Nik van Es Gives Us an Animated Process Breakdown

Nik van Es shows us how he constructs his outstanding, vivid illustrations with specially prepared gifs that break them down and piece them back together again layer by layer.

They give us an insight into the skilful interaction between the colours and how he manipulates them.


By overlapping semitransparent layers of different colours, Nik emulates printing techniques that provide a handcrafted aesthetic while working digitally. The process incorporates additional, rich tones into images while still working within the restraints of a limited palette.

As well as there being an interesting play with techniques and colour, Nik’s work is often filled with large expanses of detail and narrative scenes.

He talks to us about how he creates these sprawling landscapes and all those creative techniques he likes to experiment with.

Hi! My name is Nik van Es and I’m an illustrator based in Utrecht, The Netherlands.

My work consists of characters in absurd, humorous situations and it usually takes place in a world of bright, overlapped colors.

I have a great passion for making my illustrations by hand, but I also combine that handwork with Adobe Photoshop because it gives me the freedom to easily switch color schemes and I also use it to rearrange elements/compositions.

Most of the time I start out with pencil and paper because it’s the best way for me to translate my thoughts and ideas onto paper. I’ve tried doing this step on the computer but it just doesn’t feel as natural.

I also came to find out that I like my small, rough sketches much more than the cleaner ones. The cleaner ones are usually a little bit more boring while the small, rough ones are more spontaneous and leave room for little mistakes, which appeal to me. When I try to clean things up I tend to overthink the idea, characters or style so lately I’ve been working straight from these roughs.

My work is mostly built with an limited color palette, which I love doing because it’s like making and solving a puzzle. To me, it’s always a great challenge to make an illustration work in just two or three colors and making (smart) use of overlapped colors.

I’m obviously inspired by printing techniques like Risograph printing and screen printing. I really like misprints and love it when parts of the illustration aren’t registered correctly but still look awesome. These aesthetics inspire me and I think that this is noticeable in my work.

The lightbox plays a big role in building my illustrations. I build my illustration in black and white with multiple sheets of paper, each new paper containing either linework, textures or little details like dots and scratches.

The lightbox gives me an exact idea of how the different layers are going to work and by separating the different layers beforehand I save a lot of time, which leaves time for making new textures for every single illustration.

I don’t like to work with a digital library of textures and just paste those in Adobe Photoshop. Making new textures for every new illustration contributes to the the handmade character which is a very important element of my work.

My Photoshop files are very well organized and contain just 2-3 color separated layers. They are are pretty much exactly like how you would prepare different screens for screen printing.

I’m pretty much always making new work and I love trying out new materials, techniques and color schemes. I need to switch things up once in a while to keep the process interesting for myself. I basically make new work, decide what works and what doesn’t, try to make better new work and repeat.

In the future I’d love to work on awesome projects with different sorts of clients. Also, I’d love to experiment more with printing techniques like silkscreening and continue exploring!

© Nik van Es, 2016

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