Header from Deviantart.
Of the artists and Youtubers we’ve partnered with, Nicole “Ohnips” Echeverria might have the most interesting story.
Born to Dominican and Spanish immigrants in Miami, she took a roundabout course to her art career: She started messing around with Deviantart in her teens (as you might have, if you’re reading this) which began building the audience that came to support her as an adult. But at the time, she didn’t think it could be anything more than a hobby, and went to Florida International University, where she got her biology degree in hopes of going to medical school.
As a student, she started doing commission drawings as a side hustle, but by the time she graduated, found it was profitable enough to make a living off of, and ended up changing her plans. To the bemusement of her parents but at the insistence of her best friend, she moved to Los Angeles to pursue a career in illustration and comics, working tirelessly on commissions and regularly touring cons.
She eventually relocated to Las Vegas where she lives now, finding most of her work doing promotional art, wallpapers, and profile drawings for esports teams—she’s worked with many, but she’s currently with Team Liquid—and until recently, doing official art for League of Legends.
On the side, she runs art channels on Youtube where she vlogs, posts art updates, and does digital art tutorials and speedpaints, and on Twitch, where her drawing streams sometimes run up to 12 hours.
Her passion project is the Patreon-supported webcomic OFFcell!, which follows a ragtag group of (young, attractive) felons from all over the world who find themselves in a mysterious and very unorthodox jail. A mixture of quirky character comedy, romance, violence, and lewds—you know, the regular—it could be compared to the cult hit ecchi manga Prison School.
But for most of her career, she’s specialized in pinups and erotic art, a niche that’s both led her to some of her most fulfilling work and a number of online controversies, one of which blew up so much it was covered by Forbes and Kotaku. We’ll be covering those in a follow-up article.
But no matter what you think of her content or how you come to her art, there’s no denying it’s underpinned by a jaw-dropping technical skill. Despite (or maybe because of) constantly producing and working to deadlines, she somehow finds the time to pull off tricky perspectives, wild action poses, and inventive color schemes like it’s nothing.
Recently, she partnered with us for How I Sketch, a Youtube tutorial where she walked through the process of creating her Team Liquid art in Photoshop on a Cintiq 16:
I talked to her via email about her art process and more.
How much did studying biology help you learn to draw anatomy? Because you have an excellent grasp on it.
Thank you so much! It did help a lot. Anatomy was my favorite subject in college and being able to know where everything is certainly aided in the speed with which I learned to draw the body. However, anatomy knowledge isn’t everything, as I quickly noticed. Putting that information onto paper and refining your artistic execution is a whole ‘nother story. It was very interesting to feel the difference in crafts (medicine and art) but then the satisfaction of combining them, after some practice, was very unique and fulfilling. It’s why, until this day, it’s still my favorite thing to draw!
One Piece fanart from Artstation
And do you have any of your commission drawings from college to compare to today?
A commission I did for a League of Legends content coverage company called Surrender@20 in 2014. I used to do a lot of chibi work back in the day and this was a large order of all their staff.
You’ve also got high angles and fisheye effects down, two things even most pros struggle with. How did you learn to do that?
Honestly, I winged a lot of it. A lot of my skills come from “good” instinct and it’s something that, as a seasoned professional, I’m paying the price for now. Because I never trained in the fundamentals (since I always did art as a hobby), advancing became difficult because I didn’t necessarily know why I was making a mistake and how to objectively “fix” it. But, in the last two years or so, I’ve focused on really learning the foundations of art and combining them with my innate instincts to level up my drawing game. Extreme angles and movement are things I love to put into my pieces and I’d love to execute them with more knowledge and finesse!
From Artstation. Process gif.
And how do you stay so productive? There was an interview where you said you’re still able to produce work to your standards even when you don’t like it. That’s practically a superpower. Is it purely because you need to pay the bills, or out of a love of drawing even if the subject isn’t your thing?
I think a lot of it has to do with being a workaholic. I like to keep myself busy and like getting things done. I also have a huge sense of guilt when I take time off or when I’m not being productive. Aside from all of that, I have a pretty overactive mind and staying busy helps me cope. Probably not a healthy way to cope since I should learn to be in silence and calm, but alas.
You’re also prone to doing 11-12 hour streams. Do you like doing marathon sessions or do you just lose track of time?
Typically, time flies by and I don’t really realize it. We actually have a “meme” on my stream called #justasketch because I usually try to convince myself that what I’m drawing is… Just a sketch… even though I’m taking really long and I won’t stop drawing. So, 4 hours later, I’m still calling it a sketch and my chat is spamming #JustASketch! I usually don’t notice time passing by since we’re drawing and having fun, but my body will start to feel it with wrist pains etc. That’s usually my cue to stop.
What took you from LA to Las Vegas? I always hear LA described as a digital art mecca, with all the concept art, animation, VFX, and ad illustration gigs there, as well as CalArts, Disney, and so on. Was it too expensive? Too competitive?
It was just too expensive! My online store started growing and I needed a place to store my inventory and pack comfortably. Not only that, but my studio was also getting bigger and could no longer feasibly fit in my bedroom. There is a lot of important art stuff going on in LA but Vegas is close enough that I can commute: Most freelance artists can work entirely from home so your location doesn’t matter too much. I can afford to rent a house for a fraction of the price of an apartment in LA!
You got to show your art to Kim Jung Gi. What was that like? What did he think of it?
Kim is a South Korean illustrator widely considered to be the best pen-and-ink artist alive.
I didn’t necessarily get to show him my work but I gave him copies of my comic, which I hope he looked at! When I met him, I cried and he ran up to take a picture with me as a result; I guess that made an impression on him since he followed me afterward! Not sure if he “likes” my work but he’s liked it on Twitter! It would be amazing to actually hear what he thought. I also got to see him at his workshop in New York recently. We didn’t get to speak since I was so nervous, but we took a picture and it was amazing! He’s really sweet and just genuinely in love with art.
Image from Twitter
Tell me about the Deviantart character design challenge you were just involved in.
They reached out to me to host a contest where you create an original character and told me that we’d be making a Cosmic Corsair. [Space Pirate.] I designed and drew what would be the example of the contest…
…And then they told me I’d be judging part of it as well!
I got to shoot a lot of social media content with them as well as a YouTube video where I explain my process and it was just overall a lot of fun!
Your work gets pretty NSFW, though. Has that positively or negatively affected your ability to get client work? Do potential employers care?
At first, it kind of affected my work. Back in the day, it wasn’t very common to draw that type of content and the online world and brands were still very new. Thankfully, my brand was still in its growing stage and, by the time I began to have a “professional” career, a lot of things had become normalized online. There was still kind of a stigma around NSFW content but, if you were good enough, they’d kind of overlook it. Which, I’m not sure if it’s a weird flex, but companies did it for me—the ones I wanted to work with, at least.
However, there are still companies who have not given me the time of day for that reason. Thankfully, as time has passed, companies like Wacom and DeviantArt have been open to working with me despite my brand, which is incredibly endearing. Aside from the professional stigma, audience stigma exists as well. A lot of people believe that drawing NSFW stuff is like selling out since getting an audience from it is so “easy.” A lot of people even believe that it’s not “real art” if it leans to the erotic side. And, while some artists do profit from that (as they have the complete right to do), the human figure is just my favorite thing to draw, but I sometimes get insulted for creating that content anyway.
Also, fun tidbit, a lot of my followers (the ones who don’t keep up with my selfies or new followers who haven’t seen what I look like) always assume I’m a man because of the content I draw. It’s happened to me in person at conventions where they come to my table and ask for the artist, only to realize it’s me!
You’ve said you don’t feel any different as a female artist, but do you think it affects the way you draw things like pinups? Maybe less male gaze, or better and less exaggerated female anatomy?
This is a good question! Honestly, I don’t think about myself as a girl: not necessarily in a non-binary, way but I just don’t pay attention to it when I draw or even in daily life, and I’m not quite sure how that affects me or if it does at all. I just draw what I like.
A lot of people have told me that my art looks like me and has a lot of really androgynous bisexual energy, so very fitting, I guess? They’ve also told me that my art has “converted them,” which is an extremely endearing compliment since, when I draw, I love to see the beauty in everything and make others see it as well!
Ohnips is best followed on Twitter here, Youtube here, or Twitch here. Her comic is here. Her Instagram used to be @ohnips, but now it’s @casualnips. That’s something else we’ll be covering next time.
About the Author
CS Jones is a Philadelphia-based freelance writer and illustrator. He spends his spare time listening to Spotify and falling down Youtube rabbitholes. Someday, he’ll finish that graphic novel. In the meantime, his work is best seen at thecsjones.com or @thecsjones on Instagram.