Every artist is the sum of their experiences and influences: in our regular Spotlight section, we ask artists to share with us their process and their inspiration. Today, we’re interviewing Conor Nolan, an Irish illustrator and designer.
Well, my name’s Conor, I’m an illustrator/designer/printmaker, not totally sure if there’s a tidier way to say that yet. Drawing and making art have always been a part of life for me. I’m from a family of six kids where we were mostly all into drawing so I’ve plenty of memories of sitting around with my brothers drawing and watching Disney movies. There’s some drawings on the wall under our stairs that I kind of think of as cave paintings.
When I was finishing school there was nothing I really wanted to do other than art, so I wound up in the National College of Art & Design studying Visual Communications, where I got to learn a lot of different aspects of design like typography, some animation, graphic design and illustration, which is where I feel like I began to find a voice. For my degree show work I made a project called 29 59 56 which looked at a world-record-setting swim that my Dad and five others did in 1993, which was a really interesting and personal experience. That’s kind of where I think I started to maybe see where my role as an illustrator might fall, and I’m still exploring that role, which is really cool and exciting.
Since graduating I’ve worked on a bunch of projects big and small, like editorial work for DOG Magazine and the Sunday Business Post, some smaller personal projects, and about two months ago I finished up a really exciting residency with Facebook in Dublin, which was a fantastic opportunity.
Dublin is a really great city, I think. I’m really lucky to be able to live here where there’s so much great design work going on, and as time goes on I’m meeting more and more people making great stuff. It makes it really easy to meet face to face with people and establish connections, and also to see great exhibitions. Having said that though I think having so much work online has broken down some of those boundaries to do with location. I recently joined an agency up in Belfast called UsFolk who are a really great community of really talented people and even though they’re not right next door I already feel like I can be really involved in everything they’re up to up there.
Well I start everything on paper, drawing with a mechanical pencil then tracing each layer of colour separately, kind of like screen printing separations, drawing with a brush pen which gives me a really nice line quality. Then everything is scanned and from there the digital process is quite heavy. Everything is turned into vectors in Illustrator, then I’ll touch things up with a tablet and use it to add textures and other bits and bobs if needs be in Photoshop. It’s actually quite removed from the initial drawing in a sense, but to me it feels like it comes full circle.
This is a tough one, wow. There’s tonnes of illustrators out there whose work I see on a regular basis, I just got a great book on Quentin Blake and his work is something I seem to come back to again and again as an obvious early interest. Then more recently, I just got a great book called Andre the Giant: Life and Legend by a great artist called Box Brown. I’ve been thinking about those guys a lot lately.
Overall though, something I keep coming back to again and again is a documentary called Beautiful Losers which was made to accompany a group exhibition with people like Geoff McFetridge, Mike Mills and Ed Templeton and a bunch of others, that happened around 2004. I first saw it in my first year of college and there’s influences of individuality, coming of age, street art and skateboarding which have really sat with me, which I think have really galvanised things since.
Right now, I’m trying to work with narrative more in my personal work, and I hope to start making comics in the near future, as well as put on a show at some stage with a tonne of images that tell an illustrated story. I’m also tempted to go the other way and get more into animation though. I made a cool short film for my degree show which you can see on my website and I’d love to try my arm at it again. I try to keep learning all the time.
If you’re vectorising something in Illustrator, turn off snap curves to lines. Also, when I finish everything, if I have the time, I get my eyes off of it for an hour or two before looking at it again and almost always make more changes. Overall though, from the point of view of making your own work I think it’s important to persevere, not be cynical and make sure every step you make comes from a place of positivity.
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