Nicole Xu Talks about Bringing Watercolour Techniques into Her Rich Illustrations

With lush swathes of rich, exuberant colour, Nicole Xu’s illustrations convey emotion through their expressive marks as much as through her dynamic compositions and figurative style. She talks to us about how getting hands-on with her materials is an important part of creating this visual language.

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Nicole’s pairing of jewel tones against subtler creams and pastel hues creates a striking overall tone to her work, but it’s the connection to her days working with printmaking and watercolour that also give a sense of worked-by-hand.

As she talks about below, finding a balance between the techniques she used early in developing her process and working digitally on a tablet is an essential element to how she creates images today.

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I’m an illustrator who primarily works digitally using Photoshop and a medium Wacom Intuos 5 tablet. While I was at art school, I also had a soft spot for printmaking and watercolors, and I believe that experimenting with those mediums have helped form how I work digitally.

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My work process relies heavily on intuition, but I always start off with writing lists. When I get a prompt, or if I’m just creating something for myself, I’ll scribble some words or ideas that pop into my head into my sketchbook. The resulting notes are probably pretty nonsensical and illegible to anyone who looks through them, but as long as they make sense to me, that’s all that matters!

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After I have a good sense of what I want to draw, I turn to Photoshop to block out colors and try out different compositions in thumbnail-sized boxes until I get a combination I like. Then, I just enlarge the canvas, start tightening up shapes and add details until I’m satisfied with the end result!

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© Nicole Xu, 2016

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