QUINCY – Holly Nichols has always been drawn to style.
The 30-year-old Quincy resident went from sketching dresses on cocktail napkins while bartending weddings to haute-shot fashion illustrator, a career she launched on Instagram and grew to almost 700,000 followers.
“During the slow parts of the wedding, I would take the napkins at the bar and draw all the gowns that I saw,” she said. “I’ve always loved drawing women in dresses.”
Nichols right hand brings to life what is in her heart – a passion for fashion and art. Her illustrations – a whimsical gestural style with colorful, bold strokes – is in demand. Her work and her significant social media following led to gigs creating illustrations and campaigns for companies such as TRESemmé, Saks Fifth Avenue, Barneys New York, Neiman Marcus, Disney, HBO and Living Proof hair care.
Publisher Simon & Schuster also took notice. Nichols’ new book, “Modern Fashion Illustration,” is due April 13 on the company’s Centennial Books imprint. In the book, subtitled “Create Trending Stories & Develop a Personal Brand,” Nichols spills all secrets on how to be a successful fashion illustrator. She also pens a history of the craft and offers detailed directions on drawing bodies, hair and faces. On most pages, she shares “pro tips” on everything from two-tone shading to keeping your wrists loose when drawing flowing hair. “The book is tailored to all skill levels and it also teaches you how to do what I’m doing with different materials,” she said.
Nichols makes the magic happen from her home studio in Quincy. Her walls are covered with artwork, but her office is the only room that contains her own creations. A print from her Saks Fifth Avenue shoe campaign hangs over her desk. Her collection of Copic markers – the tool of choice for illustrators and comic-book artists – is arranged by color in a desk top organizer. Pastels, periwinkle in particular, are her favorites. Her computer screensaver is an illustration celebrating International Women’s Day. It depicts four friends of diverse ethnicities. That people “see themselves in the drawings” is important, Nichols said.
Nichols graduated from North Quincy High School in 2009, where she was enrolled in the Renaissance Program, a specialized arts curriculum. She went on to Endicott College in Beverly, where she was an interior design major for a year. But she “hated drawing floor plans” and switched her focus to studio art. She graduated in 2013 with a bachelor’s degree in fine arts. In between teaching and bartending gigs, Nichols started posting her illustrations to Instagram under the handle: hnicholsillustration.
Her portfolio is full of brightly drawn, stiletto-heeled young women in couture gowns with fancy up-dos, ballerinas on-pointe wearing layers of tulle, a pony-tailed gal in comfy pajamas enjoying a lazy morning reading the newspaper in bed. Christmas designs feature women clad in lush velvet gowns. Valentines sketches show dresses with red heart-shaped bodices.
“I like to celebrate women,” Nichols said. She also responds to events in real time, sketching notable women such as poet Amanda Gorman, first lady Jill Biden and former first lady Michelle Obama, all drawn on the fly as President Biden’s Inauguration unfolded. She also draws celebrities such as Beyonce in her custom Schiaparelli couture mini dress from the Grammy Awards, or Emma Stone as Cruella de Vil in the upcoming Disney movie. There’s even a tribute to Ruth Bader Ginsberg. Every drawing garners thousands of “likes.”
Shortly after she launched her Instagram, Nichols became a social media star, with followers from New York to London to Australia.
“Instagram was a game changer,” Nichols said. “Much to my surprise people really enjoyed it and they were asking how they could work with me.”
Nichols is the daughter of Cathy and Jim Nichols of Quincy. She describes herself as the type of kid who gravitated toward arts and crafts. She took art lessons through the Quincy Art Association, winning a best of show in a 2010 competition. She credits her instructor, the late Julianne Molloy-Bithoney, for validating “you can make a career out of art.”
“I took lessons with her from a very young age throughout high school,” Nichols said. “She had a huge impact on what I do now.”
Nichols also entered a drawing in the Patriot Ledger’s annual Christmas art contest in 2012. She didn’t win – but that didn’t stop her. Three years later, Disney hired Nichols to “reimagine” Princess Jasmine to give her a “more modern look” for a social media campaign. For Jasmine’s design, Nichols drew the princess in aqua-blue couture Harem pants with a flowing overskirt, walking atop the red magic carpet as if it were a fashion show runway.
“Lusting for Jasmine’s wardrobe at 5, and still at 25,” Nichols wrote in 2015 on Instagram when she posted the finished design. “I loved her when I was young. That was a really seamless and well-fit project for me.”
Nichols’ popularity continues to grow. In 2019, she went to New York to “live sketch” the cast of HBO’s “Big Little Lies” during the show’s red-carpet premiere. She did about 50 sketches that night. “I was so focused on fitting in the amount of drawings that I had to do in a limited amount of time that I didn’t get to soak the event in, unfortunately.”
In between the book, jobs and events, Nichols also teaches illustration courses for Apple and runs a successful online Etsy store, where she sells her work – everything from wall hangings, mugs, phone cases, calendars and more.
“It’s all because of social media and how connected we are there, for better or worse,” Nichols said. “I’m lucky that I started it when I did, when there were almost no fashion illustrators on it doing what I’m doing. Back then, Instagram was such a different machine. It’s moved from a social network to a money machine and has made it harder for people to stand out.”
Building your brand on social media platforms gets its own chapter in Nichols’ 176-page book. “It’s still so very much doable today for a young artist looking to create a career around their work,” Nichols said. Working with aspiring artists is one of her favorite parts of the job and she said she hopes her book will become a resource. “There’s space for everyone,” she said.
In normal pre-COVID times, the job takes Nichols to New York at least twice a month and Los Angeles occasionally. Once the world is safe again, Nichols said she wants to explore, teach, share her process and do more travel illustrations. But Quincy will always be her “home base.”
“My family is here. All my friends are here. I like being able to travel to all these places and to meet people but still be able to come home to somewhere that means something to me.”
Web site: https://www.hnicholsillustration.com/
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Reach Dana Barbuto at [email protected]