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Making His Mark: The Art and Design of Nick Simon

The bright and sketchy style of artist and designer Nick Simon is catching like wildfire. A full-time Senior Designer at O’Neill USA and a compulsive creator, Irvine-based Simon never stops creating. His signature style of sketchy monochromatic ink paintings of California scenes with dark and graphic undertones has pushed his graphic design work and his fine art work into one another, blending the edges of both genres. Taking influence from artists like MC Escher, Jesse Draxler and Ralph Steadman, Simon’s work stands out for its specific quality of California lowbrow style, but live as timeless creations in the history of design and art.

Photo courtesy of Nick Simon

Originally from San Diego, Simon grew up surfing and skateboarding the California waves and sidewalks, finding fascination in the imagery that surrounded him in the surf and skate scenes. Simon has been making art for as long as he can remember. Passionate about comic books, graphic novels and lowbrow culture, Simon’s unending love for art transcended action sports and helped craft his lifelong obsession for imagery into a thriving career in design. Taking inspiration from what surrounds him, the natural California landscape, the thriving subcultures here in SoCal and the minimal design of classic California architecture, Simon’s imagination has always pushed him to make art and has constantly given him ideas to pursue in a variety of materials and styles.

With a degree in Graphic Design from the Art Institute, his artwork and his design grew and evolved side-by-side over the years. Having worked with a variety of action sports brands, Simon is well-respected in the industry and creates textile designs, graphics, drawings and logo designs. Some of his previous clients include Atwyld, Nikita, O’Neill, Slowtide, Meredith Baer Home, Hurley, Captain Fin, Loser Machine Co., Hang Ten, Dark Seas Division, Fox Head Moto, Grenade and Osiris Shoes, among others. Like his fine art, his design work includes many historical art references as well as stylistic experimentation, lowbrow references, visual references to the occult, surf and skate culture, and tattoo culture as well.

He is drawn to the wild unknown, the power of nature and the beauty in the cycle of life. His designs and fine art all deal with these powerful yet simple concepts in one way or another. A lover of memory and nostalgia, Simon invokes a number of historical styles in his imagery, appropriating historic renderings of mermaids, family crests, coffins and more. He also finds solace in the image of the palm tree. Although static images, the classic California icons, the palm trees, seem to constantly sway, whispering to one another high above the building tops and far away from the prying ears of humans. They each have their own personality, too. With specific quirks and kinks in the lines and brushstrokes Simon uses to express them, he shows us their character.

Photo courtesy of Nick Simon

In today’s contemporary visual world, fine art and design are becoming interchangeable as more and more artists are creating art and design with technological innovations aiding their process. Many artists make their living as designers and in turn we see that influence in their designs and in the products where their work lives on. By exchange, we also see their design work and the larger movement of contemporary design evolving to incorporate more fine art elements as well. Simon’s fine art work began as a photorealistic journey through observation and now lives somewhere between realism, surrealism and whimsy.

Simon’s artistic world is covered in needle-less cacti full of stars and stories. It is a world where sea creatures can live on land and palm trees dance on command in the breeze, and where darkness evokes wonder not fear. Enamored by nature, Simon is fascinated with the types of plants that live on for years without help. Succulents and cacti are favorites of Simon, and he and his family take trips to the desert often to observe the magic of the ecosystem there. If there were ever plants that were made for designers, succulents would be them. Classic form, sleek lines, strong and stable, and can live without much of anything — they are perfectly suited for a designer’s world. Simon creates a lot of work that features succulents and cacti for these exact reasons. In his compositions they are full of life and personality, adding weight and strength to his scenes.

Photo courtesy of Nick Simon

The scenes he creates have a sense of magic to them, as he includes references to death or the cycle of life in almost every piece, as well as something unexpected. He told us in an interview that he is particularly fascinated with juxtapositions and mixing dark and light content together in an interesting way. He also creates artworks for himself first, and as a hired designer — always making images for others — it is important to maintain. Finding the balance between making images for others and making images for yourself can be difficult, but Simon makes artwork every day, whether it is sketching something while drinking his morning coffee, or playing around with a new brush and ink after dinner with his family. His need to create is compulsory.

Simon’s passion is making art, and he plans on getting a few more murals on the books in the near future and hopes to launch some more prints and paintings too. The large scale of murals fit his style of work quite well, with eye-catching compositions and bold lines and shapes. He is passionate about the “less is more” style of design and composition, and feels that it really allows viewers to gather more information from the painted or drawn image more readily. Simon tells a story with only a few forms, but is able to play with the imagery, the techniques and the style so curiously that it will keep your attention.