You must enjoy what you do in life as you are only here once, right? It’s an important statement about how we work and why we do what we do. Illustrator, Nigel Stefani is the embodiment of this statement – after training in fashion in London and working for cult luxury label, Comme des Garcons, he decided to follow his true passion of drawing and make it his full time gig.
Stefani recently moved to Australia and is emerging as an exciting new talent on the illustration scene. I sat with the charming Londoner recently to talk about his work and preparation for his first exhibition, Couche, at DesignaSpace in June.
Tell me about the path you took to illustration?
I’ve always been fascinated by illustration as an art form. I’ve always drawn, since I was a little youngin’. I got to the point in my life where I thought I wanted to do something I love as a career. There’s a lot of trial and error in what I do, I’m not sure if I have succeeded yet or anything like that but it’s definitely something that’s instilled in me that you have to follow your dreams. Have you always drawn? Yes, ever since I could pick up a pencil. Always, always, always.
Did you undertake any formal training?
Kind of. I did a lot of drawing at school, obviously in art class. I don’t think I have ever been sat down and taught ‘this is how you do this’. I have just kind of been encouraged to follow different methods of imagery with a pencil or whatever.
So I hear that you have been to fashion school, did you do any illustration there?
Yes I have. In my fashion class, it wasn’t solely illustration, your ideas were meant to be produced in a way that suited your personality. It wasn’t much about what your sketch book looked like, more the process your sketchbook took, the journey. Ultimately you were producing clothing. My sketchbook was very messy and had a lot of stuff in it. It looked like my brain!
Where do you turn for inspiration?
Anywhere and everywhere. The title of my exhibition is Couche, which is ‘layers’ in French. The way I draw at the moment is very much to do with layering. So I could see a piece of chewing gum, I could see a spilled drink, I could see a ripped poster, and see the texture. Those things themselves are uninteresting but if you bring them all together in a creative way, you can create compositions that have more to do with what you have to say than just a photograph or painting.
Which artists, or even mediums, do you draw inspiration from?
Artists I admire are people like Peter Blake and the photography of Tim Walker – there’s such a dream like, surreal quality to their work, something I suppose I would try and incorporate into my own. I think the best thing that can come from people looking at your work, is an opinion. Be it good or bad, an opinion is better than anything.
Music is also very important to me. I can rarely go a minute without listening to some. It is as important as my pencil I think, as I have always found music so inspiring, in all it’s forms. So to say I love everything from Electro kings such as Deadmau5 to Miles Davis is true, as it is used in such a way, as to aid my own creative thinking.
Do you think true artists shouldn’t have to ‘promote’ themselves, or is that not possible today?
In this day and age, I don’t think that exists. If you look at people like Banksy, it’s all very well being a guerrilla artist and stuff but he is obviously promoting himself by being on display everywhere. I think the days are gone of artists just sitting in their studios for years not showing themselves to the world. You can’t survive. If I won lots and lots of money I would, but money makes the world go round. It’s ridiculous in a way. I’ve got quite a romantic view of the world in that I would like to drink red wine, smoke cigarettes and draw all day for the rest of my life, but that’s not really going to get you anywhere other than liver disease and a hangover.
What’s a typical working day for you?
I am working on a new drawing, so I will get up, have some coffee, smoke a cigarette, have a shower, sit down, pick my music for the day, put my headphones on and start drawing. I won’t stop until 3pm till my stomach goes a bit nuts, eat something quickly, start drawing again until about 6pm. Smoke, do a bit more drawing, then go to bed.
My ideal is to have a focus at the end of it. I’m not really drawing towards anything and that’s frustrating. It’s a journey isn’t it. You have to struggle for your art or it’s not worth it. I fully believe that. You have to have months and months or potentially years of just sitting there. The struggle makes you more determined to succeed. If I had done one drawing and got shitloads of press and jobs then I don’t think I would have tried so hard. I changed my style of drawing based on the fact that I didn’t think I was producing artwork that was complicated enough or original enough. It made me think ‘well actually maybe I need to look at a new way of producing imagery’. I’m so glad I did as I am now producing imagery that is ten times better than what it was. Maybe I will look back in five years time at what I am doing now and think it’s total wack. It can only get better, not worse, unless I break my hands and have to relearn to draw.
Where is your happy place?
It completely depends on what mood I am in. If I am frustrated creatively I will need to completely get out of that environment and reassess what I am doing with it. Usually that happens before I start a drawing, not during. During there’s a definite end goal because it’s plotted out. It’s not monotonous or anything but creatively I suppose I get frustrated when I am not creating compositions that are evocative enough. I get out of the environment, look at other illustrators, find some more ‘couche’ to experiment with. Or go for a walk or listen to some music.
When I draw, I will be drawing and drawing and drawing and drawing and I have to sit back and look at the whole thing. I think that can be applied to the whole process – you need to step back and think what am I doing. If you are too introvert and looking at one point you are missing the other stuff, you need to get out of the bubble. If people challenge me it will make me assess my work my own way. That’s the whole point I am in Australia, otherwise I would still be in London, still working at Comme. You need to challenge yourself as much as possible, even if it’s fucking scary and horrible and weird and upsetting, it’s so necessary cause you take something positive from every situation.