Brazilian art director and illustrator Pedro Nekoi describes his work as a “mix of surrealism with a fearless use of colour, texture and patterns”. Nekoi enjoys creating an escape with his images and designs, and draws a lot of inspiration from the Memphis Group. “The way they mix patterns and shapes is just beautiful,” he says. “Also Japanese 70s and 80s album artwork have been a huge inspiration for me lately, I just love to go deep on Discogs and find new masterpieces.”
Early on in childhood, Nekoi says he found solace in TV and cartoons. “Growing up as a queer child, I found comfort and escape from reality in cartoons, drawing, and arts and crafts. I remember drawing Sailor Moon paper dolls and their outfits and just spending the whole afternoon playing with them,” he remembers. “Or drawing my own TV show logo (probably the first branding design I’ve created) on a card and pretending I was a TV host.”
Creativity has always been a form of expression for him and while his parents weren’t connected to the arts themselves, Nekoi was surrounded by books and nature encyclopedias full of animals and flowers. “I was mesmerised by how accurate the illustrations were,” he says. “The funny thing is that my two older brothers are also graphic designers so I think there’s some passion for creativity in our genes.”
Nekoi works across a variety of projects, creating visual identities and art directing for brands, while also working on a range of editorial illustrations and images for publications such as The Cut, the New York Times, Refinery29, Nylon Japan and many more. “When I started developing my style I often thought that it could be a limitation for me, that I wouldn’t be able to reach different kinds of clients. I think that’s something that a lot of new illustrators and art directors struggle with,” he reflects.
“You need to have a clear vision of how to be true to yourself but also create something that relates to the clients’ brief. And that’s the hard thing about having this variety, being able to adapt who you are according to the brief. But that’s also the good part!”
When working on a piece for an editorial client, Nekoi goes through the text several times and highlights words or sentences that could be an insight for the artwork. After that he makes a list on his notepad and begins sketching out potential elements. “As I work with digital collage, during the sketch I’m already thinking about images that I want to incorporate into the artwork. After that, I start creating the composition on the computer and go hunting for the images,” he says.
“For example, if I decide I want a person jumping to be part of the composition, I go deep into the internet trying to find the image I have in my mind. It’s pretty time-consuming but very satisfying when I find just the right image. After finding the images I think about the colour scheme and other elements, like vector and 3D interiors. With the sketch done, I usually send it to the client and then we have a little back and forth until the final image is complete.”
Though Nekoi has honed this process over the years, there are times when a topic he has to illustrate is a little out of his comfort zone. “Once I had to do an illustration about cars and fossil fuels and I had no idea how to even start!”
Other challenges come in the form of the financial expectations from both sides, especially when working for a client in another country, and Nekoi wishes there was more transparency and conversation around these topics. “I feel that it’s something a lot of people have doubts about but no one is talking,” he says. “I wish we could have some kind of adviser to help. Also paying the taxes for foreign work is really challenging!”
Outside of this it’s the people he meets and works with all over the world that makes it worth it. “Being a creative person I love talking and communicating so doing meetings and talking to people is always very joyful,” he says. “I also enjoy when the work is released, after days of work and anxiety. It’s a great feeling to see your ‘baby’ for the first time.”
His advice for those wanting to pursue a similar career centres around being open to finding inspiration in others but not comparing your journey to theirs. “We all have different timing in life and just because someone is having more exposure or more jobs than you doesn’t mean your work is not valid or that you’re ‘a flop’,” he says.
“With Instagram and social media, we are bombarded with creative people posting about their new work and all of that, and it might make you be more inspired and want to work harder or it can take you to the opposite side, making you doubt yourself and make comparisons. Find your voice and your audience and try not to worry if you’re doing work for a friend’s company or a global client, as long as you keep your creativity flowing and are happy about it.”