Posted by: Kathy Temean | March 19, 2011

Illustrator Saturday – Don Tate

I discovered the artwork of Don Tate, when he illustrated Audrey Vernick’s book SHE LOVED BASEBALL.  One look and I knew I had to show him off on Illustrator Saturday.   Enjoy!

Don Tate is an award-winning illustrator of more than 30 trade and educational books for children. With a bold, dynamic style, Don’s oil and acrylic paintings bring to life the pages of the children’s books he illustrates. This self-trained painter and digital illustrator has demonstrated extraordinary range in style and medium — each book possessing a distinctive style of it’s own.

Some of the books he’s illustrated include Sure as Sunrise: Tales of Bruh Rabbit (Houghton Mifflin); Summer Sun Risin’ (Lee & Low Books); Ron’s Big Mission (Dutton); She Loved Baseball: The Effa Manley Story.

Don is the winner of Lee & Low Books New Voices Honor, for a book he wrote called It Jess’ Happened: When Bill Traylor Started to Draw, to be published in the fall of 2011. 

I’m not an illustrator with one trademark style. I’m all over the place, and although that is often frowned upon, it works great for me. Most often I’ve used acrylics. Here’s how I worked for the book She Loved Baseball: The Effa Manley Story, and many others:    

Me working in my very messy studio. I have several work stations set up here: Two drawing areas, two paint stations, and a computer area. I’m planning to add a futon to the mess so I can take a quick nap.

Sketching and resketching. I work on tracing paper. That way I can layer paper over paper for quick revisions. Initially I like sketching with a bold Sharpie marker. This really allows me to block in shapes.

To save time, I have my sketches transferred to Canson paper at a local blueprint shop. I seal the paper with a matt medium, and then establish the dark areas of the painting with burnt sienna acrylic paint.

Using titanium white and burnt umber (and a bit of dark blue), I further establish the dark and light areas.

Block in solid, transparent layers. Detail with opaque layers.

Finished painting for cover took about 4 to 5 days to paint. I worked other paintings while waiting for layers do dry.

I often model for many of my paintings. I set the timer on the camera and snap away.

Adding details to an inside spread. It’s interesting how creating book paintings also serve as a timeline for whatever else is going on in life. I remember while painting this picture, the news of Michael Jackson’s death was all over the media.

Above is a portion of the cover art for a book I’ve illustrated for Charledbridge Publishing, Duke Ellington’s Nutcracker Suite, written by Anna Celenza. The book will publish later this year, 2011. Again, I used a different technique. I created this with ink, acrylic watercolors, colored pencils.

The above and two below from All Around Black

Above cover Ron’s Big Mission (Dutton) and below inside piece.

I had to include this piece with the horses that I found on Don’s website. I think almost every illustrator I have had on Illustrator Saturday has had a picture of a horse. Wanted you to see how all are good, but all are different.

The above and following are from Sure as Sunrise: Stories of Bruh Rabbit and his Walkin’ Talkin’ Friends by Alice McGills.

How many of you have felt like that after a big meal?

I wonder if the Dad said, “Yes”? His daughter is watching.

Thanks Don for sharing you process and beautiful illustrations. Don lives in Austin, Texas with his wife and son, and works as a graphics journalist/illustrator at the Austin American-Statesman. You can find out more about Don at

Talk tomorrow,



  1. What a treat to see all the behind-the-scenes shots of artwork for SHE LOVED BASEBALL and a sneak peek of Duke Ellington. Thanks so much, Don and Kathy.


    • Audrey,

      He was the perfect artist for your book. He did a fabulous job. Both of you should be very proud.



  2. Loved seeing this peek into Don’s process and his studio and so much of his yummy artwork! Thanks for highlighting this talented artist.


    • Susan,

      Thanks for leaving a comment on Don’s artwork. Are you an illustrator? I find the writers like to see the process just as much as the illustrators do.



  3. […] Kathy Temean’s wonderful art spangled post in Writing and Illustrator – Illustrator Saturday […]


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