Posted by: Kathy Temean | June 26, 2010

Illustrator Saturday – Leeza Hernandez

If you have come out to one of our conferences you know Leeza Hernandez.  She is the one running around smiling and laughing and talking with an English Accent. She is the person who has encouraged the illustrators in our chapter to come out and support the chapter; something that was a real challenge in the beginning. She also is the Creative Director for Sprouts Magazine.

Leeza began her career long, long ago when she graced her mum and dad’s living room walls with finger paints. After being persuaded to keep the art to at least paper or a canvas, she turned her attention toward graphic design.

For more than 17 years, Leeza has worked in the publishing industry as an art director, designer and illustrator — in the UK and USA. She has worked as a newspaper, magazine and book designer and nowadays, typography and illustration feed her passion for creativity.

In 2004, Leeza started doing children’s book illustration and fell in love with a new form of creativity. She joined the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI)—as well as several local organizations to help better herself as an illustrator. During the process she discovered a love of writing, too.

Leeza signed with agent Rachel Orr at Prospect Agency in April 2008, shortly after, she signed her first illustration contract How to Eat Your Math Homework for Charlesbridge Publishing. It releases in the Fall of 2011. In the summer of 2009, Leeza received her second illustration contract. Fiction, Non-Fiction for Picture Window Books and is due out in the Spring of 2010. Talk about a challenge. Leeza had ten weeks to turn this book around—from start to finish!

At the 2009 Winter SCBWI New York conference, she was awarded the Tomie de Paola Portfolio Award and as a result, has signed her debut picture book contract with G P Putnam’s Sons/Penguin. Dog Gone! A book written and illustrated by her, is due out in the Spring of 2012.

Leeza loves to meet people from all backgrounds—especially those who are enthusiastic about creativity. She is also happy to share her experiences in hope of helping others overcome fears such as: self-worth, creative exploration, motivation and networking! With a love for travel, Leeza always carries a sketchbook and camera and is constantly on the look out for inspiration. She currently lives in central New Jersey with her artist husband, daughter and fluffy cat Maisy and goldfish Daisy …and sometimes a pet monster or two!

Stage 1
I have had these doodles in my sketchbook for a couple of years and I loved the idea of having a chicken and an alligator being best friends. (Chickens pop up in my work all the time and I have no idea why!)
I also love paper lanterns and wondered if somehow there was a party, maybe at a zoo with a bunch of visiting kids. Simultaneously I had been working on a story idea about a character having to give up her pacifier collection. I didn’t know where this idea was going either.

Stage 2
I ditched the zoo idea and focused on the two friends. Here I am playing with layout and composition just in line form. I liked the pose of the alligator (who by now had been named Lucy Gator) as if she was coming out of the water. A river or swamp perhaps? This is a double page spread.

Stage 3
When I started working on color I had already decided this would be a nighttime piece – hence the lanterns – but it was also deliberate in another way. i wanted to work on a different palette to my typical oranges, reds and yellows.

Stage 4
Something was missing for me. The left-hand space in the illustration seemed a bit sparse, but I also felt that a story-telling element was missing from the visual. I wondered why she was going to a party with her chicken friend. Was it a special party for her—A celebration perhaps? During this progression my story took a new turn with Lucy Gator being the owner of the pacifier collection. I added another gator in the swamp ‘watching.’ I hoped for the reader to really want to know what this image is all about. It’s not a climactic scene but certainly one – when paired with text – that might serve as a good page turner for a reveal. You know, a “What’s gonna happen next?” moment.

Stage 5
This is the final illustration that I arrived at for this scene. Changing up my palette was enjoyable. I could probably push the ‘nighttime’ atmosphere further, but was happy with how this illustration turned out at the time. I am still working on the text, but Lucy does NOT eat the chicken who is still yet to be named!

Chickens, chickens, chickens! (they won’t leave me alone) This was an exercise on varied emotion through facial expression and body language.

This image is a shot of my studio wall when I worked on the first round of sketches of Dog Gone! Taping them up like this helped me see that four consecutive spreads looked almost the same in composition – it was like a slap in the face. I didn’t see the problem when these sketches were loose and just sprea out on my desk. I learned a good lesson: Look at your art from as many angles, perspectives and viewpoints as you can – not just singularly but as a

Here’s the character sample illustration that landed me my debut picture book contract with G. P. Putnam’s Sons. The book is called Dog Gone! and is due for release in the Spring of 2012. I am currently working on sketch revisions for Art Director Cecilia Yung and Editor Susan Kochan

Monsters on the Rampage
These guys are multiplying at a rate much faster than I can pen a manuscript for them! My monsters are incredible mischief makers and are out to cause trouble, but they haven’t yet told me why. Cheeky, naughty little monsters.

Skull Temple
I’ve been working on a collection of black & white samples as I love the idea of pushing my illustration style into older genres. And chapter books and illustrated MG novels are cool! This is a piece exploring my textures in black&white/greyscale form.

Leeza’s working on a graphic novel, too.

FlimFlam and The Pendant
Last but not least, these are two cover samples that I created to see how my style might translate to jacket illustrations for older genres.I like the idea of simplifying color, line and composition in this way.

You can see more of Leeza’s art by clicking this link:

Hope you enjoyed seeing what Leeza is up to when she isn’t running Illustrator’s Day, the Illustrator’s Intensive and setting up and designing Sprouts Magazine.


  1. Kathy, I have to tell you—-I am REALLY enjoying your “Illustrator Saturdays”! I love seeing how other artists go about what they do, especially since they are all SO talented.

    And Leeza…YOU are amazing! You’re another one who seems to be limitless with your creativity and productivity. It will be SO exciting to see your books in print!

    I really wish your monsters would let you in on what they’re really up to! lol (I loved the “shaggy” bookmark you made), and they looked great on your shoulders 😉

    I’m loving your B&W artwork, and especially love the texture and sharp contrasts in your skull pic, my dear. Your talent is ablaze EVERYwhere!

    And those chickens won’t leave you alone because there’s something about chickens that’s naturally humorous—as are you!

    So glad you let us all in a bit on how you do what you do. I LOVE it!


    • Donna,

      I’m really liking the Illustrator Saturdays, too. And I agree with you, there is just something about the b & w Skull Temple illustration that really draws you in.
      I think the graphic novel art is bold and fresh. Her chickens are great and I love the one sitting in the nest watching the rain and the little worm with the umbrella. I really like the covers. I just realized, I like them all.



      • lol…I like them all too, and I told Leeza that her work is so distinctive (and humorous), I’d know it anywhere 🙂 That seems to be a very important aspect of what publishers and agents are looking for!
        P.S. And I hope things are going well concerning your teeth!


  2. Hi Kathy and Leeza,
    Great post!!! Thanks for sharing your thoughts and images, Leeza! It’s great learning more about you! All your different ideas and illustrations are amazing, and inspiring!
    Kathy R.


  3. Leeza’s a great artist!

    Interesting to see so much of her work.



  4. Great work! But I really like the work space, probably cause I need to make one for myself!!


  5. Leeza was one of the first NJSCBWI members I met at the first conference I attended 4 years ago — and she remains one of my FAVORITES!!! I love her — and her incredible artwork! MMMMWWWAAAHH!
    Hugs & kisses — Connie
    (and I love chickens, too!)


  6. Nice post about illustration for all creative children, it helps a lot in how to guide our child’s in their creativity stage. Hope to see more soon, Thanks!


  7. Hi everyone,

    WOW! Kathy, thank you so much for the feature. I was surprised when I called up your blog to see ALL of my work. Plus, I was expecting ‘little’ thumbnails of the illustrations to appear and I’m still wowed by the great play you have given them. You are so generous so again, thank you.

    Being a part of the chapter is awesome. I am so blessed to have such great and inspiring friends because of it and it’s really exciting to see more illustrations are coming out of their hidey-holes to join us at our events. We had record-breaking illustrator attendance this year – thank you everyone for coming.

    Thank you too, Donna, Anita, Kathy R, Kathy, Connie, Chris and CC for leaving such lovely compliments and I am glad you enjoy reading about the process and like my work.

    I’ve been absent from the blogging world for a while and I forgot how supportive and encouraging it can be.

    You all have given me such a boost — thank you.

    Blessings of creativity and happiness to everyone out there. And thanks again Kathy for putting together such an informative and inspiring blog!



  8. correction: I meant more illustrators are coming out of their hidey-holes – not illustrations. Oops!


    • I don’t know, Leeza—-I was kinda liking the image of illustrations coming out of their hidey-holes 😉 hehehe


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