If you haven’t heard of Niki Pilkington and her amazing artwork, where have you been? This talented Welsh artist has over 61,000 Instagram followers and I’ve been one of them for a number of years! Niki has lived and worked in a number of countries over the past few years, and I was excited to discover that she’s recently moved back home to Wales. This was the perfect excuse to arrange an interview to get to know her better…
First of all Niki, where are you from?
I was lucky enough to be born and raised in Morfa Nefyn, North Wales, a stunning part of Wales. I’ve recently and temporarily moved back here from LA with my husband Johnny.
Are you back home for good?
It’s a long story! We were meant to be moving into our new home in London, but thanks to the lockdown, it wasn’t possible. I’m lucky enough to be back here with my family, but all our furniture is in London! I’m not complaining though, it’s a beautiful place to be in lockdown and I’m enjoying a slower pace for a while.
Tell us a bit about your background as an artist
Well, after finishing sixth form in Pwllheli I went on to do an art foundation course in Coleg Menai in Bangor, North Wales. I loved it and went on to study fashion illustration in Ravensbourne in London. That was the plan! Our tutor left and we had to make a last-minute decision on what course to do, I was so upset but in the end it worked out for the best. I decided to study fashion promotion and illustration which meant I learnt so much more about the fashion industry, gained lots of new digital skills and it gave me a much better opportunity to find work.
You’ve worked in lots of different countries – How did this happen?
A lot of it is down to my husband Johnny! We met at Uni, he’s from Nottingham and studied graphic design alongside being one of the UK’s first professional parkour performers. He got a job with a design studio in Paris so I went with him! We lived and worked in Paris for two years and in 2013 we got married in Las Vegas and then his company asked him to open up their New York office. We lived there for 5 years before he was asked to open up the office in LA.
Did you enjoy your time in America and Paris?
Yes! I’m from a small rural community but I’ve always been a bit quirky. The way I dress and the style of my work is better placed in a town or city, but through my work I always take Wales with me. When I moved to London I knew I was a city girl, I was always keen to go to New York so it was a dream to be able to live and work there. LA was also the perfect backdrop for my work as it’s so colourful and the neon is everywhere!
Your style is unique tell us how it developed.
Before moving to Paris I was fortunate enough to work at Oriel Plas Glyn y Weddw in North Wales. During my time there I met so many elderly Welsh people and they were all so lovely and used to teach me so many interesting Welsh idioms and sayings that I’d never heard of. Things like ‘Ara Deg Mae Dal Iar’ which is similar to slowly slowly catch a monkey and lots of others that are uniquely Welsh. I loved them and felt that they would disappear if they weren’t made relevant to younger people. I decided to use my playful neon illustrations to present these sayings and it all started there. I had my first ever exhibition at Glyn y Weddw – it was a sell out! Since then I’ve developed a large collection of Welsh prints and cards and also maps that I’ve been taking with me all across the world.
You’ve also worked with lots of famous fashion brands?
Yes! I’ve had the opportunity to work with fashion brands like Nike and Ted Baker and other brands like Google, as well as brands in Wales like Tanya White Bits – I’m now her Creative Director. I’ve also been opening up lots of pop up shops which gives me an opportunity to engage with customers and get their feedback. That’s really important to me.
You’ve done such a variety of different things – how have people responded to your Welsh collections?
It’s been exciting taking a bit of Wales with me to Paris, New York and LA. People love learning about Wales and the Welsh language and the response to the Welsh collection has been fantastic. I’ve got lots of customers in Australia and many people collect my work which is really exciting. I always include a note with the English translation, so they know what it means and they can pass that on to others.
What’s your most popular product?
M! That’s hard, it changes depending on what’s happening at the time. My ‘Paid Newid Byth’ – (Don’t ever change) illustration has been really popular, it resonates with both younger people as well as an older generation. My maps of Wales are also really popular in all corners of the globe, many people from Wales send them to friends and family abroad and lots of Welsh people living in other countries like having them in their homes or work places to remind them of home.
What’s been your favourite job so far?
I think it was my first contract with Nike in New York, it was so exciting and fast paced. I worked with them at their flagship store which was an amazing experience. I made a big map of New York and Brooklyn and people got to engage with it in the store. I was photographed as part of their campaign and it was such a fun gig. I feel so lucky to be paid to do what I love to do.
Do you plant to stay in the UK?
I think so. Johnny’s working with the same company at their London office and I’m looking forward to working in Wales and England. I have lots of stockists in Wales and look forward to expand into England now.
What’s the long- term goal?
Just continuing to do what I love doing. I’m in the process of expanding my collection – watch this space! Another goal is continuing to make my work accessible for everyone. When I was young, I remember how I wanted to be able to buy posters and pictures but I didn’t have enough pocket money. I want young girls and boys to be able to have my work and I don’t want them to have to save for months to buy them. I want to keep spreading my neon and bring joy to those who look at my work.
A massive thank-you to Niki for her time and for spreading her neon love with our readers. If you’re a member of Wales International you’ll see Niki on the cover of our latest Enfys Magazine too! We’re excited to announce that Niki is one of our business partners, and all our individual members will get 10% your orders at her Etsy shop! If you want to join our #WorldWideWelsh family click here to discover more about our membership discounts!
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Heulwen Davies, Wales International.