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

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