Book Illustration For Budding Illustrators

A recent invitation to show my work to illustration degree students has prompted me to share my past book illustration work, techniques and process here.

Below I have shared the different stages of each artwork for my Angela Carter book illustrations and book jacket work. The work was first developed from characters drawn and textures made in my sketchbooks. Using collage, a light tablet and an inkjet printer, I developed the characters in scenes, layer by layer until I was happy with the finished piece.

I formatted the finished artwork files to the Folio Society competition brief specifications using my scanner and iMac. My scanner is amazing. It has outlasted my iMac and inkjet printer.

Through drawing, collage, frottage and inkjet printing I was able to create handmade layers and play with focus. I would often shift the layer registrations and double up transparent layers to make drawn areas look a bit wrong and out of focus. By building layers of tracing paper, I was able to ‘veil’ areas to push them back. I would whiteout other parts of drawings to pull them forwards. Whitening areas out also created clear areas so that, when all layers were sandwiched together and inkjet printed the coloured inkjet paper showed through from the bottom to the top layer showing areas of bright colour.

Book and book jacket cover illustrations by Nicola Rowsell

The Bloody Chamber & Other Stories by Angela Carter


The Company of Wolves by Angela Carter

Puss in Boots by Angela Carter

The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter


Day centre for the elderly invites school children to share artwork

With the support of Cookham Rise School Community, and art leader Sara O’Mahony, and by invitation of Elizabeth House Day Center, we exhibited the school children’s Art Week project with the local community.

I framed six collaged panels that when viewed in a sequence are the story of the school’s Art Week project. The six framed panels are now used as a learning resource by the school.

You can see the panels in detail here

Sara and I installed these with displays of the children’s beautifully illustrated picture books. These were hung so that they could be read front to back in sequence.

We also managed to hang sculptures, designs and drawings, prints and frottages, and with permission from parents, we displayed photographs of children wearing their costume creations.

It was heartwarming to be part of a project that socially integrated young and old in the community.

Cook Riv Ex 7 Cookham Riv Ex 6 Cookham Riv Ex 5 Cookham riv 4 Cook Riv Ex 2 Cookham riv Ex 3

Illustrator In School

This work is a result of Cookham Rise School’s Artweek co-ordinated by Sara O’Mahony and Nicola Rowsell in January 2018.

For Art Week the children were presented with a scenario – the river in Cookham had disappeared and it was their job to get it back.

They could invent superpowers and super-machines. They could choose to become a goodie, a baddie, or both.

Some children created and illustrated their own picture books. They embraced the challenges of developing characters, creating narratives and structuring a story. They worked on roughs before committing to their final picture book.  These stories were inventive, entertaining and all beautifully illustrated.

Other children designed their own super-costumes. Some had great fun making costumes from a variety of scrap materials. These children proudly wore their costumes to the school assembly.

Another group designed super-machines, then worked as teams to build their super-machines from junk modeling and metallic paint.

The children practiced printmaking techniques, frottage (taking rubbings) sculpture, and pure drawing. They had the freedom to play, invent, explore, tell stories, imagine, design and communicate ideas.

Collages of the children’s work were created and framed as six storyboard panels. The panels were designed to read like an open book with text and images working in sequential order to convey a simple story. The story echoes the project and brings the children’s work together as a collaborative ‘book-on-the wall’ that serves as an art and literacy resource for the school.

Cookham river blog 1













The Super Power of Story – Cookham Primary School Art Week

I am excited to be invited back to Cookham Primary School for their Art Week beginning on Monday 15th of January. I’m delighted that the staff have made some space available for me to set up a pop-up studio.

My brief was to present an idea for an art week and artist residency that would combine Cookham village, art and ideally, current National Curriculum topics like nature, the environment, flight and space travel.  We begin the project with a morning assembly on Wednesday 10th January where I present the following scenario:

The Day The River Disappeared

At first, The Day the River Disappeared seemed like an ordinary day in Cookham village. The children ate their breakfast, packed their bags and walked along the river to school.

They soon realised that this was no ordinary day. No, this was an extraordinary day.

The river had disappeared!

At first, these children seemed like ordinary children. They do ordinary things like eat their breakfast, pack their bags and walk along the river to school.

The villagers soon realised these were not ordinary children. No, these were extraordinary children. These children were SuperHeroes! Some were SuperVillians. Some were both! And these children used all their SuperPowers and SuperMachines to fill the river bed with water, bringing the river back to Cookham.

Things to think about:

When the river disappeared, what else disappeared?

Where did the river water go? Was it stolen?

Are you a goodie (SuperHero) or a baddie (SuperVillian) or are you both?

What are your SuperPowers? How will you use them?

How will you travel? Can you invent a machine?

What does your SuperHero/SuperVillian costume look like?

How will you find water? How will you collect it? How will you put the river back?

Okay. So. SuperHeroes and SuperVillians you have lots to do!

The Day The River Disappeared






Two Inches of Work


Working Towards a Bigger Narrative

The Girl and the Crow, Dream with a CrowThe Girl and The CrowThe Girl and the Crow, Dream with a CrowThe Girl and The CrowThese drawings are my sketchbook pages. They are part of a body of work that form a bigger, though very short narrative.













I’m drawing The Forest so that it is a character in its own right. It plays an important atmospheric role in the story.














The two main characters are The Teenage Girl and The Crow.














Ink and mixed media drawings on paper by Nicola Rowsell.


My Fabulist Mornings

Wren asked him ‘What is your name and what are you?’

And to this he raised his arms, circling them above his head and said  ‘I am The Boy Named Crow.’







Drawing by Nicola Rowsell



Waiting for the Snow. Brrr….

I love to paint outside in the snow. I’m hoping and waiting.

Here’s a few paintings I made the last time it snowed.

Paintings by Nicola Rowsell

Waiting for the Storm – Private Commission

s4w-pencil-sk2The story of ‘Jennie and Lucy Waiting for the Storm’ original painting by Nicola Rowsell

I met Andy while we were part of our local ukulele club. Half way through the session I would stop making terrible noises with my uke (singing and twanging) and draw instead. I happened to have ‘caught’ Andy in one of my sketches and this connection led to these new paintings.

Andy’s wife, Jane had specifically asked him to commission my work for her birthday. I was touched that Jane had looked at my website, loved my work and wanted the commission to be my interpretation of their daughters. I think this is what art does, communicates a level of understanding between the artist and the viewer, even if they haven’t met. If someone ‘gets’ an artists work, there is a connection through that work and the artist ‘gets’ that person too. It’s a really nice feeling.

I used photographic references provided by Andy. I asked that he try to catch the girls when they were just being. He used their holiday as an opportunity to take reference shots. Andy’s pictures were candid, quiet, ideal snaps of sisterly moments under a parental gaze.

Through warm up sketches I was able to get a feel for their quirks and characteristics like the way they stood, their wind blown, play messed up hair. I could feel the narrative between them as sisters, between themselves and their parents and between themselves and the environment. A sense of life and of sisters is what I wanted to communicate in my final piece.

I warmed up by making loads of sketches. I sketched children by Googling images before using Andy’s photos. I use a good enough but not expensive paper at this stage as I get through quite a lot. Most of the sketches end up on the floor while I work. When the sketches had a fluidity, I looked through them for signs of ‘living’ characters.

Then I used my light table. I can’t express how much I love my light table. It’s an old drawing/cutting/light table and has two light settings so I usually keep it on the low setting so I can’t see much of the original sketch. I am able to build characters by moving the original sketch and playing with the top drawing. I continue to draw intuitively, often turning off the light as I get to a point where the drawing underneath is redundant. When I have characters that feel real to me I put away all reference material and tidy up.

I sent Andy and Jane three sketched compositions that I liked and they encouraged me to continue as I was. Given this freedom I answered my own questions regarding colour and mood.

I stretched my paper to lots of boards. It is important for me not to have the debilitating scary white paper thing going on. Although my paper is expensive and stretching is time consuming, I stretch as many sheets as possible so I can approach each sheet like I would my sketchbook pages. Rather like making pancakes, the first few are a flop and are fed to the dog before they start working out.

In total, I made two finished gouache paintings for Andy and Jane to choose from. The mood in each painting is different, one dark the other light. They chose both, which was a wonderful surprise.

‘Jennie and Lucy Waiting for the Storm’ and ‘Jennie and Lucy, Explorers’

I cropped out parts of the flopped paintings. Flopped works are by no means futile works, they help me make decisions about what works, what fails and when I’ve finished.

When I have finished, I leave the paintings on their boards for at least one week before carefully removing the tape. Then the framing- I cut mounts and back boards for each piece and hinged the paintings to the mount back boards using Japanese paper hinges and starch paste. I made the frames, I cut colour free glass and fitted the pictures together. I met the deadline, Andy and Jane were pleased. Jane has kindly permitted me to publish her email to me.

Hello Nicola

I wanted to let you know that I really love the paintings that you did – it’s the best present I could have had.

Although I love the one of “Waiting for the Storm’ because of how you have captured the light in the picture and that feeling of serenity from the coast, I also really love the ‘Explorers’ painting for the energy and the fun it has. Somehow you have got the essence of Jennie and Lucy in the paintings and if you meet them, I think you will feel you already know them!

Thank you so much for these beautiful paintings, your work is beautiul and I hope that we can come over to see your studio this year.

Very best regards,










The Beautiful, the Quirky & the Turkey

This time of year reminds me of the time I spent sketching turkeys at Copas Turkey Farm.

I had driven past this huge farm in Cookham for several years noticing the arrival of thousands of turkeys and watching them litter the fields, peppering the landscape as far as I could see.

I’d planned to draw them only to drive past again and too late, all gone and no doubt, devoured.

The turkeys were incredibly curious, following me in huge gangs. Where I went, they went, yodeling at me through the fence. They were friendly creatures, not afraid of me or the men moving between them.

Here and there, a few magnificent males stood out with their strange, repulsive skin hanging over one side of their beaks. Their feathers and tail fan feathers were impressive. Turkeys are beautiful.

As I sketched, I came to an area where the turkeys were being herded gently into a large box.  They were transported towards the farm house where the farm slaughterhouse was situated.

The Christmas turkey’s life is a short one but I was left with the idea that these birds had a good, free range life.






NHS Staff are Invited to Ride the You, Me, Bum Bum Train

100,000 people tried to buy tickets. Only 3,000 get to see it. You, Me, Bum Bum Train are inviting NHS staff to be their guest. If you know doctors, nurses and paramedics do pass this on.

My friend is a volunteer actress in the show and every year she tries to  persuade me to be a passenger.

Immersive theatre terrifies me so I’ve squirmed my way out of the conversations. Now I’ve promised to go for it next year. I hope I’m lucky enough to get a ticket.

“It’s the ride of your life.” Article by Daisy Bowie-Sell for TimeOut.

A selection of sketchbook pages made in Cyprus

I’ve just enjoyed a relaxing break in Cyprus with my family.

This is how I saw the view from our apartment in Polis.

Hay, orange groves, palms, mountains, a purple haze and violet clouds.

Bats and Swallows.




Mike, who is from Vietnam, was busy all day.

I sketched him very early in the morning, watering the gardens and

cleaning the pool.

He always wore this quirky hat.




I have always vowed that I would never sit at a table,

painting, with a cat on my lap and a cup of coffee.

And there I was, painting with a cup of coffee and a cat on my lap.

It was nice.

Wild cats and kittens hide in the flower beds.

They hunt and devour lizards, huge bugs, cicada, snakes and ants.









Pebbles collected from (and returned to) Polis beach.








Polis beach.

Turtle nests.

Egg cases.

An eccentric 74 year old lady, Anna Maria from Austria, sleeping in her tent on the beach, backpacking solo.




Lobster people. Aloe Vera.

Banana plants, lemons, melons, pomegranates.

Honey, yoghurt, baclava.

Herb gardens. cacti, olive groves.

And the Fox said...character_0007character_0008s4w-character-0004s4w-wildlife-201520150407_142441-1Private commission

I created two new characters and a rhyme for my client.

Here they are, plenty of attitude.

And here are a few of my working drawings. I think I made about fifty sketches before these two appeared.






It’s been a busy year. I’ve moved to a bigger studio.

studio-new-2014This is my third studio move. It has been exhausting but great. Although I am still moving in, I feel very settled and happy.

I made a big, brave decision to stop freelancing part time as a frame designer for various businesses and start my own bespoke framing company,

This began with a simple request for help with framing from an artist in my first studio.  The demand for my framing design has slowly grown to the point that I now have my own machines, workshop and stock.

I have been designing my own moulding profiles and experimenting with my machines to find more excellent and efficient ways to produce framing. I co-work towards these goals with friends who have different but matched skills to my own.

Many of the artist’s I work with and for have asked me if I still have time for my own work. I have managed to keep my sketchbook work going while completing framing orders. Working as a collective is now beginning to enable me time to spend more time on my own work.

My framing design has enabled me to keep a studio, share a studio and put me more in touch with other artists. My studio is located within a thriving artist’s community in High Wycombe. I am one of scores of artist’s working in a rambling collection of old furniture factories. My neighbours are Angelika Studios, Studio 174, The Magpies, The Chalfont Press, The Ceramic Studios, The Old Factory Studios and Commercial Square Studios.The Curious Room Bespoke Framing& Artist's Services

Photographers, printmakers, painters, ceramicists, sculptors, jewellers, typesetters, mosaic designers and textile artists form this tasty soup of creativity.

Angelika Studios house their own tiny cinema, screening art films once a month and the Future Shorts festival.

They also run Modernist Coin Wash sessions, residencies, artist’s lunches and exchanges. I think they are quite fantastic.

So, here is where I am right now – maintaining a studio, working with my friends and aiming for excellence.

Its all good. And I love my new neighbours.


























One Church Street Gallery’s Winter Show

My favourite piece is ‘Chouette’ by Alix Marie.

Isis Gallery | | Ruth Marten works

Happy days in my studio


I Got Really Excited Today

During my visit to Commercial Square Studios I felt very excited by a new project Anjelika Studios. They have a small, perfectly formed exhibition on show and a tiny cinema room fit for 30 or so people.

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