meet the artist | Ni Carnahan Illustration

meet the artist series

I am excited to present another artist in my Meet the Artist Series. The vision of Meet the Artist is to catch a glimpse into the mind of an artist, to learn from the challenges they’ve encountered along the way, and most of all, to be inspired! Ni Carnahan of Ni Carnahan Illustration is a good friend of mine who is also part of the monthly art group I attend, which provides a wonderful way to share ideas, encourage each other and simply get our creative juices flowing. Although our styles are very different, Ni and I both share a love for nature, pattern and detail. When I first saw her drawings, I was amazed at all the fine detail in her work and how she lovingly crafts her designs by hand. Ni is one of the most optimistic and encouraging people I know, and I’m honoured to share her inspiring artistic journey with all of you! 

Ni Carnahan Illustration | Neely Wang Photography

01 | What is the art of illustration and how would you describe it?

“Words are the wings of our imagination, but pictures are the final destination!” – Mike Wimmer. For me, the art of illustration is how artists show you the way they interpret everything through their eyes with passion, expression and imagination. The art of illustration can be so subjective, personal and expressional for each individual artist. Whether your job is to put the words that authors have created through your illustration, or to just simply express an idea of your own, the art of illustration offers so much to their viewers in return, in my opinion.

Ni Carnahan Illustration | Neely Wang Photography

02 | How did you get started in illustration?

I have always been a visual person. For as long as I could remember, images speak to me way much better than words. My eyes are drawn to vivid images, colours, shapes and patterns. I get a better understanding through illustrations rather than words. In fact, I have always loved to draw and color ever since I was a little girl, and I was doing Japanese comic drawing until I came to America. It was not until I discovered many great illustrators that I adore that I came to realize the passion I have to create illustration of my own, designing greeting cards, and eventually become a children’s book illustrator. I then immersed myself into many great classical illustrators such as Norman Rockwell, Beatrix Potter, Cicely Mary Barker, and so on. I also discovered America’s most beloved greeting card illustrator, Mary Engelbreit, and her heartwarming greeting card designs. I see Mary’s personality through her greeting card illustrations, and it has opened up my mind to the idea that illustration can be personal and expressional through your own interpretation. I am also fond of Precious Moments creator, Sam Butcher, with his lovely character designs. These inspirational role models of mine made me realize that I wanted to pursue my dream as an illustrator. So, here I am working hard to build my art career as an illustrator and having fun doing it.

Ni Carnahan Illustration | Neely Wang Photography

03 | What do you get your inspiration from?

I get my inspiration through every little thing around me in my life, such as vintage or antique objects, movies, music, foods, and anything that I am interested in. Nature is the most inspirational place where I turn to daily.

04 | How has your illustration evolved since you first began?

Over the years, I have been trying to find my own voice through my creative process. I used to draw Japanese Comics when I was young. Black and white is one of my favourites through that period of time. Then, I came to America to discover greeting card design, children’s book illustration, and personal character design. So, I am more focused on these areas right now. In fact, I have come up with a unique style of my own, which I have been developing throughout the past few years. I have been developing my logo girl with a circle face and music notes of hands and feet and using my favorite buttons. This is a combination that I have been working on for a while.

Ni Carnahan Illustration | Neely Wang Photography

05 | What advice would you have to those getting started with illustration?

Practice makes perfect, and never stop learning and growing as an artist. Most of all, actions speak louder than words. You must be able to be consistent and persistent in developing your skills and finding your own voice if you want to join this field. Never limit yourself in trying new things. Draw and sketch daily, being consistent and persistent with your creative process. As a self-taught artist, I have to learn all the things that I want by myself. It is time-consuming, indeed, but I so love it. Anyways, you must be able to never stop learning and growing as an artist.

Ni Carnahan Illustration | Neely Wang Photography

06 | What are your must-have illustration tools?

Sketchbooks, pen and ink, black rolling pens.

Ni Carnahan Illustration | Neely Wang Photography

07 | What other art fields do you enjoy?

I love fashion illustration/design, photography, paper cutting, crafting, eraser stamping, and fine art. I pretty much love every aspect of art!

Ni Carnahan Illustration | Neely Wang Photography

08 | When you are not working on art projects, how do you spend your free time?

I spend time with my dearest family and friends, eat great food, visit libraries or bookstores, watch movies, and go into nature.

09 | Describe your workspace.

I have a small, yet comfortable home studio with lots of sunlight. I have four areas inside my studio. The first one is a portable art table with my tracing light and markers. I trace my sketches and color with markers on that table. The second work surface is a long table with my art cabinet underneath where I do my wet media and messy stuff. Then, a computer desk where I do my digital editing if I need to. Finally, my favorite place is the floor. I don’t know why, but I always end up on the floor creating my art. I love my studio because it is where all my imagination and magic begins. I feel FREE when I am in my studio. I guess that is the place where I can just be ME and create away. It is my favorite place to be!

10 | Who are some artists that have inspired and/or encouraged you?

My favorite artists are Alphonse Mucha, Daniel Merriam, Michael Parkes, Maurice Sendak, Mary Engelbreit, Beatrix Potter, Cicely Mary Barker, Rebecca Dautremer, and so much more. Mary Engelbreit is the one who has inspired me the most after I came to America. I discovered her heartwarming greeting card illustrations right after I came here. She is also a self-taught artist who believes in herself and worked very hard to build her greeting card empire. Not only does her art amaze me, but she is also my great inspirational role model who believes that nothing is impossible as long as you work hard and never give up on it. Also, along the way, I have met so many artist friends who encourage me and always share their valuable experiences with me. They have also inspired me to create more.

Ni Carnahan Illustration | Neely Wang Photography

11 | What is some of the best advice you’ve been given on your creative journey?

Be persistent and consistent with your talent, and work hard daily. I remember I attended the SCBWI conference a few years back, and all the wonderful artists would tell us to be persistent and never stop learning and practicing. And, that is what I have been doing ever since. I challenged myself to sketch daily for 365 days a few years ago to see if I could make it. I did it because it was how I realized that I could make it happen — being consistent and persistent with my creative process and eventually my art career. Through their challenge, I was able to gain my self-confidence and understand my weakness. Never be afraid of trying new things and learning! Also, never wait for opportunities to come — You must make them happen.

Ni Carnahan Illustration | Neely Wang Photography

12 | Have you ever had any setbacks and/or challenges on your creative journey, and what did you learn from them?

I am a self-taught artist, so I have been through a lot during my creative journey. I have had many people keep telling me how terrible my art was, and I should give up on it. I have also failed many times trying to get my art out there. It is really hard to deal with all these things, but it turned out to be the best learning lessons ever in my life. I have learned through my mistakes and challenges and found out that the biggest enemy is YOURSELF. It doesn’t matter what other people say about your art. The most important thing is that you need to have faith in yourself and your ability. Never say never, and for that you must continue to grow as an artist. If it has not been for all these setbacks, challenges and mistakes that I have encountered throughout my art journey, I would have not found my strength to carry on. 

Ni Carnahan Illustration | Neely Wang Photography

Thank you so much, Ni, for sharing your inspirational journey and beautiful artwork with us! You can see more of Ni’s art at Ni Carnahan Illustration and on her Facebook page.


  1. Thank you for sharing Ni’s work. I love her fanciful sweet renditions of girls. Reminds me of some dolls that used to be made in the 60’s, of which I still possess. Her drawings are much more detailed and fanciful tho. Best of luck to her. What does she want to do with her art? If we do salons this year, it’d be nice to present both of you. But we may take a hiatus this year.

    • Her dolls have almost an asian-inspired look to them with beautiful detail. I believe she would like to make greeting cards and eventually illustrate children’s books, but is still finding her best audience for the work she does. Thank you for thinking of us for your salons :). Hope you are doing well — it seems like there are lots of new things happening on your end! :)

  2. Aaaawww! This art is SO beautiful, Neely! The photos are great.
    I want to thank you for visiting my blog during the past year. Have a great 2014 year, full of happiness and blessings.
    Kind greetings,

    • Thank you, Marianne, and I loved visiting your blog — I really like the fresh new look! Have a wonderful 2014, as well — excited to see what adventures come your way! :)

    • Yes, her work is really feminine and delicate! She told me that if she makes a mistake, since she uses black ink, she has to start all over! It’s really incredible the heart and precision she puts into her craft.

    • Yes, her work is so pretty and feminine! It’s been fun sharing artists’ work and their stories — there’s so much to learn from each other!

  3. Oh….Neely! Thank you SO MUCH for this wonderful interview about me as an artist,and my illustration! I deeply appreciate this wonderful chance,and you have been so kind to me! You have also giving me lots of ecouragment and have inspired me to do more with mine. Thank you for stopping by my studio and taking these wonderful photos. Reading this interview has inspired me to want to do more with my art!!!!! Thank you again for your warm friendship, and everything!!! ^____________^

    • You’re so very welcome, Ni! Thank you for being so candid and open about your journey — through the good times and the difficult times! Thank you for sharing your beautiful work and for your inspiring and encouraging words! I wish you all the best and am very excited for what is yet to come! :)

  4. Great work, Ni! Always so happy to see your new artwork, your improvement and growth along this artistic journey! Neely has captured beautifully of you and your work in photos and words. Super happy for you! Keep on going!! Love~

    • Thank you, Karen! And yes, Ni’s work is beautiful and so lovingly crafted! If you can find other artists in your area, a monthly art group is a great way to share ideas and grow as an artist. The one I attend currently consists of a photographer, illustrator, graphic designer, and a fashion designer. All very different, yet all very inspiring!

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