March 31, 2011

The Heart of a Child's Tale

An Interview with Artist shichigoro-shingo

Part 1 of 2 (link to Part 2)
Click on any picture to largify

KINDLY NOTE: this interview took place several weeks before the devastating series of events that struck Japan in March of 2011. We are very happy to report that we were able to quickly contact shichigoro-shingo and that he himself is doing well, despite the on-going struggles facing the entire country.

We ask you to please to keep the people of Japan in your thoughts and to continue doing what you can to help. ZN suggests helping out many of the artists and other creative talents out there who have donated their work and time to this and other causes, as well as considering donations to established groups such as the International Red Cross and Doctors Without Borders.


The culture of Japan fascinates me.

Despite that succinct line, I did consider for some time if that is how I wanted to frame my feelings. But I think that ‘fascinates’ is the right word here. I have to confess that I know far too little about the TRUE culture, the history or even the mythology of the Japanese people to make any kind of ‘expert’ opinion to same. Sure, I know much of their modern history – which is as filled as any country’s with both positives and negatives – and have delved into a fair (not great, just fair) deal of their traditional art forms over the years. Sure, I’ve worked with and gotten to know several Japanese colleagues as well, but that only provides a small thumbnail shot of the overall complex picture that is Japan.

The legends of the samurais; the grand tales of thousands of years of regional conflicts, sometimes in order to control what we would today see as something so benign as the fine art of paper-making; even a sense of loyalty that I can not begin to fathom all make up a large part of this vague yet very strong impression. Heck, my curiosity no doubt owes a great deal to any of a number of genius tales from Mike Mignola that take place in Japan and which continue to spurn on my curiosity.

So it should have been somewhat UN-surprising that shichigoro-shingo’s (aka Shingo Matsunuma) work intrigued me so much. Starting off on my journey from his fantastically structured and playful home website, his work struck me as being so mysterious, a tad eerie and even ethereal in its wispy execution. What with the other-worldly depictions of futuristic meldings of machine and man or his depictions of Shelley-esque creatures of peace and innocence, it all should have fit right into my preconceived notions about the art of the Japanese, yes? Well, no.

Instead, I have to confess that this talented young man’s work hit me like a hard shock. A blow to the body, if you will, that took me back in time even to the earliest days of OMNI magazine and my first exposures to such ‘classic’ greats as H.R.Giger, Frank Frazetta, or Roger Dean. Back to a time when my own tastes and interests in the world of art, fantasy and much more were being formed! Leanings that would later be further solidified by various amazing works across all media, including again from Mignola (‘Hellboy’) or Del Toro (‘Pan’s Labyrinth’), Giger (e.g. the Aliens series) to just about any of Tim Burton’s works, also taking into account those he’s produced such as the more recent masterful apocalyptic tale, ‘Number 9’! Sheer genius! Sheer delight!

So I am pleased then to introduce you to the fantastic world of our guest, a world where – despite the presence of Borg-like cybernetics, abounding mysteries, deep sea wonders and more – the artist insists ‘there is no fear; no fear of creatures and no fear of machines ... just no fear!’ Just look closely and perhaps you’ll see a little red balloon or two floating peacefully by ...


Mr. Matsunuma – or as I see you sign your correspondences, ‘shichigoro-shingo’ – welcome! Can you please tell us a little about yourself and your background?
Thank you, Ziggy, for your kind invitation.

Well, my age is a secret! But I can tell you that I live in Yokohama-city. This is the capital city of Kanagawa Prefecture. We are the second largest city in Japan by population after Tokyo, which is to the north of here.

In terms of my education, I graduated from Tama Art University (Department of Painting, Oil Painting Course) in Tokyo.

How did you become interested in art and who were your major influences?
I have always liked drawing. Even as a child, I liked drawing pictures.
In terms of my major influences, I have been inspired by many great artists and other forms of art through the years. These include:

- Katsuya Terada's and H.R.Giger's artworks;

Amanita Design's games as well as Kowloon's Gate (video game for Playstation)

and many more. As you see, I enjoy many different artworks, movies, comics, and games!

How would you describe your style?
I like to think of my work as organic and inorganic matter fused together.

Still, it is very important to my that in ‘my world’ there is ‘No Fear’! No fear of creatures, no fear of machines, just absolutely no fear!

What techniques do you use?
A lot of my works use Photoshop.
I will also use a few textures from things as simple as a wall. But I am mostly using a Wacom pen tablet for my work today.

I am curious about the name ‘shichigoro’? How did this come about?
I am sorry, but there is no deep meaning to this!

Continued in Part 2

The Heart of a Child's Tale

An Interview with Artist shichigoro-shingo

Part 2 of 2 (link to Part 1)
Click on any picture to enlarge

For much of the Western world, Japan is seen as a source of manga or kawaii art or even video games. Do these styles interest you?
Yes, these styles do interest me. As I mention previously, these are among my important influences!

I think they are made by people showing some very advanced artistic and design skills.

How much exposure have you received for your work outside of Japan?

Well, I am using deviantART, so that is very useful for getting lots of exposure on a global level.

In addition, some of my work has been introduced to the public via different websites or even webzines. You can find more links in my
on-line press section.

Do you wish to promote more in other countries?
Yes, I would like that very much! Again, I am very glad that you have contacted me!

Have you worked or studied in other countries?

No, I haven't.

All my work – including exhibitions that I have attended – and studies were here in Japan. I am glad though to get some exposure through webzines or other websites.
: see end of article for various links)

When I look at your work, your pictures seem to be images from fantastic dreams and realities different to our own, but are still stories for children! I am curious where your ideas come from?

I very much like my machines and monsters. However, it is also very important to me that that they have pure hearts. I hope that this purity and happiness is apparent in my pictures.

But you are right: for me, I am trying to capture something like the heart of a children’s book.

Where would you like to see yourself and your art in the future?

Well, again, I would enjoy more exposure! So, I do not mind the place, it could be anywhere!

As an artist, I do want many people to be able to see my artworks and to be able to enjoy them. This keeps me producing my work and makes me want to continue to work on art in the future.


shichigoro-shingo is a 30-ish (we think) year-old artist living and working in Yokohama, Japan. He studied oil painting at Tama Arts University in Tokyo. Later, he applied his knowledge of the arts and began working with Photoshop. In addition to his private artwork, he has experience as a digital artist for a local games company.

shichigoro-shingo’s work has found many exciting outlets. For example, the show ‘Femme 2011’ presented by
Gallery Art Point in Tokyo, featuring works by 50 CG Illustrators and their illustrations of the female form is just closing as this article is being released. The ‘Love Japan’ show in collaboration with Amuse Museum as presented by NODE net as well the Recto Verso Gallery show have also at least in part featured the artist’s works.

We list more links for your convenience below. Please visit his home website for more information and many more fantastic images in his different galleries!

Home website
DeviantART gallery

Additional references, articles, and galleries: Gallery
(Japanese and English)

Illustration Toolbox

Escape Into Life

Vains Faktory (French)

WalkingBlind Art and Literature Magazine (incl. cover and feature article)


All pictures, videos and other media are used with written permission of Shingo Matsunuma, also referred to as shichigoro and/or shichigoro-shingo, including all current or previous business affiliations related to same, or are available in the public domain (noting copyright and other restrictions, accordingly). No further reproduction or duplication is permitted without contacting the artist directly.

Some pictures have been modified slightly or combined only for the purpose of space limitations. In all cases, we invite you to visit the artist’s site(s) for more!

March 16, 2011

You’re Going to Heart This Art!

An interview with Thomas Fuchs

Part 1 of 2 (link to
Part 2)
Click on any picture to vergrössernize
I’ve been trying now for weeks and I just can’t do it. I don’t know, maybe it’s me, maybe it’s this di... I mean, food re-education thing I’m currently on, but I just can’t. I’ve done tons of on-line research; I’ve stared at it all for hours on end; still, I can’t. No, as hard as I try, I can NOT pick out my favourite aspect about Thomas Fuchs’ work! I like it all. There, I’ve said it. I’ve failed you all and for that I’m truly sorry... NOT! What am I, nuts? (Don’t answer that...)

Hi gang! Despite all the rampant jocularity, we are indeed very thrilled to have Thomas with us here at ZN HQ. Not only is this affable nearly 40-something year-old in very high demand, but he’s been a real pleasure to work with! As you’ll see in the coming paragraphs, Herr Fuchs’ styles range from the sharp yet extremely poignant digital pieces he produces to a flair for portraits that is simply fantastic! His quirky yet thoughtful editorial pieces are highly sought after and can be seen in just about every genre of publication out there. Even his ‘for fun only’ projects like ‘A Heart a Day’ are beginning to sell like extra-large pretzels fresh out of the oven at Oktoberfest!

His unique touch in the broad fields that he covers can be traced back to his education in Stuttgart, studying with the legendary Heinz Edelmann (see I-view with fellow alum
Christoph Niemann). Still, despite his upbringing including an interest in all things amphibianistic (keep reading), Thomas has grown as an artist over the years and firmly established himself in the realms of graphic art-dom here, there and everywhere!!

Greetings Thomas and welcome! Can you tell us a little bit about Thomas Fuchs please and how he became the interesting and über-talented man that he is today?
Hi Ziggy, thanks for having me!

About me: well, I grew up in Germany (the sticks, to be exact) and spent most of my childhood chasing frogs and the like. Great for a kid, but boring as hell for a teenager. I guess I did find a lot of time for drawing simply because there was not much else to do (once that obsession with amphibians had subsided). That may have definitely had something to do with my later choice of profession...and it seemed more practical...

I studied Graphic Design and Illustration at the Academy of Fine Arts in Stuttgart, under Professor Heinz Edelmann (of Yellow Submarine fame). I graduated in '97, packed my bags and moved to New York the same year.
What do you think was your strongest influence coming along in terms of you deciding to become a graphic designer/illustrator?
I guess that would have to be LP covers. You know, those ancient big, black music discs that came in big cardboard sleeves with all manner of cool art and design on them.

I mean, how can you look at the cover of Pink Floyd’s "Dark Side of the Moon" and not be floored? Or, in a different way, all those
Frank Frazetta or Boris Vallejo illustrations of scantily clad maidens in distress with some sort of monster lurking in the shadows that would grace many a rock band's album covers? I mean, how do you beat that?

So, after I realised that people actually did this for a living I guess there wasn't much choice anymore as to what I was going to do professionally!

That’s an interesting ‘shield’ on the front page of your web-page, very Germanic! Is this family related or just something you put together for fun and profit?
Yeah, rather Teutonic, eh? I've always been into the whole medieval heraldic imagery, you know, crests and the like. As I said, I grew up in rural Germany in an area with medieval castles abound, and that just always struck a chord with me. Eventually, being an artist and all, there wasn't really any excuse anymore not to do one for myself.

I also expanded on this shield for the singer/songwriter Shelby Lynne. She saw it on my site and requested something roughly along those lines (of course personalised to her own person/work). That was quite a fun gig.

I quite enjoyed your selection of paintings and the different senses of vintage looks, coupled with both ultra-realistic and even dream-like imagery. However, these seem to have been done almost exclusively for specific clients. To this: how do you decide whether to use painting or another ‘media’ for a client? Is that usually your own choice or is it dictated more by the client’s brief?
There are different ways this happens:

One would be the client requesting an exact recreation of the look of one of my images they have seen either on my site or in some other publication. That right there narrows things down quite a bit.

It does happen very rarely though that a client will be that specific with their preferences. Instead, most will give me enough rope to try and come up with the best approach to the topic at hand, which I do prefer. I believe that the concept I come up with to solve a visual problem should dictate what style best transports said concept. I think for the most part the people who are crazy enough to work with me are rather aware of that (and cool with it), as I do think it comes through when you look at my portfolio.

Plus, working mostly in an editorial field, there are certain factors like deadlines which will put a clear restriction on how crazy/elaborate one can go with a piece. I mean, having a really tight deadline will not allow for an intricately rendered scene and it will therefore most likely done in a more graphic style.

And, of course, the simpler the better – meaning, if you have a good idea you do not have to render the life out of it, which is my preferred approach. I'd rather think a little longer about a concept and come up with an idea that works, which then saves me some time on the execution...and I really like strong, graphic solutions...maybe I'm just lazy though...

Comparing your painting to your work in digital: what is the biggest difference for you as an artist concerning either the preparation or even finishing a piece?
There’s really not a big difference at all. The approach is very similar : I usually decide what the idea needs and then do that.

How did your focus on portraits come about? Is this a particular favourite aspect of illustrating for you or did it arise more out of reputation?
Yeah, that's kind of a weird one, as I don't think I'm even all that good at it. I mean, there are people out there that are just insanely good at nailing a likeness, and it seems like they do it effortlessly as well. In my case, I'm always almost surprised if the picture looks like the person it's supposed to. Mostly, I think I just get lucky.

The thing though that's really tough about portraits is the immediate controllability. What I mean by this is that no matter how amazing a painting you may have just crafted, if it doesn't look like the subject, you’ve failed. There’s no way to cheat!

But yeah, ‘good work delivered, more ordered’ is how the whole business works. A strong reputation for reliability is a big factor, I think.

Continued in Part 2

You're Going to Heart This Art!

An interview with Thomas Fuchs

Part 2 of 2 (link to Part 1)
Click on any picture to agrandir'nate

Thomas, you’re now plying your trade in the teeming streets and concrete valleys of New York City. As I’ve asked other of your contemporaries from your home region, including
Stefan Sagmeister and as mentioned Christoph Niemann – both of whom also eventually landed in the Big Apple :
What hints of your Deutsche Wurzeln (German roots) can one find in your works? For example, I found your
illustrations for an article about ‘perceptions, influences and impacts of German(ness) in the world’ to be quite insightful! Do you think your background helps differentiate your work if at all from other "native" colleagues in New York?
I'm not sure if there is all that much difference in how German or American artists approach things.

I mean, sure, traditionally, since illustration does not have such a vivid history and as big a cache in Europe as it does in the States, and since most illustration students study Graphic Design as well, maybe the approach to illustration for a German-educated person is a tad more design-oriented. I don’t know, maybe there's not as much purely decorative stuff there.
Still, I think that difference – if it even really exists, now or in the past – has become kind of blurred with the advent of the Internet which has resulted in a much more heightened awareness of what people in other countries are doing.

On the other hand, do you think that being in New York affects your ability to get business with German or other European clients?
As far as working with clients in the ‘old country’, being here in New York has never really been a problem for me. Today, you can really work from anywhere as an illustrator. You don't have to be living around the corner from where the clients are anymore, since most of the work is, at least for me, commissioned per email and delivered digitally.

Looking at your ‘endurance art’ project ‘A Heart A Day’ : I’ve met several artists who have also attempted similar approaches, in large part to either train themselves or to increase their exposure. What was your motivation or even targets for undertaking this Herculean task?
I've actually never really planned for this project to go on for this long! It started out as a bunch of heart-based ideas for a job. But then I realised just how much one could probably manipulate this shape into, and I just kept going.
I've always approached it very loosely, and just for fun, just doing them as long as the ideas came easily... which I guess has been quite a while now.

With projects like this there's always fun things happening almost accidentally, like creating a series within the series. I keep coming up with little visual stories that develop, things like that. Most importantly: it hasn't gotten boring yet. And since there weren't really any specific goals or targets when I started out, I’ve definitely succeeded in doing whatever it is I’m doing with it! :)
It seems though that people respond to the dark/light nature of these images, and of course the heart shape helps. In addition, some of this is starting to get picked up for clothing, decals, skins and other licensing, which is nice.

What was the most valuable lesson you’ve learned so far from the ‘Hearts’ project?
Well, I've done several similar projects like this before. I knew that sticking with a rather limited topic for a while would force me to come up with rather interesting things, ideas that I might not have come up with otherwise. Overall, it's a good exercise, I guess.
Speaking of very interesting projects, how did you get involved with GOP100-Deconstructing Dumbo? I believe that you eventually self-published a book of this collection, correct?
Yeah, that was done in collaboration with my pal, designer/illustrator extraordinaire
Felix Sockwell.

He's the most violently liberal Texan you'll ever meet, and I'm not exactly a right-winger either! Once we heard that the Republican National Convention would set up shop in New York City in 2004, we created this series as our little response to it.
Felix even sold copies of the book out of the back of his rikshaw for a few days!!
You offer so many fantastic ‘services’, from paintings, digital works, portraits, as well as logos, icons, tee-shirts and much more. Do you ever feel like you have too much on your plate because of so many different focal areas? And if you could work on particular area more than you do today, what would it be and why?
I actually love the varied nature of what I do, as I do get bored pathetically easily and have the attention span of a damsel fly. So yeah, the more different things I can work on, the better.
In terms of what I'd like to do more, hm... well, I haven't really done any fine art paintings for myself in a while, so it'd be nice to find a little more time for that. Other than that, the art licensing thing that's starting to happen is exciting. I do have a few ideas for products as well. I guess we'll see what happens.
Oh, and chain-saw sculpture.

I asked earlier if there were any aspects of your work that you felt make your work seem ‘Germanic’ in some way. Thinking along these same lines, what would you say makes your work distinctly ‘Thomas Fuchs’ in its style, delivery or other aspects?
I don't know if there actually is a distinct ‘Fuchsian’ style per se.

I try to keep my options open in terms of what my work should look like. But having said that, I do hope that since all of this comes from the same (however limited) mind that there is something that connects it all in some sort of quantum physical, vibrating-at-the-same-frequency kind of thing!!
And finally, what’s coming up in the next months for Thomas Fuchs?
It’s really all up in the air ... just how I like it!! :)
Welcome to the end of the interview where we’re probably including some bits that you’ve already learned – if you’ve read this far (if you haven’t, that’s cheating! Shame on you!!).

Thomas Fuchs – as many Germans have done before him – was born and raised in Germany. After finishing his studies in Graphic Design and Illustration at the Academy of Fine Arts Stuttgart with an MfA in '97, he moved to New York in November of the same year, where he still lives and works today, plying his trade as a self-professed ‘freelance illustrator-slash-designer-slash-artist’. And with all this slashing going on, maybe we should all start to get worried about his chain-saw project...

Thomas’ work has received accolades and awards galore from professional societies and his peers alike. He’s been honoured, for example, by The Society of Illustrators (Gold Medal, Advertising and Institutional Category), American Illustration, Communication Arts, Print, SPD, The Art Directors Club NY and Germany (of which he is a member) and SND (Silver Medal). His list of clients and other forums for his unique brand of eclectic work is extensive, ranging from just about every magazine or other publication covering all aspects of life (e.g. Architectural Digest, ESPN, Chicago Tribune, Newsweek and Time, Rolling Stone and many more!).

Most recently he’s done a great piece and logo, too, for the 2011
NBA All-Star Weekend in Los Angeles and if you hurry, you can catch some of his paintings that are on display at ‘The 12th Annual Dog Show’ presented by Mascot Studio in New York! And naturally, you can check out his great heart-shaped images and more via his on-going bloggy thoughts and musings!! Hey, we did say his work is varied!!

Thanks again to Thomas and all the great support he provided in getting this interview up and running!

All pictures, videos and other media are used with written permission of Thomas Fuchs, including all current or previous business affiliations related to same, or are available in the public domain (noting copyright and other restrictions, accordingly). EXCEPTION: the final bio pic shown above was borrowed from
this link (photograph by Ethan Hill from ‘How to Wear White Without Looking Like Colonel Sanders’).

No further reproduction or duplication is permitted without contacting the artist directly.

Some pictures have been modified slightly or combined only for the purpose of space limitations. In all cases, we invite you to visit the artist’s site(s) for more!

March 1, 2011

Pet Rats, Deaf Cat, Great Art and All of That

An Interview with Nichole Lillian

Part 1 of 2 (link to
Part 2)
Click on any image to enlargenovize

Sometimes when you first see an artist’s work, your eye is drawn to not only what is present but also to what is not present.

In the case of
Nichole Lillian, I was initially drawn to her art – especially within her work submitted for tee-shirts – because of it’s very ‘organic’ flavor. In addition, I really enjoyed how Nichole’s work employs a lot of natural imagery mixed in with an acute attention to detail and color reminiscent in many ways of any variety of block or etched printing techniques. However, it was also a refreshing departure to see that her submissions omit the traditional ‘meme’s’ you see so much of today in design (e.g. Star Wars characters combined with Super-Heroes, Super-Heroes combined with each other or anything under the sun, etc.).

Nichole also shows that she is very in tune with nature yet manages to maintain a playfully subtle sense of humor, not that either of those are mutually exclusive mind you. And whether you consider it necessarily a nod to nature or not, her artistic moniker ‘Ratkiss’ also instantly catches your attention!

Ziggy Nixon was pleased to catch up with Nichole to talk about her work, her collaborations with other artists, and her one-of-a-kind style.


Hi Nichole, welcome! To start off, can you tell us a little bit about yourself and what led you to become an illustrator? (*also, do you prefer Nichole Lillian Humphrey or just Nichole Lillian?)
Hi! Ziggy!

About me: well, I was born and raised in Michigan. I’m a vegetarian, but I’m not preachy about it. Just like anything else out there it’s just one of those things that people have to decide to do on their own. I have pet rats and a deaf cat. His name is Mr. Mystery.

As my main income, I’m a dog groomer. However, by night I try to take time to be artful, that is, between my other duties of fighting crime and saving kittens. OK, that last bit is a stretch but anyway... I love art, listening to music, road trips, nature, space, exploring, baking, taking pictures and cooking. Oh and I think pizza is the best food in the world. Just think of all of those toppings available. Mmmm. I’m tempted now to order one now, ha.

In terms of my art, well, I’m a self-taught artist. I pretty much grew up with a crayon / pencil / pen / paintbrush / you-name-it in my hand so it’s just something that I’ve always loved to do. I remember when I was young, my pops and I would draw a lot together. I still have those little doodle books of our drawings, too. It’s quite fun to look back at them, actually. One of the first things I remember drawing were bumble bees! It’s funny to think about that today because I now have huge fear of bees, eep!

I would note that I did go through a period of time without drawing much of anything. I can honestly say thanks to the great folks at
Threadless for existing because they’re the reason that I started drawing again!

(*Nichole Lillian is fine as I’m getting married in September and my last name will change then, thanks!)

Also, before we get too far into this, may I simply ask: what is the source of your ID, namely, ‘Ratkiss’? I’m just hoping it has nothing to do with quality of said kisses...
Ha ha, nope! It has nothing to do with that!

When I was establishing a web-site, ‘ratkiss’ was the first thing that came to my mind, again with me having pet rats and all. The plus side is that it’s a short name that’s easy to remember and spell.

The down side I guess is that I hope it doesn’t scare people off from even looking. I know some people have a fear of rats.

What have been your influences in helping shape your style?
Threadless is full of some of the most inspiring artists around. I’ll name a few I noticed on there right from the start:
Ben Foot, Joe Carr, and Terry Fan.

All in all, I just keep doing what I enjoy! And hopefully, it will all keep on slowly evolving as time goes by.

Do you work solely by hand or do you combine with elements from computer tools to bring such a unique flair to your artwork?
Well, honestly, I don’t know how or what makes my art unique. I just do what I love after all.

Inspiration can strike me at any time, so I do try to carry a little notepad for doodles with me to prevent ideas and things from getting lost easily. I think they like hanging out together in one little book anyway. Especially since on one of my last road trips I didn’t have anything to doodle on but the back of a take-out menu, ha ha.

If there is something that I want to take further than a doodle, I’ll get a sketch going and then from there I’ll ink the line work on some Bristol paper. Everything you see up to this year (2011) has been a combination of that along with coloring using traditional methods or scanning in my line work and coloring it digitally.

I’ve also done some experimenting using India ink this past year. I’d like to do more with that and perhaps more painting in general. I would love to do a ‘zine and one day even give some sculpting a try! I’m always up for exploration.

One thing though, I never liked pen tablets: they were always awkward to me since I couldn’t work with them in my lap. Having said that, I recently got a
Cintiq 21 UX and it’s all I’ve been using lately. (ZN: sob, I want one, too!) It’s amazing and still allows me to work on my lap like I usually do (it’s a bit heavy but I’m used to it now). It also enables me to maintain that natural pen-to-paper feel that I’m comfortable with. Plus, I’m able to do everything I was doing before and even more. It’s a great investment.

As I mention in the introduction, one of the first things I noticed in my research is that your ‘submissions’ miss much of the trend of ‘meme’ designs that go on today. Granted both ‘Surfing the Stars’ or even ‘Nightmare on Pop Street’ shown here could be argued to hold a little bit of this aspect in them – though I think that’s stretching things – but do you normally intentionally ‘avoid’ this kind of approach? Or is it just something that holds no particular interest for you?
It’s just not something that interests me, really.

I draw what I love to draw and what makes me happy. If others love it as much as I do, it just makes it that much more special to me, in all honesty.

How much interest do you have in CURRENT pop culture? I ask specifically because I find your work very reminiscent of what we saw some 20 to even 40 years ago, including even
Klaus Voormann’s ‘Revolver’ cover for the Beatles.
I’m quite flattered at your comparison, thanks.

However, I don’t even know what would be considered ‘current pop culture’ if that tells you anything, ha ha.

Do you consider yourself ‘in tune’ with nature and the environment around you, and if so, how has this influenced your work?
It’s probably just as influencing to me as the many other things in my life.

I do draw a lot of animals though, so I’m sure it takes up a big part of my subconscious.

Continued in Part 2

Pet Rats, Deaf Cat, Great Art and All of That

An Interview with Nichole Lillian

Part 2 of 2 (link to Part 1)
Click on any image to embiggernuegen

Nichole, we were just talking about your drawings and your use of images featuring animals, nature and more. To this, your piece ‘Taking Flight’ is both very beautiful and yet also very haunting with its imagery related to the BP oil spill of 2010. Can you describe a little about your approach to this design and what it meant to you to make this ‘statement’ (incl. the offer to share your profits for the recovery efforts)?
I think for the first time I was actually thinking about the wear-ability of my work. I wanted to inspire hope and awareness, and at the same time have a design that would be able stand on it’s own without tying the Gulf or BP directly into the image.

It was very important to me, especially with the possibility of donating any winnings, had there been the chance to do so.

As mentioned, several of your designs include scenes of finely textured nature and environmental themes; however, two recent pieces – ‘Blowing bubbles and skating around on a magic keyboard’ (here to the left) as well as ‘As they pulled you out of the oxygen tent, you asked for the latest party...’ (below) – both seem to me to be a pretty significant departure from your usual style. What was your approach with these?
It’s interesting to me that you see it as a step away from my usual style, because I didn’t have a different approach for either of those, ha ha! I see a lot of what I’ve done before in both of those designs, actually.

But both of those designs were part of design challenges at Threadless. ‘Blowing bubbles and skating around on a magic keyboard’ was for a
‘Threadless loves Sharpies’ contest sponsored by the pen company. The challenge was to include an 80’s theme using the 5 new Sharpie’s glam colors in the design.

The other was a community organized challenge which consisted of an old school Threadless theme, a size/presentation restriction, and a limit of 4 colors. So in these case, I really just drew them to fit the criteria of those specific challenges.

A few of your pieces also show that you have a very strong talent for using patterns (for example, ‘I love trees’ shown to the left) or even typography. How do you best judge when to incorporate these types of elements into a piece?
Oh man, I love patterns and details! I can very easily get carried away with them so I have to make sure that they do their part in the design. I aim to create a happy balance with everything, because sometimes they can take over my designs.

Typography is fun too, I’m just not confident in using it. But I’d like to experiment with it a lot more in the future.

You have also done a few designs where I don’t think I’ve really seen this approach before, namely that you have ‘re-designed’ some prints for other artists of course with their permission. What was the impetus for this work? (ZN: pictures here are NOT examples of same)
Ha ha, here we go back to my home sweet home... Threadless. This ‘approach’ was from another community organized challenge they held.

Basically, everyone who participated picked a design that hadn’t been printed, then they got permission from the original artist (very important) to re-design it. From here then the artists each had their way at creating the original design in their own style.

It was a lot of fun to participate in! It was really neat to see how the differences in each person’s style can make a design look completely different than before!

While we’re on the topic of collaborations, you’ve done some co-designs with friends including
Steven McNamara, Ben Foot and others, even once under the intriguing moniker of ‘Horrendous Consequences’. What was it like to work in a team setting like this and how did it differ to your usual ‘solo efforts’?
Collaborations are fun. I like working on with others to gain different perspective of things I might not see myself.

However, I don’t want to lose focus. So I usually stick with one collaboration at a time, alongside with one of my own projects. It’s my way of keeping things organized. It is a different than how I usually work by myself mainly because there is a lot of back and forth communication between us about what needs to be changed, improved, removed etc..

Overall, though, it’s a very good experience.

Besides your own web-site and your designer profiles on either
Threadless or Flickr, how are you getting your work ‘out there’? Are you working for example with agents or other promotional outlets?
I’m just flying solo as far as far as getting my work ‘out there’ goes.

I don’t have any agents or promotional outlets other than my own web-site and the links within it. I think it’s a good start and the web-site looks great!

Finally, I am concerned to know if you still have, in your own words, ‘nightmares about blank paper’?
Ha ha, no.

But if I do, I’ll be sure to dream up myself some markers and paint!


In perhaps one of the most succinct yet telling autobiographical ‘About’ sections on the web today, Nichole reminds us that she is a self-taught illustrator and artist from Michigan, who owns both pet rats and a deaf cat, and that she really likes pizza. Even though I myself am not from Michigan and have never knowingly owned a rat, I can however vouch that the latter two points are most assuredly really fantastic (my deaf cat’s name being ‘Treetop’ owing to his propensity to sit in... wait for it... treetops! Think Snoopy's 'vulture pose'...).

Having listed her profession before as ‘dreamer’, her works do indeed take you quite often into colorful dream worlds filled with hairy beasts, giant mountain farmers, creatures of both the day and night, plus much, much more. Do check out her primary ‘abodes’ at both
her ‘home’ Ratkiss web-site and especially as often as possible her growing and prolific Threadless collection!

You can also find more of Nichole’s offers (she’s the less hairy one – facially speaking at least – shown here) at these other interesting links:


All pictures, videos and other media are used with written permission of Nichole Lillian, including all current or previous business affiliations related to same, or are available in the public domain (noting copyright and other restrictions, accordingly). No further reproduction or duplication is permitted without contacting the artist directly.

Some pictures have been modified slightly or combined only for the purpose of space limitations. In all cases, we invite you to visit the artist’s site(s) for more!