Get To Know Pop-Culture Artist and Illustrator, Nicky Barkla 🥤
Brought to you by our partners at Talenthouse.
I have always considered myself to be both an amateur film/tv buff and nerd. From binging complete seasons of tv in one weekend to standing in line for hours at midnight film premieres, I have no shame in my love for film and television. Self-taught artist, illustrator, and Aussie-native, Nicky Barkla (@nickybarkla) sold me within seconds of seeing her uniquely pink illustrated rendition of a classic scene from "The Addams Family", featuring my spirit-animal, Wednesday Adams. Although pop-culture influenced art is popular, Nicky's work sets itself apart by her traditional medium of choice; her work is both modern and of-the-moment and classic in its 80s-like style of putting characters from film and tv in the forefront once again. Her work is easily recognizable as she has this raw talent for capturing the essence of iconic characters we all immediately recognize. Take a closer look, however, and you'll find something strangely alluring and curious. Take a seat, grab some popcorn and get lost in the colorful world of Nicky Barkla. Stan Nicky’s work here.
-Introduction by interviewer Mayah Taylor (@mayah), Ello’s Community Creative Manager. She loves tacos, fashion, Doctor Who, and wears too much black.
Can you tell the Ello community a bit about yourself? How did you become an artist and have you always wanted to make art?
Nicky: ’Ello! I’m Nicky, but everyone can call me Nic~
I’m a wandering Aussie hooligan who enjoys the art of imagination. If I’m not painting silly pictures I’m usually quietly reading about physics or daydreaming clumsily.
Art has always been apart of my life in a subtle way (as a kid I enjoyed colouring within the lines, to a worrying degree). As I grew into an adult I used art as a means of expression - I didn’t really have long term art goals, I just wanted to create - art was often a distraction from reality, it kept me busy. I never actively pursued art, it sort of just fell into my lap and I ran with it, and I’m glad I did! Over time I grew extremely intrigued with the idea of art as being this learned skill where one projects their intangible imagination onto a piece of paper in front of them - the goal thereon for me was to figure out how to get better at just that, at replicating the images dancing around my head. I’ve never felt a need to compete with, or compare myself to, other artists - my interest in art is definitely quite a personal one.
I’ve been creating art consistently since 2011, however, I never studied art nor have the interest to head back to school - I’d be the worst art student haha. I don’t like rules within creative fields - this universe is way too surreal to restrict creativity in such a way. I definitely respect art fundamentals and enjoy art history, but for the most part, I don’t fuss about or wonder if how I create is considered right or wrong. I learned quite quickly that art is certainly not binary, there’s no “yes” or “no” within our imaginations, thankfully art is subjective and what you create is exactly what it’s supposed to be, regardless of what anyone else might say - phew!
Who and/or what inspires your art and illustration?
Nicky: Although a fan of a whole list of artists, I try my best not to seek too much inspiration from other artists as I’d not want to accidentally copy another, (though of course in this day ‘n’ age many ideas are bound to overlap amongst artists on the internet).
Lately, I’ve been quite inspired by pop culture, it seems to be a comfort for a lot of people, so I’ve been having some fun contributing to the colourful world of superheroes, zombies, sword fights and magic.
Half of my room is full of colourful pop culture art and the other half is piled with personal paintings. Often I’m inspired by my own thoughts and emotions while musing on life. A selection of my personal work is highly metaphoric and surrealistic, I love the idea of feeling something complicated, good or bad, something that can’t be described with words, and finding a way to represent such via one thoughtful, static image. I’m so intrigued by the process of growing the skills needed to paint an image exactly how I see it in my head. To express yourself in such a way is a great way to learn and grow as a person, to be your own source of comfort.
Being an artist has helped me see life through a whole different perspective; I see flaws as beauty and notice all the little dots and lines that make something what it is. Colour inspires me greatly, the way wavelengths interact with our eyes, how certain pigments reflect or emit light and just learning how to manipulate pigments to create a painting - I find it all very fascinating!
What is your creative process like?
Nicky: My creative process involves a lot of daydreaming! A lot of peace and quiet, a lot of nature. I restrict my internet use to avoid being too influenced by the constant stream of content and negative news.
Every day I take the time to get lost in my thoughts, making sure to write down all and any creative ideas that might come to mind, so when I delve into a new project I already have a pile of ideas to find inspiration from and make new connections with quite effortlessly.
For the most part, I don’t stress too much, whether I’m working on a fun project for myself or a strict project for a big client, I’m a very chilled out person, I just love a juicy challenge. I often hope a client will ask of me something seemingly impossible, perhaps something I’m not very good at (yet) or working to a crazy deadline, as I love to push myself and rise to the occasion - I often do my best work under pressure!
I rarely start with sketches, often I try to create the artwork in my head in great detail and just dive right into painting, using multiple layers as I go, each new layer refining the one before.
Quite a few people have asked me to do “painting process” videos, but I imagine people would just scratch their heads with furrowed brows and wonder what I was even doing haha - I often jump all over the place.
Sometimes an idea grows into an artwork so gracefully, other times an idea falls flat face-first. Sometimes I can condense a week's worth of work into a day, other times I completely forget how to hold a pencil. Whatever project I’m investing time in, whether a personal project or a challenging brief for a client, I never waste a second over-thinking anything, or indulging in self-doubt - the shortcut to getting good at a difficult thing is to just get started!
Do you typically watch a lot of film and tv? What are some of your favorites and why?
Nicky: I watch quite a bit of film and tv, as I usually have Netflix, or similar, on in the background whilst painting, so I tend to get through quite a bit, as I spend so many hours painting most days!
I watch a lot of documentaries and listen to a lot of podcasts as well, all moods dependant and all thoughtful choices - in hope to grow my mind and open my eyes to a world beyond my little corner on Earth, to inspire a new painting or to simply escape from reality for a bit.
I love film and television that gets you thinking, shows like Sherlock, House, Fargo, Bates Motel, Black Mirror even a bit of Sneaky Pete. In regards to films, there’s no particular flavour I enjoy most, I enjoy all sorts for all sorts of reasons, but I definitely sway towards British creations, a bit of “Brit wit” which a lot of Aussies grew up with. Anything that doesn’t subscribe to the typical Hollywood “recipe” (dare I say) - so a lot of the films I like to watch usually have a bit of dust on them or sparkle like a hidden gem, everything from the classic 80’s ‘Stand By Me’ to the artful ‘The Fountain’.
At the moment I’ve been revisiting Hayao Miyazaki’s animated films - a pile of glorious creations that every artist of any genre should taste at least once. I admire any filmmaker who puts their unique fingerprints all over every scene. Any movie with good story-telling is usually top of my pile!
Do you have anything you’re working on now that you can share with the Ello community? What are your plans for the upcoming year with your art?
Nicky: My hands and pockets are full of projects that I’m working on! I’m currently working on a new portrait series with my friends at The Poster Posse, the art series is inspired by a popular Netflix show - this project is a big one, and a bit of secret - but will be shared soon enough!
I also have a pile of fan-art that I’m working on, such as a quirky series relating to Marvel characters and some art inspired by the new Joaquin Phoenix Joker movie.
I’m also working on a series of personal paintings involving aliens, and will be trialing a new painting technique, somewhat related to my “psychedelic style” - I’ve been planning it in my head for a while, I’m hopeful it will turn out as expected!
One of my main goals to focus on for the upcoming year is to offer high-quality art prints to those of my fans Interested. I’ve invested in the materials and print-making skills needed to produce everything myself, there was a bit of a learning curve involved, so I’ve been taking my sweet time with it all haha. I intend to only produce the highest quality prints with a lot of TLC, focusing on features like embossing, signed and limited editions, personalised hand-painted editions, plus special giveaways and personalised sketches, to help give back to those who have shown such wonderful support over the years.
I’ll be honest; I’m actually not a fan of Game of Thrones (don’t @ me, I’m a LOTR fan). But I loved your recent series, 'The Starbucks of Westeros' and it made me want to give the show a chance. Can you tell me more about that series and how it came about? How did people respond to it?
Nicky: I myself was late jumping on the Game of Thrones bandwagon, I was always that one person in a room who didn’t know who Jon Snow was!
Though I gave it a chance and I really enjoyed the way the show had the ability to transport people from their reality - I quickly became a fan of the brilliant story-telling.
My ‘Starbucks of Westeros’ art series is a bit playful, (The Poster Posse always accommodate my kooky ideas thankfully), I don’t particularly use the “general” internet too much (to avoid procrastination and negative influences) but I saw how quickly a mere coffee cup could go viral and I was intrigued how something so small could affect people’s emotions so easily - people were so uncomfortable having their fantasy world tainted by our caffeinated world.
The composition of the artworks is intended to mirror the inclinations of social media - as if the characters took a break from chasing the throne and actually went out of their way to find a pretty spot amongst Westeros to pose for a photo, sipping their trendy Starbucks with their cute pets and big weapons to show off. The series is just a harmless giggle at modern society and the “selfie generation”. Obviously, there are worst things in the world than a stray coffee cup on a TV show, but perhaps that speaks of the need for distraction, an unspoken undertone of why we need fantasy shows and popular culture to keep our imaginations happy amongst the grand “it all”.
Most people loved the portrait series thankfully! I had a few people get uncomfortable as they thought I was being “political” (haha), some threw the words “product placement” around, but those people sort of missed the whole point unfortunately (I also didn’t receive a cent from anyone for the series, it was just for fun).
Some areas of the internet seem to forget that there’s an artist, a unique human being, behind any artwork - my intention of the series was amusement and for me to merely practice my painting skills, I didn’t really need a reason to create the series other than “I wanted to” haha, but people will always be quick to judge for no real reason - thankfully most people had a giggle!
Are there any upcoming projects in film and tv that are inspiring you to create a new series any time soon?
Nicky: At the moment I’m so intrigued by Disney and their live-action remakes! I’ve fallen down the Mickey-Mouse hole, glued to the history of Walt and the whole Disney phenomenon. I’m currently planning a series of artworks featuring Walt Disney (the man himself) amongst themes of the newest live-action remarks, a sort of 2019 tribute to the main man. I’m unsure if “kids these days” even know who Walt is, so I hope to do a series of artwork to help celebrate him!
It seems everyone is very opinionated when it comes to the new Disney remakes, but I think it’s important to remember how difficult a film of such caliber is to create and one should appreciate all the hard work and time that a lot of skilled people invested to give modern life to animated classics.
I’m extremely inspired by the new collection of re-makes, to grow up watching early animation and to be alive to witness how new technology has changed the way we express ourselves through art and film is surreal. We live in such a luxurious era, we’re spoilt with tools to help us create like never before; anyone who’s anyone can create anything from anywhere - I wonder what Walt would create if he had access to all this technology!
Do you have any tips or suggestions for other aspiring self-taught artists and illustrators breaking into the industry? What would you tell your younger self about being a professional artist?
Nicky: It’s very flattering to be considered as one who has broken into the industry! I’ve never really thought of myself in such a way.
I try to remain quite detached from “industry happenings”, so I can just focus on the artwork, rather burn time worrying if I’m “good enough” amongst the sea of extremely talented people out there on the internet haha. Thankfully Australia is a great place to be to avoid a lot of noise!
It’s important to enjoy the process of creating, being an artist is definitely a lifestyle rather a job, in the sense a new commission is never guaranteed, but the skills needed to tackle the job, should an opportunity come about, need to be practiced every day.
I’ve even extremely fortunate to work with some amazing people on really cool projects! But I never really chased such, most of the time I’ve had my head down working away and someone would come out of nowhere and tap me on the shoulder for some art - sometimes it’s the new band down the street, sometimes it’s a celebrity from across the world! When it comes time to celebrate an achievement I’m usually off in my own world scribbling away on the next idea!
If I could tell my younger self anything about being a professional artist it would be to remember that criticism is invaluable, it’s not someone insulting you - it’s a flashing neon sign telling you exactly how to improve.
It’s very important to be opened-minded and try to see your work through as many eyes as possible, to remain humble and enjoy a mindset that promotes growth, even if that means having to change your direction (or style) many times.
I don’t believe there is a right or wrong way to create, which makes creating art exciting - there are literally infinite possibilities.
I think it’s important for inspiring artists just starting out to remember that you don’t need to try to replicate what other “successful” illustrators/artists do or don’t do, I think the goal should be to find an art style that you truly enjoy and want to exchange your time for. Art should be enjoyable, not a chore. There’s an abundance of working opportunities out there for every style, and on any topic, you can imagine, there’s never a need to compete with others. Artists have it a bit rough, trying to retain credit for your work amongst the internet is almost impossible, so it’s very important to support your fellow creatives and paint for a purpose other than fleeting internet likes - it’s very fulfilling to work hard and know when you’ve done a job good on a difficult task!
What was the last movie you watched?
Nicky: I recently re-watched ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’ by (the grand) Wes Anderson! A brilliant creation, quirky, poetic, clever, visually striking. Starring Bill Murray, Ralph Fiennes, Saoirse Ronan, Tilda Swinton, Jude Law, and Jeff Goldblum - all creative folk should be sure to give this flick a whirl, every scene is a piece of art. I’m a big Wes Anderson fan, he’s just off in his own world creating exactly what he wants regardless of what people might think - we the audience are just hovering around outside peering into his kooky world!