With a nostalgic color palette that will remind you of your grandmother’s ‘60s crockery set and the kind of floral patterns that you’d find if you were to peel off a few decades-worth of wallpaper, Naomi Wilkinson’s illustrations are a little boost of joy. Her distinct style remains true to itself throughout every piece, from her work with brands such as Etsy and Airbnb, to her array of greeting cards, wrapping paper and books. Using clean bold shapes that are reminiscent of paper cut-outs, Naomi’s illustrations depict a range of heartwarming scenes, drawing you into her carefree world of picnics in the park, cosy living room tea-drinking and children playing with wooden bricks. We chatted with Naomi to learn more about her practice.
Naomi has a self-proclaimed obsession with color palettes
…Which definitely won’t come as a surprise if you take a look at her works. One of the first things you may notice about them is her unique choice of colors. The muted tones have a somewhat retro feel to them, transporting you to a different era. There seems to be just the right dosage of each shade, as each one is placed in the right spot, forming perfectly balanced compositions. “I’m very inspired by vintage graphics and packaging. But when it comes to color, I’m really inspired by anything, whether it’s high fashion or someone’s front door, ” says Naomi. “I think color’s so important as it creates an instant mood.” And that it certainly does, in every one of her illustrations.
In fact, it’s color that plays a big part in making Naomi’s body of work so cohesive. Whether illustrating for an editorial piece in The New York Times or for children’s greeting cards, Naomi maintains her core visual language, while adjusting slightly to suit her wide audience, ranging from toddlers to highbrow readers. “You naturally adapt your approach according to the brief,” Naomi tells. “I think color palettes and characters are the main elements that help adapt my style for different audiences.” The figures in her illustrations, captured in the midst of everyday life activities (engaging in small-talk at a party or nonchalantly reading on the branch of a tree), are all made up of seemingly simple, contour-less blocks that manage to portray each individual’s characteristics.
Illustrating for books
Working as a freelance designer and creating beautiful illustrations for a variety of super cool projects does sound like quite the dream job. It seems Naomi is pretty keen on it too. So much so that she “couldn’t possibly pick” her favorite project to date. “I love working on books,” she tells us, having illustrated for The Atlas of Happiness by Helen Russell and Lagom by Linnea Dunne. Surrounding the theme of lifestyle, both books have a similar focus; one covers the secrets of happiness from around the world and is accompanied by Naomi’s joyful map illustrations, while the other muses upon the happy-inducing Swedish approach to life. Naomi has also published her very own book, One Hundred Things to Spot, teaching children about shapes, emotions, contrasts and more, through encouraging them to observe images in a new way.
In search of the perfect brief
Working on her own book, Naomi enjoyed the utmost freedom. But most of her projects are the result of commissioned pieces for external brands, publications or organizations, in which the process is more of a joint effort. We all know how hard it can be to write the perfect brief and the frustration (to say the least) that can arise when you receive one that doesn’t serve your needs as a designer. The way Naomi sees it, “Briefs can be really varied as some art directors have a very specific idea for what they want and some want you to take control creatively. The perfect brief is somewhere in the middle so it can be collaborative.” After having received the brief, Naomi usually creates a very rough sketch by hand, receives feedback from her client, makes any changes if necessary and then moves on to the final piece which she creates digitally.
Naomi’s journey, from fresh graduate to esteemed illustrator
Clearly, an impressive portfolio and client list like Naomi’s doesn’t come at the snap of a finger (or the flick of a stylus). It takes a lot of hard work and motivation, but also requires some knowledge on how to bring more attention to your practice, from getting your online portfolio found on Google, to sharing your work on social media platforms like Instagram and Pinterest.
“Through promoting my work on the internet it just gradually built momentum,” Naomi recalls. “I spent many years working part time on the side, as it takes time to build up a portfolio and audience for your work.” At the beginning of her career, alongside her dayjob, Naomi kept busy with many personal projects and pieces for small publications – projects that all made their way into her website. In fact, other than “creating work consistently and being professional,” Naomi believes that an online portfolio and active social media accounts are the most important aspects of getting more work. She estimates that around 90% of her jobs she landed through online exposure.
With a sophisticated Wix website of her own, Naomi shares her advice on how to create a successful portfolio: “Keep it simple, so your work is the main event. Make sure you put the work that you are most confident about in the forefront and pay attention to fonts etc. so that they compliment your work and don’t distract from it.” Naomi’s own site serves as a great testimony to this approach, with its clean grid and generous use of white space, plus a subtle animated logo to add the final touch.