When Pawel Nolbert started sketching and drawing as a schoolboy in Wieruszow, Poland, his parents encouraged his creative passion by buying him a computer. Although he admits using it for video games at first, a friend soon introduced him to Adobe Photoshop. That was the spark that launched Nolbert toward becoming an internationally recognized designer and art director whose marquee clients include Nike, Sony, and Mercedes-Benz. Recently featured as one of Adobe’s New Creatives, we took the time to learn a bit more about his background and approach to design.
Adobe: What was your introduction to graphic design?
Nolbert: In the beginning, I was really interested in customizing operating systems, creating wallpapers, “skins,” and different looks—like the ways you can customize desktops in Windows. Then, around 2001, a friend showed me Photoshop; I didn’t really know it existed before then. I was playing with other software at the time, but when I saw the possibilities of Photoshop, I quickly forgot about the other software.
I mostly worked on personal, non-commercial projects and artwork. Clients started to approach me after I started publishing my work online on deviantART in 2002. My old artwork is still there, but I publish my new projects on Behance and my own website, Nolbert.com.
Adobe: How did your career evolve from that point?
Nolbert: When I started publishing online, I got small assignments to create stickers, flyers, and so on. It quickly started growing into something bigger. I even began getting offers from agencies, but preferred to stay as a freelancer.
My style has evolved quite significantly, from an illustrative style to a mixed media style. I didn’t want to be limited by doing one strict style or type of work, or confining myself to any technique or medium. I wanted to be quite universal in that regard. So, I quickly expanded from classic illustration to incorporate more digital elements, very often including 3D graphics.
Adobe Photoshop CC is still the main tool I use every day to create. After that, I use Adobe Illustrator CC for simple vector graphics. When I was working on a lot of websites—from about 2005 to 2010—I also used Adobe Flash Professional for animation and even did some of coding, but I’m not doing as much of that anymore.
Adobe: What types of commercial projects are you doing?
Nolbert: From the beginning, most of my work has been with advertising clients, mainly print and outdoor campaigns. Secondarily, I work on online projects. A lot of the campaigns extend to different media, so I have to blend different styles: I may paint some assets by hand and convert them to digital; or I may create 3D graphics or use scans or assets from different media to create the effects I want to achieve. Mostly, the end output comes from Photoshop.
Adobe: How exactly do you use Photoshop CC?
Nolbert: A good example is my self-portrait for Adobe’s I Am the New Creative site. It’s a mixture of photography and digital illustration. I used a photographic portrait and manipulated it to get the right proportions of head and face. Then I photographed my hands. Those were the base assets. From that point, I started to use Photoshop vector tools. I use them to maintain scalability and keep everything in control in terms of distortion.
For some reason, I prefer the simplified vectors in Photoshop to those in Illustrator. It doesn’t matter if I work on a web project or a print illustration; I often use vector tools to create different objects in my artwork. When I draw those vector compositions, I use all the textures to apply to vector elements. Then I add shading and different adjustment layers on top of that to create striking colors and compositions. That’s basically the process that I am using to create all my artwork.
Adobe: Are you using any of the latest features in Photoshop CC?
Nolbert: I purchased Photoshop CC a few months back and one of new features that I really like is the Camera Raw filter that’s built into it. It was actually the feature that convinced me to switch from Adobe Creative Suite 6 to Creative Cloud, besides the cloud, of course, which is very convenient. What I love about Camera Raw is being able to master colors or do a basic retouch on photographs nondestructively.
Photoshop CC has a lot of features, small and big, that are really helpful. For example, the Crop tool now has a check button that lets you delete or keep the crop pixels. It’s important to have a good crop tool that lets you control your composition in simple photography and complex illustrations, and this one is much more convenient than in previous releases.
I love the new brushes; I use brushes a lot to achieve the right shading and the right finish for my compositions. The selection of brushes has been expanded in Photoshop CC and they have some new settings that let you control more of the brush parameters, which is especially versatile when using a graphics tablet.
I’m also really impressed with the optimization of the Liquify filter in Photoshop CC, too. It’s much faster and better. I use it a lot to apply distortions to photography or bitmap illustrations. When I work in a very high resolution, I like to use a huge brush size for the Liquify tool, but in CS5 and CS6 the brush size was limited. In Photoshop CC, the brush size has been increased greatly, and that is better for me when working with high-resolution imagery.
Sometimes I combine the Liquify and Warp tools. I use the Warp tool to do simple distortions, and in Photoshop CC it’s been improved in several ways. It produces smoother results than previous releases and you can now set interpolation algorithms like bicubic or bilinear for the Warp or Transform tools. That’s a really great feature—to control the output of tools in a more efficient way, especially for pixel-perfectionists.
Adobe: How else are you using, or would you like to use, Creative Cloud?
Nolbert: I really like that you can export settings with Creative Cloud applications, especially when you work across different computers. For example, I have a favorite set of brushes in Photoshop and it’s really helpful to be able to export those in a convenient way and use them on another computer.
I would also like to use Adobe Photoshop Lightroom to do more personal photography, like when I travel. I really got into photography through Instagram, mostly as a hobby. I think Lightroom can help me improve my photography by letting me manage and edit photos in the same interface. And I like the nondestructive editing capabilities.
I’ve also always wanted to use Adobe InDesign CC to work more on printed output media. I tried it a few years ago and liked it and now that it’s available in Creative Cloud I want to explore it more. I’m also excited about doing more with Adobe After Effects CC; I worked in After Effects on small projects years ago and I miss using it. Sometimes clients want to create animations, so I would love to explore applying After Effects to my projects on a bigger scale.
“Pictures in books, planetarium models, even telescopes are pretty misleading when it comes to judging just how big the universe is. Are we doing ourselves a disservice by ignoring all the emptiness? I thought I would see if a computer screen could help make a map of a solar system that’s a bit more accurate.” —Josh Worth
Last week, we stumbled across “If the Moon Were Only 1 Pixel: A tediously accurate scale model of the Solar System.” Also known as Josh Worth’s explanation of the universe, it was a project inspired by his five-year-old daughter. When he mentioned that he’d used Creative Cloud to design and build it, we jumped at the chance to hear more:
So, Josh, it’s the Solar System… How did you decide where to start? The sun, of course! Even though the moon was the main point of reference for the scale, the big bright thing in the middle seemed to be the best place to start. Solar system maps often seem to show the Sun at the left so I wanted to build off a conceptual model that most people are familiar with.
And, when you were designing it, did you imagine an audience, in addition to your daughter? My daughter actually turned out to be more the inspiration, rather than the intended audience. I wanted it to be for curious people in general—more casual and approachable than something you might encounter at a science center.
Which Creative Cloud apps did you use? And which features proved most useful? I used Dreamweaver and Illustrator and a little bit of Photoshop.
I based the initial calculation of the size of the map on a moon diameter of 1 pixel, which came out to a width of about 1.7 million pixels. I wasn’t even sure a browser could handle content that wide so I started by defining a single div using Dreamweaver and it seemed to work. I also tried it as a single .gif in Photoshop—which would have technically worked, since the black space compresses down to a relatively small file size—but that would’ve made it a little more difficult to make quick edits to the text. And it seemed like cheating.
I used Illustrator CC for the typography that appears at the beginning. I wanted it to scale, and look crisp in the browser so I exported it as a .svg. I had to experiment with various settings in the SVG dialog and try it in various browsers before I eventually settled on a purely outlined version with no embedded fonts, since variations in font rendering kept messing with my character alignments. I doubt anyone would’ve noticed, but I’m careful about such things (and a bit fearful that typophiles will laugh at me).
Once the vector graphics were created, the rest of the work was done in Dreamweaver CC. The CSS Designer tool came in very handy when I couldn’t remember how to define a particular attribute. Code-hinting and instant syntax checking were also invaluable for someone like me who often puts brackets and semicolons in the wrong places. What really surprised me was that I could compose the copy right in Dreamweaver. Usually I need some kind of stripped-down text editor for writing, but toggling between code view and live view allowed me to see the sentences floating on a single line out there in space. It allowed me to get into a nice zone where I could contemplate the subject matter.
Tell us about some of your design decisions: We like that you chose a less, well, “scholarly” approach for your copy; why did you choose that style? For starters, I’m in no way an expert on astronomy, so I wanted to avoid any pretext of authority. Scientists are in the business of standardization and objectivity, which is great when you’re communicating straight data but I was more concerned with the emotional impact of all the emptiness in space, which seemed to call for a more personal interpretation of the data. I thought people might better relate if the information was coming from just another puny human contemplating his place in the universe. Plus, the copy is more or less my usual writing style; I enjoy making light of heavy ideas and finding hidden depth in frivolous subjects.
How did you decide where to put the comments? The positive and negative space of the Solar System has an inherent emotional quality that I thought would be fun to try and match: I started off light where the territory is more familiar then used the bigger expanses of space for more expansive ideas; the thoughts got deeper as the distance became greater.
How did you decide on the color of space and the planets? I just went with the most obvious color associations, or at least the color that I felt was most indicative of each planet—Mars is red-orange, Neptune is blue-green and, of course, space is #000000.
Tell us about the design of the planet icons. I figured there needed to be some kind of shortcut in case the scrolling became unbearable. The astrological symbols seemed like a subtle way to incorporate that, since text links would have been too inviting. I found examples, through Wikipedia and a Google image search, to use as reference, then re-drew them in Illustrator to give them a uniform stroke width. I’m happy that the functionality is also decorative.
Why the distance counter? With just ruler ticks, movement (through space) wasn’t obvious enough and it got boring. I added the distance counter to help convey a sense of progress and motion; to make it work, I got some help from Kyle Murray (Krilnon), a member of the scripting forum on Kirupa.com. I eventually hope to make a mechanism that enables people to switch between different units of measurement
What’s been the response? Are people finding it useful? Will there be a v2.0? And, most importantly, how did your daughter respond to it? I just think the coolest thing about being alive today is that so many people are in the business of designing and sharing mind-blowing ideas and work. I was just happy I could find a way to be a part of that. According to Google Analytics, I’ve had over one million visits since Colin Devroe of Spacebits.co first posted a link on Hacker News on March 4.
I’ve gotten tons of thoughtful feedback from Twitter users and website visitors. Astronomers, physicists, UX developers, and general users have chimed in with some great suggestions. A number of science teachers showed it to their students, a lot of parents said they liked sharing it with their kids, and a museum in the Netherlands has asked to use it in an exhibit (a number of lovely people have volunteered to translate the text). Multi-language support will be the main feature of the next version, along with a few other ideas that people suggested.
As for my daughter… She seemed to get it, though she got pretty antsy between Jupiter and Saturn. I think kids are actually better than adults at handling big ideas. For them, it’s all imagination anyway, and their brains are still elastic, so it’s fun to see just how far they can stretch them.
What’s your favorite bit of it? Prior to building the site I hadn’t spent much time thinking about the emptiness inside of atoms in the midst of the Solar System.
And, because we always want to know… How do you like working in Creative Cloud? I love Creative Cloud! I move between a Mac Pro desktop system and a MacBook Pro laptop at least once a day, so it’s great to know I have access to the latest versions of so many great apps wherever I go. The paradigm shift from individually licensed applications to a single, cloud-based, all-access account completely renovated the way I think about my workflow. Web designers can no longer get away with just doing static mockups in Photoshop and handing them off to coders, so I really like how Adobe keeps creating tools to help designers bridge that knowledge gap.
To coincide with the launch of the new Creative Cloud apps, we paid tribute to the late, great Charles Eames by hosting our own Eames’ Chair Remix contest. The task: take the iconic Eames chair and using Adobe products (Illustrator and Photoshop) personalize a digital version and share it with us and the Behance community.
Among the impressive and creative entries we received (check them all out below), we’re excited to announce that ANDESIGN is our grand prize winner and will be receiving an Eames Molded Plastic Dowel-Leg Armchair, one year membership to Creative Cloud and an Eames poster for his impressive “Eames Nest” design.
Also, did you know that we put six top designers to the test as well? See what impressive designs they came up with.
All Eames’ Chair Remix Entries:
When you think of a common hobby, you often think of photography. Popular, yes, but there are a few creatives that go above and beyond. They see the world through a unique lens and produce stellar pieces of work. Photographer Erik Johansson (@tackochgodnatt) is an individual who takes photography and flips it on its head. Don’t believe us? For starters, check out the Creative Cloud logo he reimagined below.
If there is anyone who can create surreal images, but captured in a realistic way, it’s Erik. A native to Sweden currently living in Berlin, Erik has the luxury of having two distinct environments at his fingertips to inspire and capture some amazing photographs. Berlin, described by Erik as a “hip place,” has a large photo and art community, which enables him to be surrounded by other creatives. When he is in search for unique landscapes and scenes, he heads home to Sweden.
After receiving his first digital camera at age 15, he wanted to do something above and beyond with photography. It was then he discovered photo manipulation. Combining his love for drawing and photography, Erik would begin a project with a sketch, shoot some photos, and then head into post production using his tools of choice, Photoshop and Lightroom. Having these tools and more at his disposal with Creative Cloud has enabled him to do anything.
Want to learn more about this photography master? Get a behind the scenes look at how Erik produces some of the most unique creations in the world in the video below. Also, follow us on Facebook and Twitter for more news, tutorials and more surrounding photography.
Erik on the web:
As we take some time to focus on video production, we wanted to spotlight individuals who are masters of all things animation, our Creative Cloud logo redesign artists Dvein.
Based out of Barcelona, Dvein is not your run of the mill production and design firm. They are a collective of three directors who love animation, design, and all things creative. Fernando Dominquez, Creative Director for Dvein, defined it best when he said, “It’s a factory of all the things that you can imagine.”
Creative Cloud assists the creative minds at Dvein in each and every step in their creative process. Beginning with initial sketches, they utilize Photoshop to take their ideas to a whole new level. Then, they use the power of Premier Pro or After Effects when they are ready to turn creations into animations.
The icing on the cake; Behance integration in Creative Cloud enables Dvein to better expose themselves to the design community and connect with international clients.
Dvein:The Vein ‘Magma’
Dvein on the web: