October 31, 2019 6 min read

Meet Nick Kakanis. He’s got a demanding full time job, a booming side hustle, an absolutely precious one year old daughter, and “about a hundred hobbies.” How does he do it all? Kakanis self-describes as “a bit obsessive,” but I think the secret to his success lies more in the realm of his quick sense of humor, big heart, and a determined dedication to hard work.

NTF: Where did you grow up?
NK: "My family bounced around a lot when I was growing up. To this day, I’m not sure why my folks settled on Knoxville - but it’s the absolute greatest place to live and I’m thankful everyday that I call it home...I did most of my growing up in West Knoxville. Went to Farragut Middle, and then graduated from Karns High. I did a year at Pellissippi State and then graduated from UT in 2012 with a Bachelor’s Degree in English Lit."

Nick still lives in West Knoxville, now with his wife Kristen and their gorgeous baby girl, Everly Cate (all 3 pictured above). “Working full time with a side hustle and a baby is definitely challenging, but we’re never bored… that’s for sure!”

NTF: What do you do when you’re not designing or working?
NK: “As far as hobbies go, I have about 100 and no time for any of them. I am a devout outdoorsman. I’m a bit of a gear junky, as well. I’m just such a nerd when it comes to the outdoors. I’m always studying trail maps and waterways, the best gear for certain conditions, researching the wildlife, etc.”

You can see Nick’s love for the outdoors heavily represented in his design work. He’s got a distinct pen-on-paper style and brings an expressive mischevy to the animals he often draws (see: his ever-popular Resting Bear Face design).

“I guess I’m a bit obsessive when I’m interested in something! I want to know everything and be as knowledgeable as possible. I love brewing beer, and the science behind it. I absolutely love cooking and I’m also a bit of a kitchen nerd. I’m kind of pretentious about it,” he laughs. “I buy really expensive knives and I watch hours of YouTube videos on cooking and baking techniques. Again, I’m a bit obsessive…”  

If you’ve done even the least bit of scrolling through Nick’s social media pages (linked at the bottom of this article) then it may surprise you to learn that design isn’t his only gig. For the last seven years, Nick has worked full time doing sales and consulting in the recycling industry and is now working towards building his design business to be his full time work.

“I try to look at my artwork business as a fun and relaxing side job where I make my own rules. Of course, anyone who has ever started a small business knows that’s not always the case. But overall, it’s been a lot of fun!”

The transition from art as a hobby into art as a business seemed to happen pretty naturally for Nick. I asked him how he got started in designing, and of course, he started as a child.

“I have been creative in some way, shape, or form for as long as I can remember. After I started my artwork business in 2015, my sister found and sent a picture of me, I was maybe 5, sitting at one of those Fisher-Price kiddie easels drawing a Christmas tree. It’s just something that’s always made sense to me. All of the margins of all of my school papers had doodles. Paper + Pen/Pencil = Art. What else are those things for!? ...One of the biggest turning points I had as an artist was in 2014 when I launched my Kickstarter offering original sketches for $1. And I owe that to an artist out of Brevard, NC named Todd Weinkam. I pretty much stole his project idea haha but they say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.... right? He is an incredible painter and does amazing things with color. And he’s such a chill guy. I had the pleasure of hosting an art show with him here in Knoxville, actually. I just think it’s really important to surround yourself with positive, inspiring people.”

One transition that wasn’t quite so natural for Nick was the movement from exclusively pen-on-paper to digitally optimized illustration.

“My work is definitely more digital now. I really bucked against the idea of digital drawing and using Adobe Illustrator to optimize my work. But once I started designing for money, I had to conform a bit. I really love it now. As a pen and ink artist, nothing will ever replace the real thing. But the drawing experience on the iPad Pro with Apple Pencil is so organic it’s crazy. Plus it saves a few steps when it comes to digitizing for print.” 

You won’t, however, typically find him working outside of the pen-on-paper color scheme.

“I’ve strayed away from color a lot. I love a really colorful and dynamic piece. But it’s an area where I feel really uncomfortable a lot of the time. Like I’m lost in the woods. I can’t visualize a piece the same way I can with just pen and ink.”

One of my favorite things to come from this interview with Nick was his incredibly thoughtful answer to what is often a difficult question for artists: What’s your favorite project you’ve done?

“I just recently got to design a skateboard with Bear Walker for the actor Zachary Levi and a charity he works with called Covenant House. I’ve designed several boards with Bear, but this one was for a phenomenal cause. All proceeds went toward the fight against childhood homelessness. I get teary thinking about it. To be able to lend my talents to a cause like that is way better than any payday I could ever ask for.” 

Nick is clearly a designer that doesn’t let a computer (or tablet, or phone) get in the way of letting his work speak from his heart, and that’s a rare gem. NTF owners Dustin and Lisa discovered Nick’s work through Instagram and reached out to ask if he would be interested in working with us, and it’s been such a pleasure to work with him since day one. 

“Living in West Knox, I don’t get to explore downtown as much as I’d like. So when I did some research about NTF and finally saw the shop and the things they are doing, I HAD to work with them. They work with local artists and focus on local content. I think that’s so important. Their shop is definitely one of the staples of the downtown experience. We’ve done a lot of fun stuff together!”

In that partnership, Nick has done some awesome shirts and stickers for us at NTF, as well some amazing (and hilarious!) designs for our friends up North, a t-shirt shop called Treetop Tees in Juneau, Alaska. Nothing Too Fancy’s print shop has the honor of printing for them! Turns out, Nick’s hand for drawing relatable bears works well regardless of geography.

Nick’s advice for aspiring designers is simple:
“Just. Keep. At. It.”
He goes on to explain, “It’s so easy to get on Instagram and see the crazy sh*t that other artists are doing and accomplishing, and feel so defeated as an artist. I have a very “Mr. Rogers” outlook about creativity now: you are you, and you have something special to offer that no one else does. Don’t get hung up on other people’s work. I can tell you from personal experience that it just hinders your own creative development.”

Special thanks to Nick Kakanis for all of his incredible work for NTF and beyond, for taking the time to be our local artist spotlight, and for sharing the photos you see in this blog post! You can find Nick on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter @seenickdraw or at his website,https://nicksdrawings.com. Many of Nick’s sticker designs are available here on our site and in store at Nothing Too Fancy on Union Ave. You can find our friends Treetop Tees at their website: https://treetoptees.com/