Monday, 4 September 2017

Meet Nicky Johnston — Challenge Director

Nicky Johnston, image: Photo by Yanni

Tell us what sort of a child you were. Did art play a big part in your growing up?

I was an ultra-shy child who hardly said a word. My mum still can’t believe I am now a public speaker!

Art has been the biggest part of my life since I could hold a pencil. I created my own art desk from a very young age and have continued to fill notebooks/sketchbooks my whole life.

Nicky Johnson, image: Photo by Yanni


Why do you make art now?

Art is my passion, my being, my soul. I get cranky and run down if I don’t make art — kind of like the need to ‘go for a run’ for active people. (I DON’T run by the way.)

Nicky Johnston, image: Photo by Yanni

Have you formally trained as an artist or illustrator? Describe your art background/journey.

I am formally trained as a primary teacher, special education teacher and art teacher. My illustration side is just one arm of my art world. I also paint in oils, pastels, pencil portraits, etc. My art journey is always evolving as new opportunities arise and my direction expands.

from The Fix-It Man (written by Dimity Powell)

Do you have a favourite medium or subject matter?

I love watercolour at the moment—and creating collage work, which is kind of funny, as it has taken me over 30 years to feel comfortable with this medium. My artwork always comes from my heart—sometimes it feels like I am possessed. There are many times I look at illustrations I have done and wonder how on earth I have created them!

Week 47, 2016: Buildings

Describe your artistic process, from ‘no idea’ to ‘finished artwork’:

I generally start with a scratchy idea, sometimes on a scrap of paper, a sticky note or, if I am lucky, in my sketch book. When illustrating for a publisher, I take these ideas and start with some rough sketch layouts, then once approved (with all changes), I complete final rough sketches to 100% of the final book size.

I then begin painting my final illustrations—after I have stretched all the paper, of course!

from Grandma Forgets (Written by Paul Russell)

How do you fit your creative work in with a busy family life? Do you have a routine?

To be honest, I am not sure how I manage to balance everything. I have a family of four boys who keep me very much on my toes. I try to have a routine, but I learned very early on in parenthood to adapt and be flexible. I draw/paint every spare second I have. I carry a sketchbook and pencil case EVERYWHERE I go. Many of my book illustrations begin in these sketchbooks.

Week 22, 2017: My Favourite Things

Where is your favourite place to create and illustrate?

My sketching and drawing are done anywhere. I have never been much of a TV watcher until we got Netflix! Now, my favourite place to sketch is on my comfy couch while bingeing on a Netflix series.

I am also very blessed to have a beautiful studio where I complete all my painting. For many years, it was a storage room. A couple of years ago, as my youngest child grew older, I was finally able to spend more and more time out there. It is my absolute haven and I have been known to disappear out there until the early hours of the morning many of times!

Nicky's studio, image: Photo by Yanni

What impact has the Challenge had on your creative journey?

The Challenge (founded by my dear friend Tania McCartney) has changed my world. Not only have I produced a lot of artwork for my portfolio, I have also made lifelong creative friends who are just like me.

Being the Challenge Director, I have gained such delight in watching others grow, develop, fall in love with their own artwork and blossom to become amazing creators.

Since the beginning of the Challenge in 2014, I have been contracted to illustrate seven children’s books.

Grandma Forgets, EK Books, 2017

The launch of Grandma Forgets is on Saturday the 16th of September at Beaumaris Library in Melbourne, Australia. You will find all the details here.

What are you currently working on and what will we see next from you?

I am currently illustrating three books, with a fourth signed to start early next year. These are due January 2018, August 2018, September 2018 and March 2019. Phew...... no wonder I am so busy!

I have a range of greeting cards with Nuovo Group, and the majority of the illustrations were from Challenge themes! I love cards, and I love seeing my illustrations on gift cards.

The Fix It Man, EK Books, 2017

Do you have a dream creative project you'd love to be able to do?

I have written a number of stories I would LOVE to find time to work on and illustrate. One in particular is very close to my heart… timing is everything in this industry!

Work scene, image: LR Yanni

Tell us something that we don’t know about you:

I am a second Dan Black Belt in karate (a great qualification to have bringing up 4 boys!), and I was an only child until I was adopted by my Dad and his two sons (I don’t think of them as step brothers though).

from Grandma Forgets (written by Paul Russell)

Follow Nicky online:

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  1. Thank you for sharing Nicky! LOVE your studio and your tiny black pencil.

  2. What a wonderful story, Nicky. Thanks for sharing. I'm with Penelope on this. Your studio is gorgeous. What a delicious work space.


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