Details Come into Focus
Virtual Technology and Design graduate highlights art that challenges those around her.
It’s the close-ups that really fascinate Nicole Moeckli.
Whether she’s creating a pencil sketch or a digital painting, the Virtual Technology and Design senior wants to emphasize the detail in a person’s face or clothes as a way to challenge stereotypes about physical appearance and show the complexity behind each of her subjects.
"I am inspired by people who take risks – whether that is in their clothes, body modifications, general attitudes.” she said. “I think it’s important that my characters convey the human diversity that naturally exists in our world.”
The medium has shifted since she started her studies in the University of Idaho College of Art and Architecture, but that drive to get her message across always keeps her on the lookout for another subject to feature as she prepares to graduate this spring with her Bachelor of Science.
Pencil sketches were the fire starter that began Moeckli’s desire to get involved with concept art for video games. In the past four years, the 22-year-old’s interest has shifted from video game design to the two-dimensional paintings and graphics – often close-up portraits of people with realistic body images.
But every piece is not as it would appear in a photograph.
“I do tend to heavily alter facial proportions — making eyes into slightly larger and simplified shapes, elongating noses, and sometimes emphasizing corners of mouths,” she said. “I feel these alterations make my characters more interesting to look at because they are not what we are used to seeing.”
Moeckli initially wanted to go into computer science when she came to Moscow after graduating as a valedictorian from nearby Lewiston High School. It was her time as editor-in-chief of her high school newspaper, The Bengal’s Purr, that nursed her interest in design.
She credits faculty in the College of Art and Architecture with helping foster design elements and skill patterns she never would have come across otherwise. It’s part of the personal touch in the program that she said allows students to work one on one with professors.
“The faculty members here for our major are amazing,” she said, specifically mentioning design studio instructor Rayce Bird. “They like to give you people who can tell you what the work is like and who have worked in the profession.”
The result for Moeckli has been digital illustrations with a more “painterly” style that rely on following form while also bringing out contrast. It’s all part of her desire to make more commercial-looking pieces that will aid her in her goal of a budding future in graphic design and illustration.
“We’re taught how to design under pressure and we’re taught to think critically for the moment of time we’re given,” Moeckli said. “It’s great to see what you can achieve.”
Every piece has a backstory, from the political cartoons she created for The Argonaut, U of I student newspaper, to the short design challenges called Art Jams that she worked on as a co-founder of U of I Virtual Design Society.
Moeckli was part of a team during her sophomore year that crafted household items for mythical vampires. By the time the project was complete, the artists had built an entire culture around the creatures that included daily rituals, religious practices and a political hierarchy.
“I really love when you go beyond expectations for a design to create truly compelling stories,” she said.
Such intricate detail can sometimes mean starting over. Moeckli took part in a months-long project in spring 2016 to create a digital theme park ride – a concept that had to be revamped at the last possible moment when the professor told the team to scrap its original idea and start from scratch.
The ordeal taught her a great deal about what can be accomplished under pressure.
“It was a week,” she said of the revised timeline. “We did a better project in a week’s time than we did” over the course of much of a semester.
Moeckli’s work has generated plenty of interest. Her efforts at U of I helped her earn a Fulbright Summer Institute scholarship that allowed Moeckli to spend a month in Nottingham, England, for a summer traditional art program. She was one of just eight students chosen to take part in the program that studies how an environment affects the narratives of its residents.
The July 2015 expedition to Nottingham Trent University focused on art museums and architectural model making, but she was also given the chance to create a digital painting — as well as a video documenting its creation — that personified the relationship between England’s working class and the country’s wealthy. The piece, which depicted a wealthy woman strutting in an elaborate evening gown while a disheveled seamstress worked diligently to sew a part of the dress, was featured in an art gallery show as a way to start a conversation about economic class.
Moeckli credits the England trip with pushing her out of her comfort zone and allowing her to learn about her studies in Moscow from a whole new perspective.
“That’s one of those programs that I’ll always draw on for inspiration,” she said.
The Electronic Software Association has taken notice of her work as well. The organization helped Moeckli finance her education with the gift of $12,000 in scholarships over the past four years. The scholarship helps promote the work of women and minorities in design.
Moeckli’s different experiences have given her plenty of fodder for future pieces of art. But she points to her sister, who is also her college roommate, as among the people Moeckli credits with helping her flush out her ideas.
“We’re really close, it’s very nice to have her here,” Moeckli said. “We both understand the creative struggle, so to speak.”
No matter where her degree takes her, Moeckli acknowledges she always wants to try something new. She graduates this spring hoping to focus on two-dimensional graphics with a design firm while also trying to launch her own online business and eventually selling her art.
“I’d like to just have the creative freedom to take my art to the next level and work with art that’s really meaningful to me,” she said.
Article by Brad Gary, University Communications & Marketing.