Illustration by Eric Nyquist for “The Borne Bestiary” by Jeff VanderMeer in “Electric Eel” (MCD Books)

profile / alumni / illustration
August 16, 2019
By Mike Winder
Images courtesy of the artist

Plants, Animals and Muffler Shops: Alumnus Eric Nyquist Weaves It All Together

“People often ask me what I do for a living, and it’s a kind of a long answer,” says Illustration faculty and alumnus Eric Nyquist (BFA 07) in an interview with Always Trust in Books. “I always tell people I’m an artist, but invariably they want to know more.”

Can you blame them? Take one look at Nyquist’s meticulous and incandescent work, which merges the organic and the industrial, and dozens of questions rush to the surface.

Which is perhaps one reason why his drawings, paintings and collages have been commissioned by a wide range of editorial clients, including The Atlantic, The New York Times, The New Yorker, Quanta Magazine, NPR’s Science Friday and Harvard Business Review.

Eric Nyquist
Eric Nyquist (BFA 07 Illustration)

Nyquist grew up in Turlock, an agricultural town in California’s Central Valley, where his family owned a muffler shop. “I was constantly around hot rods, lifted trucks and low riders,” he says in an interview with AI-AP, adding that the shop provided him with an endless supply of pencils, legal pads and cardboard boxes that he repurposed for artistic endeavors. “When we weren’t working on cars my dad and I would build things like dinosaurs, furniture and muffler men from scraps of metal around the shop.”

He grew up surrounded by plants and animals. “I was always around cool plants like spider chrysanthemums, daylilies and timber bamboo,” he says in the interview. “I had lots of pets—a catfish, a chicken that fell off a Foster Farms truck, and lots of dogs.”

A gig at his family friends’ veterinary hospital even made Nyquist consider studying veterinary medicine, but he invariably found himself drawing on Post-It notes while waiting for blood results.

He moved to Los Angeles in 2003 to attend ArtCenter, where he continued to develop his visual language. “When I was in school, working digitally or with an airbrush were frowned upon,” Nyquist told AI-AP, adding that a few years later, they were considered mainstream tools. “It’s a conversation that’s always changing.”

His education no doubt influenced his approach to image making. Nyquist’s bio on his website emphasizes that he “upholds the craft of print-making while expanding the possibilities of the medium” and that his method of arranging layers and screens of color and texture is informed by the printing process itself.

After graduating from ArtCenter, Nyquist was contacted by Dan Goods (BFA 02 Graphic Design), a visual strategist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, who commissioned him to help design his department’s design center.

Illustration by Eric Nyquist for “Quanta”
Illustration by Eric Nyquist for “Quanta” (“Troubled Times for Alternatives to Einstein's Theory of Gravity,” April 30, 2018)

Since then, Nyquist has worked with a variety of clients, including companies like Netflix, Disney, Honda, Intel, Penguin Classics and Farrar Straus Giroux; institutions like the Audubon Society, Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art, Stanford University and The Grammys; and artists like Beck, Doug Aitken (BFA 91 Illustration) and Jakob Dylan.

He is the recipient of ArtCenter’s 2009 Young Innovator Alumni Award and his work has been included in numerous exhibitions, including the Society of Illustrators Annual Exhibition, Communications Arts Illustration Annual and Giant Robot’s Post-It Show.