Illustrator Nicole Xu recounts a collective mourning

Born in Shanghai, illustrator Nicole Xu now lives and works in Portland, Oregon. Her first picture book, All of A Sudden and Forever, Help and Healing after the Oklahoma City Bombing, written by Chris Barton, is published by Lerner Publishing. Throughout the pages, Nicole Xu illustrates the terrorist bombing that happened on April 19, 1995 when, in Oklahoma City, when Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols killed 168 people and injured more than 680 others. Near the site of the explosion, an American elm tree, like the victims and their families, also began its healing process. All of A Sudden and Forever tells the tale of a tree and its seedlings that offer great comfort in this collective mourning.

How would you describe your aesthetic and your gaze ?
I gravitate towards imagery that is elegant, surreal, and emotive. I love capturing a moment of reflection or thought, and I enjoy using textures and colors to help bring out the atmosphere of the piece.

Why illustration is your favorite medium to create ?
I decided to become an illustrator because illustration is the cross section between telling a story and creating a visually arresting imagery. I enjoy the problem solving that comes with creating illustration and figuring out how to make your concept come across immediately, but not in a cliché manner. Illustration is also a field that allows me to work in any type of medium I want, from ink to digital.

In your book All of the Sudden and Forever you illustrate a non fictional history about violent death and grieving. How do you visually choose to talk it ?
Whenever I illustrate for a sensitive topic, I focus on the people that it affects and the emotions and trials they go through when facing a loss. In All of a Sudden and Forever, I drew many of the people who lost their loved ones or who experienced the tragedy as they cared for each other and supported each other through their grief. In the book, the pages in the beginning starts off desaturated and dark, and as time goes on, the world in the book got brighter and more vibrant to signify the healing and hope that the Survivor tree brought about.

Why death, spirits and ghosts are an important part in your work ?
I enjoy drawing images that depict abstract or otherworldly subjects, things that evoke emotion and is universally understood. I want to be able to express feelings of loss, nostalgia, and melancholia in my work. I often have a hard time saying or writing about my thoughts, so I lean towards creating visual imagery to communicate instead.

Artist’s website:
Insta: @nicolexu_
© Nicole Xu