Creative Goals: Nicky Chulo, Designer & Illustrator

Nicky Chulo is dope af. There really is no other appropriate way to begin.

Born Nicholas Fulcher in Virginia, he learned to draw at an early age due to an affinity for graffiti, comic books and video games. With a focus on album art and apparel design, Nicky racked up his 10,000 hours by freelancing around D.C. for a few of his favourite artists and some of the industry’s top record labels.

Encouraged by a high school teacher to pursue art more seriously, he studied for a few years at Savanna College of Art & Design before moving to New York City where he currently resides with his long-term girlfriend and muse, while working as one of a handful of art directors at Atlantic Records.

All images, artwork and photos courtesy of Nicky Chulo, the Don.

I was first introduced to Nicky Chulo by way of Sylvan LaCue, who would always tell me about this dope designer from Atlantic who is cool as shit. He always said they would collaborate someday and they did indeed. The WiseUp artist enlisted the highly sought-after visual artist for the art direction and package design for his Apologies in Advance album release.

Fast forward to the present. Fresh off the successful rollout of a limited-edition sneaker collab with Nike & Cultivator, and album art for releases from Cardi B and Kodak Black, the graphic designer and illustrator is creative goals.

C H I L D H O O D

What was your childhood like? Were you a creative child?

My childhood was filled with cartoons, video games, and lots of drawing. In my youth, every New Year’s Eve, I would draw a picture to see how I much better I got from the previous year. Coming up as an only child, creativity came to me naturally. I always found magic where there was thought to be no magic, if that makes sense.

What did you want to be when you “grow up”?

“I went through a lot of phases growing up (haha). It went: Train Conductor → Scientist → Astronaut → Video Game Developer → Graphic Designer.

J O U R N E Y

What was the first label you worked for, and how did you get that job?

“The first label I worked for… hmm.I would have to say RCA by way of GoldLink or Motown Records by way of Chaz French. I didn’t work for them.. more along the lines of I worked with them.

First and only label I’ve worked for is Atlantic Records.

What was the application process like? Was there an interview?

There was a quick application process, but I just happened to be at the right place at the right time. It still blows my mind how everything came together.

Is label life like agency life, where you glide from label to label?

Absolutely not. When working with Visionary, Dreamville, Universal, and so forth, I had a relationship with the musicians (or managers) signed to those labels. I worked closely with those artists one-on-one, [and] they just happened to be signed to those labels. [The] only downside was sometimes the label would ask for changes, but I would figure out a way to explain my vision or find a suitable middle ground.

Working at Atlantic Records as an Art Director I feel I have more say in how creative executions to go. I have to talk to way more people to get things moving, which I understand, but sometimes it’s like… I went to college for this, I’ve studied this my whole life, I know what I’m doing! (haha)

You started off in your career by doing $20 album covers. What is your insight on pricing your work?

There’s always a time when you have to pay dues and get your foot in the door when it comes to creating album/single covers. My insight would be to get your practice in whether that be on your own time or attending school to hone your design skills. When your craft and confidence are sharp then you can reach out to artists/artist management/labels/etc.

The design/concept part actually isn’t the hard part. It’s when you have to sell/explain your ideas to the artist and their team. You have to believe in it and sell it if you truly believe in said idea. It’s 40% talent 60% negotiation. The pricing you want to charge for you work will come over time, BUT it’s not about the amount of covers you create it’s about how well you execute each cover.

It’s better to have created three phenomenal album/single rollouts over having created fifty so/so album/single covers. QUALITY over quantity always.

Does most of your work come from links, or do you pitch for projects you want?

Most of my work comes from word of mouth. Most of the people I work with I know or have met on a personal level. I rarely pitch for a project.

Actually, I pitched for Sylvan’s Apologies In Advance. I hounded that man to be a part of that project (haha). His music was always great to me, but I felt I could bring more to the way he’s portrayed visually and I couldn’t have done it without the skilled photographer & videographer, Jonathan Benavente.

P R O C E S S

How did you learn how to design and what programs did you begin with?

I began with a pencil and paper. The programs came a little later, but most of my work to this day starts with a mind map on paper and ungodly amounts of sketches (haha). It’s much easier to flush out ideas that way — paper, pencil, watercolours — and when it comes time to hop on Adobe Photoshop or Adobe Illustrator it cuts my time in half having those references.

What programs do you use now?

I use [Adobe] Photoshop, Illustrator, Lightroom, and After Effects regularly, but I also use InDesign as well as Adobe Color.

Any programs you avoid at all costs?

I don’t really avoid programs. If I need to get something done, I get my googles on and get the shit done.

What are the pros and cons of working a creative 9 to 5?

The Pros are stability and constant work. There are really no Cons unless you want to work in a different creative field.

P R O J E C T S

How did you connect with Sylvan? What was the process like creating for ‘Apologies in Advance’?

Believe it or not I met Sylvan when he was still QuESt. I pulled up to Logic’s show at Irving Plaza a few years back to say what up to Rhetorik and 6ix while they were in town. I believe Rhetorik introduced us as I was on my way out before the show started!

After I heard Far From Familiar, I was like yooooo, I need to be a part of the next project! So he would have his days when he would tweet “I need a graphic designer” and I would @ him like YOOO IM RIGHT HERE!!! and eventually he let me rock (lmao). The rest was history.

Most of the work for Apologies In Advance was done in a giant iMessage group chat. Which was actually surprisingly efficient. Merch, Singles, and Album all done in that thang. Shout out to the squad.

What is your typical team like at Atlantic?

It varies from project to project, but it usually starts with the Art Director and then we have a choice to work on the project ourselves or hire out a specific type of creative if we need to.

V I S I O N

Who are some photographers and creatives you would like to work with?

Hmm. I would love to work with Dennis (DDesigns) one of the most talented photographers I’ve seen in a long time. I’d like to work with Douge Type also. He just did the type work for Kendrick Lamar’s tour ‘Pulitzer Kenny’.

Type is so important.

What music projects are you looking forward to this year?

Hmm. I have a few great things in the works for 2019 you’ll see in time. As far as artists who I’m a fan of I would say I’m looking forward to Saint JHN, August 08, CuDi, and AymanX.

Who are some of your dream clients or dream projects?

I like to work with new talent, but I would have to say HOV, Berhana, and a few years down the line I’d like to work with GoldLink, IDK, and Chaz French again. Just to bring things full-circle. I think that would be something magical.

I N S P I R A T I O N

How do you keep yourself inspired?

Coffee and long walks.

What is a non-design related skill you are developing or always wanted to develop?

Speaking more articulately and becoming a God-level storyteller. Moments spent speaking on my experiences, I always cherish. Especially if it’s funny.

What would you say are the 3 most important traits to have in this industry?

I would say it’s important to have thick skin, to be able to take critique and bounce back. I would say it’s important to keep a good heart, even if people treat you poorly and play games. And lastly, I would say it’s important to understand that life happens.

Don’t get lost in the sauce. It’s important to build your creative skill — as well as spend time with friends, family, and enjoying hobbies. I let this culture eat me alive once. I took on too much, lost sleep, and lost people that I thought I would of course see again, but life checked me.

Time checked me. Be present.

You put together a beautiful birthday message for your girl once, with Masego singing. What are some of the benefits of being in a creative relationship?

(Haha) that’s my rock. The benefits for me, because it can vastly vary person to person, are fun creative conversations and it’s just easy to relate on a lot. With that being said my Rock is much more creatively in tune than me.

She can sing, design, and paint. She inspires me. I’m salty, but it motivates me, haha.

How did it feel to release your Nike collab? What the response was like?

The Nickychulo x Nike collaboration through Cultivator was something else. I was excited mainly because it was a brand new medium for me to express myself through. The sneakers were based on some of my favorite influences growing up. Kill Bill, Shadow The Hedgehog, and most recently Black Panther. The response was nothing like I would’ve ever expected.

I almost sold 100 pairs AND I had a few international orders. At the end of everything it reaffirmed me that I’m on the right path and that people really care about what I do as much as I do.

F O R W A R D

What are you looking forward to in 2019?

2019 to me will be about my personal brand. Seeing as how I almost sold 14k dollars worth of shoes? There’s definitely a market for me. I’ve always wanted to release apparel I actually sold t-shirts in high school! (haha) I know the ins and outs of fabric, printing, and cut & sew, but I’ve always wanted it to be just right. Less about the money to me and more about an everlasting moment and an inspirational piece.

Basically, when you’re about to be doing some great shit I want you to be wearing my shit because I believe in us.

I’ve been dabbling in film photography, I think it’s important to have a hobby outside your craft. Something you can gleefully make mistakes in and learn and grow. It’s like an adult recess for me. I get to escape for a second.

Other than that 2019 feels like it’s going to be an amazing year. Granted 2018 was a wonderful year for me career-wise it was extremely rough on a personal level. Shout out to my other half for keeping me whole.

You can follow Nicky Chulo on Twitter + Instagram: @NickyChulo and view his amazing (and typographically beautiful) portfolio at nickychulo.com.