting is quicker and cheaper. Multi-million dollar productions couldn’t exist without it. What can I say? there’s a way to accept the past with the future. Handmade plus digital became a perfect combination for me :).

The same goes for a 2D and 3D animation process. I know there’s a lot of old school animation followers. And not to sound like devil’s advocate but I think that there’s a lot of great, unique techniques in both types.

BadCat > What got you into doing art for games?

Anja > I’ve always wanted to do what I love the most. I started as a game tester. It was a long time ago and it didn’t quite compare to my dreams. So I decided to change something in my life. Luckily, I’ve managed to combine work with pleasure which is one of the greatest achievements during the last years. I have no intention to slow down 🙂 Hopefully, everything’ll continue the way it’s meant to.

BadCat > We particularly like the realistic female art you do. Where do you draw visual inspiration for these characters from?

The Amazon – a fearsome warrior queen from Gladiatores: Blood for Roses

Anja > Thank you 🙂 It’s always great to hear that your art style is well received. This is going to be an interesting subject, I reckon. When I was sketching female faces my grandma looked over my shoulder and said: ‘You know something, why don’t you take our family photo album ? Maybe you’ll find someone interesting.’. So I did it. The most funny thing was that I took my mum’s photo and I said to my grandma: ‘She looks really cool. Who is she ? ‘ My grandma started laughing at me. She couldn’t stop while I was wondering what was so funny about that. Well, that’s the story of how I discovered ‘time travel’ :)).

You are probably thinking:’ How the hell can she not recognise her own mother ?’. And in my defense, I’ll say that it is highly possible. Let me give you an example: I can’t recognise the early youth of my own face in the mirror. Besides, my mum still looks great! As a matter of fact, she was one of my models for an upcoming project. The clothing that they wear comes from my background studies on female ‘fashion’ – if I can call it this way.

BadCat > You are one of two artists for our Gladiatores: Blood for Roses card game. What interested you about the project?

Anja > I noticed the great opportunity to go deeper in to the main subjects covered in Gladiatores: Blood for Roses’ card game. I study gladiators weapons and parts of armour a lot these days. Knowing types of gladiators /warriors became some kind of journey through ancient Rome for me. It gave me a broader historical perspective along the way. What’s more, I learned about the Flavian Amphitheatre a lot.

I must admit that when I heard about female Gladiator facts I was more than surprised. There’s one absolute proof that relying on movie adaptations instead of trying to study our historical past is a huge mistake in this matter.

BadCat > Absolutely. There is very little known about them. Emperor Nero’s tribute to his mother involved a variety of gladiatorial fights including women. A marble relief from Turkey shows Achillea fighting a similarly armed Amazonia.

I’m a great enthusiast of searching / digging in the past, that’s why this project opened many doors at one time. Firstly, I start digging and found some interesting facts. Secondly, I gathered a pretty big bookcase about the ancient fighters. Thirdly, I discovered a few people involved in the production of a gladiator’s armour intended for special shows and events. I’m pretty familiar with the subject since my dad’s hobby is designing bladed weapons. I have one saber and two daggers made by him. Cool stuff!!

BadCat > That is really cool indeed! So do you prefer to paint Fantasy, Sci Fi or Historical art?

Anja > Well, I must say that fantasy art gives you a lot of freedom during the creating process. For example if you have some knight to design you don’t have to stick to the historical facts to remain credible (armour is a good example).

Science fiction is well known as the ‘literature of many ideas’. I’m saying ‘Yes!’ to every project which deals with futuristic concepts such as advanced technology, fictional worlds, extraterrestrial life and so on. As a matter of fact, I’m a supporter of the idea that extraterrestrial life occurs outside of Earth as much as the knowledge that we are in some way the remnant of a great civilization which existed here on Earth a long time ago. As a result of some disaster we are living settlers of our ancestors. Every technical invention nowadays is only a repeat of something which existed a long time ago. We could say that : “We are just a rehash of yesterday’s show”.

I love such literatures like ‘American Indian Myths and Legends’, by A. Ortiz and R. Erdoes. I recently discovered great lectures on Youtube by Dr Franc Zalewski – one of our great Polish hidden history hunters. By the way, there’s also one of my favourite comic books talking about our ‘creators from outer space’. The series title is ‘Die Gotter aus dem All’ according to Erich von Daniken. Art by Polch, script by Mostowicz and Górny. An awesome story and marvellous art!

Historical art. That kind of task can be a great adventure and lesson as well. What I like the most during creating such kind of images is the fact that I can study medieval or ancient armour, culture, dresses etc. I’m calling this a very pleasant historical lesson, highly memorable. Each subject has a certain (different) value for me.

BadCat > We have talked a bit in the past about your other plans beyond illustrating games and we also share a passion for 9th Art comic projects (euro style bande dessinée). Is this something you would like to develop in the future?

Anja > Oh yes!! Both comics and animations had important effects on my life. I still keep thinking about an old bookstore close to where we lived. Luckily, they had a fresh batch of great titles coming in every second week. Soon I realized that my first goal should be to study what I could from this place as much as I can.

Thorgal – by Rosinski and van Hamme

I remember my mum sitting in the armchair and watching me while I was drawing some short stories taken directly from our life or my grandpa’s stories. He was a really funny guy. He loved to play music using a teaspoon and a glass! Good old days 🙂

So my mum gave me a present. I have all of them still ( all these years …. time flies like a winged wizard, I guess ). Their titles are: 1. ‘Thorgal’- ‘ L’lle des Mers gelees’ by Jean van Hamme and Grzegorz Rosi?ski / 2. Valerian and Laureline ‘ Welcome to Alflolol ‘by J.C. Mezieres & Pierre Christin / 3. ‘La Quete de l’oiseau du temps’ by Regis Loisel.
These series along with many others had a profound effect on my artistic life.

BadCat > Yup, you’ve basically hit on 3 of the most famous series in European comics! All are stunning and every collection should have them. But interestingly they all have very different art styles.

Anja > Yes! I always admired Rosi?ski’s art for it’s dynamics in development (the way he was able to create living characters within a dynamic realistic style). Something I called: style pulsating with life without sterility. Furthermore, the way he built suspense through drawing the panels was brilliant! Thorgal has a special, unique atmosphere / vibe.

BadCat > Thorgal is an epic story arc but is really quite bleak at times and the atmospheric sometimes quite dark appearance of Rosi?ski’s cover art really reinforces that feel. We have a Rosi?ski chalk composition on our wall that we are very proud of!

Anja > A screenplay written by Jean van Hamme is a masterpiece. You can forget about everything else when reading this series. I’m telling you! And there’s never enough.

BadCat > Its the true art of a storyteller. Every tome often ends on a cliffhanger that makes you die to get the next one. Van Hamme is a hugely prolific writer too with his series XIII. We actually named our Gladiator
mascot that you drew – the Unknown Gladiator after XIII for obvious reasons if you know the van Hamme story.

XIII – the Unknown Gladiator by Anja. K. Lassin

Anja > The next certain favourite of mine is The Nikopol Trilogy: The Carnival of Immortals / The Woman Trap / Cold Equator and 32 Decembre. I love the stories, the art style. That unforgettable spacecraft in the shape of a pyramid, God’s characters and the Lady in Blue, of course. Well, I could talk and talk but I don’t think there’s enough time.

Enki Bilal – La Femme Piege

BadCat > No, sadly we should get back to the questions. We could talk about bande dessinée for hours (we also have a poster of La Femme
Piège on our wall too) 😉 So are there any other visual mediums (for example animation, film or sculpting) you would like to explore ?

Anja > I’m getting through to Jean Giraud “Moebius” also. The masterpieces like ‘Incal’ and ‘Edena’ led me to focus attention on individual animations -such titles like: Lorn – Anvil directed by Geriko ( Helene Jeudy & Antoine Caecke). Character Animation by Anthony Lejeune & Manddy Wyckens. Lorn Sega Sunset from ‘Rarities’ directed by Yoshiaki Kawajiri of Ninja Scroll fame or C2C – Delta from the album “Tetr4”. The last one striking me with its simplicity and distinctive form. That looks really awesome !

That’s what I’m trying to accomplish in my private project. I’m working on this short animation for a few months. What I can tell at this point is that action is kept in the ‘urban dark electro, cyber goth, industrial trend, making the workspace more design focused. This is going to be uploaded as a pilot on my upcoming Youtube Channel :)) Stay tuned my friend 🙂 Soon I’ll let you know the result and can’t wait your reaction!

BadCat > That indeed sounds awesome. We look forward to that! Thanks for taking the time to speak to us Anja!