Local artist Jillian Nickell is phenomenal. Her illustrations are well-crafted, full of imagination, and extremely elaborate. I found out about Jillian's work through posters she had created for local music shows. But it doesn't stop there. Her artwork is available in quite a few places and in various forms. Jillian's work (a playful collection of animals in the form of sewing supplies and a trip down memory lane to the playground) can also be found on the beloved Threadless site in the form of t-shirts. Most recently, Jillian was selected to sell her work on Urban Outfitter's newest endeavor called, Print Shop. Her prints can be purchased as a traditional poster or as a laptop skin or iPhone/iPod skin. If you're like me and can't get enough of Jillian's art, tonight is also the opening of CUDO's abCU Alphabet Show where Jillian will be presenting her version of the letter "e". And without further ado, Smile Politely would like to introduce Jillian Nickell.

Consumed by: Gardening, sewing and illustration

Age: Old enough to know better!

Hometown: Champaign, Illinois — though technically not in Champaign, I grew up on a farm near here.

Occupation: Illustrator, designer, and educator

One item you covet: Vintage dresses

When did you make your first print? What was it? About a year and a half ago at Weiskamp Screen printing, it was a "Dandylion" (see image on the right).

Living without printmaking would be: less stressful, but not as much fun either! It's introduced me to a lot of people I would never have met otherwise and I wouldn't have it any other way.

What is your current project? Currently I am working on a set of illustrations from Alice in Wonderland that I'll eventually put up for sale and it's also for my portfolio. I am planning on doing children's books in the near future and am gearing up for that. I've also got a couple of threadless designs that I am working on (as always!)

Your ideas come from: This is a tricky one to answer as a lot of my best ideas just pop up when I'm doing something else. However, I'm always on the lookout at estate sales for old scrapbooks, children's books and school readers. I find looking at those helps fill my head up with a lot of helpful imagery that will be the seed of an idea, and I have a much more antique aesthetic than more modern design.

The images in your work are very animal-centric. What do animals represent
for you?
I think animals are easier to relate to sometimes in artwork, and they add a sense of fun and whimsy that fit my personality well; I don't do "dark" work very well. I do draw people too, but it's sometimes more fun to see an octopus riding a bike and wearing a bowler hat than a guy. (See "Octobike" below.)

If you could ask yourself one question about being an artist, what would it
be and how would you answer?
: Why aren't you done with that project yet? Probably because I'm a perfectionist and I keep redoing things.

Describe the print you would love to design/create: I think as far as posters go, it would be really really fun to do a set of circus posters. I'm all about an imaginary circus where the animals run the show. Actually, I'll probably get to that one of these years.

Local artist that inspires you: Bea Nettles was my teacher at the University of Illinois, she's a book binder and photography artist. She really taught the value of high craftsmanship paired with great ideas and her art is just amazing. I learned a lot from her.

Your work will be in CUDO's abCU alphabet show — why did you select the letter
"E" to interpret?
Honestly, I thought of the goofiest sentence I could think of where every word all started with the same letter, and that happened to be "E" — you'll have to stop by the show to see what I did, haha.

During the springtime in Champaign-Urbana, we need more: Flowers!! I'm addicted to spring gardening catalogs and keep getting stuff. My yard will be JAM PACKED!

During the summertime in Champaign-Urbana, I can't get enough: Jarling's Custard Cup, my favorite!

More of Jillian Nickell's work can be found on her website and for sale on her etsy page, and probably in the garden in her backyard. If you are disappointed that her work is completely sold out on Threadless, you can click "reprint" and sign up to be notified if/when Threadless reprints. The CUDO abCU Alphabet Show is tonight at Cakes on Walnut, 114 N. Walnut St. in downtown Champaign, from 6-9 pm. And last, but not least, Jillian's work will also be on display at Exile on Main Street for the Boneyard Art Festival/Record Store day. Phew!