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#FlorisDesign Illustrator Interview: Nicola L. Robinson

Posted on 23/07/2014 in Design and Illustration Fun Stuff

Nicola headerIllustrator of…

all covers

Nicola has been illustrating covers for our Kelpies range for the last 5 years and we’re thrilled that she’s agreed to give us a peak into her life as an illustrator! Read on for a look into her design process for Really Weird!


Hi Nicola! So today we’re talking about your awesome cover for Daniela Sacerdoti’s Really Weird, where did you look for inspiration?

I worked on the cover with Helena Waldron – the then Design & Production Manager at Floris Books. Helena sent me the synopsis of the book (which I loved) and then a very loose written brief describing the main characters and the initial idea of having the removals van on the cover with lots of things falling out of it. We knew the cover needed to be bright, fun and have monsters.

We love the story too, and you’re right about the monsters! So what did you do next?

Well, with this in mind I then read the full manuscript. I make a point of reading any manuscript I’m involved in illustrating wherever possible, it helps me get a feel for style and characters, their personalities, and other visual details from the author to draw from. (I thoroughly enjoyed reading this one!) The inspiration for the look came from my reaction to the text, and making little notes of colours, bits of clothing, and other details. I have a fairly extensive mental bank of monsters and they came from there, with a nod to Nessie and other aquatic beasties for the large mummy sea monster and baby.

A nod to Nessie is always good in our book! So how did you decide where to put the monsters?

I did a couple of rounds of development roughs (for any non-illustrators, these are sort of like first drafts!) for Really Weird before getting the final illustration approved. This is the first rough sketch I sent through to Helena…

rough sketch for cover


This looks great! I’m sure our readers will love to see how it all started out!

Thank you! It has similar elements – van, monsters – but a different angle and was agreed to be far too cluttered and busy… which isn’t unusual. I do find often it is easiest to start with a few too many things, like a visual brainstorm, before paring down to the essential core elements, which I think is what we did here.

So what was the next step?

It was all stripped back, losing the werewolf and mermaid’s tail, redesigning the baby sea monster to make him more aquatic and scaly looking, and most structurally the van turned to profile view to get a more striking composition with more movement.

It certainly has movement – the van looks like it’s about to go tearing off the side of the book! So, Really Weird has a wraparound cover (which means the illustrator has to consider both the front and the back of the book). How did you tackle this?

Well, since this is a wraparound cover I played around with the big sea monsters tail position for a while, with its bends and loops, always bearing in mind to leave space for other important elements to be added like the title, author name, blurb on the back, and barcodes! The stone fairies were also pared down. I see one has a dress on here, and another is wearing a crown and holding a spoon… they are much more gnarly and less fairylike in the final artwork.

full cover

Gnarly is definitely the word for them, they look pretty mischievous too! Now, the cover doesn’t just feature monsters, there’s children too – where did you look for inspiration for them?

It’s funny you should ask, because during the cover design and illustration process I became aware that one of the main characters (Luca) was named after the author’s little boy, so I was a little more concerned than usual to get him right! I drew Luca on the back cover holding a chubby little baby dragon. I’ve actually had the pleasure of meeting Daniela who tells me she is very happy with the final cover illustration, which makes me very happy too!

We’re not at all surprised, it’s a fantastic cover! But what’s your favourite element?

The big sea monster tail, I love how it sweeps around the cover and over the spine then back onto the cover again, I do enjoy drawing scaly things.

It is wonderfully scaly! So where do you bring all of your monsters to life?

I work depending on where the light is! Sometimes at my desk in my studio, other times at my dining table, sometimes cross-legged on the sofa with my wooden drawing board on my knees. As long as there is good light, music and somewhere to safely rest a cup of coffee, I’m happy.

Sounds like coffee and light are key, it’s not so different here in the #FlorisDesign department! So do you prefer to work digitally or traditionally?

Traditionally. My absolute favourite medium to work in is plain old fashioned pen and ink. Although it is necessary to have a good grasp of digital media too, pending project demands, and for editing and delivering artwork for print.

That’s great advice for any traditional illustrators. So you’ve been working as an illustrator for quite some time, what made you decide to become one?

A lifelong love of drawing and creating pictures, and a very active imagination!

And what’s your favourite thing to draw?

Monsters, dragons, animals and buildings, particularly old crooked ones with lots of windows and anything a little on the creepy/gothic side. I also love history, mythology and fairytales too so I enjoy drawing things related to those topics.

Lucky for us we’ve had plenty of mythological and monster-packed books for you to illustrate! So what do you do if you get stuck or illustrator’s block on a brief?

Just keep drawing… I’ve found this solves most visual problems.

Good advice! And finally, who’s your favourite illustrator and why?

There are lots, but one of my very favourites is American writer and artist Edward Gorey, I ‘discovered’ him and his work rather late, having spent a good many years drawing my own little crooked creations before a guest lecturer at university pointed his work out to me. Darkly comic and beautifully detailed, and all set within his own Victorian/Edwardian/theatrical universe, his illustrations and books really appeal to my sense of humour and love of the archaic/macabre. I have huge admiration for the sheer amount of work he produced and the detail in each piece, all in pen and ink too!

We can see why you love his work, it’s beautifully gothic!

Thanks again for chatting with us, Nicola! We’re sure the #SummerReadingChallenge readers will have loved learning about the Really Weird cover!

Nicola graduated with a degree in Fine Art from the Cardiff School of Art and Design in 2005. To see more of her fabulous work visit her website, blog and online shop. You can also follow her on Twitter!

Posted by: Clare at Discover Kelpies


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