INTERVIEW | NICHOLAS STEVENSON

The world of Nicholas Stevenson (b. 1989) originates in a childhood spent on a desert island in the middle of the Indian Ocean, with more than 1.300 km to the nearest coast. His chalky gouache paintings and expressive sceneries arouses a feeling of curiosity, wit and mystery, occasionally with an underlaying sense of disturbance.

My name is Nicholas Stevenson, I am an illustrator from London. I don’t have any cats, but I have an old green car.” Nicholas studied illustration at Hereford College of Art and already very early in his life he had to use his imagination and exploring skills – in an even greater extend than other kids. During his childhood Nicholas lived on a desert island without videogames or friends, and this experience might have played an essential role in shaping his creative voice and vision.

All works by Nicholas Stevenson.

All works by Nicholas Stevenson.

Nicholas constructs wierd and compelling sceneries filled with bearded animals, wild plantation, deep woods, bird-faced and insect-like characters. His Wes Anderson-esque compositions of needly placed patterns, clever symmetry and bright colors play well together with his darker and more bleak side. Even though Nicholas’ world is filled with quirkyness, the fun is always beautifully contrasted by a recurring and unsettling seriousness. This makes Nicholas’ work stand out and therefore we reached out to him, with an urge to get to know him a bit better. Luckily he was up for doing an interview! Here you can read more about Nicholas’ island life, how he creates his illustrative work, look through his list of inspiring life goals and much more.

What made you choose your current path?
Drawing was always a big part of my life. I was lucky enough to live on a desert island for some of my early years, when my dad got a job in the Seychelles doing nature conservation. There weren’t other kids to play with, and I spent most of my time in the sea, pretending to be a pirate and just drawing fish and birds with felt tip pens and pencils. Eventually we moved to a bigger island with a video rental shop, so I suddenly started drawing Darth Vader, Peter Pan and Dinosaurs once that world opened up to me. It was kind of an instinctive thing to just draw whatever I’d seen that day, I think it is for lots of kids, but I never gave up on it. Not even once we moved back to the UK, and I had to work out what football was and who was my favourite Power Ranger.

I started doing different album sleeves and posters in school once I joined bands. I went to a few illustration university open days and there wasn’t really any doubt that I’d love every minute of it. To be honest, I did not know that much about the commercial illustration world before I started at university, I just knew historical painters, and that I wanted to tell stories with my drawings. Luckily the course affirmed that I was in exactly the right field!

Can you tell us about your working process?
I often begin by drawing quite freely, trying to get intuitive ideas, and gut reactions to the subject matter. I have a few different ways of working on final images, depending on how it will be printed and what the image calls for. Sometimes a gouache painting from my sketchbook winds up as the final piece, which is wonderful. I like to paint unplanned initially, and hope for odd perspectives and to get surprised by new colour relationships. I love surprises. Other times I have to rebuild my sketches digitally. Often I draw the outlines of shapes in pen and then scan them. Then I cut, colour and stick them together in Photoshop. I have quite a big bank of great textures that I’ve scanned, often from accidental marks in my sketchbook, which I overlay on my images. I don’t use a tablet so even when I am working digitally, the lines are hand drawn, and all the textures a painted by hand as well. In that way there’s not such a big gap between my digital and painted work. Some people have told me that they can’t distinguish between my painted and digital pieces, which surprises me, but then again, I made them so I do have an advantage. :)

Do you have a project that you are especially proud of?
In my second year at university I was asked to make the posters and compose music for a production of the play Woyzeck, that the drama course was doing. It has some amazing visual language; wasps on lips and stray hairs in a bowl of peas. I watched the Werner Herzog film adaptation to get inspired, and got really sucked in to it. I began turning out paintings in my sketchbook, about two or three an evening, thickly applied gouache covering every inch of every page. The artwork I created then was really the first pieces of what you’d recognise as being similar to the work I’m doing now, although it’s not in my portfolio anymore. It was definitely an exciting break through moment, when I found my way of going about things.

What are your biggest source of inspiration/influence at the moment?
I have a great set of Mexican ‘lotteria’ cards. The colours are so wonderful, and the print dots are really apparent. The designs have a sort of magical quality to them, they’re enticing and appealing, but sort of sinister and occult at the same time.

What are you working on right now? Can you show us any work-in-progress?
Below you can see a screen shot with some of the things that I am working on at the moment. A zine for american musician Bill Baird, some insects and a cassette tape for the record lable Superfan 99 Records.

A screen shot from my computer desktop with some of the things that I am working on at the moment.

A screen shot from my computer desktop with some of the things that I am working on at the moment.

What are your hopes, dreams and plans for the future?
Recently I’ve drawn a children’s book for Wide Eyed Editions, so I’m very excited about that being published. I’ve started to work on my own story as well, involving a little insect family, so I’m excited about making that a reality.

Here are some other life goals:

  • Invent a Cartoon Network show.
  • Have my work in the Tate Modern.
  • Illustrate for Stephen King.
  • Design the 75p coin.
  • Do a record sleeve for Fleetwood Mac (although I don’t expect them to make a good record again soon).
  • Get really good at wood work and find time for it.
  • I want to redesign those bright and ugly seat upholstery designs on every piece of public transport in the UK (sorry whoever made those, I know they’re that way to disguise dirt).
  • I want to draw in the Antarctic, but I’m actually not great with the cold.
  • And then, I want to be artist in residence at a zoo.

Do you have any piece of advice for fellow creatives?
Just believe that what you’re doing is important and do it on full steam. It’s very hard to know what is going to be an important project, or doodle, or which little accidental smudge is going to lead you to the next thing. Aim to be pleasantly surprised, and don’t wish for everything to turn out how you imagined it.

All works by Nicholas Stevenson.

All works by Nicholas Stevenson.

Rikke Luna (f. 1988) og Matias Albæk-Falk (f. 1988) er stiftere af idoart.dk, og driver derudover formidlingsbureauet I DO ART Agency samt forlaget I DO ART Books.