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Interview with Nikki Pontin: creating illustrations for Oily Cart

2 June 2017

Children's book author and illustrator Nikki Pontin has created beautiful logos and illustrations for our brand new shows, KUBLA KHAN and HUSH-A-BYE, and later this year she will also oversee the character design for HUSH-A-BYE.

In this blog, Nikki tells us how her passion for illustration started, and explains the creative process behind her work, alongside some pictures of her designs at various stages to give an insight into how they develop...


Can you tell us a bit about yourself, and how and why you became an illustrator?


I grew up by the seaside in West Wales and spent a large part of my childhood drawing. You can imagine my delight when I discovered I could draw for a living and so left home to study Illustration and Animation at Kingston University. I spent three splendid years drawing, exploring mark-making and developing my interest in narrative.

For my final project on my BA I wrote and illustrated a children’s picturebook titled Bruno’s Box. I was lucky enough to have this published when I graduated and there began my career as a children’s picturebook illustrator.

I have since worked on seven titles, including my second picturebook Winston and the Wish Department and my most recent being a set of Ladybird bedtime stories that I illustrated. I now work from my sunny studio in Forset Hill, South East London.
How would you describe your style? And how did you find it?


My style constantly develops and evolves. I suppose I am quite traditional in terms of the mediums I choose to use. I enjoy making a mess and dislike staring at a screen all day so I use an assortment of mediums to create colourful and rich textures, which I hope bring a fresh and playful quality to my illustrations.
What techniques and materials do you use?


I use a variety of materials to create my illustrations, which include acrylic, gouache, inks, pencils, pens, crayons, pastels and collage. I like to combine these materials to create interesting texture and form. Usually I will begin with a base of acrylics and work into the image with collaged elements, crayons, pencils and pastel to add detail. Finally I will scan in either the final piece or the separate elements to compose and finish my image on the computer.
We love your illustrations for our new shows, KUBLA KHAN and HUSH-A-BYE, and it would be great to find out more about how you created them. So - once we’ve sent you the brief for an illustration, what do you do next? What is your process?


I will always bring in my sketchbook. My sketchbook is integral to my work, very rarely seen by anyone else and therefore allowing me freedom to scribble initial thoughts and ideas to work from.

When I think I have a few strong ideas for the brief I will sketch them out a little more neatly. These are the sketches I will usually send over to you as proposals for the brief.

From the feedback I receive I will then go to the colour stage. This is my favourite stage. I enjoy traditional practice and often work on a board of stretched paper, which gives me freedom to use any mediums I feel suitable for the work.

Starting with a base of paint to begin the image, I will then work into the piece with other mediums to add detail. I usually add collaged elements, such as characters, which allows me freedom to move and decide on layout as I build up the image. I finish by scanning the image and often add other layers into my computer and piece it together, tweak the colours, add text and usually tidy up the entire image so it is ready to send.


And here are the final results: the logo for KUBLA KHAN, and the poster illustration for HUSH-A-BYE!

KUBLA KHAN is our new show for children and young people with complex disabilities and/or who are deafblind. In this multi-sensory, highly interactive production, audiences will journey down the River Alph to meet the Emperor. From the sounds of a sitar to the feel of a flowing river, audiences will experience the temperatures and textures of Coleridge's acclaimed poem as the aroma of incense drifts by... KUBLA KHAN is touring from August - you can find more information here

HUSH-A-BYE is our new early years show for babies and young children, which will be at artsdepot this Christmas. Audiences are invited to nestle among the branches of Oily Cart's immersive tree-top world, a woodland wonderland with live music and puppets. To find out more about the show, click here.


You can see more of Nikki’s work on her website, on Twitter @nikkipontin, and on Instagram: nikkipontin.