Conor Nolan is one of those illustrators who just grabs your attention. He certainly did mine when I noticed his work a few days ago on Instagram. With heavy influences of Jack Kirby, rock bands, skulls and astronauts, Conor is poised to blow up on the scene very, very soon. I had a chance to briefly chat with Conor about his early life, his influences and his process. And now…A Conversation with Conor Nolan!
I Got Birds: Conor, can you tell the readers of the Blog a little bit about yourself, childhood, education, etc…?
Conor Nolan: I was born in Connecticut and moved with my family to Massachusetts when I was ten. Eventually, when time came for me to go to college I ended up in Brooklyn, New York attending Pratt Institute. I graduated in 2012 with a bachelors in illustration and I’ve lived there ever since. My dad works for a health insurance agency and is a beekeeper. My mom is a sign language interpreter for hospitals and medical settings. I have an older brother and sister and three nephews and one niece, all of whom I adore being an uncle to. My girlfriend and I have a dog named Sophie who we recently adopted and is my studio mate. If I’m not drawing or working on illustration I enjoy reading, collecting records, and being in nature which can be hard to come by in New York City.
I Got Birds: What led you down the path to become an illustrator?
Conor Nolan: Not that this was the “bing bang” moment of my realization that I wanted to become an illustrator but both my parent had, at one time, dabbled in being artists and had been really skilled at their craft. When I started to show interest in art they were very supportive and pushed me to explore my strengths. If I had to boil it all down to one moment though it was the first time I saw Star Wars as a child. I had never seen story telling like that, it was both imaginative and seamless, something that inspired me to want to tell stories of my own. I, of course, didn’t realize that at the time as all I wanted to do was draw aliens and star ships but it was a starting point. What followed was my obsession with comic books. My first comic I ever read was Donald Duck, then Mickey Mouse, then Superman, Transformers and then Terminator in that order. To say they left a lasting impression on me is an understatement. The memory of getting my driver’s license or the first time I tied my shoes have faded but I still remember reading Watchmen for the first time or The Killing Joke and any other number of classics. The comics I read moved me and I slowly started to develop a need to tell stories of my own through the only thing that I really felt I excelled in which was art.
I Got Birds: Your work looks pretty heavily influenced by comic book artists such as Jack Kirby and Moebius. Would you say there is a certain amount of comic book artistry as direct inspiration for your style?
Conor Nolan: The influence of comic art in my own work had a rise and fall with a direct correlation to my education. It existed pre-college but during my time at Pratt I was made aware of illustrators like N.C. Wyeth, J.C. Leyendecker, Alphonse Mucha, the entire Brandywine School and many others. Their art became a central point of inspiration for me and still largely is. The aspects of comic art influence you see in my work is more of a recent resurgence. It is, in some ways, an attempt to combine two loves into one hybrid of classical illustration with the aesthetics and energy you find in comics. Jack Kirby and Moebius are major influences for me but also Paul Pope, Leinil Francis Yu, Dave Gibbons, Mike Mignola, Frank Miller, to name a few.
I Got Birds: Can you talk a little about your process? So you start out sketching and then finalize your ideas digitally? What software, if any, do you utilize in your process?
Conor Nolan: My process, for the main part, is largely traditional. I’m a believer in the idea that your sketches should be well thought out and rendered as they provide the road map for your final. The more finished your sketches are the quicker and easier you’ll produce a final image. From there I will develop a significantly larger drawing with pencil. After that is complete I will shoot that drawing through a light box onto a fresh piece of Bristol paper where I will lay down my ink work. For my inks I use brushes ranging in a number of sizes. Once the inking is complete I will scan the drawing and bring it into Photoshop to color. This process is usually repeated as many of my drawings have layers that I do traditionally as well through the means of my light box. These layers are often the shadows and highlights. For every drawing you see of mine there are usually three or more drawings that have gone into it.
I Got Birds: What kinds of clients have you worked for, and is there a dream client that you would love to create for?
Conor Nolan: Clients I’ve worked for have been wide and varied. I’ve worked for breweries doing label and packaging illustration, one brewery being Three Floyds Brewery in Indiana. I’ve done work for bands, Coheed and Cambria, The Sword, This Good Robot, Shooting Guns, etc. I’ve done editorial illustration for Canada’s The Globe and Mail newspaper. I’m currently wrapping up my first comic cover run for Boom! Studios on their new series Hellraiser; Bestiary. I’ve worked with Spoke Art Gallery and Hero Complex Gallery for gallery shows. I’ve also just wrapped up a job for MTV which is exciting. A dream client for me is tough because there are just so many things I want to do. The child in me is screaming to do something Muppet related because I’ve always been a fan of Jim Henson’s work. If I where to be asked to do a cover for Marvel or Dark Horse I wouldn’t mind. Ultimately I’d like to self publish but I think that day is far off.
I Got Birds: As you know, I Got Birds is primarily dedicated to the Film Poster Scene. Is Film Poster Illustration an area that you would want to explore in the future, and if so what are the inherent challenges that you could see in producing work for a Film property?
Conor Nolan: I’d would love to do a film poster, largely because I live in NYC and the subway is lined with “cookie cutter” movie posters that are boring and just highlight the celebrities acting in the film rather then the actual story. I’ve long held the ideology that if illustrators and artists were hired to do movie posters people would get more excited about them and in turn, pay for a ticket to see it. I’d also like to explore film poster illustration because aside from books, comics and other art, film has been a source of inspiration for me as well. I think an inherent challenge for producing work for a film property really comes down to style and aesthetics. There are some artists whose style could never portray the tenderness of Studio Ghibli’s “My Neighbor Totoro” or the epic wonderment of “The Fall”. For film poster illustration you have to represent one artistic voice with another and if one is a scream it shouldn’t be represented with a whisper.
I Got Birds: In closing, Conor, can you please tell our readers where they can find you online and anything you would like to plug?
Conor Nolan: You can see my full portfolio at www.conornolan.com. I usually give daily updates on my work and process on my Instagram which you can find here: http://instagram.com/nolanillustration . I also have a Tumblr and Twitter as well:
HUGE thanks to Conor Nolan for taking time out of his ever-busy schedule to chat. We here at I Got Birds expect to see an ever-expanding portfolio of awesome pieces from Conor in the near future. Please follow his work on Instagram, Twitter, and Tumblr!