Nikkolas Smith is a Disney Imagineer and a Los Angeles-based freelance designer. He has contributed many incredible pieces to CAN campaigns, including his depiction of MLK in a hoodie. Nikkolas most recently drew the poster for Dear White People.
Where are you from and where are based you now? I'm from Houston, TX... now living in Burbank, CA
How did you become an artist? I think I was born an artist, as pretty much everyone is. Always drawing/painting/creating... I just never really stopped, around the time when most teenagers do.
When did you start thinking about art in relation to social change? I'd say it was my early 20's, when i became the cartoonist for The Script, Hampton University's school newspaper. I started venturing into political cartoon satire, and other world events.
Take us through your process! Pencil/Paint Brush/Mouse? All of my pieces begin by first finding great artists to study. Emulate the greats! It helps immensely. I then grab my favorite photoshop brushes, usually charcoal and a few dry-brush painterly styles. From there it all depends on what message needs to be conveyed, but I try to stick to my high school art teacher's main lesson that says you should always create a focal point, but then lead the eye all over the piece from there.
What was your last/is your next CAN piece and how did you choose it? My last CAN piece was Yosemite National Park, for the See America campaign. So much fun! And taking the road trip up to see it in person was incredible. I initially wanted to create the Yosemite piece because of the work I do in theme park design, and knowing how challenging it is to try to recreate these miraculous landscapes. Yosemite has many similarities to the California Adventure / Grizzly Peak / Route 66 Carsland attractions we try to bring to life at Imagineering. The next CAN piece I create has yet to be decided upon, but i'm sure it'll be a fun ride!
Tell us the story of the most gratifying creative work you've ever done. That would definitely have to be my biggest CAN piece; April 4th, 1968, depicting MLK in a hoodie. It was the first piece I ever created that literally traveled around the world, and i'm honored that it was able to touch so many people with its message of justice and its enduring lesson that no person should ever be judged by their outward appearance.
If you could spend the day with any artist or creative thinker (alive or dead) who would it be and what would you do? Definitely Walter Elias Disney... We would absolutely have to sit down and discuss his true plans for EPCOT as a Prototypical City of Tomorrow, and figure out how to make it a reality. If not Walt, then Da Vinci...