Populated with low clouds, oversized peonies, and birds covered in fish scales, Thanh Nhàn Nguyễn’s dreamscapes merge fantasy and tradition in a celebration of Vietnamese culture. In his series, Season of Life, the artist digitally renders demure figures who wear áo dài, a long, split gown that’s tied to ideas of feminine beauty. The women are enveloped by the magical environment and depicted with pale tendrils grasping their ankles or cloaked by a fiery, plant-filled mass.
“I have relied on the color of flowers and leaves, the surrounding nature combined with the motifs from the Vietnamese culture where I was born,” Nguyễn writes. “What’s important (is) the fact that they come from the feelings inside me—the emotions inside each of us.”
Nguyễn recently moved to Can Thơ, which is in southern Vietnam, and shares a collection of his ethereal works on Behance and Instagram. Prints of Season of Life and other illustrations are available from Society6.
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A Massive Octopus and Floating Fish Comprise the Imaginary Universe in Ted Chin's Surreal Composites
In Ted Chin’s surreal dreamland, it’s not uncommon to see massive anglerfish swimming through the sky or a figure scooping up shooting stars. The San Francisco-based artist merges idyllic landscapes and outdoor scenes with fantastical details, choosing to upturn an evergreen in mid-air or position an oversized octopus underneath a floating house. Simultaneously uncanny and calming, the composites are eye-catching and rooted in imagination. “There are things in the world that inspire childlike wonder and awe, and it is my passion to recreate and share them with the world,” the artist says.
All of the digital works here, which blend stock images and Chin’s own shots, fall under the scope of Ted’s Little Dream, the fictional universe that the artist created years ago and continues to work within. “Storytelling has always been something that inspired me. When I was in grad school, I was not able to travel as much as I wanted to,” he says. “I’ve always dreamed about visiting different places, to see and experience new things, and to tell stories.”
If you’re a Photoshop user, you’ve probably spotted Chin’s cloudy flamingo work (shown below) as part of the 2021 Photoshop splash screen. To dive further into his meditative universe, head to Instagram, and pick up a print from his shop.
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Just as a ceramicist would smooth the harsh edges of clay, Martin Satí renders the supple contours of a subject’s face with sweeping motion. Thick drops of color form the light of a cheekbone or eyelid crease, and the swirling lines that overlay the Seville-based illustrator’s portraits add a dynamic element. Through implied movement, the expressive works capture the subjects’ energy and momentary expressions.
Satí shares that his practice, while digital, similarly molds facial features as a sculptor would. Despite using impalpable tools, he says that his “material is like semi-liquid and is difficult to model but at the same time is very rich in movement and liveliness… I work with this material, which I usually call ‘Silicone Pie,’ as an artisan works with ceramics. I am modeling the colors with lines of movement until I achieve an optimal level of detail.”
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Artificial Blooms: Digital Botanics Showcase the Fractals, Tessellations, and Repetitive Features of the Natural World
From tessellations to spirals and symmetry, the Cologne-based duo behind Shy Studio has been reproducing the mesmerizing patterns of the natural world through a series of lifelike botanics. Artificial Bloom is an ongoing project by Misha Shyukin and Hannes Hummel that features still-life florals and animated clips of petals slowly unfurling.
The digital renderings showcase the complexity of organic structures while also highlighting the fractals and endless intricacies inherent to nature’s designs. “We are only two artists, and when one of us had some spare time, we would pick a flower or plant from our Pinterest board as a base and start developing our own artistic interpretation of it,” Shyukin shares with Colossal. “It was fascinating to find that a lot of floral and plant structures follow certain mathematical rules, which we could replicate and apply to our own structures.”
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By day, Scott Reinhard designs graphics for The New York Times. Recently, he created a United States map detailing where city-dwellers fled during the pandemic and another showing how the Pantanal wetland in Brazil has transformed into a massive inferno. Incorporating an ever-growing swath of data, his daily tasks are connected to the fluctuations of news cycles.
But in his off-hours, the Brooklyn-based designer takes a broader look at the state of the nation. He merges vintage maps and contemporary elevation data, creating stunning digital works that flatten the differences of time and space into hybrid objects. While his graphics for The Times are rooted in the ever-changing present, his personal work is nestled within historical contexts.
Reinhard’s interest in data and map-generation grew while he was pursuing a master’s degree in graphic design at North Carolina State University, particularly during an introductory course centered around geographic information systems. “I basically became aware of all these cartography tools that I had no idea about. Because I wasn’t coming from that background, I was free to play around… and approach visualizing geographic data in new and interesting ways,” he says.
That experimental period spurred Reinhard’s ideas of fusing historical maps and contemporary land elevations, and he began exploring filtering, a cartographic method that calculates a theoretical sun and provides data about corresponding landscapes. “It’s pretty crude, but it really fascinated me that from a flat, black-and-white image, which is basically what elevation data looks like, you could interpolate this scene,” he shares, noting that he began to work with 3-D renderings around the same time. “That data that’s stored in a paper map can still be activated.”
Since 2019, Reinhard has refined his focus and shifted to larger series. “I’m still interested in these USGS (United States Geological Survey) maps as graphic objects and as really beautiful works of graphic design. What I’ve really been enjoying is to build these out,” he says. The more comprehensive collections have included studies of Alaskan maps from the 1950s, one series focused on the Oregon coast, and another considering south-central Indiana where he was raised.
A macro-view captures the intricacies and histories etched into the landscape of a region, showcasing glacial formations, seismic activity, and how a mountain range emerged during a period of years. “I realized once I started visualizing the landscape that, on a day-to-day standpoint when you look around you, you see elevation changes, but you don’t really see patterns. We’re just a little too small,” he says. Because USGS maps utilize coordinates, they also circumvent more political orientations found in documents outlining territories or other cordoned-off areas, offering an opportunity to correct false narratives that have been perpetuated by cartographic objects in the past. The historical maps hold additional information on trends and periods in design, which manifest in aesthetic choices like style and color.
Reinhard currently is working his way through producing a collection of USGS-recommended maps from the 1950s, a novel project that’s rooted in exploration and curiosity. “All maps are exaggerations, to some extent,” he says. “You can push and pull what the map says and what the map tells you.” Explore Reinhard’s extensive collection of digital works on Instagram and his site, where he also sells an array of prints.
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Raphael Vanhomwegen describes his process as “visual brainstorming,” a technique that involves rendering his digital paintings quickly “to keep a spontaneous going-with-the-flow feeling.” The Belgium-based artist depicts vertically built cities with houses, shops, and stairwells that spring up from a hillside or body of water. Whether in technicolor, neutral shades, or moody grays, the soaring architecture is otherworldly and even foreboding as it appears to peek through surrounding fog. In many works, a few figures are perched on the balcony or a swarm of birds flies overhead.
When painting, Vanhomwegen focuses on his internal thoughts and allows himself to move comfortably through the practice of adding a new walkway or leafy vine. “You need to at least be obsessed with one particular subject that you will explore way too much than necessary,” he shares with Colossal, noting that his favorites are tiny houses and moody scenes. Similarly, he strives to imbue each artwork with volume and energy, an idea he expands on:
Every brushstroke should have a meaning in order to be visually interesting. This is idealistic, of course. I am also one of those people who think nothing is more beautiful than a sketch. I almost never saw a finished drawing look better than a very good sketch. That’s why I almost never finish my drawings. It feels like adding more notes to a perfect musical piece. It’s just not worth it.
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Highlights below. For the full collection click here.