Illustrator Nicole Gustafsson's cute critters and whimsical worlds started with Bugs Bunny

From Saturday morning cartoons to art galleries

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“I was one of those kids that would wake up every Saturday morning early to watch old Looney Tunes cartoons on TV,” says artist Nicole Gustafsson. “I would just stare at the backgrounds while the episode played.”

Inspired by the likes of Tom and Jerry, Wile E. Coyote, and other works by famed animator Chuck Jones, Gustafsson started drawing from a very early age. “I've been creating art since I was a kid and never really stopped,” she says. Encouraged by her parents, Gustafsson went on to become a full-time illustrator, creating magical, colorful pieces for galleries like Mondo and Gallery 1988. Her later inspirations include the Japanese woodblock print style known as ukiyo-e — “It was an instant love,” she says of the distinct style — and, more recently, following her contemporaries on social media.

Gustafsson’s work pulls from a range of influences; everything from her love of fantasy and Dungeons & Dragons to the beautiful landscapes of her home in the Pacific Northwest. While her pieces often tackle different subject matter, there are recurring themes throughout. There’s the almost whimsical use of bright colors, the animals living in fantasy realms, and the magical landscapes that feel like the starting point of a grand adventure. Likely due to her youthful diet of cartoons, her pieces often also have clear pop culture influence, the most obvious example being her "Pop Terrariums" series, which turned movies and TV shows into charming little worlds.

"I'm one of those people that my current project is my favorite project," she says of her work. "I just wrapped up a show "Celestial Spaces" at Flatcolor Gallery in Seattle where I created landforms and mineral studies in a space-like setting. I like shows like that because it's a great time to really explore color and themes within a series. Another series I keep coming back to in my spare time is my "Animal Adventurer" series with exploring foxes, reading badgers, and cat wizards. It's like a perfect intersection of my love of D&D and cute animals."

Outside of gallery shows Gustafsson has also dabbled in comics, painting a cover for the ongoing Adventure Time series and contributing to the third volume of Mouse Guard: Legends of the Guard. But she says her dream project is creating an original illustrated book with her husband, writer C.M. Galdre. "We have projects in the works," she says, "but look forward to the day when we have a finished product on the shelves."

You can find more of her work on her site.