Illustration talks with Nate Maldonado

Nate Maldonado is an Atlanta-based illustrator and art director. His self taught skills and raw talent have furthered his career in toy and family promotional industries. Nate describes his jump into the world of illustration, his influences and challenges in the field.

(Graphic by Selena Hautamaki, Images courtesy of Nate Maldonado)

Can you tell me about your history as an illustrator?

I’ve been drawing as long as I can remember. From elementary school through high school, I always worked illustration into class projects. In college, although I didn’t take illustration classes, I leaned heavily on illustration for most of my creative assignments. After college, I started freelance editorial illustrating for a local city newspaper. It was my first real paying gig as an artist and launched me onto the path of being a professional illustrator.

Where do your influences come from?

I’m influenced by cartoons, of course, kids products, and toy packaging. Tim Biskup and Gary Baseman inspired me when I was in college. More recently, I’ve gravitated toward artists like S. Britt, Shepard Fairey, and Buff Monster.

What are some of the brands you've worked for?

Mostly kids brands like Crayola and Silly Putty. Currently, I work on Lowe’s Build and Grow and various kids meal toys.

Crayon box games for Crayola (Photo courtesy of Nate Maldonado)

Do you want to grow into something other then children products?

If I were to branch out, it would definitely be animation (like kids stuff or Adult Swim, FX). But, I’ll always be working with fun imagery. This is my niche. In other words, I don’t see myself ever doing car ads.

How important is it as an illustrator to connect with the brand you're constructing ideas for?

In order to create good illustration, I need to love what I’m creating—even if that isn’t from a personal connection. But I can find that connection by understanding how the brand sees itself and using that as inspiration and viewpoint. Especially as a commercial artist, most of the projects I work on aren’t going to be for things I personally use or buy. It’s my job to create good solutions for the client.

Do you have certain "go to" tools for your illustration process?

I pretty much sketch everything with pencil and paper. I use tracing paper to tighten up that sketch into a drawing. I almost always take that to Adobe Illustrator. From there, I can use that illustration or take it further in any other program (Adobe Photoshop, InDesign, etc.).

Package designs for Silly Putty

Have you had any challenges working on your projects?

Probably the biggest challenge I’ve always had is that I’m not very fast. It’s always been a huge weakness of mine. However, the more responsibility I’m given, the more I’m learning to find the balance between my creative process and my deadlines.

Which do you find more rewarding, the producing of the project or the completion of the project?

The creation phase is definitely the part I love most, but it’s certainly rewarding to complete a project and be able to see the fruits of your labor.

Do you remember the first illustration that you drew and how you felt producing it?

I don’t remember my first illustration. But I definitely remember lots of things I worked on as a little kid. I drew anything I was excited about or afraid of. I don’t really know how to describe that feeling, but art and drawing have always been the most important constant in my life.

You had an interest in animation in college, did you always have an interest in animation? Or did it grow from the technology available?

I’ve always been interested in animation. I loved cartoons when I was a little kid and still love them now. When people asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, I said that I wanted to make cartoons. I loved shows like Inspector Gadget, Danger Mouse, Yogi Bear, and The Flintstones. Now I’m inspired by shows like Gravity Falls, Gumball, Steven Universe, and Teen Titans Go!

You are currently working on an animation project. Can you tell us a bit about what that entails?

Right now I’m working with a program called Anime Studio Pro and I’m trying to create a fun TV show that is one part educational and one part music video. I’m having a lot of fun revisiting this medium in a more purposeful way. It’s great to have a project where I’m the only client and I set the deadlines. It’s completely for my own personal satisfaction at this point. And, maybe it can be something bigger than that, but at this point I just love having a new focus.

USB drive designs for Mimobot (Photo courtesy of Nate Maldonado)

If you were to give advice to someone going into an illustration field, what would it be?

First of all, go to school. I wish that I had taken advantage of the illustration classes offered at my university because I still feel like I’m catching up. I didn’t ever learn the real basics of illustration and I think that would probably have been very beneficial to my career. When you’re young, definitely take advantage of the time you have to learn because it becomes more difficult to find the time later. Also, find illustrators who you love and borrow from them. When you’re first starting out, that’s one way you develop your own style. Most importantly, always draw. Draw things you find hard to draw. For me, that was hands. I forced myself to always draw difficult hand poses. Draw even if you don’t have a project to work on. Never stop drawing.

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Originally published on

July 27, 2015

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