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5 Questions with Nina Farryn

FREELANCE artist Nina Farryn’s colorful illustrations explore everything from women’s empowerment to the Tarot to cats and everything in between.

When she’s not selling her prints at a street market, Farryn takes commission work and posts frequently on her Instagram, @ninafarryn.

We talked with Farryn last week about finding your niche, following your instinct, and painting by number.

1. What’s your background?

I went to SCAD, I graduated around two years ago—it’s hard to keep track sometimes. I majored in illustration. I honestly had no idea what I wanted to do when I got to SCAD. I had a generalized art education from a very small town, Roanoke Rapids, North Carolina.

We had a generalized art class, and I was very close with my art teacher, so I was always very interested in it. I switched over to that being my career path towards the very end of high school. I had almost no idea what I wanted to do when I got here. I was between [majors] sequential, animation and illustration, which are all very different—and I thought they were the same when I got here!

2. How did you decide on illustration as your career path?

I had always been more interested in single-image making for a really long time. I felt like I had this backlog of stories that would fit sequential, but not really, and I’ve never been a huge comics person so it was too outside of what I’m actually interested in. It didn’t feel like a space I would fit. I

I was considering sequential with a focus in concept art, which would be like creation for movies and television. I had much loftier ideas as a teenager that I could create a Star Wars-type world, which that is not where life has led me at all.

I was also interested in writing too, but I never made it past the point of writing a story longer than 10 pages. With sequential, writing my own comics is probably going to be too far of a step for me. Now, it’s just short stuff—what I’m doing now is poetry and copywriting on my own rime and that makes its way into my work.

It’s just sort of been inspired by certain phrases and I realized I wanted to be making posters, maybe cards. It took me a while to realize I’m at this point now, because I graduated school with a mismatched portfolio. There were obvious points where I was copying other styles and that was probably the easiest thing for me to do in a class to get a better grade. Bu it’s been a long time coming that I’ve put things I’ve written with images or portraits I draw, and it’s actually been through selling stuff at art markets that I find people actually relate to [my work], when I thought this was just stuff I’ve been making for myself this whole time.

3. How has that realization affected the work you do?

It’s a scary point to get to, because with the media we have now, you see very obviously what’s popular, so it’s hard to fight against that and believe that what your instincts are telling you are what’s actually going to lead to success or good art.

I’m trying to get to this happy medium—I don’t want to make art that I think works because that can also fail really easily. You can have this thing in your mind that you think is exactly what people like in your work, and it’s not.

4. What’s it like, for you, working on commission?

Commission can be very difficult—it’s like a minefield. The freelance world is just all over the place. You never know if you’re talking to someone who has experience working with artists and how to pay artists or not. Sometimes, the challenge is that I don’t want to show work that I’ve done for commission because it just sits in the “I’ve done this to make money” kind of area. But it definitely helps in a lot of other ways. Now, I get a conversation with a client and I know how to take my work and make it what they want it to be.

I’m working on a series of posters right now. I try to set strict deadlines for myself because if I just give myself an open thing, something might not ever get done.

5. What’s your process like?

I always start thumbnailing because I used to skip right to sketches and that makes things difficult. If I create a sketch and I haven’t thought about composition at all, I have to take time to rearrange what I’ve already created. I feel like I can do thumbnails in anywhere from a day to two days because I just want the composition solid before I get into hours and hours of rendering.

I have to have a plan in my head of what medium I’m going to do everything in. If I’m doing a gouache painting, I need to know where all the colors are going. I color map everything on the piece, like a paint-by-number for myself [laughs]. It makes it more relaxing and less stressful.

Now I try to do set color palettes aside that I’m going to use before I start coloring, because the wide range of every color you have on Photoshop can be too much sometimes.