Nadine Kolodziey shows a visitor how her augmented reality illustrations work.

The Sweet Spot Between Analog and Digital

By Rebecca Bedrossian

It’s been almost a year since Nadine Kolodziey became an Adobe Creative Resident. The Berlin-based visual artist began the program with one thing in mind: experimentation. Her bold, colorful graphic shapes, both flat and dimensional, layered in physical and virtual spaces, invite people to experience illustration in a different way.

As her Residency comes to a close, I met up with Kolodziey to find out what she’s been up to, where she feels her artwork is going, and how she has grown as an artist.

Create: You started 2019 with a trip to the United States. What did you do while here?

Kolodziey: I arrived on the third of January and stayed for almost a whole month for two different events. The first was Hollywood Garden, a solo show at Space1520, a small gallery run by Urban Outfitters in Los Angeles. This was for me a new level for my residency project, as well as for me as a personal artist.

Create: Was the installation analog or digital?

Kolodziey: It was both. The gallery backdrop was printed, the floor graphics were cut by hand, and large Styrofoam cutouts were placed around the installation. Visitors could physically feel the experience without technology because they're walking through an illustration (similar to what I did at Adobe MAX in October). People could also play with large props that were cut from illustrator files. And then there was the augmented reality component. People were able to experience Project Aero [Adobe’s augmented reality software] within the installation.

Create: The bright colors and large graphic shapes remind me of Dr. Seuss's whimsical worlds or even—and I’m going to date myself here—a Magic Rocks garden. How did you weave AR into the installation?

Kolodziey: I created four different floor prints in one-meter diagonal [3.28 feet], kind of like windows, that were spread around the venue. And I made freestyle chalk drawings on the windows. It was kind of like a treasure hunt. People walked around the venue and searched for those AR moments. They used their own phones to find the AR components in the garden of illusions.

Create: Tell me about the San Francisco event.

Kolodziey: For the In/Visible Talks, a design conference in San Francisco, and its tech-based audience, I created an AR-only installation. That was a first for me. The conference theme was "invisible," and so was the garden I created—invisible in the physical world, at least. The only way to see it was through the iPads sprinkled throughout the venue. With the iPads, attendees planted trees everywhere: on the stage or in the market area that had information booths, magazine stands, and small shops. It was quite playful. Attendees took walks through the virtual garden and used it as a kind of a selfie background.

Create: This was a complete departure from the Hollywood Garden, where visitors immersed themselves in the physical illustration.

Kolodziey: It was certainly interesting to have one installation with an AR component and another AR-only exhibition framed within a conference—in such a short time, too. For the In/Visible Talks, event management organized everything. For my solo show in Los Angeles, I had to find Styrofoam providers, organize transportation, figure out the different measurements for US and European, scaling systems—all on my own.

It was good for me, and important for my residency, to have those two shows, in two different cities, and to share my augmented reality with the audiences. I learned much. AR has magic. You are able to explore something new in your surroundings, in the present moment wherever you are right now—in a library, a shop, or an exhibition where you can interact and discover.

Create: Did you begin your explorations in AR with your residency or beforehand?

Kolodziey: I started during the residency. Initially, my project goal was to explore boundaries of what we can do with drawings and illustration, and AR was definitely one path I wanted to explore. From the beginning, I told Adobe that I was not that familiar with AR, but I would love to test it. This is the future and I wanted to be a part of it.

I went in two different technical directions simultaneously. Alessandro Debellegarde is a friend and filmmaker who works with AR and Virtual Reality in Kyoto, Japan. We’d always planned on collaborating at some point. We began developing our own AR app and we had our first Beta app completed in time for Adobe MAX. Our app uses image-based triggering, which means it can bring pictures to life. So if I do an illustration and we program a 360-degree animation, then this picture can move. Essentially, it needs a picture in order to play the animation.

It is technically, a very different approach than Project Aero, which I also was researching. I started playing around with Project Aero last summer when I received my beta-testing profile. And I immediately began dropping shapes everywhere during my travels. This is different because you play with shapes in the actual sphere. An image-based trigger is not required because you have your files—a set of shapes—and you can just drop and animate them in a snap.

Create: Do you see your illustration evolving further into technology?

Kolodziey: Yes, but with installations, like the Hollywood Garden. It creates a moment where you can explore something physically rather than just look at a picture. There's a huge potential in AR, but I wouldn't exclude displays or installations. It’s simply a different way of having an experience. This was an unexpected outcome and different from my aim in the beginning of the residency.

Create: What will you take away from your year as an Adobe Creative Resident?

Kolodziey: There were so many moments where I thought, "Okay, I've never done that before—this is scary." And those were the moments when I had the most growth. It’s learning that you're able to be challenged and be successful with something you've never done before. The program allowed me to be brave.