HighlightMerek Davis


HighlightMerek Davis

Nate Hill (@natehill) is a designer and photographer well known to many circles here on Instagram.  For quite some time we have watched his approach, methods and even style change - always growing and expanding and adding more and more intriguing details and concepts in to the mix.  The beauty and inventiveness behind each of his pieces draws people in and his kindness and willingness to help others learn keeps them around.  It took us some time but we finally managed to catch up with that age defying Australian.  Have a read and learn with us!

My name is Nate. I'm 40 years old and I've been married to my best friend for 19 years and counting (I know right?!?).  We have a beautiful 5 (going on 15) year old girl. I am a stay at home dad, freelance photographer, digital artist/designer, part-time drum teacher, Star Wars enthusiast, and avid shoe wearer from the eastern suburbs of Melbourne, Australia.

I love being creative! Whether it's taking and editing photos or doing something involving music. I'm passionate about creating something that is pleasing to the eye or the ear. I also love team sports and still, to this day, can hold my own on the basketball court.

The need for a creative outlet is a bit like breathing for me - it's a part of everyday life and has been for as long as I can remember. In my early years it was turning my bike helmet into a stormtrooper helmet and fighting galactic battles in the back yard. In high school, my strong (and most enjoyable) subjects were art, graphics, and music. I would go on to study Visual Arts at University, where I fell in love with photography. I even learned the ancient dark(room) art of developing and printing my own photos.

I never did finish my degree though as I took a break from my course, started teaching drums to earn some money and ended up teaching and playing in bands for the next 15 or so years.  Oops! I always had a camera close by though. I would sometimes make myself late to work as I chased "that shot" or the perfect light.  Capturing a perfect or unique landscape was my passion for a long time. I even had some of my shots displayed and sold at local coffee shops which I thought was as good as it gets for a hobbyist.

Then my world changed as my gorgeous little girl entered the world. I bought a "real" (read DSLR) camera and would take a million (and counting) photos of her. Family and friends would comment on the shots and encourage me to do something with this photography thing. This was around the time I downloaded that little app called Instagram that has had such an impact on so many creative people’s lives. I decided that as I was a stay at home dad, I would also try my hand as a freelance photographer.

To cut a long story a little bit shorter, I can't believe the opportunities that I have now thanks to putting myself and my art out there on Instagram and beyond. I now take photos of families and brands, do promo photos and create art for music acts. This brings me so much joy as I'm doing something that I love (and would do anyway) and I get paid for it. 

I should say that I was an early adopter of Mextures too. I never got around to downloading the original overlays that Merek released, as the app came out just as I was looking into it all. Mextures is my absolute go-to app for finishing edits and I love the versatility and options it gives me to enhance and lift my images into something pretty special.

Why are you interested in photography and design and what keeps you interested?

Well nowadays, photography and design are just so much a part of everyday for me. I feel a little odd if I have a day where I haven't tinkered with something. But there are a few things that keep me coming back for more. For one, there's nothing like the thrill of getting 'the shot'. Whether it's a landscape, a portrait or even an abstract, there is just something so fulfilling about capturing that scene or that moment. And on the design/digital art front, I love the challenge of creating something unique. Trying to bring an idea/story/vision to life. I also enjoy continuing the journey of self improvement. Learning new skills and attempting to stand up along side the multitude of amazingly talented creatives out there.

How would you describe your style?

One word that comes to mind is eclectic. One look at my Instagram will tell you that I can't stick to one theme or aesthetic.  I do love a clean image (that's probably due to my obsessive/perfectionist nature), especially with portraits. It bothers me if there is something distracting that draws your eye away from the main subject.  I also love the surreal. I get a little kick out of the idea of someone doing a double take when looking at one of my images and wondering what the heck is going on there.

What have you found to be your biggest challenge in developing your hobby turned to trade?

I think one of the biggest challenges comes in the form of saturation in the market. With social media on the interwebs, it's never been easier to share your work with the world. But with that, you are putting yourself out there alongside the multitudes of amazingly talented and creative people sharing their work. So then you have the challenge of not only presenting something of great quality, but hopefully something a little unique or with a different perspective.

On a more personal note, I would hope that I could keep pushing myself to improve skills and try new things. It can be all too easy to just go with what you know sometimes. I definitely try not to get stuck in one mode. 

Having said all of that, one of the catalysts for me getting into art was just to have an avenue to express myself and be creative. So as long as I can do that, I find the 'doing' has a personal payoff that keeps me going.   

What do you think makes a memorable piece?

For me, I think it's one that tells a story or makes you feel something. The other thing that I look for is a different perspective. With so many people sharing images from all around the world, the ones that stop me in my tracks usually have something different going on. Wether it's literally a different perspective like from a drone or something that uses a different technique, I personally like to see something unexpected and unique. 

Talk to us a bit about your wild swirl pieces.  How did those get started? 

My first real love in photography was landscapes. I love getting out to beautiful places and freezing a moment in time on the camera. And when I do get out and shoot, I take a LOT of photos. So I have quite a catalogue of images to play around with.  

As I got into manipulation and heavy editing of images, I stumbled onto an app called Rollworld. It does the 'Tiny Planet' type of thing, but I found it to have so much more control over how you can manipulate the image. So after a little bit of playing around, I found myself creating these twisted looking landscapes. The images I created had such a surreal feel to them like they were scenes from an alien planet, but I felt they needed something to tell a story or make them feel a little more real. Using Matter app, I imported a 3D figure into each of my twisted landscapes. I feel like at the very least it gives the image a sense of scale or depth, but I also personally think that it brings an emotion or a sense of purpose to the image. But the beauty of art is that everyone can make up their own mind about what to take away from the image.

None of the images would be quite the same without Mextures too. I use it to finish every one of these landscapes. To my mind/eye, Mextures brings everything together in these images. Wether it's a bit of grit or a colour overlay. I love how it brings a sense of continuity to an edit. Somehow making it a little more real or believable.

I really enjoy creating these surreal scenes and they seem to have captured the imagination of a bunch of people too. They are consistently my most well received pieces at the moment. 

How specifically do you tend to use Mextures in your editing process?

Mextures is the closer - the finisher of almost all of the edits I post to Instagram. I absolutely love the plethora of options that it gives me to tie an edit together.  

As I said earlier, I use Mextures to bring continuity to an image. For the most part, I use it in quite a subtle manner. Some grit here and there, maybe a light leak at a low opacity to accentuate a light source, or a slight colour or texture overlay to add depth. It all goes towards bringing an edit that might not look quite real yet to a place where everything looks like it's meant to be there. Adding depth and an overall feel or tone.

Sometimes I really crank up the colour on some of my more surreal edits when I'm looking for something a little otherworldly. And when I'm just editing a landscape (not a crazy edit), I love that I can achieve a certain atmosphere or tone with the aid of this wonderful and versatile app.

Can you share some of your Mextures formulas?

Sure thing!  I should note that I often use these as a starting point and then add or subtract as the image dictates.  Here are a few that get a good run:

BIIIZWF - Tubed - This, like a lot of my formulas, is a reasonably understated one. It adds a slight blue tone, a bit of texture, and a little desaturation. Designed with oceans in mind.

FMZFDIM - Gritty - As the name suggests, a bit of grit and a little darker tone to this one. Works well on forest shots.

ZZQQNXW - Cubed - I've used this one on quite a few edits. A bit of bittersweet erosion with a touch of fade. One that I like to use if I've added new elements to an image.

AKKRCEH - The Great Outdoors - A few more layers in this one. Some green tones, grit and emulsion. This one really brings out the clouds/sky in a landscape shot.

Do you feel like Mextures offers anything unique to your editing process?

Mextures offers so much to my process and the overall feel of my edits. It can give an otherworldly feel to an image which is perfect for someone making digital art.  It's such a versatile app and it is very generous in what it includes. I can't think of another app that has the amount of tools as Mextures AND offers the amount of overlays and such that it does. 

And, I know that this might sound a little cheesy, but I love the community aspect that Mextures had developed and encouraged. It's one of the more appealing things about Instagram and the Mextures part of that is one that continues to inspire. 

What inspires you to create more than anything else?

This is an interesting one for me. There's a few things really. For starters, I feel like it's a part of who I am. As I think I said earlier, I feel like something is missing if I'm not doing something creative at some point throughout a day. Even as I go about everyday things I find myself thinking of a shot or edit. Framing things that catch my eye.

Going hand in hand with that is my faith. I believe that God created me to be creative. It just comes naturally. He also created this beautiful planet that we are fortunate enough to inhabit which inspires me as well. 

Apart from that, I am inspired by so many other creatives out there that push me to be the best I can be.

What has been your favorite piece to create so far?

Whoa! It's tough just picking one.  Isn't it a little like with your children? You're not really meant to have favourites are you?

As much as I do enjoy making my glitches and twisted landscapes, I think for me it might be an edit of my daughter climbing a climbing frame amongst the clouds. It speaks to the fearless nature of my little girl and plays into the dreamlike/creative type of edit that I really enjoy creating.

Plus, taking and editing photos of my little chick is something that gives me so much joy.

What is it that you hope to communicate with your work?  

I have a few things that I would like/hope that people could take away from my work.  I'd like to think that I have a positive message coming through what I do. I did a series a little while back that used morse code and in those pieces were positive words such as hope and love. I love the idea of bringing a little light to a dark place. I also like the idea of someone smiling after looking at a piece or having a little chuckle after reading a caption. 

I love the idea of people trying to work out whats going on in an image. Having to stop and take in something that they perhaps were not expecting.

The other side to it all though, is that I make a lot of this stuff for myself (a little selfish, I know). That need to be doing something creative as I've mention earlier.

How has social media played a role in your work?

Social media has played a massive role in my work. In fact without it, there may not have been any work.  It seems to be a well told tale these days, but once I started uploading images to Instagram and family and friends started encouraging my work, I took the step to do some freelance photography. From there, I started doing promo photos for artists and bands. Then to follow on from that, I discovered the graphic editing community on Instagram and started getting into that just for my own creative pursuit. And then I started getting work designing posters, album covers, and the like.

Photography and design are now what I do for work (if you want to call it 'work'), and I still have to pinch myself that all of this has happened due to an app on my phone. Getting to do something I love to do, and would be doing anyway, as something that brings in an income... well I'm not sure I could have even dreamed that up!

Who are the people that have most inspired your work?

So many people have inspired me...

My art teacher in high school, 'Satch' was a huge influence on me. He taught me that art was my own expression and encouraged me to pursue it in whatever form that might take. Seems simple or obvious, but I've had people tell me along the way that what I was doing wasn't "Art". So Satch's words and actions early on in my journey have been really important.

My wife and daughter inspire me everyday and are very supportive of what I do.

On Instagram, I feel like I'd need to list everyone I follow.  I do want to single some people out though for being either uber talented or supportive or both.

One I need to mention is Jonny (who was @erratum, but I believe is no longer on Instagram). He was the first digital artist that I came across on Instagram and the first person that I collaborated with on an image. Jonny opened my eyes to a world of editing that I now use everyday and even as part of my freelance work. So to him, I am very grateful!

There are a bunch of people that I've been following/followed by from very early on in my time on Instagram that are not only talented image makers, but just downright legendary people who inspire and encourage me so much. People like @terri_calico, @pickledgoose, @hihorosie, @c_grizz, @prahaboy, @a_have, @aaron.atanacio, @leahminium, @twistdee, @postaljeff, @wellettas and @finnicle1 just to name a few. I'm a massive fan of @merekdavis and @thejustinjohnston too if you've heard of those guys.

There is also the Melbourne Folk/Crew that are a massive bunch of legends! You know who you are...

Within the graphical editing community (if you want to call it that), there are so many talented artists that consistently inspire (read blow me away/push me to be better/make me depressed because they are too good).  I want to list a whole heap and I'm hugely sorry to those that I don't mention, but some of my faves are (in no particular order): @nghbrs, @witchoria, @zoumala, @guardiansoftrance, @forwardtrends, @wesleygrim, @casualtyofcool, @eleathar, @campovisual, @omerika, @lifewithart, @lovepaperplane - I could go on and on and on.

Again, I want to apologise to those that I haven't listed. If I follow you it means I love what you do. And I truly appreciate all the love and encouragement that I receive when I share my art. It seriously keeps me going!

See more of Nate’s fabulous design and photography here!