Norton Balfour is an Australian based artist that creates panels of characters who reign from a distant medieval underworld. This realm consists of sexy mermen and other amphibious patrons, all succumbed to the coils of technology, self-awareness, and a dashing amount of nihilism…..Posing the thoughts that have lingered in our minds but probably never left our mouths.
What kind of mediums do you use to create your panels?
N: All my panels are ink drawings (usually just fineliners or brush pens depending on my mood) which I then scan and drop colour into on Photoshop. I tend to have a few particular ways of filtering my work each time to keep them all looking the same. Any other work I do is usually done in watercolours and a biro pen. But occasionally I also try and find something a little weird and see if I can make it work. The other day I bought a bunch of felt and tried to make some stuff (think childhood fridge toy where you move felt things around), failed miserably.
How old were you when you started illustrating ? How old are you now?
N: I have been drawing since I can remember – I used to draw hundreds of sea monsters, dinosaurs, robots – all the childhood classics (which I still unashamedly draw today). It’s always forced itself into my life and I have always drawn subconsciously on anything put in front of me (napkins, school homework, government forms, etc). I started pursuing illustration as a life goal when I was 18 and did a course in Illustration which really fueled the fire due to some great teachers. I am currently 21.
Have you written a full comic or story before? Any other projects you’ve been working on?
N: I have only ever written one EXTREMELY loose storyline, if you could even call it that and I made it into a full colour zine called the “Psychedelic Stereoscopic Dungeon of Existential Anxiety” – it was something like 12 pages long including the cover. It still remains probably my favourite thing I have ever made. I turned my drawings 3D (like red-blue glasses sort of thing). It was a full on experience that worked better than I thought it would. I only ever actually made one and I sold it, but I think I really need to reprint those badboys again. As for the storyline, it was a first person exploration of a dungeon including loot, monsters, bad-guys and all the other good things you’d find in dodgy brick underground building.
What inspired the sexy, reverse merman in your illustrations?
N: I think about a year and a half ago I draw a naked reverse mermaid for kicks and for some reason it only seemed natural that it would turn into the Merman we know today. Also I think for some dumb reason people relate to them more than any drawings I’ve done of people.
Even though your art is within this fantasy realm, you still relate technological consumption and existential contemplation to these characters. Can you elaborate your thoughts on technology overuse?
N: A lot of the technology stuff I include is just me being honest with how I interact with it and how it makes me feel. Having to be wired in to my phone all the time tends to really get to me, as well as how demanding everything is for attention. It’s not me really saying we are too wired in, or too consumed – it’s just how life probably is, but I do find it a little too much for myself. I think it’s just the constant amount of content we get served per day which makes me feel a little bit nauseous. Sometimes I just wonder what it would be like to actually have to go out and search for content, rather than have it constantly served to you (I say as I post my next instagram panel).
How about your thoughts on existentialism? More so, the notion that at least everyone contemplates their existence at least once and the fact it isn’t talked about much...
N: I think as much as some people never talk about it. I don’t think you could really be a person and not have it weighing down on you at one point or another in your life (see: religion). I don’t really know if I actually think about it more than anyone else, but I almost definitely use the drawings I do as a therapy to process all my thoughts on it. It’s constantly in my mind, but it has shifted from a draining anxiety to more of a way to think about dialogue and interactions. I guess I also wonder a lot what it would be like if it was much less taboo to be able to bring up bigger questions in casual conversation – but I think a lot of people treat it as a dark depressing thing, instead of just natural thought. I guess I hope some people just see my work and feel a little more comfy about actually talking about existentialism (even though I cover it very very lightly and loosely in comparison to some).
You can also recognize traces of self love in these characters; for example your illustration of the ooze knight. Even though he’s oozy and goozy, you project how it’s important, even for him, to love himself. Why do you think it’s important for any individual to recognize the love for their own self?
N: I think self love is important, but I think self-awareness and acceptance are just as important. The Ooze Knight is immortal – that is why he’s turned to Ooze (because his body can’t keep up), and because he knows that he’s immortal, and he will never be his old self again, I guess he is sort of forced to accept himself so he can live peacefully. We are born the way we are and we turn into the people we are, there’s no point in not recognizing that. In my mind, introspection is hugely important – and you don’t have to really love what you find, just accept it and find a way to make it work for yourself. Sometimes I do also include things about self-care and how important it is to relax, because with technology on our heels I think it’s more important than ever. I think it’s always been a little bit of a thing and is especially important when you start to talk introspection and looking into yourself a lot.
What keeps you motivated and interested with your work?
N: There’s a lot of things I find motivating/inspiring. I used to watch a lot of film (still do, just not to the extent I’d like to) and certain eras/styles of film really engross me and make me want to create. Vincent Price films is a big thing that comes to mind, films like Shock, House on Haunted Hill, House of Wax and The Raven all come from an age when horror/thrillers used borderline cheesy dialogue to get their messages across. Whenever I hear a good line of dialogue that either sounds hilariously constructed or plain excessive I think of ways to try and capture the tone in my own drawings. I also get stray messages here and there through instagram DMs or emails from people who like my work saying really sweet and nice things; which makes me feel like I want to make stuff for them when I myself am not really feeling inspired. The other thing is probably the feeling, like I have a whole lot more to make and explore in vastly different mediums and things. I really want to make some pins and shirts in the close future, stuff which is cheaply accessible for people. My partner also manages to help me keep motivated and she often provides me with ideas directly or subconsciously, because we both experience the world in a similar way.
Have you ever been discouraged? If so, did it affect your creativity? How do you bounce back from that?
N: I think everyone gets discouraged at some points. If I think about how I’m going to live in the future too much I easily make myself discouraged because the numbers don’t really add up. It really drains creative energies, but I guess I force myself to treat it as my only option of living and just accept the fact that I’ll probably struggle for a long time. I think creative blocks are also one of those things you get better at too, I remember they used to last weeks, and now I rarely get one longer than a day. It’s just a matter of shocking your mind and doing something completely different creatively. Like using stuff you’ve never used or drawing stuff you’ve never drawn. And if that doesn’t work, watching out-there films helps too. When I get a creative block I also avoid looking at other peoples artwork, and hibernate away from images for a little bit. The other thing I sometimes do is draw in a completely different tone (sometimes I feel very split between two worlds) to try and just forget about my main style for a while. You can actually look at that stuff at nort.iv on instagram – it carries a way different tone, which helps a lot.
What moves you most in life?
N: I guess just people who stay completely genuine to themselves. When I think about the people I respect the most, they all have no qualms about who they are and their interests. They do stuff to appease something inside of them and no one else, and are not ashamed about it.
In a distant world of medieval amphibians we can be comforted by the similar struggles they face. It’s funny because there’s truth to it. Put your phone down sometimes. Accentuate all the weird things about you and love yourself; so long as it benefits your well-being.
You can find more of Norton Balfour on Instagram as @Nort.Tv or as @nort.iv.