HomeBooks by AgeAges 0-3Illustration Inspiration: Nicola Killen, Creator of The Little Kitten
Interview Nicola Killen

Illustration Inspiration: Nicola Killen, Creator of The Little Kitten

The Children’s Book Review

Nicola Killen has always loved drawing and still likes nothing better than taking her sketchbook to the zoo to draw her favorite animals: rhinos and penguins. She designed cards before starting an MA in children’s book illustration at Cambridge School of Art, and since then she has been working on her own books, including The Little Reindeer, which was called “an original and entertaining Christmas story with its own understated charm” in a starred review by Kirkus Reviews and “magical” by Publishers WeeklyThe Little Reindeer was named a Horn Book Holiday High Note. Nicola Killen lives and works in Cambridge, England.

I make art because …

It’s what I’m happiest doing. It’s amazing how quickly the time passes when I’m painting or drawing. And experimenting with different materials can be pure joy!

Book The Little KittenMy latest published book is …

The Little Kitten published by Simon & Schuster. On a crisp autumn morning, Ollie and her cat Pumpkin head outside to play, only to discover a little kitten hiding under a pile of leaves. The three soon become firm friends, but when Ollie realizes that the kitten is lost, must try to help him find his way home. You may already know Ollie from my previous books The Little Reindeer and The Little Rabbit – she’s a small girl with an adventurous spirit and a big love for animals and nature.

Art medium used …

I paint the pictures onto large sheets of cartridge paper using black ink diluted with water. I cut paper stencils to paint through, especially for larger areas, so that I can use a dry brush to create texture without having to worry about my hand slipping! I also add some monoprint linework using acrylic ink. Once all the artwork is finished it’s scanned, and I then add touches of color in Photoshop.

Artistic process …

When I’m developing a story idea, I usually start with very small (and very messy) pencil sketches along with a few words to describe what’s happening in each scene. Over time this will progress into a storyboard with text, and it’s at this stage that I’ll show it to the publishers. Once we’re both happy with the story, I’ll work on full-size roughs. These need to be very accurate so that the cut-throughs within the book match up! The next step is to paint the pictures. It’s quite an intensive process but I love painting these books. Some of the stencils I cut are very detailed, especially when there are lots of trees in the picture. I add more depth and detail with layers and layers of ink until I feel the painting is finished.

Book Art The Little Kitten
I am inspired by …

Lots of my inspiration comes from observation. When I go out drawing, I’m not only looking at what’s around me but also listening to the funny noises and conversations going on! Before working on the idea for this book, I was lucky enough to visit a couple of big gardens that are near to where I live. I watched how leaves fell from the trees as the wind blew, and did lots of drawing. One of them also had a glasshouse with a big display of pumpkins and squash inside it, which was perfect inspiration!

Book Art The Little Kitten
My favorite place to create & illustrate is …

… a small studio space I share with a painter and a printmaker. I have a desk with my computer on and a much higher desk where I stand to paint, and the wall behind this is usually covered in postcards, drawings, and scribbled ideas to inspire me.   At the moment, I have several boxes of materials and one of my desks in the living room in our apartment, so I can work from home. It’s a bit of a squeeze!

My most used art supply or tool is …

This varies depending on what I’m working on but overall it’s probably my trusty mechanical pencil! I use it for all my roughs and layouts, and quite often I’ll add shading on artworks with it too.

Illustrator idols …

What a hard question to answer – there are so many great talents to choose from! I think I would have to pick Jan Pienkowski as my all-time favorite. When I was young I had a collection of stories by Joan Aiken called ‘A Necklace of Raindrops’ which was illustrated with the most beautiful silhouette illustrations by him. I looked at those pictures so much that the book literally fell apart. Luckily I still have another book by this duo, ‘Tales of a One Way Street’ – even the endpapers are stunning! Having continued to follow Pienkowski’s career since then, I really admire his versatility, both in the look of his work and in the type of books (including great pop-ups) which he has worked on. It’s great to see an illustrator who continues to experiment! Other favorites include Christian Robinson, Fiona Woodcock, Eric Carle, Lauren Child … I could go on and on as there are so many brilliant illustrators around!

All-time favorite children’s book I didn’t illustrate…

Lost and Found by Oliver Jeffers.

A literary character to create art with …

I think I’d have to choose one of Richard Scarry’s characters as I learned how to mix colors from his ‘Best Rainy Day Book Ever’ when I was little. I imagine it would be a lot of fun to paint with Lowly Worm!

Currently working on …

I’m about to start working on another Ollie adventure – I can’t wait to find out where the next story takes her! I’m also illustrating a children’s poetry book, which is a very different project for me.

For more information about Nicola Killen, you can visit:

nicolakillen.com | Twitter: @nicolakillen | Facebook: @nicolakillenillustration | Instagram: @nicolakillendraws

Book The Little KittenThe Little Kitten

Written and Illustrated by Nicola Killen

Publishers Synopsis: From beloved author-illustrator Nicola Killen comes a charming autumnal story about a little girl who must return a lost kitten to its home, lovingly told and illustrated in limited color with lovely foil and interactive die-cut pages.

Ollie and her cat Pumpkin are out frolicking on a beautiful fall day when they come upon a tiny kitten shivering in a pile of fallen leaves. Ollie warms the kitten up and the three become fast friends, but when Ollie sees “Lost Kitten” posters hanging on the trees in the forest, she knows she has to help her new friend get home. As Halloween draws nearer, magic is afoot, and Ollie’s good deed is rewarded in an unexpected way.

Ages 3-7 | Publisher: Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books | July 21, 2020 | ISBN-13: 978-1534466968

Available Here

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Discover more illustration inspiration and books like ‘The Little Kitten’ by Nicola Killen, on The Children’s Book Review by following along with our Illustration Inspiration series and articles tagged with , , , , , and .

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Bianca Schulze is the founder of The Children’s Book Review. She is a reader, reviewer, mother and children’s book lover. She also has a decade’s worth of experience working with children in the great outdoors. Combined with her love of books and experience as a children’s specialist bookseller, the goal is to share her passion for children’s literature to grow readers. Born and raised in Sydney, Australia, she now lives with her husband and three children near Boulder, Colorado.

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