Annie’s Book Stop of Worcester is happy to host Artist-Illustrator Nicole Tadgell on our Friday Spotlight blog! Nicole was here with our Worcester Needs Diverse Books panel on July 25. She is the award-winning illustrator of more than twenty picture books, including First Peas to the Table: How Thomas Jefferson Inspired a School Garden, In the Garden with Dr. Carver, Lucky Beans, Friends for Freedom: The Story of Susan B. Anthony & Fredrick Douglass, and With Books and Bricks: How Booker T. Washington Built a School.
Welcome to our blog, Nicole! For readers unfamiliar with your work, how would you describe your art style?
Luminous watercolor, tender families, and a wide range of expressive faces characterize [my illustrations].
What kind of research went into your designs? What is your favorite research story? What cool facts did you learn that may not be obvious in what you created?
For Friends for Freedom, I visited historic sites, did research at the library as well as online, and consulted with a historical costume designer all to help bring the book to life. I learned that Susan B. Anthony was raised Quaker, which meant she only wore very plain clothing. As she matured and became an independent adult, she wore clothing that would have been considered very radical.
When you’re working with an author for a book, how does the relationship develop? How does it vary between projects? What’s your preferred relationship with an author on a project?
There is typically no contact between the author and illustrator during the creative process. Publishers prefer to work with the artist and the publishing staff, editor and art director. The author is shown everything and is consulted, but usually there is no contact until after the book is done.
What was the biggest challenge in creating Friends for Freedom?
The biggest challenge for me was drawing Susan B. Anthony. Frederick Douglass was very easy. Handsome, distinctive hair and facial features. Miss Anthony appears quite stern in most of the photos I found. Her features severe and sharp, and she’s never smiling. So it was hard for me to capture her personality.
I loved the “anger” page in Friends for Freedom. It was really fun to draw. When I read the scene in the manuscript I could picture these two friends defending each other – both physically and intellectually.
What’s your favorite medium as an artist? Do you vary between projects or pieces? How do you choose the best medium?
Watercolor is my favorite right now. It is fluid, changes with the weather, is always interesting and unpredictable. Although I enjoy painting with oils, my studio is not set up for it.
Technology has affected art and art in books rapidly in the past ten years or so. How has the change in technology demands affected how you create art?
I have been asked to submit finals digitally more often. Recently, I have been asked to create and submit artwork in layers so the publisher can animate the story.
If you illustrate and write, what comes first to you: the pictures or the words? How do the two influence each other?
I don’t do both yet…hopefully someday.
What is your favorite part of being an artist / illustrator? Of the whole creative process? What do you think has been your greatest lesson in the journey thus far?
My favorite part is always the beginning of a project. Endless possibilities. Excitement of new beginnings. Greatest lesson keeps changing, and for me is always parallel to personal growth.
What piece of advice would you want to share with other artists?
Don’t give up! Keep practicing.
What else can we expect from you in the near future?
Awesome artwork! More projects that feature diversity and sci-fi/fantasy.
What is/are your passions when you’re not creating art? How do you make time for your hobbies/things you love?
I love Tai Chi! I also work in my garden (frantically trying to keep up with the weeds) and I enjoy baking. Some hobbies I’ve had to put aside – such as sewing and quilting. Other hobbies I do less often – like birdwatching and hiking – to make time for Tai Chi.
Cluttered, but I know where everything is. Basic drafting table I keep flat, with hard boards I prop up for drawing and painting. Taboret, tools, etc. in easy reach.
While you’re working, do you prefer music, silence, other? Please elaborate!
Depends on the project and where I’m at. Sometimes I like silence, sometimes radio (NPR is fun) sometimes TV, sometimes music. My musical tastes range from classical, pop, new age. Although my favorite is Prince, I don’t listen to him while I’m working.
Writers and artists very often have furry or feathered or otherwise non-human companions to “help” them through their work. Do you? What do you have? How do they “help” (or, “not-help”) with your writing?
I used to have two wonderful little border terriers, they have since passed on.
Do you have any favorite foods or drinks that must be in the vicinity (or must be avoided) while you’re working?
Water nearby. I don’t like to eat near my work for two reasons: fear of getting it on the work, and some of the pigments are toxic and I don’t want to ingest them.
What do you consider the most challenging part of the artistic process? And how do you overcome that?
Staying consistent in the project can be challenging, especially if the client requests a style that I feel I’ve moved beyond. My work is very emotive, so how I am feeling at the time has a direct impact on my work.
What is the greatest lesson you’ve learned, thus far, in your artistic career?
Are there any groups, clubs, or organizations that you would recommend to other artists that have helped you in your career?
SCBWI (Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) is incredibly helpful. Artists will find information, education & support there.
Where can people find your work? (Books, galleries, online sales?) (Besides ABSW ;)–though they should totally check here first!)
Local independent booksellers, online retailers.
How can we follow your work, share your awesomeness, or otherwise stalk you in a totally non-creepy way?
My website/blog is at www.nicoletadgell.blogspot.com. Feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or find me on Facebook. Several of my books have their own pages! I do have a Twitter account but I don’t use it.
Thank you again for being part of our Worcester Needs Diverse Books event, Nicole, and for being part of our Spotlight blog! We look forward to even more beautiful projects from you.