Nicole Allin

Nicole Allin

Nicole Allin Interview

Nicole Allin

Children's Illustrator

Who or what made you want to become an illustrator?

I’ve been drawing since I was tiny but I didn’t quite figure out that I wanted to do professional illustration until high school. The notion that I'd be some kind of artist was there, but it didn't quite click until I really sat down and thought about what I liked drawing best- stories.  I loved being able to tell a story with my artwork!  Now here I am, years and years later, and I get to illustrate stories for a living- it's the best!

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Who or what have been some of your major artistic influences?

I've really loved the artwork of John Singer Sargent and Hasui Kawase- and recently I've gotten into the art of Thomas Moran.  I lived in D.C. for a few years and they had a trio of his mountain paintings at the Smithsonian American art museum- the light and color!  Not to mention the scale of them!  Wow.  I could spend hours looking at them.

Describe your working technique and how you came to perfect it.

These days I paint everything digitally on a Cintiq tablet, but few years back, I used to paint in a mix of gouache, acrylic and colored pencil.  As you can imagine, it took me awhile to complete an illustration!  The complexity of the process tended to make the artwork feel a bit flat if I wasn’t careful and soon painting started feeling like a bit of a chore.  

So I started looking into trying my layered technique with digital gouache paintbrushes.  Many months of experimenting later, I had it worked out- a layer of under painting, then the layers for color and shading each, then the layer of colored pencil linework over top.  Now creating illustrations zips along!

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Do you keep a sketch book?

I actually always keep two sketchbooks!  One of them is for drawing and doodling while I'm out; I'm a big fan of curling around a mug of tea at a cafe for an hour and sketching out ideas.  The other one is for when I go to art conferences or classes, so I can keep my notes all in one place- although a certain amount of doodles sneak their way into that sketchbook too!

I've gone through quite a few sketchbooks, but I've hung on to every single one of them.  It's a good way to track my progress- my drawing has improved quite a bit over the years!  

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How many times do you tend to draw a character until you are happy with it?

Sometimes it goes pretty easily and I have the general look down without too much trouble, but I need to tidy up the details a bit.  Sometimes it takes dozens of tries to get even remotely to that point!  I always want to hit a nice balance of the character being visually interesting and being engaging.  

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Share your favourite piece of artwork from your portfolio and walk us through its creation.

My favorite piece is the Party Animals (Night) illustration.  It was really fun to revisit those characters and place them in a scene so different from the first Party Animals illustration.  I knew I wanted the characters to be crammed into a cab together after their party, so I did a lot of very rough thumbnails to get the right look.  Then came another quick sketch where I tried to get more of the details and facial expressions down.  I revised that sketch, cleaned and inked it and then put in the under painting- important for keeping the final colors looking nicely textured!  After that, I painted in the flat colors and added the light and shading.  At this point, I thought that the colors were a little too cold and it didn't quite look as cozy as I would like.  So I added some layers of warm color and textured the background a bit more.  

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What advice would you offer someone just starting out as a children’s illustrator?

Take your time putting together your portfolio.  I'd say to spend some time figuring out what you'd like to illustrate the most- picture books?  Young adult novels?  Graphic novels? Then ask yourself what should be in a portfolio that says 'Hey!  I can do that!'.  For example, in a portfolio that is aimed towards doing picture books, have illustrations of kids, of families, of quiet moments and big ones!  And most importantly- make sure that each illustration tells a story that can be understood on its own.  You aren't going to get the chance to lean over someone's shoulder and explain what's happening in the illustration!

Do you have a favourite soundtrack you listen to when you’re working?

I like listening to film and videogame scores quite a bit, but lately I've been getting into podcasts.  I've recently gotten into Critical Role, and I'm going to be listening to that one for a long time since it's so long running- a plus to being so late to the party, I guess!

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How do you overcome a creative block?

I try to take a break, to go read or knit for a bit.  Maybe check some art books out from the library or go to a museum.  Change up things a bit and see how things are settling.  I also head out and sketch at a cafe- not on the project I'm having trouble with, but just to doodle in my sketchbook.  Not only will I come back to the problematic project with fresh eyes, I might have come up with some new ideas for the future!

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