Quincy artist Holly Nichols reveals the magic behind her fabulous fashion illustrations.
By Maria Allen - Photography by Derrick Zellmann
A rainbow of Copic Sketch markers fans out atop a desk in Holly Nichols’ home office. An artist who specializes in fashion illustration, she gently shifts the angle of her wrist and tightness of her grip on her brush-tip markers to transform ribbons of colored ink into visions of flowing silk and sheer chiffon.
Nichols has always had a love for art. After graduating from North Quincy High School, she went on to earn a BFA in Studio Art from Endicott College in 2013. Post-graduation, while working part-time jobs to pay the bills, she began doodling images of fashions she loved on drawing pads and bar napkins--dreaming of one-day turning her creative passion into a career.
Once Nichols had amassed a collection of fashion sketches, she launched an Instagram account to help showcase her work. It didn’t take long for her unique art to gain attention, especially after a few acclaimed designers started liking and sharing her posts. Thanks to her online art sales, Nichols was eventually able to quit her day job and focus her energy entirely on creating art and building her personal brand.
Fast-forward to today and Nichols is now a highly sought-after fashion illustrator with nearly 700,000 Instagram followers from all across the world. She has worked for corporate clients like TRESemmé, Saks Fifth Avenue, Barneys New York, Neiman Marcus, Disney, Living Proof, and many more. The Quincy native is known for her highly detailed illustrations of haute couture fashions as well as classic “everyday” lifestyle images. While some of her artistic interpretations of garments come straight from her imagination, others are inspired by the models she has seen strut the runway at New York Fashion Week.
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Nichols frequently traveled to New York to take part in live sketching events and enjoyed taking trips to develop new ideas for her portfolio. One of her favorite vacation destinations, the Hamilton Princess Hotel & Beach Club in Bermuda, has added examples of her work to its impressive collection of international art.
Over the years, Nichols has created stylized illustrations of famous celebrities, including singers like Beyoncé and actors like Blake Lively. She has also drawn inspirational female figures like Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Michelle Obama and Kamala Harris.
In 2019, Nichols was invited by HBO to illustrate at the New York premier of the television series “Big Little Lies.” “It was a beautiful production and night,” says Nichols, who admits to being a little starstruck when actress Meryl Streep arrived. She also found it amusing when a group of the younger cast members decided to spend the evening hanging out by her art table.
To say that Nichols is highly attuned to colors would be an understatement. “I have something called synesthesia,” says Nichols. The condition has been described as a perceptual phenomenon in which the stimulation of one sensory or cognitive pathway (for example, hearing) leads to involuntary experiences in a second sensory or cognitive pathway (such as vision). “Any sound that I hear, I see as a color,” says Nichols. “I also see letters and numbers in specific colors and I experience emotions in color. Even people have different color auras to me.” When it comes to her artwork, one of her favorite colors to work with is called viola. “It’s a light periwinkle color that I’ve always been attracted to,” says Nichols. “It makes me think of serenity, calmness, peace and lightness.”
Nichols enjoys sharing her artistic knowledge with her followers and frequently posts video tutorials, demonstrating her techniques. In March, her first book “Modern Fashion Illustration: Create Trending Stories and Develop a Personal Brand” (Simon & Schuster, March 2021) is being released. The book, which she wrapped up while quarantining at home, features step-by-step instruction on the art of fashion illustration and coloring pages for aspiring illustrators to customize in their own way. Nichols also offers marketing tips for artists seeking to succeed in today’s world of social media.
On her website, Nichols also offers an assortment of over 300 art prints, which she personally signs, frames and ships out to customers. She also sells numerous products that feature images of her artwork, from iPhone cases and mugs to wall calendars and watch bands. In addition, Nichols sells tools for aspiring digital illustrators, such as downloadable coloring page templates and customized Procreate palettes and brushes.
Like the rest of the world, Nichols is looking forward to spring and the possibility of being able to travel once again (she always packs sketchbooks and her full 300-piece marker collection in case inspiration strikes). In the meantime, she’s happy to be able to stay connected with her online audience, posting images that she hopes her followers find beautiful and inspiring.