Please tell us a bit about yourself and how you got into illustration.
My name is Nicolai. I live in Aarhus, Denmark. I’m a self-taught freelance artist, and I create all kinds of weird and comic-looking illustrations. I’m the owner of Koggi Studio, which serves as my illustration playground. Making a living from being a graphic artist in Denmark is tough, especially when you do weird and unconventional stuff as I do, so I also have a BA in social education, and, currently, I’m studying for a master’s degree in ICT (Information and Communication Technology).
Have you always had a passion for drawing?
Yes, but it hasn’t always been a priority. I started drawing when I was around seven years old. I drew a lot, mainly encouraged by my parents. My dad used to—and still does—draw from time to time. The first time I learned to draw simple cartoony looking faces was from him and his way of doing it.
I also went to the local library and borrowed stacks of books on how to draw superheroes and how to draw mangas. For some reason, the local library in my small town in Denmark also had lots of cool comics and mangas like Dragonball, Akira, Moebius, Katsuya Terada and lots of weird 80s European sci-fi comics. That combination of me learning to draw while reading those types of comics really helped me form my style and the way I think when coming up with ideas.
Then I started playing the guitar at the age of 12 and thought I was going to be a musician. I tried for over 10 years to make that happen, but it didn’t. So, I needed a new output for my creativeness, which led to me getting my drawing flame lit again. That happened about five or six years ago. I started watching drawing tutorials of classic pen and paper techniques on YouTube. I also watched a lot of how-to-draw-cartoon-characters videos, which slowly helped me build up my drawing skills again. I spend hours every day just drawing the same stuff over-and-over to get the technique right.
How do you come up with ideas for new illustrations?
Looking at my illustrations, you might guess that I have a vivid imagination. I have always had that, and when you combine it with a love of reading weird retro comics, watching old b-list horror, sci-fi and fantasy movies and reading surreal mangas, you get a good outline of where I find inspiration.
“Looking at my illustrations, you might guess that I have a vivid imagination. I have always had that, and when you combine it with a love of reading weird retro comics, watching old b-list horror, sci-fi and fantasy movies and reading surreal mangas, you get a good outline of where I find inspiration.”
But an idea for an illustration can also come out of nowhere. I recently did a panther shooting laser beams from its eyes while its head is emerging out of a human, and I honestly have no idea how it came to me. The image just popped into my head, and I had to draw it.
Other times I can sit and think to myself: “I wonder what it would look like if a hand came out of a banana,” and then I would start to work on how that would look. Possibly one of the reasons I think like this is because I have worked as an educator in kindergartens and pre-schools. Kids that age always ask the most random and weird questions like: “What would happen if this animal had superpowers? What would happen if a human had wings like a bird? Is it possible to grow extra arms?” being around kids that say things like that might have influenced my own way of thinking when I’m coming up with ideas for illustrations.
Could you talk us through your creative process? How do you turn ideas into finished works?
I never sketch anything on paper anymore. Everything I do is on a computer. The most difficult part is to get exactly what I imagine in my head into an illustration. In the case of the hand coming out of a banana peel, I found pictures of bananas and hands online—both drawn and in photos. From there, I worked in Affinity combining those images to get a good outline of how it’s supposed to look and then I started to draw. After that, I began the process of texturizing the illustration, making it look gritty etc.
The time I take to create an illustration varies a lot. I might spend a couple of days when I feel like I’m in a good flow and mindset. I usually don’t spend months on an illustration because if the creative process takes too long, I lose interest and passion for it.
How did you hear about Affinity, and what inspired you to give Affinity Designer a try?
I was scrolling through Instagram one day for drawing inspiration (around the same time started drawing again), and I saw a cool illustration of a cartoonish looking sasquatch someone had made. I don’t remember the artist, but in the description of the post, the artist had included the hashtag #affinitydesigner, and I clicked on it, then I found the @affinitybyserif profile. That was the first time I heard of Affinity. At that point, I had tried other vector-based software, but I couldn’t quite get the hang of it. I decided to try Affinity Designer, and I fell completely in love with it. I have been using it exclusively ever since. During covid-19, I spend up to six hours a day just working and drawing in Affinity Designer.
“I had tried other vector-based software, but I couldn’t quite get the hang of it. I decided to try Affinity Designer, and I fell completely in love with it. I have been using it exclusively ever since.”
What are your thoughts on it? Do you have any favourite features?
I love it. I don’t think I would be able to do the kind of work I do without it. Honestly, I can’t imagine I’ll ever abandon Affinity and go back to traditional pen and paper drawing. It’s such a huge part of my process now. It runs smoothly, it’s beautiful looking, easy to navigate and reliable. It looks simple, but it’s extremely powerful. I love the way I can navigate my workflow by switching between the Designer and Pixel Persona. I can’t imagine using other software.
My favourite features include Blend Modes, the effects and the Contour Tool, which I sometimes refer to as ‘the cheat tool’ haha! Sometimes if I’m too lazy to draw something again when I need to make size changes, I’ll just use the Contour Tool to size up a specific part of an illustration. I also love the pen, pencil and vector brush tools in the Designer Persona and the paintbrush tools in the Pixel Persona.
“Honestly, I can’t imagine I’ll ever abandon Affinity and go back to traditional pen and paper drawing. It’s such a huge part of my process now.”
How long have you been creating your own textures, and what inspired you to do this?
I have been creating my own textures for a couple of years. Funnily enough, it was Clamnuts, aka Bob Byrne, who made The Shizzle Style and Brush Pack for Affinity, I got the inspiration from. I was watching his YouTube video on how to use the pack, and in one of his videos, he talked about how he made some of the textures from The Shizzle. He mentioned that he finds textures everywhere, especially when walking around the countryside of Spain, where he lives. He finds rubble, debris, wood etc., and takes close-up pictures of it, and then he edits the pictures in Affinity to make textures.
And I thought: “Wait a minute. I grew up in the countryside, and I know where to find stuff like this.” My parents live on a small farm, so I went back home and began taking pictures of things like decomposed tree stumps, piles of stones/bricks, cracked paint on henhouses, rusty old tools like saws and shovels, flowers, debris, bird feathers, hay, broken pavement etc. Basically, any natural or organic materials that had some kind of natural wear and tear. Then I edited the pictures in Affinity so they could be used as textures. It’s a fun process and kind of exciting because you don’t always know if the stuff you take pictures of will work as a texture until you edit it in Affinity.
How important is it for artists to reserve time to work on personal/passion projects?
I don’t think I would function as an artist if I didn’t have time for personal projects haha. All of my favourite illustrations come from passion. Doing personal projects is where I get the best results.
To be completely honest, I rarely do commissions because I have a hard time feeling passionate about doing stuff for others. In order for me to take on a commission, I need to have 100% artistic freedom, which is really hard to get when working on stuff for other people. My stubbornness and pickiness in whom I work for is probably why I can’t live off of Koggi Studio haha. If I collaborate with others, it’s more in the vein of people writing to me to say: “we saw this illustration of yours on Instagram, and we like it. Can we use it for xxx?” and I would say sure.
“All of my favourite illustrations come from passion. Doing personal projects is where I get the best results.”
Is there an illustration or project that you’re particularly proud of? Could you tell us about it?
For the past six months, I have been having lots of fun trying to recreate vintage comic covers in the style of EC comics. The 1950s, 60s and 70s were such a fun period in western comics. There were lots of small comic companies that printed extremely weird horror, fantasy and sci-fi stuff. It was like the wild west where anything goes. I love to recreate the feel and look of those kinds of comics.
I’m proud of the illustration I did of the lighthouse getting attacked by a giant octopus while being explained by the lighthouse keeper. It kind of sums up my style: lots of textures, surrealism, a little bit scary, and I’ve tried to tell a story with it.
Is there something you would like to do creatively that you haven’t done yet?
I want to create my own comic set in a Moebius Esque sci-fi dystopia setting, where the main character is a young girl who is based on my daughter’s personality. In the story, there will be an elephant character who’s supposed to be some sort of sidekick, because my daughter’s first favourite toy was an elephant teddy bear.
My daughter is my everything. She was only a few months old when my drawing really took off, and I started Koggi Studio. She used to sleep in my arms while I had my computer on my lap creating illustrations.
The comic would be a tribute to her, and I want it to be a comic about empowering girls and showing that girls can be heroes and be just as cool and strong as their male counterparts. I hope she will be proud of it.
To see more of Nicolai’s illustrations, check out @koggist on Instagram.