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?
Thank you very much! I’m pleased you like my version. The Three Billy Goat’s Gruff has always been a favourite story of mine since being a small child.
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?
I had a lot of fun writing and illustrating my picture book. I found being both author and illustrator and so able to work on both text and image simultaneously was really useful- particularly when designing the layout of image and fitting the text on the spread. Being both author and illustrator gave me a lot of control over the finished look. Although as ever deciding which story elements to be shown in the artwork and what to tell in the text was a bit of a balancing act.
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.
Is this the medium you used when creating your piece that was selected for the Bologna Illustration Gallery?
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?
This varies depending on the particular demands of each project and how the end product is going to be printed, or presented. Although I always start every project with some kind of thumbnail scribbles to get a feel for the overall composition. I do a lot of research if the subject is not familiar, and often visit the library in order to read up on the topic and get a strong mental image of the subjects to be illustrated.
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?
My work space is a bedroom at the front of my house, I’ve only recently moved in so it is still a work in progress! It is the place that I work, and drink copious amounts of tea, and also the place where I think and read too. I also use the room for sewing and other crafty things as well as packing orders for my Teeth and Claws shop.
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?
If it isn’t part of a project for a client which obviously requires a solid block of work I tend to create when inspiration strikes. So my creative sessions can vary from waking up in the middle of the night with an idea from something I’ve been dreaming and trying to scrawl it down on paper, to whole evenings and weekends in my studio just content in my own universe.
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.