20 Questions with... Nicola Streeten

Image © Nicola Streeten

I met Nicola Streeten a year ago at the first Laydeez do Comicsmeeting at theRag Factoryin Brick Lane (London). She and her friend, Sarah Lightman, started up a fantastic reading group of laydeez (and laddies) who love autobiographical and literary graphic novels and comics (no superheros, please). We meet once a month for spicy discussion which then segues to spicy curries on Brick Lane.

Nicola is also an accomplished illustrator, and has done work for greeting card companies, magazines, publishers and corporate clients. At the moment she is working on a graphic novel.

1. What was your first illustrating job?

It was slightly by default. My little son died in 1995 and I started drawing, just sketching to ease my mind. I’d done a card for a friend’s new baby, A-Z of Babies, that I showed to a close friend who ran a small greeting card publishing company. She thought it would work as the first in a series of greeting cards and commissioned me to do six. (I think she published them to cheer me up, because her business partner hated them.) It turned into a range of 80 titles, the best line their company had ever produced, had a life of about ten years and started my career as an illustrator.

2. How long have you been an illustrator?

Since 1996 after my first illustration job, I sent samples around magazines to pick up editorial work and within a year I’d given up my ‘day job’ (which I hated) and was able to just illustrate.

3. Which success, either personal or professional, are you most proud of?

I have always believed that if you do what you feel passionate about it will lead on to opportunities and that you will carve a living of some kind out of it.

4. Do you have any comfort routines to cope with rejections?

I have a great husband and daughter, John and Sally. There’s no better salve than spending time with them.


My brother in law, a salesman told me that in sales you need to earn 250 ‘nos’ for every ‘yes’. So every no is getting you nearer the next yes.

5. Which illustrators or artists do you admire the most? Why?

I really like artists like Louise Bourgeois and Sophie Calle for the ideas behind and in their work.

I like Paula Scher’s work for the illustrated typographical approach. I like Tom Gauld and Simone Lia also for the social mores they play with.

6. What was your favourite book as a child? Does that book influence you now?

Eloise by Kay Thompson. I saw it maybe once at a friend’s house loved it. When I came across it as an adult I found it the perfect children’s book, even though it was created originally for adults. I also loved Dr Seuss books and still do. Those books don’t really influence me now, but were a strong influence when I first started illustrating, because the focus was on the content rather than the style.

Image © Nicola Streeten - A to Z of birth

7. What are the essential items to take with you when you go out? (sketchbook, journal, camera?)

I only carry a little note book with me when I visit the big art shows, like Venice Biennale or Documenta, so I can note down works I like.

8. What is your favourite medium for illustration? When did you first start using it?Rotring pen .25 and watercolour on photo copy paper or thin cartridge paper. I use a lightbox. I don’t like the idea of preciousness about materials I think it inhibits my style. I do like playing with photoshop, but have always drawn the line and scanned it in.

9. How good is your handwriting? Do you use your own handwriting in your illustrations?

My handwriting is good and has always been a part of my illustrations. I really really like the interaction of text and image. Most of my illustration work has included handwritten text.

10. What do you collect? Why?

John, Sally and I have a display cabinet we found in an old railway room which John fixed up. In it are lots of things we have that we don’t know what to do with, but don’t want to throw away. For example, I have two plaits of my hair from times it was long, a Biba carrier bag, a book of green shield stamps, the pregnancy test when I found I was pregnant. Stuff that carries stories and memories. I was inspired to do this after visiting the Pitt Rivers Museum where there’s a load of junk all beautifully hand labeled and under glass. I started doing little labels for our stuff…but haven’t finished!

11. Do you have a ‘style’ or do you vary your methods for each project?

I have a definite style. It changes a bit with photoshop colour, but I think it is recognisable.

12. Do you scribble in the margins of books?


13. Do you have a morning routine in the studio to prime your inspiration?

The internet, radio 4

14. When do you work best, in the morning, afternoon or evening?


Image © Nicola Streeten - Excerpt from "Billy, me and you"

15. What is the one art supply you could not live without?

Roting Pen

16. Do you have a favourite café or restaurant in London?


17. When you look out the window in your studio, what do you see?

Sky, trees and the tops of apple trees.

18. How do you like your coffee, or tea?

Coffee v strong black. Tea pg with milk no sugar.

19. What’s on your nightstand right now?

A digital clock

20. Any words of advice for other illustrators in the field?

You need 98% talent + 2% determination OR 2% talent + 98% determination

Image © Nicola Streeten - Nicola's Studio before clean-up

Nicola's Blog and website: http://www.streetenillustration.com/

Laydeez do comics:

Image © Nicola Streeten - Nicola's Studio after clean-up