Hello everyone and welcome to the first in a series of spotlight posts focused on cover artists/illustrators. I am excited to be doing these posts as I believe that cover art is something to be celebrated. Today I have Eric Nyquist answering a few questions about his work. I adore Nyquist’s pieces, they are vivid, modern, complex and most importantly: memorable.
I am so glad that Eric agreed to kick off this series. He is a serious talent and I hope you all enjoy the Q&A I have put together for today’s post. First off I will share a few details about Eric Nyquist and his work, then on to the Q&A!
About Eric Nyquist
Eric Nyquist is an American artist working in Los Angeles. After graduating from Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, he began a career as a working artist and illustrator. His body of work includes meticulous drawings, paintings, and collages that merge the organic and the industrial.
Nyquist chooses the line as his tool in creating dense narratives so detailed they straddle the representative and the abstract. His work disrupts stereotypes and forces the viewer to go beyond simply “looking” at things. Each drawing asks us to see analytically and not just physically.
In a technological age of rapid image making, Nyquist uses classical methods to create contemporary results. From etching to lithography, he upholds the craft of print-making while expanding the possibilities of the medium. The printing process informs his drawings—as he arranges layers and screens of color and texture into each piece.
His work has been commissioned by institutions including NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art and The New York Times. He has also collaborated with fellow artists including Beck, Doug Aitken, and Jakob Dylan. His illustrations have been published all over the world in magazines, books, and newspapers including the 70th Anniversary Penguin Orange Collection.
Q&A with Eric Nyquist
Could you tell us a bit about your career as a designer/artist?
I’ve been working in Los Angeles as an artist for over ten years. I’ve been lucky enough to work with a huge variety of amazing clients ranging from the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory to the New York Times. People often ask me what I do for a living, and it’s kind of a long answer. I always tell people I’m an artist, but invariably they want to know more, and the truth is—I do a lot of things. Simply put, it’s a combination of personal work, commissions, and teaching.
Do you work with specific genres of books or are you open to any sort of project?
I’m not exclusively interested in one genre over another. But I do have a process I keep consistent regardless of the subject matter. I read the entire book before I work on sketches. I enjoy it, I always learn something, and I’m inevitably inspired by the author’s knowledge and detail. While I’ve done work for titles across genres, my personal work has always paralleled nature, and as a result, I’ve done several books about pressing global issues like climate change, extinction and natural disasters.
For the Penguin Orange Collection I had the opportunity to work on a less stereotypical cover for Shirley Jackon’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle. I really got into drawing granules of white sugar spilling out of a silver, Victorian bowl. I’m always excited by the challenge of working with visuals that are outside my usual subject matter.
What sort of challenges do you face as an artist in this industry?
I have to constantly work at self-promotion. It takes time and takes time away from the work itself, but I always realize how important it is when I get a project that’s come in from doing that work. Clients from all over the world find me on book shelves, in newspapers, or via my Instagram (@ericbnyquist). Putting the work I do out into the world helps bring in more work, so it’s an important step. Another challenge with being an artist is the fact that it’s totally subjective. Portfolio shows, for example, can be humbling. I’ve learned not to assume every person is going to fall in love with my work. People have their own opinions, and I can hear some pretty discouraging words sometimes, like “your work reminds me of this person…etc.” But, in truth, the majority of the time it’s a wonderful experience.
I also think that being an artist is incredibly personal. It’s not always easy for us to socialize. I went to an American Illustration party a few years ago and was introduced to a famous illustrator who creates all types of amazing art about social issues. I told him I liked all the drawings he’d been posting on Instagram, and he totally snubbed me. He just turned around and started talking to someone else. It can be a shock when someone who makes beautiful work doesn’t turn out to have a matching personality. At the same time, I’ve met other famous artists who are completely warm and open during a first meeting. Every interaction I’ve had leads me to think it’s important for artists to build each other up. Earlier in my career I myself blew off a few reach outs from less experienced artists, but I realized that it actually hurts our industry. The supportive friendships I have with other artists have come in handy over the years. It’s important to have someone you can call and ask for advice. It also feels great to recommend an artist you know and respect for a gig. It’s important for artists to be kind, work hard, and ultimately embrace each other (even the young cringe-worthy ones.) We all start somewhere, and there’s always going to be someone more experienced and less experienced than us. How we treat each other counts.
Have you got any projects going on at the moment that you could give some insights on?
I just finished a really fun project for Jeff Vandermeer’s Borne Bestiary. Jeff has written a companion piece to his latest novel Borne. I illustrated a few of the 120 creatures that exist in the story. It will be out sometime this summer.
Where do you draw inspiration from when you set out to design a piece?
If I’m working on a book or editorial illustration, I like to read the story first. I get a lot of inspiration and detail from that experience. The story often sets a mood, so I immediately start thinking about color and symbolism, as the story unfolds. I’m always inspired by nature; I honestly believe I can’t make anything more beautiful than what already exists around us. Almost every image I make is an exercise in weaving together my imagination with my observations.
What is your favourite design/piece you have done so far?
This is a question that I get asked a lot, but it’s really hard to answer. My favorite piece is usually the one I’ve most recently made. It’s the closest to my current state of mind. Looking back at older work is like opening a time capsule for who I was an artist at that point in my life.
Do you prefer doing bigger works of art or lots of smaller designs?
I don’t prefer one over the other, but I gain something different from working big vs. small. When I work at a large scale, I am aware of how my entire body works in tandem with my ideas. When I work on something compact, it feels like I’m preparing an illuminated manuscript or something very precious to go out into the world. It feels much closer to writing, and I’m able to express an idea more quickly. It’s important for me to work both ways.
Could you give us a brief overview of how you plan/approach a cover design?
As I’ve said, I begin by reading the entire story—usually an early edition. I keep a Post-It note with me, and I mark down visual words like the color blue, skull drum, or plaited hair. After finishing the story I wait for a few days. I give myself some time to absorb and process what I just experienced, and ideas start to form in my head. Then I create A LOT of sketches. I don’t think there is such a thing as too many sketches. It’s a bit of a hurricane, but once I start sketching I keep coming up with one idea, then another, then another, then another. Some ideas get tossed away, but they might lead to the best idea.
What is the best part about being an artist in your opinion?
Art has introduced me to rock stars, pro athletes, scientists, authors, doctors, and a lot of other artists. If I wasn’t a working artist, I would probably still be trying to draw all day, so it’s a major bonus that people pay me to do it!
Have you recently read a book or article that you would recommend to me and the readers of this post?
A favorite recent read is Jeff Vandermeer’s Borne. I don’t want to give you any spoilers, but it’s an exciting, apocalyptic tale with a flying bear and a bunch of creepy foxes.
Thank you so much to Eric for taking time out of his busy schedule to answer my questions. I think his work is superb. The intricacies, the colour and the complexity are a gift to the eye. Thank you all for stopping by to check out the first spotlight post here on Always Trust In Books. Please show your support for the post in the comments and then hopefully I can get plenty more artists on board. Until next time I see you, happy reading!