I was born in Swaziland, and have lived in Papua New Guinea, Singapore, Kenya, Scotland, England, and the US. When I was five years old my parents banned TV-watching and my sister and I had to find other things to do. I was always interested in arts and crafts and I spent many hours sewing, drawing, and painting. I always had fantastic art teachers at school. They would let me use the art rooms outside of class hours, and at one stage I even had the key to the classroom! For a long time I didn’t know you could be an illustrator for a living, so when people asked me what I wanted to do, I would say, “Be an art teacher” or “a graphic designer,” or sometimes, “a painter.” When I went to look at universities, there was an illustration course at Edinburgh College of Art, and I felt like I’d finally found what I’d been looking for.
For me, the most important part of making illustrations is the drawing; the coloring in is fun, but if the drawing isn’t quite right then the whole page is going to look odd. Each drawing doesn’t take very long, but sometimes I have to draw something more than sixty times to get the right one. When making final artwork, I like to use watercolor, wax crayons, pencils, or acrylic ink, whatever suits the book best. I have a master’s in printmaking and enjoy using the textures from printmaking processes in my work, though unfortunately printmaking is quite time consuming and my deadlines don’t always allow for it. I have a beautiful little printing press at home, which is my pride and joy.
I always base characters on people I know, I find it easier to make them believable.
Three Things You Might Not Know About Me:
1. I have an orchid named after me, Calanthe Nicolae, which means, “Nicola’s Calanthe.” It’s the only known black-and-white orchid in the world and was discovered by my dad.
2. I learned Japanese in high school because I loved watching anime and reading manga. Unfortunately I can’t remember any of it.
3. When I was small and asked my parents for a pet, they brought home a stick insect. It was a flying one and scared the living daylights out of me. I’d been hoping for a puppy!