Posted by: Kathy Temean | April 2, 2011

Illustrator Saturday – Nicole Tadgell

Nicole Tadgell was born in Detroit, Michigan. Frequent moves only increased her natural shyness, especially because she was sometimes the only black kid in the class or even the whole grade. Feeling different drew Nicole further into her own created worlds on paper, art was both fun and an escape.

While studying studio art at Wheaton College in Norton, Massachusetts, Nicole recalled how much fun it was to draw her own stories – illustrating children’s books could be the right path. “I knew I always wanted to be an artist,” Nicole says. “But it wasn’t until after college when I realized there was a lack of books with kids who looked like me.”  Her growth as an artist included becoming comfortable with herself, her shyness, being the new kid, and being black.

Encouraged to develop her art in a more realistic direction, Nicole created a portfolio showing lively characters with an authenticity that was uniquely hers.

Today, Nicole has over fifteen books and numerous educational pieces published. “I love working on children’s books,” Nicole says. “Sometimes I pretend I’m the kid in the book, and do the things they do in the story to really get a feel for each book.”  Nicole also visits schools, gives lectures and conducts workshops. Children enjoy her lively powerpoint slide show as well as getting up close to the sights and smells of Tanzania. Teens and adults enjoy hearing about successful careers in the arts, as well as Nicole’s unique perspective on the creative process with her interactive workshops.

A bit about the process…

Since I was little, I’ve always wanted to do a historical book — well, let’s face it…meaning, I’d get to draw waving prairie grass and sunbonnets, because I was such a Laura Ingalls Wilder fan! But when Albert Whitman contacted me about doing a book that took place during the Depression, I still got all excited. My Dad grew up in a 1920s-style bungalow in Detroit, so I based the interior scenes from memory, as well as from dozens of research photos. Research! I always do lots of research, and this one took a lot more than I’ve done before with the possible exception of Fatuma’s New Cloth. My older sister is very detail-oriented, so I ran a lot of things by her, as well as my history-loving husband. My in-laws (born in 1928 and 1933) helped quite a bit, too.

I wanted to stretch artistically, as always. Well, it’s always more of a ‘how can I make this book even better than my last one!’ with me. So, with this book I made a conscious effort to make ‘foreground/middle-ground/background’ distinct. There is a lot of perspective as well — not my strong point, but I think I did pretty well. Thanks to the Worcester Historical Museum’s collection of photographs, I had great references for street scenes, crowds, automobiles, and stores. The furniture store was the hardest part. During the Depression, there wasn’t much call for new furniture!

Some tidbits readers may find of interest:

Just because the story takes place during the Depression didn’t mean the book had to be depressing! So, I made the clothing colors a bit brighter and showed the world as I think kids are meant to see it — a positive, loving place to learn and grow.

We had some interesting choices to make regarding beans. Navy beans would have been more likely used at the time, but they are very small and white — not navy. Kidney beans are larger and a lovely red color. So, once that was decided, I chose the jewel-tone green to complement.

Much of the scene is based on one of the photos from the historical museum. Interestingly, I also happen to work on main street in Worcester, so this area is very familiar. It was really cool to walk down the street, holding the antique photos and looking to see how much has changed — and how much stayed the same…

Excerpt originally appeared on Seven Impossible Things.  Here’s the link:

After the rough sketches are approved, I took photos for references for the daddy character;

Then I drew tight pencils:

And then final color paintings:



NEW! IN THE GARDEN WITH DR. CARVER by Susan Grigsby coming this Fall from Albert Whitman & Co. Visit Albert Whitman

Nicole lives in Spencer with her husband Mark, enjoying birdwatching, hiking and of course, reading.

This is just the tip of the iceberg with Nicole. To see more of Nicole’s fabulous artwork visit

Talk tomorrow,



  1. Thank you so much for this post. Just beautiful and fascinating. What a talented and inspiring woman. As a writer who can’t draw a lick, it’s great to see the illustrating process.


    • Rosi,

      The pleasure is mine. There is so much talent out there and Nicole is definitely one of them. Thank you for dropping by and leaving a comment.



  2. Beautiful art. My daughter, an aspiring artist, enjoyed seeing the illustrations through the process. Thanks for sharing this.


    • Melissa,

      You should look at the other illustrator Saturday illustrator, too. They all share their process – some down to the type of paper they use. Tell your daughter to practice her drawing everyday. The more time she spend, the better she will get and maybe one day we’ll be showing off her artwork.

      Thanks for stopping by,



  3. […] love Nicole Tadgell’s […]


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