Nicola Budd is the excellent artist behind Howell Illustration, which “is all about pen and ink art, inspired by nature and slow, simple, sustainable living.” I am honoured to host this interview with Nicola about her art and her commitment to sustainability.
Nicola Budd is my new favourite artist. I happened across her work at the Lewes craft fair last Saturday (13 April 2019). On this freezing cold day, Nicola’s stand was a beacon of warmth set up beneath a mural of Rights of Man author (and sometime Lewes resident of yore) Thomas Paine. Nicola produces intricate pen-and-ink illustrations and maps, full of colour and character. I absolutely love fish and the world of undersea creatures. So I was delighted to be able to buy a copy of her sea creatures print. I was equally delighted that Nicola said this is her own favourite of her works. I am honoured to be able to share this written Q&A interview in which Nicola provides fascinating insights into her art, her inspirations, and the challenges of running a small, zero-waste business centred on her illustrations. Please do consider visiting Nicola’s Howell Illustration website and/or following her on Instagram.
MJC: What is the most memorable reaction you’ve ever had to your art?
NB: This is a difficult one because every good reaction really sticks in my mind, so all the times people have said it’s unique, or stopped to talk to me about it because something has caught their eye, sticks in my memory, and I use that for when I feel as if I’m not doing very well. But, I did have a great reaction the other day when someone from The Woodland Trust came to my stall and said that my British Wildflower piece was the best illustration she’d ever seen. I’ve never considered my work to be the best, so to hear someone put so much faith in what I do was incredible.
MJC: What is the earliest thing that you can remember drawing?
NB: When I was in Year 1, I drew Simba from The Lion King and took it in to show my teacher to see if it could be entered into an art competition she was running. I made a mistake though: I drew it on tracing paper and she accused me of tracing it, then refused to believe I had actually drawn it when I protested. I still feel wronged to this day *dramatic sniff*
MJC: What lead you to your distinctive style of art?
NB: I have always loved drawing; it has always been my favourite medium. For a long time I was taught that drawing is secondary to most other art practices, that it is used as a means of exploration rather than the final piece. And I really fell for this for so many years! Anyway, I tried so many other things before I realised that I just wanted to do what I loved, so I started drawing again.
I used to draw in fineliner and biro all the time. Because I’m so much of a perfectionist, I found that if I drew in pencil I just rubbed everything out all the time. You get nowhere in art if you’re not willing to make mistakes and learn to fix them, so ink was my medium of choice. Then I picked up a dip pen to go with them and that, as they say, was that.
MJC: Your commitment to sustainability is inspiring. Did any one person or any one thing particularly influence you in pursuing the aim of sustainability?
NB: Yes, absolutely, a woman called Kate Arnell, who runs a YouTube channel called Eco Boost. I have always loved animals and nature, and I’ve always hated what we do to the planet, but it wasn’t until I was randomly investigating it one day that I realised you could really do something about it. I came to the Zero Waste movement, found Kate Arnell and was instantly hooked. I traded out my plastic razors for a stainless steel one that day, bought a re-usable bottle and coffee cup, and have been slowly going zero waste ever since.
MJC: Who are your favourite artists?
NB: I’ve got a few that I love and that influence me: one woman, called Helen Cann (helencann.co.uk), does the most beautiful, intricate hand-drawn maps I’ve ever come across. I do illustrated maps too, and she is a constant source of inspiration to me – I hope to even be half as good as her one day! Another goes by the name Kelzuki (kelzuki.com), a husband and wife team whose vintage-inspired animal prints are absolutely gorgeous – I think they’re just releasing giant ones soon actually, from what I’ve seen on Instagram (one day I’ll get one of those when I have some spare cash!). I also love Emma Cownie, whose work you can find on Artfinder. I love her mix of colours, the way she balances them and the stained-glass effect they create. I also love a sense of humour in art, and Nedko Solakov (nedkosolakov.net) and Slinkachu (slinkachu.com) really bring that to the fore. Solakov creates stories out of imperfections he finds in rooms and Slinkachu photographs little models of people with everyday normal-sized objects that tell a story in a picture. There’s also Chris Riddell, he was Children’s Laureate up until last year, I think, and he does the most stunning, intricate illustrations, mainly character work. I always try to pick up his books – one of the most stunning of his is when he worked with Neil Gaiman on Neverwhere and Odd and the Frost Giants; I highly recommend both. There are probably so many more, but these are the ones I’m thinking of right now!
MJC: I know that you use dip pen for at least some of your work. What kind of dip pen? What kind of inks and paper? Is this your preferred medium?
NB: I use a Nikko G Zebra nib with any kind of standard or oblique holder, depending on the angle I need. The inks I use at the moment are Dr Ph Martins Bombay India inks, but I just released a blog on my Top 5 Tips for Working in Ink that talks about why I should have tried other inks before buying a full set of these. Not necessarily because they are bad, but because there are so many other inks out there, I want to test them all!
As for paper, I’m still getting to grips with it (there’s so many choices!), but I usually find a hot pressed, smooth watercolour paper works really well. Just try not to get the ones where you can feel little fibres (I made that mistake recently and the fibres get caught in the pen and spread your ink everywhere, not good).
MJC: How long do you tend to spend on each picture?
NB: It really varies. My maps, for example, can take anywhere from 1 day to a month depending on size. My standard single-animal, single-colour dotwork and line drawings can take a few hours, but something like my sea creatures print, where I had to consider the placement and colour and shape of every animal, can take weeks. Then there’s the research that goes into every piece, which people often don’t see, but can also take a long time to get right.
MJC: Do you draw every single day?
NB: I wish I was an artist who could do that, but alas I am not. A lot of my time is spent online, marketing, writing blogs, on Instagram, answering emails and on my various sales channels sorting out my listings (a job that never seems to end as my business evolves!). Sometimes I’ll spend the day just planning or researching a piece, or going on a course to help me understand more. And then some days I just feel like crap, and on those days I think you have to forgive yourself for taking the day off.
MJC: What are your preferred circumstances for drawing? Do you like to have music playing while you draw? If so, what is the best music to which to draw?
NB: I have had music playing recently, but I think it’s distracting me, so I’ve stopped. I prefer silence while I draw because I find that I really need to concentrate when I work, or I’ll do silly things like spill my ink bottles – and let me tell you, ink is not a forgiving medium! About the only thing I can do while I’m working is put on a Studio Ghibli Film – I’ve watched them all so many times they no longer distract me, and the sounds are so relaxing! I’ll also watch films set in the past, like Persuasion or Sense and Sensibility, or Northanger Abbey – these really soothe my anxiety for some reason.
MJC: Your artwork is highly intricate and involved, so I can only imagine what it might be like for you at the drawing stage! What’s the longest you’ve ever spent drawing without realising how quickly time was passing?
NB: I think I once drew for six hours before realising I’d gone right through lunch and it was nearly dinner time. That doesn’t happen often now though – I try to set mini breaks to get up and walk around or I feel a bit gross.
MJC: What other media and/or other styles of art would you most like to try?
NB: I’d love to try lino printing. I have tried it before, but I never feel like I’ve done enough of it to truly know what I’m doing. I’d also love to do a bit more pottery – I’m terrible at it, but it is so much fun.
MJC: What are your favourite art-related channels/feeds on YouTube and/or Instagram?
NB: Hmm, tricky. I don’t really watch anything arty on YouTube, that tends to be more my go-to for Zero Waste stuff and anything to do with sustainability. On Instagram I love @sarahwilliaillustration, and oh my gosh you have got to see the picture of the rabbit she posted recently! (We have rabbits, so I get a little over-excited when I see art with them in sometimes). I also love following tattoo artists, and I currently adore @mr.k_tattoo and @violette_lovecat. Also, if you’re interested in supporting independent artists, then I suggest you find @justacard, and have a look at their campaign.
MJC: What is your favourite sea creature to draw?
NB: Ha, I would say I don’t have one, I’ve loved drawing them all, but I think my favourite result was the pufferfish I drew for my sea creatures print. He came out so round and kind of outraged!
MJC: Do you have any advice for anyone who might be thinking of taking up drawing regularly?
Hmm, a couple of things:
- There are no mistakes in art. What I mean by that is that ‘mistakes’ are never a bad thing in art and that, if you can’t fix them, there’s usually a way around them, or sometimes you learn to work with the mistake, and things look even better than before. Mistakes don’t exist in art, it’s just learning, try not to beat yourself up if something goes wrong
- Try everything. This ink, that ink, that pencil, what happens if I blend here? What happens if I mix the inks? What happens if . . . etc. Try it all, see what you like, stick with what you love, then evolve that.
If you want more specific advice for working in ink (and some other things), I’ve started a new series recently over on my blog called #tiptuesday, where I post my 5 top tips for various things, such as going zero waste or working in ink. If anyone would like to have 5 top tips for something specific, just leave a comment on my blog and I’ll do my best to accommodate it! Alternatively, I can be found on Instagram @howellillustration, or you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll do my best to help.
- Nicola Budd’s avatar and all the pictures of her work used by the kind permission of the artist herself. Thank you, Nicola!