“The little birds made me think of you!”
Animal lover and long time digital artist Shaylynn from @nimitszu gives us insight into her magical world-building process that she has created over the years.
Shaylynn’s art journey is a saga that spans a large part of her life — she goes into detail about her process, and shares her thoughts behind using an alias for social media. She also tells us about her passion for animals and how that reflects in her work, as well as how her graphic design background helps her in her journey.
Please introduce yourself!
Hello! My name is Shaylynn and I’m an Illustrator and Graphic Designer. Although I studied visual communication design, I love digital painting and creating surreal-fantasy worlds in that direction.
I love the dramatic and cinematic feel to your work — can you tell us a bit more about your art?
I’m so happy to hear that you enjoy this feeling from my work! When it comes to my art, I love it as a medium to not only explore imaginary places, but also to put thoughts and emotions into something you can see- no matter how straightforward or abstract the idea may be. Some of my favourite pieces actually began spontaneously from these thoughts! From there, developing and bringing more story into the piece has become as big of a part as the visuals, in recent years. And diving into my personal worldbuilding project has fueled these ideas even more lately! It’s a project that is dear to my heart, showing a partially-frozen world recovering after an event that changed the landscape drastically. Through environments and artworks in this project, I want to not only show the physical travels and interactions of characters and the world, but also sentiments that may feel relatable to whoever may be viewing it. In a way, it’s my way of showing these emotions in a hazy, dreamlike form.
How did you get started with your art, and how has your style developed over the years?
I’ve been drawing ever since I could pick up a pencil! For almost all of my life I’ve been drawing, and I’ve been fortunate to have this hobby encouraged over the years. I think I was most inspired by books, videos and nature around me to start with. As a result, animals have made up the bulk of the subjects I drew earlier on (and to this day)! I’d spend my time learning about animal species and the environment while also trying to draw the photos of what I saw from picture books, nonfiction books, encyclopedias and more. Along the way, I discovered my first Pokemon game — Pokemon FireRed — and that brought an entirely new interest to my attention. Video games from then on served to inspire me for wanting to design characters and creatures, especially with my little fake Pokemon designs!
On an iPod I had 8 years ago, I tried tracing over one of my marker drawings digitally. That would end up being one of my first digital artworks, besides messing around on MS Paint, that fueled my passion. It was the exciting discovery of something new. I got really absorbed in painting with my finger on this little screen. I continued on to keep drawing cutesy and cartoony animal and pet drawings here, before being allowed to borrow my Mom’s iPad to draw on and practice with further! As I discovered social media platforms with art communities, there was a seemingly endless trove of inspiration. I discovered so many artists that would motivate me to tackle landscapes and larger scenes- to explore more and figure out what I really enjoyed making.
When I came across many concept artists around on places like DeviantArt and Instagram around 2013, that’s when I was most excited to practice landscapes! I worked to take in parts of the styles I enjoyed most. To this day, I still enjoy a mix of fantasy and semi-realism for my art. There’s been a lot of change up until this point, but the dreaminess that others would describe in my work has probably been one of the more “consistent” aspects of my work over these rigorous years!
Your style is very painterly — do you do traditional art, and if so, how does this help you in your digital artwork?
I still do traditional art here and there, yes! Most of my larger finished works are done digitally these days, although I do enjoy working with pen, coloured pencils, and watercolour. There definitely are differences in the process, similar to simply using a different program for different purposes, but I find that I take a lot of layering techniques from how I work traditionally into my digital paintings! This usually comes from creating textures and base shapes loosely in watercolour or acrylic, before later honing in on the finer details and painting over areas that might not work. I love having earlier brushstrokes and colours show up in the final work- to have that textured appearance come across, which goes similarly to when I paint traditionally as well.
When I look through your old artwork, I can see there’s a big jump in colour as now you use a very Monet-esque colour palette! . What has inspired your colour choices, and how does colour affect your art?
My colour choices can be pretty dependent on the art I see during the time I’m working on any given piece! For earlier landscape and background works, I was heavily inspired by concept art that leaned more on the realistic side; those epic works you’d see from artists who worked on large productions or triple A games in that style. The colours from those were usually more muted, mature and bold. When I returned to sharing my art on social media more around 2020, I rediscovered big inspirations of mine that used more magical, iridescent colours. These were the kinds of colours that felt so dreamlike, the colours that made me look at a piece and think “yeah, that looks fun to work with, and I love cool colours, so let’s try something similar”! Ever since my earlier digital painting days impressionistic art has remained a strong inspiration, but that grew exponentially in the past year. I simply enjoy being able to zoom in on parts of the piece and see these bits of different colour tones. The progression from desaturated to more saturated areas can bring a lot of energy and focus to an artwork, and that’s a part of this process that I’d like to keep practicing as well.
Animals seem to be a recurring theme in your work, particularly birds! Is there a reason behind this, and how do animals or characters enhance your art?
I talked earlier about nature being a big motivating factor for me wanting to draw what I see. I loved (and still love!) collecting nonfiction books related to the environment and life since I was young. Whether it’s a book about dogs, marine life, or dinosaurs, it was fascinating to me and all I wanted to do was draw as many species as I could. Going forward with my exposure to video games and other media, that only strengthened due to all the interesting animals and animal-inspired creature designs out there. Animals have always felt more approachable to me than people. It could be remnants of that childlike wonder that continue to stay with me, but they’re complex and inviting in a way that is different from drawing people. And while I’ve loved delving into practicing people more for my personal project, they’ll always be close to heart.
I had an Endangered Species series of artworks that I worked on a few years ago highlighting animals at risk of extinction. It means a lot to have had the chance to draw and raise awareness for wildlife in this way; these kinds of artworks are just my little homage to the diverse life and phenomenons of the natural world, alongside bringing in a little touch of fantasy.
As for birds… they became an unintentionally big part of my art as years passed! I’d include birds in many of my landscapes the more I practiced them, similar to those little quirks artists may have recurring in their work. I never realized how much I enjoyed them, and including them as an art or design element in my work, until friends at uni would repeatedly point out my designs being recognizable because of the birds! It’s the little things commented, like “I knew this was your piece because of… the clouds/birds/elegance” and “the little birds made me think of you!” that actually made me embrace those elements more. My illustration work often includes dreamy, nostalgic and somewhat escapist themes, and birds usually fit the moods I’m going for. Yeah, I really love them!
Please share the reason behind your username! Some people say that we should use our given name as a username, as it’s good for marketing — do you agree with this advice, and do you think using an alias has hindered you?
“Nimiszu” is derived from “Nimitsu” a character name from an old story idea of mine from 2012! Developed over time, I liked “szu” at the end instead of “tsu”. It came to feel more solidified as an alias I’ve grown into over these past 8 years! It means Secret Eclipse from what I recall.
I do agree that using our given name is great for marketing. I was especially recommended this from school, as it appears more common to go by your own name in the graphic design industry. At the same time, I personally think it’s fine to have an alias for marketing, especially if it is clear and memorable. You want to keep in mind how easy it’ll be to be found, how your name may fare for SEO and general communication (and even for others to remember). I chose to go with nimiszu.com for my domain rather than my full name as I’ve kept this name for years- though others may choose to go by other names for their business. In my experience, my alias has not hindered me, though I do enjoy having my name out there as well.
From what I can see, you have studied/are studying illustration or art in school? How has learning from an institution helped develop your art?
I haven’t studied illustration, but I studied visual communication design (or graphic design) in post secondary. More than anything, learning in the design direction helped with my process and time management, alongside honing my technical abilities. Graphic design is more than just the visuals; there’s the research, message and overall intention behind all the little choices. We’re taught about all the little graphic elements to be sensitive about in order to market the message clearly. Across visual communication and art, there are plenty of similarities and differences, though I’ve found art can be more open to interpretation. There are processes from both that can be great to takeaway into each other, like design being helpful for building my freelance process with art. Learning about design in post secondary was especially helpful for improving the care and clarity of my art, no matter how surreal or abstract the idea may be.
What does your art mean to you and how does it affect your life?
Simply put: art means a lot to me and deeply affects how I view the world. I’ve come to realize how much an artist’s personal experiences build into their own work, and yes- a lot of my art is inspired by feelings, places, and personal ideas I want to get across. It’s my passion to storytell, and with my own worldbuilding project I’ve found inspiration from so many more places, never having a shortage of ideas. I’m not sure what I would do if I couldn’t create, because for me, making art is as much living as the other hobbies and parts of my life.
Remember a time you were stuck in a deep creative rut — how did you break free?
I think from all the times I’ve been stuck with art and my creativity, it’s simply helped to do other things and carry on with the other parts of my life. There may be moments of feeling intensely uncertain for a time, but I don’t think I’ve ever felt it so strongly that it would last longer than months or weeks. By the time I’ve done other things, enjoyed other hobbies and things to do, I usually start to have more ideas and am scrambling to get back to creating. Going outside and having a nice, simple walk around our local areas of nature can work wonders for this too. Funny enough, it’s usually by the time that I have motivation and ideas that I don’t have enough time to do all that again!