The Renaissance Rhino: Illustrator Nick Sirotich Talks About Animals, Monsters, and Survival

When Nick Sirotich was a kid, him and his sister used to turn stacks of white paper into their pen playground, marking up page after page with illustrations and drawings. It was no surprise then, that his early interest in art would gradually transform into his livelihood.

“I knew when I was a child that I wanted to make art for a living,” Sirotich said to SF Weekly. “I don't know it seemed kind of destiny to just draw stuff for a living. There’s nothing else that made sense for me.”

When Sirotich was 15 years old, he drove around Sarasota, Fla., his hometown, looking for any tattoo parlor that would be willing to apprentice an underage kid. The search paid off, and he spent eight years at a biker tattoo shop while also attending school. He went on to study at Ringling College of Art and Design for illustration, knowing that the confined nature of tattooing — which is an artist's surrendering to another person’s concept — wasn’t enough for him.

After wreaking considerable havoc in Florida, Sirotich joined his sister in San Francisco a little over two years ago. During his time in the City, he started BearSloth Boards, a skateboard company, while commissioning logos, album covers, T-shirts and murals for various clients. Although Sirotich only studied illustration in school, his body of work goes beyond magazines and books. And it wasn’t solely his talent that landed him all these gigs. Being an artist is a lot more than just making art in the hopes that someone finds it and likes it enough to spend all their disposable income on a whim.

“I pretty much draw every day. One of the things that I think a lot of illustrators lack, or not illustrators, but general artists don't get until they're in the field is you have to hustle so hard and have so much planned. And when you're not working on a client's project, work on your own stuff and invest your own money back into your own stuff,” Sirotich exclaims. “For art specifically, it's such a lifestyle choice you have to be like 'All right, this is going to be my income this month, I have no idea what next month is going to be, I have no idea what projects are going to happen.' They pop up all the time and I just keep my schedule open to do it.”

Sirotich's projects are both professional and personal, so naturally, his subjects tend to vary. One common thread seen throughout all levels of his work, however, is his use of characters, whether they be animal-human fusions, caricature covered by symbolic elements or unique monsters.

Although mystical by figure, each creation holds some connection to the “real” world. Some monsters may be as innocent as having the same characteristics of someone Sirotich knows or as powerful as expressing social issues.

“Everything is built out of things from real life, so if I was going to build like a monster I would take a lot of things from nature, maybe some technological things and whatever,” Sirotich said. “But it's also fun, you know, there's so much repetition in everything and especially art it's like, ‘What do I do to stand out a little bit?’ or ‘What drives me?’ and it's like monsters and weird stuff and animals, and just building something I haven't seen before.”

Besides the relentless rise in rent, San Francisco is still a prosperous watering hole for artists seeking community and creative freedom. And Sirotich says he is fortunate for having clients, friends and family who all embrace his wacky ways.

“The City is very supporting and [clients] totally appreciate an artist's worth. People will understand that there is, more than other places I've worked, as much process that goes into design as any other job, you know,” Sirotich. “It's a weird artsy place where people let you do what you want, which I did.”

But he recognizes that art isn’t solely for the artist’s benefit. There’s another important factor — us, the audience — and Sirotich, like all great artists, is speaking emotional truths that other persons can relate to.

“I've designed a lot of logos for bars and shirts and people still use that years later. You get to see the impact of a design and realize how long it can last or how important it can be for one person,” Sirotich confesses.

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