Beyond Technique or Medium
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.