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The Lifelike Digital Portraits of Irakli Nadar

28-year-old Irakli Nadar is considered one of the most talented digital artists of our time. Using only digital painting tools, he is able to create photo-like portraits from scratch. His works are so good that many in the digital art world accuse him of simply applying various filters to digital photographs and passing them off as paintings.

You could say that Irakli Nadar’s amazing skill is both a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, his breathtaking artworks have brought him worldwide fame and legions of adoring fans on various social networks, but his success and enviable skill have also made him the target of criticism from both rival artists and the average internet trolls. Luckily, he has learned to live with both, and says that tough as it sometimes is, he just ignores the haters and focuses on the positive.

To be fair, the Tbilisi-based artist admits that some aspects of his technique are generally frowned upon in the digital art world. For example, he bases many of his artworks on reference photos he finds online, and sometimes does manipulate them in image editors like Adobe Photoshop, “to get a better idea for the composition” and see what his digital painting will look like. Once he’s happy with the result, he starts working on a blank canvas, replicating the composition from scratch.

“Why do I bother with editing my photo-reference? It’s simple. I wouldn’t be able to tell whether it’d make for a good painting when I start painting it from scratch,” Irakli says. “And once more, you might be asking yourself “Why would he want to paint it again?” right about now. Most people agree that continuing to paint on top of your photo-manipulated reference is the most efficient way to do this, but I disagree. The fact of the matter is that you can’t really achieve that painterly look if you don’t take the time to work in smaller brushstrokes and all of the other happy accidents that tend to happen when you paint.”

“Popular opinion — or the loudest one anyway — holds that using photographs in a painting is cheating,” the artist adds. “Moreover, copying is another thing that this community frowns upon, but you actually learn a great deal from copying. To tell you the truth, it may well be the fastest way to improve as an artist.”

Despite his popularity, or, maybe because of it, Irakli Nadar is often accused of “photobashing”, a process where filters are applied to a digital photograph to make it look like it has been painted. Looking at the incredibly detailed artworks that the 28-year-old is able to create, it’s not hard to understand why some people don’t believe they were made from scratch. That’s why Irakli often posts beginning-to-end videos of his painting process and sometimes even livestreams painting sessions.

“Yes that’s right, there was a lot of speculations around my art and there still is,” the digital artist told Urban Muse Magazine. “At first I got very angry and sad, because I knew true process behind my art. Though haters gave me more motivation to work harder and to achieve my goals. Then I did start to record process videos, I even live-streamed my painting process and it helped a lot, but hate is still there.”

“As I said some people are born to jump on the hate train. It was not strange for me that people misunderstood my art as photo-bash or paint-over, the strange part was people hating without reason or silly reasons like why I use only one layer to paint or why are my layers empty all the time, why I have a reference beside my painting and why I even use photo reference at all, etc,” Irakli adds. “All these taught me that the more you succeed, more they try to take you down and the only thing that stops you from achieving your goals is giving up. Movement is life and you should continue to progress no matter what happens.”

In an article on Momenta, Irakli Nadar claims that one of the most important elements young artists need to succeed is confidence in their abilities. While practice is definitely important, believing that you can create great art is crucial, he says.

“Oftentimes, you’ll find young artists who think that other, more experienced artists, are far better than them. Fortunately, they are ill-informed,” Irakli writes. “The moment you take a good look at one of Caravaggio’s masterpieces, you’ll come to understand that you can reach that level yourself. Of course, there’s technique, inhuman amounts of practice and maybe even something we don’t know about yet. However, the most important thing is that you now know you can attain it.”

“The vast majority of people come up to me and tell me they don’t think they are capable of producing portrait paintings that are as good as my own — but that’s not the right way to think. My aim is to create visually stunning images, whilst also making each painting better than the last. Maybe you should try thinking like that too.”

For more of Irakli Nadar’s amazing digital portraits, and to see the reference photos he used for most of these incredible artworks, check out his profile page on Art Station. He’s also on Facebook and Deviant Art.