Sunday, September 17, 2017

Super Woman Tory Novikova

Tory's portfolio is nothing less than amazing. I'm not even sure how I happened to find her, but when I didn I was blown away. Yes, Tory has done picture books in the past, but what she's really focused on is apps. Not just any type of app, but apps focused on teaching kids! Apps she's helped develop: "Twisted Manor" where kids have to solve vocabulary based puzzles, and "MasterSwords" with it's "Fantastical combat Scrabble Game" (both games published by Touch Press Inc.). Tory has such insight into all things created kidlit and I'm so excited to have her on my blog today!

Dani: Can you tell us a little bit on how you got started in illustration/design?

Tory: My story is a bit funny, because I've always been illustrating even before I knew the professional term. When I was ten, I just called it drawing comics. My mom is a fashion designer and an amazing artist. She made it a point to teach me how to hold a paintbrush and a pen. We would practice everything, my strokes, perspective, gesture, anatomy, and how to use computers at a young age to draw. I was quite apt and over prepared by the time I had entered college. I chose to go to Pratt Institute, and had just completed the first foundation year, which like in most design universities, is the preliminary general year where most people are learning new skills or catching up. But I was bold and thirsty, and very serious about starting to get paid for my craft, so I found an ad in one of the WWD magazines that were laying around the house (I was a commuter in all that time), and applied! They called me to interview for an apparel graphic designer role at a childrenswear company on 7th ave. And pretty much since then, I dove into the children's market and have been illustrating and designing within it ever since. Of course, I started out with apparel, making graphics and all over prints, and now I work in digital media like games and apps within education. I would attribute everything in my life to a combination of good timing and hard work. Without the two, you really can't achieve anything.

Dani: How different is your process when working on an app than working something 2D like a picture book or graphic novel?

Tory: Well, think back on the very last time you made a game when you were little. It probably had a ton of rules, and you had to get all your friends on board with continuing to play long enough for it to be fun for everyone. With interactive media, you're creating a product with a narrative that requires the user's interest and participation in order to continue. That can be complicated or minimal, but really you need to think about the rewards of the experience, and how to create moments that motivate the user. You know what you'll get with a book, some kind of beautiful art and a good story. But with products, it's theatrical, and every second is crucial in unveiling something interesting. But like with any thing that's produced, you have to consider your demographic. Who will be playing, versus who will be buying. How do you create and style something that is fun for a kid to play, but gets their parent or their teacher interested in paying for the purchase? The other main difference, is working in teams instead of individually. When you work on a book as an artist, it's likely just you and the writer, whom you don't usually communicate with, but with an app, it's a group effort to produce this product. You are part of a system of ideas and implementations and if it's a good team, each member gets to offer input on all aspects of the design of the app, from art to function. It's a much more collaborative, team-based way of working, and can be challenging for artists.

Dani: A lot (if not all) of the apps you work on are educational. How important do you think this is for educational purposes?

Tory: I have worked in educational products as an illustrator, art director, and product designer, for about five years now. It's a completely different experience than making commercial products of any kind. There is a lot more opportunity for R&D to get the educational goals right, rather than to try and push something out to the market quickly in order to get revenue to come in straight away. You need to playtest and research and iterate in order to make sure what you're doing is effective rather than simply lucrative. I have particularly enjoyed making educational mobile games. I wasn't an avid gamer when I was a kid, but I did go through middle school adoring everything about Playstation. Crash Bandicoot, Spyro, and Rayman were my guys. Over the years I have gotten to witness the next generation of kids play my mobile games... and it has been such a pleasure to see their excitement for our projects. My experience with art directing this portfolio of high-budget beautiful and fun projects for Amplify Games, now called Touch Press Games, has been deeply rewarding. I really hope to be on the subway some day, or better yet, in another country, and look over at a kid playing something I helped design on his phone.

Dani: How do you incorporate things that are important to you into your art?

Tory: There needs to be some nostalgic foundation to guide the design of whatever I touch. So I try to put a little bit of extra research into what I make, and see if I can produce art that not only tickles my fancy, but that may be inspired by a time or a movement, or even a place. For example, I love all the shades of blue, purple and green that can be found in the Blue Ridge Mountain landscape, so if it makes sense, I might pull the palette from a scene I've photographed for a project. If there is a place that I visit, I am often completely awestruck by its culture and people and want to translate that somehow into my art. My own culture often manifests in my work as well, like folk tales from the motherland. And if I can speak frankly, I'm not ashamed of being a feminist. What I know best is what it's like to be an immigrant woman growing up in America. It has always been a part of my identity. Thus I enjoy making art that has culture, showcases female empowerment and doesn't shy away from mixing femininity and strength.

Dani: Is there anything that illustrators should keep in mind while creating their dummies or illustrations in general?

Tory: What I have learned from being a professional and from the students I have witnessed earn their success, is that if you are authentic and if you work hard, you will get your due. Draw how your inner voice wants you to draw, but be humble and know your strengths. Work to get better. Choose the subjects it wants you to choose. But research the proper editors, art directors, agents who would appreciate your point of view and style and seek them out. This means, research, work hard, try and try, and be true to yourself. Your passion will always come through to the right eyes. And it may take a whole lot of trying, years of trying, before something pays off. But life is just that, planting seeds every day, and waiting for them to grow. And one lucky day, they will.

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  1. Great article Tory! Staying true to one's voice is apparent in all of your creative projects and is great advice for all of us. Thanks for taking the time to share with us. I especially love learning about your motivation and history.

  2. Aww man I wish I had another artist in my family. I'm the only one! 😂 But really, reading this was interesting because you kinda started out early. Some artists start later. I think it's just fascinating to see all the different stories about making it in this field. The ending was also encouraging. Thank you.

  3. Your ambition and talent are inspiring, Super Girl Tory!

  4. Your Twisted Manor app looks really fun. Is it available in French? (I'm a French teacher.)

  5. Thank you for this thoughtful and inspiring post Tory.

  6. So many ways to incorporate art into our lives! It was great to hear about the path that got you to your goal.