Nate Van Dyke, Artist Collaborator

Baggins Blog (BB): Hey Nate! Can you tell us a little bit about yourself: how did you get your start in illustration? Any random facts we should know about you?

Nate Van Dyke (NVD):

I got truly interested in drawing at the age of 2. I got my start in illustration because I grew up on comic books ever since I was very young. Before I could read I used to look at them and would figure out the story as best I could, based on illustration storytelling. I was offered multiple full-ride art college scholarships while in high school but turned them down because I preferred the self-taught direction. I even ended up teaching Narrative Illustration a bit at one of the schools I had turned down.

On my Mother’s side, I am at least fourth generation artist. That’s as far back as we know. My brother, on the other hand, can’t draw a stick figure.

Some good random facts would be I hate drawing horses and dogs, my favorite animal is a polar bear, my feet are a foot long and I accidentally ran over my 5th-grade soccer coach early in the year in practice and broke his arm and everybody called me “coach killer” for that entire season. 


BB: Can you tell us a little about how you found your signature style?

NVD: I’m pretty sure it’s safe to say that it’s a melting-pot of all of the comic book artists I admired. I worked briefly at a top-notch comic book studio (Top Cow) which was run by one of my big influences (Marc Silvestri) and the studio housed countless other artists I grew up admiring all of whom I still consider great friends. I think my signature was a combination of a lot of them but turned into my signature style when I stopped looking at them as much and more-so focussed on finding my own look rather than become a photocopy of a photocopy.

Also… my first true artistic influence was artwork by John Pound (Garbage Pail Kids). I’ve always wanted to ultimately be an artist that people would recognize upon site but not losing my desire to experiment and expand upon that.


BB: What is your favorite thing about being an artist?

NVD: It’s not always the most financially sound career but I love bringing my imagination to life for others to see and being technically sound enough at it to do so. Even though I am fluent in a wide array of mediums one of the main reasons I like doing pen illustrations is because a pen is something almost everyone uses daily but I just push their limits further than most. Nearly no one has ever played the harp but everyone knows how to use a pen and does so… daily.


BB: Can you talk us through your Artist Collaboration with Baggins?

NVD: When Baggins first approached me about a collaboration I knew I wanted to bring Dutch to the forefront on this one. I decided to focus on Dutch and give him a knife as a hint that he isn’t one to mess with. I figured a knife was safe because he could simply be ready to chop onions or… do something else with it. Likely the latter.

Then I thought doing baseball bats wrapped in barbed wire would create a nice “crossbones” kind of look behind the logo. To take it further I thought a crude/graphic silhouette of barbed wire would help push Dutch a bit more into the foreground and help to tie in both sides nicely.


BB: Why Converse? Any self-defining moments made in these kicks? – or – Can you tell us about your first pair?

NVD: The first pair of Converse I did was through an advertising agency (Butler, Shine, Stern & Partners). Along with a handful of other artists, I was asked to do work for their latest campaign… which happened to be Converse. I did a shoe, a magazine illustration and a tv commercial. For the shoe, I spent a lot of time trying to figure out a design and the only thing I could think of was a “Terminator foot” as it was a perfect fit and gave a nice x-ray quality to the overall design.

I love the feel and fit of Converse but they also have a way of making my feet look even larger since I generally rock white ones. Wearing size 17 isn’t a common size but I grew up with a lot of Chucks. They were a large part of my childhood. I still have a pair kicking around at all times because I love the history, feel and classic look of them.


BB: What is your favorite thing to do in your city?

NVD: Walking to my studio with a road soda (beer) in hand. The round trip walk is roughly 9 miles and I’ve never not enjoyed doing so. I feel like I’m more a part of the heartbeat of the city which I love when I make that walk.


BB: Who  have you been listening to recently?

NVD: I’ve been listening to a lot of ambient music (specifically ChilloutDeer) via YouTube as I work as it becomes a great background vibe which helps me dive into my work. If I really want to feel something I take it back to my heavier roots such as, Sepultura, Pantera, Metallica, and Cannibal Corpse to name only a few.


BB: What are you currently watching on Netflix?

NVD: I’m currently watching the Indiana Jones movies for the umpteenth time. I’m on Temple of Doom right now which isn’t one of my favorites but once I start the first one I have to take it all the way through. Before that, I was watching a documentary series about the world’s toughest prisons… not what you want to watch laying in bed before you go to sleep. Just saying.


BB: Can you tell us about the space where you create?

NVD: It’s in an old studio space in the Potrero Hill area of San Francisco. It’s a collective of buildings in a gated area where each building is filled with artists of varying creative fields. It’s almost a hippie kinda thing without any Grateful Dead shirts. The space I am in I’ve been in for about six years.

There are currently 5 artists in my particular space and everyone in my space is a visual artist in particular (painting/illustration). I’ve been there the longest of the group so I’m kinda the “Papa Smurf” of the studio. Some people have minimalist set-ups but mine, in particular, is the most fleshed out. Every art supply imaginable, all of my art books, music, DVDs, framed original artwork from others fill my walls and help to fuel my inspiration… you name it. It’s my favorite place on this planet.

The studio has a long history. The collective studio space is called The Farm as ages back it used to be a goat farm. As far as I know, my specific space used to be a pottery factory about 100 years back. In the early 80’s they used to throw a lot of concerts there with the likes of Suicidal Tendencies.

If you’re in “my” studio there's a lot of trust that comes with it. Utmost respect and we talk a lot of art and technique and then go to our separate quarters and create. We share supplies if somebody needs a bit of spray paint or whatever it may be but it’s all mutual respect not to take advantage of each other’s stuff as it’s all out in the open. My rule is to treat my space as if I was in there at the time just as well as you would if I’m absent.


BB: What are the circumstances where you feel most inspired?

NVD: It’s best when it is the least forced. The more times I try to smash a square peg into a round hole the less I succeed. I’ve learned to not force it (deadlines aside) but to let it hit like lighting hopefully more often than not. Generally, later in the day and night, my ideas have had time to simmer. Waking up and drawing is rare. The hardest part of drawing is starting. Once you get past the first 15 or 20 minutes it can start getting fun again.


BB: Is there something you can’t live without in your studio?

NVD: That’s a good question. My studio is my soul. I hate to say that it is something as lame as my TV but I have well over 100 DVDs that make for my best background work environment. I don’t “watch” movies at the studio but I love playing movies I’ve seen 25 times or more because I enjoy the conversation aspect of it, the way they score the music and so on. It makes me feel less alone and as though I’m not being yelled at considering some of the heavier music I enjoy.

That being said, my stereo and music matter just as well to get me in the right vibe at the right time. I don’t enjoy drawing in silence.



BB: What inspires you? How do you stay inspired?

NVD: That’s a good question and can be very abstract in answer. I can be inspired by a stain I see on the street, other people's artwork, a feeling, a dream… you name it. I feel like most times my inspiration comes from a basic stream of consciousness. Generally, I start with a very basic idea and it tends to just bloom from there.

I can see a statue and create an entire piece around it where the sculpture, for example, can ultimately play a minor role in the final piece but it’s what started the fire. Deadlines can be inspirational as well. I can go through droughts where I simply draw a blank but I think I ultimately simply push through it because art is what I do. Sometimes when I’m not feeling it I’ll just grab a piece of paper and start pushing a pen around and it generally turns into something.


BB: If you were a crayon, what color would you be?

NVD: I’d be a blue/grey crayon. That’s my favorite color. Nothing dark like a royal blue. The other half of me says the least favorite crayon because I feel badly that it gets no hugs. Like… a white crayon. Nobody used the white crayon when we were kids. Little did we realize it was the O.G. blender for mixing colors.


BB: What was the best concert you’ve ever attended?

NVD: This is a tricky one considering all of the live shows I’ve been to. Be it me crowd surfing (it generally takes quite a few people to lift me), my stage-diving, hanging backstage with the band or sharing beers with them on their tour bus.

I’d have to say one concert that stands out was my first real concert. It was at a small venue in Berkeley, CA. My friends Matt and Josh and I went to see Cannibal Corpse, Obituary, and Carcass. Really small venue and mind-bending to see those bands right up front against the stage. After the show, we went outside so Matt’s mom could pick us up, as she had also dropped us off, and while we were waiting outside on University Ave, there was a sizeable earthquake.


BB: What advice would you want to tell artists  breaking into the “scene”? Tips for emerging/existing creatives?

NVD: Being influenced and somewhat copying another artist's work is a natural occurrence when you are younger and learning but what I try and tell people coming up is to bring something new to the table. Don’t base your art/career solely off of the work someone else has built and made a name for themselves as well as a demand for their work.

Also, a lot of younger artists oftentimes ask me what pens I use as if it's the magic touch they need. I understand that, but more times than not, the pen isn’t the solution as they simply need to work on the fundamentals of drawing itself. I can draw on binder paper with a Bic pen just as well. You don’t set out to build a car and debate what color to paint it. You build the car and then figure that out.

Drawing from life is also a big slice of advice. It’s the greatest teacher and costs nothing. You can go outside and draw a tree in a park as you sit on a bench. It doesn’t have to be a bowl of fruit.

BB: What do you want to be remembered for? 

NVD: My art, naturally, would be first but truly… the two reasons I do/say funny/dumb sh!t is to ensure that my friends tell funny stories at my memorial.


BB: Any book/movie/podcast/etc recommendations?

NVD: I’ve been on a few Waiting To Dry podcasts so I gotta give them props. They have great artist interviews. The Last Podcast On The Left is fascinating and I also enjoy Joe Rogan’s podcast.

The movie that has probably hit me the hardest and has left the largest impact is Valhalla Rising. I haven’t been reading as many books lately... just been pushing my way through a stack of National Geographics.


BB: If you're stuck on a deserted island, what 3 things are you bringing?


  • I’d bring a Nickelback CD so that I can say I buried it on a deserted island.
  • I’d bring a seriously scrambled-up Rubix Cube so I could finally figure it out.
  • Tom Hanks.


BB: Do you have a favorite piece of artwork? A favorite quote?

NVD: My favorite piece of art is “Tiger of Snow” 2004 by Simon Bisley. He has always been a huge influence of mine since as far back as I can recall and I can also say he’s a good friend of mine as well and I get to selfishly admire this painting every day.

My favorite quote is something I tend to tell people when explaining what it means to draw. “I didn’t choose art, it chose me.”

As far as a quote somebody else told me, it’d be “you have to learn the rules before you can break the rules.”

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So there you have it, some fine life advice from the OH-SO talented and inspiring Nate Van Dyke! Rest assured next time we're in San Francisco, you'll find us crashing Nate's studio space, asking him what pen to buy so we can have maybe an ounce of his creativity.

If you require some chaotic-evil in your life (balance!) check out Nate's Dutchstruction Baggins Originals. We've sent him a pair of size 17s to rock, so keep an eye out if you're in the Bay area. We'll leave you to check out those podcast recommendations and see what you think!

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