Nikolas Ilic

Where did you grow up and when did you decide to become an artist? 
I grew up in small town outside of Toronto, Canada with a population of around eight thousand. Since I lived in such a small rural place there was not to much to do so me and my brother would always do some kind of art. We drew from comics, and cartoons that we watched and even made our own comics and characters. I don't think I fully decided to become an artist until after high school.

Did you go to an art school or are you self taught? How did you develop your skills?
Since I always enjoyed drawing and making art as part of my childhood I took that into highschool and continued to take art classes. My highschool was definitely not much of an art school but I kept at it throughout. It wasn’t until after highschool that I decided to get specifically into animation as I had a friend attending Sheridan College taking  the Art Fundamentals program hoping to get into the animation program. I took a day to visit him and he showed me around the animation department and campus then I decided that this is what I wanted to do with my life and applied later that year! 

Have you always been supported in your artistic path or has it been challenging to let your family and friends understand your choice?
Luckily, for me  having support from family and friends was never really a problem. Both of parents come from an artistic family. My dad is also a fine artist who paints with mainly oil. So they were always very understanding of my choice of becoming an artist and understood the process and time that is involved.

What was the strongest influence you had when you were growing up ( artists, movies, cartoons, comics etc.. ) ?
When I was growing up me and my brother were really into comic books. Mainly because of the art, so I would say that is one of the strongest influences growing up. We were huge fans of X-men, Spiderman, and Spawn to name a few. We would draw certain characters and pages all the time and then ink the drawings to try and capture the same look that the artist achieved. Aside from comics, I loved all the Warner Bro cartoons growing up. Tazmanian Devil , Bugs bunny and Coyote and The Road Runner. And lastly the classic animated disney films such as Jungle Book and Robin Hood were a huge influence of mine.

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?
Growing up it probably would have been animals and more specifically dogs. I have always had a dog around in my life as far as i can remember. Today I still have a dog in my life and I still do love drawing them! I also enjoy drawing from history such as Greeks, Romans, Vikings and Medieval themed things. I find history fascinating and rich of folklore and legends.

From the initial client idea to the final work: what goes through your mind when you are designing and what is the method you use when starting a project? Could you describe it?
Usually I will start with very small thumbnail sketches to build the shapes and silhouettes of the design. I usually do this because if the shape is clear and readable in such a small thumbnail it will definitely read once it's scaled up. From the thumbnails I will scale up the drawing and start flushing out details and get more specific with the design.

What is your process in colouring your art and what type of tools and media do you use?
I mainly use photoshop exclusively to colour my art. Usually I will start with a rough sketch of the design i'm going to paint. I don't go into to making the sketch to pretty as ultimately I loose the sketch when I add paint and colour. Mainly getting the proportions and placement of general features. Once I have the sketch that I am happy with I will block in the shapes and get the silhouette to how I want and start using clipping masks to add details and textures within the shape. Once I have the design painted I may add some final touches like overlays or lighting to give it that extra little punch.

What part of the creation process is the most fun and easy and what part is the hardest?
For me the last step of the process is the most fun and easy where you already have the design and now you just gotta make it look pretty. I would say the hardest part is coming up with the design that works with what you are trying to get across to the audience. Even though it's the hardest part so to speak it's still a really fun part of the process! Playing with the characters proportions and characteristics to get the personality you are after is definitely very rewarding. 

What are some of the things you have learned from other artists who you have worked with or whose work you have seen?
One of the most inspiring people I got to work with was Craig Kellman. I was a big fan of his work before hand and learning from him was a great opportunity and learning experience. Learning how to push poses to further a character's personality,  and keeping poses clean and simple for a quick and immediate read were very useful tips. Another valuable thing I learnt was how to use character proportions and shape language to further strengthen a character's personality. 

Is there something that you have designed that you are most proud of?
Every time I  think there is a design that I really enjoy I think to myself that is the best design I have ever done. That feeling usually lasts for about a day. I look at it again the following day and think, well that could have been better. However, this is necessary as artists this is what keeps us going and makes us better!

What projects have you worked on in the past and what are you working on at the moment (if you can tell us)?
Right now I am working at JibJab Studios in Los Angeles. We just wrapped up a preschool show called “ Ask the Storybots” You can find it on Netflix for streaming. I have also done work for numerous places including Illumination Entertainment, Sony Pictures Animation, Cartoon Network, Harpercollins, Pearson Publishing, and Toonbox Entertainment to name a few.

What is your long term career goal and what would your dream project be?
My long term career goal would be to open up my own small studio of select artists making original content and pitches. I think it would be an amazing experience where everyone could learn and collab from one another and make amazing things! 

Working for a company or freelancing: what suits you best? And why?
I would say they each have their own benefits. Working in house you get the social side and also the great pleasure of learning from fellow colleagues. It can get a bit routine like which some people like but that's where freelancing is exciting. Everyday is different, you can juggle multiple projects at once and decide what to work on when. I think freelancing allows more time in your life and gives you more freedom. 

What advise would you give to an artist who is dealing with an art-block? How do you boost your imagination and keep yourself creative?
When I get an art block I just accept it. I step back away from art and relax. Watch movies,socialize , play some games, go outside and just enjoy life. I think getting away from things and having time for yourself away from art is very important. I find that the time I took for myself will naturally give me inspiration and a new sense of creativity to get back at making some art.

Concept art, animation, illustration, comics, there are lots of choices. 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 actually would suggest to just do what you love to do and draw what excites you! Being young and starting out I wouldn't restrict yourself to do something a certain way and to just keep exploring your artistic abilities.Try different mediums, techniques and approaches. That way you will naturally find your path as an artist.

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 believe that every artist should have their own artistic voice and say and that's what makes them unique. However you can't expect every client to want the “you” for their project. For example in TV productions you are having to match the style of the TV show so it is important to be able to adapt to certain styles and aesthetics so you can always have work. That being said it is very important to have your own style too so people come to you for your own art because ultimately that's what keeps you going.

If you had to recommend only one art book (a comic book, graphic novel, children's book, ''how to'' book) to a fellow artist, what would it be and why?
I would recommend Mirsolav Sasek’s book “This is the World”.  In my opinion Sasek is the master of simplicity. Not only does he use simple basic shapes in his illustration but they are oozing with appeal and visual stunning shape language. It is definitely worth looking at and studying hands down!

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 think that the industry today has so many options now due to the internet. It's a great time to start an artistic career. Both in finding schooling and work. There are so many online schooling options now taught by professionals in the industry and for a much cheaper price than a College or University. Also so much work can be done remotely now thanks to the internet, so it doesn't matter where in the world you are, you can still work for big companies and find work.

Who are the artists who inspire you the most today and what are some of your favourite designs out there?
There are so many artists that inspire me in the industry today! Though some of my absolute favourite artists I love to study from are the great illustrators Mirsolav Sasek and Cliff Roberts.Their designs are so clear and they use simplicity in their designs which have such appealing shape language. Its definitely something that inspires me as an artist to strive for when designing.

We have a soft spot for hand drawn animation, what is your opinion about the future of this art form?
I highly respect traditional animation.I think it's a great art form and that it is the roots of animation . It should never be lost and should be the fundamental stepping stone for someone who is starting to study animation.That being said in today's world it might not be so practical in the industry as it once was. But I am glad it see that it is being utilized in short films and even features still.

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 think that the internet has done wonders for both the industry and artists working in it. It's giving artists all over the world the opportunity to work and connect with studios and artists they admire. Its very easy to get in touch with someone you admire through social media and you would be surprised at how much artists like connecting and with their fans. I would say the only con is really just knowing your limits. You don't want to keep pestering or constantly messaging someone, but rather be respectful as they are busy just like you probably are.

Finally, Where can we see your art online and get in touch with you? How can we buy your creations and support your work?
I currently do not have a online shop setup but I do plan on doing that someday in the near future! For now you can see my work and updates on Tumblr ( nikolas-ilic.tumblr.com ), Twitter ( twitter.com/nikolas_ilic ) and on my Facebook Page ( facebook.com/ArtofNikolasIlic ).

Thank you Nikolas :)