About Me-image

About Me

My name is Kirsten Zirngibl. I am a concept artist and illustrator living in San Diego. I am interested in writing/world-building, and am currently working on "Syndstorm" (a science fiction project).



-- Pitch illustrations
-- Orthographics/Production art
-- Mood studies
-- Environment, architectural, creature, vehicle, & prop designs

-- Cutaway Diagrams
-- Full color cover/interior
-- Full color trading card art
Specialty in science fiction & architecture

About Syndstorm-image

About Syndstorm

"Syndstorm" is a science fiction world I'm currently building. It centers around the relationship between the humans and sentient "microbot swarms."

Client List

I have contributed to:
- Google ATAP (concept art)
- Wizards of the Coast (Magic: The Gathering card illustration)
- Dynamic Attractions (ride/experience design)
- Paizo Publishing (Pathfinder interior illustration)
- Riot Games (League of Legends reskins/splash art)
- Bethesda Software (pitch concept work)
- Psyop (pitch concepts)
- Neurohacker Collective (scientific illustration)
- Fantasy Flight Games (Netrunner concept work, Star Wars illustration)
- Dark Roast Entertainment (The Lucadian Chronicles card illustrations)
- Holoplex (concept work)
- Hollis Brand Culture (pitch concepts)
- Provantage Corporation (illustration)
- Heartlands game (concept art)
- Essentia (card illustration)
- Wildfire Games (illustration + miniature design)


E-mail me

Sign up for my mailing list

For free texture files, tools, digital store updates, and selected livestream announcements. I won't be spammy, promise.



Friend me on Facebook!

This is where I announce my general art updates and livestreams. Also the home of my "Daily Zirnspiration" microblog.



Follow me on Artstation!

Artstation is a new commercial art networking site with a focus on Sci-Fi/Fantasy work. It's currently my favorite.



Follow me on Pinterest!

I have been accumulating a hefty collection of things that inspire me, from natural to the man-made.



Follow me on Instagram!

(Username: @kirstenzirngibl)



Follow me on Twitter!

I use Twitter to announce when I Livestream digital painting, so please follow me if that interests you.



Watch me on DeviantArt!

DeviantArt is my oldest account, and I try to keep it fairly comprehensive. It's eclectic, but is the best display of my journey.



Follow me on DrawCrowd!

Drawcrowd is a "just-show-me-the-art"-style networking website, still in beta.



Follow me on CGSociety!

I've had an account here for awhile, but only really started adding/participating since they changed it recently.

Infected by Art-image

Infected by Art

Watch me on Infected by Art!

Infected by Art is a contest-driven art community focused on imaginative illustration.



Zirnworks.com is my shop dedicated to unusual design inspired by mathematics, biology, and architecture.




Shop at my INPRNT!

I sell high quality giclee prints there. It's a great service.



Shop at my Gumroad!

This is my digital storefront. I also use it to provide free textures, walkthroughs, and tools.



Follow me on Behance!

Behance is where I currently post design and illustration work that falls OUTSIDE the category of science fiction and fantasy.


I was born in Ohio. I attended CCAD and TAD. Now I live in San Diego.

“African Digital Art” feature

My Kampala illustration has been featured on “African Digital Art!” The article includes some never-before-shown process shots.

Link to article

I love geometric art, and saw this assignment as a good opportunity to look at and play with traditional African designs. Fractals lie deep in African indigenous design sense, and thought it would be cool to carry that quality into futuristic architecture!

I was inspired by this Ba-Ila floor plan, and these Ethiopian coptic crosses. I also looked at Ukhamba baskets, and Mande mud architecture for elements in this.

The image features layered arcologies (the stripey forms in the background). Each stripe is a floor, as residents live near the edges for access to windows. Deeper within the arcologies are aquaponics and other life support/infrastructure systems. Fusion power is used extensively, so everything is fairly clean.





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My keybind script is free now!

Just free-ified my keybinding script! It allows you to keybind click toggles, and provides a workaround for taming the previously-unbindable “lighter/darker color” blending modes. More importantly, it and opens up the “windows” key to us crazies ran out of traditional hotkey combos.



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Daily Deviation + INPRNT

INPRNT has free shipping (or 15% off sitewide) through Sunday. I finally added “The Platform” to my shop after getting a lot of recent post-Daily-Deviation print requests, so this as good a time as any to announce that.

Free ship code: SHIPFREE416
15% off code: RMN472016



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An old dream…

I used to want to be an inventor. This was an idea I had in freshman year of high school, it’s a “home stem cell cultivator” where you’d give it a urine sample and it’d spit out injectable stem cells. I don’t have an image of component 1 or all of handwritten descriptions for each label, but be glad… (Really bad graphic design.)

I wasn’t really using the internet back then so it was NOT well researched. I consider it a medical Rube Goldberg machine, hah.

Link to high res.


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I don’t like superheroes

I love fiction and the idea of escapism. I also love comics and consider them a very high art form, one of the highest in terms of creative potential and the ability for a single person/small team to communicate to their audience in a robust way.

I just don’t resonate with the mainstream superhero approach to escapism. To me, the best escapism is placing ordinary characters into extraordinary settings. With superheroes, it’s the opposite: placing extraordinary characters in ordinary settings. The audience is expected to “escape” by pretending they’re the hero and having to make the tough decisions about how to use their powers. Box office stats suggest that many people do well at that.
So why do I have such a hard time empathizing with the hero? I’ll watch a superhero movie when it’s the path of least resistance, but I always leave the theater feeling rather empty. I’m entertained, but all the time I’m very aware that I’m sitting in a theater watching a movie. (Same feeling reading the comics, too, I’ve tried.)

I love man vs. environment stories because of the extra worldbuilding they entail. That’s the escapism I prefer. It may also have something to do with the fact that environments hit me deeper than characters.

I also just prefer stories where more large-scale teamwork is required to solve big problems. Where strategy, diplomacy, and manipulation trump raw “power.” (Certainly these can be elements in superhero stories, but they aren’t the driving force.) It’s definitely harder to wedge action into such stories. And I actually DO like watching action, it’s entertaining. I’ve kind of made peace with the fact that there won’t be much overlap between action-heavy stories and “satisfying” ones.


Moving from personal opinion…
From an academic standpoint, I do think that the popularity of superheroes is interesting, like they’re a modern mythology of sorts. Marvel’s big tangled mess of a universe is kind of like the Greek Pantheon. Maybe thinking of extraordinary beings dealing with normal human emotions tickles the same part of our brains that the Gods’ struggles did for the ancients. Like symbols, or a cultural shorthand.
Alan Moore said something that hit home with me:

“I would also observe that it is, potentially, culturally catastrophic to have the ephemera of a previous century squatting possessively on the cultural stage and refusing to allow this surely unprecedented era to develop a culture of its own, relevant and sufficient to its times.”

^ It’s really the opportunity cost that bothers me. In the film world especially, “Big Superhero” is gobbling up resources that we could be using towards new worlds in entertainment, new ideas that are more relevant to today’s society, and, well, adults. Creators blame marketers for so many nostalgia-driven remakes and sequels, and marketers blame the public for being scared to try anything new (or too bombarded to really register it). The public then blames studios/publishers for lack of fresh content, closing the blame circle. I think broad-spectrum marketing is to blame, trying to make works that both adults and children would see en masse.

The post started out as a simple personal opinion, and turned into something more. I’m also greatly oversimplifying here. Major comics publishers are still coming out with more unique IP’s. There is also some really quality writing/art that’s going into the genre.

But the talent pool doesn’t automatically defend its essence though, and it’s essence is what I don’t care for.

I’m curious about what others have to say about the cultural relevance of superheroes, and whether I should be trying to emphasize with the common themes. Maybe I’m missing something really great!

I anticipate some hairsplitting over what IS a superhero. (For example, I don’t consider Hellboy comic a “superhero comic” because the setting is more fantastical, but others would argue that it is.) Just assume I’m talking about the really mainstream ones.


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CCAD Visit

Finally compiled some photos from different sources to document my time speaking/demoing at my alma mater. So glad everything worked out, I had a great time. Thank you Joe Kovach for putting this together!

View Album on Facebook





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A Couple Streaming Demo Results.

Here are a couple paintings I demo’d on the livestream service Join.me. I actually decided to subscribe to this one. The streaming client is a lot more lightweight than Livestream’s was. I am able to work on large files with no lag at all. I also chose it because it allows anyone to join and chat, without having to log in with an account. I stream to meet/teach new people, so that was an important one for me. Also, no ads! There’s no audio though, which is actually OK with me. I think most people would rather play their own music, anyway.

I’ll always make a Twitter announcement when I stream, so follow me here to get announcements about that.

Nesting Ground

▲This started as a demo initially focusing on color and light. I ended up polishing it a bit afterwards because I liked how it started. I was thinking of a race who have very sophisticated knot tying but aren’t able to construct much from wood itself. They have low physical strength, as they have delicate frames and hollow bones. They can only fly short distances, like turkeys. They have dexterous wingtips which allow them to tie rope, but are bad at lugging large objects. They put nets up relatively short distances from the ground so that they can store dried food and other useful things.
I put a little human in front for scale (since this world DOES have humans) but I’m thinking of changing him into one of the bird race…




▲ Another reworked version of a Livestream demo I did awhile back. I’ve always really been drawn to marshes, probably because I played so much in one as a kid. In fact it started as more of a magical realism idea where it was going to be a kid version of me sitting on the stump, but I decided it would be fun to make an amphibian race instead.




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Entertainment Station + Behance

I did these concept sketches for a Hawaii-based startup involving virtual reality hardware. I am doing some product design sketch and previsual work for them! They will be using it to pitch to investors, and possibly a kickstarter. I’ve done about 40 sketches so far, and will show them when I’m not bound by the NDA. I’ll make sure to update this post with a link to something containing more information.









So why did I post it to Behance? I created that profile to showcase my less fantasy/science fiction type illustration and design, as there are many more advertising and product design clients using Behance to find designers. I’ve always loved variety, but I know that most clients appreciate specialization in freelancers. Would including science fiction and fantasy work dilute the impression I make? Is it worth sacrificing potential sci-fi/fantasy clients on Behance for this?

I’m not hiding anything from anyone. There aren’t any other people with my name competing for search engine search results, after all! But it’s about the first impression. If someone views it and says “that’s good” and later find that I did other types of work as well, would that still be better than them seeing all of the types of work I do at once? I’m willing to say… Yes?


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IMC 2014


First off, here is my public photo album.  

I attended the IMC 2014 this year, and am glad I did! For one thing I didn’t go last year. On top of that, having spent a year freelancing from home, I was starting to feel a bit isolated. And nowhere have I found more comradery than at the IMC. It’s as if someone pumped a friendship catalyst through the vents or something, or maybe that’s just the comradery that automatically seems to come from working in parallel with others.

But I do know that the fantasy art community is known for being exceptionally supportive compared to related spheres. This can be explained in several ways. One is relative size. It’s easy to personally know most of the top artists in sci-fi/fantasy, especially in the publishing side of things. This is due to venues like Spectrum and conventions like IlluXCon, Spectrum Live, and artist sections of comic/gaming cons. Also, we all know the business is tough. Tough to get in, tough to stay in, and tough to get fairly compensated sometimes. Instead of standing aloof from our peers and coveting our working techniques, most fantastical illustrators are open to helping others improve and sharing what we know. In many ways, it’s “us against each other” but the community is all about “us against the world.”



The IMC provides a platform for people to not only support each other, but inspire each other as well.   I love looking and at reading other artists’ journeys, and the lectures at IMC provide a healthy balance of theory/instruction with these stories.  Stories to remind you that your heroes are particularly hardworking humans, not “Art Gods.”  Also, they like messing around!  ▼


I got to meet a couple of new guests in the 2014 IMC, as you’ll see in the photos.  There is of course Mike Mignola, creator of Hellboy.  Then Greg Ruth, another comic artist with a distinctive and beautiful style.  And of course, Brian and Wendy Froud.  Below is a compilation of several instructors “doin’ their thang.”  In reading order:  Greg Ruth, Iain McCaig, Greg Manchess, Dan Dos Santos, Donato Giancola, and Mike Mignola.  ▼


I chose the “Fairy Warrior” topic. It was an open-ended one, and I ended up concocting an entire backstory for it. World building is fun, what can I say? I ported some of the ideas from my science fiction nanotech story. Imagine a magical plane where golems are the dominant “life” form. However, they are very tiny, about the size of a grain of sand. They bond together to make emergent intelligence. Brave fairy explorers enter this plane to harvest the magical batteries that the “plant golems” produce, valuable trading objects that they are. Many of the mobile golems and “swarms” are hostile to this though, and Guard fairies wearing armor use a combination of magical and melee techniques to keep the native golems at bay while their harvester comrades get to work. These Guards wear special mirrored armor to confuse the swarms.

When my sketches were critiqued, it was suggested that they had ambivalent focus, as if I couldn’t decide whether to play up the environment or the fairy character. Apparently the environment was the most interesting (to them and, evidently, to me) so I downplayed the fairy character to almost a speck.


I really wrestled with whether or not to do traditional media for IMC. This was the first time I was flying in from the opposite coast rather than driving from Ohio. I knew I’d want to ship my paints to avoid issues with the TSA. And I won’t lie, in one way it was a major pain. Having liquid acrylic paint burst open in transit and douse everything in bright yellow was not a good experience.

Aside from that though, I had a blast experimenting with painting technique. I had thought up my approach before, but time constraints, space constraints, and fear all added up to keep me from actually DOING it. IMC provided a guilt-free time, enough studio space, and a psychological safety net of sorts.



…below is an animated walkthrough.  Here’s a link to higher quality:  http://gifmaker.me/PlayFrameAnimation.php?folder=2014100205hNyzy47rqAJDsMeJqeVTey

And here’s the files:  Kirsten Zirngibl – Acrylic Painting Walkthrough



Thank you Rebecca Guay and everyone else who helped make IMC happen!





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Provantage Accessory Finder cover

I’ve started doing cover illustrations for the Provantage Corporation’s buyer’s guide. They have a circulation of about 350,000 copies bi-monthly, and they cater to customers
They are trying to get away from using stock photography in their work. They’re trying to swing their brand/company image into something cheerful and fun. I thought it would be fun to make work that manages to accomplish this while still be about a tech company.
This ended up being a tricky illustration to iron out. For one thing, the official “Accessory Finder” function of the website was still being completed, so not all of the categories were set in stone.
I wasn’t given a set subject matter or topic, but instead worked to come up with a way to portray having a “starting point” that narrowed down many choices.


▲ The first thing I came up with was a harvest going on, with people picking accessories off of trees. The fun part of this was that the orchard was actually a 3D version of the website itself. For example, the trees were actually site maps, branching off where a customer would select from the options in the accessory finder wizard.

However, the problem with this is that it was visually complex and not very striking. It could easily look MORE confusing to prospective customers.
Another idea was “blasting through a maze.” Except that the maze was the online shopping experience. However, there was a potential flaw with this idea. It wasn’t clear that the maze was a statement about the entire world of online shopping, and could be interpreted by the viewer as “Provantage” is a maze.

Then there was the fishing idea. Again, fishing can be seen as a negative, especially the dark silhouette of fishing. Is the “sea of Products” a statement about the frustrations of online shopping (my intention) or about how disorganized Provantage is? And because all online shopping venues are still competing with brick and mortar stores, making any statement that casts online shopping in a negative light could potentially hurt Provantage.

After a discussion with the A.D. I realized that the core idea was about starting with a bunch of possibilities and narrowing down.  So I briefly explored an abstract-ish representation of this, where each segment of the cube would be a little product box.  It was the most direct way I could think of to show that kind of process.  ▼


A more graphic and simple approach then led to the idea of a compass. They were open to a graphical solution, and I even offered to render this as a 3D object sitting on a table, and attempt to make it look like a high end product close-up.  ▼


unnamed (2)
I then tried something totally different. But simple! The accessory is a lot like taking a hiking trail, with many-forking paths starting with one and branching out like a tree.  I sent this little color sketch, and it was a winner.  ▼

As I started the final, I wasn’t exactly sure where the text would be. This is where working in lots of layers comes in handy!  ▼SignWIP

For the color, look, and feel, I was inspired by a lot of Golden Age Warner Bros. cartoon background painting. I was harkening back to the forests that hosted the antics of Bugs Bunny and crew.   ▼


Color wise, I was also thinking of Canadian artist Tom Thompson.  While the specific colors didn’t rub off, I was really attracted to the deepness of the blue in relation to the lightness of the ground details.  It gave me the confidence to do this with the illustration. ▼thomson-spring-ice
It was a long and winding road, but I enjoyed working on this final cover.  ▼




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