An image that’s often painted about artists is that they’re all free spirits who wake up at noon and don’t worry too much about work or responsibilities, it all just comes naturally and without much effort. I think we even accept unreliability as an inevitable consequence of having a creative mind.
I haven’t met a single one of these artists. I’ve especially found women artists to be hardworking, dedicated and disciplined. There’s no better example than Krista Nicole, an Arizona-based illustrator and graphic designer who has run an art business online since high school, worked as a seamstress to get through college, then become a full-time graphic designer while continuing to build an audience online and making art.
“There are often time periods when I work all day, then come home and work for myself, or work on commissions,” Krista explains. “Luckily, I have an extremely supportive partner that helps me to be more balanced, and also understands that there are going to be times when I have to stay up all night to complete a commission, or work nonstop for two months to get a project completed.”
Krista and Gaby at Steep Coffee in Flagstaff
I recently met Krista and her partner Gaby in Flagstaff where they met in college and now live with their pets: “two cats Coco and Dolly, leopard gecko Soybean, and our beta fish Bob, as well as our ~40 houseplants who don’t all have names.”
Krista and I talked about her art, where her inspirations come from (she has numbered lists!) and her aspirations for her art career.
Tatiana Figueiredo: How did you start making art?
Krista Nicole: I have always known that art was the only thing I was good at or liked, but for a long time I didn’t know what that meant for me. When I was growing up there were no illustrators or graphic designers in my town so I didn’t even really know that it was an option for me. I loved crafting, drawing, and sewing but didn’t think of any of them as jobs. Then, when I was in high school, I started my own Etsy store where I sold handmade accessories and crafts. It became mildly successful, which was my first realization that my creative interests could actually make me money.
TF: So your art has been evolving for a long time! How did you land on your current style of illustration?
KN: I feel that all artists are influenced by both nature and nurture in their art styles. I landed on my current style of illustration partly through trial and error, which I consider the nurture element. I experiment a lot in my drawings, and if I end up liking an element I'll keep using it, and if it doesn’t work I just don’t do it again. For example, the exaggerated highlights I always use came from a drawing series I did several years ago where I just felt like the person’s face needed a little more visual interest. I added the highlight, and then drew my black outline around it and loved the way it made her face look, so I started adding it to all the faces I drew. Sometimes the new things that I play around with are inspired by other artists, and sometimes they just come from a desire for something new to play with.
The other part of the way my style became what it is now is harder to explain, and that’s the part that I would consider the nature element. I have always drawn exaggerated facial expressions, and even went through a phase when i was 10 where I drew people’s heads 2-3 times larger than their bodies. Some piece of my artist’s soul likes to draw that way just because of who I am. If everyone had the same way of seeing the world then everyone’s art would look exactly the same. I know the style you see in my exaggerated line work and facial expressions is uniquely mine because I have trained in many different styles of drawing, but if I turn my brain off and draw, this style is always where it goes.
TF: Is there someone you look at as inspiration for your career and how you want to live as an artist?
KN: My total inspiration is Kate Bingaman-Burt. She taught herself how to illustrate, and has a totally unique voice and style. She has made art for big companies like Chipotle, she teaches illustration at Portland State, and operates Outlet PDX. Her art makes me feel so many feelings just because I’m so proud of her all the time for living her dream, and not letting the fear of imposter’s syndrome or the fear of not making money because her work isn’t “relatable” stop her.
TF: What about your work itself? What inspires it?
KN: My inspiration changes like the seasons, but here’s a list of things that make me feel alive and inspired and want to create beautiful things: astrology, house plants, the color gold, art deco, unique photography, japanese woodblock printing, thrift stores, the show Euphoria, plus sized models, rainy days, grecian statues, and Dolly Parton.
TF: What other artists make work that you enjoy?
KN: One of my biggest inspirations is Alphonse Mucha. The way he draws women is so beautiful and soft, and the way he uses the black outline in his illustrations has heavily inspired my work. Another favorite of mine is Dante Rosetti because of the way the women in his paintings look extremely over it. I feel like for a man in the 1800’s to have been capturing women looking so pissed off and annoyed in such a gorgeous way is kind of hilarious and genius.
My top 5 favorite modern illustrators who are still alive are:
- Florence Given (@florencegiven)
- Claudia Melchor (@claudiamelchordelrio)
- Claire Prouvoust (@claire.prouvost)
- Abigail Ervin (@abigailervin)
- Grace Quest (@thegracequest)
TF: Can you talk about your Protect Your Energy piece? Where did your inspiration come from?
KN: The original title of that drawing was Magic but I feel like Protect Your Energy conveys what I wanted to say more clearly. I feel that women can have a tendency to value other people’s emotional needs and security over their own, and need a reminder to protect their energy. This can mean allowing yourself to say no, setting clear and firm boundaries in your relationships, and remembering that your needs are important and your feelings are valuable. In the drawing, the tiger represents what needs to be protected as opposed to the protector. The common symbolism of a tiger is willpower, courage, and personal strength which are all things that should be not only valued but protected. The woman is softly leaning on the tiger, and thus leaning on these parts of her personality for strength while also protecting them and keeping them close to her chest. The tiger and the woman are one, just as a woman and her energy are one.
TF: Can you talk about the role of astrology in your life and/or your relationship with Gaby?
KN: Astrology was one of the first things I discovered that made the world make sense to me. Learning about it felt like a puzzle piece clicked into place in my brain. I've always loved personality quizzes and astrology felt like the biggest and best personality quiz I could think of. It helped me understand why some people cry when they’re mad while other people scream when they’re mad. The idea that there’s something engrained inside you that makes you You. Some people see astrology as a negative thing depending on what their chart says about them, but I firmly believe that every personality trait can be used for good or evil. If you’re a Gemini (like me) your feelings might be hurt by the fact that you’re called duplicitous, but even that doesn’t have to be negative trait if you don’t want it to be. Having multiple aspects to your personality can an asset, and doesn’t necessarily mean that you are two faced or evil. It can also mean that you are flexible, charming, and easy to get along with.
In Gaby, I found a fellow student of astrology who is my exact and perfect opposite. She is a Sagittarius which is the complementary sign to Gemini, meaning that we are directly across from each other on the wheel. She has a totally different perspective from me, but what makes us different and sometimes opposite is also what unifies us. Both of our signs love communication, adventure, and learning which makes our relationship extremely fun and our conversations deep and meaningful.
I hope that when people see my women of the zodiac series they see themselves in my illustration of their sign. Even people who don’t know or care about astrology, I would hope that my illustrations still ring true. I hope that people from every sign can look at their representation in this series and feel beautiful and seen.
TF: Where do you want to take your art career? Are there any other subjects you want to focus on?
KN: I want to go full freelance, and become primarily an illustrator and secondarily a graphic designer. I’m working on building up clients to achieve this goal, and am very excited to do more work that makes me happy and fulfilled.
I want to illustrate more books, create my own apparel line, make enamel pins, contribute to large scale campaigns where my art would be on a large display, and work with nonprofits so that my art would continue to benefit a cause I believe in.
I love art so much, and even though I sometimes work myself too hard, it’s worth it because it makes me feel happy and fulfilled in a way that nothing else does. I love the idea of people owning my art, and I love the feeling of creating an illustration that I’m really proud of. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
Krista's work mentioned here is available at Frida Vibes exclusively on shirts, stickers, hats, laptop sleeves and more items to come! Every purchase made of her work helps her spend more time working on her art. See all of Krista's work on sale here.