The Human Touch - Jason Frieling

Published: 05 March, 2012 - Featured in Skin Deep 209, March, 2012

Being someone whose artistic abilities amount to well-drawn stick figures (take my word for this), I am always blown away by brilliant art. It continually amazes me when an artist takes a blank canvas, or naked area of skin, and turns it into something that takes your breath away.

In more recent years, with the onslaught of everything digital, a new art form has emerged that is equally as mind-blowing… we now see artists working with computers to create images that are pushing the boundaries of art and creating a whole new arena to express their creative force. One such artist is Jason Frieling. Jason has been around for a fair few years now; making his mark on both skin and canvas, but it is his 3D modelling work that really pushes the boundaries. We’re talking dark and twisted images that jump out and leave you feeling a little breathless.

“I was introduced to art by my grandfather when I was about five years old. He would always come over and draw cartoons with me; he definitely sparked my interest in art from the beginning. Once I got to high school, I started taking as many art classes as I could. I did not really learn much from the art programs they offered, but this was probably because I was preoccupied with more unproductive things back then! After high school, I continued my study in art and went to college for a few years. I found myself not learning a whole lot at school, so I took it upon myself to get as much info on art that I could. I would buy so many books and pretty much any kind of learning material I could get my hands on.”

With this passion and love cemented as a solid foundation, Jason was off the mark and though tattooing had been in the back of Jason’s mind for a while, it wasn’t until he got his first tattoo that his interest in the tattoo world was truly ignited.

“I was introduced to tattoos when I was about 18 and got my first – an atom molecule on my inner arm. I got the atom molecule because it is the only thing I know of that never dies. It is forever. At the time I think I just wanted to get a tattoo like most people when they get their first. I did not really have a plan other than I knew I wanted that particular tattoo. If I knew then what I know now, I would have taken the time to find an artist. And when I did, I would have let the artist have more artistic freedom with the tattoo. The molecule tattoo will probably be the only tattoo that will ever have any real meaning to me. Everything else I get tattooed on me is more for the art side of it and not for me to have some crazy meanings behind them. I think the art will remind you of the time and place you were when you got it, so letting the artist do their thing is what I prefer when getting tattooed. I used to think about tattooing in high school, but never thought it would be something that was possible for me to do for a living. Then after getting the tattoo I thought to myself, I could see myself enjoying this environment for life.”

With the first tattoo experience under his belt, it was time to jump in and get his new career off the ground. As always, it took a few false starts before Jason found himself in the right shop, with the right creative environment, but then it was all systems go.

“I have never done a traditional apprenticeship. I mainly learned by tattooing pig feet and many crazy friends. I spent a lot of time getting tattooed at local tattoo shops in an attempt to try to soak up as much knowledge as I could. Then after a couple years of studying and practicing I felt it was time to look for a job. In 2005, I got my first machines and my portfolio together with as many tattoo photos and artwork as I had at the time and started looking around for a place to work. I landed my first gig at a local street shop pumping out flash art and any custom tattoos I could get my hands on. I soon realized that they didn’t know what they were doing as much as I didn’t know what I was doing. I learned that I didn't know shit and needed to figure it out as soon as possible. I left that shop for many reasons, but mainly to tighten everything up in my drawing and tattooing.
“So I took a big step back and started to try and figure things out the right way. At this point I was hanging around custom shops and mainly just talking to the artists as much as I could; about how they do what they were doing, when they are doing it. After I felt I had a good foundation to start, I got a job at an all custom tattoo shop.”

Putting in the hours and honing his work to ensure he was pushing out the best work he could, it wasn’t long before 3D modelling caught his eye and drew him into another art form; one that was going to prove to be as successful as his tattooing and canvas based work he had done previously:

“After a year or so I started going to a few conventions to get my feet wet. I left that shop and started fine-tuning everything again; reading book after book and just studying art every day. After about another year of doing this, I started working at yet another shop for about three years. It was here that I took the time to learn the 3D modelling programs to try to push myself to a different approach to everything, trying to do something new. It was frustrating learning, but well worth the effort in the end.

“Things change all the time and I will always try to keep up with that change. Through the years, I have noticed that computers are basically taking over every industry. What makes our industry any different? Ever since Photoshop was introduced to the tattooing world, things have definitely taken a huge leap forward. I believe the same is just waiting for 3D modelling to help the art and tattoo industry take another leap forward. I did some research on different sculpting programs and have used everything from 3D-Coat to Mudbox and Sculptress. There are a lot of programs out there, and the one I felt the most comfortable with that seemed like it was not limited to what it could do by itself, was ZBrush. This sculpting program definitely stood out the most to me. It seems to be very user friendly and the most dynamic software. With ZBrush you can manipulate the lights, textures, materials, and colour.

“I don’t always sketch an idea onto paper before I start sculpting in 3D, but I have found that it seems to help me get my idea down in ZBrush much faster. I have been using programs like ZBrush to sculpt my models just as you would with clay. I then take my model into programs like Photoshop and start painting in the details and colours. Even though you could use ZBrush to do almost everything, I still find that some things are best done in Photoshop; mainly because you’re not looking to rig a model or make it perfect unless you plan to print it into a 3D sculpture or send it to a video game. But trust me, there is a lot that goes into this and most in the gaming industry have various jobs. For instance someone sculpts, another person rigs the mesh, and someone else will colour it. There is so much to learn with the 3D stuff so I try to learn the most important things first and just the stuff that will help me get my vision across. I am not trying to do everything to make a working model in 3D, maybe in the future, but my main use for 3D is to just get my vision on paper. My goal is to only use 3D modelling as a way of getting an image together for a tattoo or a painting, but I still approach my art and tattooing in traditional ways by taking photos or gathering reference. I just try to do whatever it takes to get the best result for whatever I’m trying to create.”

With computer technology seeping its way into most areas of life these days, the only way to stay ahead of the pack is to embrace it and get it to work for you, something Jason seems to be proving successful at. But as he will admit himself, it isn’t all about keeping up-to-date, there is also the intrinsic need in the artist to find better ways to get a creative idea out and presentable.

“I get bored easily and I just like to switch things up all the time to keep things interesting for me. I was drawing before painting and painting before tattooing. The 3D modelling software is the most recent medium I use to create my art. I just try to keep my art interesting and fun for myself to create. With these different mediums, I approach my art in various ways. Sometimes I do the realism thing by approaching art with a photo reference or a 3D mesh and then paint what I see. And sometimes I do more of a memory drawing with no reference or a mixture of them. I mainly do what I feel like at the time and if it seems fun.”

The Butterfly Effect

3D modelling (also known as meshing) is the process of developing a mathematical representation of any three-dimensional surface of object (either inanimate or living) via specialised software. The product is called a 3D model. It can be displayed as a two-dimensional image through a process called 3D rendering, or used in a computer simulation of physical phenomena. The model can also be physically created using 3D printing devices. Models may be created automatically or manually. The manual modelling process of preparing geometric data for 3D computer graphics is similar to plastic arts such as sculpting. Fair warning though – in the remaining boxes, we are about to get hyper technical on your ass…

Types of Modelling

Still a fairly new method of modelling, 3D digital sculpting has become very popular in the few short years it has been around. There are currently three types of digital sculpting: displacement, which is the most widely used among applications at the moment; volumetric; and dynamic tessellation. Displacement uses a dense model (often generated by subdivision surfaces of a polygon control mesh) and stores new locations for the vertex positions through use of a 32-bit image map that stores the adjusted locations. Volumetric (which is based loosely on Voxels) has similar capabilities as displacement but does not suffer from polygon stretching when there aren’t enough polygons in a region to achieve a deformation.

Dynamic tesselation is similar to Voxel but divides the surface using triangulation to maintain a smooth surface and allow finer details. These methods allow for a very artistic exploration as the model will have a new topology created over it once the models form and possibly details have been sculpted. The new mesh will usually have the original high-resolution mesh information transferred into displacement data or normal map data if for a game engine.

Funnily enough, we don’t understand a word of this either.

Stay True Tattoo

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Ste. 1315
AZ 85302

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Text: Trent Aitken-Smith; Photography: Jason Frieling


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