Fairy Tales Imagery welcomes the multi-talented Nicolai Grut, owner and creator of GrutBrushes.com and motion graphics artist extraordinaire!
An honor to interview Nicolai Grut, a skilled artist, entrepreneur and creator residing in Toronto, Canada, as part of this month’s Artist Spotlight Interview series.
I first came into contact with Nicolai’s work as the creator of GrutBrushes.com, a web site dedicated to providing uber high quality artistic Photoshop art brushes. I can be a “bit” of a Photoshop brush hoarder (to put it mildly, as well as slightly a brush quality snob ~ I know what it takes to make fine brushes: talent and time consuming ~ which is why for most creatives it is ideal to easily acquire beautiful brush sets rather then construct them yourself.) So when I find top notch quality at such decent economical prices, I tend download and download basically exhausting the site until there is nothing left. Hope that doesn’t sound too greedy ~ I do so love a good brush. In any case, as an added brilliant bonus, Nicolai features animated brush stroke previews which give a nice quick view of each brush in action.
I started by downloading many of his freebies (easily some of the BEST brushes accessible online ~ a new free brush is available every week at grutbrushes.com/freebrush.) After following GrutBrushes on Twitter and Facebook, I picked up on a nice opportunity to hoard even more brushes from this site in the format of a monthly membership club offering up-to-date new brush launches including all of his professional brush sets, plus a cool little Photoshop CC plugin.
Ok, enough promo on the site, creatives can check that all out HERE and see for yourself how these brushes are phenomenally gorgeous and productive in digital art . What I grew curious about is the man behind the brushes ~ Who is Grut?! How did he get started? What else does he creatively do with his professional time? I wanted a behind the scenes glimpse of how this artistic business began, grew, and the talent behind all the brushes. My curiosity is your gain as we get to take a peek into his creative journey and world. Let’s jump right in and get to know how Nicolai makes his professional art business and creative digital art talent thrive.
How did GrutBrushes get started?
Drawing and painting is a hobby for me, I’m a video and film person, a motion graphics artist by profession but when I was growing up I dreamed of being a cartoonist. I also always loved science but I was never really good at it in school. Making brushes is a very scientific art form, I feel like I’m a scientist in a lab, inventing life forms with a chemistry set. It’s fundamentally an artistic endeavor in the end but I really love exploring that combination of algorithms and textures that results in a brush, there’s a lot to discover. Grutbrushes is me finally putting into practice the always good advice of ‘do what you love’ I started it for love and fun. I loved the idea that I could be a small part of someone else creating something wonderful.
How did you develop Grutbrushes from concept to actual full on business?
I’ve always made and shared tools, templates and things like that online. I made and sold animated stock footage backgrounds for video production for many years, I started that business in the 90’s when the web was just a place you put up your contact info. The idea of selling digital downloads seemed crazy back then (as my bank told me when I tried to find a way to accept credit cards online) but I was obsessed with making it happen. I actually sold them on video tape at first, there was no really good way to even show video on the web then, never mind deliver it online. My first site only had 30 MB of space but that was a lot back then.
From that experience it was second nature to put the brushes online and sell them. I think my experience with the animated backgrounds served me well when developing the GrutBrushes shop. You can see it’s influence, for example, in the the animated brush stroke previews that I have for every single brush in the GrutBrushes shop. It’s so important to me that you see each brush ‘perform live’ as it were.
What is your best selling brush set or brush?
The best seller by far is the Photoshop Art Brushes Complete set, but next is oddly enough the ballpoint pens brushes, though the fan favorites are probably the watercolor brushes. People love the natural media look and feel that they can get while using my brushes and I often hear from people that they were just about to give up on drawing or painting in Photoshop until they found my brushes.
“After buying a brush set, Jim Morin, the editorial cartoonist for the Miami Herald wrote to me “Thanks for helping make my work look better!” Imagine hearing that from a double Pulitzer prize winner! He didn’t have to say that, he’s a busy guy. People are so nice.”
Since I started making Photoshop brushes I’ve been trying to replicate the oil brushes I love in Painter. I think I’ve finally done that with my impasto oil brushes which I’m just starting to put out on the site now. Once I put those out in a set I really think those will be the most popular. They are with me at least. (Cool Note: at time of interview the Impasto brushes are a huge hit this past week with 100,000 views and over 7,500 likes and comments on Facebook alone ~ Super exciting!)
How do you decide which brushes to sell and which to offer as freebies? Do you feel the freebies help draw in your target audience and then converts well to future purchases?
I try to offer a variety and alternate them, for example, a charcoal one week, an oil brush the next, then an ink brush, etc. I decided recently that I want to try to make sure that I only give away brushes that I truly love using. I used to worry that no one would buy them if I gave away a free one every week, but the truth is we are all just far too busy to come back and download them every single week. So now I don’t worry about selling and I try to think about it as if this may be the only brush of mine that person ever downloads, so better try to make it a good one. People like to support things they like, so they often buy them just to say thanks.
What is the best piece of advice you have been given that continues to motivate you and inspire you in your business even during the creative slumps or when you feel you just hit a roadblock?
“Let go!” If you let things become too precious you become reluctant to throw things out and start again. If you can let go then you can move on when you get stuck. Try a different approach, start again, go for a walk. Can I change that? Maybe it was “let’s go for a walk”
How important is creative group support, social media connections and collaboration among your business and the digital artists that your brushes support? How do you personally value and participate?
I am on most social networks but I am not nearly as involved with people as I could be, I really want to be much more so. People send me such wonderful things or tag their work with #GrutBrushes and it’s such a thrill and so motivating so this year I am starting a gallery page to share artwork created by others using my brushes. Other people are definitely the best part of this whole thing and with thousands of visitors to the website every week I’d love to share some of that exposure as a small token of thanks and pass on some of the inspiration and motivation they give me online and in emails. I really want more interaction with artists this year. Besides, people get tired of seeing just my silly doodles, it’s time for some actual artists to get some exposure! Check out this fan GALLERY.
What is your most challenging part of running Grutbrushes?
The tech side is the hardest part and presents many teeth grinding challenges. My site is fairly complicated now with memberships giving special access, making sure all the download links are working, security is also a big headache, and then there are endless software and database updates. It’s so far removed from the art side of things that it can really make one despondent. Then I get a lovely email from a customer and I remember why I do it.
How do you find balance in running your business and the necessary marketing / social media work / networking?
I tend to drift back and forth arbitrarily between making and marketing as it takes me a bit of time to switch my mindset. I’d love to spend all my time just making brushes and I could do that all day but that was a mistake I made with my animated backgrounds business.
Marketing doesn’t come easy to me, I’m naturally shy and much happier sitting quietly in my room doodling the hours away endlessly, but in a world so full of wonderful things it’s almost impossible to get noticed. Even if you have the greatest stuff in the world, if you don’t make a real effort to show people no one will see it. Everyone reading this is probably nodding their head right now.
I am trying to be a lot more natural about marketing and starting to do things like share my scratchpad scribbles and notes from my brush making sessions. I still have to make them presentable and give a bit of context but people really seem to enjoy and respond to them which was a pleasant surprise as I love that kind of stuff: a peek into the lab!
A look at Nicolai’s art work in Motion Graphics
How did you get started in motion graphics and animation? ~ I love finding out how creatives first got their foot in the door.
While I was still in college (Ontario College of Art and Design) I answered a post on the internet (Usenet newsgroup at the time, this was before the web) from a guy who worked for Much Music (Canada’s MTV) He was looking for a computer animator. Nothing came of that and he left shortly thereafter and started a production company making commercials, he remembered me, called me up and became my first client.
What kinds of clients do you work for and how do they find you for freelance work?
Word of mouth is the number one way I get work. I do mostly industrial video and commercials but I’ve done work for everyone from small companies to name brands like Microsoft, British Airways and Sony. I’ve also done compositing and visual effects work for movies and worked as part of a team on some big features including a couple of Harry Potter films.
How do you hope to see your career progress in the next 5 years in animation and motion graphics?
I would love to be doing more evocative creative work, I love working with animation and music, working with musicians would be great. I’m not sure what I will be doing but I think it will be very different and may not even be in motion graphics. I would be happy if I could work on GrutBrushes full time. Then I think I would probably do some animation for purely creative motives. That would be lovely.
What project in your portfolio gallery is the most feeling connected to “you” … ie. your favorite creation in the past year or two.
Its rare that I feel a personal connection with the commercial work as the business is so far removed from the “personal” and you’re almost always executing the plans and visions of dozens of other people. I do have projects that I am more involved in than others though, often I do just one part of a project and it’s all ready to go, just waiting for me to add my animation, but in this one for Pattison Outdoor I was involved in producing the whole thing from scratch, from the modeling to the animation, the music to the voice over, I was responsible for producing it all.
Please view this wonderful animated art project HERE.