Art of persistence

La Crescenta artist Nico Photos said that if he has learned anything throughout his days as an artist, it is that persistence is key for success in his field.

“I’ve heard so many people talk about being gifted or naturally talented, but I don’t believe it,” he said. “I worked so hard to get my abilities to the level where they are.”

Photos’ talents were recognized May 15 when three paintings from 2010 earned him the internationally acclaimed L. Ron Hubbard’s Illustrators of the Future Achievement Award at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel.

The Illustrators of the Future Contest began in 1988 in honor of Hubbard and is administered by Author Services Inc., the literary agency for the deceased fiction writer’s literary, theatrical and musical works. The achievement is awarded quarterly to 12 young artists.

Photos submitted paintings and drawings for the award eight times before finally hearing he won for three paintings — “Eli,” “First Lensmen” and “Oracle” — he submitted in the third quarter of 2010.

Judge Cliff Nielsen, featured fantasy artist of “The Narnia Chronicles,” said he knew Photos had talent from the outset and that Photos’ growth as an artist at age 22 is stunning.

“His art is truly a product of self-determination,” Nielsen said. “His dedication and work ethic have driven him to new heights. Each piece improves upon the last. If the right opportunities continue to arise for him, I have no doubt that his future will be bright and successful.”

Photos was born in Glendale but grew up in La Crescenta, where at age 13 he became interested in drawing under the tutorship of instructor Ken Helenbolt, a former animator at Hanna-Barbera Productions, Inc. Although Photos said he spent most of his time in class and during summer drawing, he credits Hellenbolt for piquing his interest in art and exposing him to classical artists like Frank Frazetta.

With his mentor, Photos continued to refine his artistic skills throughout his teenage years and into early adulthood, learning more about masterful artists like science-fiction illustrator Luis Royo and Rembrandt as he became more interested in painting and light drawing.

Throughout his education, Photos said his parents were very supportive and helped channel his curiosity for the arts, signing him up for any art class they could.

“They always encouraged me,” he said. “I wouldn’t be where I’m at without them.”

Photos began submitting to the Illustrators of the Future Achievement Award in the first quarter of 2009. The award traditionally has been given to elite young artists across the world in an effort to discover new talent, acknowledge it and bring young artists to the attention of publishers to launch their professional careers.

Although Photos didn’t win the award after his first six submissions, he knew he was getting closer when he received a critique from the judges explaining that he needed to better separate the contrasts in his paintings and drawings — the light from the dark — to better expose character.

After focusing on that aspect in his newer paintings and submitting two more times, Photos received the phone call he had been waiting for.

“I was ecstatic when I found out I won,” he said. “I felt like a rock star at the ceremony, shaking thousands of hands and accepting the award in front of incredible artists.”

Photos said he is living proof for young artists that they should never let anything stop them from succeeding. You can’t give up, he said, if you want to make it in the arts.

“I’ve done thousands of drawings and painted for hours,” he said. “It comes down to applying yourself and never losing sight of what you want to accomplish with your dreams.”

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