Nello Shep is a digital painter, whose work centers around surrealistic scifiscapes, and dreamlike depictions of outer space and the universe. Shep recently started working as an environmental concept artist on several indie games, and has spent the last few years studying physics and fine art in college. This month’s cover features Shep’s beautiful, otherworldly piece “Ouroboros.”
APEX MAGAZINE: Many of your works feature a solitary figure in a much larger environment, as “Ouroboros” does. Is that something that strikes you before you start working on a new piece, or partway into creating it?
NELLO SHEP: The lone figures in my work are always intentional, never a forethought. Most of the concepts I paint tend to center around a single figure experiencing a massive environment meant to dwarf their existence, but I never mean for it to feel lonely or isolated. The importance of a figure alone is that their environment is no less beautiful because of it. The universe, in all of the unique ways we may experience it, is still infinitely magnificent even if only one person is there to witness it. It’s the hardest aspect of my art to explain, and it will probably always be a theme I emphasize.
AM: Futuristic imagery shows up in your work often. Do you think your art tends to lean towards an optimistic view of the future overall, or is it more unique to each piece?
NS: I aim to depict an optimistic future in everything I create. Even if the subject matter I’m dealing with is bleak, I still want to have some little instance of optimism—something beautiful or captivating, like an alien horizon you want to reach before you come to a stop. It’s easy when you’re conceptualizing things like the future and technology to focus on all of the ways it could go wrong, but this is not the kind of future I care about. Rather, my work is meant to be a celebration of mankind’s bright future in the universe. I like to believe that someday my artwork might help people look to the future with a lot more hope than dread.
AM: Many of your characters are looking away from the audience. Is that a conscious decision based on the piece you want to create? Do you think that brings the viewer more into your world, to follow the character, or gives the viewer more distance to see a new world?
NS: I really try to make my artwork as immersive as I can. When a character is involved, I don’t like to have them looking back at the viewer, and I try not to render them out too explicitly because the character is never important. I consider them more like a vehicle my audience can use as a place to put themselves or some other figure they prefer. Maybe they’re human, maybe not, but I want to leave that up to my audience’s discretion. A work of art becomes more personal to me when I get to interact with it and make some part of it “mine,” so I like to leave little gaps for people to fill in themselves rather than keep them as a distant observer. The moment my art becomes personal to someone else, or the moment they can internalize it in some way, I consider that a success.
AM: In looking at your wonderfully rendered Games of Thrones scenes, what is it about those particular scenes or characters that is inspiring? In these, or other inspirations, do they affect your other works over time?
NS: Game of Thrones boasts some incredible scenery, and I wish I could see all of the planning that goes into their designs. The significance of those studies stems from the way the director chose to handle light and shadow; all three paintings come from the same episode, and all three handle light in very different ways. You could probably look through the mountains of film and TV show studies I’ve done and instantly be able to pick up on how inspirational this is to me. My entire body of work changed when I started to see all the ways directors and artists could handle something like a simple shadow being cast into a space, or the way a person comes to life with just a little bit of light bouncing off of them. I never get tired of it, and my personal art is always changing to accommodate the new discoveries I make with each study.
AM: When you are thinking of new pieces, how do you determine if something will be simply a sketch, a finished piece, or even a full comic strip? Have you changed your mind before on it, after getting further into it?
NS: No matter how long I spend conceptualizing, I still never go into a piece really knowing where it will end up. Some environments can only be done justice if I render it as much as I can. Others lose their dreamlike qualities when I work them over, and many of my best paintings are only successful because I forced myself to stop earlier than I would have liked to. My first design for “Ouroboros” involved a busy backdrop with a lot of complex runes and a massive alien structure in the distance. By the time I was done, the image had lost its real purpose to me. So I started over, and the second time around I didn’t worry over each streak of light, it was just a couple brush strokes and I’d move on. Once I had the bare bones of the composition and it said exactly what I needed it to, I stopped. The process can be a bit difficult for me to understand, actually. Sometimes it just works out that I have a finished piece just as I wanted it, and sometimes nothing goes right at all. Just as long as I keep creating, it’s never a wasted effort.
AM: Thank you Nello for the interview, and for the beautiful cover for Apex. Shep plans to continue freelancing for small titles in the game industry, while finishing degrees in astrophysics and programming. View more of Shep’s wonderful creations at clubeternity.co.vu.