By Amanda Stoll / Photography By Craig Stocks
It’s a rare thing to be able to make a job doing what you love. For Nicole Blackburn, graphic design is just that. It’s a “marriage,” as she calls it, between her artistic passion and a stable office job.
Nicole grew up in the small town of Kickapoo, Illinois, about 30 minutes west of Peoria. She attended high school at Peoria Notre Dame High School and went on to study art and graphic design at Illinois Central College and Bradley University.
She has had a knack for art since a young age. Growing up as an only child in a house in the country gave her the opportunity to explore and grow up slowly.
“I’ve basically had a pencil in hand since age one,“ Nicole said. “Being alone a lot I think really nurtured the development of my imagination and creativity… being alone you have to make your own fun.”
Her parents were always supportive of her art, and she had art teachers in high school that helped steer her toward her strengths. She attended ICC and then transferred to Bradley to continue her studies.
“I had really good teachers that challenged me in just the right areas, that sort of pushed me out of my comfort zone,” she said. “It’s like they break you of all those bad art habits and get you to open your mind to new possibilities and techniques and perspectives and ways of thinking.”
She loved the creative atmosphere of college, and after graduating from Bradley in 2008, found the working world to be much different. After graduation she was offered a job designing for Numéro magazine. She has been working there ever since and finds the challenging and creative nature of graphic design to be right up her alley.
“No day is completely the same here. You never know what’s going to be going on,” Nicole said. “That’s what I love about design… good design just feels good. You know it when you feel it.”
Putting together magazine layouts, billboards, advertisements, direct mailers, postcards, or whatever else comes her way is like a puzzle for her, always presenting a new exciting challenge.
“You have all these pieces. I have the text coming in from a freelance writer and photos coming in. It’s like a puzzle,” she said. “I have to fit the pieces just in the right balance and composition to convey the message and get the style across. But that’s what’s fun – it’s a challenge.”
Aside from work, Nicole constantly explores other areas of art during any and all free time she has.
“I have a zillion hobbies. I just love trying any new creative venue I can,” she said. “I can’t just let my hands be idle… It’s like your cup inside keeps filling up and you need to pour it out into whatever creativity catches your eye.”
Her designs at work are focused on the client, so her personal work is where her true influences really show. Nature and faith are two of her biggest influences, whatever the medium may be.
“I think nature itself is beautiful design,” Nicole said. “If you look at things really closely they have a design and a composition down to the subatomic level. I’m greatly inspired by all the colors in nature, and I’ve always used that in my work.”