Interview with Robert Tiess

Well known around the Blender community for his abstract and unique looking work, Robert Tiess is a talented artist that continues to produce amazing work at an alarming rate. His work is an explosion of colors and emotion that is not only visually appealing, but also tells a story. Robert gives us tips on the insight and thoughts that goes into creating his stunning renders. Let's begin!

1. Hello and welcome to Blender Guru! Please introduce yourself, give us a brief bio and tell us how you first got started in Blender.

My name is Robert Tiess.  On Blender Artists I am known as RobertT.  I have been interested and involved in art and computers in various ways since I was a child.

I first started with Blender in 2003.  I had always wanted to further my artist experience in the 3D digital realm after having worked in natural media, mixed media, and 2D digital media for years.  The discovery of Blender opened a new literal and figurative dimension, and I have been enjoying the exploration of that dimension ever since!

2. Where do you get the most inspiration for your work?

Inspiration radiates in every direction.  It is such an amazing universe we occupy, one saturated with limitless potential, beauty, mysteries, and meaning.  To be able to create, interpret thoughts into images, and then have people see and then reinterpret that image and discover meanings in it for them is quite a motivating phenomenon.

I draw much inspiration from my spirituality, and there are numerous other ingredients that go into what I create:  education, experiences, creative efforts as a writer / poet / musician, my desire to enlighten myself further and to use my creative work at times to explore philosophical ideas, the truth, and to promote openness of minds (most notably in my ongoing "Reflections" series).

3. What is your day job? Where do you find all the time and energy to create such masterpieces?

I work full-time in library reference services, electronic resources, search engine creation, and other library-related activities and advocacies.  I enjoy serving the public and helping to connect people with information.

As a non-commercial artist, I enjoy the greatest freedom with my creations.  I can do whatever I want at any time.  Besides not having to deal with deadlines or clients, I do not have to conform to any existing conventions in 3D or any mode of art.  While the time for Blending is not always as sustained as I would prefer, the energy and determination to create something new and interesting feels virtually limitless.  I often enjoy participating in Blender Artist Weekend Challenges, where I can use the concentrated time and energy to advance my experience with Blender, try out new techniques and styles, and just to have fun (it's important to keep it enjoyable and not to reduce creation to a process).  Longer projects usually span one or two weeks, but I won't call a project "finished" until it feels as if, according to my current abilities and sensabilities, the project's potential has been fulfilled.  Sometimes that can take a while!

4. One of the things that separates your art from the norm is your incredible eye for colors. How do you go about choosing your color palettes?

Sometimes the emotional intent of a project helps decide which directions colors flow.  Colors can take on symbolic meanings or be used in ways that complement or add to the character, atmosphere, or complexity of a piece.  Digital art gives us the possibility to mix and use colors strange and new ways.  Sometimes my color choice is influenced by the desire to take a piece to a more "painterly" direction.

For me, there needs to be a holistic relationship between all elements of a work - composition, values, colors, content, and so on.  Bold color choices can often be effective, but I am aware of how they can overpower an image to the point people see initially color and then content.  Sometimes that can be used to great effect.  In the end, it is whatever the project demands that becomes most important.

5. Looking through your projects you don't seem to have a set style but instead dip into abstract, portraits, photoreal and even character animations. Is there a reason you do this instead of trying to master one particular style?

I'm glad you brought that up.  I consider this extended variety of styles essential to my growth as an aspiring artist.  I encourage other aspiring artists out there to get out of their respective comfort zones and try to introduce some purposeful variety into their own works, techniques, and approaches.  This goes toward that "limitless" aspect I referenced earlier as a non-commerical artist.  I am reluctant to say "hobbyist" because, while I never create for compensation, I do not go about creation in any casual way.  I take it very seriously and consider things as "professionally" as possible.  In this independent mode, I will never have to adhere to a particular look or meet a certain expectation.  Remaining unpredictable can, in the long-term, be an asset in the art world, even when your aspirations are simply to be "a better artist."

Many people will often try to define you by a certain set of works, or draw you into comparisons between current and past works.  That can, under the right circumstances, lead to constructive insight, for both the audience and the artist, but, if such commentary is offered in an attempt to reinforce a set of expectations, that's something to be wary of as an artist.  From early on, society attempts to force upon the individual any number of definitions, conventions, and expectations.  As I see it, it is partly an artist's responsibility, wherever it is constructive and sensible to do so,  to defy those type-casting efforts and to remain open to new ways of expressing ideas, even if the manner of expression costs a few "fans" along the way.  For me, the artist's path is very much like the "Hero's Journey" Joseph Campbell is famous for having described.  The Artist can indeed be the Hero.  Images can be far more than paint or pixels.  Artistic creation can be a means towards enlightenment, empowerment, and true freedom.

6. Before starting on a project, do you sketch it on paper first or make it up as you go? Explain your design process.

I begin with the idea.  The idea is the foundation, the most important thing for me.  Without that, the project is likely to fail due to not being well-thought-out.  Sketching it out imaginatively and having a strong visualization in mind is a key thing for me, and it often helps save time and energy in that you don't frequently have to rethink things mid-project.  I sometimes sketch in pencil, pen and ink, but those sketches are mostly explorations of possible characters, facial expressions, or settings.  I tend to prefer blocking-out a scene in Blender, sometimes using primitives to indicate where certain objects might be as I'm working out the initial composition if the scene is complex enough to warrant that sort of preparation.

From there, I tend to focus on the most important elements in the scene first and then develop supporting objects.  For complex scenes, getting a good sense of layer management can also help speed things along (including the 3D view and render times).  After that, it's a cycle of working on materials, lighting, test rendering, and then, close to the end, thanks to Blender's render node network, a matter of using Blender's internal tools to combine layers and help the project reach a fitting conclusion.

7. You've been in the 3d industry longer than most, so it's fair to assume you've encountered your share of critics. How do you handle criticisms? Are you a firm believer of fascism in the art world, or do you always try to please your audience?

I have always been grateful to all those who commented upon my work.  Those comments helped contribute to numerous realizations one develops as an artist.  One of the earliest things you must accept is that not everyone is going to love your work.  Not everyone is going understand or appreciate the reason(s) you are doing something a certain way.  You cannot allow yourself to get caught up in that.  All of those people have walked a different path, have lived different lives, and their perspectives are necessarily different than yours.  This is not something to fear.  At best, it can be a great learning opportunity on many levels.  At worst, an artist might dwell on the negative aspects of feedback and perhaps attempt to bring their works more in keeping with the crowd's general expectations.  That can be a dangerous phase for an artist.

Artists new to any medium must first, of course, attempt to master the basics and essentials.  In the 3D world, this means things such as lighting, materials, rigging and timing if animating, render quality, and more.  It is also reasonable, in time, to expect an artist to be original, perhaps even "interesting" to some degree.  So, to that extent, one has to listen to the criticism and take any and all necessary steps to eliminate deficiencies in basic techniques.  Once that fundamental "mastery" has been attained, you can then move on as an artist, developing styles, taking chances, and indefinitely taking into consideration constructive feedback.  Under no circumstances should any artist exclusively exist to serve an audience's pleasure.  Art is more than onlookers, critics, censors, and naysayers.  Art, all throughout history, has been any number of things:  a mirror of the times, visionary, nostalgic, a catalyst for change and awareness, abstract, defiant, surreal, mechanical, quaint, folksy, mystical, appropriated for various purposes, nonsensical, comical, infinitessimal or cosmic in scope, and more yet.  I believe in the preservation of creative choices for artists because Art demands nothing less.

8. Have you ever considered switching to an industry standard application like 3ds Max? What made you stick with Blender?

I never considered switching.  Blender forever.  Blender is and has all I need.  Blender's selfless and impassioned coders are examples of what makes the Open Source Movement such a sucess:  individuals with shared interests, yet of their own free will, coming together to improve existing functionalities and introduce new opportunities for everyone to enjoy.  Their motivation, overwhelmingly, is betterment for all involved.  This, combined with Blender's insightful and friendly community elevates Blender to something more than mere software.

With every day, Blender moves closer to having everything any digital artist working in 3D could possibly want.  Its developmental pace is legendary and inspirational.  Now with Blender 2.5 soon approaching, we will witness an even more dramatic expansion of Blender's capabilities, customizations, as well as a user base that will only continue to grow as more people awaken to Blender's advantages.

9. The biggest change in Blender is just on the horizon! What feature are you specifically looking forward to in Blender 2.5 and why?

Having toyed with some early test builds of Blender 2.5, I can see much effort is going into improving all aspects of the program.  It is exciting seeing this program ascend to higher levels.  The prospect of being able to customize menus seems especially appealing to me.  Not only do 3D artists have their own workflows, but each project has its own set of challenges and things that need to be done.  With customizable menus, this can help an artist group tools in ways that make sense to that artist and minimize having to switch between panels and contexts to perform various functions on a repeated basis.

10. If you could offer one piece of advice to artists starting out, what would it be?

My advice:  Get ready!  For what?  A series of wonderful and thought-provoking experiences, realizations, feelings, and questions to follow the moment you post your first finished project on a forum.  If you infuse your work with energy and purpose and give it a voice of its own, if you find enjoyment in what you do, if you persist against all odds and dedicate yourself to betterment (as an artist and a person) regardless of any negativity encountered down the road, you will be somewhat prepared.

Each artist's journey must be different because life is dynamic, full of pleasant surprises and unforeseen circumstances.  Maintaining a positive frame of mind and remaining open-minded are very good strategies when it comes to general preparation and priming your mind for advancement instead of dwelling on shortcomings.  Be fearless, patient, humble, unstoppable, ever-awakening, honest, and eventually along the way you will begin to notice how most failures, just below the surface, actually contain some information on success (even if you have to infer it).  You will do amazing things once you begin to believe in yourself and your art.  Get ready, then go forth.  Where?  Into the forest of first experiences to find your own path.

Thank you very much Robert for allowing Blender Guru to interview you! I'm sure we all look forward to seeing more of your amazing creations in future years.

Be sure to check out Robert's website: for more stunning Blender creations.

InterviewsAndrew Price