Originally published in print ISSUE 20.1.
SoCal-born and Colorado-raised, Brooks Engel was a skate-obsessed youth who found his way into the industry by creating art. There was no fairy tale where he was always drawing as a kid, ripping at the skatepark, and coalescing the two at a young age. Brooks has more of a Peter Pan story, where he created a world of his own with his brand Nowhere Land Supply, blending bold lines with bright colors in a design style that evokes a sense of adventure. After a push and a nudge from a high school art teacher, Brooks went on to achieve a bachelor’s degree from the Art Institute of Colorado and pursue illustration and design. It took risk and discipline, but he has crafted a distinct style and place for his art that landed him the seat at the board culture table he always dreamed of. – Ally Watson
How did you begin to find your design and illustration style?
When I was in college, I interned at an agency for three months. They focused on advertising for appliances like dishwashers and refrigerators. I did it because I was required to. I needed to get the credits and it was miserable. They offered me a position and I was just like, I have a lot of life left to figure out. So, the first job I got out of college was at a company that specialized in designing and producing apparel and products. That’s really where my love for making art for the world comes from, not just looking at your computer but making art that’s on products that people can use and interact with.
So, that’s how you shifted into a product-focused illustration style?
Yeah, I would say that was a pretty pivotal point for me. Making a t-shirt and then seeing someone wear it was very rewarding. I’m sure a lot of artists can attest to that. From there, I got job with a different company, designing apparel and products for all the resort towns that have gift shops and apparel and all the stuff you pick up for a souvenir. It was this massive organization and I was one of the illustrators there. I was like, “Damn, I’m going to be here forever. This is it.” But I didn’t stay.
What caused you to leave that position?
The whole time I was working at these jobs, I was doing freelance side projects here and there. Nothing too crazy, but toward the tail end of that job, my wife was going be a traveling nurse and we decided to go all in and travel around in an RV. I took the risk and quit my job. I decided to focus on doing my art full time and doing freelance. In that year-and-a-half, I was able to put 100% of my energy into myself and that’s where everything started to take shape and gain traction. I finally got to be the person that I always wondered about and everything came full circle. Since then, I’ve gotten to do more projects with bigger brands. Every time, it’s a surreal moment that I’ve always thought, What if this could happen? and then when it does happen, it’s kind of crazy.
Would you say that was the jumping off point for Nowhere Land?
I technically started Nowhere Land in 2016 as my freelance business and we started traveling in 2018. I spent two years doing it on the side while I had my full-time job. I was making art for myself and that was really where I could see a noticeable growth. I was getting all of my work from Instagram. I think I hit the platform at the right time and got lucky. It doesn’t work like that anymore. Over twelve months, I went from 200 followers to 10,000—and not like the numbers matter, but people were reaching out all the time. I felt like I was on a train and I was just trying to stay on it as long as it was rolling.
What is your main source of inspiration?
If I was really to focus in on something, it’s skate culture in the late nineties. I was born in the early nineties, and I was always wondering how to find a way into the culture. I was horrible at skating. I would try my best; I’d be a little gremlin at the skatepark just trying to fit in, but I couldn’t really skate. So, to find a way into the culture, you have to look at it in a new way. Even in snowboarding, I’m not the best boarder out there, and that’s where the graphic side of things come in. This industry is so interesting and inspiring to me. A lot of my work is also very focused on wildlife and nature too; it’s a big part of my life. Colorado is a big place of influence with all the hiking and camping here. The inspiration is a mashup that’s a little bit edgy skate and snow culture, while tying in animals, nature, and mountains.
How do you define the name Nowhere Land Supply?
This is my favorite question because no one really knows what I’m referencing. It comes from a cartoon I watched as a kid called Maggie and the Ferocious Beast. It was about a girl named Maggie who went on adventures with her friend, the Beast to a place called Nowhere Land. But the whole premise is that she’s never going anywhere; she’s in a cardboard box using her imagination to go on adventures. I found it really fascinating, so I took the name and now my tagline is “Find Your Nowhere Land.” Whatever that is for you or wherever your imagination takes you, it’s just a fun way to be creative. That’s the evolution of the name.
You’ve expanded your presence across many social media platforms over the years, do you feel like that is building a sense of community around Nowhere Land?
I have gained a teeny bit of success in the art world as far as my little pocket goes, and I have always made an effort to answer every message or email, no matter what. I want to give information to people who don’t feel comfortable reaching out or don’t want to—it’s how I can put things into the world. I try to be as open and transparent as possible, because there’s so much gatekeeping of knowledge on how to do certain things or make products, or how much things cost. It’s all useful information to someone starting out and if I can share it, that’s helpful, and that’s the whole point of building community.
You do a lot of goal setting and things like that. Do you feel like that helps you acquire client work and push your personal design?
At the beginning of the year I like to set some goals for myself. It gives me something to think about in the background while I’m doing other day-to-day stuff. Sometimes the goals are lofty, but you just have to try because it will never happen if you don’t change anything. I call it “short steps, long vision.” It’s making a big goal and then cutting back to the short steps to get there. Not everyone has the luxury of taking chances on themselves, but if you just work on it once a week or once a month and find some time, it could happen one day. It’s a weird process where I have to choose if I want to take a bet on myself. Working with Never Summer was a big goal for me. Now I’m doing a collab with Never Summer and Breckenridge Brewery designing a board, and that’s insane. The opportunity presented itself and I felt like I had to throw myself a little party. Any time a crazy project comes through, I make sure to put my best foot forward and put as much effort into it as I can to make a good impression that will hopefully lead to another project down the line.
On the topic of snowboarding, do you feel like you integrate snowboarding into your art or art into your snowboarding? Or both?
A little bit of both. I’ve always ridden a custom board that I designed myself. I’d design a vinyl sticker and wrap my topsheet one-of-one, just for me. I remember going to the X Games up in Aspen or Dew Tour in Breckenridge and they’re filled with vendor booths and stuff, and I would spend all my time checking out the merch and new products and designs. That part of the industry has always fascinated me so much more than just snowboarding itself. I’m never going to be an athlete competing in Dew Tour, but making art is how I can fit in and I draw a lot of inspiration from that.
How would you describe your artistic style, if you were to put yourself in a category?
That is a tough question. I’ve had people describe my work as whimsical, which I would agree with. I try to stick with bold, clean outlines and bright colors, so it’s not hyper realistic. It’s cartoony, in a way. It’s illustrative work inspired by the outdoors and nature.
What’s your process for your digital illustration?
I love sketching, I used to do all my sketches on paper, then scan in and draw on top digitally. Now, I just sketch digitally because its faster. I love the process. It’s super loose; I can just scribble. Most of my sketches look like I don’t even know how to draw because it’s just the flow of ideas and then it turns into a design. I refine the sketch to the line work, then my favorite part of the process is basically making a coloring book for myself, getting the lines figured out then choosing the colors. I love changing it up and that’s what gives the piece life, the color. I do this with every project, pretty much exactly the same.
What’s the future of Nowhere Land look like?
I always have wild goals that always change and I don’t know if I’ll ever reach them. If I’m looking ten years out, I’d love to be able to grow more and sell Nowhere Land products in more stores. The dream would be to be in National Parks and REI. It would be such perfect alignment with my style and the stuff I do. As far as the freelance side, I’d just like to continue the path that I’m on. I want to make connections with more local companies that I think would be cool to work with. I have a new design for Gilson Snowboards and the Never Summer Breck Brew board. I’ve been doing a lot with Breckenridge Brewing. For my Youtube, I hope to document all the things I do to try to get into REI and National Parks. I can share my success and help someone do the same thing, or if I fail, I can still share it.
It’s all part of the process and it’s always evolving from somewhere. You’re just adding building blocks to step things up.
It’s all part of it, most definitely. People take your portfolio into account of who you’ve worked with and try to validate whether you are worth it for them to use your designs. Now that I’ve been working with Breckenridge Brewing, I have a little bit more merit. It helps people realize you have some value and they can trust you.