It is no secret how much we love the work of Lydia Nichols. Without even realizing it, we feature or share her work all the time. But, we never took the chance interview her on the blog! So for all of you wondering why she loves drawing cute little critters all the time, or how she landed on her unique illustration style, it is all here.
Lydia is the definition of a Designostrataur. She has both a design and illustration background that she marries together perfectly in her work. Her work has garnered a lot of attention and clients like Chronicle Books, Hasbro/Playskool and Bloomberg Business Week. And just recently, she has started selling her new line of greeting cards in her shop called Doodle Dandy. Lydia explains them as, “…little mail-able art pieces which means they can be both decorative and functional—a win-win!”. You should pick up a few here!
Now for some words of wisdom from Lydia:
Q: You have been a huge inspiration to us for so long. Your ability to draw incredibly cute and fun characters out of such simple shapes is something you have mastered. What is it about drawing characters that makes you love drawing them so much?
A: That is so very kind of you to say since you’ve been an inspiration to me as well! My two favorite things about anthropomorphizing and drawing cute critters is 1. the challenge of breaking complex figures into simpler shapes (with whimsical linework, of course) and 2. infusing those shapes with personality so that they have a life to them. It’s like solving a happy puzzle of shape and line and the end result is a little illustrated friend! (I wish life was sort of like Mary Poppins where animated illustrations populated the world along with us and that’s how I feel when Illustrating!)
Q: Stylistically, your work is very unique. How did you land on your personal style? What practices or influences helped you arrive to the quality of work you produce today?
A: It took years of experimenting with my own work as well as learning to understand and accept the difference between work I like to look at (inspiration) and work I like to make. In college I would look to extraordinary artists and draftsmen like Sterling Hundley or Gary Kelley and think, I want to do that. Eventually I realized that I just want to admire them! For one thing, I can’t be them and for another, they already exist! So I took time to figure out what, exactly, I found most interesting and fun about illustration without the pressure of creating “perfect” finished illustrations. It turns out that large swathes of color and shape get me really excited as does the added detail of linework and pattern. I let folk art, printmaking, mid-century design, vintage packaging, etc. inspire me, but I also just let myself be myself and stopped sweating about how trendy or cool it was. I use to worry that drawing cute things would pigeonhole me, especially as a female, when I also wanted to branch out into editorial. Once I stopped worrying, my work became better and more unique!
Q: Tell us about your new line of Doodle Dandy greeting cards! We are all so excited to you started making these. (insert your own shameless plug here:)
A: For a while now, I’ve wanted to produce some real, tangible goods (beyond prints) and cards just seemed like the perfect object! They’re little mail-able art pieces which means they can be both decorative and functional—a win-win! Also, I just adore mail so this is another way for me to express that.
Q: You do something more artists need to be better at, self-promotion. How has generating your own side-projects enhanced your work? Do you have any advice for artists who want to get better at self-promotion?
A: Haha, I certainly try, but it’s tough to manage client work and self promotion work. Any moment I find myself in a lull or in between jobs, I try to take advantage of that time by working of self-initiated projects. It lets me experiment and try new things (visually and process wise) as well as pursue ideas that I’ve had on the back burner. All those random doodles are given new life when I’m able to finish them up and use them for self-promotion. This process, in turn, allows me and my work to grow which means (hopefully) my client-driven work improves too. My advice is pretty much that—take advantage of any nugget of free time that pops up and, of course, actively harness the power of the interwebs. I try not to get too distracted by the internet, but setting aside a small chunk of time each week to see what my peers are up to and to post my own work really helps with exposure and staying relevant!
Q: Many designers/illustrators are torn between the idea of going on to complete an MFA or not. How has your MFA experience benefited your career?
A: This is tough question that I think is ultimately a really personal decision! Do I think one needs an MFA? No. But for some people, like myself, it’s an awesome experience! Two years of time to play within a tiny, thriving community of other illustrators/designers was so super rad. It was more about the process and experience than the degree I wound up with, though an MFA definitely helps with pursuits like teaching. Between my new and lovely group of friends/illustrator/designers and all those self-initiated projects, I walked away feeling like a more well-rounded artist.