Today we interview and spotlight one of my favorite artists in the fandom! Ever since he started drawing cartoon mares in badass armor and weapons way back in 2013, I've been following every single thing he releases. NCmares covers both sides of the pony spectrum, with ridiculously adorable ponies on one end and full on warlord accessories on the other.
On top of that, he has one of the most appealing styles in the fandom, with some of the most aesthetically pleasing pony proportions out there. And the fuzzy. His ponies are so fuzzy. I can't get enough of these.
Below the break, get an interview with the master of all things pony accessorizing. Go get it!
Q:) How did you stumble upon My Little Pony? What was your "origin" story if you will?
It was late February, 2013. I still could not fathom how on earth My Little Pony had garnered such a huge following amongst a group so wildly outside the demographic, but there you guys were plastering pony anywhere and everywhere online! I was playing some EVE Online one fateful night with a good friend and out of the blue he’s all like, “yo, Nate… Are you a brony?” Had I a glove, I’d have slapped him through the screen. How dare he, right? To even insinuate! Amongst my pals, though, I was definitely the one most likely to have at least given it a shot. I loved cartoons, man! I said ‘of course not – those guys are crazy,’ but for whatever reason that was the conversation that got me curious.
I started snooping around Youtube, coming across really amazing stuff like TiaraWhy’s ‘Friendship Was Magic’, the Anthologies, and pretty much anything by DabuXian. The real kickers were MrNinjaPonies’ ‘Applejack Don’t Need No Help!’, AlligatorTub’s ‘Epic Pie Time’ and 2Snacks’ ‘Two best Sister’s Play Resident Evil 4.’ From there I gave the show a shot and was pretty much hooked right then and there! It’s funny, too, because not much later the season 3 finale aired and everyone was going nuts over Twilight’s ascension. I was still green as grass, however, and the first episode that I actually caught on the Hub happened to be the finale. So while this veritable fandom meltdown is going on I’m just chilling in the back all like, ‘oh, cool – the purple one got wings. That’s pretty neato!’
I do sort of regret not giving the show a chance sooner, but I’m so glad I did at all. To this day I’m the only one of my old friends to have given it a shot.
Q:) What is the process you usually go through when drawing something new? What tools and programs do you use?
I’ll kind of have a vague idea of what or who I want to draw next, and then I’ll start listening to music. I’ll build a playlist with fitting tracks and start playing out scenes in my head. I’ll then sort of ‘freeze’ a frame I like and sketch it out. I find that imagining in this way really helps because it gives me this sort of well-defined view of whatever it is I’m going to draw from all kinds of poses and stuff before settling on just one. There’s often that one special song or piece that, in my opinion, completely lines up with whatever I’m drawing and I end up playing on repeat a few dozen times.
I presently roll with mix of Adobe Photoshop CC’15, ClipStudio Paint, and a Wacom Cintiq 13HD, but for the last five years I had used Photoshop exclusively and a Wacom Intuos4 Medium tablet. It took me eight years to finally get my hands on a fancy-schmancy Cintiq and while I love it to death the Intuos line remains my favorite series of tablets. That Intuos4 still functions as well as the day I opened it back in 2011!
Clipstudio is a fantastic piece of software. I never did try out SAI, but I’m told CS is like SAI on steroids. Those watercolor brushes freakin’ rock, I swear. Photoshop is still the industry standard on account of how powerful and versatile it is, but Clipstudio is phenomenal and I’ve taken to doing most of the heavy lifting there and then kicking it to Photoshop for the final refinements and effects.
Q:) Do you draw professionally? Or is this a side thing to another career or job?
Going pro was the dream back way back when! I had it in my head throughout middle and high school that I would become a concept artist in video games, and that’s what got me serious about drawing and investing first in the Wacom Bamboo and then the Intuos4 tablets. Upon graduating in 2012, however, I realized that there was no way that I was going toe-to-toe with the real artists. With that I pretty much hung up the tablet and focused on my new college studies, often not drawing anything for weeks or even months on end.
Ponies got me drawing again, though, and I’ve had an absolute blast doing it! They’ve really rekindled my love for drawing and if it were up to me I’d never stop. It’s still a hobby, though, and will probably stay that way for a long time. I do wish to break into the gaming industry one way or another, but I don’t think it’d be as an illustrator, let alone concept artist. Those guys got wicked skillz. S’all good, though - I still have a ton of fun with drawing and take care not to take it for granted.
Q: ) Let’s get the usual required question out of the way: Who is your favorite pony? And if it's different, who is your favorite pony to draw?
Applejack. Far and away, AJ. I always tell folks that the other mane five come in a very very close second place, but she just barely edges out in front. When I began watching the show Fluttershy was actually tied for first, but Applejack has a totally boss hat/hair ties, adorable accent and is stronk urf pon so she takes the cake!
Twilight, Applejack, Chrysalis and the princesses are easily my favorite ponies to draw. I got nothing against any other pony but those seven are just so fun to work with! Twi and AJ especially because in my opinion they can fit pretty much any scenario or crossover – be it cute or totally metal and cool.
Q:) What kind of challenges do you usually run into when drawing a character for the first time? Has there ever been an image concept that completely stumped you?
Oh man – that’s got to be preserving the character, their form and anatomy. Like, I figure each pony has got these little mannerisms and stuff that are essential to their character, you know? It can be something as simple as how open a character’s eyelids are or how they are smiling that can straight throw off their feel. I often send a long while fussing about and making everything just as right as I can.
Anatomy is always tricky, especially when wings come into play. I like to stick with a style that’s a little closer to the show for the most part but man alive it is hard to draw wings! Let alone in new angles and stuff that we don’t usually see. WakeMeUp.png. Stuff with the princesses is especially tough because I instinctually want to draw these humongous wings with all kinds of feathers and details and I’m not very good at that and so it takes forever to knock something out.
‘Stormbreak’ with Luna and Celestia was a nightmare mostly because of Celestia’s head. That sucker was ridiculous for me, and I needed a lot of advice from a lot of really cool individuals to finally settle on something. ‘Serenity’ was similarly really difficult because I had actually snapped Celestia’s neck in relation to her body and did not realize until I had wrapped up about five hours in a stream. That wasn’t fun, but I luckily had those same fellows to turn to for a truckload of advice. If you’re reading this, thanks again, you guys!
Q:) I've always loved all those awesome military / combat ponies you do, and of course the cute stuff like princesses in socks and sweaters with donuts on their horns. Where do you get the inspiration for your art?
Thanks, bud. I’m glad you like them! The big ones are movies and video games. I admit to playing a lot more games than I should have back in high school (I could have been drawing or watching ponies, dangit!), but on the plus side I got all kinds of inspiration. For Night Mares and the other combat stuff I pull heavily from games such as Spec Ops: The Line, Halo, Gears of War and most anything Warhammer: 40K. The soundtracks to movies and games always help, too.
The film list is about a mile long, but I’d say Aliens is at the top. The xenomorph queen, man. For real. She’s got my pick for the best movie monster design of all time, even beating out Godzilla. Like, dude. Pure waifu material. She’s gorgeous and I love modeling Chrysalis after her – all feral and vicious.
Q:) Socks, sweaters, silly hats, suggestive swimwear, full body armor, ponies have worn it all. What is your favorite accessory to draw ponies in?
Socks. I still don’t fully understand it, but it’s now become a straight-up reflex to draw. Save me. Save me from the nothing I’ve become. ._. I don’t even like socks, but on ponies they’re just the best. I’m trying to dial it back, I promise.
Hoodies/sweaters are next up, for sure. They’re just ridiculously cute. (The hoodie/sock combo is the hypest – y’all don’t even know). And then you just cannot go wrong with armor and combat gear. It just doesn’t get much cooler than that, you know? Accessories and outfits are a lot of fun to draw on ponies!
Q:) What do you like most about Friendship is Magic? What keeps you drawing so many awesome ponies?
It’s all about the characters, man. There’s just so much to them and the world they live in that can be explored in so many ways! The limits are really our own imaginations, and most any direction that they are taken often remains somehow believable to me. It’s kind of hard to explain, but even putting Twilight Sparkle in some totally boss armor and making her a badass, righteous instrument of Da Emprah still feels somehow right. The characters and the sheer creativity that can be gleaned from this show is just the best.
Q:) Do you have any tips for newbie artists looking to improve?
It’s been said long before I ever showed up and will continue to be said long after I’m gone – never stop drawing. I know how much it sucks to be just starting out and for months to go by without seeing things get any better. Shoot, I spent a solid three years unable to find anything even resembling satisfaction in my drawings, let alone considering something even halfway decent. You got to power through it, though. I do believe in talent and I think it is what allows some folks to master something within a few months where somebody else might take years. I also believe that, given enough time and dedicated practice, we can master anything we set our minds to. Sure, it might take some of us longer than others, but I firmly believe that if we want it badly enough we can make it happen given the time.
You ask most any professional in the industry and they’ll tell you the same – they busted their butts to make it where they are. And still, they are not done. None of us will ever be done, and that’s a beautiful thing. It’s what keeps any one person from being the absolute best or anyone from being any better than anybody else. We’re all on this road, and whenever you see somebody that’s just so much better then you just shift the perspective a little. They may very well have been practicing for a great deal longer than you or maybe they just got that raw talent that allows them to be knocking at masterpieces by the time they are ten. But you know what? That’s OK. They have their own path, and you got yours. You mustn’t ever compare yourself to them, because that is a very efficient killer of motivation.
I feel that the love of drawing is something that wells up from one’s core, you know? There’s this kind of spark that keeps driving me forward despite being utterly surrounded by folks that outclass me in most every regard. I make it a point to draw inspiration from such individuals, though. Drawing makes me happy, and I venture to assume that drawing makes them happy as well. It took me a long time to realize, but it’s really not a competition and it is foolish to think of drawing as such. It’s not about numbers, either.
How popular somebody is or how many watchers they got is in no way indicative of an artist’s skill. Basing satisfaction on such a source will only leave us empty when it all inevitably ends – same with money. Drawing for the sake of drawing is what needs to drive us. That burning need to improve ourselves and our craft. I just do the best that I can with what I got, because at the end of the day that’s all any of us can do. I always know that there’s something else to experiment with and something else to practice that can make the next drawing hopefully better than the last, and that’s where I draw my motivation – from all the incredible artists and their myriad techniques that I might be able to try for myself next time.
Q:) Why do you think My little Pony Generation 4 has been so successful? What keeps you here involved in the community?
It’s been so gosh darn successful because of the people that make up the community! It really is crazy when you think about it, but this perfect storm that struck about six(!) years ago brought us together to appreciate something special. The show itself and the people that made it happen were, of course, the catalyst with their tremendous creation but you guys decided to lend your hands and talents to take things far beyond the scope of the show in magnificent ways. Music, animations, art, writing, sculpture, crafting – this fandom has got it all, dude. I love all things creative, and I think that it is the driving force that keeps the community going through thick and thin.
You guys are the best, and remember to never stop creating. It takes guts to take that leap and put your work out there, but find that spark for yourself. It’s good stuff, I promise. Thanks for having me, and I hope you like whatever might be coming down the pipeline.
More Awesome Art!
And that about covers it! Check out his full gallery over here for a HUGE amount of art. He's one of the most prolific in the fandom.