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Nora Toth: ‘I love when an artist has a bold style and a good sense of humour’

Nora Toth is a freelance illustrator and designer from Budapest, Hungary with several years’ experience in UX/UI design, graphic design and illustration. We spoke with Nora about her style, influences and what she thought about Affinity Designer as a tool for her illustration work.
Firstly, how did you get started as an illustrator?

I am still shifting into it gradually. Drawing was always a part of my life from my childhood. I studied in the secondary school of arts and later graduated as a graphic designer from university. I have worked for various design studios and agencies mostly as a graphic designer in the last couple of years, and I just started to create illustrations for fun in my free time. Now that I work as a freelancer, I have more opportunities to take on illustration projects. However, I still work as a graphic and UX/UI designer for various clients.

How do you plan your designs before you start drafting them?

I like to do some super quick and messy pen or pencil sketches that don’t look good at all and some people might not even be able to tell what it’s going to be later on, but this quick sketching helps me a lot in the ideation process.

We love your use of colours. How do you approach colour palettes in your illustrations?

Actually, finding the right colours is always a pain for me—I recolour my artworks many times before I settle on a palette. But in general, I love delicate yet vivid looking pastels that together create a nice contrast.

How did you find your style? Would you say it’s changed much over the years?

I still don’t think I’ve found it. It also depends on the tools I use for a project. I used to draw a lot with thin markers, but back then my style was more cartoonish and detailed. As I started to go more for digital illustrations, I went for a more minimalistic direction. For the ‘36 Days of Type’ challenge, I knew I needed something super simple as I was still working full time in an agency, and my time frame was very limited to create something each day, so it kind of pushed me into a more minimalistic approach. I am sure it will still change a lot as I go for more and more illustration projects.

Your 36 Days of Type project was created entirely in Affinity Designer. How did you come up with so many different ideas? Was it hard?

I always used to start with sketching in my little notebook. Sometimes I had two to three ideas for a letter, so I went for the one I liked the most. Something I would do differently for sure though is choosing a more specific theme or topic because when starting this challenge, I was like ‘let’s create something cheerful and spring-related’… but this left me with too many options and in the end, I ended up struggling with the ideation.

36 Days of Type challenge by Nora Toth
Each illustration is pretty detailed. How long did it take you to do just one?

Most of the letters took around five to six hours to create but with the more detailed ones maybe seven to eight hours. If I didn’t have as much time some days, I went for something simpler.

Did you find creating something different each day a challenge? Where did the inspiration come from?

It was pretty challenging for me, but somehow, I managed to keep up until the end. Although it was a difficult thing to deal with having to post something that I was not 100% satisfied with. Normally I go back and iterate multiple times before I can say that I am done with something, but due to the limited timeframe, I had no chance of doing this. It was also probably the factor that kept it fresh. As for the inspiration, the ideas came each time I started sketching—I was playing around with the shape of the letters and something always popped up in my mind, so I ended up with several ideas for each letter.

What are your thoughts about Affinity Designer as a tool for your illustration work? What features have you found most useful?

I simply love it! Someone showed me prior to the ‘type’ challenge, and I was amazed. Of course, I had to get used to the new interface as it’s slightly different to Adobe products, but it’s pretty intuitive to use both on desktop and the iPad. I haven’t really opened Illustrator since I got Affinity Designer, although just like most designers, that used to be my main vector graphic tool.

What has been the most interesting product you have worked on so far?

Probably the Siesta Slots mobile game. I was the only graphic artist in the project team, so it was quite challenging. I also had to work in a very different style to what I would usually go for. I’ve never worked on a mobile game before, so it was really different from anything else I have done so far.

We love the illustrations you created for the Siesta Slots mobile game. How long did this project take you to complete?

It was basically one to one and a half years altogether from the first rough sketches to the final product, but there was a lot of experimenting and pivoting involved at the beginning around the whole concept and mood of the game, finalising the characters etc. in the first few months, so I would say drawing all the final assets and UI took a couple of months.

How did you come up with the characters and bring them to life?

I worked with a game designer and creative director, so they gave me the main direction. I did a bunch of sketches based on their feedback and vision, and it took a couple of rounds of iterations until we reached a point where everyone was happy with the results. The characters needed to be modelled and animated into 3D too, so I had to take that into consideration.

How would you describe your work, and what do you think differentiates your style from others?

I’m not really sure about my style. I am still in the process of developing it, but I usually opt for playfulness, sophisticated but vivid colours, bold and round shapes, cheerfulness, and a bit of irony.

What has been your biggest challenge so far?

Professionally I would say becoming a freelancer. I’ve always worked as an employee, and it’s pretty risky financially (especially in Hungary) to be totally on your own, but I wanted it badly as it matches my character way more than the typical nine till five lifestyle. I hope I can keep growing as an illustrator and as an entrepreneur in the future as I don’t want to go back to being an employee.

Who is your favourite illustrator and why?

I don’t think I will ever have a specific favourite one as there are so many great artists, but just to name a few—I am always inspired by the works of Paul Rand, Christoph Niemann, Rick Berkelmans, Agathe Sorlet and even the woodblock prints of Hokusai. I usually love when an artist has a bold style and a good sense of humour.

How many hours a day do you spend drawing?

It depends, sometimes I don’t have time for it at all, for example, if I have to work on a lot on UX/UI design-related projects. Other days I end up spending eight to ten hours creating digital drawings or sketching in my notepad etc, so it’s really hectic.

Do you think it’s important for an artist to still reserve some time to draw for themselves?

Yes, it’s important to leave some time for personal projects, as there are no limitations or requirements that come with work-related ones. It’s easier to explore, experiment and improve our personal style and technical knowledge that way.

Do you have a way to organise your day to maximise your work?

I always set a list of tasks I want to do each day, but I still have a few problems with time management. I have a lot to improve in that area.

Lastly… if you weren’t an illustrator, what would you be?

Probably a jazz pianist. Although it was a childhood dream, I started to play the piano pretty late (when I was 20) as I didn’t have the chance to try it before that, and right now I am still studying it, so it’s just a hobby.

You can check out more of Nora’s work on Behance, Dribbble and Instagram.

Artist relations

Amy is part of our artist relations team here at Serif. Amy loves going for walks with her little boy and going to the gym, which she offsets by drinking tea and eating biscuits. Get in touch with Amy if you have work you have made in Affinity apps to share with us, she always loves getting great creative work in her inbox, or tag your work with #madeinaffinity in the usual places.

Credits & Footnotes

All images copyright © of Nora Toth and used with permission.