This month's Featured Illustrator is Niki Leonidou. She is an established illustrator from Athens, Greece. She has had work published in multiple countries and has a degree in Visual Communication.

Drawing, reading, writing, and playing the piano were among the things I really enjoyed from a young age. Drawing was my preferred creative outlet. Back then, inspiration would come from images I saw in other books, illustrations and paintings.

Drawing from life was something quite difficult for me and I started enjoying it while in college, where a whole new world opened up in front of me. I studied photography, animation, fashion, sculpture, graphic design among other things and of course, illustration. I attended the Kent Institute of Art & Design, in Kent, UK, graduating with a Bachelor's Degree in Visual Communication with pathway illustration in 2000. 

A Pile of Niki's sketchbooks

I've worked as a full time freelance illustrator since 2001. This was very hard at the beginning as I had decided to explore my options back home in Athens, Greece. Nobody knew me so I started making phone calls and booking appointments with art directors to show my portfolio. This was a very difficult process as I received only rejections. 

Over a year later, a publisher decided to trust me with a picture book! After that, being published became slightly easier as I had something published to show. Still, lots and lots of rejections would come but I never gave up. 

Niki's first Picture book

Long story short; more than 250 published books now contain my artwork. I have illustrated all kinds of books for Greek Publishers but also for publishers in other countries like Yeowon Media Publishers in Korea, Benchmark Education in USA and Clavis in Belgium. I have been working with the biggest publishing houses in Greece such as Psichogios, Metaixmio, Papadopoulos, Susaeta and more. 

I have illustrated a lot of activity books, picture books, chapter books, middle grade books, interior and covers plus editorial illustration. I have also worked on packaging, candles, fabrics, board games, logos and of course, murals. 

1) Niki Painting
2) Niki illustrating on photoshop with her Wacom intuos digital tablet
3 & 4) Piles of Niki's illustrated books

I also enjoy illustrating educational books. I have illustrated educational books for all ages from 0 to 14 years old. This includes black and white illustrations, colouring activities, numbers and letters, activities with stickers, mazes etc. I have also done illustrations for fiction and nonfiction books for publishers like Benchmark Education, Newmark Publishing, Mondo Publishing, Highlights Magazine and Developmental Studies Centre in the USA and Ransom Publishing in the UK.

Some of Niki's illustrations depicting Greek Architecture and Mythology

I love writing and illustrating my stories. A short story “Once upon a time there was a girl named Catherine,” which I wrote in Greek was selected among many and published in an anthology by Psichogios, a very big Greek publisher in Greece, in 2013.

A story I wrote and illustrated in English with the title "Looking for Misty" was nominated for the Keycolours award for best picture book concept in Hasselt, Belgium, in 2014. There were seven finalists from around the world and my story was among them. The illustrations were exhibited in a group exhibition in Hasselt. These two facts encouraged me to keep on writing!

Niki at her exhibition in Hasselt, illustration shown on the right

I have had a lot of influences over the years. I love Egon Shiller, Van Gogh, Toulouse Lautrec and also illustrators like Roberto Innocenti, P J Lynch and Gennady Spirin. What inspires me the most though is nature. I may come across a bizarre leaf and be inspired by its texture or see a colour in the sky that will help me finish the coat of my hero.

I have been a SCBWI member for many years and an active member for SCBWI London since 2019. Nowadays, most of the workshops we organise are online. I also enjoy visiting schools and doing illustration workshops for children of all ages. I have visited a lot of primary schools in Greece and London, UK. Recently, I did an online illustration workshop for children organised by Clavis Indonesia for the launch of “The Purple Pail”, a picture book I illustrated and was initially published by Clavis in Belgium. 

I am represented by the Black Hawk Literary and Portfolio Agency. They found my work in the internet and decided I was the right illustrator for the Purple Pail. It was first published in Belgium and then in Indonesia and USA.

The Purple Pail picture book published in different countries

One thing that I have learned so far, throughout all these years, is to never give up. I really love illustrating and I could not imagine myself doing anything else. Not up until now, at least. I think there is always a way, no matter how hard things seem to be. 

Rejection is part of the process. I think at some point I had 1000 rejections and 1 “yes” to go on and do a project. But I kept on going, exploring new styles and techniques and also practicing in feeling grateful for all the challenges in my work. Feeling grateful for achieving victories, no matter how small they were. 

Another thing I keep reminding myself is to compare myself with only myself and remind me how and from where I started. Everyone has a very personal art style and path to follow. This is mine! 

Gallery of Niki's illustrations

*All images: Niki Leonidou


See Niki's Portfolio

Follow Niki on Instagram


Ell Rose is the Illustration Features Editor of Words & Pictures
Find their work at fourfooteleven.com 
Follow them on Instagram and Twitter
Contact them at illustrators@britishscbwi.org


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