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Interview with Jared Nickerson, aka J3Concepts

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Read Time: 15 min

Meet Jared Nickerson a freelance illustrator based in Seattle, Washington. I am sure you have heard about him or might have seen his brilliant vector artworks which are a constant source of inspiration. Jared specializes in character, editorial, video games, product design and runs his design studio J3Concepts.

In this interview, he talks about how he got started in the design industry, his various projects, thoughts on arts and creativity, his inspiration, and much more.

1. Hello Jared, give us a background bio on yourself, where are you from? Did you attend a traditional design school? Where, or if not, why?

I'm a 26 year old freelance illustrator. I was born and raised in Halifax, Nova Scotia. After a number of moves throughout Canada and the US I am now located in Seattle, Washington. As for school, I never actually went to school for illustration, in fact I never went to school (after high school). I got kicked out of my house at a young age so never really had the money for school. I'd had an art background from a very young age as most kids and kept with it all through high school.

I figured the future of my specific art form was headed in the digital direction so I picked up a copy of CorelDraw and went from there. I eventually got to learn Adobe Illustrator and that to this day has remained my tool of choice. Essentially, the motivation was the money in the beginning, and at this point it still to some degree is the money, but there is a lot more to it now. I truly enjoy design and the medium I work with, I just happen to make some money at what I enjoy.

2. What are you currently working on, any interesting or exciting project?

Currently I'm working with Nike actually on a few things along with being Community Director for laFraise. I've been with them for over a year now actually. And then of course my regular freelance work which varies from videogames, to art direction, to textile design, you name it. I'm in the process of few different videogames and those have been a challenge so far but also very rewarding.

3. What is it about vector medium that fascinates you? What tools and applications do you use to create your vector arts and what does your workstation look like?

Versatility for the most part. Vector can really fit any sort of product. You can change color schemes in seconds, increase the size without losing quality, no more saving in massive 300 dpi format for print, etc. The advantages are huge.

Essentially though it depends on what look you are going for and vector itself seemed to suit my style and approach a lot better than raster. It's all a matter of taste of course. I primarily use Adobe Illustrator for all of my vector work, it's actually the program I use 99% of the time.

My workstation? If you are referring to my studio space, pretty damn messy.

4. Your illustrations are very versatile, you do portraits, abstract arts, cartoon and fantasy characters, etc. What do you enjoy most and why? How would you define your style and what would you want your viewers to walk away with when they see one of your pieces?

I really enjoy my character work the most. I have the most fun creating new characters and expressions. Really these days characters are in everything, whether it be a logo, mascot, ad, anything. We are constantly bombarded by little characters. I think they have a bigger influence on us than we know. I do also enjoy my more portrait/editorial style, but I find there are only so many uses for that style and since a chunk of the design work I do is textile based, I find a character style is more versatile, and honestly way more fun.

As for what message I want to convey, there is rarely a message. The public likes to think there is meaning or a message or story behind a specific piece. They like to think that your art represents some inner struggle, some involved story, etc. Really my art is purely for visual sake. I want people to look at my artwork and think "I" want to wear that, want to put it on my wall, and tattoo it on my back."" At least that's what I think about when I see artwork I love.

5. Describe to us your creative process and your research resources. Is the process different for personal and client work? What percentage of your work is personal versus commercial? Do you prefer one over the other?

Before anything, I always setup a playlist, usually consisting of anything from Bloc Party to Chromeo, Data to Junior Boys, among others. When doing personal work, I usually just come up with a random idea, usually one I've had for a few days, and try my best to execute that idea. Whether it be from a reference photo or from an older style I developed, the process is usually the same. Nothing overly complicated.

When it comes to actual commercial work though, it usually requires a lot of fishing on my part. Fishing for ideas from the client or in some cases just materializing an idea. I find browsing sites such as Behance and ffffound are always great sources of inspiration if you're dry for ideas. A friend and myself actually created a website called bloodsweatvector.com for this specific reason; inspiration.

Most of my time now is filled with commercial work. About 95% of my work right now is commercial. Which can be good and bad. It's easy to lose your soul when doing too much commercial work. You spend most of your time listening to feedback and to wants vs. needs of the client that you start to lose focus on what you enjoy about your art, what makes it yours.

As for preference, hard to say. I do enjoy working with companies to come up with a final design or product, but essentially I like the schedule and workflow of my personal work a lot better.

6. Do you freelance full time? What are the pros and cons of freelancing from your perspective? What's one thing you wish you knew when you started your career?

I do freelance full-time - yes. I also consult for a few different companies along with art direction and then of course illustration and design. I'm not an overly disciplined person, and I find working as a freelance illustrator you have to be very organized and disciplined. So it's something I struggle with on a daily basis. I think that's fairly common with most freelancers in any industry.

I do wish I would have pushed myself harder in the beginning, maybe started a little sooner. I spent a lot of time with the politics of design as opposed to just sitting down and developing my personal style. I was too worried about what the public thought of my work as opposed to what I thought or felt about my work.

7. You have a very unique style of your own, minimal yet eye catchy. Do you think that an artist falls trap to following trends? A certain style of art becomes popular and everybody wants to follow it. How much do you think it is important for an artist to develop his/her own original style? Also, tell us what are your views of the online art communities?

All artists no matter who they are fall into trends. And that's not always a bad thing. Trends are always changing so it's good to dip your finger in a few different things, spread yourself out. The danger in this though is when an artist just follows trends and essentially has no path themselves, has no real concentration. Cutting your own path is key in your personal growth as an artist. Grabbing onto a trend here or there is fine, as long as you don't lose yourself along the way.

In the end, a client should be hiring you because they want your style your talent, not because they want something that looks like any designer with 6 months experience could do. Developing your own style and approach to any art medium, in the end always pays off.

Art communities is a general term now as it can apply to a few different things. There are art communities such as Behance or Deviantart, which is an open website to any designer from any level and any medium. Those sites I encourage any and every designer to use as they are incredible networking tools.

As for the invite only communities that do scheduled release packs based on a pre-selected theme sort of art communities, I still don't know what to think of them as a whole. I've been a member of various of these sites, and they are a good discipline to get into. Meeting a deadline based on a specific theme is great training. I do find though in the long run this breeds a different and not necessarily good type of artist. The elite way of thinking isn't bad in the sense of the word, but it alienates the artist from the real world from what art essentially is and what this industry is. I've seen it happen to many artists, and it's unfortunate, most just take themselves way too serious.

8. You co-founded Blood Sweat Vector. What made you decide to start this project? What's it about? How did you come up with that name? And what are its future goals?

Well Brad Mahaffey and myself sat down awhile back and figured there wasn't a real outlet for vector artists to sit down and post their work, a vector exclusive website where the artist is in control. That's where we came up with BloodSweatVector. The artist themselves are in control of what the public sees.

And by artists I mean some of these guys are known world round for their artwork. Some have produced toys, video-games, clothing, you name it. These guys are on top of their game and we figured what a good place for all of these like minded artists to get together and mess around. We really try to encourage the members to comment on each other's work. Like I said before a huge thing for artists is getting feedback from other like-minded artists they respect and look-up to, and we really want to encourage that sort of interaction. So far it seems to be headed in the right direction and who knows maybe you'll see a "Blood, Sweat, Vector Vol.1" book on shelves next year.

The name, well the name just came from my random ramblings. I wanted something trendy sounding but something that also expressed the sort of time and effort that goes into illustration, namely vector illustration. Blood Sweat Vector just seemed to suit.

9. What would you say has been the highlights of your career so far? What are the projects that have given you immense creative satisfaction?

Well the projects I'm currently working on with Nike have been enjoyable. Working with a company that has dealt with so many good artists, some of which I look up to, is always a treat. I think I walk away from most of my commercial work and I'm happy with the final product, not always but most of the time.

I know one of the ones that really got me rolling in the industry and really helped develop my creative process and style was a project I did for SuicideGirls back in 2006-2007. It was a series of 13 desktop wallpapers and all of the editorial illustrations for their issue No.2. (wallpapers viewable here and listed under 2008).

That project always sticks out in my head. It seemed to be a crowd favorite, but what was important to me was that it really helped me grow and bridge the gap between my more portrait style illustrations and stylized character illustrations.

Another project that really helped me was the tutorial I did in last month's Computer Arts magazine called Create a Balanced T-Shirt Graphic. It really opened my eyes to my actual process when it comes to layout and balance. It was great discipline and in fact the first tutorial I had ever done. I also learned that I hate creating tutorials.

10. What contemporary designers do you admire? Are there any particular artist(s) or website(s) that you get inspiration from?

There are a chunk of the artists that I've admired over the years. I've actually had a chance to get to know some over the past while, one of which includes the design team 123Klan. Scien and Klor have been a good influence on my work and overall approach to design. Although our styles aren't always that similar, our approach to the industry and client dealings are very similar.

I find that's a challenge, finding people that are like minded in this industry. Most artists are artists down to the core. They are eccentric and have no real business sense, they have their own way of doing things and are normally very set in their ways. So it's always nice to find down to earth artists who know what they are doing. Whether or not I know what I'm doing is yet to be determined though.

For the sense of name dropping though, artists I currently admire include HelloFreaks, Zombie Corp., Da Chuch, Cuypi, Smatik, and Niark1 to name a very small amount.

As for inspiration, there are a lot of great sources out there. The ones I mainly use though are Behance and ffffound. Of course now though that BloodSweatVector is growing so fast, that'll be a new stomping ground for inspiration. Another great one is ImgSpark which is similar to ffffound but with a lot more options and a search function, which is key!

11. What is your favorite Adobe Illustrator tool, tip, or technique? Do you also have any Illustrator pet-peeve?

Always save your ideal workspace as opposed to rearranging and reopening all the tools/windows every time you open up Illustrator. I also after years and years of using illustrator just realized how to setup your swatches to auto open when you start Illustrator, this way you don't have to open your custom swatches every time. Yeah I'm kinda slow.

My most used tool is the pen tool and pathfinder tools. They are essential in creating clean lined complete characters.

As for adding a quick textured look to your vector, just throw a textured background (raster) overtop of your vector and change the opacity type to multiply. Simple, but it can really change the whole look of a design and takes seconds to do. This is something I always do just to test the way it looks. I don't always end up using a texture in the final design, but I always give it a try at least. Experimenting is always an important aspect of your personal growth as an artist. If you can think of it, there is usually a tool that can make it happen, explore as much as you can. I'm learning new stuff about Illustrator everyday, no matter how small the tool, you'll end up using all of them at one point or another.

Pet peeve? The fact that I have 12GB DDR3 Ram and Illustrator still gives me the "Not enough memory (ram)" error. That and why does installing any Adobe product mean you end up installing 15 other programs all of which you'll never use and have no idea what they are?

12. Do you think an artist's persona is reflected in his/her work? If yes, what aspect, of your designs and illustrations reflects parts of your personality?

Art is great in the way that artists have this form of expressing themselves that others don't.

We can convey a message or thought through our visuals. Something the average person can only do with words. We have a major advantage in that sense, in the world of communication. Essentially though it's what the observer takes from your artwork that seems to make the difference.

I rarely try and convey a specific message. For me it's purely aesthetic. I like to think though that my style and the subtle character humor reflect my personality. I like the more awkward humor and the humor that's more based on people's reactions and facial expressions. Working on more and more video games lately have really helped me develop a database of expressions and facial characteristics for all of my work. I've really been interested lately in how the turn of an eye or the tilt of a smile can portray a certain mood or thought even.

That didn't answer your question did it?

13. Thanks Jared, for the interview. What advice would you like to give to aspiring designers?

If you make art for yourself first, then everyone else will follow in time.

Jared Nickerson on Web:

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