Posted by: Kathy Temean | January 22, 2011

Illustrator Saturday – Lena Shiffman

Illustrator Lena Shiffman was born and raised in Sweden, a country rich in story-telling.

“I grew up reading the wonderful books about Pippi Longstocking, The Children of Noisy Village and many other books by Swedish author Astrid Lindgren. I can not remember when I didn’t draw or paint. When I was seven, I was given a book of Hans Christian Andersen’s Fairy Tales, and would spend hours creating my own pictures to the stories I read.”

Her first book was Keeping a Christmas Secret written by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor. It received a Christopher award in 1989. Since then Lena has illustrated My First Book of Words, and numerous Hello Readers for Scholastic Inc., including the book Dancing with Manatees, that has sold over half a million copies. She has illustrated When I lived with Bats and Playing with Dolphins, both written by Faith McNulty. Her most recent books are Ocean waves & Other Tales and Play dates & Other Tales, by Helen H. Kimbrough.

I always start by brainstorming my ideas for the book on a story board. I draw a very rough layout of each page of the story. I think about the most important part of the story to illustrate, the design of each page and where to place the text.

After my rough story board I start gathering reference. I like to take my own pictures of animals whenever I can, but sometimes I have to use books or internet for my images.

I also take a lot of pictures of my friends and family to help me get the right perspective or movement in the illustration that I want.  I use the pictures only as a guide and often I change the person in the picture totally.  In this illustration I used my daughter for the pose, but changed her into a little boy. The cat is my own cat, Delilah, who isn’t always the best model.








I make sketches of the animal until I can draw them without looking at the reference pictures. I like to work on tracing paper and make a rough sketch of my idea using several pieces of tracing paper to get it just the way I want.  I like the transparency of the tracing paper and how easy the pencil slides on the surface.  Sometimes I have 10 sketches of the same page before I am pleased with the work. 

  After drawing each page in the story, I make a black & white book dummy that I send to the art director. I consider myself part of a team when working on a book, and I want to make sure I have the same vision for the project as the author, editor and art director. Sending the book in at the sketching stage saves time if there is something I need to change before I start painting.

When I am working on a new story I spend many hours drawing and painting.  My characters become my friends and I feel sad when the work is over.  When I go to schools and the children ask me,” What book was your favorite to illustrate?” I always tell them, the one I’m working on at that moment. I find illustrating is like meditation. When I’m painting I am totally absorbed in the story and with the characters I’m creating. Sometimes I wake up in the middle in the night when I’m working on a book and think, “Yes, that’s the way I need to paint it!”

When I worked on my bat book I became a bit batty myself and I thought the cashier checking me out in the supermarket had the wing span of a fruit bat.

All my books are painted with watercolors on either 140 lbs Arches or Winsor & Newton cold press watercolor paper.  I love the transparency of watercolor, how each color shines through the other, giving the art an illuminable quality.

When all the pages are painted, I send them back to the publishing company and a year later the finished book is ready.

In addition to her books she has illustrated many stories for Ladybug Magazine, Cricket and Babybug.  Her favorite being, Baby Blue by Eileen Spinelli.

Lena attended Spectrum Institute of Commercial Art in NJ, and later studied at The Parsons School of Design and the Art Students League in New York City. She is a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI). And a council member of Rutgers University council on children’s Literature (RUCCL).

She enjoys visiting schools to share her passion for children’s books. “I love being an illustrator and hope to be an inspiration to children, young and old who love books just as much as I do.”

Here are some illustrations Lena has done for a couple of unpublished books:

In addition to working on her own art, Lena is an art instructor at:

Hunterdon Art Museum in Clinton, New Jersey,

The Center for Contemporary Art, Bedminster, New Jersey,

Hunterdon Park and Recreation in Flemington, New Jersey

Zimmerli Art Museum, New Brunswick, New Jersey

Lena lives in Flemington, New Jersey, with her husband, daughter and their two cats, Delilah and Bella.

Hope you enjoyed visiting with Lena and viewing her wonderful illustrations.

Talk tomorrow,



  1. I took 3 Children’s Book Illustration classes with Lena last year at the CCA. She is an amazing person, illustrator and teacher! I highly recommend any of her classes. She’s extremely gifted and had a way of bringing out the best in her students. Many of us joined SCBWI, with her encouragement, and she helped us prepare for our first NJ conference last June – a great experience!!


    • Kathy,

      I just spent from time with Lena in NYC at the SCBWI conference this past weekend. We had a good time. Hope you are going to be able to join us in June.



  2. This is very interesting, You are a very professional blogger.
    I’ve joined your rss feed and look ahead to looking for more of your magnificent post. Also, I’ve shared your website in my social


    • Mesin,

      Welcome and thanks for leaving a comment and sharing the information with others. Hope to hear from you again.



  3. I’m not sure where you are getting your info, but great topic.
    I needs to spend some time learning more or understanding
    more. Thanks for great information I was looking for this info
    for my mission.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.


%d bloggers like this: