March 1, 2011

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!

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