7-Imp’s 7 Kicks #548: Featuring Natalie Nelson

h1 August 20th, 2017 by jules

It’s a pleasure to have illustrator Natalie Nelson visiting 7-Imp today. Natalie’s debut picture book was released last year, and below she tells me all about that book, as well as the one that followed early this year (and one coming in 2018). I very much enjoyed each one of these books, especially JonArno Lawson’s Uncle Holland (an illustration is pictured above), and I look forward to what’s next.

I thank Natalie for sharing words and images today. Let’s get right to it. (If you want to see more of her work, her website is here, and her Instagram is @nelsonknatalie.)

Natalie: My first book, The King of the Birds [2016], came together in a rather unorthodox manner. The story is inspired by the life of Flannery O’Connor and her penchant for bird-collecting. She has herself described the peacock as “the king” of her collection, and at one point she owned at least 40 peacocks on her farm (Andalusia) in Georgia, where she lived and wrote.



In the summer of 2013, I visited Andalusia, and even though there’s only one male and two female peacocks on the residence now, I began to imagine what it must have been like during the birds’ (and Flannery’s) heyday. I came back from my visit and started drawing peacocks a lot. I got the idea to tell the story of O’Connor’s interesting side-habit through imagery of the beautiful birds and their haughty demeanor.


(Click to enlarge)


I didn’t feel confident to write the story, though, so I told my friend Acree about my idea. She offered to write a draft based on our discussions, and it ended up being so much better than anything I could have ever written!

Fast forward to early 2015, after many rounds of revisions and sketches, we finally feel confident to submit a proposal of our story to a couple publishers. Neither of us had ever been published before and we were truly in the dark on how the whole process is supposed to work. We were incredibly lucky to have a contact at Groundwood Books, and in March of 2015 Sheila Barry (our amazing publisher) emailed us to say that Groundwood wanted to publish The King of the Birds.


(Click each to enlarge)


After that, it was time for me to make the final art! I wanted to do cut paper collage for the art, but in the end I composed everything digitally, because it just allowed me more freedom to mess up and try lots of options. I painted all the colors with gouache, scanned each painted paper, and then “cut” all the shapes out of the different colored papers, using Photoshop. I also draw a lot of the ink work by hand, scan that in, and add to the compositions.


(Click to enlarge)


I’m so happy with how the book came together, and it has been such a joy to get to have my first book published with one of my best friends!


Natalie: “Acree and me with a little girl
wearing a paper crown at one of our bookstore readings …”


My second book, Uncle Holland [April 2017], is another Groundwood Book, written by JonArno Lawson (author of Sidewalk Flowers).



Groundwood sent me the manuscript for this one while I was still working on The King of the Birds. I immediately loved it and was so excited to make the pictures for it.

The story is based on one of JonArno’s real-life uncles, named Holland, who was a bit of a trouble-maker during his youth. After getting caught for stealing 37 times, the police give Holland an ultimatum: he must either go to jail or join the army. He ends up joining the army and he gets relocated to a “very pretty place far away to the south.” While stationed there, he falls in love with the natural beauty of the ocean, the trees, the fish, and he starts to paint everything he sees. In the end, he learns that “not everything that’s pretty can be stuffed in your pockets.” It’s a really odd and endearing story, and I’m honored I got to illustrate it.


(Click each to enlarge)


I chose a more muted color palette for this book, especially for the first half. I wanted to show the change that occurred in Holland’s mind, once he landed on the island. So the colors are mostly grays early in the story, until the middle spread when the tropical landscape bursts into view. I used a lot of found photography bits to create the scenes and the characters in this book, which seemed right for the time frame the story took place and for the quirkiness of the story and characters.


(Click each to enlarge)


I just wrapped up the art for a new book about the wacky collective nouns for groups of animals, and it will come out in 2018. It is written by Kyle Lukoff, and Groundwood is publishing this one as well. The text is really fun, and each spread is its own miniature story about a different animal group.


(Click all but cover to enlarge)


All art used by permission of Natalie Nelson.

Note for any new readers: 7-Imp’s 7 Kicks is a weekly meeting ground for taking some time to reflect on Seven(ish) Exceptionally Fabulous, Beautiful, Interesting, Hilarious, or Otherwise Positive Noteworthy Things from the past week, whether book-related or not, that happened to you. New kickers are always welcome.

* * * Jules’ Kicks * * *

It was a disturbing week here in our country. I don’t know what else to say, except that I hope everyone is holding up well. The best kick of all was to read yesterday that, in Boston, the protesters for love and inclusion outnumbered those marching for “free speech.”

I guess my other kicks are that I read a great novel this week, started another book by a friend, and had some friends over Friday night for a big dinner. I’m glad we now have the space to have friends over without being too crowded, and I’m glad for big, open tables for dining with friends and their children.

What are YOUR kicks this week?

7 comments to “7-Imp’s 7 Kicks #548: Featuring Natalie Nelson”

  1. Thank you, Natalie, for sharing you work with us. I love that your first book was a collaborative effort with your friend. I am looking forward to reading them.
    Jules, i hear you! This week! Again, we look for the tiny moments of story, doing the right thing, and joy. Was the Cat in the Hat Black looks intriguing. And yay for space to entertain around the table.
    My kicks:
    1. Our superintendent, with staff amd students, performed a super secret rendition of Not Going to Throw Away their Shot” from Hamilton. So good, so refreshing to start the year. Its on You Tube.
    2. The district conference. I attended a great session on race.
    3. Simon Tam keynote.
    4. Simon Tam and the Slants’ lunch performance.
    5. Kristin Ziemke: “We are made for story.” She stressed the importance of sharing our stories and our students’ stories.
    6. Nightstrike: A Thursday night gathering under the Burnside Bridge to assist the homeless. Their mission is that all people matter and again the theme of story came through. We were encouraged to engage with people and hear their stories.
    7. Finding small ways to make a difference in the world.
    Have a good week.

  2. Good morning, Imps! Good morning, Natalie! And Holland, and Jimmy, and Ivan, and the birds, and Betsy, and… Bring on the collective nouns and good luck with the next book! The best things in life are free — meaning you can’t buy them, nor can you contain/restrain/capture them.

    Jules: Hurrah for gladness. 🙂

    Jone: High-five to starting the school year with a Hamilton song! Keep making a difference.

    My kicks from the past week:
    1) Audition
    2) Typing
    3) Typed
    4) Steady
    5) Controlled
    6) Completed
    7) Continue

  3. Jules, ready for the eclipse?

  4. Hi, all! Back in morning. Promise.

  5. Love Flannery O’Connor so really love the conception of this book, and that it was done by friends. Thanks so much for sharing your charming illustrations and the back story behind the book Natalie! Uncle Holland looks like a fun read too!

    Jules – yes, this week was rough. (Sometimes I feel like that’s every week this year.) Hooray for love and inclusion outnumbering hate, good novels, and big dinners with friends.

    Jone – Hamilton, yay! Thank you for being such a force for good in the community.

    LW – love kicks 4, 6 and 7 the most this week, especially 7- continue!

    My kicks are all wrapped together this week with a dear old friend visiting from L.A. (he was the reason I got my Cheyenne), and we journeyed to Orcas Island where we were welcomed into the beautiful home of his friends (now mine too!) and spent time with them. It was lovely, peaceful, full of lively conversation, good food, & great company. A perfect weekend away.

    Wishing everyone a great week & a happy eclipse!

  6. Jone, that sounds like a great start to the school year. And I’m intrigued by Nightstrike. (I’m reading Matthew Desmond’s EVICTED right now.)

    Yes, I’m ready for the eclipse! Are you all? I’m in the path of totality.

    Little Willow: BREAK A LEG, as always.

    Rachel, that does sound like a perfect weekend.

    Happy eclipse, everyone!

  7. Thanks for bringing these two delightful books to our attention!

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