My Artistic Personalities

When it comes to artistic style, it is usually best to just create and let it develop naturally. I’ve been struggling, however, with my own. I feel like I have split personalities that are all me, and yet not me at the same time (if that makes any sense). In other words, I don’t feel like I’ve settled on what makes my style unique just yet. So I thought I’d take time for a little analysis, because I think a little self-awareness is good. The process shouldn’t be entirely passive.

 To start, I went through my catalog of artwork and divided by similarities. As I did this, I found certain styles and phases I’ve gone through as I’ve developed as an artist. Then I went through and listed what it is I liked and didn’t like about each method, so that perhaps I can find my perfect mix.

The Watercolorist


My watercolor art tends to be semi-realistic and soft. I use light, quick washes of color to create a more painterly effect.


Watercolor paint, of course, but I’ve also created similar works using markers and ink.


I like the handmade quality of paintings, and it is very suitable for florals and botanical work.


I feel that my skills in painting traditionally are still a bit lacking, but I just need some practice. As a lot of my pieces end up onscreen, scanning and color correcting can sometimes be a challenge, as is creating repeats for patterns. Watercolor as a medium itself is not my favorite.

The Doodler


I had a phase where I put a lot of emphasis on line. I enjoyed creating intricate designs, mandalas, and zentangle-type drawings.


Primarily pen and marker, but also things like chalk and pencil. Some of my adult coloring pieces were finished digitally with the pencil tool in Illustrator.


This is a good style to use for adult coloring pages and jobs that require black and white only. I like the quality of hand-drawn doodles and intricate patterns.


I’m finding that nowadays, I like to emphasize shape, color, and texture more than line work. But I think I could still find a place for lines.

The Graphic Designer


This is the side of me that loves all things digital, from vectors to typography. This type of work uses a lot of flat geometric shapes, clean lines, and some patterns.


Digital software such as Adobe Illustrator, Photoshop, and Indesign.


Being a book designer for many years, I love to work with type and study font design—great for page design and things like greeting cards. Although I love to draw and paint on paper, I also love to play around with vectors in Illustrator and create art with simple shapes and clean lines. This style is well-suited for surface design as using vectors makes scaling and repeating easier. Also good for work involving graphic icons.


It’s a little more difficult to add personality to vector work. Unless you are drawing freehand with the pencil tool, it can often look rather cold and generic as it doesn’t have your unique drawing handprint, but that’s not to say it’s impossible. There are lots of great vector artists out there. While there are ways to add texture to vectors, I tend to stick to flat colors with vector work, which has it’s good and bad points as well.


The Mid-century Illustrator


This is a style most prevalent in my recent work. This style feels vintage and hand-painted. It’s a little fun and quirky, and there is an emphasis on flat stylized shapes and bright colors. Big influences include Mary Blair and Rifle Paper Company products.


Gouache paint is a popular medium in this style, and other media that can create similar flat layers of solid color. I’ve used acrylic paint, marker, and digital brushes in Procreate or Photoshop.


I like the use of flat stylized shapes found in vector work I’ve done, but this introduces a more painterly, handmade quality. Very suitable for children’s illustrations, pretty florals, and happy holiday designs.


As mentioned under The Watercolorist, I feel that my painting skills still needs work to get to where I want it to be, and physical art needs to be scanned and color corrected. This isn’t a problem with digital work, though! This style tends to be simplified, so I’d like to find a balance of using flat shapes with my love of intricate pattern. Enter folk art…

The Folk Artist


This evolved from the mid-century style. It has the same flat shapes and colorful palettes, but with the added use of lots of PATTERN. I’m often inspired by various forms of decorative folk art such as naïve Americana, Norwegian rosemaling, and Ukranian pysanky Easter eggs. It can also be very painterly.


This suits both traditional and digital media. I’ve recently developed a love of acrylic paint for its ease of use and ability to create opaque layers and wonderful painterly textures.


This style incorporates many things I love—bright color palettes, pattern, and stylized shapes. Very suitable for decorative work, which is the bulk of my art.


I love painterly textures, but not sure if it’s best for surface pattern work, where flat colors are more prevalent and practical when creating colorways and separations.


The Crafter


This one’s a bit of a wildcard. I’ve always loved to craft in many forms. I’ve recently been exploring illustration that uses hands-on methods or is inspired by crafts, such as paper art, collage, embroidery, quilting, and digital art made to look handmade (such as my digital felt flowers).


Various craft supplies—such as embroidery, fabric, beads, paper, yarn, glitter, and paint (and their digital equivalents).


This type of art makes use of many of my skills—crafting, design, painting, and drawing. Digital pieces present other fun challenges that appeal to my technical side. Things like scrapbooking incorporate graphic design elements and photography, which I also love.


Although I want to continue experimenting, it’s probably not a practical avenue in the long-term as far as my illustration goes. It’ll be best used for specialized projects such as scrapbooking embellishments and crafts for my Etsy shop.


In creating this list of my artistic “personalities,” I’ve found a few common threads that I feel are totally ME: 

  • Florals. There will always be florals and botanical elements in my work. It is my favorite subject matter and is found throughout my work regardless of medium or style.

  • Pattern and detail. Pattern is always present as well, whether in creating surface designs themselves or incorporating pattern details in my illustrations.

  • Bright color. When it comes to color, I tend to favor bright, saturated palettes and jewel tones over neutrals or pastels. Perhaps this is due to my love of flowers!

  • Handmade feel. I love my clean vectors, and they have their purpose, but I think in general I like it when my work has a more handmade quality, even in its digital forms. I think going forward, I can achieve this by incorporating more texture, freehand drawing, and traditionally painted elements.

Other observations: Many of these seemingly distinct styles bleed into one another. I don’t just switch from one to another. Rather, I incorporate different elements as I go. I also think that, for me (not everyone), it is best not to get tied to any one medium. I like creating digital and traditional art pretty equally, and I think I would get bored sticking to just one or the other. I think I can still find a unique style that works across several methods. Though it might make things a tad more complicated, it’s not impossible. Each medium has their pros and cons, so it’s just a matter of what’s needed for the specific project.

I really enjoyed this exercise, and I think it will be very helpful as I continue to develop as an artist. It was sure fun to see how things have evolved over time. I think I am growing in confidence every day, and all these phases I’ve gone through are stepping stones. Thanks for bearing with me as I go through this process, and I hope my fellow artists get something useful out of it!

Sincerely, Nicole

Six Mistakes I've Been Making in my Surface Pattern Design

I've been making patterns for several years. Even now, I feel I still have a lot to learn. Though I have had a formal art education, it was not specific to textile or surface design—I discovered my love for patterns later on. In addition, I don't have a ton of professional experience when it comes to pattern design—mostly I create for my personal POD shops, like Spoonflower, and to build my portfolio. Obviously, it is a goal of mine to take my designs as far as I can go. I've been evaluating my process lately, and I think there are some mistakes that I always make that I need to work on. I thought I'd share my thoughts, in the hopes that my fellow pattern lovers can learn from them, too!


1. Skipping Research

I'm just awful at this. Like many others, I'm sure, I get excited about an idea and dive right in. I barely even do any sketching! I think a lot of my patterns could be a lot better if I'd taken the time to soak in some related imagery, experimented with forms and compositions, and worked things out in sketches. Considering trends would help make my work more marketable as well. With all this in mind, I've been working this month with my Inktober project to learn about different flowers and plant structures. Since I do a lot of florals, I'm hoping this will improve my work overall.

2. Making my repeats too small

A lot of the time I make my repeats the size of Spoonflower swatches (8x8 inches), or sometimes 12x12 (a standard scrapbook paper size). Lately, I'm beginning to realize that perhaps I am making my repeat swatches too small. Having a larger size base pattern has the advantage of avoiding obvious sections of repeats within the bigger swatch. According to this excerpt from a textile handbook, repeats should be scaled to the width of the fabric (24 inches and above). This could be divided into a smaller division of the total size. Somewhere between 14 and 16 inches is common—still larger than my usual. Of course, this all depends on the end goal of your pattern and the process by which it will be manufactured. Which brings me to my next mistake...

 3. Having no end product in mind

There are many questions I should be asking myself when I approach a new design: Is this design for stationery, apparel fabric, upholstery fabric, wallpaper, gift wrap, etc.? Who is my ideal audience/customer and what do they like? Mostly I just tend to draw something pretty and make a pattern out of it, but if I plan to sell my designs, I need to think beyond that. Knowing what the end goal is will inform many choices—style, scale, colors, and limitations with manufacturing, and so on.

 4. Designing single patterns and not collections

My portfolio is full of single patterns that were done for challenges or quickly done for fun, and never thought of again. My approach needs to change to focus more on creating fully conceived collections. I've written about this previously. I think I have a hard time with this because of my short attention span. It is hard for me to stay devoted to one project for too long. I need to work on my artistic endurance, so to speak!

5. Not turning my work upside down

When considering all-over patterns that are meant to be viewed from any direction, it makes sense that we should make sure the patterns truly work from any view. It seems obvious, yet I've hardly ever turned my design around as I'm working. And it's so simple just to turn your paper, or rotate your digital canvas. Usually, I just place my elements in random directions and call it good, but I came to the realization one day when looking at a printout of one of my patterns that you can recognize new issues when you turn your design over. And this brings me to my final point...

6. Not printing out my patterns

I don't know how many times I've uploaded a design to Spoonflower and ordered a swatch only to find that I did not like the scale, colors, composition, or something else. I finally had an "Aha!" moment and started printing out swatches on my inkjet printer. I don't know why I never did it before—laziness? saving paper?—but it really helps to see your design printed out, especially if you work digitally. You can recognize issues that you might not see onscreen. Sometimes I just print a low quality "draft" version (because ink is ex-pen-sive), and though that won't help as much with color, you can still get a sense of the scale and overall composition of your design. (Make sure you print at 100% to get an accurate representation.)

So those are six things I'd like to work on in my surface pattern design process. I hope this is helpful to you as well! Please let me know what advice you have. I’d love to hear from you.

Sincerely, Nicole

Inktober 2018 and How I Approach Art Challenges

October is upon us, which means Halloween, colorful leaves, cooling weather, and INKTOBER.


For those who do not know about Inktober, it is a drawing challenge created by Jake Parker where artists create illustrations using ink and share them throughout the month of October. (You can learn more at the official site HERE.)

There is an official prompt list provided, but usually I use my own themes. One year, I did little pattern doodles on index cards, and another year, I worked on my brush lettering. This year, I've decided that I want to focus on learning about types of flowers and plants. If you know anything about my work, you know that I LOVE to work with floral designs. However, I usually make them up as I go. I've always been meaning to dive more in depth into the structure and forms of actual species of flora.

I thought I might take this opportunity to further explain my personal approach to art challenges. I love to participate in various art challenges across the web and social media. (Some of my favorites include Homwork and Spoonflower.) Many of these challenges are daily or weekly. It is such a fun way to engage with other artists, learn new skills, build habits, and get your art seen. However, it can be overwhelming, especially with all the different ones out there!

I've really been focusing on making creative habits this year, so art challenges really help with this goal since it gets me drawing and painting on regular basis. The thing is, it's easy to fall off the wagon. These are some of the guidelines I follow as I participate:

  •  Don't be discouraged if you miss a day/week. It's not the end of the world. In fact, I really only participate in those that inspire me personally. And if I miss one because of time, I just continue with the next. Don't feel the need to "make up" the ones you miss—that just adds unnecessary pressure.

  • Find a way to be productive with your art challenges. In the past, I haven't been great at this and just did whatever. Now I am realizing there's a better approach. Yes, you can just use challenges for routine sketching exercises and social media exposure, but why not go further? Use your daily sketches to work on a skill you want to improve, or develop an illustration or collection idea you’ve been wanting to work on. Perhaps even aim to sell your original artwork or prints. Have a purpose going in. For instance, I am using this year's Inktober to study plant species. I have an end goal that is specific to my work.

  • As always, follow the usual advice: Plan ahead and set aside a specific time—the basics to success with art challenges.

  • Oh, and have FUN!

So with all this in mind, I've come up with the following list for Inktober 2018 and mapped out each day with the various plant life I want to explore. And because it's October, I'll be adding some Halloween elements as well!

In addition, I took the extra step to hand craft a sketchbook specifically for my Inktober drawings. I used THIS old tutorial from my sister Dani Jones. I decorated the cover with floral scrapbook paper and added in some spider details with ink. The paper is heavyweight Bristol, so the ink won't bleed through. I might have gotten some blood on the pages when I poked my finger while sewing up the signatures, but that just adds to the whole Halloween theme, right? Haha.


Follow along daily on my Instagram (@nicolejonessturk). I'll be adding my own unique hashtag #njsinktober2018 as well. If you use any of my prompts, please tag me so I can see!

Happy October!

Creating a Collection

I’ve really been working hard on my portfolio and building up my illustration career. I’m partway there. I’ve had a few good illustration jobs come my way in the past few years since I started freelancing—including picture books, adult coloring pages, web images, craft stencil and embroidery designs, and hand-lettered quotes. I feel truly blessed that I can occasionally get paid to make art!

It’s easy to get discouraged, though. Despite working for years towards this goal of making a living as a full-time artist, and even though I feel I’ve grown a lot, it’s like a never-ending journey. With the heavy competition out there, it seems like my work will never get seen, or that my portfolio will NEVER be good enough. 

One piece of feedback I’ve received recently is that I need to develop my collections. By that, I mean that I need more groups of coordinating art rather than just a bunch of individual, stand-alone pieces. This is especially important if I want to start licensing my art for use in commercial products (i.e., fabric, stationery, craft supplies, housewares, etc.), which I would LOVE to do. Potential customers need to be able to visualize your art on their products, so having pieces that go together, as well as a variety of formats, is key. 

I’ve dabbled in collections before in my surface patterns, and I’ve made some attempts to expand on some of them by making coordinating illustrations and such. Upon further research and reflection, however, I see just how much I am lacking in this area. I think I struggle a little with focusing my attention on one thing for too long. I just like to keep moving from one idea to the next! So, I have more learning to do, as always.

Similarly, if you're looking to get into narrative illustration (such as children's picture books) this idea still applies. In this case, your "collections" would be groups of illustrations showing the same story, character development, and so forth. This is something I would also like to work on, but for now, I've decided to focus on the licensing aspect. I’ve resolved to go back and revisit some of my past work and flesh them out into full collections. In addition, I’ll work my monthly project into this by building a new collection from scratch...


I know it's a bit late in the month to be introducing my monthly project, but if you've been following along on Instagram, you'll know that I've already started. I've been getting a jump on developing some holiday designs. (Christmas in July!) So this collection I will be creating will be seasonal. I would like to include:

  • a moodboard
  • at least 4 full illustrations
  • a few spot illustrations 
  • some coordinating surface patterns
  • one or two hand-lettered phrases
  • some isolated decorative elements (flourishes, borders, etc.)
  • a lookbook with the collection title, description, color palette, art, and mockups

This is going to be a huge undertaking—bigger than any of my previous projects. It might take past this month to get this one done, and it won't stop with just this collection. Going forward, I think this is the route I need to be going with my art. I’m determined to improve and can’t wait to go through this process!

Sincerely, Nicole

Book Design 101: Interiors

Have you ever thought about what it takes to bring a manuscript to life into a fully realized printed book?

Perhaps you are a writer yourself and are thinking about self-publishing. Or an aspiring graphic designer. Or maybe you just love books. Either way, I'd like to share some of the knowledge I've accumulated throughout the years working as a book typesetter and designer. The content below specifically deals with the interior, as that's where the majority of my experience lies!

Photo by  Brandi Redd  on  Unsplash

Photo by Brandi Redd on Unsplash

For this purpose, I've laid out a sample chapter from Alice in Wonderland with a simple, straightforward design.

I invite you to take a look at these pages before and after going through the rest of this article to see how your perception of the design changes after you gain a little more knowledge about page design!

Terms to Know


margin: the white space between the text and the edges of the page

gutter: the inner margin

body: the main text

display fonts: special fonts that differentiate from the main text and add design flair; used in headings, title page, sidebars, etc.

text block: the area on the page taken up by text

running head: text heading that runs on the top of each text page; usually contains info such as the book title, part or chapter titles, and/or the author's name

running foot: similar to the running head, but is found at the bottom of the page

folio: page number; this can be found at the top or bottom of the page, sometimes aligned with the running head or foot, if there is one; at the bottom of the page, it can be referred to as a "drop folio"

form or signature: Traditionally, books have been printed in multiples of 8 or 16 pages, which equals one signature. This has to do with the way the large sheets of paper are cut and sewn together to create the book pages. Whether a book's page count is required to fall on an even signature depends on the printer being used. Many digital POD sites like Createspace only need an even number of pages, however.

frontmatter: pages at the beginning of the book before the main content; usually comprised of the title page, copyright, dedication, foreword, and/or table of contents

backmatter: pages at the end of the book that aren't a part of the main content; usually includes things like the index, glossary, about the author, acknowledgments, and bibliography

spread: comprised of two pages (one left, one right) that fall side-by-side

recto: right-hand page

verso: left-hand page

Tips for Good Page Design

Perhaps you've never even noticed these things before, but I think you'll find that your page layouts will look a lot better by paying attention to these general rules...

Gutter: The gutter margin is often set wider than the outer margin. This is to compensate for the page space that is lost in the binding. The general rule is that higher page counts need larger gutter margins. Lower page counts (such as in picture books) don't necessarily need a larger gutter.

Typography: Keep the number of fonts to a minimum—usually 2 or 3. That's a good rule of thumb for ANY design project. I often have a main body font (usually serif), a display font (a contrasting typeface that fits the mood of the book), and, occasionally, a secondary text font (sans serif) for things like sidebars, callouts, and tables.

Blank space: Part of being a good designer is knowing when NOT to fill a space. Sometimes white area is ok, and will make your design look better. Some examples of where you could use white space are the above headings, around illustrations, "sinks" on your chapter opener pages (see diagram), or adding blank left-hand pages so your chapters and/or sections always start on a right-hand page. (Blank right-hand pages, however, are usually a no-no.) Also be sure to give your main body text some breathing room by using enough leading (space between lines). I generally set my leading at least 2 or 3 points above the font point size.

The fine details: There are several ways you can fine-tune your composition. Here are a few things to look out for that we often try to AVOID in publishing:

  • stacks - when the same word ends or begins two or more lines in a row; usually two lines are considered ok, but three or more stands out
  • widows - starting a page with a single line from the end of a paragraph
  • orphans - when a paragraph ends with a short word; it's best to end with a word or words that are longer than the width of the paragraph indent
  • 2-down hyphenation - allowing words to hyphenate with only two letters on the following line. Three or more letters are better.
  • loose/tight lines - just as it sounds—when the spacing of the words and letters looks too spaced out or compressed

Many of these issues can be fixed by learning to use composition features in your page layout software (i.e., H&Js, Keep Options, Tracking, etc.), and some require manual tweaking. With that in mind...

Use software specifically made for page layout to compose your book. By this, I do NOT mean Microsoft Word. Adobe Indesign is by far the most widely-used program and an industry standard. (A common alternative is Quark Xpress.) Yes, it is pricey and not for the casual user. If you are serious about diving into book design, Indesign is the way to go. There are cheap or free alternatives out there. But, seriously, use Indesign.

This is all just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to designing book interiors. I know I've learned a lot since I first started out, when I knew pretty much nothing. I think book design is something that might appear simple on the surface, but becomes overwhelming once you realize how much goes into it. Like anything, it takes a bit of work, practice, and experience.

When in doubt—there's always the option to hire a pro! ;)

I hope you've at least learned something new about book design today and can appreciate the process.

Sincerely, Nicole


My Journey into Book Design