Pro Artist Spotlight: Nathan Fowkes on Activating Inspiration Anytime
“...My parents had concerns... But my point of view is that there are people out there comfortably working as artists so why not me?” - Nathan Fowkes
You may or may not have seen our recent announcement for the premium sketchbook range The Perfect Sketchbook: Signature Series.
Vegan friendly (as always), 44 pages of Italy’s finest watercolour paper, and the perfect B5 size for your paintings - could we wish for anything more Perfect?
In anticipation of the launch, the one and only Nathan Fowkes agreed to have a chat with us on his inspiration and his artwork.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with the name (just like this rookie *points aggressively to myself*), Nathan is a veteren entertainment industry artist with credits on 12 animated feature films including 'How to Train Your Dragon', 'Rio 2', 'Ferdinand' and several projects within the Shrek Universe.
He’s also sought after as a consultant for game studios such as Blizzard Entertainment, Disney Interactive and Ubisoft.
(Short) Intros over, let’s dive straight into the interview.
When did you realise you wanted to be an artist?
I grew up in a little place between LA and San Francisco - right where the flat plains of the San Joaquin Valley meet the rolling hills and canyons that eventually lead to the ocean.
A family friend accepted a local job after seeing the hills covered with lush springtime green grasses and ornamented with brilliant patches of wildflowers - it was much more attractive than he expected. However, come summer time, all that lush beautiful growth had turned to dry yellow and brown. He said that he wanted to turn around and drive back.
To me, even in summer, those hills were magical.
In the evening, the red light of sunset would create amazing patterns of shadow across the hills, and the dry grasses would turn blazing red where they were illuminated.
In the shadows, the blueish skylight would turn the yellow fields to a shimmering yellow-green. I knew that those patterns of shimmering colour were something special, I wanted to become an artist and learn how to put that experience down in paint.
It’s incredible someone else’s reaction to a place could influence your aspirations as an artist.
I'd say art is very much about communicating.
There are many discussions and essays about what art really is, I don't think it can be exactly defined, but the essence of it seems to be visual communication.
When we see something that is emotionally moving, we have this intense desire to capture it and make it permanent for everyone to see and hopefully enjoy.
So how do you seek inspiration?
The starting point for me is to try and get myself into an inspired, enthusiastic state of mind.
I went to a concert in Las Vegas and at the very beginning of the concert the audience was kind of dead, but the band was so talented at engaging and exciting the audience that by the halfway point they had every person on their feet and dancing.
It was an extraordinary performance that went beyond the music, those musicians knew how to engage and excite an audience! I left feeling that my artwork should have more of that engaging visual emotion.
I started a little journal where, each time I had an experience that inspired me to be a better artist, I would write it down.
I refer back to it whenever I need a little help getting back to that state of mind.
When do you decide to work digitally or traditionally?
My “day job” is working as a conceptual artist for animated movies and that work is all painted digitally.
So many hours of digital painting, I find myself itching to get out the traditional paints in my free time. Usually that means getting outside, but I also have my home studio set up with stations for both digital and traditional painting.
When I grow weary of staring at my computer screen, I'll take a break and do some sketching in charcoal or watercolours and gouache. Then deadlines start looming and I switch back to my digital painting projects.
This is my way of being extra productive.
Take a break from painting by doing more painting.
What mediums do you like to work with?
Back in art school, I used oils for fine art painting, and acrylics for commercial illustration. I believed myself proficient in both, but when I took up landscape painting, they were a disaster; the oil paint materials took too long to set up and the amount of care to transport wet paintings was taxing.
But I loved oil paint, especially the way you can combine washes and opaque painting, I wanted that quality in my landscapes, but I also needed convenience.
I experimented with acrylic and gouache but found myself constantly fighting the medium as the paints dried out in my palette, despite all kinds of schemes to keep them wet.
Watercolour dries out just as quickly, but it just takes a spritz of water to bring them back to life, but the quality of opacity that I like in other mediums was mostly absent.
For that reason, I've been willing to take on the extra trouble of using white gouache with the watercolours. I just squeeze out fresh white rather than trying to dig into the dried white on the palette.
This gives me the quick convenience that I need, while allowing a technique not too different from my approach with acrylics and oils.
So I've been so excited about The Perfect Sketchbook because absolutely, hands down, my favourite artist material is paper.
I love a good quality heavyweight paper that supports the artists medium.
The Perfect Sketchbook paper feels great to work with, it takes watercolour washes beautifully as well as thick strokes and dry brushing with opaque gouache.
[ Nathan's artwork 'Jerusalem' on the original Perfect Sketchbook ]
Want to test out the books Nathan’s so excited about for yourself?
Edit:The Perfect Sketchbook Signature Series are now available for purchase in our online store!
It is a LIMITED DROP!
The drop will be limited to only 600 bundles, so get in quick or risk missing the opportunity to have the same books as Nathan Fowkes!
“Practice, practice, practice… Then get up early, and practice some more.”
How do you like to get into an inspired mindset? Leave your thoughts and comments below!