What helped you decide to become a Children's Book illustrator?
I decided very early in high school to focus on going to art school. I attended Columbus College of Art & Design and during that time you meet with advisors to see where your strengths are. I originally wanted to work in the animation field, as a storyboard artist, but my advisors really pushed me to consider Illustration as a field. I researched and talked to teachers and other illustrators and decided it did fit my lifestyle and allowed me to do more with my talents. So, I moved my major to Illustration and am SO very happy I did.
Did you have formal art school training, or are you self taught?
I grew up drawing on the back of place mats in restaurants, on the back of school papers and in handmade sketchbooks. As I moved up through school, art teachers acknowledged my abilities and made extra effort to challenge me in art. In high school, teachers really suggested this to me and so I researched the idea and knew right away that going to art school was meant for me. I attended Columbus College of Art and Design from 1997 to 2001 and graduated with a Bachelor's of Fine Arts and Illustration.
How did you go about breaking into Children's Book Illustration?
It actually happened by accident. I was working on building a strong portfolio and felt I was in NO way ready to start submitting to publishers or other children's illustrating markets. I had started a blog to start to get feedback on my work and start to be involved in the online community. The editor on my first picture book found me by visiting my blog. I was VERY nervous, but it really gave me confidence to say that I was ready to start submitting and to, well, JUMP in!
What motivates you and how do you stay inspired?
Right now I work as a part time Illustrator and still work a full time day job as a graphic designer for a library system. Whenever I need motivation I head to the children's department to just flip through picture books. It is great therapy and really helps to get my artistic juices flowing.
What do you love about being a Children's Book Illustrator?
I love getting emails from parents and their children telling me what they liked or loved about the illustrations. It reminds me why illustration is so important to promoting literacy. I also love being able to start from the beginning and reading the manuscript for the first time and starting to envision what the pages might look like. They never end up as they were in the beginning stages. The evolution of an illustration can be an amazing process to watch!
How do you work or how do you approach an assignment?
I like to start by just reading the story, over and over and over again. I keep a notebook and each time I go through the script I get new ideas. After I feel like I have a good amount of notes. I then see it as a puzzle. How should the pages turn?, Where does the actions happen?, How can I make this interesting to parents as well as children?, are some of the questions I ask myself. Then I start to make more sense of my notes and formulate a plan for the book. During this process, I like to run ideas past the editor or art director, to makes sure I am not steering away from their vision. Once I have a good game plan I start thumbnail sketches of the layout, sort of like a storyboard. And it goes from there....
Do you make school visits? library talks? book siginings? How can interested parties contact you?
Though I haven't done many visits as of yet, I am very willing to do school and library visits and book signings. It is a lot of fun to talk to people about books and literacy, but put an illustrator's spin on why it's so important. You can find contact information for me on my website, www.nikkisartroom.com.
Have you been published? If so, where can we find your books.
I have two picture books out now.
What's Wrong with Mud? written by Gillian Colley This book is available for purchase by contacting me or by visiting www.abcpress.com
Lemur Troops and Critter Groups written by Rena Jones This book is available for purchase by visiting Amazon.com or the publisher's website at http://www.4rvpublishingllc.com/Childrens_Books.html
What are you working on now?
I am finishing the second book in the Critter Series, Stork Musters and Critter Clusters and working on the third book, Pony Strings and Critter Things. I am also working with my agent on some projects that are considered, "unmentionable" at this time.
What advice would you give to those hoping to write and illustrate children's books?
This business is a lot different for authors than it is illustrators, in my opinion. It is a very hard business to get started in, but once you get your feet wet it is very rewarding and worth every rejection letter you have received or will receive in the future!!!