What's super intriguing about Nik Ainley, half of July’s TEN design duo, is his background. Unlike the majority of those in the creative industry Nik was studying for a degree in physics when he discovered Photoshop, and quickly was hooked, dedicating most of his time to the arts rather than the sciences.
He did finish his degree, despite having already decided to follow a career in creative graphics, but then spent a few years working as a web developer for a large tech company, working on his own illustrations in his free time. This attracted the attention of industry magazines interested in commissioning and featuring his work. That then caught the notice of larger clients and within months he was able to start making a full time living from his art. Fast-forward seven years and some of the world’s biggest and most reputable brands have a place within Nik’s portfolio.
Nik’s style is a combination of different looks and techniques. What unites his images is the level of complexity and detail involved: he doesn’t “do” minimalism, although he appreciates the style in the work of other artists, it’s not something he’s interested in. For Nik, what’s more important is combining elements of different natures, blending or juxtaposing contrasting shapes and forms.
Based in Oxford in the UK, Nik’s British-ness has definitely shaped him as a person and as an artist. He credits much of his inspiration to the influences of his contemporaries, daily life, and surrounding environment, and it was the work of his contemporaries that led him into digital art.
Nik considers himself more an illustrator than a designer, and when asked about his most important contribution he tells us it’s keeping sight of what you are supposed to be illustrating. Illustration, says Nik, isn't just art produced for its own sake, but is properly about illustrating something. Whether this might be a difficult concept, a convoluted message, or something as simple as a single word, it always affects the degree of flexibility you have when producing any illustration.
And of course (he says smiling) on top of that you need an eye for what looks good, to adjust and evolve your ideas when working with clients!
Working with a photographer like Paul was an opportunity he couldn't turn down, says Nik, when asked about the TEN project (although, visiting Hamburg and meeting cool people was a pretty good incentive too!) His general philosophy with any unique project like TEN is to always accept, and one benefit of working in this field is the remarkable freedom to do such things.
He usually works alone when creating actual artwork, only corresponding with the art director(s) in charge of a project when it’s a personal or non-commercial project. It’s a lot of fun, he says, especially if there’s a real difference between his own style and that of his collaborator.
The main contribution of the TEN theme for Nik was the impression of Hamburg's architecture that should appear in the final image, as well as the 3D elements needed, and that overall feeling the final image arouses.
Nik uses a variety of tools for his work: in 3D he uses 3DS Max, and as a sculpting tool Zbrush. But nearly all his work is still done in Photoshop, his first love; always experimenting, putting elements together quickly, moving them around, and changing the lighting, playing just to see what looks good. It’s this playfulness and experimentation that have gotten him where he is today so he’s not about to change it for anyone.