Michael J. Shepherd Digital Artist Extraordinaire

June 3, 2015 11:21 pm

Tags: Artist Interview, Digital Artist, Michael J. Shepard, ReBorne

Michael J. Shepherd Digital Artist Extraordinaire

Artists You Should Know Series

Interview by Dee Marie


Who is Michael J. Shepherd? In the world of art, he is better known by his artistic persona: ReBorne. His digital images are unique as well as hauntingly beautiful. He is a rising young artist worthy of greatness. It was my pleasure to discover this talented digital artist tucked away within Renderosity's Mixed Medium Gallery. It is my great pleasure to present to you the artistic musings of Michael J. Shepherd aka ReBorne.



Dee Marie: First off, thank you for agreeing to the interview. I know our readers are excited to learn more about your unique artistic technique, and the artist creating the artwork. Let's start out with your pseudonym: ReBorne. What special meaning does the word have for you?

Michael J. Shepherd: I wish I could say it was some life-changing epiphany that made me look soulfully into myself, but the name (and new profile) was originally created as a joke in a petty forum spat back in 2002. I just kept on posting under that name, and since it's quite unique it has become my identity online.


DM: Have you always been interested in art, even as a child? 

MJS: I've always liked art and been a bit of a doodler, but on paper or canvas I'm nowhere near as good as I'd like to be. My actual art started with photography. Me at 16 and my dad in an under-stair cupboard and an enlarger sitting on a chest freezer … learning techniques like burning and dodging without even knowing the names for them.


DM: Have you had any formal art training?

MJS: Unfortunately art at school stopped when I was 14, as I had to decide between that or other subjects. Whenever I went through one of my 'phases' and did some art, the library became my tutor. I never really got a knack for working with oils and acrylics, but enjoyed watercolors and would do little local landscapes in miniature, around 3 inches x 2 inches … which started because I bought some nice little frames cheap and I didn't want to waste them!


Olivia / Always There

©Michael J. Shepherd aka ReBorne


DM: How did you get interested in digital art?

MJS: It really depends on what you class as digital art. I guess it would be creating graphics on a Sinclair Spectrum back in 1982. Creating space invaders and the like in 8x8 blocks on paper then coding them in binary.

On a home computer called the Sinclair QL in 1984, I created a black and white picture of Alice Cooper, painstakingly pixel by pixel, but was so happy with the result. From there the aforementioned QL had a basic art program, then a touch of graphic design using Photoshop and QuarkXPress in training at a publishing company. 

It kicked off around 2000 when I was given a copy of Photoshop and started blending photographs. Now I'm pretty much exclusive with DAZ Studio and Photoshop.


DM: You have a unique technique in regards to your artwork. Did you come up with this process by yourself? 

MJS: Most who know his art will know that the main influence (and person who taught me the technique) was JRulier. While I admit to having dabbled in the past with some of the other elements that make his pictures unique, I steer away from them now and hopefully have my own way of using the effects.


Sleep / Queen of Hearts

©Michael J. Shepherd aka ReBorne


DM: It is nearly impossible to tell the difference between your digital figures and your photographic models. What is your technique within DAZ Studio that creates such realistic figures … or is it all post-work magic? 

MJS: Sorry, I'm not a Daz genius. The post-work softens my renders for the realism. Using DAZ Studio gives me flexibility with being able to control everything without arranging photo shoots etc., but I have to admit I still prefer using photographs. The effects just flow together better on them.


DM: What is your process for creating the distinctive texture overlays in your images? Do you use specific plug-in filters … or just the filters in Photoshop? 

MJS: There are a couple of specific plug-in filters I utilize, and even after playing with them for years I'm still learning and developing their use. My latest pictures for instance use a different way of combining the background with the faces … this is why my last few works have a lighter feel to them. 

The amount of times I copy and merge particular layers to add an effect to one part is just crazy sometimes. Also, I'm not a very organized person with my art. I don't keep notes or anything. I honestly look at some of my older works and think, "damn, how did I do that bit?" There's a particular section of a couple of my older pictures that I'm trying to remember how to do, and it's eluded me for about three months so far. [laughter]


Cat Eyes (Before and After)

©Michael J. Shepherd aka ReBorne


DM: That must be frustrating, but the same scenario happens to most artists. In your art blog you stated that you used an older version of Adobe Photoshop because you could not recreate your unique technique in the newer versions. Why is that? 

MJS: Quite simply, the filters are old and aren't compatible with the newer versions. Although to be honest, I'm not sure the newer versions would have anything extra I would use. Between me and Photoshop, I'm definitely the biggest restriction, and I don't use anywhere near as many of the features as I could.


DM: Why specifically do you prefer using the color schemes of: rust/burnt orange, teal and silvery blue?

MJS: I'm a terrible creature of habit! I've tried other colors in the past, found they didn't work and then avoided them. The muted, grayish colors lend themselves well to the technique … though with the lighter ones lately, I've started using more flesh tones. Every now and then I'll try something vibrant [sighs] and replace it with a color that works again.


DM: If it works for you, there is no need for change, and the color scheme is defiantly working for you. How many hours does an average image take from conception to completion? 

MJS: Hmmm. That depends on so many factors, but the biggest influence is the original picture. A few times people have given me photos in the past asking for me to create a work for them, and when I sit there with Photoshop open and playing around, it just doesn't gel. Then (as happened recently) I'll be trying something new a few weeks later, and just get the random idea of loading the picture … and it works. Other times I just look at the picture and see exactly how it should be. 

Conception with me is a difficult thing. I spend much more time in DAZ Studio, and nine times out of ten the render I end up using in a picture was just experimentation. For the actual post-work, it's usually 2-3 hours.


Serene / Blowing Away

©Michael J. Shepherd aka ReBorne


DM: How long did it take you to perfect your unique process?

MJS: To perfect it? [laughter] Merely a dream! You might have to ask that question again when I'm on my death-bed … and I probably still won't be happy! I'm nowhere near perfecting it; I just keep trying to develop further.


DM: Excellent answer. Besides Photoshop and DAZ Studio what other digital-art-based software do you use?

MJS: That's about the only two that I use to be honest, and as I'm still learning those. I'm quite happy just plodding along.


DM: What is your favorite piece of art that you've created?

MJS: Because I've gone through a few styles, I've got favorites in each one: photography, normal 3D, and the weird things I create now. But I'm also really critical of my work too. Once I find what I feel to be a mistake it kind of sours the picture a little for me.


DM: Come on, I know you have a favorite.

MJS: If you're going to force me into an answer, Made In Britain took longer than any other piece, and I've got it as a 3'x2' canvas next to my desk. So I guess it qualifies (even though I noticed a mechanical error in the workings that would stop it from functioning in reality … that bugs me!).


Made In Britain  / Fully Functional

©Michael J. Shepherd aka ReBorne


DM: Ok, now for the lightning round … if you could only use three words to describe yourself, what would those three words be?

MJS: Dreamer. Pedantic. Idealist.


DM: What has been the high point of your artistic life? 

MJS: I'm up to Question 15 in it right now… [smiling]


DM: On that same subject, what are your artistic and non-artistic goals for the future? 

MJS: Probably the same as most of the artists reading this. I'd love to reach a point where I'm making enough money from my artwork to not have to work. I'd love to have a piece in a gallery (even just a little private one), and then have a gallery showing of my own. I'm a little disappointed that the art world, in general, still favors traditional arts. If you go into an art store you don't see many overtly digital works.


DM: Your images are already gallery worthy. Describe your artistic workspace.

MJS: My art is created in a bedroom corner on a desk of organized chaos … but I know where everything is. The clear space is where my keyboard sits now, but it gets pushed away for my tablet.

A quick snapshot would show you (amid other clutter); water fountain speakers, Swiss army knife, child's electric toy (like a Pokemon-type animal that I've been meaning to take apart and repaint), music cassettes that I keep meaning to use, Epson photo/negative scanner, business cards and leaflets from steampunk/vintage fairs, a shoe-horn, batteries …  like I said, organized chaos!


DM: Organized is the key word. What about your computer station? 

MJS: My setup is similar. The computer case I've had for quite a while (it still has a 3.5" floppy drive in there!), and it's a big creature with a light-up alien face front. I think I'm onto the third different motherboard and processor inside it: a 6-core AMD processor with just 8gb memory that I never get around to upgrading but does the job.

My monitor is a nice Formac, and I use a gaming mouse; as I like to be able to flick through the sensitivity levels. I have a Trust A4 size tablet that's a few years old too. Unfortunately I've found the pen cracked recently, so as much as I love it, it might need replaced as they aren't produced any more. Once I get used to using something it tends not to get replaced until it breaks.


DM: Frugality and artist seem to go together, so you are on your way to artistic greatness. What was the best advice, in regards to art that anyone has ever given you?

MJS: That no matter what I thought, I was good. I still don't believe it as much as they did.



©Michael J. Shepherd aka ReBorne


DM: That is excellent advice. When you are not creating art, what are your favorite things to do?

MJS: I work a little later shift at work and I'm a terrible bear for my bed … so I get up slightly later, and finish slightly later, which doesn't leave much time in the evening for anything other than chilling in front of the TV; usually a film though. I don't tend to watch much else: Game of Thrones and Gogglebox are good. I hide in my man-cave a bit more since spring started, as I'm trying to make a steampunk gun from a water pistol. On weekends we can often be found out and about with my partner.


DM: What one thing would surprise even your closest friends to know about you? 

MJS: I think they know virtually everything and doubt they'd be surprised by anything.


DM: Who or what is your creative muse? 

MJS: At last an easy one! Katyee. Her work and creativity is amazing, and the pictures we have worked together on have absorbed my effects beautifully and effortlessly. In my opinion, she should be answering these questions long before me.


DM: Everyone will have to be sure to check out Katyee’s Renderosity Gallery. Do you listen to music when you create your images?

MJS: You've actually made me stop and think about this. When in Studio, or the first steps of a picture, I don't unless it was already on beforehand. As I get into creating an image I nearly always seem to put music on, usually in my headphones to keep it to myself, and not disturb others when doing a picture around midnight.

My taste in music varies massively, but when working I like Evanescence, Robyn (who's videos influenced a couple of pictures), The Smiths, strange cover versions of songs (The Baseballs are pretty cool) [laughter], Momus, Jonathan Coulton and Prince. Quite a lot of pictures have been created with a Prince or Evanescence playlist playing throughout.


DM: It is easy to see how their music could influence your artwork. Who are your favorite digital and traditional artists?

MJS: I've already mentioned Katyee for digital, but there are a lot of digital artists out there who impress me. I appreciate good models produced in ZBrush etc, too. In traditional art, it was definitely Dali and HR Giger, and very early on Philip Castle.


DM: How has growing up beside Newcastle Upon Tyne, and now living in Bradford, Yorkshire influenced your art?

MJS: The Northumberland coastline had a massive influence on my traditional work and especially my photography. Newcastle itself has a lot of industrial heritage. I've seen me at 5am walking across a field of sheep in the dark to get a picture of dawn at Dunstanburgh Castle, and again at the same time in abandoned railway yards next to the Tyne River for the spooky lighting.

I'm older and less adventurous here in Bradford, but there is a lot of Victorian architecture that I've always found fascinating and in spring, and loads of textures to photograph. I don't consciously think of either when doing my pictures, but keep mixing organic shapes with angular properties and liking the results … which is probably the subconscious playing up.




©Michael J. Shepherd aka ReBorne


DM: Thank you for taking time out of your busy life, and away from your art, to allow our readers to get to know you better. Now it's your turn to give our readers some parting words of wisdom. 

MJS: Don't worry, just do your art for yourself and see what happens. I honestly never thought in a million years that I would be selected for something like this interview, yet here I am. 

I can't offer advice on how you do your pictures. For a long time I thought my best results were when I was depressed (though admittedly some of my most emotive ones were). Now I'm going through a more analytical phase and liking the results. 

I guess I would say to do your work under a range of emotions and choose the best. Then start working when you're in that kind of mood and hopefully it gives you a style. If you come across something completely different that you can replicate, embrace it, use it to let people recognize you. Oh, and back up your work. Always back up your work. [gives a knowing smile]



To view additional images: 


All images are copyright and cannot be downloaded or used in any manner without written permission from the artist ©Michael J. Shepherd aka ReBorne


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as they sit down and talk candidly with
Contributing Columnist, Dee-Marie,
Author of "Sons of Avalon: Merlin's Prophecy"

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