The Scholastic Art awards honored a Silver Key to Nick Stolfi ’20 for his meticulous artwork. We catch up with the artist.
Talk to us about your art background.
I’ve been drawing since I was a little kid. I always found it interesting. Before I had taken any art formal classes, I was always doing crafts and drawing. I work with some paint but mostly colored pencils and pencil. I’ve always found it for me the most interesting.
Do you gravitate toward a particular subject matter?
As a child, I always drew nature and scenery, but when I started taking art more seriously in middle school in the sixth grade, I started getting into photorealism and hyperrealism which is pretty much having an object appear like a photo or as realistic as possible so it really pops up at you on the page.
Why hyperrealism? What intrigues you about it?
In my college interview, I explained that it's an underrated art form. A lot of high schools are pushing students to be as creative as possible in the realm of abstract art and to express whatever they want in that way. Hyperrealism really forces you to see things in a different way even though you’re just drawing what you see. I think people don’t understand that. You really have to know every bit of the lighting, the angles, and the proportions. You’ll notice when you start doing this sort of art, the complexity in these things that you are drawing that you had no idea was there.
Why not just take a photo?
That’s the toughest question. There’s a difference in producing it on paper. I think when it’s framed sitting on a wall when you think that looks real and then you go closer and you can see the texture and pencil marks, the technique you use to make it. It’s just a different feel. There is a time for photo. You have to understand photography first before you get into hyperrealism. Half of understanding photography is about lighting. The difference between hyperrealism and photorealism is that hyperrealism doesn’t have to look exactly like a photo so you don’t have to copy everything bit by bit to make it look exactly like real life. You just have to give it the illusion of looking like it’s there on the paper. And those are two very different things.
How did you start the process?
I did a photography set up with Mr. Scranton in the photo lab. We got some lights and focused on good lighting. Then we took a picture of the objects. If there’s bad lighting, there’s no chance of the objects going to pop on paper. My goal isn’t to make it as close to the photo as possible. My goal is to use the photo as a reference point to make those objects as realistic as possible on paper.
Do you feel there is a part of you in the artwork or are you more objective?
It’s hard to say if I’m expressing myself in the work or if I’m being expressed by my work. I feel like the work is a part of me. It’s something that I’ve always loved doing but I don’t incorporate a specific message in the work.
How long does it take you to draw these types of pieces?
It’s harder to tell when you’re doing it at school because you only have an hour class. If I'm at home, I could work six to eight hours on it. I would take a few breaks in between, but I could sit there for hours and do this.
What do you think about when you’re drawing?
It feels like time goes faster. If no one nudges me on the shoulder, I could work on it forever on it. When you’re working on it, you’re in a different zone.
Why do you select those items to draw? What spoke to you?
I love drawing reflective things. I like drawing water and metal. I picked the candy because even though they are everyday things when you see it on paper you start to think of the colors. I thought the bars contrasted beautifully and the colors went great together. When you look at the items drawn on paper you notice the complexity. But when it’s just sitting in front of you, it’s hard to find anything significant. As an artist, you find the significance and see how interesting things could be.
What’s your favorite aspect of the piece that you did?
It’s the hardest part and the longest part, and not really what you’d think. The toughest part is the first part - doing the outline and doing the proportions. Most people, when they create hyperrealism, tend to take a photo and print it out. There’s a lot of different ways of getting the proportions right, and other artists will either use a complex grid with a lot of lines and tiny boxes with numbers and letters. They’ll actually do it to the photo, too, so everything will be lined up, or they’ll actually trace the photo. For me, I don’t do that. I do it by eye. I look at the picture. I draw two lines, not perfect, and I eyeball it. I like getting my own feel. If I were to trace the stuff on the paper that would take away the meaning of the art for me. It’s not that it just feels like cheating. That is the photo. I don’t want it to be the photo. I want it to be my interpretation and understanding of the photo. I like creating it from my perspective of the photo instead of the numbers and the rulers. That part is the longest and hardest part because if you don’t have the proportions no matter how much time you spend on the details it will never look real or pop. All the colors and the details are the icing on the cake. The fun part is the color and reflection. That comes naturally.
Is there a part of the artwork that you’re not satisfied with?
There are imperfections - some rotations were different lengths. It was bothering me, but I stepped back and looked at it and thought is this really something that’s going to alter the piece significantly? If it is, I’ll change it. If not, I’ll leave it.
When you’re walking down the street, does your eye just settle on something? Do you look at things differently - your eye for detail?
When I’m walking down the street, I’m not necessarily looking at things as if it would be a drawing. I think I look at it the way everyone else looks at it. Some things that I’m interested in, you have to access a different part of your brain. Then you look at it in a different way and start you start to notice the details. I don’t look through my life in a hyperreal way but that would be awesome.
Will you study art in college?
I’m not going to school for art. I’m going to a liberal arts college so I will take study art no matter what my major is. I have a lot of other hobbies besides art like the guitar. I put a lot more time into practicing the guitar. I don’t center my life around art. I have a ton of hobbies.
What’s next for your artwork at KO?
I’m going to be in the art room every day. This class was very independent, and we had a lot of freedom over what we could do. Not much is going to change when the class is over.
Anything else you’d like to share?
I don’t always think about art. I just really like it, and it makes me happy just doing it. That’s a reason in and of itself. That’s why I do it. If I’m stressed, it calms me. Going to art class is my favorite part of the day. Now I get to relax and it resets me.