for SCBWI Bologna 2016
and Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations
Nicola L Robinson is an illustrator based in Nottingham U.K. Her children's illustration work includes cover art, pop-up books, pen and ink illustrations, hand lettering, illustrations for children's poetry and illustrations for prints and greeting cards. She particularly loves drawing monsters, dragons, animals and architecture, often with a slightly creepy edge.
She is the author and illustrator of The Monster Machine, a monster picture book published by Pavilion Children's books. The Monster Machine was shortlisted for the Cambridge Children's book awards 2013 and selected as part of the Summer Reading Challenge by The Reading Agency.
Nicola won the Silver award in the self-promotional category at Images 36. Last year, she exhibited in London in the HAI Illustration 100 exhibition and also in multiple locations as part of the SCBWI BI showcase exhibitions. Nicola also owns and runs Teeth and Claws, her personal brand of prints and cards featuring her illustrations, predominantly dragons, dinosaurs and cats as well as other beasts too. Follow her blog and via Twitter @NLRobinsonart.
Congratulations on being awarded Honorable Mention in SCBWI’s Bologna Illustration Gallery for your illustration of The Billy Goats Gruff. I still have my copy of the Three Billy Goats Gruff book from my childhood, and I love your take on this classic tale! Was this piece part of a larger project such as a picture book, or was it a stand-alone piece?
I'm particularly drawn to fairy tales featuring animals and monsters so had been meaning to illustrate this for a while. It is a standalone illustration, done purely for myself- I wanted to capture an overview of the whole story with it, with a focus on the troll.
How long have you been an illustrator? What path led you to pursuing a career in illustration?
I've been drawing and creating all my life, so a career in art was a natural progression for me. I have always loved drawing particularly from my imagination.
I did art at school and went on to University where I did my degree in Fine Art, specialising in Painting. It was during my Fine Art studies that I found I really love making art with a narrative, something which tells a story be it from text or on its own and I realised Illustration was where my passion lay. I started freelancing and taking commissions when I was still a student.
I graduated in 2005 from Cardiff School of Art and Design and have been illustrating ever since. Although it is only in more recent years that I have been illustrating for children's publishing.
You are also an author. Is there a creative difference for you as an illustrator, when you are illustrating your own work, versus illustrating someone else’s work?
When illustrating other people's work I've usually have less control as there are more people's inputs to be considered. Most of my other commissioned children's book work has been for cover art and classic books which have a different set of requirements to work within than the larger canvas of a picture book. I usually work with art directors who are commissioning something very specific. I do enjoy illustrating other people's work though, and I try to bring something new to any text or cover I work on.
Do you have a favorite medium for your illustrations?
I love working in pen and ink, particularly old dip pens and nibs as well as finicky technical pens too. I love the lines which come out of them. I also love watercolours, coloured inks acrylic paint and digital techniques too. I have used a lot of different materials over the years depending on the project and subject to depict.
Yes. It is a combination of pen and ink drawing, watercolour, coloured ink, acrylic paint and a touch of digital fine tuning too.
Could you describe your creative process?
I then do lots of drawings, and rough sketches often going over the same ones tweaking the composition and making edits as necessary. When I'm happy with the rough sketch (or if I'm working with a client once they are happy) I'll transfer my sketch to paper to start inking and if I'm going to be working in colour I'll stretch the paper beforehand too so it dries nice and flat.
Once painted in a combination of watercolour and coloured inks I scan the artwork before moving to Photoshop for any final editing and to prepare the artwork for delivery. I often work in layers to allow for maximum flexibility, so elements can be repositioned or used elsewhere in a project. This is particularly useful for popup books and covers requiring movable elements of text or other details or vignette illustrations requiring totally clean transparent backgrounds for clean printing.
Not everything goes through this process, sometimes it is nice to just work in a sketchbook and let the ideas simmer in there for a while until they are ready to be developed. Sometimes that is where they stay.
Can you tell us about your work space?
Moving house took ages and as a result I did not having a fully functioning work space for some time last year, working out of boxes and not knowing quite when moving was going to happen was disruptive to my work, so I am very appreciative of my new workspace now I'm here. I love it, but I will be stripping that wallpaper...
Sometimes it is nice to have a change of scenery, so I do work outside weather permitting, and I've always enjoyed working on the floor (less prone to tea/coffee spillages here too) sitting cross legged with my wooden drawing board on my lap.
What is a typical creative session like for you?
I do stop for regular tea breaks though although I have been known to forget to make lunch if I'm particularly absorbed in my work. I hate distractions so I work best alone with no phone calls or emails to interrupt!
I like to listen to music while I work, it often helps get a rhythm going particularly when inking something with a lot of texture or detail like a city with lots of roof tiles and tiny windows or a big scaly dragon.
Thank you so much for spending time with us today! I look forward to seeing more of your illustrations in the future.
Elisabeth Norton grew up
in Alaska, lived for many years and Texas, and after a brief sojourn in
England, now lives with her family between the Alps and the Jura in
She writes for middle grade readers and serves as the regional advisor for the Swiss chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.
When not writing, she can be found walking the dogs, playing board
games, and spending time with family and friends. Find her on Twitter @fictionforge.
The Bologna 2016 Interview series is coordinated by Angela Cerrito, SCBWI’s Assistant International Advisor and a Cynsational Reporter in Europe and beyond.