Behind the Scenes with Chloe Niclas, Illustrator of CYOA SPIES: Mata Hari

Behind the Scenes with Chloe Niclas, Illustrator of CYOA SPIES: Mata Hari

As a new illustrator, this was one of my earliest assignments, and I couldn’t have asked for a better first book project.

One of the greatest aspects of being an illustrator is getting to learn about a wide variety of topics. With Choose Your Own Adventure SPIES: Mata Hari I had the privilege of researching Mata Hari (Margaretha Zelle), a potent historical figure, and the era of time she lived. 

I have always been fascinated with the early 1900s, and I was overjoyed that the story takes place in the year 1915 across Europe and abroad. Video footage of this time is scarce, so early photographs are the only mysterious windows into which one can imagine what life was like. Luckily for my research, Mata Hari’s elegance and exquisite costumes are very well documented. There are numerous photographs of her in various dances and outfits throughout her life. These references helped me to create a close likeness and to imagine her facial structure in a range of expressions and situations.

One of my biggest challenges was keeping Mata’s character consistent through any number of emotions and circumstances, while also under a tight deadline. But this wasn’t my only struggle.

There was one scene that I found particularly difficult. There is one scene in the book where Mata Hari is riding a dolphin through a vortex of space and time in rough, dark ocean waves. I knew this would be a mostly abstract image, and I had never attempted something like this before. I didn’t know exactly how I would execute it even after creating the sketch. However, through the process of rendering (shading), I found my footing.

One of my favorite images to create was of the Hindu goddess Kali, in which she commands the scene, laughing mockingly, with her vitality and dynamism on full display. A terrifying and striking character with a skirt of severed arms, she lends herself to powerful visual interpretations.

I really enjoyed injecting a similar strength into my interpretations of Mata Hari. Her resiliency and grace is evident throughout her life. These are key aspects of her character, and I wanted to do justice to such a distinguished and intrepid historical figure. It has been an honor to be part of telling this story.


  • Posted by katherine factor on

    Nailed it, Kali… I mean Chloe! Thanks for your diligence and talent. Cannot wait for her to come alive through word and image!

  • Posted by Joseph Hyde on

    Pretty darn cool!

  • Posted by MaryAnn Niclas on
    What exquisite illustrations!! Beautiful, alluring, intriguing and captivating. I just could stare at them all day long.

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