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"That's it. I'm tired of these international trips. Time to take matters into my own hands," ium grumbled. It was that time of the month again—time for another Arterview. Incredibly tired and worn down, ium began to pack his belongings in preparation for his departure from Australia after having interviewed RitterCat. He kept thinking about who would be the most convenient person to Arterview next, but they all just lived so damn far away from ium's home in New York. To be able to Arterview some artists, ium would have to travel to Sweden, Singapore, or... who knows where else?
However, ium had a plan. Set on this idea, he flew over to Wisconsin and visited a quaint little house. Answering the door was a tall and devilishly handsome blonde man. His golden locks were long and flowing, and they curled just above his ears. To ium's surprise, he also had some stubble instead of a full-grown beard. "Solace must have finally forced him to shave" ium thought. Then the door slowly opened... inch by inch...
"Hello?" asked the blonde man.
And suddenly, ium pounced at the man and trapped him with a potato sack that had carefully been hidden this entire time.
"I have you now Birkal," said ium.
"You can't do this to me, ium! I will keep you from Arterviewing me even if it's the last thing I do!" Birkal shrieked.
"Heh. I'd like to see you try..."
Hey Birkal! Just to start off as always, let's just have you introduce yourself—like who you are, where you are from, and so on.
I'm Birkal. :D
Next question please!
... That's it? You are so hasty.
Birkal rolls his eyes and tries to taunt me instead of going on with the Arterview. It's apparent that he's reluctant to continue. However, I decided to use my best puppy face impression to dissuade him from testing my patience any further.
Haha, fine. I'm from the northwest, USA and have lived there my whole life. I grew up in a small suburb and have one sibling. Hrm, what else... I was homeschooled in 3rd and 4th grade, but was lonely so I eventually went back to school in 6th grade, even though public school was boring. I now go to a private college in Iowa where I study music, biology, and education as a junior.
So how did you come across Pokémon?
To start, my friends in first grade would play with Pokémon cards all the time. I didn't watch TV as a kid, so I had no idea what Pokémon was until one of my best friends gave me a Diglett, Psychic Energy, and Switch. When I was homeschooled, my parents would actually buy me Pokémon cards for completing simple, timed math problems. It's a good memory of mine, haha. On my seventh birthday, I got Pokémon Blue and a teal Gameboy Color, and I've pretty much been playing the games nonstop since then.
And what eventually brought you to Smogon?
Hmm. Well, I've lurked the Create-A-Pokémon Project for years (since Arghonaut) and have always been a huge fan of their work. In fact, it was kind of a "dream" of mine to get involved someday, but I felt too intimidated to join up. I started coming for competitive information when one of my best friends and I downloaded PO and started putzing around with some teams. I thought that teambuilding was kind of fun, so I started lurking Smogon more for information on optimal EVs, interesting sets, and the like. I was also part of another small-scale competitive Pokémon community, but that site eventually died out due to everyone... leaving, haha. I eventually registered an account because I wanted to try writing an analysis (Arcanine) and get some RMT advice. At that point, I still spent most of my time lurking, and didn't really break out of my shell until December 2011.
I laughed. I didn't really imagine Birkal, who is so open and talkative, to be the lurker type. Birkal gave me a cold, hard stare as I was being hysterical—perhaps I should stop messing around with him...
How have you changed over the years at Smogon?
Well, Smogon has sort of helped me through a rough time in my life. I'll leave all the sappy stuff, but I loathe saying goodbye, so Smogon was phenomenal in that it served as a sort of portable friend base. In my time here, I've learned a lot about stepping up to the plate and how to lead. Normally, I consider myself a follower when it comes to leadership. I like to sit in the background and let others lead, while I comment and provide suggestions as I see fit. It's definitely been a bit of a switch around to come here and be a leader, so I guess that's what is so intriguing about this place to me!
You clearly have an adoration for Create-A-Pokémon projects; what is your history in terms of participating in CAP (whether it be art or discussions)?
Well, I initially joined up with the CAP community to participate in the competitive discussions; that's what intrigued me the most. The art was always incredible, but I was more interested in using CAPs in competitive battles. I started contributing at the start of CAP 2 (Necturna) and became a discussion leader in those conversations. Eventually, the word got out that I could draw (similar to you, ium), so I doodled up a concept design for the Ghost / Grass CAP 2: Cornmon. While it didn't go on to win (or even do that well), Cornmon will always hold a place near and dear in my heart as the best thing I ever have or ever will create. Anyways, the CAP moderation staff was looking for some more mods to help out, and I fit the bill in that I could both enforce art rules and I had some competitive knowledge. So since the end of CAP 2, I've been a moderator for the CAP community!
What about dealing with art for The Smog? You mention taking a leadership position in many areas of the site; what is it like to lead and organize art for this site's magazine?
I LOVE dealing with the artists in The Smog. They're some of the most considerate, eager, and hardworking people I've ever met, and I'm so grateful that they choose to draw for us over many issues. Seriously, they rule and make my job very enjoyable. When I started getting involved with The Smog, art leadership was in a bit of a bind. az was on his way out (he'd been leading excellently for many years, but was beginning to fade out), and Fatecrashers was going on hiatus. I, on the other hand, had time to burn, so I sort of filled myself into the role of getting those last few art assignments done; it wasn't uncommon for me to draw over 20 pieces for any single issue. So Setsuna made it official that I should just lead art, and I've been doing it ever since! I've implemented a lot of changes, like pushing hard for each article to have a piece of art, and a better process for getting artists into the program and selecting which articles they'd like to draw for.
Talking about your art in particular, what is your history with it?
Before I became a part of the Smogon Community, I was an avid fan of MSPaint Adventures, which is a pretty popular webcomic site of Andrew Hussie's works. During that time, he was working on Problem Sleuth, which was a sort of "choose your own adventure," where users would submit commands for a story, and Hussie would incorporate those bits into the story; it was a genius system that intrigued me. I didn't really have a background drawing before that, but Hussie hosted a forum where people would create their own adventures, and other forum members would give commands there too. I've always loved to tell stories, so I joined in their community; I wanted to tell stories. And a lot of that medium was visual, so I decided to blow $50 on a tablet and learn to draw. Over the next few years there, I became a competent artist.
Damn, fifty bucks is cheap.
Yeah, haha. It was a small 3" x 5" Wacom Bamboo tablet. So I've never ever had a formal drawing class or anything (I think that shows in my art). But between doodling relentlessly in notebooks and my time on MSPA, I've found that I can at least doodle a few things that are on my mind.
That's pretty interesting to say the least! So anyway, what do you think is the best piece of art you've made?
Huh? That's not—okay, okay. Fair enough.
I'm just kidding! Or... besides thunder bird?
What am I even looking at...? Is Birkal even serious?
Or perhaps... the imaginary piece of art you promised to draw for me...
Haha, okay seriously. My best is probably the artwork I drew for VGC Dynasties in The Smog Issue #19.
Heh. Of course Birkal would pick the artwork that he features almost everywhere on Smogon... I couldn't help but have this silly smirk on my face. I kind of expected him to pick that VGC drawing.
Ah, that one. Any particular reason?
I always like working with simplistic Pokémon designs, and I feel like this one was a good blend of colors and me actually doing alright on the shading for once in my life, haha. I feel like the lineart is pretty clean, and just the premise of the picture is adorable. It's one of the few pieces of my own artwork that I can bare looking at without feeling too critical about myself.
So related to that, how did you develop your style exactly?
I developed my style mostly from doing doodles in notebooks. I'm not very good at realistic drawing, so I prefer to make things more cartoonish and simplistic. In general, I value simplicity over complexity, so I sort of strive for that when I draw. I don't like things getting too cluttered.
Well, even though you like simple pieces, have you ever explored other styles?
Explored? Yes. I do lots of messing around in Photoshop and doodling, but nothing that I've ever felt comfortable submitting or even sharing. I doodle hands religiously in notebooks, and I try to keep things as realistic as possible as I can there, for example. But generally, I just find more joy in doing simple line art and then coloring it in. It's sort of like orderly chaos, and I enjoy drawing within those confines.
Yeah, I personally find that to be the same for me too. I like doing simple and quick lineart.
Yeah I have noticed, haha. We are kind of similar in that regard. =)
Of course, comparing the both of us as usual...
Birkal gives me a nudge and chuckles a bit. I started to roll my eyes; he really likes to tease me, doesn't he?
So do you have any plans for the future, artistic or otherwise?
On Smogon, I'm starting up a brand new program that's going to work on integrating new members into Smogon's community, so you all better keep your eyes peeled out for that! In fact, by the time this issue has been released, the program will likely be in its beginning stages. Other than that, I plan on keeping on with CAP and The Smog and laying down some good foundations for future leaders in both areas. In real life, I want to finish up my degree within the next two years and eventually get a job as a teacher. I don't know if I'll teach choir or biology, but I'm just looking to get hired somewhere, haha.
And it'll be something to look forward to I bet! And just to top it all off in the old Alchemator fashion: what's your favorite Pokémon?
Rotom! It's mischievousness is so charming, and it's awesome how it can just kind of bzzt around through walls and electrical outlets. I also relate in that personally. I fill a lot of different roles (music, biology, education, etc.), and Rotom kind of does the same thing with all his different formes.
Zebraiken also goes bzzt... what's wrong with him?
Yeah, Zeb is definitely a nut. Although, I hear he is quite the artist himself... Sounds like something you could investigate...
Haha, maybe I'll Arterview him next time.
Sounds like a plan!
That's about it I think. Thanks for finding time to chat Birkal!
Let me know if you need anything else!
The best way to philosophize Birkal's artwork is: "less is more." That's really all there is to it. However, this simplicity also lends to how Birkal draws everything in such a cartoony and cute manner, which is probably my favorite part about his artwork.
Yet despite his art taking such a minimalistic approach, Birkal has got all the little nuances down. The lineart and shading are well-formed, and the poses of Pokémon and other characters that he draws are unique and cunning.
Unsure about how else to describe Birkal's artwork, I decided to ask several artists and forum-goers what they thought, which can be seen in the logs below:
<%ium> if you had to describe birkal's artwork
<%ium> how would you go about it
<Kadew> simple, clean, endearing
<%V0x> gives me a warm and fuzzy feeling
<Eagle4> i like clean though
<TheMutant> hm I second Kadew
<TheMutant> and add 'amusing'
But really, there's no single way to thoroughly describe how great his art is, so be sure to take a look at Birkal's art thread which he totally made himself.
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