1. Where are you from and how long have you been illustrating?
I hail from the Keystone State; specifically, a little piece of southeast Pennsylvania just outside of Philadelphia called Bucks County. I was born and raised there, though I've had many different childhood homes. It's hard to pinpoint exactly when I started 'illustrating'–like every other kid growing up, I spent many days armed with a pencil, crayons, and several sheets of paper. In high school I juggled art and music (I played trombone in the marching band, jazz band, orchestra, and dixie band across all three years), but ultimately chose to pursue visual art in college. At that point, I hated painting, but loved to draw and write, so illustration seemed like a good fit for me. I attended Syracuse University and received my BFA in Illustration in 2007 and after that, I moved to NYC and here I am now–illustrating as much as I can.
2. A lot of your personal work, delves into growing up in the Keystone state (Pennsylvania). Either still life, animals, pattern, ect. Are you trying to document a sense of place with the work for others to appreciate or are you trying to say/do something else?
The old adage, 'distance makes the heart grow fonder'–I really think it's true. I have a lot of nostalgia for Bucks County now that I haven't lived there for a number of years. Part of it probably stems from the fact that I mostly grew up with my grandparents and as they get older and area changes, I grow wistful for the past. Bucks County is a really historic area (think George Washington and William Penn) and it used to be largely farmland when my mom and her siblings were growing up and even up until my youth. In recent years, however, it's been developed into McMansions which is just depressing. So I guess these pieces are trying to hold on to the Bucks County of yesteryear and the days when living didn't mean being glued to a computer and spending oodles on ugly, humungous, shoddy houses.
3. How has working as a sign painter/designer for Whole Foods affected your current work?
Hmm, I honestly haven't given it much thought. It definitely heightened my appreciation of hand painted signage–what an art form! It also helped to loosen me up a bit. It was certainly an interesting position, but I'd be lying if I didn't say I'm glad those days are done!
4. Are you a trekky?
No, not at all. I'm not sure I've even seen one full episode, but still, it was a fun assignment.
5. One thing I’ve noticed about your work that I don’t see other illustrators doing, is that you have a lot of work that are broken up into panels. Is that a conscience thought or is it just a way you started weaving into your work without really thinking about it?
It happened slowly, and somewhat out of necessity. For a long time I struggled to create successful compositions that conveyed all of the necessary information, and then I realized that instead of one all encompassing image, I could create a group of little vignettes to accomplish the same thing. It was like a giant weight had been lifted (no joke!) I've definitely been influenced by comic artists–Chris Ware, Dan Clowes, Craig Thompson, etc–as well as street/folk artists like Margaret Kilgallen, Barry McGee, Jim Houser. There's a certain amount of 'paneling' that appears in all their work and I guess it seeped into my subconscious and one day I just tried it myself. Since my style is fairly minimalist, I think it works well for me, and it also allows me to explore patterns and color in ways I otherwise couldn't.
6. I saw that you have a separate website for where your painted objects exist and another for just your illustration/design, though I don’t see much separation in the work itself. Why do you keep the two on two different sites?
You're right; there really isn't much separation aside from materials. I'm not sure I entirely know why I keep them separate–just for organizational purposes? It's funny that you say my 'illustration/design' work, because I don't really consider myself a designer. I tend to think of myself as illustrator strongly influenced by and in awe of design, but not a 'designer' per se. Actually, I know a fellow illustrator that signs his e.mails, 'visual communicator' and I think that that is perhaps the best descriptor. Anyway, I'm getting way off track. My painted pieces aren't as consistently narrative/functional as my illustration, so I think that's a big motivation to separate them. It's been really fun experimenting with paint, string, wood, etc. and I like how pressure–free it is. I suppose I want to stay free of expectation, so I don't display the two in the same place.
7. Have you ever considered painting your illustration work?
Yes, but deadlines make digital finishes so much more realistic. If anything, I'd like to get back to screenprinting and maybe even relief for some of my illustrations. There's a lot of incredible digital work being made out there these days, but I'm a sucker for tangibles–pieces you can hold and really look at. That's why I started painting again this past year!
8. Have you come to a conculsion on what MFA program your going to go to this fall?
Haha, nice try. I have to keep some things secret, no?
9. What are you listening to these days?
Let's see, I'm totally digging Tokyo Police Club's 'Champ' and The Tallest Man on Earth's 'The Wild Hunt' for when I'm feeling a little more mellow. Also on the list: Girl Talk, Delta Spirit, Surfer Blood, Cut Copy, Local Natives, Caribou, Fleet Foxes, and two of my all-time favorites, Andrew Bird and Sufjan Stevens. I also love to listen to Ella Fitzgerald on vinyl, especially in the winter and with a cup of tea. I love jazz, but real jazz; none of this 'smooth' Kenny-G influenced junk.
10. Any advice to illustrators just breaking ground?
Perseverance. Figure out what you want and work until you get it. Sometimes that means a struggle or a bit of sacrifice, but it's worth it for those 'yes!' moments along the way. Use the internet. It sucks, but it's a reality. If you have a website, a blog, a Twitter account, Dribbble, whatever, you're more likely to gain exposure and a following than if you keep to yourself and just send out the occasional postcard. I've gotten a lot of work just by being visible on the internet. Draw/sketch. Really. It's good for you–like fruits and veggies.
11. Any advice for the vet’s in the field?
Golly, I don't think I could be so bold. Ok, one piece of advice (this goes to the new kids too)–get a decent website. One where every image doesn't pop out into it's own window, one that doesn't take 15 minutes to load, one that doesn't use Flash, one that actually allows you to see the work. No frills, no fancy background, no crazy type. Keep it simple–like a physical portfolio, it's there to highlight your awesome work, not overwhelm it (or the viewer!)
12. Final Word?
Watch 30 Rock. Like sketching, it is good for you.
All work is under ©opyright by Lydia Nichols
Her illustration work: http://lydianichols.com/
Her Painted work: http://hulloitslydia.com/
Thanks for taking the time to be interviewed Lydia!