I instantly fell in love with Kobie Nieuwoudt's work- it was simple yet conveyed this depth. While attempting to dig into this meaning, I was lucky enough to be able to ask Kobie a few questions about her process, inspirations, and beliefs about her industry. Her answers are as personable, creative, and intelligent as her artwork- read more below!
Your “Design Indaba” profile states that you focus on human nature and communication in your pieces. How did this interest begin, and how did you first translate into illustrations?
It’s rather a funny story. I’ve been wearing glasses all my life and because my vision is so poor the glasses magnify my eyes quite a bit. In high-school I got so self-conscious that, even after getting contact lenses, I didn’t want to look people in the eye. I would rather stare at the floor while listening to the person speak in order to absorb the information properly. I won’t be concentrating on what they are saying, there would be this inner monologue of, “they think you look ridiculous.” I thought anyone could see the embarrassment in my eyes. We communicate so much with our eyes: sadness, worry, happiness, fear. You can even tell if someone is being sincere or lying. There came a point where I had to get over this irrational fear of eye-contact. Thus, I became a silent observer as to how people around me communicate and make eye contact. They did it so automatically and it fascinated me. Since then I’ve always been more aware of body language and making eye-contact. While we communicate we’re constantly gesturing with our hands, twisting our eye-brows and holding eye contact in order to accurately describe the message we want to convey. I want to capture these gestures as glimpses into moments that have become so involuntary that we’ve stop noticing.
Do you have any little rituals when you work on your illustrations, such as listening to a specific type of music or making sure certain items are in your workplace?
I thrive on routine. Everything starts off with a clean work space that then slowly becomes cluttered with coffee mugs, plates, tissues and bubble-gum wrappers as the day continues. When I get a brief I will usually research the topic, read related articles, make notes and stick them where they are constantly in view. I spend the majority of the time on concept. Once you have a solid concept half the work is done. When I’m struggling with an idea or how to execute it, I’ll often just lay my head back and think. Just because you’re not physically doing anything doesn’t mean you’re not making progress. Music is without a doubt central to having a productive day, I think any creative mind can relate! Composers such as Thomas Newman, Randy Newman, James Newton Howard, Alexander Desplat, James Horner, Hans Zimmer, John Williams and Michael Giacchino just make you forget all other concerns and simply focus on the task at hand.
Why and how did you begin creating GIFs out of your illustrations? What liberties and limitations do you believe the GIF format holds?
The GIF format enables you to bring a stagnant image to life, and it needn’t be a complex set frames. The whole image can be still with a single object moving, like a person winking an eye at you or a dog wagging its tail! There’s so much you can do with the medium. It can create a narrative where a certain object undergoes a metamorphosis, which is my personal favorite. It’s all about finding that ‘surprise’ element; creating the unexpected. A GIF is a short looping animation, so a limitation would be how to get the most impact out of the least amount of frames. Which is also why GIFs are so striking. You’re not sitting through an entire Pixar animation; you just need minimum 6 frames to convey a message. I prefer it when the loop is seamless and the viewer can just enjoy the loop without any glitches happening in between. When creating a GIF, keep in mind has a start and an end therefore it’s always good to know what you are working towards. GIF artist Elle Muliarchyk, compares GIFs to memories. Muliarchyk states, “It’s a more organic and intuitive medium to relate an experience- more so than a photo or a video. Think of how we recollect memories: close your eyes and think of something from your past. You don’t see a frozen still image - you see GIFs!”
Your illustrations and GIFs range from light-hearted, such as the wedding dances collection, to the mystical, such as “Headache” featuring blinking eyes, to the existential in “Life.” Do you believe there is more room for creativity and heavier themes in illustration and GIFs?
Absolutely. Whatever the artist feels passionate about can be addressed with a GIF. I’m acutely aware and often aggravated as to how women are depicted in the media, concerning magazines and commercials. There’s so much pressure for women to keep up with these, often, ridiculous beauty standards that I just want to create something opposed to that and make it laughable. Therefore, my subject matter often focuses on body-image, confronting rejection and anxiety.
I personally am very interested in studying the local Washington, D.C. art scene. How do you view your local art scene? Is it collaborative, separated, or competitive?
In general South African artists are very supportive of each other. Although we’re all specialized in different fields, we do have similar goals and aspirations as to how we can make a success out of our crafts.; finding a way to make a living. There are always exhibitions taking place that give local artists the opportunity to display their work and converse with fellow creatives.
It’s in our nature to be competitive. I get quite intimidated at times, but it’s a good incentive to up your game and keep trying to do more and put yourself out there. South Africans have a sense of humor you won’t find anywhere else in the world, but when we collaborate it’s magic.
What is your dream exhibition? If you could display your work anywhere, inside or outdoors, solo or with any artist, what would you choose?
I’d love to have an exhibition in a space surrounded by nature. For example, a botanical garden. For my dream exhibition I’d want to get emerging, local artists from a variety of fields - whether it’s jewelry, fashion or industrial design - to create a piece that would be inspired by the theme of the exhibition.
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