For today’s MakerStory we’re talking with Nikolay Krastev aka DirtyTactic, a Bulgarian-born traditional and 2D digital artist, and self-proclaimed caffeine addict. His works span the monochromatic atmosphere, dark surrealism, and cyber and steampunk themed works. Nikolay dives into the gritty details of how he’s evolved as an artist and how he’s able to captivate his viewers through the use of elaborate stories behind his works.
How did your story start as an artist?
Art has been a part of my life from as far back as I can remember. I remember drawing boats in kindergarten all the time. Not even normal boats, but spaceships floating on water. My father was also an artist and my grandparents were blacksmiths, carpenters and builders. You can say creating is in my blood. I remember finding my father’s old notebooks from university where he drew surreal castles, miniature portraits, and vehicles done only with ink or graphite. I’d stare at his works endlessly, and I remember every drawing having this insanely epic story, it was inspiring. The one I remember the most was about about a cook in a restaurant who was preparing meals for cannibals, as a hostage. In the end, he managed to escape MacGyver style.
Growing up we also had a giant library with all kinds of books. I read the Lord of the Rings trilogy at age 12, which inspired me to read even more, like the sci-fi stories from the Strugatsky Brothers and others. I eventually found having all sorts of images and ideas popping in my head, and in the middle of all that chaos, drawing them connected all those images together — giving them life.
When did you decide to follow your path as an artist?
I’ve always dreamed of creating stuff for a living. In high school I actually studied economics but I quickly realized it was a mistake — it was clear that I preferred to draw rather than crunch numbers all day long. I almost got expelled because I kept skipping classes to draw, but I started noticing that all the time not paying attention in class was paying off, my work was getting better! That motivated me to spend more time drawing, to study the craft, and most importantly, to not get discouraged. Even then, after graduation I attended university to study industrial design and engineering, but recently decided to quit and focus on art — my true calling.
Can you tell us about your style of art?
Honestly, sometimes I don’t have a clear direction in my head, although by definition, I guess my work would be in the dark surrealism spectrum. My pieces are inspired by fantasy and sci-fi, and I love drawing hard surfaces and human expressions — the symbiosis between human and machine.
I think if you look from afar, we’re all turning into machines, like we’re cogs in a machine working towards who knows what. But we’re all working, constantly moving, evolving, absorbing information, expressing ideas and manipulating our surroundings. But I also wonder what will happen if we, as individuals, work not as what this machine demands but rather what we need. Instead, grinding towards a goal, to be a great singer, rocket scientist, an artist, you need to become one with your tools and merge the man and the machine, metaphorically. I like to imagine our metamorphosis through the prism of my mind and lay it on the canvas as we all do in some way. That’s what I try to express in my works lately.
How has your style changed over the years?
In the beginning, I was drawing characters with no real purpose, I just wanted them to look as cool as possible — dark and grim. I was influenced by all the horror games I played, and also by H.R Giger and his work in Alien. The characters would fit into a scene, a place, but what I drew would lack a frame of reference, a surrounding.
Today I try to create reasons and capture a story. Why does that man have a scar on his face, why does he have no eyes? I now try to keep a notebook next to me to write down keywords and the story, to express it in my work. You can get lost in the details and sometimes the time to render could take hours, which is when the additional ideas come to play and develop.
Before this, I’d just draw without a full concept, and would look like a bunch of different stuff slapped together. Writing things down helps with this.
Can you tell us about the process of making your work?
First, I get myself a metric ton of coffee, candy, snacks, and a playlist (an audiobook, a podcast, or even complete silence) — what’s playing in the background really affects my work! I then get a sheet of paper and start drawing, with ink or graphite, that’s what I always use, never tried paint or anything else. All my life I’ve drawn in monochrome. After that, I take a picture or a scan my drawing to get it into Photoshop, plug in my tablet, and then comes the endless grind of converting it to digital.
The cool thing about digital painting is that you have so many ways to do one thing, some ways more efficient than others. It never gets boring because you can find a new way to do things faster and better than before. You can paint, erase, delete, create anew. It’s malleable and can even be used for other creations later, such as animations and graphic designs.
I also think of every painting and drawing as a lesson, when I “finish” it. Maybe I’ll reuse parts of it for a new piece, maybe I won’t.
Do you have a favorite artist, which you draw inspiration from?
There are too many, but I’ll try to name a few.
H. R. Giger blew my mind when I was a teenager and continues to be an inspiration. Then I met Alexander Lalov and Vlad Penev, these are the guys that showed me the wonders of digital painting and played a huge role in my development as an artist, and as a human in general. After that, I got introduced to Adrian Smith. His deformed characters with weird proportions and rough shapes taught me how by deforming something you can bring forth even more character and life in them. Also, Karl and Stefan Kopinski, and many others on ArtStation.
Last year I saw the works of Reinhard Schmid, his work showed me the true power of the color. He’s also the man that I heard talking about MakersPlace for the first time. Peter Gric took my love for cables to the next level. Finally, Allen Williams showed me how to play with shapes and patterns, how to build forms from value, how to draw shapes from textures, and how to balance light and shadows.
What are your biggest challenges to creating art, and how do you deal with them?
Early on, motivation was my biggest challenge in each new piece. But then I found that all I needed to do was start! Now I fight myself over the details. When I go from paper to digital, I sometimes spend days rendering the same two square centimeters. I’m still learning what I should render to the finest detail and what I should leave to the viewer’s imagination. Oh and time, managing my time is a huge challenge — so basically I’m my own biggest enemy.
How do you see the art market and the art world changing?
With the acceleration of technology, it opens up the world for appreciating art. Not only are there more people looking for art online, but the consumption of art is growing — even if on a passive level (e.g videos, games, movies, design, and advertisement)
The internet is also creating a venue for us artists. We don’t need galleries anymore. We just need to put our work out there, and the people who get inspired, love, appreciate, are willing to support us, can do it. It’s never been easier, you don’t even have to leave your home, or your bed, to reach an audience who’ll find and appreciate your work.
How has an increasingly digital world impacted your work?
In every way imaginable. A few years ago I could not imagine creating the works that I create today, I could not imagine getting to meet and talk to so many people around the world. I met my teachers and I learned almost everything I know about art online. It’s impacted my life as a whole, not only my work.
How do you integrate digital technology into your work?
More than half of my artworks are done behind a keyboard. Now with my tablet I can simulate the work of a pencil or a brush and translate the movements onto the screen. The software that I’m using allows me to work without fear that I will destroy the piece. There are exceptions though, ransom wares, burned hard drives, the usual stuff. (always backup your files!)
I just love technology…
How do you think blockchain and the ability to own scarce digital art will affect the industry?
Artists now have a new way of distributing their works in a completely new and unregulated way. The only thing that matters is the artist’s digital work and the customer, which removes so many steps. Eventually, artists will no longer need a middleman and those who rely on that as a source of profit will need to get competitive, be consumed by it, or embrace it.
Can you share your thoughts on MakersPlace?
It’s still hard for me to find a market for my artwork. Sometimes I put more work into advertising and selling than I put into the actual painting itself. When I created my account on MakersPlace it took only 5 minutes to upload my artworks and set prices… it was like I got a “Power Up”. The really cool thing about it is that it’s simple, and it had everything I needed. Not only am I able to find artwork from an artist that I respect and like, but I can also support them by purchasing it. I can also print the digital artwork without guilt because I know that I contributed, and my transaction will push the artist to create more — another way to show them appreciation.