An interview with artist, Erin Nicholls

By Frankey

Self-proclaimed natural-born artist, Erin Nicholls, captures the intricate beauty of Japan using her unique style inspired by ukiyo-e and the great impressionists.

Published exclusively for The Urban Scrapbook


“Over the years, I studied many different subjects, but I always came back to art. I think it’s just who I am and what I was meant to do.”

Although predominantly based in Brisbane, Erin Nicholls is not the kind of artist who likes to stay in one place. Currently in El Salvador for a few months after having spent significant time in Japan (revisiting again earlier this year), wherever Erin goes, she absorbs her surroundings in ways that regular people normally gloss over. And all of that is evident in the moving stillness of her art.

In this brief insight into her world view, Erin reveals her creative routine, what inspires her, what it means to create art, and the intentions behind her beautifully inspired Japan series, as well as what fans can look forward to in the future.

Here’s what she had to say (the following has been slightly edited for readability):

My first question is all about going back to the beginning. Can you remember when you first started marking art and what it meant to you back then?

I’ve always had natural artistic ability, which I inherited from my mother. I remember in primary school, I first developed a love for art and began pushing myself to get better and better. I guess it was then that I first decided on my goal to one day be a famous artist. Over the years, I studied many different subjects, but I always came back to art. I think it’s just who I am and what I was meant to do.

Floating World
“A Night in Japan” series – 2017.
Marker and pencil on Arches paper

“I want people to imagine themselves in that scene. To be transported by it.”

How would you personally describe your style?

My style started as a somewhat anime style, with black outlines and basic colouring, but now it has evolved to more of a realism style. My artworks fall under contemporary art, but I am planning to experiment with other styles and techniques using the same mediums. Considering trying a more abstract style soon, or perhaps impressionist.

Suruga-chō (する賀てふ Suruga tefu) (1856) from 100 Famous Views of Edo by Ando Hiroshige

Who and what are your biggest creative inspirations?

I love ukiyo-e, the genre of Japanese woodblock printed artworks. I particularly like the works of Hokusai and Hiroshige. It was their works which inspired me into developing my current style. I have adapted my style since then, as my works are now a lot more detailed in the colouring and shading. Earlier in life, I was inspired by the impressionists, the pre-raphaelites (mainly Waterhouse) and Salvador Dali. These days, I get a lot of inspiration from all kinds of artists that I see online.

The Lady of Shallow (1888) – John William Waterhouse

I love the way you use colour to infuse all of those different styles. I’m intrigued about your creative routine. You spent a lot of time in Japan, which I see as this almost complete immersion in your work. What’s your daily creative routine like and how structured are you when making art?

I work from a desk at home. I either have the reference photo I’m working from on my computer or tablet. I try to get some drawing done every day that I’m home, which is most days. I find I can’t do long hours as it’s not only mentally, but also physically taxing. When I am colouring the drawing I work on a small section at a time, perfecting it before moving on. I find that better than what a lot of painters experience, which is a period when your artwork looks terrible as the whole canvas will be covered with paint, but nothing will be properly finished. By completing each part as I go, my artwork always looks good, just unfinished. I think this helps motivate me to get it done as I feel excited for how it will look. Each piece in my Night series (A Night in Japan) took around a month to complete, some longer.

By Lantern Light
“A Night in Japan” series – 2018.
Marker and pencil on Arches paper

“My artworks are like stories that the viewer can compose.”

How do you want people to feel when they see your art?

I want people to imagine themselves in that scene. To be transported by it. My works illustrate fleeting moments in time, so I hope people viewing my drawings appreciate that they are viewing something that will never be repeated. The man walking down an alley smoking (Smoke), the men at the yakitori bar (Yakitori), they may never be in those places again, so when you look at those drawings you are seeing something unique – as well as a glimpse into another life. My artworks are like stories that the viewer can compose.

“A Night in Japan” series – 2017.
Marker and pencil on Arches paper

And what is it about Japan that has really captured your heart right now?

Japan is so different to Australia, which makes it really fascinating for me. I love the blend of ancient tradition in the heart of their hyper-modern cities. Japanese cities are a treasure trove of tiny hidden bars, restaurants and alleyways. They also experience extremes in seasonal change – cherry blossoms, snow and autumn leaves. This made Japan a great subject for my ‘Year in Japan‘ series, for which each artwork represented a specific month of the year.

“A Night in Japan” series – 2017.
Marker and pencil on Arches paper

When will you be going back to Japan?

I was in Japan for 7 weeks earlier this year. I’d love to live there for a year or so, if possible. I’m currently in El Savador visiting my partner’s family.

So, where do you want to take your art in the coming years?

I want to keep trying different styles, different subjects. I would like to push myself to create works that are more from imagination rather than just real scenes. An artist I really like is James Jean, who creates amazing, fantastical scenes. Something like that or surrealism would be great to try. I would love to have solo exhibitions in different countries, and continue selling my artworks all over the world.

Images and artwork courtesy of Erin Nicholls

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