Nicola Killen is the author and illustrator of The Little Rabbit, the feature book in our March Picture Book Box. Nicola worked in greeting card design before going to art school. She lives in Cambridge, England.
MARMALADE BOOKS (MB): You graduated from the Cambridge School of Art in 2009 winning an award for the Best New Talent. Then in 2011, Julia Donaldson (Room on the Broom, The Gruffalo) chose your book Fluff and Billy, as one of her favourite picture books of the year. This must have been very exciting and an inspiring way to start your career as a children’s author and illustrator. Did it help to open doors for you?
NICOLA KILLEN (NK): Studying on the MA course at Cambridge definitely opened a lot of doors for me. The course leader, Martin Salisbury, arranged appointments to see some publishers while we visited the Bologna Book Fair in 2008 and that's when I first had interest in my work. A lot of publishers also visited our graduation show so that really helped too. Winning the award was the icing on the cake! I ended up working on my first books with the publisher who awarded it, and they gave me the chance to spend a week in their offices to learn more about how publishing worked. Julia Donaldson choosing Fluff and Billy as one of her books of the year was such an honour and a real surprise! It was lovely to think that someone who I respected so much had enjoyed my work!
MB: In the summer of 2017 I discovered your charming book The Little Reindeer and knew I would feature it in our December Picture Book Box that year. I was thrilled to hear that there would be a sequel. The Little Rabbit is our feature book this month. Will there be more stories about Ollie and her magical adventures?
NK: Thank you so much for featuring Ollie in your book boxes. I know that there will be at least one more Ollie adventure as I am working on it at the moment - I'm busy painting all the pictures right now! I don't know how much I can tell you, but it will be out in 2020!
MB: How did the idea for Ollie come about?
NK: I was trying out making pictures in black and white, using ink and dry brushes. My friend had recently bought reindeer sleep suits for her two little girls and I'd made some little sketches of them which were on my desk. So I started painting and soon I had a picture which was just like Ollie on the front cover of The Little Reindeer! Everyone I showed it to really loved that picture so I started working on story ideas. The reindeer book started as a simple board book with die cuts, but my publisher thought it would work better as a picture book – and they were right!
MB: Your black and white illustrations, with a few splashes of colour and die cuts to give hints of the page to come really make the books standout. What were some of the techniques you used to create these beautiful books?
NK: I paint the images using ink and brushes on cartridge paper. Sometimes I cut stencils to help me paint the correct places. These can take a long time to cut, especially if they are for double page spreads, but make the painting much quicker! When I've done all the painting, I monoprint the linework over the top. Then each piece is scanned and I add the colour digitally.
Working out the die cuts can be difficult as they have to work on both sides, so this is usually a case of trial and error. I think it's definitely worth it though – I always loved peeking through die cuts when I was a child (and still do)!
MB: Do you have any new projects coming up that you can tell us about?
NK: I have a book coming out in the UK this summer called My Name is Bear! It's about a bear who needs to learn some manners and is painted in the same way as Fluff and Billy (but with much more detail). And of course there's the next instalment of Ollie. After that I'm going to be doing lots of drawing and experimenting to generate new ideas!
MB: Have you ever been to Canada?
NK: I haven't been to Canada yet, but would love to visit someday!
My thanks to Nicola for this interview. It has been a pleasure to get to know you and your beautiful work better. Pat Oldroyd