Posted by: Kathy Temean | December 18, 2010

Illustrator Saturday – Betsy Feeney

Betsy Franco Feeney is an award-winning illustrator working in commercial art for over twenty-five years. Her children’s book work has been described as “meticulously detailed with rare humor and imagination” (Kirkus Reviews). With her Yorkie puppy by her side (or at her feet, or on her lap), she enjoys working in her home studio just outside of New York City.
Betsy’s earlier books were illustrated using watercolors. They were quite labor-intensive, done before she owned a computer. Pencil sketches drawn on tracing paper had to be re-drawn on watercolor paper and then painted. 
The computer is now a prominent tool in Betsy’s art box although she still starts out with free-hand drawing in pencil on paper.
She will either draw from life or set up a photo shoot of her character. Never tracing the photos, Betsy will refer to them for her pencil sketches.
“Imagination greatly comes into play when you have a Basset Hound that can dance and you have an algae band afraid of being eaten by a robin”, points out Betsy.
Those were just two scenarios she had to depict for her book, “Amoeba Hop” based on a song of the same name by celebrated singer/songwriter Christine Lavin. Betsy met with scientists who reviewed her drawings while the book was in sketch stage.
Although she took much artistic license, there were basic properties of the microscopic creatures that the scientists made sure were correctly depicted. “I love doing research for new books”, says Betsy, “I learn so many interesting facts”. 
Betsy now scans her very lively first sketches into the computer and she no longer has to re-draw them on art paper. Instead, in photoshop, she makes the pencil sketch much blacker and then prints it out on watercolor paper so she can paint right on top of it. “That first-sketch liveliness is something I always missed in my earlier finishes” says Betsy. “Now, with the help of the computer, I no longer lose it by having to re-draw”.  
Because the ink jet printout would smear with applied watercolor, Betsy has switched to Grumabacher Max and Windsor Newton Artisan which are oil paints that clean up with soapy water. She still uses 000 watercolor brushes and paint for adding fine details on top, however. The results of this process are quite striking and no re-drawing saves time.
Betsy recently attended the NJ SCBWI conference in Princeton and she used the computer even more. Staring out the same way with pencil sketches, she scanned and sized all of the artwork in layers in photoshop.
Then, she even placed flat colors onto the drawings (also in photoshop) and this time, Betsy printed the illustration on Epson Velvet fine Art paper (made for ink jet printers). With colored pencils, she shaded the Halloween spread and then scanned the shaded illustration back into her computer.
Using photoshop, the spread became much more dramatic by creating a layer copy in the “multiply” mode. “Try it if you are timid with shading as I am,” Betsy suggests. “Then, whatever part of the spread you want to highlight, you can use the eraser tool to get rid of the extra, darker layer. That is what I did with the horse’s mane and tail, for instance”. She also took a photo of an actual road surface and one of grass and brought them into the Halloween spread. It became a collage of sorts.
Betsy is now working on a new book and continuesto experiment with how the computer can help enhance her hand-drawn images. One of her other freelance jobs is designing and painting theater sets. Set designing reaffirms the key step of setting the scene for her characters to live in. “The background is very important in my art. Working in layers in photoshop helps me to compose the pictures more easily. If every character and background element has its own layer, I can shift around the elements without a lot of re-drawing”.
I guess it comes back to that same thing for her, the all-important first-sketch liveliness. “In all of the ways the computer has enhanced my art, that is the number one thing I love about it.”

You can view more of Betsy’s art on several pages of this website :


Hope you enjoyed visiting with Betsy.  I know I enjoyed showing her off.


Talk tomorrow,


  1. Wow, thanks for sharing. I think I just became a fan of Betsy Feeney. Seeing her process is awesome (esp. drawing from the photos), and I love the emotion and playfulness in her work.

    I’d love to see if they have her books at the local library where I read.


  2. Wonderful article! I love seeing the process as well. It has given me a new way to look at illustration. I will be on the lookout for Betsy’s books for my grandchildren.


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