My Favourite Skillshare Teachers – Part One: Nina Rycroft

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NB: As I have blogged before, I only review products I like. I am not being paid to make any reviews. My apologies for missing October’s blog. Setting up business from home has been time-consuming.

These are my favourite Skillshare teachers so far:

  1. Nina Rycroft
  2. Ana Victoria Calderon

I have learnt so much about picture book illustration from Nina. She is happy to share her knowledge, and has created brilliant on-line workshops.

These are the workshops I have done with Nina (though she has created others that I have not done yet):

  1. 101 Guide to Picture Books – Nina explains:
    • The importance of strong characters in picture books and how they need to portray action.
    • Determining the intended reader and if your characters appropriate for the age group.
    • Creating distinctive characters.
    • Producing a dynamic setting for the book (colour and mood, layout).
    • Storyboarding the plot.
    • Character interaction with the plot.


2. Face Shapes – Explore Character Using 9 Simple Shapes

  • The title says it all. I had a ball during this course. It gave birth to a new and exciting style for me. I cannot wait to produce human illustrations now, but I have a lot of animal work, which will take me a while to complete, before I can do some ‘human’ work; however, this course can be applied to animals too!
  • Some examples of my course work (completed using Derwent Inktense pencils with Pebeo Aquarelle Fine Watercolours):

    3. 101 Guide to Drawing Eyes

    • This is a must do course if you are planning to learn illustration or cartooning. I was gobsmacked how much expression can be relayed by just working on the eyes!
    • All of Nina’s course are hugely beneficial, however, this is one of the simplest lessons to learn and can revolutionise illustrations!
  1. Emoji Me – the Art of Drawing Facial Expression
    • I loved this course, as it hit at the heart of my Achille’s Heel. Until this course, I had been excessively reliant on reference photos. I had my nieces and nephews acting and posing for me. The photos were not always that successful! I am a terrible actress, but with practise, I managed to ‘get’ what Nina kept saying. Draw from the inside out! Draw the emotion. By the way, the only time I have taken selfies was during this course! Here is a sample of my work:EMOJI.JPG
    • If you are like me, and struggle to act (especially in front of a camera), these books may be useful. I am keen to add these to my library at some point. I saw another artist review them on Youtube, and they look very, very good!

  1. How to Draw the Head from Every Angle – Part One

This course covered what I already knew about facial proportion, but pushed into the different views (front vs. profile (side) view. I have always relied heavily on reference photos, but this course empowered me to draw without reference. Wow!


  1. How to Draw the Head from Every Angle – Part Two

This course pushed me out of my comfort zone, like no other! I have been reluctant to use modelling clay or polymer since my disastrous clay modelling project in Standard 2. I sculpted a pig, which exploded in the kiln and which looked more like a square sausage than a pig. Even though I did this course on one of the hottest days of the year, thanks to Nina’s brilliant instructions, I produced a model head I was, and still am, proud of. It is far from perfect, but it looks reasonably close to my sketch. Sadly, her tendrils have broken since the course.

I am keen to do more character modelling in the future. FYI, James Gurney also makes models for his illustrations. For more information about his models, check out his book ‘Imaginative Realism’ (this is one of the best books for illustrators, and one of my favourites!):

  1. How to Draw the Head from Every Angle – Part Three

This course is simply about using your model to draw the head from every angle.

Here is my effort (apologies for the poor photos – I will still trying to master my new phone!):IMG_20180117_114823~2.jpg

  1. Draw a Circus of Characters – Exploring Body Shape and Body Proportion

I have read many books on figure drawing, and I have learnt a lot from each of them (I am planning a blog on my favourite figure drawing books for the future), however, none of them covered what Nina taught in this course. In fairness to those books, they were meant for realism studies, not illustration; but I learn so much from this course that has been invaluable to me. Since doing this course, I have been able to draw more interpretative figures (cartoons), and that has been a rewarding and exciting experience. Nina teaches using shapes to develop character figures, just as she did with the ‘Face Shapes – Explore Character Using 9 Simple Shapes’ course.

Here is an illustration I did after doing this course:

I have loved every single one of Nina’s courses. Every course has taught me valuable and exhilarating lessons. However, this course and the next one on this list, were by far, my favourite and the most influential in my work. This is how I used shape for an illustration:

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  1. Draw a Circus of Movement – Simple Techniques to Bring Your Characters to Life

This course transformed my illustrations. As previously stated, I have always relied heavily on reference photos. My nieces and nephews were very accustomed to being asked to ‘do this’ and ‘do that’. I have applied this course information to my work and I love animating animals. This course doesn’t actually cover animals, but what you learn here can definitely be applied. I am planning another blog on this subject. After doing this course, I attempted my first picture of animal movement, that was not drawn from a reference photo. I made several studies of giraffe before attempting to animate them. This was the finished result:

  1. Draw a Circus of Line and Gesture – Design a Picture Book Character from Start to Finish

This was the most relaxed I have ever been when designing a character. Before I was always in a perpetual state of either indecision or vacillating between possibilities and ‘tripping over my pencil’ in my haste to get something, anything onto the paper, and hoping and praying that it would appear magically and perfectly all by itself! And of course, it did not!

This course, and all the others, has made it possible for me to have a process to work under.

Having a process is very important to me, as I am one of those control freak people who need to have a step-by-step method, and stick to it assiduously…until I hit a problem. My day job, teaching brain training to people with learning disabilities, and my past role in the insurance industry, taught me how to ‘think outside of the square’ and find solutions to problems. These two mindsets have enabled me to finally make progress in my illustration work. I am so excited by this, that I want other people to have the opportunity to learn what I have.

I would like to encourage anyone who is an illustrator, anyone who wants to be an illustrator, anyone who is dissatisfied with their artwork, to give Nina’s Skillshare courses a go. I believe you will be invigorated and excited by what you learn. She will teach you step-by-step methods for developing your characters.

Currently, I am developing art courses that are cognitively (brain) based. I want to teach people to draw realistically, understanding colour, learning different media, etc, by unlocking your analytical and observational skills. I have found that once these skills have been honed, learning from passionate tutors, like Nina Rycroft, will be rewarding and fertilize the growth of your creative ability in ways you could never have imagined.

Thinking back to what I learnt from these courses was like reawakening a dozing dragon, and I am so thrilled. I am always hungry to work on illustrations, but reminding myself of what I have learnt, has made me voracious to create something.

I planned, at the beginning of this blog, to cover Ana Victoria Calderon’s courses too, however, my enthusiasm for Nina’s courses has been like ‘the magic porridge pot’ spilling over, and I will keep my review of Ana’s courses for next time.

Until next time…


The artists who have influenced my illustration work

Kiwi Diarama - Ground Dwellers

I have never had art lessons.

So how did I end up becoming an illustrator?

Do you need art lessons to become an illustrator?

Sure, I attended art classes at school, and those were more a chance to goof off and relax than learn fundamental art theory. I do not remember any of my art teachers giving us an insight into theory. We were handed media and instructed to prepare a piece based on a particular theme. I do not even remember being instructed in the media we were using.

When my parents started home-schooling us, Mum, a very talented artist, insisted that I draw from observation. I remember drawing anatomical studies of insects, and, for the first time feeling like I could actually draw. When I look at my old school sketch book, I see some illustrations that were not terrible, and others that definitely should be burned.

At seventeen, I illustrated a story, authored by my mum and hand-written by my sister. Neither of us could touch-type. At that time, I thought I would like to study art…or teaching. However, it was not to be. When I left school, I stopped drawing. Not because I didn’t enjoy it, but because I was too busy doing other ‘stuff’.

I was inspired to start again when my first niece was born. When Emily was two, she sparked in me a desire to write and illustrate picture books. I grabbed my high school sketching materials and dove in enthusiastically, and was very quickly and utterly disillusioned.

I spent about 2 years getting ‘my eye back’. It was an extremely painful experience. It was so tough seeing my awful artwork and hearing my Mum’s honest critique. But I am so grateful I went through all that.

I empathise with my students when they have a vision of what they want to achieve and come ‘crashing down’ to reality when they finish their sketch and it doesn’t look anything like the mirage lodged in their mind.

So many illustrator and artist friends identify with this frustration. The illustration is perfect in our mind’s eye, and so flawed on paper.

With constant practise, having developed a tough hide, anyone can become a competent artist. With constant practise, a very tough hide and gallons of passion, anyone can become an inspiring artist. Our world attributes ‘talent’ to those inspiring artists.

As I said in the opening paragraph, I have never had an art lesson, but I have learnt from a huge number of artists online and in books. I am not naturally a great artist. I have had to prioritise illustration work and practise, practise, practise…and practise some more. The practise never stops.

Here is a list of the artists I am inspired by and from whom I have learned so much:

  1. Nina Rycroft – A friend, from writing group, met Nina at the IBBY Conference a few years ago. She invited Nina to speak to our group. I was so impressed by Nina’s passion for sharing her extensive illustration knowledge that I binge-watched her Skillshare tutorials during the Christmas school holidays, and as a result, grew exponentially as an artist. I intend to watch more of Nina’s courses during the next Christmas break.
  2. Ana Victoria Calderon – As a teenager, I painted with acrylics; but as an adult I have painted with watercolours for years. Despite many years of watercolour experience, I was feeling jaded and frustrated that my paintings were not crisp. I also binge-watched Ana’s watercolour tutorials on Skillshare. I have a very different style to her, but I learnt so much from her that has transformed my work.
  3. James Gurney – James Gurney has narrowly usurped Eric Kincaid’s long-held spot as my favourite illustrator. I think it is because I not only love his artwork (my heart beats fast when ever I think of Dinotopia!), but also because he has shared so much information in his brilliant book, ‘Imaginative Realism’. One day I intend to treat myself to ‘Color and Light’!
  4. Eric Kincaid – For three decades, Eric Kincaid was my favourite illustrator, and he has only recently been toppled from the top spot. I have loved his work ever since I was given his ‘Wind in the Willows’. Whenever I look at his books, my heart soars with the sheer beauty of line and delicate colour. I love that he illustrated everything so well – humans, fantasy creatures, animals, landscapes, buildings, etc.
  5. Terryl Whitlatch – Anyone who has read some of my previous blogs will know my enthusiasm for Terryl Whitlatch’s work and her amazing books. I am seriously in love with her books and was excited to learn a week ago that there is a new book coming soon – flying creatures!
  6. Barbara McClintock – Barbara McClintock is another favourite illustrator. I love the subtle colouring and inking of the illustrations. I also have a huge soft-spot for the charming stories that she illustrates. There is a ‘olde-worlde’ charm to her illustrations, that I haven’t seen in modern books for a very long time. Call me old-fashioned, but Barbara McClintock’s books have a timeless quality.
  7. Rene Cloke – I owned a vast number of Rene Cloke books as a child. I loved them. I learnt that drawing wrinkles in socks can make all the difference to your character sketch! I love how she creates character in the tiniest things – timber is always knotted and gnarled, faces always have expression, colour is used effectively, etc.
  8. Randolph Caldecott and Beatrix Potter Over the years I have enjoyed and learnt from those these stalwarts of children’s picture books.
  9. David Weisner – One cannot help learning a heap about illustration when ‘reading’ David Weisner’s wordless books. I love his illustrations, and his stories.
  10. Lisa Clough (Lachri Fine Art) – – Lisa Clough was the first Youtuber I started watching. Even though I do little in the way of fine art, I learnt so much from her (when I got past her lightning-fast manner of speaking!). If you want to paint animals, you can’t go wrong learning from Lisa or Jason Morgan.
  11. Jason Morgan After watching Jason Morgan’s videos, I considered changing from illustration work to fine art painting. Illustration work won out in the end.
  12. Kendyll Hillegas Kendyll is not only an amazing illustrator, but also has a wealth of knowledge about the illustration industry and running a freelance business.
  13. Holly Exley One of my ambitions in life is to own a Holly Exley print (or hopefully, an original). My watercolour style could not be more different, but I love her work, and the fact that she communicates with her followers. Over the years, I have asked Holly a few questions, and she always answers! Like Kendyll, Holly is very happy to share her industry experience.
  14. Carrie from Watercolor Misfit I have learnt a lot of really practical tips from Carrie. She is a bit of a watercolour maverick, and I love her super polished videos and great watercolour content.
  15. Steve Mitchell from the Mind of Watercolor – Through Steve’s channels, I have learnt so much about painting landscapes – I really need to take his advice about loosening up my backgrounds, but I am such a control freak, and true to character, am a bit freaked out about doing that!
  16. Zoe Hong Okay, so Zoe is a fashion illustrator, but I have learnt a heap about drawing the human figure and how to draw clothing. I think Zoe is a legend of fashion illustration.
  17. Aaron Blaise I am quite new to Aaron Blaise, however, I have loved watching the few videos of his I have seen and intend a watch a whole lot more.
  18. I have decided to quit while ahead – I cannot tell you about all my influencers, because there are too many. These are a few of a huge number. I would love to hear about some of the people who have inspired your work. I look forward to reading your comments.

Two weeks ago, I found out that the remedial learning centre that I work for, would be closing its doors within four weeks. My job, income, professional future, etc. were gone in an instant. Once the shock wore off, and the teachers had determined that we could not start another learning centre, I realised that my loss was actually a great gift. I will be tutoring my students in my home, and when I don’t have students, I can do artwork. My three beautiful fur babies, will be very pleased to have us at home with them. 😊 In addition, my good friend and writer of ‘The Strange Sagas of Sabrina Summers’, Michele McConnochie, ( and I are going to collaborate on writing-illustration workshops in 2019. I am so excited to pass along to others, what I have learnt from the legends mentioned above.

For the next few weeks, maybe even until the end of the year, I will be nursing a fledgling business, and sadly, foresee little time for painting. I eagerly look forward to when things settle down and I can get back to my lonely paintbrushes!

Catch me this time in October. I plan to review three of my favourite art teachers. My intention is to make you drool over the amazing courses and information they offer.

Until next time…