UALR illustrator readies first book.
Looking for a children’s book with a little Twin Peaks-meets-Lemony Snicket edge? Sally Nixon is on it. The 24-year-old illustrator is finishing the final touches on her first book, The Inevitability of Spiders and Flies, and she’s deliberately leaving out the fluff. The book spawned from her bachelor of fine arts thesis project and after a successful Kickstarter campaign, Nixon is getting ready to print as many copies as her funding will allow. Check out what inspired Nixon to create the creepy tale.
Q: When you were growing up in Pine Bluff, when do you first remember starting to draw?
A: I don’t remember exactly when I started drawing, but in most of the photographs of me as a child, I have a crayon or pencil in my hand. Growing up, I had zero interest in school — I would fill my math and science notebooks with stories and illustrations instead of actual schoolwork. This resulted in a few bad grades, but my parents are awesome and encouraged my artwork anyway. Eventually I got my act together academically. I also took art lessons with a lady from my church, Barbara Owen. She was my first teacher and taught me way more about drawing than I could have learned in my art classes at school.
Q: When did you realize those notebook sketches could be a career for you?
A: I didn’t even consider art as a serious career choice until my junior year of college when I transferred to the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. I tried being an English major, then a business major, but was miserable at both. The only classes I really enjoyed were drawing and painting, so I thought I would give art a shot. I haven’t looked back. I finally realized nothing else makes sense for me. [After graduation] I plan on doing some freelance illustration. I’m also eager to start another book project.
Q: Your art style is pretty unique. How would you describe your work to people who have never seen it?
A: It’s a little dark. A little creepy. I get most of my inspiration from film and television. When I was illustrating The Inevitability of Spiders and Flies, I watched a lot of Alfred Hitchcock movies, and I Netflixed the hell out of shows like The X-Files and Twin Peaks. I think you can definitely see those influences in my work. I’m obsessed with details and interesting perspectives. Also, I tend to do a lot of black and white work because I think it adds a layer of mystery to the overall piece. If it looks like it came out of an old movie or an episode of The Twilight Zone, then I deem it successful.
Q: Your new project, a book called The Inevitability of Spiders and Flies, started as a project for school. It’s an illustrated children’s book, but it appeals to adults, too. Why was that important to you?
A: My sister Jennifer helped me create the story. She’s a writer and overall genius, so I trusted her guidance and suggestions. She wrote the poem, which I think complements the story well. We started out wanting to do a Hansel and Gretel-type story and as time went on, it began to take on the theme of The Spider and the Fly as well. We knew we wanted it to be creepy, and I think we accomplished that. I realized that all of the stories I enjoyed from my childhood either weren’t meant for children at all — my favorite movie when I was 7 was Rear Window — or were on the more mature side of children’s literature, books by Maurice Sendak, Lemony Snicket and Edward Gorey. I also don’t believe in dumbing-down a story or adding a cute animal or bright colors just because they might make a book more appealing to a child. Kids are smart and can handle more than we (or publishers) give them credit for, and they don’t need or want a watered-down version of a story. From the beginning, I set out to create a story that was interesting to me right now and that 8-year-old Sally would enjoy, too.
Q: To help fund self-publishing the book, you started a Kickstarter campaign that has exceeded its goal. What kind of impact do you think crowdfunding sites are having on the independent art scene?
A: I think crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter are great for the independent art scene. There’s no way I would be able to publish this book on my own. Financially, it just wouldn’t be possible. And going through a publisher would most likely mean changing parts of the story, which I didn’t want to do. I want people to see it the way I intended for them to see it in the first place, and I think they want to see it that way, too. I think there’s something to be said for young artists who want to take matters into their own hands and not leave the fate of their creative projects up to publishers or art galleries. Also, Kickstarter is helpful in spreading the word about a project. People from all over the country have seen my project and pledged money toward it.
Q: How has displaying your art in central Arkansas been? Has the community been supportive?
A: Absolutely. Most of my experience so far has been within the UALR community. I can’t say enough good things about the art department there. I attended two other schools before UALR and there’s no comparison. The UALR faculty and my fellow classmates have been very supportive and genuinely interested in helping me achieve my goals for my book. Tom Clifton, my illustration professor, has been especially helpful in designing the book. He’s also known for his brutal honesty, which was very helpful in the development of the book.