Nicolas Weis

Where did you grow up and when did you decide to become an artist?
I grew up in and around Paris, France. I decided to give a serious shot at being “someone who draws for a living” (this is how I defined it at the time) at the age of 20.

Did you go to an art school or are you self taught? What helped you prepare to become the artist we know today?
Both. I did not like the idea of going to a private school, nor could I afford one at the time, so I decided to apply to public art schools. But they are pretty hard to get into, so I worked first on my own, drawing mostly in museums, and taking the life drawing class of Yannick Francois in Paris. Life drawing was the best practice I can remember, it teaches you pretty much everything you need to know as far as fundamentals. What helped me the most was understanding that, even though you have to bleed and weep a lot, ultimately, what you do the best is what you really enjoy. Life is too short to suffer continually, to be under the pressure of what others do, how fast they do it, how it is received. Some pressure can be good, most of the time it is not, this is why nowadays I do my best not to care too much about what I see on the Internet. I actually get most of my inspiration from Nature. I buy books about trees, mushrooms, folk costumes, architecture.

Have you always been supported in your artistic path or has it been challenging to let your family and friends understand your choice?
I was not encouraged but I was supported. After I graduated from high school I studied art history, slowly but surely circling down on actual artistic practice. I lied to myself for a while, entertaining the idea that I could be someday an archaeologist. But when I decided to give a serious shot at drawing for a living there was not a big drama.

What was the strongest influence you had when you were growing up ( artists, movies, cartoons, comics etc.. ) ?
Definitely “bande dessinee” (french comics), TV cartoons (lots of anime at the time), books and roleplaying games. This last influence was really huge since it boosted my imagination like nothing else ever did. There was a lot of pressure over roleplaying games in the 80s in France, some lazy and ignorant journalists thought it was a smart idea to imply that players were mostly digging out graves and worshipping the devil. Roleplaying games gave me amazing friends, taught me english, made me read, laugh, create, interested me in the most varied subjects. 
Roleplaying games are simply amazing, I won't let people say otherwise.

Did you have a favourite subject to draw when you were a child and do you still have one today? If you do, what makes it so special?
I did not have a favorite subject, I drew tedious caricatures of my teachers, some ninja turtles, some knights with big swords... I don’t have any particular favorite subject to draw today, I like silly and organic, I like ancient and epic, I like anything that would be too complicated to build for real or to really serious to grow, Mostly I like my work to be believable in its shapes, its weight, its concepts, even and particularly if it makes absolutely no sense.

From the initial client idea to the final work: what goes through your mind when you're designing and what is the method you use when starting a project? Could you describe it?
First I usually freak out. I am not proud of it but this is what usually happens. I think I am not good enough, I can’t paint, I am a total fraud and they will expose me...etc. Then I remember that it is what I do for a living and that there has to be a reason. Then I gather some references I mostly won’t use. A lot of references. An awful lot. It helps me to relax to know that I have all that to back me up. Often I explore shapes by drawing series : I trace a line, draw something loose. If it is square shaped, then I do a triangle version, then a circle. If they ordered an actual illustration, I work the same way, varying the compositions, the camera angles. Then I fill up the page and render it. Like a kid, probably pulling my tongue, forgetting that people are paying me money to do it and that I will use this money to put food on the table and a roof over my kid’s head. If everything goes well I send it to the client.  For the longest time I felt confident until this point, but if they wanted color then I would freak out a little bit more. I recently realized I was not THAT bad with color. Even though I don’t have much of a method, I usually find a way to make it work.

What is your process in colouring your art and what type of tools and media do you use?
See ? I knew you would ask. As I just said I don’t have much of a method, it is mostly gut feeling, seriously. I would say that values make everything work 90% of the time and that color choices are mostly arbitrary. Color is a pain so the best way to deal with it is to gently ignore it and do something I have fun with.

What part of the creation process is the most fun and easy and what part is the hardest?
The hardest is beginning. It takes often forever. The first lines, the first choices are the hardest. But once you have a line on paper you have something to deal with. To me creativity is problem-solving at its core. Once I know where I am going, rendering is usually quite a nice phase, it is a little bit like day-dreaming, like finding some angry bulls or tea-pot shaped clouds in the sky.

What is a typical day for you, and who are the people you work/collaborate with?
It is not an extremely disciplined nor exciting routine (granted they are rarely both): I wake up early, check my emails and the news, have breakfast with my family, go to work, either at home in my studio or at the office. I usually begin my workday by checking the blog/streams I follow, download and organize some images then begin to work on whatever assignment I have been given. After dinner I watch TV, mostly series then read a little before going to sleep.

What are some of the things you have learned from other artists who you have worked with or whose work you have seen?
I have learnt that they are amazing and that it sucks not to be as good as they are. That there is not a single route that leads to “success”, whatever that means to you, that you always have to work very hard and that no one gets “born with it” and that the only “gift” that you can have is to want it so badly that, when as everybody you fail, you just get back on your feet and fall again, until you eventually get it. 

Is there something that you have designed that you are most proud of?
Probably a painting I did for the release of Croods, based on a tiny graphite thumbnail I had done 2 years before. For the first time I decided that I did not care if I was not a “painter” and just had fun. It looks simple but it was quite a leap of faith for me. The result encouraged me to keep working with that same attitude, it was really liberating.

What projects have you worked on in the past and what are you working on at the moment (if you can tell us)?
I worked on several feature animated movies : Astroboy, How to Train your Dragon, The Croods, How to train your Dragon 2. I also worked on a video game, Sonic Boom, and that was a terrific experience. Then there are a lot of development projects that did not happen or are being shelved for studios such as Dreamworks, Reel Fx or Paramount animation and a lot of smaller scale ones that I am not at liberty to talk about. I am currently working at Dreamworks on the upcoming “Larrikins” movie (2018).

What is your longterm career goal and what would your dream project be?
My longtime career goal is to keep drawing as a living. Nothing more, nothing less. It is a scientific fact that if you speak of your dream projects it has more than 99% chances to jinx them, so I’ll keep them for myself if you don’t mind.

Working for a company or freelancing: what suits you best? And why?
Probably working for a company. The relative job security, the scale of the projects and the artistic community are hard to beat if you ask me. If I was younger, single and had no kids, why not but mostly I find the romantic vision of freelancing to be a little bit “exaggerated” (to say it politely). You can spend days at a time without seeing an actual human being, stuck at your table to accommodate random deadlines, when you have no work lined up you worry so you don’t really rest, and then suddenly you have a ton of work and can’t do it with all the attention it should deserve. You might make more money but then you have to pay for healthcare, retirement, and you are taxed way more (this is if you live in the US). On the other hand it is quite nice to be able to have somewhat of a control on your schedule, no commute, the turnover in the projects is higher so you are not stuck on a nasty project for a year and a half, and you get all the excuses in the world to build your own man cave and call it a “studio”, which is quite nice.

What advice would you give to an artist who is dealing with an art-block? How do you boost your imagination and keep yourself creative?
It all depends  on the kind of “art block” this person is facing. To me the first step is often the hardest and besides kicking yourself in the butt, I don’t have a magical tip to give. If it is hardcore depression, then I would advise to see a doctor. Mostly, talking about it to other artist will at least make you realize we all suffer from the same issues to some extent. So you are not alone. Does it make you feel better ?

Concept art, animation, illustration, comics, there’s so many options to choose from. When you’re young, sometimes you know only one thing: you love to draw. What should a young artist take into consideration to make the right decision when choosing an artistic path?
I would recommend to get some serious information about each field, they can be quite different from one another, they will have a different impact on your life, even though the fundamentals can be similar. Through the Internet you now have access to a lot of very informative articles, videos that will give you quite a precise idea about the similarities and differences between all these fields. You can even contact some professionals that will probably answer, if you ask politely.

Many art teachers and schools suggest to their students that a commercial artist should always work in one consistent style if they wish to have a healthy career. In your own experience, do you believe this to be true?
I don’t know, I honestly never heard such thing. Ideally you should be able to switch from one style to another if you want to have more options. Then after, the risk is to lose yourself in the art of the chameleon. The problem a lot of artists have with “style” is very tricky, it hurts a lot of people. In my opinion, there is not much you can actively do about your “style”, I think it comes from your practice, your interests, the way you look at the world. It is a long journey where what matters is more the distance you are covering than the actual finish line.

If you had to recommend only one art book (a comic book, graphic novel, children book, ''how to'' book) to an artist, what would it be and why?
If there was only one book, well… that would be both convenient and terribly sad wouldn’t it ? I would have a really hard time to answer this question, what spoke to me won’t speak to you in the same way. I could give you a few of them though : “Faeries” from Alan Lee and Brian Froud, Franquin’s “Idees noires”, the “Desk” sketchbook of Claire Wendling, Sergio Toppi’s beautiful “Sharaz-de”.

What’s your point of view about the industry today: what are the expectation for someone who wants to make a living with an artistic career?
I only have been working for “the Industry” for a little less than ten years so it would be a little presumptuous of me to predict what it is going to bring to any young aspiring artist, especially since I can only talk about visual development/concept art, and a little bit about illustration. That said,  I can tell you that it is a shifting beast that you can’t really rely on, so you should focus on your fundamentals : what makes your work “unique”, and the pleasure of what you enjoy doing. I would also insist on the importance of curiosity, of widening your horizons. If you love spaceships you will soon realize than looking at other spaceships is quite a limited approach that will not bring you much. 

Who are the artists who inspire you the most today and what are some of your favourite designs out there?
Andre Franquin, Sergio Toppi, Claire Wendling, Rembrandt, Samuel Chamberlain, Victor Hugo, Gonzalo Carcamo
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We have a soft spot for hand drawn animation, what is your opinion about the future of this art form?
My opinion is that there should be WAY more of it, I can’t believe CG dominates the market. Regarding its future I have no idea, I would love to see more of it but I am obviously not the target.

Social networks, crowd funding websites, print on demand online service, you name it. New media on the internet are connecting the artists directly with their fans like never before. In your opinion, how is this affecting the industry and what are the pros and cons?
I love to complain but I have a hard time finding something negative about the whole phenomenon ;) It allows fans and aspiring artist to contact more established ones, it provides them with amazing resources, it permits artists to make a living without the usual intermediaries, it bypasses the very greedy schools (especially in the U.S) by providing reasonably priced classes and straight to the point tutorials. It gives artists an amazing visibility that feed their bottomless egos but also helps to establish a very helpful presence that makes a real difference to get attention and most importantly jobs. It also facilitates the necessary networking that helps you to stay aware of what is coming and going in the industry. If you twist my arm a little bit I can  find a few negative points though. As it is more generally the case on the Internet, this maelstrom of information and services can become a little noisy with a lot of people that don’t have much to say but say it very loudly. It can also be a little depressing, when you are going through a not so productive phase to see the amazing work others are bringing to the table. I know it can also be motivating but let’s face it, usually artists are not the most strong emotionally so sometimes, it is a good idea to put things in perspective or to simply unplug yourself from the loud and very talkative digital world to go back to the basics, to take your time, to just rest. 

Finally, Where can we see your art online and get in touch with you? How can we buy your creations and support your work?
Here are all the links: my Website ( nicolasweis.com/blog ) Facebook Page ( facebook.com/Nicolas.Weis.Conceptartist ) YouTube ( youtube.com/c/NicolasWeischannel ) Pinterest ( pinterest.com/lekola ) Tumblr ( lekola.tumblr.com ) LinkedIn ( linkedin.com/in/nicolasweis ) and Twitter ( twitter.com/NicolasWeis ). I also have an Etsy store where I sell decks of my “Dragoons” cards and some originals: ( etsy.com/shop/NicolasWeis )

Thank you Nicolas :)