Grad Turns His Passion For Art Into a New Career
Nathan Von Braun was born and raised in Brookfield, Wisconsin, where as a boy he spent plenty of time in nature and expressed his creativity by drawing portraits of his mother. In high school, Nathan played football and took AP art classes where he gravitated towards fashion-inspired projects. “I remember taking the sewing machine to football practice, then home every night in order to refine my skills,” said Nathan, who won FIDM’s Designer of Tomorrow scholarship and attended the Fashion Design program. After graduation, he moved to New York and was hired as a graphic designer and illustrator at Ralph Lauren, and later worked at Victoria’s Secret, Under Armour, and the NBA. In 2016, he launched an eponymous art business creating large-scale murals and other commissioned pieces for brands such as Champion and The Box House Hotel. We recently chatted with Nathan to learn more about his unique journey, favorite FIDM memories, and how the pandemic turned his hobby and passion into a career.
What was your path to FIDM? I knew that I had a love of art, so I took AP art classes in high school, in one class we received weekly themed assignments. This particular week I created a cocktail umbrella dress that came out of the wall and took the form of a dress. That project ended up in the Milwaukee Art Museum winning me the award of the gold key. My teachers saw that I would tend to lean towards fashion-related projects and advised I look into a career in the fashion industry. They offered me an old sewing machine to see if anything would come of it; I was so terrible at sewing that I broke two of the school’s sewing machines! But my teachers didn’t give up and continued to encourage me.
How did you choose to study Fashion Design? I felt that after the encouragement from my high school teachers and my newly acquired skills of the sewing machine, it was a natural next step for me. I really have always enjoyed designing, drawing, and creating from my imagination and experiences. Fashion Design really seemed like the best career choice at the time, I applied for the Designer of Tomorrow scholarship, won, and ended up attending FIDM on a full ride scholarship. My path was such a great experience from the very beginning.
What were some of the most valuable lessons you learned at FIDM? The most valuable lesson that I learned at FIDM comes from the pattern making class that I took in the Fashion Design program: “Measure twice, cut once.” I will never forget that phrase; I now use it daily in a metaphorical way both in my art and personal life. I always make sure that I double check my work and am proud to put my name on it.
Any favorite FIDM memories? It’s hard to narrow them down, but one does stand out more than the others and that is my time with instructor Nancy Riegelman, the late world-renowned fashion illustrator who wrote the book 9 Heads: A Guide to Drawing Fashion, which I still like to reference to this day. I remember being so excited to get to learn from her and get a front row seat to her thoughts and how she works. She taught me how to bring a drawing to life and how to illustrate with such fluidity. I still use the techniques she taught me today and thank her for all she taught me.
Did you work in the industry before striking out on your own as an artist? Yes, I was really fortunate to be able to attain a job in New York following graduation as a graphic designer and illustrator at Ralph Lauren. This opportunity really allowed me to apply skills learned at FIDM, grow, and adapt into the industry. I later went on to work at Victoria’s Secret as a graphic designer and worked on projects such as their iconic yearly runway shows. I continued my development in the industry by expanding into menswear by working with brands like Under Armour, Champion, and the NBA.
How has the pandemic impacted your work or process? The pandemic proved to be very difficult for many, including myself. I was laid off at the very beginning from my full-time job and I was devastated. I turned the anxiety of uncertainty into an outlet for inspiration by buckling down and focusing on how I could turn my hobby and passion into a business. Once I decided I was really going to pursue my dream, I took my art supplies and headed down to the large table of the lobby in my apartment complex. I tirelessly worked on illustrations and kept busy, meeting passersby who would stop to inquire about my work. Then a truly humbling experience happened that assured me I was headed in the right direction: the New York Post reached out and asked to include me and my work in a story about artists utilizing their homes and odd spaces to work on their craft.
Tell us about your 12-portrait series, The Zodiac Gala: My 12-portrait series is very special to me because it is my first full series. I specifically chose the western Zodiacs because of their mass popularity throughout pop culture. I wanted to humanize what each of their styles and personalities would be like if they were all to attend a gala together and enjoy each other's company. Throughout each of the illustrations, personality traits are prominent, especially throughout their garment details, choices, and how they’re styled! It offers a window to their thoughts as they get ready for their grand evening out. I credit my FIDM learnings of garment construction, pattern making, and drawing skills for each of their elevated outfit choices and vivid details.
What do you love most about being an artist? I think that what I love most about being an artist is being able to show an audience that there is beauty in the details of not only my art, but life, and the most simple things hold a complex beauty. The phrase “beauty is in the details” holds weight in my life as a realism artist. Hundreds of tiny details come together to create these hyperreal results. I want to offer an avenue for my consumers and fans to begin to see these details in everything that surrounds them because there is beauty in everything, including life’s most seemingly simple things.
Anything else you'd like to share? I’d like to tell all aspiring FIDM graduates that you should never give up on your dreams. At times you may feel like giving up because it’s taking more time than you expected, but persistence is key. Always trust your intuition, it will never lead you astray.
Learn more at NathanVonBraun.com and on Instagram @NathanVonBraun.
Photo: Tamara Beckwith of the New York Post