Nicoletta (Niki) Barolini

Nicoletta (Niki) Barolini

Nicoletta (Niki) Barolini Interview

Nicoletta (Niki) Barolini

Children's Illustrator

Who or what made you want to become an illustrator?

 The truth is, art chose me. From a young age, I found myself irresistibly drawn to various forms of artistic expression—be it painting, sculpture, or drawing. Illustration is merely one facet of my lifelong engagement with art. Unlike many other pursuits, which can often feel like obligations, art has always been a natural extension of myself. It's not merely a job or a hobby, but a vocation that I'm deeply passionate about. While others may excel in analytical subjects like statistics, my strength lies in my ability to create and to express ideas visually. For me, illustration isn't just a choice; it's a fundamental part of who I am.

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My mother recently passed away at the age of 97. To commemorate her life, I created a painted concrete heart for her memorial. In my world, every significant event is marked and celebrated through artistic expression.

How and why did you decide to pursue illustration as your career?

When I was in college I was a sculpture major! But I also loved science and so I decided to take a year of pre-med. One of my all time favorite classes was lab dissection. I had the opportunity to study the spectrum from amebas to cadavers and I learned how to illustrate my findings. Later I got a job at the medical publisher Raven Press, that's where I got to marry my two loves: art and science. :)

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I loved puting together science model kits! This was a heart that I assembled and then had a lot of fun painting it in crazy patterns :) Ain't art great?!

Did you attend art school or undertake any other formal artistic training?

I cut my teeth on traditional graphic design and printmaking at Sarah Lawrence College—yep, before computers took over the world. That's when we did cut and paste and worked with ruling pens on drafting tables--I loved it! I later slipped into the digital age at the School of Visual Art during the late '80s when Macs where still a novelty and when Page Maker and QuarkXPress where the two most important apps for designers. Computers where awesome, but I really missed working with my hands for a living. I eventually got an Master's in Art & Art Education (Ed.M.) from Columbia Teachers College. So, from ink and paper to pixels and screens, you might say I've ridden the art roller coaster!

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Throwing it back to 1986 at Raven Press Medical publisher in Midtown Manhattan, where I worked as a graphic designer and pen & ink illustrator. This picture of me back when I was 24 and in my first staff art job! Those were the days when hands-on skills and collaboration reigned supreme before computers took over the design world.

Where do you currently live and where did you grow up?

Raised in Rome, Italy—land of art and pasta—I now call Hastings on Hudson, NY, my home. I've lived here 32 years, and yes, I've turned my family into art mavens! Infact, both my daughters are art professors respectively in Houston and NY city. Our house is basically a live-in art studio where every room has its own "creative mess." Paint splatters? Oh, they're not just accidents; they're part of the decor! I raised my girls amidst a chaos of colors, diving into everything from papier-mâché zoo animals to plaster-of-Paris castings. We're not just making art; we're living it, one splatter at a time! :)


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Here are a couple of rooms in our house...paint, paint and more paint!

Which project has been most instrumental in developing your personal style?

I'm very proud of my recent project "Brooke Meets a Stream Doctor," Published by Penn State Extension. It's an educational children's book that aims to cultivate a sense of wonder and responsibility for our environment.
I had the privilege of marrying art and science (my two passions!) to create a world that will engage young minds. Written by the Water Resources Program Leader at Penn State University, Jennifer Fetter, we've brought to life a story that is as enriching as it is educationally captivating. 
I drew inspiration for my drawings from Sugar Pond, a lovely area in my town where my children and their friends would spend hours exploring in nature.

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This is a digital painting I did of Sugar Pond that was published in an Adobe Photoshop tutorial book. I later recreated this painting as a huge mural in downtown Hastings on Hudson.

Do you offer more than one style, if so – talk us through the different approaches and the audience you are targeting for each.



Was creativity part of your childhood?

Creativity was a cornerstone of my upbringing, generously nurtured by my parents, who were both poets and writers. One of my most vivid memories is listening to Italian children's books that my father read to me from his own childhood. Born in 1910, his stories came from a different era—when color printing was a rarity and printing presses were manual, labor-intensive operations. Those early experiences with storytelling left a lasting impression, contrasting sharply with the digitally-driven world of today's children's literature.

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My father's childrens books dating from 1910

Have you ever thought about trying out a different technique or a different style?

As a graphic designer and illustrator, versatility is key; my role requires me to incorporate a range of styles and techniques into my creative process. Much like a dancer, staying flexible is crucial. I'm always stretching my creativity to explore new and captivating forms of expression. My portfolio spans from whimsical designs to more polished, refined pieces. While I have a soft spot for the playful and free-spirited styles, I'm equally skilled and comfortable producing highly rendered artwork.

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Here are a few some examples of whimsical and slick styles I do. To see the full range of my of my work visit: and

What do you hope children take away from your drawings?

From my childhood, vivid and enchanting books and illustrations remain etched in my memory, serving as a wellspring of inspiration and joy. If my work could similarly captivate and linger in the imagination of a young mind, it would be an honor beyond words. To know that I've been a positive influence, shaping a burgeoning sense of wonder and creativity, would be the most rewarding legacy I could hope to leave.

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Featured in a 1970 newspaper obituary for my father when I was just 9 years old, this photograph captures a poignant moment between us. My dad was a poet, author, and a passionate doodler. His hand-drawn cartoons were a constant source of delight and joy throughout my formative years, shaping my own journey into the world of art and imagination.

When you are not drawing, how do you like to relax?

When I'm not drawing I love sculpting, either with clay or wood. I am one of those annoying people that needs to always be doing something with their hands. I love building things and feeling the materials in my hands.

While the majority of my work is digital these days--and I LOVE my work-- but where I can really relax is with tactile art, the kind that I can feel between my fingertips.

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large wall mounted wooden figures and a figurine that I made in my spare time :)

What are some of your favourite subjects to draw?

I really love drawing science. From anatomy, to cells and molecules I really have a passion for it. Drawing scientific subjects allows me to explore intricate details, like cellular structures or anatomical nuances, in a way that not only feeds my artistic side but also satisfies a curiosity for understanding the natural world. It's like bridging the gap between two different realms—art and science—making each more accessible and captivating through art. 

I also love children and the magic of childhood. Kids are often symbols of innocence and wonder, and capturing that in art feels rewarding. It's like juxtaposing the complexities of science with the simplicity and spontaneity of childhood. Both subjects offer their own challenges and rewards, allowing me to flex different artistic muscles.

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Mock up proposal for a cover illustration on stem cells, organs and ferroptosis in the baody

Animals feature heavily in children’s books – do you have a pet?

I absolutely ADORE animals! They bring such beauty and wonder into our lives. Over the years, I've had the joy of being the primary human for several cats. Currently, my home is blessed with two feline friends, Pepper and Ophelia, who fill each day with happiness.

Believe it or not, I had the extraordinary privilege of witnessing a cat birth—right on my own bed! Back in 1999, my pregnant cat Lilla woke me up in the middle of the night with gentle face licks. Realizing she was about to give birth, I nudged my kids awake, and together we quietly watched the miracle unfold. We named the last kitten in the litter "Midnight" because she made her grand entrance at the stroke of 12! It was a truly magical experience that my daughters and I will cherish forever. As fate would have it, Midnight graced us with her presence for 22 years and, incredibly, took her last breath on that very same bed.

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Ophelia and Pepper in all their glorious glory!

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