Beautiful Friends: Nicholas Kole


Tonight I’m excited to have my dear friend Nick sharing his story with you lovely people. Nick is not only mind-blowingly talented and skilled, but he has a heart that feels and cares deeply for what happens around him. He’s also a genuinely fun guy who you can count on to be silly or have deep conversations with. And if you haven’t seen his dancing…. well, you really need to. Seriously, let me know and we’ll arrange a dance party or outing to a concert, because it’s something everyone needs to experience at least once. His love for whimsy and wit are well-known, and I think are well exemplified in the creation of a holiday that we (mostly he) created to celebrate the end of Forebruary: Steventaag (named after Steve, not for Steve). That’ll have its own post at some point, but the unabashed hilarity and randomness of this holiday provides a little glimpse into why friendship with Nick is amazing. As mentioned above, Nick is incredibly talented. He already has an impressive following (I would know- he helped my Walk the Moon fan girl dreams come true by enlisting the hep of his followers to help me win a contest to hang out with them at one show), and once you see his work you’ll understand why so many love what he does. Below will be a few examples of his work, but go check him out at to really see the magical things he creates. Without further ado….

Wonder- It’s a living.

I’ve been working as a concept artist and illustrator for about 6 years, in various capacities. From salaried work for big studios, to freelance contracts for start-ups- I’ve been blessed to try my hand at illustrating children’s books, designing characters for video games, animated shows, films, comics and toys.

From the start to the finish of building new worlds with friends and clients- I’ve spent my time drawing wizards, dragons, pirates and kittens.

Ever since I could grip a crayon, I’ve been drawing- and since I knew what Disney was (or caught wind you could make a living with a pencil and a sketchpad) I’ve been working towards that dream.

Nothing can be more rewarding or more frustrating than pursuing a childhood dream. Some days it feels like I’m floating on concept-art cloud nine: everything flows, the drawings come together, and I can feel the electric charge of helping design new worlds into being.
Then some days the reality of the industry’s money-centric thinking, or my own creative limitations and lack of ability drag me down to the realization: It’s just a job.

It pays the rent (thank God) and a job of any kind is nothing to sniff at- especially in this economy.

But the dream can often be a pretty prosaic reality. Creative work is always both full of wonder and full of…well, work.

Sometimes that can make it feel like you’re doing it wrong.

As a creative, my job is to be inspired and to inspire others- to generate wonder for people. To do that I need to be a boundless source of wonder and inspiration and…

I’m not. Not boundless- not really. Sometimes you just run dry. Art block happens, things grind to a screeching halt.

It’s been said often and everywhere I look among communities of designers and artists- The difference between a hobbyist and a professional is that professionals show up, work through the art block, keep their head down and press on; They keep drawing, no matter what.

I’m coming to think that the truly successful artists take the time to care for themselves- to wander, to wonder, and take the time to look more deeply. There is an often neglected aspect of self-care involved in serving others and in pouring out work and ideas.

I’ve said it often to students and to friends- but as a concept artist and illustrator I think my job is to fall in love. We are meant to love something first and most deeply- only if you do, can you possibly ask someone else to love it as well.

It can seem like love is inspiration, but love is also hard work. Love is late nights and sacrifice and soul-searching and hard change. But love is also from God, and love isn’t something we can generate in our own strength. Love is something that comes as much from without as from within- maybe even more from outside ourselves than we are comfortable admitting.

Somewhere along the way I learned the incomplete lesson that all I needed was to trust myself and be true to what’s inside me.
But I cannot do what I need to do if all I rely on is what’s inside me. I need more, I need my faith and my God to inspire and hold me up when inspiration runs dry. I need something more to pick me back up after I fall down.

When I run empty and the inspiration isn’t there, the art-world can look pretty bleak- I find that I need a reason to pick my pencil back up that isn’t just “because drawing is fun”. Sometimes drawing isn’t fun.

I’m starting to redefine my ideas about success- or maybe to let God redefine those things for me. Maybe my success isn’t based on how much I accomplish in my own strength or because of my ability, but how much God accomplishes through me despite my weakness. I am held up by a congregation of people, a family, a faith that keeps me going on- I cannot, in good conscience, claim to have done anything on my own steam.

And there’s something very hopeful about that- it takes a little of the pressure off. You know? That soul-crushing pressure that kicks in every moment you stare at the blank page thinking “whatever I do, it has to be amazing because it basically IS me.”

(Yeah, we all have that.)

I’m always striving for a deeper, more honest way to make art and do what I do- but I can’t do it on my own, and my best efforts to muscle through often result in my worst work.

Letting go and surrendering are starting to seem to be as important a part of the process as any other- I’m banking that the best work is on the other side of a leap of faith.

But hey, I just draw wizards. It’s a living.

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