Featured Illustrator Interviews

Nina Rycroft - Interview (September 2018)

What five words best describe you?

Passionate about learning and sharing

How did you get started in this industry?

As a young girl I was painfully shy. I mean, any attention in my direction and I’d either turn beetroot red or burst into tears. Art for me, was something that I was naturally good at. It was also the only time I ever felt comfortable in my own skin … it’s where I felt most confident. I was top in art all the way through school and ended up studying graphic design at Randwick (Enmore School of Design). Before computers, a large component of graphic design was sketching ideas and illustration … so I was in my element.

I always had a fascination by picture books and after Randwick, I enroled in a children's book illustration course with Donna Rawling and Wayne Harris at Sydney uni. It was then, that I decided that I wanted to be an illustrator. I became obsessed by the idea however, my plans were put on hold as I did what most 20 years olds did – work, save, travel and then work some more. After 5-years working as a designer in Sydney and London, I moved to Rome for 9-months (with my now husband) and spent the time focusing on my illustration portfolio.

My homesickness for Australia inspired the idea for my very first picture book ‘Little Platypus’. I spent time putting together a storyboard and placed a pencil sketch of my story idea, alongside other watercolour illustrations and sent, what seemed like hundreds of sample sheets to various publishers.

Cathy Tasker from Koala Books was taken by my platypus sketch and invited me to show my portfolio. After our meeting, she asked Nette Hilton to write the story for ‘Little Platypus’ using my storyboard. An unusual way to get my first illustration gig, but it worked.

The story took six months to come together so, while working full-time, I was invited to illustrate a couple of early readers – a perfect introduction to the publishing industry. About a year after my initial meeting with Koala Books, ‘Little Platypus’ was published in 2000, receiving a Children’s Book Council of Australia, Notable Book Award. Since then, I’ve had more than a dozen picture books published worldwide.

Is there any part of the creative process you don't like?

The storyboarding phase of a picture book gets me into all sorts of trouble. It’s not that I don’t like it … it’s more that the people around me have had to learn to put up with me while I go through this part of the creative process. These days, I actually make a point of warning friends and family that I’ll be out of sorts for the next little while. Until all of my ideas are down on paper, my mind is preoccupied and I literally find myself walking around with my head in the clouds.

During the storyboarding process, I struggle to pick up the phone, emails need to wait, and social media is totally out of the question. It’s a time where I’m likely to I lose my keys, miss appointments and I’ll forget where I’ve parked my car ... I’ve even forgotten up my kids up from school – a decade later and my children still won’t let me forget! I actually love this part of the process, it’s when I’m most creative … it just doesn’t work so well in real life. Lucky for my friends and family, it only ever lasts a few weeks.

What advice would you give to someone who is trying to catch the eye of a publisher?

As well as being creative, be professional, be consistent and be original.

More than ever before in the history of picture book illustration, your art has the opportunity to be seen on the world stage. So make the most of Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest as well as your own website and online portfolio. Having said this, it’s also important to be able to offer an analog version of your portfolio, a sample (tear) sheet, and who doesn’t like receiving a business, greeting or postcard featuring a gorgeous artwork.

As well as getting your illustrations out there, YOU also need to get out there. Illustrators are mostly introverts, we work mostly on our own, so extra important to stay connected. As uncomfortable as it may feel at first, make sure to book into to regular meetups, online groups, conferences, workshops, classes and events.

What excites you about the future of children's books?

Picture books have always stretched the capability of print media, and will always remain an integral part of our history and culture, so there will always be a place for a traditional picture book with its turning pages.  However, I am excited by the seemingly boundless opportunities available to us all in this digital age. The possibilities of interactive narrative and a more immersive experience.

What’s the funniest thing a child has ever said to you during one of your presentations/talks?

At the end of a talk showing the work that goes into creating illustrations for picture a books, a student asked, ‘Did you do those illustrations?’ He honestly didn’t believe me. He wouldn’t have it, and it took the entire assembly (especially the girls sitting next to him) to convince him otherwise.

What's next from Nina Rycroft?

As well as continuing with my Skillshare classes – I now have more than a dozen character design and illustration classes, I’m also about to start a new Picture Book Illustration e-Course, which will run from October 4 - November 22.

The 8-week programme walks you through the entire process of illustrating a picture book from start to finish. With weekly video lessons, printable resources, projects and feedback, you can either choose to work on your own, or the class manuscript. The online community is extremely active, and during the course, I offer regular feedback, live-feeds and demos. To be able to offer a structured environment with industry knowledge, support and guidance, is one thing, but to be able to share everything that I’ve learnt over the years with the new wave of talent, well … this is my absolute passion.


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