The Fantastic Digital Imagery of Tomasz Maronski

Adapted from Masters of Science Fiction and Fantasy Art (Rockport Publishers)

By Karen Haber

Sanctuary. Photo-Paint. Says Maronski, “This is an idea born at sea on a summer vacation. The notion is that this place was full of life before the war. After the war, The Sanctuary is now an uninhabited place and hideout for an old magician.”

“You should love your work because when there is no love, nothing will come of it.”

Colorful, surreal, filled with sinuous lines and futuristic details, the fantastic digital imagery of Tomasz Maronski is informed by the closely observed natural world. His works have an essence derived from living matter that adds to their mysterious power. Sophisticated composition and color give his digital paintings tremendous impact. But the most powerful thing about these works is the imagination producing them.

Maronski is an illustrator whose work frequently decorates the covers of science fiction and fantasy books in both his native Poland and the United States. He also creates powerful images for European mobile phone carriers; advertising agencies; film and animation studios, such as Human ARK, Platige Image, and Virtual Magic; and computer games companies, such as Cenega, Techland, and Uselab. Among his international clients are Imagine FX, Digital Art Masters, Ballistic Publishing, Laser Books, and Asimov’s Science Fiction magazine. In 2008 Maronski received the reader’s award for best cover from Asimov’s.

“I like to refect my imagination in my art,” the artist says. “I’ve lived in a world of fantasy as long as I can remember. Now that I’m an illustrator, my passion has become my profession.” His enthusiasm for science fction and fantasy art is obvious in the elaborately detailed worlds he creates in every painting he does. “I love what I do,” he admits. “To do this kind of work has been my desire and passion for many years. I work eight hours a day, and have a wonderful time listening to moody music and making my paintings.”

Postcard from London. Photo-Paint.

Maronski is a longtime fan of science fction and fantasy film, literature, and gaming. “I like the specifc atmosphere and sophisticated reality. I also think that my imagination and my ideas, which are represented in my art, were infuenced by those genres.”

Originally trained in traditional art techniques, Maronski enjoyed the expressive range and richness of oil paints. “I painted on canvas for almost ten years,” says the artist. “During that time I always tried to improve my technique. I’ve always searched for the proper and unique way of expressing either my personality or my ideas, which are reflected in the visions of my imagination.”

However, Maronski acquired digital skills when the pressures of work became too demanding. “My adventure with computer graphics started when I realized that although I had the ability to create oil paintings, I didn’t have enough time to do them and meet deadlines,” he explains.

Chronicles of Majipoor, 1 through 3. Photo-Paint.

Inspiration at Lunch

Maronski enjoys creating backstories and history for his images, and rarely runs dry. “Over the years I’ve had a lot of ideas and conceptions. I invent the history behind my subjects. Some ideas I haven’t used yet but I’m sure they’ll come in handy in future paintings,” he says.

“Nearly all of my works share the themes and atmosphere of fantasy and the world of mystery. I’m very happy when some of my works have some hidden plot and they can tell the viewer some extraordinary story.”

Maronski often bubbles over with ideas and keeps the ones he doesn’t use in reserve. “My painting is always on the move,” he says. “Those ideas which I haven’t used yet will provide materials for future masterpieces.

“I see inspiration everywhere,” he adds. “For example, in Bone Hill, I got inspired from the skeleton of a fish whose flesh my wife and I ate for lunch at a restaurant. Despite my wife’s protests, I smuggled the skeleton out of the restaurant and back home to photograph it. I can make paintings with reference to any subject, but my attitude and mood varies the artistic viewpoint—which gives me more ideas!”

Triffid. Digital.

Color is Key

“I like to focus on landscapes. That’s where I get a lot of inspiration for fantasy work.” Color is one of the key elements with which Maronski begins his process. “I always defne and describe the color palette I’d like to use at the beginning,” he says. “I prefer to choose one color that dominates and accents the work’s main motif.” He adds, “One in every five paintings is made spontaneously. However, even if the work begins spontaneously, I usually refine and specify the aim of the piece by preparing some pre-painting studies or drawings before I begin to compose the actual artwork.”

Publisher Wojtek Sedenko of Agencia Solaris in Warsaw has regularly used Maronski’s artwork on the covers of the science fiction and fantasy books he publishes. He says, “Tomek [Tomasz’s nickname] is a great artist who prefers painting landscapes. The features that distinguish his work from that of other Polish artists are imagination, brave visions, and courage when it comes to using colors. He listens to my suggestions regarding the content of a book, and he is ready to apply those remarks to his vision and work.”

Agencia Solaris has published books by such authors as Robert Silverberg, John Crowley, Samuel R. Delany, Joan D. Vinge, Greg Bear, Robert J. Sawyer, Robert A. Heinlein, and John Wyndham—and Maronski has done illustrations for all of them. Sedenko adds, “Although these books are all science fiction, Tomek avoids using visual clichés like spaceships or space marines with laser cannons. He depicts landscapes, people, and situations.”

Thaiport Development Sequence

1: Maronski first conceptualizes the entire composition: the image of a futuristic Thailand with rockets, exotic flora and fauna, and a towering construction at its urban core. Next he makes a quick selection of the background color, type of frame (leaning), and brush (airbrush). He blurs the background using the Gaussian blur tool. 2: With the help of 3D modeling the artist creates simple cylinders, cubes, and textures using shapes he had prepared earlier, color-matching them so they correspond with the background while remaining separate from it. Note the sample cylinder featuring a wicker basket texture that he will use in his next step. 3: Using photo references, he determines the horizon line and further develops the shape of the cylinders in the foreground, adding some detail and texture. 4: Working more with details at the bottom of the illustration, Maronski accentuates the urban atmosphere with futuristic elements and adds some plants—palm trees—to indicate the tropical environment. To add interest to the tower on the right he divides it into segments and uses the color red for emphasis. 5: The artist fills in some of the emptiness at the bottom of the illustration, adding foreground details while rounding the shape of the tower in the background. By placing textures in the skyscrapers’ windows, and adding neon lamps and new towers, he gives urban density and personality to the entire illustration.

In the last step (below) Maronski adds air traffic and a sense of life and movement. To add a “cyberpunk” element, he fits a large curved video display along the façade of the background tower. To emphasize the mood and atmosphere of the locale, he draws a man on an elephant in the bottom foreground. All together, the image takes him two weeks to complete.

Thaiport. Cover art for Paolo Bacigalupi’s debut novel The Windup Girl.

Maronski’s favorite digital tool is Corel Photo-Paint. “I’ve worked with Photo-Paint as long as I’ve been doing digital work,” he notes. “I like it the most because it has so many useful tools. My favorite among them is the airbrush. It allows me to create very smooth strokes. Another tool I frequently use is the color balance option, because I consider color to be the most important feature of my illustrations.” Maronski knows that Photo-Paint doesn’t get much love from digital artists in general, but that doesn’t bother him. “Over the years I’ve met a lot of people who think that Photo-Paint is worthless, and almighty Photoshop is the only reasonable software to use when it comes to digital painting,” he says. “But, from my point of view, it’s simply a matter of what software you had at the beginning.”

Factory Planet. Photo-Paint.

As much as he enjoys the act of painting, he enjoys finishing each work even more. “The greatest pleasure for me is when I can look at the finished work,” he says. “I enjoy it whether it’s on TV, on a book jacket, or on a box at the video game store.”

His imagination takes even this pleasure to a new, science fictional level: “That said, the absolute greatest pleasure would be the possibility of meeting myself in the past,” he says, “at the time when I hadn’t even thought about becoming an illustrator, and presenting myself with some of my artworks from the future.”

Big City Life. Photo-Paint.

Bone Hill. Photo-Paint. The artist begins by taking a picture of fish bones on a uniform background and “cutting out” the bones using Corel Photo-Paint. Next he uses the bones in a sketch of a lonely skeleton lying atop a hill. As Maronski works on it he begins to yearn for a sense of scale and mystery. He decides to paint a city nearby. That idea morphs into the bones becoming a mysterious ruined city. He paints some of the buildings and samples others from reference photos he has taken in his own hometown. Next he makes the lower parts of the city a bit darker, intensifying the contrast between the hill and the morning sky. Dividing the image into several parts, he works each one separately and digitally pastes them together for the final image. The piece takes fifteen hours to complete.

More of Tomasz Maronski’s artwork can be seen on the, and sites.

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Excerpted with permission from Masters of Science Fiction and Fantasy Art (Rockport Publishers) by Karen Haber. Copyright © 2011 Rockport Publishers.