An American artist living and working in South America, Nate Williams' recognizable "naive" style of illustration draws its inspiration from sources as diverse as nature, Latin-American culture, and his son's drawings. Inspired by vintage silkscreen posters and the process of silkscreen, Nate works in layers of color and degraded texture. His art employs a condensed sense of space, repeated decorative motifs, and bold color schemes, creating an effect that is playful, folksy, and culturally dynamic. Nate's memorable hand-made aesthetic is central to both his illustration and his hand-lettering. Drawing by hand and incorporating a strong sense of texture allow Nate to create his distinctly hand-crafted style.
Nate's work has appeared in publications such as Wired, Business Week, Natural Health, PlanSponsor, Family Circle, Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, and The Boston Globe. He has worked with advertising agencies including Wieden and Kennedy, BBDO, Leo Burnett, Modernista, Landor, Draft FCB, Clark McDowall, Chiat Day NY, Campbell-Ewald, Arnold Worldwide, and The Great Society, on projects for clients as wide ranging as Dell, Microsoft, Brooks, Taco Bell, United Airlines, XBOX, Nabisco, Kellogg's, Cartoon Network, and Converse Shoes.
In 2011, the Los Angeles office of Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf commissioned Nate for a 40 foot mural inside their landmark Sunset and Vine location. The famous intersection, located in the heart of Hollywood, provided the inspiration for Nate's silver screen-themed mural. Buskers, paparazzi, King Kong, and the Capitol Records building all feature prominently in the art. In an interview, the lead art director describes Nate's mural as "one of the coolest things we've ever seen." Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf created a video documenting the creative process behind the mural, from its inception to its installation. Click here to see the video and see the artwork unfold.
Book publishers have also sought out Nate out for his unique style of illustration and hand-lettering. In 2010, Puffin UK published a memoir titled The Truth About Leo about a ten year old boy living with an alcoholic father. Nate's solution for the cover utilized childlike lettering in the silhouette of a bottle. His hand drawn lettering and illustration have also appeared on book covers for In the Space Left Behind (Harper Collins) and Little Gale Gumbo (Penguin). His award-winning series of art for As Aventuras de Tom Sawyer, published by Atica (Brazil), will appear in the 2012 HOW International Design annual.
Nate's hand-lettering can range from colorful and naive to elegant and sophisticated. His chalk lettering, for instance, has been known to mimic the flowing script of bistro menus and recreate the adolescent doodles of high school chalkboards. He has created chalk lettering for Sierra Magazine, Everyday with Rachael Ray, Kellogg's Special K (Leo Burnett), the Digits campaign (Arnold Worldwide), and more. Nate has also rendered corporate logos, type-based compositions for the Southern Poverty Law Center, and headlines for editorial illustrations in Middlebury Magazine, Today's Parent, Natural Health, Family Circle, Natural Solutions, and others.
Designing art for product packaging is one of Nate's favorite types of projects. His organic, richly textured and embossed artwork can be seen on the label for Tuck Beckstoffer's recently released Melee wine. Nate's folksy style complements the wine's earthy and organic qualities. His packaging for Olive Green Dog's all-natural biodegradable Superpoop bags add a splash of fun to Olive's environmentally friendly message. The packaging has been popping up on a variety of websites, including - of all places - Justin Timberlake's personal blog. You never know where you'll see Nate's work actually, his poster for Adult Swim's Aqua Teen Hunger Force was spotted in the camp horror comedy Zombieland (it appears in the apartment of actor Jesse Eisenberg's character in the beginning of the film).
Always coming up with new ideas, Nate has never limited himself to working solely for other clients. His entrepreneurial spirit has sparked concepts that have grown into book publishing concepts and art licensing collections for products. His fanciful WordUms collection turns childlike mispronunciations and creativity into whimsical characters like the Snailaphant, the Sherlocodile, and the Frankenfurter. Other children's collections tackle subjects like gardening, science, and summer camp in fun and playful ways. With titles like Aegean Dreams, Everywhere Tomorrow, and Loco Morocco, Nate's collections for adults combine bold patterns with whimsical cultural allusions. His work has appeared on products as diverse as Urban Outfitters wall art and pillows, Ecojot stationery, Mara Mi tote bags, and children's puzzles for Mudpuppy.
An award-winning artist, Nate has been recognized by Communication Arts, Society of Illustrators, AltPick, 3x3, HOW, SILA, the Art Directors' Club, American Illustration, ASBPE, DSVC, AAF, and AIGA. He has also been invited to speak at venues all around the world, from the 4th Annual Computer Arts Show in Sao Paulo, Brazil to a conference at the Society of Illustrators in New York. Nate has also hosted workshops at American Greetings' corporate headquarters, the University of Buenos Aires, Montreal's Sid Lee Agency, and more.
Nate believes the keys to creativity are curiosity, inspiration, play and discovery. When generating ideas, Nate believes it's important to feed the subconscious, to record and retrieve inspirational moments, and to find patterns in 'good ideas.' Founder of Illustration Mundo, The Letter Playground, and most recently, The Proconist Mood Analyzer, Nate is passionate about engaging the illustration community in new and exciting ways via the web.
Q & A with NATE WILLIAMS
How did you become familiar with illustration? What did you do before you became an illustrator? I've dabbled in illustration since college. I always loved making images, but never thought of it as an occupation that I could actually support myself with. After talking with some professional illustrators in 2003 I realized there were quite a few illustrators working full-time. I was an art director for online communications before I was a full-time illustrator.
As a former art director, what do you think makes a good AD? And how does an AD get the best possible work from an illustrator? I think what makes a great Art Director is someone who can translate business and marketing objectives into something creative that helps achieve those objectives.
In regards to illustration, I think a GREAT art director has the following qualities: HIRES THE 'RIGHT' ILLUSTRATOR - hires the right illustrator for the project and leverages the illustrator's strengths instead of trying to change them. COMMUNICATES CLEARLY - knows how to communicate the objectives and narrows the focus to a few key points. (3 bullet points is the best.) Is inspiring while remaining honest and articulate. FAIR - airly compensates the artist for the work/usage involved.
What is a typical work day like for you? How do you portion off your time? - Wake up and take my son to school - Have coffee with my wife and figure out what I need to accomplish for the day - I like to do all my brainstorming in the morning so I usually work on rough ideas in the morning from a cafe or park bench - Go running, go to the gym, listen to music, podcasts, etc. - Have lunch with my wife - Answer emails, illustrationmundo maintenance - Work on final illustrations - Pick up son from school and hang out with kids - Have dinner - Relax with family, read, watch TV
What's one tip you want to share with other creative professionals? Enjoy life outside of work and your work will become better.
Your website Illustration Mundo has become one of the biggest resources for illustrators on the web. How do you see it growing and evolving in the future? That's hard to say. I like creating projects more than maintaining them. I realized this after I created illustrationmundo.com so when I programmed letterplayground.com and proconist.com I made them so they pretty much maintain themselves and I can look at them a month later and there is a bunch of new content. For the most part I want illustrationmundo.com to have the same objectives as when I created it, which was to give illustrators a platform to show their work and provide a tool for art directors with an easy way to find great illustrators.
In an ideal world, you would have an infinite amount of...? Free time.
Do you have a hobby outside of illustration? What do you like to do when you're not working? I like to think of inventions, read, listen to podcasts, run, lift weights, watch MMA (mixed martial arts), practice Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, take walks with my wife, hang out with the family, learn about random stuff.
What is your ideal studio like? I have my computer in my bedroom, but when a computer is not involved I like to work from park benches, coffee shops, buses, trains, etc. I think as a freelancer, your house will eventually drive you crazy and you have to take every opportunity to leave it and socialize.
What are a few of your favorite illustration blogs and websites? I like Pinterest lately because it's image based and you can follow people with similar tastes... it's very efficient, you can see a ton of work with little effort.
Do you have a sketchbook? How do you like to keep track of your ideas? I have tons of sketchbooks... but anything I really like I take a photo of and I use Evernote to catalog it. It makes finding that genius idea you had a lot easier to find and you can group similar ideas together regardless of which sketchbook they were originally in.
Your work is digital but always looks very organic. How do you keep that hand-drawn, hand-made quality alive when you're working with a digital medium? It ends up digital, but a lot of it is hand-drawn. I probably draw more than 50% of motifs, textures, letters, etc using a sharpie marker or painting with India ink. I reorganize these images in the computer, make compositions, change colors, etc. A lot of my work ends up silk-screened which has it's hand made qualities of offset registration, imperfect printing, and textured surfaces.
How has the illustration industry changed since you became a professional illustrator? How do you see it changing in the future? I think how we find inspiration is a lot more fragmented. Instead of relying on magazines and traditional sources of inspiration there are so many ways to find great art now. I also think humans are not used to processing so much information so we rely on word of mouth more and our friends to filter information for us. "What is worth spending our time on?" I think as we have to process more information and the world becomes globalized, images becomes more important because it's one of the fastest ways to process information and can transcend language and cultural barriers. You can see this trend with how graphic user interfaces are progressing and with sites like pinterest, ffffound, etc.
What do you do when you're looking for hand-lettering inspiration? As the world becomes more mechanical it's nice to see things that are more 'human,' asymmetrical and imperfect. I seek imperfection and randomness not only in hand lettering but in my art in general. My art is not just about speaking but listening and being open to the unplanned.
You're trapped in a room with Julie Andrews from The Sound of Music. She's singing These Are a Few of My Favorite Things... and now it's your turn to pick up the verse. So, quick, what are a few of your favorite things? My wife, kids, exercise, free time, sushi, laughing, sex, skyscrapers, dramatic weather, information, MMA.