Posted by: Kathy Temean | March 26, 2011

Illustrator Saturday – Brad Sneed

Brad Sneed grew up near Newton, Kansas, in a big white house with a red roof and a porch swing.  If he wasn’t playing sports, or riding his horse, he most likely could be found stretched out on his bedroom floor, drawing and painting.  After High School, Brad chose to continue his art education at Kansas University, where he studied illustration and earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts Degree.

His first picture book, Grandpa’s Song was published in 1990, followed by Lucky Russell, which he wrote and illustrated.  To date, Brad has Illustrated over twenty books including, Mr. President Goes to SchoolDeputy Harvey and the Ant Cow Caper, The Boy Who Was Raised By Librarians, and retold Thumbelina, and a collection of Aesop’s Fables.  In 2007 Sneed joined two others to form MarbleSpark, a company specializing in publishing personalized picture books.

The Process…

It’s probably obvious, but I begin by reading the manuscript.  I pour over the words many times, and let my imagination run, run, run.  Then it’s just a matter of getting the pictures in my head out on to the paper.

My first drawings are mere doodles.  I call them thumbnail sketches.  I will usually do several little thumbnails for each image in my head.  I’ll pick the one I like best and develop it further by drawing it larger and adding details.  These detailed pencil drawings go into a dummy book that is a scale mock up of the soon to be real book.  I also cut apart the manuscript and paste text onto the dummy book pages.  When the dummy book is complete, it’s not hard to imagine what the final book will look like.  I send the dummy to the publisher and wait for comments from the Editor and Art Director.  There are usually some revisions based on their comments before I proceed the the final art stage.
The final illustrations for most of my books are watercolor paintings, though I’ve worked in oil, acrylic, and mixed media.

Jim Aylesworth’s, Cock-a-doodle-doo, Creak, Pop-pop, Moo, takes place on a farm, and although Jim doesn’t specify when the story takes place, I imagine the early, 1920’s.  I always”picture” the paintings in my mind as I develop sketches for the dummy book.  So… I’m sketching and the images percolating in my imagination are different than usual — they are completely without color!  

The picture book begins to take shape in the story board phase.  This is where text separation and page format comes into focus.  The illustrations at this stage are small and rough. 
The spare text for, Cockle-doodle-doo, Creak, Pop-pop, Moo doesn’t take up much space on the page, so it’s a great opportunity to jam pack every page with art!

I continue sketching, and slowly a bit of color seeps in, but it is very subtle.  The art in my mind’s eye is reminiscent of the hand-tinted black-and-white photos displayed in my grandparent’s house.

It occurs to me that this might be an appropriate “look” for the illustrations in this book.  I set out to simulate the look of a hand-tinted photo.  I decide to fully render the image in graphite and then add a bit of soft color with watercolor paint.  The effect is perfect!

 But something isn’t right.  The style reflects the era but seems too somber for the story, which is quite lite.  Now I’m torn.  I really like the look of the piece, and I had a good deal of fun rendering it, but I can’t ignore the nagging notion that the mood just doesn’t fit the text.  I decide to send the illustration to the Editor at Holiday House to get her opinion.  My fears are confirmed when the Editor responds that after showing it around the office, the consensus is the art won’t appeal to a young audience because it isn’t colorful.

Back to the drawing board!

The second illustration is colorful, and while I still really like the first version, the bottom line is it just doesn’t reflect the mood of the story.  So the remaining illustrations for, Cock-a-doodle-doo, Creak, Pop-pop, Moo will have all the color typical of my past work.  I will, however, find a way to use the “tinted drawing” style in a future story!!

Character Studies

It’s very important that characters in a picture book are consistent throughout.  Little Johnny had better look the same on page two as he does on page 22!  To make this easier, I begin by creating a series of sketches of each character so that I can refer to these images as I work my way through the final illustrations.

In addition to the farm animals in Cock-a-doodle-doo, Creak, Pop-pop, Moo, there are nine people:  mom, dad, grandma, and six children!

Brad lives in Prairie Village, Kansas with his wife and daughter.  You can learn more about Brad and his books by visiting his website: or visiting his blog: or .  David L. Harrison did a very nice interview with Brad.  Here is the link:  

Hoped you enjoyed visiting with Brad.  We have never met, but anyone can see how talented he is and he seems like a great guy.  Hope you check out his books, the next time you are in a book store, I know I will be looking for him on the shelves.

Talk tomorrow,



  1. Love Brad’s work! His Cock-a-Doodle-Do illustrations have the movement and excitement of midwesterner Thomas Hart Benton. Thanks for showing us his work, Kathy.


    • You have a good eye, Mary! I really dig Benton’s work.


    • Mary,

      I knew you had a good eye. Brad does have a lot f movement and excitment in his illustrations.

      Talk soon,



  2. Kathy,
    I LOVE seeing the illustrators’ works and processes. I appreciate so much that you publish them for our enjoyment. I have a new sense of wonder and awe about art and especially about illustrating children’s books. Thanks!


    • Pam,

      Thanks for letting me know you enjoy Illustrator Saturday. It is the one post that takes hours and hours of work, so it is nice to know you are getting something from the effort. I am amazed at how much talent is out there.

      Talk soon,



  3. Thanks Kathy for showcasing Brad’s work. Brad, we had Marsha Diane Arnold at our library Saturday, where I learned of your work in The Pumpkin Runner. I love that book and I love your illustrations.

    Mary Nida


    • I am glad you enjoy THE PUMPKIN RUNNER, Mary! Marsha is a talented writer and lovely person. I am lucky to have illustrated two of her stories!


    • Mary,

      Brad is very a very talented artist. Love the movement he brings to the psge, but I love the softness of the kitten and the cat, too.

      Talk soon,



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