Close Up with Artist- Nikki Catalano

Nikki Catalano

Tell us a little about yourself and what you do.

I’ve been drawing since I was very young and creativity was of great importance and encouraged by my family. Wherever we go my mum often spent time noticing and appreciating colours, materials, light, patterns and forms whether it be in a building or out in nature. I am also an observer, and spend alot of time looking and studying people, places and things around me. If you look really closely at something like a flower you see another world; the ‘tiny’ world. Often you will discover patterns there.

Much of my art work whilst at SCA was studying the miniature and I was reading Gaston Bachelard’s The Poetics of Space. I was fascinated by childhood and memory and created little boxes of memory. They were matchboxes with obscured photos from my childhood filled with resin. They sat in a linear pattern on the wall with pieces missing.

I see this theme running through my current illustrative style. They are images that conjure the past in quite a loving way. These girls and bunnies stare back at us in a very knowing way. They capture that something special from my childhood. Like the dreams that I wished for; distant magical cities and toys that came to life. I like the fact people can relate to these drawings and perhaps remind them of some dreamlike quality they can relate to. I guess you would describe me as somewhat of a dreamer

Who (or what) inspires you to do what you love in your own creative business?

My sister has been a great encouragement with my illustration career. She is very motivating as well as incredibly practical. She believes in me and always has even when I doubted myself. I’ve seen her own musical career starting take off through a mixture of creativity, talent, organisation and hard work. She has taught me that to make my dream of a creative business come true I have had to work hard for it and there is always help along the way when you do.

My parents have also been fantastic. They can see me doing something I love and are encouraging me along the way. They have helped set up stalls, driven me to Ikea, lent me money and generally encouraged me in my business. I feel that they believe in what I am doing.

People who were once perfect strangers also inspire me. It is amazing how many people see you doing a good thing and see that you starting out and are kind enough to give you a helping hand along the way. I’m so grateful to thoses people, they know who they are. : )

Where do you get your inspiration from when you design?

My illustration style is inspired by some many people and things so I will only name a few. Predominantly it is my great love of the Japanese aestheitc both modern such as Animator Hayao Miyazake as well as traditional. I love their use of pattern and beautifully balanced compositions. My grandparents lived in Japan for a while and that’s where my eldest auntie was born, nicknamed ‘Mitsu’. The same name my sister Rosie and I named our book. I believe my grandparents bought back with them a great appreciation of Japanese Art.

I see a lot of art around the place through blogs as well as magazines like Frankie. There seems to be a growing trend towards the handmade and illustrative. I’m loving it. At the recent Magnolia Square I was next door to the illustrator Emma Leonard, her work and others like her I find so inspiring. She has beautiful compositions with gentle looking girls. I love the combination of loose lines and tighter areas that create alot of interest in the image plane.

One other ‘thing’ that inspires me is fabric! I love it. I love the patterns and the weave. Sometimes I sew cut fabric shapes onto the paper and see where the illustrations takes me with no plan. Fabric in the illustrations adds depth and texture. Considering I don’t have the patience to learn how to sew a dress, I’m happy to explore and embrace fabric in my illustrations.

What are the five words that people who know you would use to describe you?

Friendly, Creative, Gentle,Kind & Encouraging. At least that’s what I think they would say, I’d have to ask.

Tell us about your very first job and what path have you taken since then?

My first job was when I was 16 working in my auntie’s restaurant cleaning glasses. During high school and early uni I had an array of odd jobs including hospitality and baby sitting. The parents of the children saw my drawings and were very encouraging. One family commissioned me to create a painting for their daughters bedroom. This probably helped boost my confidence with getting my ‘illustrations’ out there.

By this time I had completed a bachelor of Visual Art in Object Art and Design with First class honours. Whilst there I majored in glass and created installations in blown glass. Drawing was something contained within the confines of my sketch books in the form of ‘doodles’.

It wasn’t until I completed a Bachelor of Digital Media at COFA that I began drawing and illustrating outside my diaries. It officially began with an exhibition called Good Girls in      January 2009. Many of the illustrations you find in my online store today have their origin in this exhibition.

I’m now studying part time and working full time doing freelance graphic design work as well as selling my illustrations online, wholesale as well as at Design  markets like Magnolia Square, Finders Keepers and Mathilda’s Markets.  People have been incredibly supportive and want to see me do well, I’m especially grateful to Nic Macisaac who created the Bloom section of Magnolia Square for new comers like myself.

Describe a typical day in your studio space?

Well, as of November 23rd I will have a brand new studio space to work in. I can’t wait. I will be sharing the space with 7 other artists and designers including a glass artist. Currently I work from home. A typical day will involve time doing admin, looking online at other work, preparing and sending orders, classes, working on current design projects and drawing. I’d like more time to draw to be honest and I’m hoping the studio will help with that.

 Nikki’s Creation

As an artist, what is your biggest frustration?

Probably the isolation. That is one of the reasons I am moving into a shared studio environment. Working alongside people will help alot. Also the weight of the entire thing is on my shoulders. In group work you can share ideas, divide tasks etc. What I have found helpful is talking to other artists as well as catching up with people at markets as well as studying alongside other illustrators.

Tell us about how you prioritise your studio work.

I have alot to learn still and this is something I’m still in the teething period with. It feels sometimes like everything is important at once. One thing i am slowly learning is not to take on more than I can chew. Opportunities come along but if I don’t have the time for say a month I’ll let people know. Its good to know these things so that you don’t over commit yourself. I do think I need to make more time for quiet drawing time as well as a few hours a week to update blogs and send press releases etc.

Since you are working at home, can you please tell us about how do you connect with other artists, and your customers (i.e. how do you network)?

Blogs are fantastic for this. I could use mine more I think. There is a whole network out there of creative small businesses who represent themselves online. I have also joined a craft group called the Brown Owls who regularly meet up and do craft together. I am yet to go but I am looking forward to it when I do. In the meantime I have received lots of emails and found out about alot of cool stuff that is happening around town through this network.

When I do market stalls this also gives me an opportunity to see familiar faces and talk with people who are also working from home or their own studios. Its good to be around people doing similar things and you learn alot form one another. It is a very friendly community and that always helps.

What advice can you offer other creative people who are just starting out and following their passions?

I begun this in quite an organic matter so I can’t give you a great business model. I would suggest thinking strongly about your product. I wanted a quality product that people could still afford. I have various price points so that people have a choice. Also check what other similar products are out there and how much they are retailing at.

Think about how will you present your product. A beautifully packaged product gives you a sense of pride as well as much more aesthetically pleasing. Think about branding and how you want to present yourself to the world. Your visual identity will become a key factor in identifying your business.

Create a plan for the week. Allocate time for the creative side as well as the more admin side of things. Set up a blog or website and talk with other people in your industry.

Begin a mailing list an send out nicely presented emails updating people on what you are up to.
Perhaps exhibit a couple of times a year and get involved in your creative communities events.
Keep dreaming big and work daily on the smaller and more practical goals to get there.
I’m sure there is more but that’s all I can fathom for now

What dreams do you still want to achieve or fulfil in your life?

There are so many dreams. I’d love to work part time in a Design studio there is still so much I’d like to learn by working with other people.

Ultimately I’d like to make a good living from illustrating and designing. As well as exhibiting around the world in places like New York.

I’d love to explore different realms of design including fashion and create prints for fabrics.

I’d also like to work as an animator for music clips and film.

I really do love to be creative in so many ways . I think illustrating is my favourite, I really do love it.

What is your proudest moment so far?

Gee, I’ll have to get back to you on this one!

Under the Tree

Who do you most want to meet and why?

If Michael Jackson were still alive I would have wanted to meet him. I loved him as a kid and use to dance around the living room to Thriller. If I didn’t pursue art I would have become a dancer.

What is the most important lesson in life that you have learned?

Slow down and breathe, that’s when you find clarity and can listen to your own intuition better.

What book are you reading right now, and do you have a book you would like to recommend? 

Mum lent me Eat, Pray, Love but I haven’t bought myself to picking it up. I can recommend a book I read a while ago, its called Bringing Yoga To Life by Donna Farhi. Its more than a book about yoga, I found it very insightful and helpful

 Girl  & her bear

 Where do we find you and your creative services

You can find my website at

Tell us about your retailer pop up store at Magnolia Square at Randwick Race Course from this Friday to Sunday.

I’m going to be selling my small prints, mounted prints and now my new larger prints at the stall. Magnolia Square have been a great venue to gain exposure, meet other creative people and get face to face with my customers. I enjoy talking to people and finding out which illustrations they like. Magnolia Square also puts alot of effort into advertising the markets which is great and have strong design aesthetic. They always present the markets beautifully.

I’ll also be selling a colouring/story book that my sister wrote and I illustrated called Isabel and Her Pirate Ship. We are both very proud of this book. 

Vinh Van Lam
the authorVinh Van Lam
Vinh Van Lam, co-founder of ArtSHINE, is a visionary art coach and entrepreneur with a passion for fostering creativity. With a diverse background in art and business, he brings a unique perspective to empower emerging artists, enabling them to thrive in the dynamic art industry through the innovative platform of ArtSHINE.

1 Comment

  • Nikki, I have watched you grow and blossom, both in your personal and professional life. Your work is so unique and I wish you all the best with those dreams.

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