Whether he’s playing the music on an album or drawing that same record’s cover art, the work of Nick Ogonosky leaves a distinctive impression.
The 26-year-old drummer of A Social State has been seen around Scranton lately performing and promoting the songs on the band’s latest record, “How to Get to Heaven,” but he’s also been busy at home illustrating for publications like The Boston Globe and bands like Esta Coda.
Just in time for the First Friday Scranton art walk, Ogonosky has teamed up with his brother’s band, Blinded Passenger, for an original art show at The Keys that coincides with the release party for their new album, “The Electric,” which he also did the cover art for. As he’ll be opening the show with A Social State as well, NEPA Scene wanted to catch up with the Scranton-based artist before his creative schedule became any more out of control to talk about his burgeoning career as an illustrator, his eye-catching work, and combining his passions.
NEPA SCENE: How did you get started as an illustrator?
NICK OGONOSKY: I remember having drawing time with my brother and father. I would try (“try” being the key word) to recreate the illustrations on the covers of comic books and “Calvin and Hobbes” books. This was back when Calvin and Hobbes were a big deal, so I guess you can say I started young, but my brother was always the better drawer, ironically enough.
NS: How has your work changed and developed over the years?
NO: It’s changed immensely, especially during my time at Savannah College of Art and Design. I think before that I was just a drawer. I dabbled. I tried to draw everything as realistically as possible, but once I attended an actual art school and realized that illustration is so much more than just drawing what you see, my mind really opened up and I started experimenting more with shape and form.
NS: What is your creative process like? Do you have many pieces going at the same time or do you tackle one at a timer?
NO: I like to think of the most out-of-the-box way to say what I’m trying to say, so conceptualizing is a huge part of my process. You can have a beautifully drawn image, but if the concept doesn’t speak loud enough, it’s not as successful.
I sketch everything with pencil and paper. Then, I scan the sketch in, and using Photoshop, re-draw the illustration. Finally, I use found textures that I scanned in to give the illustration a little patina. Much like my father (he’s a fantastic watercolor painter), I tend to despise every single piece I do, so a lot of personal projects end up half finished and in the graveyard. I guess that counts as working on multiple pieces at a time. For the most part, I like to focus on the concept or piece that’s fresh in my mind and that I’m excited about. However, sometimes I’ll be in the middle of one piece and get what I think is a better idea and abandon the original idea. I’m a bad parent.
NS: How much work goes into a typical piece?
NO: More time goes into the concept and finding the right way to say something. My illustrations are not overly detailed by any means. This allows for more focus to be on the concept, and it also means that the actual drawing time is usually between 4-8 hours, with some exceptions.
NS: Where do you gain your inspiration from?
NO: I gain inspiration from other illustrators, music, family and friends, and especially society. Sometimes I like to make a piece that puts a twist on and/or pokes fun at a certain stereotype into today’s society. For instance, one of the pieces I have called “Starving Artist” depicts a vampire playing an upright bass, but the bass’ neck has two bite marks in it. That sounds silly… Anyway, I heard so many people say, “I’m a starving artist,” at art school that I thought it was an ongoing joke. First of all, you’re going to art school to become an artist. Lawyers don’t go to law school – people who hope to someday become lawyers go to law school. So I guess my bitterness is a great source of inspiration as well.
NS: Your work is a mixture of traditional and digital illustration. Where does one process begin and the other end?
NO: Working digitally has the advantage of being quicker than waiting for paint to dry and whatnot. At the same time, I missed the accidents and unpredictability that came with working with traditional media, so I started scanning in pencil lines and textures I found around the house to incorporate some of the imperfections of working traditionally. The beginning and end is hard to judge because I’m always trying new things.
NS: You’ve done work for some major clients. How did you land gigs like The Boston Globe?
NO: The day I graduated from SCAD, my professor and “mentor” Mohamed Danawi (an amazing illustrator) contacted me and asked if I would like to join his illustration agency, Illozoo. Obviously I said yes, because the thought of having to send invoices and haggle with clients terrified me. The Boston Globe was my first and second illustration job through Illozoo. It’s great because the agency has artist representatives in Milan, Dubai, Paris, etc. My work is literally being seen by people all around the world. I actually just finished a three-week, three illustration job for a major Italian newspaper. I needed someone to translate the article and brief me because the art directors didn’t speak any English. It was pretty wild.
NS: With commissioned pieces, how do you give your client what they’re looking for while still fulfilling your own creative needs?
NO: I always like to make sure that the client knows what they’re hiring me for. Luckily, I don’t still get people asking me to draw a realistic illustration that’s unbelievably detailed and rendered anymore. They know that I have a strange style, and hopefully that’s what they’re looking for.
NS: Your human figures have a very particular style to them. How did you develop that look, and was it a conscious decision?
NO: Like I said, my professor and now boss Mohamed Danawi was a huge influence on my style and me. He made me realize that I could exaggerate the human figure and make it look different and move in ways that aren’t possible. I made a conscious decision to be more abstract with shapes and form, but as far as the way it comes out on paper, I tend to just see what works and what doesn’t.
NS: Is there a particular piece or a few pieces that you are most proud of?
NO: I’m really proud of the work I’ve done so far with The Boston Globe. Both pieces (one for an article about heroin addiction and the other about a medical merger) really came out great thanks to the art director I worked with. She’s so unbelievably open-minded and really urges you to go crazy with the illustration. I’ll always have a weakness for those two pieces because they were my first real illustration job for a major publication.
NS: Your brother, Stefan Ogonosky, said you worked very hard on the cover for his band’s new album, “The Electric,” when he was on the NEPA Scene Podcast earlier this week. How did you develop that and what you feel is being conveyed in the finished piece?
NO: For that album (which is by far my favorite local band album in a very long time), I wanted to portray the overall experience of listening to the album into a cohesive concept/artwork. Blinded Passenger has a more upbeat vibe as a whole, but this album actually has a lot of heavy messages in its lyrical content. The colors of the album art reference the upbeat rock vibe, while the concept embodies the message of the album.
It’s an album about Scranton. It has both good and bad qualities, but one thing that stuck with me is how long the guys in this band have been at it. Making music for the love of it in a city that swallows local bands whole, it makes you doubt yourself and your talent. The artwork depicts a figure plugging a guitar cord into a fake/model city that is slowly being lit up and powered by the music. In other words, music is bringing this city to life.
NS: You’ve illustrated a few album covers now. Do you work with the bands (including your own) to develop the concept, or do you do that on your own? Does the art reflect the music?
NO: Esta Coda’s “Kindness” was different because they saw something that I had already done and posted online, and they chose that for the album cover. A Social State’s “How to Get to Heaven” and Blinded Passenger’s “The Electric” were absolutely inspired by the music. I try to grasp the overall mood of an album and turn it into artwork with the right colors that fit the album. I’ve yet to do an album cover that is just wild and random, which would be a lot of fun. I would also like to shout out to any bands in the area that are looking for album artwork. I would love to be the artwork guy in this music scene.
NS: The Batman piece is a fun one. When you were drawing a well-known figure like that, how did you end up putting your own spin on him?
NO: It’s tough because you can’t stray too far from the original, especially with friggin’ Batman. The last thing I need is some angry mob of nerds beating me to a bloody pulp because I put one too many blades on Batman’s arms.
NS: The Beatles are also pretty recognizable, of course, in another piece of yours. Are they an influence on your work at all?
NO: I do like The Beatles, but not nearly as much as most people. I’m more of a Kinks guy myself. The Kinks would definitely win in a British pop sensation gang fight against The Beatles.
NS: As both a musician and an illustrator, are those things separate for you creatively or do they come from a similar place and mindset?
NO: Well, I’m absolutely 100 percent obsessive over both. If I’m not in drummer mode, I’m in illustrator mode. I’m also a perfectionist when it comes to both, but I guess they do come from a similar place. Both involve me trying to say something in a way that best suits and adds to the art/song.
NS: What’s great about this show tonight is that it combines an art show with a concert. Do you feel like different types of artists should be getting together more for events that combine different audiences?
NO: Absolutely! There’s something for everyone at an event like this. There is definitely a tightknit art community in this city, but I think we should be trying to integrate different types of art into to the same show or event, especially now with the unfortunate loss of places like The Vintage Theater that strongly encouraged events like this. In the end, it only exposes your art, be it music or illustration, to a broader audience that may not normally experience it.
NS: What are you working on currently? Do you have any other shows coming up or pieces being published to look out for?
NO: The unfortunate thing about freelance illustration is you never know when you’re going to get your next job and who your next client will be. However, I’m always working on new personal pieces, so depending on the response to my artwork this next month at The Keys, I may be doing more solo or group shows in the future. If my work sells, I’d like to open up a print shop on my website too, so people can order prints online if they see something they like.
I’ve also been tossing around the idea of marketing myself to all the local bands I can in hopes that I can gain more clients in this music scene, and I’ve also been dying to start up an (all types of) art zine and collaborating with local artists and musicians. This city has so much talent, and maybe with a legitimate zine, we could get that talent seen and heard by people other than the locals.
NS: Is there anything else you’d like to mention?
NO: I’d like to thank Jenn Sekelsky at The Keys for lighting a fire under my ass to finally have an art show there. Also, I’d like to thank Blinded Passenger for sharing the spotlight on a very important night for them. It’s going to be an amazing night. Lastly, thank you, Rich, for the interview and thank you to everyone for the support!
with Blinded Passenger, A Social State, and Esta Coda
Location: The Keys (244 Penn Ave., Scranton)
Date: Friday, Nov. 5
Time: 6 p.m.
Cost: Free; music starts at 9 p.m. with $5 cover charge
About 15 original pieces will be on display, and prints on high-quality archival paper will be for sale. The art show will be up for the entire month of December. To purchase prints or inquire about commissions, visit nickoillustration.com.
by Rich Howells
Rich is an award-winning journalist, longtime blogger, photographer, and podcast host. He is the founder and editor of NEPA Scene.