Artist Profile: Nathan Nankervis

Illustrator Nathan Nankervis makes freelance look easy. I could tell from the whiteboard covered in jobs and sticky note calendar covering the wall that it's far from, but when someone is as naturally talented as Nathan, they look like they're doing anything with ease. Graduating from Swinburne with honors only a few years ago, Nathan is already well into an illustrious career that would give any university student hope. His client list is impressive, his fun spirit and good attitude is contagious and his work speaks a maturity beyond his years. Getting to photograph his space and learn more about him was the best way to break a long hiatus from interviews on the OJS blog. 

Nathan talks about approaching illustration from a graphic design background, early press in K-Zone and shares a playlist that spans from Anderson Paak. to 2001 P. Diddy and back to Earth, Wind & Fire.


Hi Nathan! Thank you for being part of an artist profile with On Jackson Street. Can you start by introducing yourself – telling us a little about what you do and where you’re based?

Thanks for having me! I'm Nathan :-) I'm a graphic artist, digital illustrator and designer. I've always been a little confused with my title but I think those three are the best way to describe what I do. I like to have fun and smile, laugh and put googly eyes on things.

I'm based in Melbourne—Box Hill to be specific (my favourite place in the world). I usually work from my home studio, but I was recently granted a scholarship with Magic Johnston, which is a creative shared space in Collingwood. So I switch between the two studio's depending on how I'm feeling. 

What is your earliest memory of creating?

I don't have the best memory, but I do remember I use to enter K-zone drawing/colouring competitions almost weekly when I was little. Actually the first place my work was published was a K-Zone magazine. 8 year old Nathan was making moves. 

Going back even further, when I was about 3 or 4 I remember having meltdowns when mum tried to dress me simply because I wanted to dress myself. I'd cause a ruckus, kicking and screaming, throwing my clothes across the room. Mum soon gave up and I dressed myself from then on. I like to think the 'creative control' I had early on played a massive part in shaping my style. Thanks mum.

In the past few years, you've built a prolific portfolio of work; running a successful design practice that focuses on integrating your illustrative style through both personal and corporate projects. It's incredible to see your distinct style applied to so many scenarios and clients, but what would you say is your ideal job to be working on? How does the commercial world balance with your more self-driven initiations?

Thank you :-) My absolute dream job would be to design a toy. I'm a grown ass kid. I still get really excited over toys. I'll make sure I have my own toy before I stop breathing. I also have this overwhelming urge to create a big colourful sculpture and stick it amongst the sad colour palette of Melbourne's concrete jungle.

My self-driven projects are starting to balance out with my commercial projects for the first time ever. To the point that they're taking over, which is very new to me. I like commercial projects because of the confinements of a brief, it forces me to think laterally and find new ways to push boundaries. Self-initiated projects are the exact opposite, I can do whatever I like, which is not always a good thing. I find them a lot harder to complete because I don't have a client to say "yup, that’s it! I'm happy". I have to be my own client and I'm a lot harder to please. Often my personal projects are off-shoots of my commercial ones. Ideas that got cut down or discarded by a client or taken in a different direction than I envisioned. I find myself resonating towards these personal projects more so than just making one up for the sake of it. With that being said, the more I explore my own projects the more it sparks new ones. I'm still very new to this illustration game, coming from a strict graphic design background, clients and end users were always front of mind. I saw myself as a tool to create some else's dream. I decided to pursue illustration to live out my own dream. As I've slowly transitioned, I've had to reteach myself new ways of approaching my craft. Strategically forgetting ingrained design traits when necessary. Self-initiated projects have and still play a huge part in my transition and are crucial in bringing Nathan out in my work.

What are some things that consistently influence your work?

My childhood influences my work a lot. My fondest memories are as a child. No worries, no problems, just lots of fun and smiles. I recycle the happy times in my work, and my childhood happens to have a lot of them. I like to laugh and joke around and not take things too seriously. I think my work is a pretty good representation of myself and my personality. 

Detail your ideal/favourite day.

It would start with a sleep-in of course. I'd remain dressed head to toe in snug attire for the duration of the day, some sort of looney tunes garment would grace my shoulder blades.

My confidants would bless me with their presence—a prerequisite to any good day. Practical jokes and ramblings of utter nonsense would be in abundance. Hoops would be half-heartedly shot. Delicious food inhaled. Life's issues, which we know little about, would be passionately debated. Implausible and outlandish scenarios would be presented and over analysed in fullest of depth. Tempers would flare over Playstation duels which would escalate into a board game Royale. A true and honourable battle of wit. Taunting, cheating and under the table dealings would decide the victor. Excessive boasting would make losers sore. Laughs shared over a post-game meal would rebuild burnt bridges. And whatever else the crew wants to do I'm down. 

I love that your studio and surroundings always seem to be such a graphic amalgamation of you and your work. What are some of your favourite things in your space?

Why thank you. When I was about 9 I entered a competition on the back of a violet crumble wrapper. It was my Mums wrapper. I don't eat violet crumbles.  Violet crumbles. Violet crumbles. Violet crumbles. Violet crumbles sound funny with an 's'.

I can't remember what the competition question was exactly but it was one of those "in 25 words or less..." kind of things. Turns out I won. Prepubescent Nathan was like half leprechaun. Never really seemed to lose a competition. Not too sure if leprechauns win a lot of competitions but I figured they're Irish so they're pretty lucky. They're also magical. Anyway, guess what the prize was? A giant. Illuminated. Spider-man bust. 

Who gives out giant illuminated busts these days. No one does that anymore. The 90's were just a better time to be alive. How can I not love my childhood? 

What are the main themes you're trying to portray through your work?

I know I sound like a broken record but definitely positivity, optimism, energy, life, fun, humour :-)

Anything exciting coming up in the future that we should keep an eye out for? 

Let me see, I recently finished up a super fun shopping centre food court adventure map! Filled with yummy food characters and all. I collaborated with an industrial design studio—ISM objects, on a lighting installation. It's pretty much a big ball of fun. I've also completed my first solo exhibition which I'm dying to show the world, but still need to decide on a few things and hopefully get financial backing. I'm working on an alphabet AND I may or may not be collaborating with one of Melbourne's coolest restaurants on a little something soon, so stay tuned.

Lastly, what would be on your ultimate playlist for a day in the studio?

No fair. That's way too hard. You can't make me choose! I'm listening to music from the second I wake up to the minute I shut my eyes so my playlist would be a billion songs long. Usually my days start off with some loud ignorant rap music to get the blood pumping, it will slowly transition into some soulful hip hop and most likely end my day with some calming jazz/soul or celebratory groovy disco beats, that's if I've been productive.

It would take me years to create an ultimate playlist but I can list some songs that got bumped in the studio today :-)

My day was productive :-)

Find more of Nathan's work here and here. Artwork supplied by artist, photographs taken by Tatanja Ross (On Jackson Street).