• Artist Interviews: NadnerbD

       Good time of the day, mares and gentlecolts! Apologies for the long time without bringing you interviews  I have nopony to blame for it but myself. However, now a new one is finally here, and that's what matters most, doesn't it?

       Our artist of the day here is NadnerbD. I have no doubt that many of you here are familiar with their works already, and if not, now is the best opportunity to get to know them! An artist with a remarkable grasp of the pony form and no fear of experimenting with their work, NadnerbD continues their tradition of producing very informative and interesting descriptions, except in interview form  their answers are quite illuminating and candid, even more so than I could've hoped. Dive right beyond the break for their artistic experience and observations!

       Oh, and the fancy editing you'll see down there? That's also all NadnerbD's work. They really went above and beyond with this. It's been a true pleasure to conduct this interview.

    To start with, there’s the general question – how did you get into making art? What is your artistic story?

       ► My artistic story? Well, that's a pretty broad question. I suppose I might as well start from the beginning.

       I was one of those kids who would fill their notebooks and organizers with doodles in the margins. Pictures of characters that struck my fancy, mostly from games that I played, adorned many a page of my reminder binder. My interest was fleeting though, and I only stuck with things long enough to grasp the basic principles before moving on. For example, at one point I got a book about perspective for architectural drafting, picked up the basics, drew a few good generic houses with nice perspective and promptly never drew architecture ever again. My first exposure to the concept of constructing cartoon-like characters from spheres and blobs came from a "how to draw" segment of fan site by a former animator from the relatively early days of the web. I occasionally "drew from life", as I heard one was supposed to do to get good, and though I could hammer out some pretty accurate pictures this way, it never really interested me. "Isn't that what cameras are for?", I would think. I did take one art class in High School, part of the required curriculum, in which the teacher actually got mad at me for not doing more art, because I was apparently pretty impressive with a pencil at that point. My doodles never progressed beyond pencil sketches on various forms of lined paper though, and the cliché of "the starving artist" kept me from ever considering it a potential career option. Aside from playing around with lens flares in my dad's copy of Photoshop once, I never did any digital art until I got into MLP. Which brings me to the next question.

    Another question that has to be asked, this being a pony art interview and all: how did you get into pony, what drew you to it and what inspired you to start making pony art?

       ► What got me into MLP in the first place was the fanaticism of a friend—maybe? I'm not sure he ever really liked me—of mine who went way out of his way to be as vocal about the show as possible. Eventually I realized that the whole thing had been posted to YouTube and I didn't have to invest in any media to check it out, so I gave it a look, and promptly marathoned the whole thing. I didn't get into the art scene at first, though of course ponies entered my doodle repertoire, being super appealing character designs. Instead, having run into the end of the current show content,—early season 3 at the time—I turned to fan fiction to fill the sudden pony-shaped hole in my life. What luck, of course, that there was an entire site dedicated to just that. With really nice banner art, and cover art for all the stories. I read a few things that were really astoundingly good, relative to my expectations, and I kept imagining what scenes from these stories would look like. Having come from the show, a very visual medium, to all these words, it felt like these things were calling out for illustration. I'd seen the wealth of incredible fan art people were making for the show, so I thought "I could do that". Naturally, it was a lot harder than it looked.

    Continuing with the general questions: what tools do you use to make your works, both hardware and software? I know you’ve used SAI, but could you tell us all more about this part of your art-making process?

       ► The tools I used for making art changed a lot over the course of my journey. I don't know how much anyone will care about the tools I used before I got good, so to speak, but I'm going to tell you anyway, because it's story time up in here. My very first digital drawings of ponies were done on an iPod Touch, and were truly horrifying things that shall never see the light of day. The first art that I actually posted to DeviantArt was not a huge step up from that, still being finger-paints on a capacitive touch screen, albeit the slightly larger one of my Nexus 7. For the duration of this phase, I used Autodesk's Sketchbook app, though I upgraded to the 'Pro' version after a little while for the additional layers and blend modes. I also went through a couple of those little rubber stylus things during this time. Eventually I got jealous enough of all the serious digital art makers to pick up an actual pen tablet. It was a Monoprice 10x6.25 inch tablet, that I decided to go for after I read a review of it on frenden.com that called it "f*cking awesome" and claimed it was better than his Intuos. (For less than a quarter of the price!) I can't vouch for that, as I've never used an Intuos, nor do I know which model he was comparing it to, but I was pretty satisfied. Pressure sensitivity is awesome, and I was hooked. Currently the majority of posts in my gallery were made on this tablet, though I have since acquired a 13″ Cintiq, and I've pretty much moved over to that.

       I started out using the GIMP, which I soon discovered was somewhat inadequate for serious digital art. Granted, its tablet support has improved significantly since 2.6, but it has an unjustifiably large memory footprint, has—last I checked—, some pretty weird tablet related bugs, the most egregious of which is one which causes strokes that leave the canvas to corrupt the undo history, lacks view rotation, and is just generally slow and full of niggling little problems that make life hard compared to other programs that were designed with digital art in mind. I found SAI through following all the cool artists I saw and noting that a huge number of them used it. Surely this sort of popularity doesn't come from being a sub-par drawing tool? Indeed, while it lacks a lot of the crazy filters and photo manipulation features of something like Photoshop, it makes up for it in ease of use, and a feature set perfectly tailored to drawing. A lot of people praise it for its stroke smoothing feature, but I was mainly attracted by its somewhat unusual layer blending modes, which are very nice for applying lighting effects, and its really nice water brush, which I use for smoothing in my paintings. I generally only use simple round brushes in my work, though it supports some more interesting ones if you're into that sort of thing.

    More on the bit about the “art-making process” – what is it like for you, how does it go? Do you make your works over long sessions or over multiple short ones? Do you plan it out in advance or do you do it more spontaneously?

       ► My "art making process" is a pretty fluid thing, though there are a few constants in it. Session lengths tend to be a couple hours at a time, when I have time. I've found that I'm pretty much incapable of going from concept to completion in a single session. I always hit a sticking point somewhere and can't work on a piece any more until I leave it and come back in a day or so. I think I can attribute this to the different steps of drawing requiring different modes of thought. Sketching is a more playful creative thing, and I can make a number of interesting sketches in a single sitting, but in order to render the crap out of a sketch in order to make it post-worthy, I have to be in a different, more task-focused mood. Possibly as a result of this, my pictures will usually not change much, composition-wise, once I've started rendering them. It tends to take at least a week for my pieces to reach a point where I'm satisfied enough with them to post. As for how planned out my works are, that depends on what they're for. If it's a scene inspired by a story, I'll often have a mental picture of the scene before I even put pen to screen, but plenty of my posts have come out of particularly interesting random sketches that I decide are worthwhile enough to polish.

    Your pleasantly informative descriptions show that you take plenty of inspiration from pony fanfics. What do you like to see in pony fanfics, in general, and what other fan content do you personally partake in?

       ► The best writers tend to surprise me. They'll go places with the characters or the world that I didn't expect, and thus it's very difficult to say what I think makes a story worthwhile. Really it just has to be good. That's a cop-out answer if I ever heard one though. What do I like to see? Truth, I guess. One of the things that makes FiM great is its frank approach to emotional problems that are relevant to just about anyone. Stories which are clearly informed by the author's own experiences are usually the ones that stay truest to this spirit.

    As for what general fan content I consume, just about anything. I browse a lot of art, which is the majority of the fan content I see, time-wise. Obviously I read a bit, but that's sporadic and generally based around whether I find myself with a lot of time in which I can't do anything else. I follow some YouTube people, though I'm increasingly picky about what I'll actually watch. I've consistently heard high praise for the composers and musicians in this fandom, but I rarely actually listen to their work. It feels to me like the most tenuously connected creative aspect of the fandom. It can either be entirely instrumental, and thus only related to pony by it's composer, or it can be lyric-heavy, and I've never been terribly fond of really verbose music in general, as it tends to be distracting, and often oversimplifies and repeats the actual melody in favor of just changing up the words each repeat, not to mention it requires a really good voice to do at all. There are absolutely some works of genius out there though, like Ponyphonic's Harmony Ascendant. Just. Damn...

    I suppose there's also crafts like sculpture and plush and whatnot, which is cool, but I've actually never acquired any pony merchandise, fan made or otherwise, so my appreciation of them is limited to what I see on the internet.

    Aside from the abovementioned fics, what are the sources of inspiration behind your work that you could tell us about?

       ► My art inspiration comes either from stories, other people's art, or reality—which I suppose technically encompasses all those things—but I'm talking about little things, details, like the way the sun plays on a wooden floor. See, being an artist isn't really about the act of drawing itself, but in thinking about things in a way that lets you draw them. You start to notice things about the world that you wouldn't think twice about if you didn't need to work out just how you would go about drawing them. How light acts on surfaces, how people change shape when they move, what their faces do when they're trying to express something. Stuff that you'd just take at face value normally becomes an exercise in analysis and trying to understand why things are the way they are, so you can use that knowledge to recreate them. When I see some phenomenon in life or in someone's art that I haven't thought about before, it interests me, sometimes enough to actually make something. In this way, inspiration from stories is a fundamentally different thing. When I come across a scene I'd really like to illustrate, it's an opportunity to use all these little ideas I've acquired to make something new, but when I see something new in art or in life, what I make then is really just a sort of practice, to ensure that I understand and remember what I've seen.

    A simpler question: do you have any preference in regards of which (pony) characters you draw? Do you consider any to be your favourites, whether art-wise or not?

       ► Heh. Well of course. You've seen my gallery right? Surely you don't need me to tell you who I draw more than anyone else. Maybe you just want to hear me say it? Or maybe you'd like to hear me explain why.

    I love Celestia. Her visual design is brilliant. Lithe and tall, with majestic wings that are more believably sized than the show standard, and just enough simple adornment to show her station without being clunky or stifling. Her soft pink-white and light pastel color scheme is easy to work with and looks good in any light, and her long flowing mane offers a lot of potential for interesting framing, implying motion, or just having fun with long swirly lines. I find her character—or at least the suggestion of it that we get from her fairly sparse appearances—strangely relatable. She's so collected in most of her appearances that I can't help but think of her as someone who is just so good at putting on that serene smile and making the right decisions for the good of everyone else that we rarely get a glimpse at what she really feels, except when she's being playful or silly. She confided in Twilight once though, in Princess Twilight Sparkle, and was met with surprise. "I'd never thought about it that way." This general obliviousness to her inner life seems to carry over to the audience. Luna wears her angst on her sleeve and wins all the fandom popularity contests, so I feel like I'm cheering for the underdog. Ironic, considering their history.

    What is your favourite part about doing pony art? What is the thing about it you find the most difficult?

       ► I like having made pony art. The most difficult thing about it is having to actually make it.

    Actually, I find one of the best things about pony art in particular is that there's so much of it, and it's so active. I get most of my ideas from seeing what other creative people are doing, and adding the parts I like to my own work. I don't know what other fan art niche I can find literally hundreds of new works every day, with an impressive portion of them being pretty quality work. I'm as much a consumer of this stuff as I am a creator of it, if not more so, so the activity keeps me interested.

    The thing that always impresses me the most when I see your works is how far you’ve come and how quickly you did so. You also mention the word “experiment” very often in your descriptions (and I have to thank you for making some of them so rich in technical detail, as it is educational and interesting to read and also helps my task here). Do you believe your experimentation in many different styles and techniques helped you progress faster? Would you recommend it to other pony artists seeking to improve?

       ► I suppose in this context, "experiment" just means that some part of the process was something I hadn't done before. Some layer arrangement or coloring method, starting from values, or choosing colors based on some new guideline, adding a facet of lighting detail I hadn't thought about before, using multiple layers of sketches. Would I recommend it? Absolutely. Finding a process and sticking to it can let you be comfortable and help you refine some internal facet of your drawing like anatomy or composition, but changing it up and trying new ways of doing things teaches you about your tools and gives you the experience necessary to find the process that works best for you.

    Experimentation, or play, is an essential part of learning; it keeps what you're doing fresh and stimulating. Stagnation is the enemy of progress. If I don't feel like I'm making any progress, I shake things up until the feeling goes away. This doesn't necessarily result in the most polished work I can do at any given time, but it does make the next work better. The change doesn't have to take any particular form, it just has to be there. Trying to find new and interesting poses is just as good as trying a new brush or blending mode. In fact, that was one of the guidelines I set for myself a long time ago, which was to never recycle poses. I always try to avoid a flat, neutral standing pose, and go for some interesting form or a new viewing angle or both. I also fiddle with anatomy a lot, looking for the ideal balance between cartoon pony and realistic horse, but it's not something I make a point of changing so much as the result of my constant intake of other people's styles.

    However, what really helped me progress faster is spending almost a year and a half doing pretty much nothing but drawing ponies. So, if you really want that rapid improvement I recommend having no life, no job, and lots of time to obsess about art, and more importantly, make lots of it. Now that pointless life obligations have returned with a vengeance, I'm just trying to keep drawing enough not to backslide.

    A corollary to the previous question: do all these (rather successful, I think) experiments help you fulfill the motivations and desires which fuel your artmaking, or do they ever come in conflict?

        ► I'm really not sure how to answer this one. I don't think I've ever made any art that I really didn't want to. I'm lucky, I guess, in that I never really found myself in a position where I had to depend on it that heavily. Mostly if there's something I try that I don't want to finish, it doesn't get finished. I've got folders full of that stuff. My motivation has always been to create things which I thought ought to exist, but didn't. If there isn't enough of something I like, well, I better make it myself. Ironically, this doesn't really fulfill that goal, because I rarely find myself satisfied with what I make, so I just have to keep trying to fill that hole.

    Actually, that's not entirely true. For a while I made it my goal to be "commission worthy", but the only thing that really means is that somebody thinks you're good enough to pay you to make what they want. That bar wasn't nearly as high as I thought it was, and while it is really quite rewarding to have someone pay you and make them super happy by realizing their vision, it's also not a consistent thing when you're relatively unknown, and it also tends to stop me from experimenting—taking those artistic risks that help me improve—because I'm instead focused on being predictable and delivering what the client wants.

    Among your rich collection of experiments in lots of styles, I only notice one humanization, although a decent one. Do you have any plans for more humanized pony art, or do you prefer to stick to the normal pony shape? What were the most challenging things in making that humanization, in the context of comparing it to the pony form?

       ► Ah, that piece. The story behind that one goes like this: One day, I thought: "Wow, I really like these nice flannel pajamas. I should try drawing some. I could use the practice with cloth folds, and I'd like to prove to myself that I can draw humans that don't suck." So I drew a girl in pajamas. Then I thought: "Gosh, how can I make this into something that anyone who follows me will care about? I know! I can color it using Fluttershy's color scheme!" So I did. So it's not really a humanization so much as it is a human that I ponified for cynical marketing reasons, so I didn't really compare it to the pony form at all. I have sketched the human form a fair bit, though that was in my pencil days, when I didn't have anyone to critique me, so this was actually the first time I'd fully painted one. As for plans for further human artwork; I don't have any. Who knows, I might do more eventually, but I can't think of any reason I would at the moment, so I wouldn't bet on it being soon.

    One of your biggest strengths is shading and light, as well as light interacting with surfaces and objects. It goes a very long way in making the subjects of your art look properly three-dimensional no matter the chosen style and ends up being the hallmark of your work in general. What helped you learn to work with them so well? Can you share any tips regarding light and shading?

       ► This is one that's always fun to talk about. I've rambled about it in some of my artist descriptions a few times, but I originally came to this scene from a programming background, where I spent a lot of time learning about rendering techniques, both real time and offline. I've written working raytracers and read up on various methods of approximating global illumination in real time, and so I started digital art with the knowledge of how to write programs that simulate light behavior. This goes a long way towards understanding the behavior of light from an art perspective, because I can look at a reference, and compare what I see to my library of known light behaviors and try to work out what principles are responsible for what I'm seeing. This was simultaneously a help and a hindrance. On the one hand, it gave me the ability to make a very good first guess at what the effect of light in a scene would be, but it also led me to fixate rather heavily on technical accuracy, often at the expense of just making things just look nice, so I've been fighting this tendency for a while now. This also means that my experience isn't really suited to dishing out art tips, because following in my footsteps would require a lot of what most artists would probably consider tedious academic exercise far outside the scope of their interests, and at the end of the day, if they already had a pretty good grasp of lighting they might not even get that much out of it. If anything, I'd just suggest that they try to think critically about what they see, remember that light bounces around a lot. You wouldn't see anything if it stopped at the first thing it hit, after all.

    You have a rather beautiful take on the FiM characters’ shape, highly show-like and just stylized enough to keep them in line with the style of a given picture, as well as make them feel remarkably “real”. For the benefit of all of us struggling would-be artists out here – what do you, personally, consider to be key points for drawing them in this way? What should one keep in mind?

       ► This is one of those "style" questions that artists will always give frustratingly vague answers to. The reason for this is that we don't really know. We can draw pictures to demonstrate what we think things should look like, but we were already doing that and that's what led to the question. It's simple enough in concept though. I like when these ponies look a certain way, and I aim to exaggerate the things that I like in my drawing. I grab bits and pieces of things I like in other people's drawings of them and add them together. I spend a good deal of time trying to work out what the best way to realize the pony shape in three dimensions would be, and I really don't stick to a very consistent interpretation. I do like it when artists add hints of more "realistic" anatomy to their FiM style drawings, without going too far. Exactly what constitutes going "too far" is a very "I'll know it when I see it" sort of thing, but in general, the eyes have to stay big and forward-facing, and the legs have to stay relatively thick, unlike the really spindly little legs that real horses have—it's a wonder they don't snap right off when they stand on them—otherwise you can generally reference as you see fit. I really do take most of my inspiration from other artists though. As much as they'll all tell you to look at photo references, I tend to look at a lot more art than photos.

    Are there any artists, among the pony art army or otherwise, who influenced or influence your work?

       ► Well yeah, I just got done saying how much art I look at. I suppose you want me to name some though. That's a dangerous proposition, y'know. I'll inevitably leave out some people who I ought to have put in the list and the ones I'll think of off the top of my head are probably the ones you'll all already know about. Ah well. Everyone knows KP-ShadowSquirrel. His stuff has heavily influenced how I work, both in process and in design. He tends towards fairly simplistic yet elegant renditions of pony shapes, and this has heavily influenced my aesthetics with regard to pony. Lopoddity also has a wonderful design sense and feel for good shapes, and uses pony merely as a jumping off point for her originality, but most of all, her works always have a story behind them. AssasinMonkey heavily influenced my process. Though I pretty much never do loose painterly stuff like most of his works, watching him noodle around with Photoshop in his daily(!) streams has been extraordinarily helpful in unexpected ways. Sharpieboss has been a constant reminder that there's something interesting to be found everywhere, and of the benefits of pushing yourself to art erryday. MadHotaru is an excellent example of blending more believable anatomy into ponies. Verrmont has directly helped me out when I needed coloring advice, and shown me a lot of useful things to look for when coloring. Famosity is style incarnate. Vombavr influenced me by making the first pony art that I ever faved, and by having an amazing style that I am not yet awesome enough to imitate. Harwick was an early inspiration for me by showing what polished digital art could do. I could go on, but we might be here all day.

    Among the pony works you’ve done so far, what are the pieces you’re most proud of?

       ► This is still one of my personal favorites. It has personality and action, and I didn’t polish it into the ground, so my memory of it isn’t filled with all the little flaws I never fixed. Otherwise, I’m generally just happy when things that do well, since I usually get less impressed with my art as it nears completion. I still think the lighting in Awe came out really well though.

    Is there something you would like to try art-wise that you haven’t been able to so far?

       ► I’m not really sure. I do try to to do “new things” fairly often, though they’re small internal things, and I tend to stay within my comfort zone when it comes to subject matter. I don’t really have any desire to try traditional art, as the appeal of digital is really what drew me in to begin with. I’d still like to get as good as some of the amazing people who do it for a living, but that’s probably not going to happen unless I actually start doing it for a living.

    Whose mane do you really like?

        ► Take a wild guess.

    Thank you for the interview, NadnerbD! I do hope to see yet more fine pony works done by you. Any final thoughts and words you’d like to share with our audience?

       ► Well, if you read to the end of this thing, thanks! There probably aren’t too many of you left. To those who are still with us, I hope you found my ramblings interesting.