I have written about Nelson Balaban, AKA Xtrabold in the past. He is an 18 year (yeah my jaw dropped too) old self-taught graphic artist currently based in Curitiba, Brazil. He currently works independently as a full-time freelancer because who really needs very much money when your 18.
For the past few months he has been featured in books and magazines spanning the globe and has received recognition from many members of the design community both in print and online. Computer Arts magazine (UK) recognized him as one of the hottest new talents for 2007/2008 in their “Young Guns” column.
His work possesses all the youth and vigor you would expect and is also highly digital as you would expect. It’s nice to see a few simple graphic works intertwined with his digital collages because you always wonder if young self taught designers such as Nelson are able to back their thick Photoshop work up with subtle typography. I am always leary of jumping on the bandwagon with young designers. Maybe it is just jealousy, but I have always been bothered by the fact that creative publications love to engage in youth worship just as much as the entertainment industry. Restraint, control and the respect for a good idea as opposed to a cool image usually come over time and the appreciation of such things tends to develop as experience and wisdom are slowly attained. Style often has very little to do with substance and is usually only relevant to shifting trends. The irony in style is that it often serves to alienate those ‘not in-the-know’ while something more simple and subtle can usually reach a much broader audience and stand the test of time, regardless of changing trends. I think a good designer should have an ability to shape-shift fluidly between potentially complex trendy styles and more restrained timeless subtlety. Being able to do so has a lot to do with longevity in the creative business and the ability keep earning a living.
After art directing at an agency off and on for a number of years, you look and seek out certain styles from young designers to accomplish a specific look for a client. It is always a toss up however as to how someone young and style heavy will handle a highly conceptual project. For someone of Nelson’s talent none of this may matter because he is able to create such jarring images making him a definite standout among his peers. His images are so original that I am sure he will have no trouble finding work. Hopefully he is being paid well and not being taken advantage of. At such a young age, and starting at such an already amazing level of talent, he is pretty close to a sure thing no matter which way you slice it. What the hell does a 30 year old codger like me know anyway, right?