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Interview with Nastasia, aka Ssst

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Read Time: 13 min

Today we talk to Nastasia who is also known as "Ssst." This young lady is a talented vector artist from France. Her conceptual illustrations are vivid, detailed, and full of fantasy characters. Nastastia tells us that her illustrations have stories behind them and that her ideas come from her busy mind. She rarely runs low on creative ideas. Read more about this amazing, cheerful artist in this interview.

Q Hi Nastasia, tell us a little about yourself, where do you come from? And how were your growing up years like?

Hi all! I'm twenty-one years old and am part French (mother) and part Dutch (father). I have two younger brothers, whom I have a splendid love-hate relationship with - they are brilliant! I was born in the Netherlands and lived there until I was fourteen years old and then moved to France with my family.

My growing up years... Both my parents are artists so art has been around ever since I can remember. My kindergarden teacher claimed I was a genius at finger painting. I doodled a lot in high school when I was supposed to be paying attention to what the teachers had to say, but I didn't start drawing somewhat seriously before I settled in France. I had a lot of friends in the Netherlands and believed I didn't have the time to see if my sketching abilities could be taken any further.

Upon arriving in France I gave in to my dark and emo inner self that manifested with the move. I was very teenage angst angry at my parents for having "destroyed my life" and that's when drawing seemed to be rather fitting to the personal bubble I'd created for myself. A couple of years later I snapped out of the dark personal bubble, but drawing just stuck with me! I assure you, no parents were truly harmed during this process. :)

Q Where and how did you learn all this design craft? Did you take any formal education or are you self-taught?

I learned all I know through a lot of different ways. I picked up a pencil on my own and looked around the internet, finding drawings I liked and trying to redraw them. Back then I strongly believed I was awesome - It's amusing now. So traditional art was the first phase and my Father, who works in illustrations, slowly introduced me to digital, putting me behind a computer and telling me to play around with Photoshop. I was very lucky to have a tablet at my disposal right from the start.

I started out with fanart, it was my comfort zone and I rarely stepped out of it. It's after I was introduced to Vector and started feeling steady with Illustrator that I decided to try something other than fanart. That's when I joined Deviantart and my mother, as a Photo-manipulator, introduced me to Stock photography! Stock helped give me such steady bases to work with that I became brave enough to try and draw my own ideas. Later on I'd progressed quite a lot and knew Illustrator and Photoshop well.

I entered a Graphic Design course that would last three years starting in 2006. The formation taught me a lot about perspective and lighting. And I have a bunch of Art History stuffed into my brain that I can now blurt out at any random moment. So, when it comes to media introductions, my parents taught me. And the progress in how I use the programs nowadays I learned on my own. And as far as tricks in the lighting, anatomy and the perspective department go - school books are very cool. I rarely read tutorials and I have an annoying habit of not exploring the programs that are placed under my nose. But I have a couple of friends who do Vector themselves that remedied that issue and introduced an awesome set of tools for me to use since.

Q How was your first brush with vector illustrations? Tell us about the first vector illustration you created, was it good? How much has your creativity matured and evolved since your first time?

Vector rocked my world right from the start. I loved Illustrator because it seemed to be a lot less complicated than Photoshop to me. So my first brush with vector illustrations was very good!

The first Vector I made, my mother was sitting beside me with the Illustrator handbook. She read the book entirely, I didn't so much as look at it. She showed me the Pen Tool, I gave up nearly five seconds later because I didn't have the patience to tone down my annoyance. I switched over to the Pencil Tool and it has stuck with me ever since.

With the help of my mum, I created a "Chocobo" for a first Vector (big yellow bird from a game called Final Fantasy). Past self: I am proud. Present self: I used a ridiculous amount of gradients and there is an irritating lack of knowledge on the transparency tool. It could have been a lot worse though!

It's hard to explain how much I've grown since then. Of course I did, the progress is very obvious, but I'm not exactly capable of pin pointing the exact moments. What I know for certain is that my patience with my drawings is growing longer bit by bit. I don't call it "finished" as quickly as I used too, and with the extra patience added into my workflow every so often, my drawings became more detailed, elaborated and much less flat looking!

Since recent (about a year or so) I've managed to create the result I had in my head to begin with, which I wasn't able to do before - my technique and ability to draw just weren't up to date with the ideas I had roaming around in my head. Now that I got that down, It's quite satisfying and bumps my ego on the scale skywards. Feeling secure with my own art definitely helped me for better.

Q What is your workflow for creating a typical image, how long does it take? Do you start with sketching or do you start directly digitally? What are your research resources?

I used to sketch out on paper first, scan and then drag the file into Illustrator and continue from there. My scanner broke and I was too lazy to get it fixed so instead I started dragging the stock resources I found into Illustrator and continue from there. That is when I used to do a lot of portraits. When I decided to draw full body characters I'd find my stock reference on Deviantart and sketch what I wanted in Photoshop first and then drag the sketch into Illustrator and begin coloring. Deviantart, stockxchng and my own surroundings+camera are where I do my research for resources.

My sketches are extremely messy and I think my eyes crossed over more then once while trying to figure out the initial lines I'd drawn (it's gotten a lot better now :D). Lineart was my savior!

So, Although I don't count the exact hours, I usually spend as much time finding stock pictures and/or taking the stock pictures myself as I do sketching the idea out once the references have been butchered into a digital surgical Photoshop mess. After I finish the sketch,, I start doing my lineart in Illustrator and after that I begin coloring and continue working on it until I deem it finished.

It depends on the size of my drawing really. It can take a day as it can take an entire week where I sometimes forget to eat and my insomnia is suddenly a brilliant tool.

Q Your illustrations are beautiful, intricate and detailed. Viewers are drawn in with its vastness and they also tell a story. Where do you get ideas for your illustrations? Does the story come first or illustration? Are you also a writer or storyteller?

Thank you! :)

My illustrations do tend to have some sort of story behind them. I don't always say it or explain it because I either don't want to, or it's self explanatory, or I wanna let people just get their own story out of it. I'm not sure where I get my ideas? I have a very busy mind, there is no moment of silence in my head and most of the time my line of thoughts give me ideas. Sometimes images randomly pop up into my head and I think, "Ah hah! I will draw it now!" And then I do. I can't exactly follow myself sometimes, I've learned to just let it happen and not ask too many questions.

It is really random, sometimes the story comes first, sometimes it's the illustration. There's no real rule there. :) I'm comfortable with either option. Lately the story comes before the illustration. But it may just switch around again at any given time.

I write my stories down, for sure. I'm extremely shy when it comes to my stories though. Not many people get to read them. My brother is the only one who knows how far my imagination stretches as he gets to hear all of them without hesitation. My artwork shows the rest of the world glimpses of those stories. I'm not sure if I can call myself a writer, but I would like to be.

Q Along with the clean and crisp lineart, your illustrations have awesome coloring style. What is your technique for coloring your illustrations?

Transparency! None of the colors I use are solid. The only reason my illustrations don't look see-through in the end is because I place a layer of solid white underneath. But otherwise the base colors, shading and highlights are all toned down in transparency. And I don't have specific settings I re-use every time in that department, I sorta just wing it and do what looks right to me. The fact that I use the Pencil Tool instead of the Pen Tool probably plays a trick with the shapes as well.

Before I start coloring, I tend to decide on what colors I'll use to begin with. Usually I know what colors I want to use from the image I have floating around in my head, so I use that as a guideline and make a color palette. It's very rare I change the colors when I'm done - I tend to be happy with the colors I chose right from the start.

Q Which is your favorite piece of work that you have created so far and why? What was the inspiration and idea behind it?

Evil question, really! :) I never have one favorite actually, I kind of just like all the drawings I made/make... All of them were challenging at one point or another and each of them had a particular moment of extreme fun. When I'm done with a drawing, I'm both really happy but also sad because I don't get to work on it anymore.

But... I will choose one!

Prelude Fight 2 , because it kicked my ass something major. In Prelude Fight 1, I whined for an entire week about how evil the brick wall was both in lineart and coloring. And then instead of saying, "Good job, Nas! You drew one brick wall in your life - Challenge accepted and won! You won't have to do this ever again." I disagree and draw an entire ally of bricks - because apparently just one wall wasn't enough.

So for that reason, I can definitely call it my favorite at the moment. I showed myself! And I'm extremely happy with the character work in that particular piece. I love drawing characters and I think that in that piece, I progressed a bit from how I did character work before (mainly in facial features and expression, I'm working hard on that at the moment).

Q What design project are you working on currently, is it exciting or challenging?

Personal Projects: I have a big project going on since very nearly a year now. It's called Vectoria. I made a couple of friends in the vector department over the last two years and they inspired me to tell a story. The story is about a virtual world called Vectoria and it has been invaded by my pixel monsters who have installed a Pixel Virus upon the heart of Vectoria.

Everything is slowly starting to rasterize because of this Virus and it intends to kill the media that is vector, hoping that Illustrator as a program will die out. A group of regular vector artists are dragged into the world and then have to go on a quest and try and remove the virus! I'm writing a story for it at the moment, I drew quite a few illustrations. I designed the characters since and well, it's a lot of fun really :)

And then, I was bored once upon an afternoon and decided to make a card deck. There's a lot of cards in a regular card deck... I didn't realize that right away since I was so excited to have found a way to occupy myself. But I will finish it!

None Personal Projects: I have several projects running with my partner in crime, Brgtt. We work together and have some things running in the back of ours minds to help promote Panchaos, which is the name of our business (business sounds so fancy!) We just finished two sets of icon packs, that happen to be completely vector - and free for anybody to use.

Q What are your major sources of inspiration? How do you recharge your creative batteries?

Oh so many things! It can be something I see, something I hear, something I read. Anything is good for inspiration really. Music gives me great inspiration to set the mood, while games tend to give me plenty ideas for character design. Books feed my imagination the most, I think.

I rarely run out of ideas. When I happen to have an artist block, the ideas are still there, my hand just doesn't want to cooperate. And I can't really complain about lack of energy in my batteries, the longest block I had lasted two weeks. Truth, I freaked out, but I shouldn't complain. :)

Q How would you define your design style in 5 words?

A five worded sentence: "I do what I want!" and then five words: colorful, detailed, free, playful and fantasy! Fantasy works, right?

Q Thanks for the interview Nastasia. Would you like to give any tips or advise to aspiring designers and illustrators?

Sure thing! I'm grateful for the opportunity! As for tips and advice... (oooh the power!).

Don't worry too much about what other people think. Draw and create for yourself before you draw and create for others. If the result made you happy, then that's a great way to start! :) Also! Don't be afraid to ask for help! It's OK not to be entirely self-taught.

Nastasia aka Ssst on Web

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