Profile: Natalia Stuyk

Published:  June 29, 2015

London-based artist Natalia Stuyk recycles old technologies and adapts new ones to create gifs, videos and animations stamped with a boldly graphic and layered, dizzying style. With clients including Kenzo, Basement Jaxx, House of Holland and Topman, as well as a strong catalogue of personal works and experiments, Stuyk’s work exemplifies the surprises and opportunities of cross-discipline design.

How have you developed your style?

I think my style goes through phases; I’m constantly reassessing how I work and what techniques I use. I’ve always been drawn to the VHS aesthetic, but never been great at analogue stuff, so I try to recreate that look in a digital way – paying homage rather than mimicking. I love contrasts between lo-fi and glossy, noisy and smooth textures, black and white and full-blown saturated colour. I love repetition and patterns, contrasting textures and marrying geometric shapes with organic form – anything with impeccable composition and a strong attention to detail. I get a lot of inspiration from architecture, product design and typography. Despite these areas having nothing to do with my work, the way shapes and forms come together is a common starting point for me. At the moment it feels like I am constantly experimenting with different things, trying stuff on to see what fits.

How have your work and your practice evolved, and where do you see them going?

I’ve always wondered how still things might move. That’s the basic premise behind most of what I do – my videos are an animated response to the shapes, textures and colours around me. I’ve always been fascinated with repetition, whether it be through a pattern or a loop or recurring visual themes. There’s a comfort in things that loop. I think that, as a species, we’re drawn to things that are innately hypnotic. I make little two- to three-second looping experiments a few times a week on and I’m never totally satisfied until they repeat seamlessly – when you can’t tell where something starts and ends, as if it just goes on forever. I feel like everything I create has a similar visual rhythm.

I studied traditional animation, so I’ve become used to doing things the longwinded way, focusing on every detail. At uni, I’d painstakingly draw every single frame by hand. As soon as I discovered how to do things on a computer, I swapped the light box for a graphics tablet, but I think my formal education will always have a lot to do with my work, in that I’ll always be a perfectionist. I guess it’s a constant striving to be better – to keep learning and never get bored.

More and more frequently I use sound as a starting point. It kind of becomes a map that I follow: I write the soundtrack first, which dictates the rhythm of the movement and cuts of the video. It’s like certain sounds ‘look’ a certain way. CRASIS was the first video I made that was based on a soundtrack I’d put together: I sampled a bunch of stuff off odd 70s YouTube videos and edited and rearranged them until I felt there was enough variety of texture, then I drew up a storyboard of those sounds represented by visual elements. I still work that way now. I like the process; it’s really satisfying to visualise something that starts off invisible.

I travel a lot and some places have really impacted on the work I create. Last year I spent a few weeks in Tokyo and made Visiter ビデオ. Everything felt so slow in Tokyo, despite the city being such a massive, overwhelming space, with such a range of sounds and colours. I recorded the sound of the jingles on the metro, slowed them down and cut them up and built this weird glowing 2D/3D structure around it. I wanted to communicate that sense of awe I’d experienced.

How do you think digital design resources, and an online culture of sharing and appropriation, have influenced the digital work being produced today?

This is a huge question! Ha ha. It’s obvious that the internet has shifted the way we work and develop. You can teach yourself anything, find images on the most obscure subcultures. Nothing is really a mystery anymore. There is a constant stream of new stuff and it can be incredibly inspiring, but also sort of overwhelming. I guess the biggest positive is that it’s easier than ever to discover new talent or to gain exposure. It’s also made it easier than ever to collaborate with and meet like-minded people. As a result, the digital work is really varied and exciting, but there is also a huge amount of copying and I think when you start seeing the same thing over and over, but a watered-down, lesser version of it, it detracts from the original concept.

Also, the increase of sharing means that sometimes the original creator of the work gets lost along the way and I really think crediting the author is something that needs to be conserved. Another downside for me personally is that I definitely feel a new pressure to finish something even though I know there is no one watching and there isn’t a deadline. The constant need to appear active online has made me super impatient, so I think I probably don’t develop ideas as much as I did before.

However, I feel there is an increased sense of community among artists as a result of this pressure. Recently I took part in a show at the Barbican (in London) for Just Jam alongside some of my favourite visual artists: Sabrina Ratté, Aaron Chan, Daniel Swan, Rachel Noble and Sara Ludy. Just Jam is an incredible example of how digital tools have created a new platform for producers, DJs and video artists to reach a massive audience, and how these tools can bring people together in a real space. More interesting than the way the internet is affecting digital work online is the way it’s affecting events in real life, and the ways we connect off the internet.

In what ways, if any, do you define the difference between art and design?

I guess art is anything that defies its utilitarian purpose, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that its technical or conceptual approach is any different to that of design. Maybe it’s the context it’s in? Or the perspective of the person looking at it? It doesn’t really matter how you define it since it ultimately comes down to the viewer and their interpretation.

Personally, I find that whatever I do for myself feels like making art; I’m creating something out of nothing that has come from nowhere other than me and carries my voice with it. On occasion I have a certain level of symbiosis with a client and we make something that’s surprising and fulfilling in a way that most design briefs aren’t, but again I’m not sure if it’s art when you have to adhere to so many guidelines and limitations that the context imparts.

Commission for DJ Annie Mac including all logos and two hours of live visuals for her DJ sets.

Commission for DJ Annie Mac including all logos and two hours of live visuals for her DJ sets.

What medium do you enjoy working with the most?

For the last two years I’ve made everything straight in After Effects. I don’t even use Photoshop anymore. I’m currently hand painting some little elements that I’ll be using in a music video I’m working on, which is a welcome change. It’s refreshing to not be looking at a screen all day. I don’t know if I enjoy any medium in particular, but I am slowly working towards a mixed media technique for my videos.

What excites you most about cross-discipline work and collaboration?

I find that through collaboration I make the most surprising work that resonates in future projects. Each time is a new experience and the outcome always exceeds expectations. It’s like you become a more complete artist by working with someone who fills in the gaps. Working alone for days on end can be frustrating and you can get too close to what you’re creating and somehow lose sight of it a little; it’s so much more enriching to get a new pair of eyes and a fresh opinion on whatever you’re working on.

At the moment I’m doing a series of prints with Saskia Pomeroy for Pick Me Up, the annual graphic arts festival at Somerset House. It’s exciting because I get to work in ways that I wouldn’t be capable of without the support of someone who is an expert in their field. The limitation of working with a maximum of four colours and seeing my work in a different way is really cool too. I love working with fashion designers or textile designers the most. I feel like they design for motion already, thinking about how the garments will drape around a body or how they’ll move when they’re worn. They have an approach to video that’s really refreshing.

What influences the saturated palette and the tropical-psychedelic visual language visible in much of your work? 

My parents are both Spanish and live in the south of Spain, and I visit a few times a year. The beach town they live in is covered in palm trees, sunshine almost all year round, azure skies and the deep blue water of the Mediterranean. When there’s that much sun all the colours seem so much brighter than they do in London, and undoubtedly my trips home have a huge influence on my work. Colour still baffles me though. I go through phases of using a specific palette and then all of a sudden it starts looking wrong. I read Josef Albers’ Interaction of Color recently and it changed my outlook totally.

How are client requests evolving in relation to new technologies?

In my experience it’s the other way around: video directors and animators are curious about new technologies, so we start writing them into our pitches. I think most clients I work with are more concerned with the outcome than the technique, which is great because it gives us the freedom to experiment. However, I’m yet to come across a budget that will allow me to propose an idea I have for the Oculus Rift or VR (virtual reality) in general. Maybe one day…

What engaging departures from traditional forms of branding, advertising and publication are you seeing in your design life and your everyday life?

I think as time goes on, people are becoming more discerning and more difficult to please. Agencies are definitely putting a lot of effort into keeping the internet-age audience engaged, as it increasingly feels as if we’ve seen it all before. My favourite brand that is killing it at the moment is Nike and everything it does at NikeLab. Its events are mind-blowing, always ahead of anyone else in terms of interactivity and creativity.

In relation to the gif websites you’ve made, can you talk about your professional relationship to the internet, and how you use the platform as both canvas and gallery?

I first started making gifs as a quick way to test how something moves, usually a snapshot of something I’m working on, while simultaneously satisfying my compulsive need to see things loop. The gif websites are a step further from this, not only making seamlessly looping animations, but seamlessly tessellating too. The first one I did with this approach was, which people responded really well to. The gif is amazing because it’s such a rubbish medium – in my videos I can do whatever I want, but with a gif I have so many limitations that restrict anything crazy. I quite like the problem-solving aspect of it, and then I code the website as a kind of display case.

Actually I am working on one now ( that’s much more sophisticated and I’m developing it further before I share it with anyone. It’s interactive, so it’s something I couldn’t put into a video. I own so many gif pun websites. There will be more to come for sure. Each of them is a gallery of a project in its own right, I guess.

But these have never really served a purpose; they’re all a product of procrastination. I’d say my professional relationship to the internet probably lies on Instagram: it’s the only platform I really am more careful with.

GIF background for Adidas Originals

GIFs for Anabel Englund with Emma Dudlyke & Penabranca


GIFs for Andrea Balency

How does social media fuel or feed into your work?

Like most other digital artists, I rely on my work being shared and liked in order to reach a wider audience with the end goal of eventually working with bigger and better clients. Tumblr and Instagram have a lot to do with how I develop my work. They’ve both become a big part of researching and sounding out ideas. I tend not to take it too seriously, though; it’s just fun to get that immediate response from an audience that wasn’t possible five years ago. It’s awesome; I love the internet.

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