Our fascination by the plethora of creative angles that any given image can be approached from is what led us to the work of Kristoffer Forsgren (@forsgren). He was plowing through the world of digital image manipulation when first we came across his work and he hasn’t slowed down yet. Shaping and constructing landscapes and geometric shapes, adding wild colors and performing stellar blends are all things that Kristoffer does exceptionally well. His implementation of Mextures in to his editing process is imaginative and beautiful so we had a little chat with Kristoffer about a little bit of everything. Read along!
My name is Kristoffer Forsgren and I’m a 33 year old Swedish web developer who enjoys spending time outdoors. I also enjoy caves and abandoned structures and love spending time at the gym. I guess it probably isn’t the “standard” mix of interests for a “computer guy”.
The gym has been a place for mental relaxation for four years straight now (not even a single week off) and I’m on my second year as a kettlebell instructor. There’s something oddly satisfying about making other people push themselves to the limit.
I grew up more or less in the middle of nowhere, so that might be why I find it very relaxing to spend time in nature. As a kid I spent many hours playing in the forest and building dams in the small creek near my house. As I became a teenager, my interest for technology started growing and I guess that’s when I first discovered image editing.
Nowadays I publish some sort of image edit/manipulation every day on my Instagram account @forsgren, and it’s been going on non-stop since early 2015.
What first drew you to creating art and manipulating photos?
In some way I’ve enjoyed creating stuff since my early years, it just took another form as I discovered the world of digital image manipulation. In the beginning (20 years ago or so) it was fun to discover that you could “manipulate reality” or create stuff out of thin air. I had a period where I fiddled around with 3D tools, sometimes merging the renders with photos.
For me, digital image manipulation used to be a way of adjusting photos or creating fictional worlds, and I guess it still is from time to time. It was fun turning a photo of a city into something worn down and dirty - adding smoke, huge chimneys and making it look reasonably realistic. The benefits of doing it in tools like Photoshop was that you could modify your adjustments quite easily and it encouraged experimentation a lot. I’ve always enjoyed working with adjustments in layers. Nowadays I mostly use iPhone apps for the images posted on my Instagram, but I still use Photoshop and similar OS X applications.
The creation of images turned into some sort of mix between being a creative outlet and a mental outlet. I can’t say every single image I produce necessarily mirrors a state of mind, but sometimes it does. Image manipulation can be everything from just “having fun” and creating something visually pleasing or interesting, to letting your state of mind manifest in a “physical” form.
Do you feel like there is a form of storytelling woven into your manipulations?
Well, that depends on how you define storytelling. As I mentioned earlier some of the things that end up on my Instagram are made just out of having fun and experimenting. Other images have some sort of emotional connection - either “self biographical” based on a state of mind or with the intent of invoking feelings or thoughts.
You could say that they tell stories, but there isn’t a “big picture” tying them all together. It’s not like there is a set theme that I follow. Every image just tells a small fragment of their own story, and sometimes there might be connections between stories.
What have you found to be your biggest challenge in developing and growing your design style?
I think it's easy to get stuck in old habits, or just to get stuck in what you started off with. I’m not saying that you constantly should change styles, but trying out new stuff or techniques from time to time sure doesn’t hurt. I find that it usually results in evolving your process.
Every time you deviate from what you are used to doing or from the tools you are used to, it often becomes tricky for a while. It’s easy to give up and return to what you are comfortable with, because you aren’t used to the new challenges that arise. In the end, I never regretted trying new stuff out.
What does your editing process generally look like?
It all starts out with an idea of what I want to end up with, often influenced by my mood or music. Based on that I usually end up browsing sites for Creative Commons Zero licensed photos that fit my need. In the cases where I don’t start of with a photo I create the base shape or shapes using the colors I want the image to use.
After that I basically always find that I need to tweak the image a bit regarding contrast, curves, color temperature and so on. The app I use most often for this is Enlight. When I’m finished with this I export the image back to my device. If I want to remove stuff from an image I use Pixelmator for that since its repair tool is pure magic.
From this point it all comes down to the idea I started of with. There are loads of different ways to achieve more or less the same end result and over time you just learn how to try to keep down the number of apps you have to use for each image. Every time you export images you tend to loose image quality (unless you stay with PNG or another lossless format).
There are a few tools that, when I use them, I basically only use them on the second to last step, mostly because what they add tends to either distract me or “bleed” all over the image. It’s stuff like lightning, lens flares, light effects and reflections. My most used tools for this are AlienSky, LensFX and Reflect.
Basically every single image I publish in my gallery ends up passing through Mextures at the very end. It’s without a doubt my favorite app for adding the final touch to an image, and in many cases it’s in this step that I end up where I planned. I use it to add texture, change the mood of the image, and to add defects. Sometimes it’s quite subtle, but in other cases I tend to go a bit more “all out”.
How specifically do you tend to use Mextures in that process?
In short: To mess things up.
Up until I process an image in Mextures they are often very clean and “flat”, even with all of the previous adjustments and additions. Sure, sometimes that might be what you want, but I tend to enjoy images with a bit more texture added to them. Most of the time I find that even minimalistic images with solid colored areas and smooth gradients look better with just a tad bit of noise and texture added.
I tend to add adjustments in a similar order quite often, again based on the way I like to “stack” adjustments. Starting out with major ones, such as adjusting the film, temperature, saturation and so on. This way allows me to set the overall tone of the image. Changing the film later on often drastically changes the outcome, since the rest of your adjustments are stacked on top of that base layer. That’s why I like to make those adjustments at the very start.
After the base adjustments I keep stacking layers to get to where I want. In some cases I just want to make subtle changes to a view over a valley, other times I want to really mess up a dark image just to add an even more unsettling feel to it.
The grunge and dirt effects are often used in the second step, since they easily affect the image in quite massive ways, the same goes with the emulsion layers. Most of the time I try out different grunge overlays, since they all influence the colors in different ways.
I often decrease the opacity of each new layer within the same “class”. As an example, If I add a second grunge layer, it will most likely have a lower opacity than the previous grunge layer since I just want to slightly tweak the grunge effect a bit. But all of those rules go out the window when I create more distorted images.
Light and grain effects are added at the very end, since I see them as small detailed adjustments that need to match up with all of the previous adjustments.
What do you think makes a memorable piece?
That’s a tricky one. From a creator’s perspective I tend to keep some of my creations more close to my heart than others. For me I think it depends on the things that inspired, or rather fueled, the creation of an image. Then there are the images you’re just very satisfied with how they ended up, and in this case it’s probably the same factors as when I look at other people’s creations as an observer.
From an observer’s perspective it basically comes down to what you enjoy looking at. For me, a memorable piece is well balanced, has nice composition, a pleasing layout and a nice level of detail. They naturally make your eyes want to linger around and keep exploring further, they connect with you in some emotional way. It probably helps out if it doesn’t feel “mass produced” or hasted.
What has been your favorite piece to create so far?
“Permafrost” isn’t the the most “heavily edited” image. I haven’t used loads of apps or effects either. But it is one of those pieces I still think about and the resulting look is something I've tried repeating a few times since then.
I often take small breaks when editing. It can be for eating, hitting the gym, watching a movie or some other thing. After one of those breaks I had a new idea, inspired by some thoughts that had hit me, and in the end I really (very apparently) didn’t end up where I originally planned.
My first plan was to create a bright, symmetrical, image using only parts of the mountains and adding a touch of geometrical elements. After changing direction I ended up with this dark “synthetic” landscape instead.
One of the reasons it might be one of the pieces I’ve enjoyed creating the most is that it was a full 180 degree turn that caused it to end up the way it did. It’s always very fun to go places you didn’t think of at the start and ending up with something you really enjoy.
I liked playing around with the image, masking and adjusting different areas. I really tried to make it look a bit “plastic”. To me the atmosphere in the image has some sort of almost “dreamlike” look to it (maybe not a happy dream though). It was fun to create and I really enjoy how it looks.
Do you feel like Mextures offers anything unique to your editing process?
I’d say that it’s the best “all in one” app that I’ve found for adding texture to an image. Sure, there are other apps that offer parts of the same functionality, but I still haven’t found anything that allows me to easily make the same type and variety of adjustments in one place. Making adjustments in Mextures feels like a very streamlined process, and I love the feature that allows you to save formulas. I don’t understand why other editing apps haven’t implemented that feature as well. That said, I don’t save all of my formulas, but from time to time some of them are saved for future use.
To my knowledge there are very few apps that give you the opportunity to use adjustment layers the way that Mextures does. I’ve been a “layer junkie” since I first came in contact with Photoshop 4.0 back in 1996, so that might be one of the reasons why I really like that feature. If you add an effect you wish to change, there are no problems because you can just remove that layer. Do you want to reuse the same set of adjustments again? Just save the formula. Things like that might seem like “small” features, but they really add up to why I pass basically every single image through Mextures before they end up on Instagram.
Do you mind sharing some of the formulas that you’ve saved?
Muninn - VBYCMPZ - Adds noise and a slightly “worn” and cold look. Darkens the top part of the image and adds a slight warm touch to the bottom part. Goes well with a reasonably dark based image.
Cellular - QRAFLMF - This one disorts the image a lot. It adds heavy color distortions along the top and bottom parts of the image. The image fades quite a bit and gets a heavy dose of “dirt” applied. I used it with a quite bright base image.
Falling - SMERESE - Adds warm colors and gradients over the image. No noise or dirt whatsoever. Pulls the eye a bit to the right part of the image. Probably best with a quite dark base image.
Distorted Web - FSDIJMR - Adds a cold color tint to the entire image and reduces colors while fading the dark parts. Adds quite heavy noise and a tad bit of texture. I used it with a pretty colorless image.
Who are the people you feel have most influenced the type of images you create?
I have to start off by mentioning Kerry Lambert, who used to go by @kerry_fin on Instagram. In some sense it might be thanks to him that I ended up continuing to post my stuff to Instagram. He also invited me to join @thegraphicspr0ject (who went by @rsa_graphics back then). I’ve stumbled across so many talented artists through their gallery.
It’s always hard to list people who have inspired and influenced you. You don’t want to leave anyone out. There are so many creators that have inspired me. But to mention a few more:
Matt Mills (@stockandrender) - Kickass gallery that has evolved over time. I really enjoy his stuff!
Beau Wright (@aspenexcel) - Lovely, surreal, 3D and “vector-ish” images. Sometimes very minimalistic but other times a bit more intense.
Pedro Costa (@campovisual) - Also a very wide set of styles that tends to change over time.
David LaBar (@davidlabar) - A lot of very clean creations in his gallery. A lot of them make me wanna crank up some trance tracks in my headphones.
But as I mentioned, there are loads of people who have inspired me in different ways. A lot of them have showed up in the feed of @thegraphicspr0ject (or @rsa_grapics as it used to go by).
Do yourself a favor and dig in to more of Kristoffer’s work here!