No Choice But to Stan: Interview with Nicola Baalbergen

We sat down with Capetonian illustrator and concept artist Nicola Baalbergen to learn a bit more about her practice, experiences and hopes for the future.

Check out her amazing Instagram and Artstation pages!

Tell us a bit about yourself and what you’re currently doing?

Hey there! My name is Nix Baalbergen and I'm currently working in the concept art industry as an educator. I studied concept art for 1 year at the Academy of Digital Art and now currently lecture there part-time. I also work as a freelance illustrator and production artist for 2D games.

What are your main inspirations and who are some artists you look up to?

My main love of art is due to the comic series Calvin and Hobbes. I was obsessed with the comic series when I was younger and often tried to recreate some of the panels and characters I loved. From there I discovered the world of art online and fell in love with the concept art industry. My favourite artist is Sinix from youtube as I found his channel a few years ago and he constantly inspires me with his excellent use of colour and shape design. Some other artists I look up to are Rembrandt (for his use of lighting and composition), Kim Jung Gi, Darek Zabrocki and Craig Mullins.

What do you consider the greatest contribution to your growth as an artist?

My greatest contribution to my growth as an artist has to be my friends @pictheas and @erujayy on Instagram. Without them pushing me and constantly inspiring me I never would've come as far as I have today. I also wouldn't have improved as fast as I did without my education at the Academy or the time I spent studying online using all the amazing resources and content on the internet such as this website.

What would you tell your 18-year-old self about your career path and lessons?

This is an interesting question for me as I'm 20 with not too much life experience yet! My advice to younger artists has always been to take every opportunity you can to learn. If you're truly passionate about art and your progress as an artist, you'll find a way to make art a part of your daily life. What helped me career-wise was definitely my dedication. I set a goal to do a daily painting for every day of the year and that really pushed my growth and got me noticed in the freelance world.

Tell me about the most difficult project you’ve worked on and how you managed to finish it?

The most difficult project I've worked on was a personal one with a friend. We tried to create a demo for a game within 3 months in our spare time. The demo is finished and was very stressful due to the time constraints and the fact that I'd never worked in-game before! I managed to finish because of the passion myself and my friend both had for this project. It worked out really well and I hope to take it further one day.

In stressful situations, how do you find ways to persevere?

I'm not the best when working under stressful situations and I still have a lot to learn with how to handle the pressure! Currently, when working on an intense project, I make sure to find ways to bring balance back into my life. I'm a bit of a work-a-holic and I've found it's important to me to go outside every now and then!

Are you currently trying to learn any specific skill, and how do you go about learning it.?

I'm currently trying to learn how to create an industry-ready portfolio. I find that looking at ArtStation and youtube portfolio reviews from artists like Marco Bucci, Bobby Chiu and Proko really helps me to upgrade my work. When fixing my portfolio I can also identify my weaker areas and spend time practising that specific skill.

What’s been the most useful or educational resource you’ve made use of in your career?

I find that doing Master Studies has been the most useful exercise in my career. Whenever I don't know how to approach a project or a particular area of art (such as environment design or splash screen illustrations) I find the best artist out there that specializes in that area and I try to recreate their art. The most important part of this exercise is trying to reverse engineer their work process. So I think about how they created that particular design/painting. Did they sketch first in values or in lines? When did they take their work to colour? How did they approach rendering different muscles or materials? It's very useful trying to get inside the heads of the amazing artists we look up to today!

What is your dream project and can you tell us a little more about it?

My dream project would be to paint goblin creatures all day and get paid for it! But to answer the question more seriously, I would love to take the game project I worked on last year to complete. Unfortunately, I'm lacking in a lot of skills needed for that dream to come true but I'm slowly working towards it! Hopefully, in 5 years I'll have a game title under my belt as well.

Written by Dante Ludolf