Illustrator Interview – Lori Nichols

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DSC_2021Lori Nichol’s debut picture book, MAPLE, comes out on February 20th, and I can give you a sneak preview if you pop back on Friday. This is one of those books I immediately thought, “Darn, why didn’t I write that?” It made me want to pick up the book and hug it, I was so in love with the story, illustrations and character, Maple. So, of course, I had to get the creator onto my blog.

[JM] Illustrator or author/illustrator?  If the latter, do you begin with words or pictures?

[LN] Author/illustrator. I once heard Oliver Jeffers say, “the words and pictures grow up together.” I guess this is true of my process but I usually start with a drawing that sparks an idea. After that, it’s a dance between words and pictures. Sometimes the words lead the dance. Sometimes the pictures lead. But they always dance. Sometimes one steps on the others toes.

[JM] Where are you from and how has that and/or where you have lived/visited influenced your work?

[LN] I grew up in a small Northwestern Pennsylvania town. It was a wonderfully visual place, with very old houses and huge established trees. The outskirts of the town were bucolic with rolling hills and farms. The town was set in a valley on the Allegheny River and surrounded by mountains.

[JM] Tell us a little of your beginnings and journey as an artist.

[LN] My journey as an artist started when I was very young. I had the luck of growing up the child of an elementary art teacher so there were always art supplies at my disposal: clay, linoleum block, basket weaving materials, scratch board, paints, pencils, charcoal. My mother always let me play with whatever she brought home and so I was always experimenting with something new. Using my hands and getting messy was encouraged. I never had an art class but I applied to art school right after high school. I knew I wanted to be an artist…I just didn’t really know what that would mean as a career.

[JM] Do you have a preferred medium to work in?

[LN] My favorite tools are pencil, quill pen & ink, and Sharpie.

[JM] Do you have themes or characters you return to in your art?

[LN] I think the theme of growth is always on my mind. How can a character grow? And that usually means growth emotionally. I love to draw emotion. Drawing the subtle nuances in a face/body to depict anger, jealously, and frustration is something I enjoy. I remember reading OLIVA by Ian Falconer for the first time and then studying his drawings. With only a line or tilt of Oliva’s head, Falconer depicted so much emotion. I was amazed by this. I try to use the approach “less is more” when drawing emotion, but I’m always looking for the impact one line might have on the reader’s perception of the situation. I’m also a huge fan of illustrator Olof Landstorm. I think he does such an amazing job depicting emotion. And his illustrations are incredibly funny. I love the added story he puts into his drawings. Something you don’t get from the text alone.

[JM] What does your workspace look like? 

[LN] I work in a spare room in my house. It’s filled with lots of sunlight and I can often see the kids outside playing in the yard. We live a block away from our local library. I live there too.




[LN] These are some studies I did for a story THIS ORQ. (HE CAVE BOY) by David Elliot for Boyds Mill Press. I use myself and my daughters quite a bit as reference. My girls are really so patient and willing to pose at the drop of a hat. I can’t show the finished pieces, but this is a peek into the process. It comes out in September 2014.


[JM] MAPLE will be released next week. WOOT! Is there a story behind the story?

[LN] Maple was very much inspired by both my childhood as well as my daughters. I grew up playing under Maple trees in Pennsylvania. Many summers were spent on my back looking up at the blue sky between leaves. I can smell and feel this memory. The breeze and the sun  danced across my face. The sounds of nature were everywhere. This was the beginning of my deep connection to nature. This memory coupled with the experience of raising children and watching each one find ‘enough room’ in the family for the newest addition was the inspiration for this book. My husband grew up in West Virginia and had important Oak trees in his yard. We dug up a sapling from these trees at his childhood home each time we had a daughter (3) and planted them in our yard here in Alabama. We watch our daughters and their trees grow together.

[JM] What organizations/groups/books do you belong to or have you used to help further your career?

Photo on 2012-01-31 at 09.18 #2

[LN] SCBWI and the Nichols Family. The Artist’s Way: I went through this book with a group of highly creative women. It changed my creative life.

[JM] What art do you have hanging in your apartment?

[LN] I have tons of my daughter’s artwork. It inspires me.  I have thrift store paintings, letterpress art, several pressed ferns and lots of other things that make me happy. A also have a Dan Santat & Matthew Cordell original and some lovely Gregory Christie prints,





Five Fun Ones to Finish?

[JM] What word best sums you up?

[LN]  I’d like to put down the word “authentic” but if I was truly authentic I’d say obsessive. At least as far as illustrating goes.

[JM] If you could live anywhere for a few months, where would you go?

[LN] Even though I’ve never been, I’d have to say Italy. My grandparents were Italian immigrants and I grew up watching my father wear his ethnicity like a badge of honor.

[JM] What’s your go-to snack or drink to keep the creative juices flowing?

[LN] Chocolate mint tea. On healthy days avocados and red bell peppers. On junk food days Baked Cheetos.

You are going to have to mail me about where to get Chocolate Mint Tea!

[JM] Cats or dogs? 

[LN] Cats. Margaret

Margaret in the studio

Margaret in the studio

[JM] Which literary bad guy do you like most?

[LN] Mr. Smallweed of Bleak House (Charles Dickens). And of course Severus Snape of Harry Potter.

[JM] Oo, you are the first the mention a Dickensian character, that’s great. Where can we find/follow you and your work?

Photo on 2012-04-19 at 12.49

[LN] Friend me on Facebook. Lori Nichols. 

Or on my website




Margaret is clearly a great help and source of inspiration. I love that so much of the artwork you have in your house is from your kids. What talent. I wish you sweet winds of success for you and MAPLE, Lori, and thank you so much for sharing some of your journey with us today.

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32 Responses to Illustrator Interview – Lori Nichols

  1. Lori Nichols says:

    Thank you so much for featuring me Joanna. What a wonderful honor.

  2. Tina Cho says:

    I’ve seen Maple floating around on the Internet but haven’t had a chance to read it. The art looks super cute! I like the bird nest collection and the mounted leaves. Thanks for the interview, Joanna and Lori!

  3. I really enjoyed this piece! It’s great to hear about your process with the dancing words and pictures…and how they sometimes step on each others toes! Can’t wait to read Maple!

  4. Wendy Greenley says:

    Definitely coming back Friday for the MAPLE reveal! Thanks for the preview, Lori and Joanna.

  5. Gretchen Sexton says:

    Great interview! And delicious photos of Lori’s studio. She is one of my all time favorite illustrators! Lori has such a talent and a fun spirit, plus she always manages to convey great insight. Good stuff! Can’t wait for Maple to arrive!

  6. I look forward to reading your review of Maple on Friday! I grew up with many maple trees in my yard, so I’ll be interested in the story and character. The artwork is charming. I enjoyed learning about Lori’s process.

  7. Iza Trapani says:

    What an exiting debut! I really look forward to Maple. It sounds lovely!

  8. Love the giant moose in her office! Great interview! 😀

  9. Rhythm says:

    This was a fun interview! I, too, like that Moose! Oliver Jeffers is my hero. But I’m thinking that I’m going to like Ms Nichols books with her dancing words and pictures! Looking forward to Friday!

  10. Lovely interview Lori and Joanna! Wishing you and MAPLE much success!

  11. Sorry I’m late, but so glad I didn’t miss this! I now know Lori would have been a favorite friend had we grown up on the same block. Heck, I would have climbed a few fences with my pockets full of chalk to play with Lori. Wish I were as neat though! I am also a big fan of Landström – esp. Binky!

  12. Joanna says:

    We would so have all hung together, right?!

  13. Lori Nichols says:

    Hi everyone! I am so humbled and excited to be interviewed here by Joanna. Your comments made me so happy. I want to be backyard friends with all of you. Let’s all go plant (and climb and hug) a tree together (barefoot!) Love, Lori

  14. What a fantastic interview! It was great reading your process. Love, love love your studio. Wow. I loved the story about the maples and oak trees. Cannot wait to read Maple.

  15. Ohhh, great interview, sounds like my kinda gal! Love the poses for the character studies. Looking forward to the book!

  16. Harper Nichols says:

    Hi, I’m Harper! Lori’s daughter!!! I just want to say that I am so proud of my Mom!!! She has worked so hard to get here and now she has like, three books that come out this year! and I think two that come out next year!! She is so excited! But my mom does not really show how excited she is. So when ever she gets another contract my sisters and I celebrate for her by going around the house screaming at the top of our lungs! My sisters and I are so excited and proud that our mom has finally accomplished her dream!
    Love Ya Mom! I’m So Proud of you!!

    • Joanna says:

      Harper, I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE how supportive and proud you and your sisters are of your Mom, and rightly so! Non-writers/illustrators have no idea how hard someone works for years before (and after) they see success. I am so thrilled for all these wonderful new books which will be blessing kids’ lives!

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