Artist Spotlight: Nicole Miles
Nicole Miles's buoyant, nuanced illustrations have graced a wide variety of publications, including children's books published by Candlewick Press, Penguin Random House, and Simon & Schuster. Originally from The Bahamas, this Eisner-nominated artist currently lives in West Yorkshire, UK.
Nicole's 2020 Hazy Dell Love & Nurture board book, I Love You More Than Plunder, remains a reader favorite and is currently in its second print run. We recently asked Nicole to (virtually) sit down with us and discuss her career trajectory, her inspirations, and her drive to create inclusive art.
What is your favorite part of the illustration process?
Probably sketching because it’s loose and energetic. Sketching is part of my initial thought process, so things move around rapidly from one idea to the next and it’s fun to watch things evolve on the page as I draw. But it’s also the most intimidating part, because it feels like there are limitless options.
Did you always know you wanted to be a professional illustrator?
I definitely did. Well, I suppose at one point I specifically wanted to be a manga (Japanese comics) artist, and in a moment of self-doubt I considered architecture. But mid-way through secondary school I was researching illustration courses for college/university, so I really had my sights set on illustration for a long time. I think I officially decided it would be my career when I got my acceptance letter to study Illustration at university.
How does your home of West Yorkshire, UK, help inspire your illustrations?
I’m not sure it does directly as I don’t draw much of the environments around me (though I’d like to in future!). But I find it a very calming place to live with lots of easily accessible places to go on walks in nature, which helps hugely with my work-life balance, while not being too far from the buzz of a city.
How has your background shaped your illustration style?
I was a big fan of anime and manga when I was younger, but people who look like me were pretty absent from the stories I was reading and watching. This absence made me lean towards making my work feel more inclusive than what I was seeing. I think some of those anime- and manga-style features are probably still present in my work, even though I don’t consume that media any more. And I’m not sure if it’s because I’m from a Caribbean country, but I definitely lean heavily towards warmer colour palettes.
What appealed to you the most about illustrating I Love You More Than Plunder, a book about pirates and high-seas folklore?
Being from The Bahamas, pirates are part of my country’s actual history, so there was that, but who can resist pirates, really? They’re rebellious and loud and do their own thing. It’s no wonder kids (of all ages) relate to them!
How does your sense of empathy inform your approach to illustration?
I think it helps both in portraying what characters are feeling, and also (I hope) in what readers take away from a character or overall scene. At the end of the day, illustration, for me, is about communicating with other people, so I think empathy is really necessary for anything to be effective.
Probably the Kraken! I love the mystery around that kind of creature and it was fun making it feel like it was expansive—stretching across the ocean and the spread—and scary (but not too scary!). I enjoyed putting funny little titbits in that spread, like one of its tentacles holding a fork, the crab hiding behind a rock in one corner, and a fish swimming quickly away in another corner to escape the danger!
With all the projects you have going on at any given moment, what approaches do you take to make sure you avoid burnout and achieve a balance?
I always try my very best to take evenings and weekends off, which usually includes being away from my work station (and emails) during those times. However, with many of my clients in different time zones, it makes sense for me to at least be checking emails later in the day so I’m available during my clients’ workdays. I’m also very much a “planner” type of person and tend to build in extra time and breaks into my workday to help mitigate any unpleasant surprises. This gives me leeway to move things around when the unexpected happens (or, if I just get bored, it allows me to take a guilt-free break before getting back to work). Sometimes you can’t help things getting backed up though, and when that does happen, I just try to remind myself that it’s only temporary (and truly make it only temporary!) and plan a treat to look forward to at the end of the slog.
If you could give one piece of advice to a young, aspiring illustrator, what would it be?
I have a lot of advice. Too much advice probably. Don’t just look at your peers or even people in your industry for inspiration. Learn the names and works of at least five women artists throughout history (then expand that list). You don’t have to even think about style (you already have one, whether you realize it or not). OK, I’ll stop at three snappy pieces of advice, haha!