This week I have the pleasure of introducing you to Nina Mata. You may recognize her first piece of art, since it is one that she sent in to be shown off with the other February Illustrations. Nina has been drawing for as long as she can remember. In 1996, she attended the High School of Art & Design where she concentrated in Commercial Arts minored in cheerleading, film, and boys. In 2004, she switched from Fine Arts and majored in Illustration at The Fashion Institute of Technology.
Since then she has been freelancing full-time in illustration and graphic design working with a variety of cliente. She currently is a 2D concept artist for a social gaming company. Nina says, “I love and truly enjoy what I do!” She specializes in character development, illustrating for the children’s market, editorial illustrations, children’s books illustration.
Here’s Nina: The Process
My process has changed over the course of 2 years, and it continues to change as I hone in my style, for example I have completely transitioned to digital from conceptual sketches to final works (though on occasions I will go back to a basic paper and pencil). Although my technique is constantly changing and ever evolving, there are certain steps that remain the same.
I usually start out with a few rough sketches, study the place, person, and or setting, and figure out the best way to execute the layout. I love close up shots of my characters I think the face can express so much more than the body sometimes. After I get a general idea of how I might want the finish to look like I start tightening up my sketch. Now days it’s been a lot easier for me to manipulate my sketches exactly how I want them (without wasting paper) since I can work with many different layers on Photoshop. If the work is for a client I’ll tighten up the entire sketch, but for my promotional pieces and personal work I’ll usually just sketch out the main subject and let it “tell me” about its background, it’s much more fun that way.
After the sketches are laid out how I want them, I’ll move on to coloring. Since I work digitally I usually set up a layer strictly for my color palette to save a little time looking for colors. I like to bring in my training as a traditional artist in adjacent with my digital work by first doing an under painting, especially with the skin tones, I’ll usually paint it a layer of under tone (cool purple) on top of the actual skin color.
Once I have a general rough coloring in place I would add a layer of texture on top to add a little body and a sense of hand painted look about it. Sometimes, I’ll add the texture in the beginning so I know how saturated to keep the color palette.
You went to the High School of Art and Design in NYC. How was that decision made for you? Since these types of schools are not available in many parts of the country, I think it might be interesting to hear a little bit about how someone gets into a high school like this and a little bit about what the advantages this type of school provides for its students.
Deciding to go to the H.S. of Art and Design was easy. I grew up in a very creative family so creating art was a big part of my upbringing. Choosing to go to a high school where I would be surrounded by a creative community just made sense. The application process, and convincing my parents I wanted to be an artist were the most challenging obstacles. Applying to the HS of Art and Design involved a portfolio review and a skill test which evaluated your talents and ability to draw within specific time restrictions. I think this really prepared me for my career early on in life about presentation and knowing what types of work to show to a specific audience. Once I got accepted they made me choose between commercial arts or architecture as a disciplinary major. I chose commercial arts where I was taught the basics of creating visually compelling illustrations for advertising and publishing. Going to the High School of Art and Design was great since all types of creativity was encouraged and appreciated. Who wouldn’t love going to a high school where art (my favorite subject) was 2 hours long?
Was all your training in digital art or did you study traditional painting also?
Actually very little of my training was digital art. My instructors we’re established as traditional artists for the most part and knew very little about new media. I knew times were changing and I had to change with it, so digital art was something I explored thoroughly on the side.
You say that you are a freelance artist. How did that happen? Did your school get you so much work, that it was easy to step into immediately being able to make a living on your own?
No not at all. My experiences as a freelance artist has felt like one big roller coaster ride of emotions. After college, I landed a job as a graphic designer. Although it provided a stable income I realized it just wasn’t the career I wanted to pursue. So in 2010 with no potential clients, leads, and a vague plan to succeed, I quit my job to freelance full-time. It was really hard at first. I knew very little about the industry and about where and how to get work. I eventually started landing clients through word of mouth, sending inquiries and promotional materials to companies, and by establishing a strong on-line presence.
Are there any tips you can share that might help other illustrators be able to make a living doing freelance art?
– Research your industry, look out for trends and how you might be able to incorporate them into your body of work.
– Don’t hesitate to contact potential clients. You could find an opportunity or get some great advice for future reference. You never know unless you go out there
– Take advantage of social media. A strong on line presence really does help. Create a blog, join online communities, and post work up on relevant art blogs. The more eyes you have on your work the better your chances are of landing opportunities. Also, don’t underestimate the power of meta tags. They work!
Do you feel that attending and studying illustration at The Fashion Institute of Technology help develop your style?
Yes it did. My style has developed even more since then, but being fortunate enough to have the training I received was a huge stepping stone into finding my style. The lessons I’ve learned during my four years in FIT are invaluable.
Do you own a Graphic Tablet? If so, which one? Do you love it? Do you use it all the time?
I have a few tablets but I’ve been using my Wacom Bamboo tablet a lot. Nothing fancy but I really do love it! I recently bought a Wacom Bamboo Stylus for my iPad to sketch out quick ideas. Its a pretty good investment especially if your constantly on the go.
What software programs do you use? Photoshop? Painter? Illustrator? etc.?
I use Photoshop 80% of the time from conceptual sketches to final artwork. Sometimes I’ll use Illustrator to create some quick vectors. I’ve been using Illustrator to set the foundation for straight edged work such as buildings or machines and then I bring them back to Photoshop to shade and highlight.
How many hours a day do you work on your craft? Do you stick to a schedule?
I try my absolute best to stick to my schedule. Prioritizing is definitely key especially if I have deadlines to meet. My hours fluctuate from 8 to 12 hour days and sometimes even longer. I enjoy my work so I really don’t mind the long hours. Downtime is important too. So I make sure my weekends are work-free (most of the time) to unwind and regroup.
Where do you do your art?
I work from home. I’ve converted our spare room into a tiny studio. In here I have my drawing table, easel and a plethora of art supplies that sparingly get used since I’m mostly on my Mac for work.
How did you get to sign with Artist Rep. Christina Tugeau?
I did a lot of research on finding the right representation for my style. I decided to contact Christina after seeing her website and the list of talentsed artist that she represents. I was thrilled when she replied with an enthusiastic interest in my work. Coincidentally, I was also approached by another agent who was interested in representing me but it didn’t seem to be a right fit. I knew the other agent would not be able to give me the guidance that Christina could. I think it’s important to have that “spark” with your agent and Christina and I have that. I’m totally proud to be a CAT artist!
What direction would you like to see your career take?
I’d like to establish myself as a children’s book illustrator. However I also don’t want to limit myself to a certain industry. If there’s a need for my style in any other field I will gladly jump at the opportunity to create!
What type of things do you do to help promote yourself?
I try to update my website and blog as much as I can. I’ve set up pages on social networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook which I update on weekly basis. I send out emails and promotional mailings to potential clients I’d like to work with. I join a lot of online communities where I can network with other illustrators. Once a week I take a few hours to read, reread, and research different ways of marketing.
“Fly Home” Acrylic and Watercolor on 8×8″ wood panel.
Why don’t you use your name for your website? Is there a story behind the beautifique.org?
Beautifique is derived from the word the latin word “beatificus” which means “to make one happy”. This pretty much defines how I feel about illustrating. I’ve had this domain since college and since I already had a good amount of traffic coming through the website, I stuck with establishing my work through Beautifique. For those who search for me using my name, I recently purchased www.ninamata.com which is parked on the Beautifique server and directs all traffic to my current website.
Are there any things that you really think an illustrator should do help established their career?
– Doing an extensive amount of research in this industry has helped me figure out the best approach to marketing myself and to whom.
– Read up on your rights as a freelancer and knowing how to price your work appropriately.
– Updating your work as often as you can helps to keep your audience constantly engaged. Just because those art directors aren’t knocking on your door doesn’t mean they’re not looking.
– Having a mentor helps. I’m fortunate to have an agent like Christina Tugeau who also acts as my mentor. She’s been so helpful to me in this journey.
Thank you Nina for sharing your process and words of wisdom. We will keep track of your career. If you want like to see more, you can visit Nina at www.beautifique.org . Hope you will leave Nina a comment. I am sure she would love to hear from you.