Posted by: Kathy Temean | April 7, 2018

Illustrator Saturday – Nicole Allin

Born and raised in the exotic, majestic wilderness that is suburban Ontario, Nicole Allin now lives in Washington State. She obtained her undergraduate degree from the Rhode Island School of Design and a Master’s degree from the Savannah College of Art and Design, both degrees being in Illustration. Known for her illustrated greeting cards, she has put her talents to use doing children’s illustration, portraits, packaging design and most recently tattoo design. Yes, folks like her artwork enough to wear it.

Nicole Allin is an award-winning freelance illustrator. From fun, creative designs to complex illustrations, she has an extensive portfolio of work displaying her creativity and talent. With years of experience in the arts, Nicole knows how to deliver great illustrations to satisfy a client’s highest expectations. Her work has delighted children and parents alike with its unique charm.


Usually I start out with a very rough doodle to see if the idea I have in mind will work- just a minute or two to sketch, nothing too involved.


I then take the time to develop the sketch a bit more and work on the layout of the art- how the characters are interacting and so on.


At this point I work out the final sketch and put in all the details of the background.

I redraw the sketch with the final linework and crop the edges in, keeping it nice and tidy!

I tint the linework a bit and then put in the underpainting.  Gouache, even digital gouache, tends to let whatever color is underneath it bleed through a little!

Here I’ve put in the flat colors and started texturing the background a little bit, adding depth and making it visually interesting.

And now the light sources are painted in- I made sure to dim the lights further down the road to help with having a sense of distance.

I thought that the color was a little too cool, so I readjusted the colors to be a bit warmer and added a bit of texture around the edges.  And that’s it!


How long have you been illustrating?

I’ve been drawing since I was tiny but I didn’t quite figure out that I wanted to do professional illustration until high school.

What and when was the first painting or illustration that you did where someone paid you for your artwork?

I think it was back in high school- I had one of the drawings I was sending into RISD for my application up in the art room.  One of my classmate’s parents saw it and offered to buy it from me- I wound up having to make a second copy to send in to RISD.

What made you choose Rhode Island School of Design when you lived in Canada?

My family and I were actually living near Chicago at the time- though wow, did we ever move around when I was a kid, gosh.  I was pretty much exclusively applying to American art schools so I’d at least be in the same country as my family and RISD was one of the top places to go.

Was it hard to get into RISD?

Goodness, yes- it wasn’t the largest school out there so there weren’t many slots open for students.  Not only were there the usual application problems of essays and SAT’s, there was also creating three drawings as part of the admission and sending in your portfolio.  I was stunned when I actually managed to get in!

What made you decide to follow up with your master’s degree from Savannah College of art?

Honestly, it was because I wasn’t all that happy with my portfolio.  I felt I definitely needed to put in more work at being an artist and going back to school felt like the smartest way to make some real progress.

How would you describe the differences between the two art school experiences?

RISD was all about building up the basics, I think- plus I was still figuring out how to be a functioning adult.  So a bit nerve-wracking, really.  In Savannah, I had a much better idea of how to move forward on working on my portfolio, and it was a bit more relaxed.

Did the schools help you find work?

Honestly, I’ve gotten more work from self-promotion than from the schools.

Do you attribute your illustrating style to one school more than the other?

Not really, it’s been such a long time since I was in school and my style has changed so much over the years.

What type of job did you do right after you graduated?

I went into doing graphic design, since I thought it would be the best compromise between having a steady paycheck and creating artwork.

When did you decide you wanted to illustrate for children?

Once I realized that I really loved telling stories with my illustrations.  That and my tendency to base a lot of my illustrations off of ridiculous puns!

Have you done any illustrations for books?

Yes, I’ve illustrated Anansi’s Narrow Waist, which came out just last year.

Do you have an artist rep.? If not, are you open to getting one? If yes, how long have they represented you?

I don’t have an artist rep at the moment, but I would like to have one!  Contracts and self promotion can get a little tricky at times, so it’s be fantastic to have a pro to work with on that.

What type of thing do you do to promote your work and get new jobs?

I send out art postcards several times a year to art directors and such- places where I think my art style would work.  I also attend illustration conventions to network and show off my portfolio, have my artwork up on several illustration advertising sites and post on several social media platforms.


Do you have any desire to write and illustrate your own children’s book?

Yes indeed!  That’s actually something that you’ll be able to see the results of in a year or two.

Would you illustrate a book for an author who wants to self-publish?

Sure, if the timing and pricing worked out.  That can be a little difficult to manage though- books are very time consuming projects and I often have several projects running at the same time.

Have you done any book covers?

Mainly just the cover for Anansi’s Narrow Waist.

How did you get the contract to illustrate Anansi’s Narrow Waist?

I had sent an art postcard to Pelican Publishing a year or so earlier and one day they gave me a call to let me know that I was one of the artists they were considering for the book.  Then they asked if I happened to have an illustration of a spider they could take a look at to help with the decision- luckily I had painted an illustration of a tarantula the month before!

Have you worked with educational publishers? Which ones?

Nothing that’s currently in print, but I’ve worked with the early learning website abcmouse in the past.

Have you done any illustrating for children’s magazines? Which ones?

Curiously enough, children’s magazines are one of the few types of magazines I haven’t illustrated for!

Have you ever thought about illustrating a wordless picture book?

On occasion- it’d definitely be a challenging project.  Making sure that the pictures are telling the entire story without any words to fall back on is tough.

What do you think is your biggest success?

Deciding to switch from traditional media to digital and scrapping my entire portfolio in the process is the big one.  My old method was all hand painting and a mix of acrylic, gouache and colored pencil.  A pretty laborious process honestly and painting took up a lot of time.  After about ten years or so of working that way, I started to get fairly discouraged with the results so I started to tinker with painting digitally.  Several months of experimentation later, I decided to junk my entire portfolio and start over- this time with about 95% of each piece done digitally.  That was about four years ago and I’m so much happier with the newer artwork!


What is your favorite medium to use?

Photoshop and the Kyle T. Webster digital gouache brushes- I love those things!


Has that changed over time?

I used to be really fond of colored pencils and charcoal, but that gets everywhere.  Pretty sure I’m still finding loose pencil shavings even years later.

Do you have a studio set up in your home?

I used to, but I’ve just finished a move across the country- wish me luck in carving out a studio in the new place!

Do you try to spend a specific amount of time working on your craft?

I try to spend at least a little time on artwork every day; but it varies how exactly I do that.  Some days it’s marathon drawing sessions, some days it’s reading through art books and sometimes it’s going hiking and taking a ton of photos.  Every little bit of inspiration or effort helps me be a better artist.

Do you take pictures or do any type of research before you start a project?

All the time- I realized quite a while back that while I may think I know how something looks, double checking is a very good idea!  Also, it’s pretty necessary when you’re doing a piece that’s supposed to be time or place specific.

Do you think the Internet has opened doors for you?

Absolutely.  I get quite a few queries from advertising on Internet art sites and having a good, easy to navigate portfolio site has definitely gotten me a fair bit of work over the years.

Do you use Photoshop or Painter with your illustrations?

I personally prefer Photoshop, but admittedly a large part of it is knowing how to use the program really well.  All those years of working on graphic design and photo editing!

Do you own or have you used a Graphic Drawing Tablet when illustrating?

Before switching over to painting digitally I used a tablet for touching up photos or cleaning up scanned artwork, mostly because it was a bit easier on my wrist than using a mouse.  Nowadays, I use a Wacom Cintiq for all of my illustrations- drawing directly on the screen is a lot of fun!


Do you have any career dreams that you want to fulfill?

I’d really like to illustrate and write my own children’s book – I’m part of the way there, but there’s still a lot of work left to do!


What are you working on now?

Finishing the move and unpacking, (so, so much unpacking) then working on a few long term projects.

Do you have any material type tips you can share with us? Example: Paint or paper that you love – the best place to buy – a new product that you’ve tried – A how to tip, etc.

Having a good looking physical portfolio matters! I personally recommend using a portfolio case that you can add or remove pages from easily and printing your out your own artwork.  I use 60 lb Polar Matte paper from Red River paper and an Epson inkjet printer- the colors come out looking really nice!


Any words of wisdom on how to become a successful writer or illustrator?

Take the time every now and then to step back and look at your work as a whole.  Just because you already know the entire story doesn’t mean that your audience will figure out all the details!

How did you get the contract to illustrate Anansi’s Narrow Waist?

I had sent an art postcard to Pelican Publishing a year or so earlier and one day they gave me a call to let me know that I was one of the artists they were considering for the book.  Then they asked if I happened to have an illustration of a spider they could take a look at to help with the decision- luckily I had painted an illustration of a tarantula the month before!

Thank you Nicole for sharing your talent, process, and expertise with us. Make sure you share you future successes with us. To see more of Nicole’s work, you can visit her at her website:

If you have a minute, please leave a comment for Nicole. I am sure she’d love to hear from you and I enjoy reading them, too. Thanks!

Talk tomorrow,








  1. Wonderful and fun art! Thanks for sharing.


  2. I enjoy these Saturday illustrator posts so much! I’m a writer and drawer of stick figures so I am always impressed with the Illustrating process and what it takes to be an artist. I have the pictures in my mind when I write but I’ve never been able to create them with shapes and colors; only with words.
    Lovely work.


  3. I really enjoyed your interview with Ms. Nicole Allin. I love her down to earth attitude and total honesty. Her art is very captivating and makes me want to read the story that goes with it.


  4. I enjoy all your interviews and the art work is mesmerizing. Great work🤗


  5. Nicole, I LOOOoooove your work! And good luck with your move 🙂 Maybe you’re somewhat settled in by now and back to work! 😀


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