I inadvertently met Nicky Chulo through an L.A. photographer named Lee Box. It was a dreary, New York City afternoon. Rain on - rain off, Cloudy and windy. Chulo had chill vibes, an awesome sense of humor, and a Macbook Pro that's covered in more stickers than kindergarten classroom table.
Through conversation, he revealed his involvement in graphic design for the likes of industry heavyweights such as Goldlink, Revolt TV and DJ Booth. After taking a closer look, I couldn't deny - this man had skills. Before I knew it, my voice recorder was in hand, which led to this exclusive interview. And with his blessings, I was able to go inside the mind of a graphic design guru.
Ever since I was a kid, my mom would sit down and draw with me. Thats where the love for illustrations came from. My family was always open to this. In high school, they offered a computer graphics class. My sophomore year I enrolled. I remember my teacher being like "holy shit, your nice with it man." *Chuckles*.
After High School, I attended community college for two years and took fine arts classes to tighten up on my traditional media skills. Soon after, I went to Savannah's College for Art and Design based in ATL, which finished up my final two years there for my Bachelors's degree. Then after that, after being formally trained through college, everything just took off from there. I never looked back since.
Any light bulb moments in your pursuit that revealed Graphic design was your innate passion? Was it a moment in time that a green light went off?
Oh yeah. In High School, that happened. My best friend at the time named Oscar, was always into street wear, fashion, sneakers etc;. He introduced me to a lot of staple style trends which was pretty left field and unique. My style was pretty nerdy and preppy back then *chuckles*. So that helped my awareness on different looks.
"Make sure you are doing what you love, that's very important."
The fashion class was across from our PC graphics class. Eventually, our teachers came together and decided to collab for a group project. We ended up doing t-shirt designs, and it lead to a mini fashion runway show at the end of the year. Everyone loved our work. Most students were buying our gear, teachers approved and supported us. The time that Oscar and I put in to designing each shirt reflected on the passion for design that was deeply rooted within us. At that time, it just felt so good to create, mainly because as high school students it was fresh. Not many teens at the time were up on that kinda thing. At that moment, I knew I had the green light.
Was it in high school that you found your niche or was it later on in life?
High School was when I found out that was what I wanted to do, graphic design wise. It's a very broad field, so my niche of choice is the music industry, which is a good story. I worked in retail at a clothing store called SportsZone which sells shoe apparel. I'm working one day and this guy named Henny, (rapper) walks in and he's like "a ' yo I have a music video tomorrow, I'm trying to get fresh... can you help me out?" And I say ' yeah, of course.' So, I pick out a hat, outfit, shoes, got him right. And then I thought, "let me just pitch myself". So I tell him 'Hey I do graphic design, I also can show you my portfolio, you can check it out and we can go from there'. He agreed saying that he's been looking for someone, and insisted I stay in touch. So of course, I follow up, did a few samples for him and he loved it. Ever since then, he's put a project out and is currently managing artists now. That initial meet up introduced me to the industry.
When you got in the industry, where did the influence come from?
I never worked with anyone that I was influenced by, but my biggest influences were graffiti and street art. However, there's this French or Canadian couple called One-Two-Three Clan, who do a lot of amazing work. It's very mascot-y, very sportsy illustration work, very tongue and cheek. So well executed. My other influences? You can draw reference to where I get them from. The street art aspects, Cali brands, not the clothes but the aesthetic, is always a positive movement.
What's the most unique moment in your career as a graphic designer that you've had?
The craziest moment I had, was in D.C., I lived in Virginia at the time. And there was this up-and-coming brand in the area called Clockwise. You can tell they were separated from everything else that was coming out from the area. Clockwise seen my work and had the 'wow' face *chuckles*.
"My biggest advice? Reach out to the people that inspire you."
So, I reached out to them, saying 'Hey, I'm trying to work with you guys, etc.' They didn't hit me back right away but a week later they did saying 'Yo, you have good stuff. Let's give it a shot.' So, we worked on a shirt design that was based on A Wolf in Sheep's clothing. They loved it. A week passed after I sent the design. To my surprise, they ended up printing, making, and selling a bunch of them. They had an event shortly after, so I went. When they seen me, they handed me the shirts, saying ' yo amazing work.' Just holding them my hand, it was like 'I really did this.' It's just weird, in that very unique moment. I didn't get a percentage of sales or cut, but I didn't care. Just the execution of it was the beauty of it. I couldn't have been happier, it was insane.
What's the first thing that pops up in your mind when I say "Public Victory" or "Private Victory." Which one matters most to you and why?
It's tough. Well, I would say they both matter to me. Private victory because I don't necessarily like people in my face too much. Congratulating me and all that good stuff. It's cool but very fake at times. You forget your friends sometimes, when you get a big victory so many new people come in your life and it can become confusing. People say it won't get to me but public victories can pull you down different paths, and not all for the best.
Public victory for exposure. As an artist, exposure is good. Especially for people to know who you are, than not, because it's an over-saturated field and popularity and publicity have a lot to do with it. That would be my reason for the public victory. But for sanity sake, I would say private is my preference.*chuckles*. I'm very "behind-the-scenes". However, I'm working to push out and be a bit more public.
What are your wisdom key points, give the aspiring designers or artists some pointers as to what you think would be a good focus or good starting point for them. What do they need to keep close when pursuing this career.
I would say if you are just getting out in the world, make sure you are doing what you love. That's very important. It can be scary at times but, make sure you hone in on that. The second thing is this... I went to college, I learned, I knew most of this stuff they were teaching for $3,000 a class. Find a mentor or someone you look up to in the industry, and reach out. Maybe even possibly intern for them. It doesn't to take a degree to reach out to someone and say ' hey I want to do this, can you help me out.' I did this method when I moved to New York. I couldn't afford my last year of college, so I had to come back home to start paying off my student loans.
I emailed Fool's Gold, Madbury Club, Mad Decent, just everyone I knew in the industry that I followed regularly as a fan. Most people got back to me saying 'We don't need interns right now,' but, Madbury Club got back, which was a huge deal. They're a really cool collective and had offered me several career changing opportunities at that time.
My biggest advice? Reach out to the people that inspire you. Fame and whatever barriers you think are there, are not. Reach out to them, write a letter, go to them in person, do whatever. You see the ball go get it. Unless you're inspiring to be a doctor, the information is there. Wikipedia. Google. With the money I spent on school, I could've purchased a house. *Chuckles* But yea... definitely reach out to the people that are most important to you in your field.
Stay in the loop with Nicky Chulo by following his Twitter! @NickyChulo