Posted by: Kathy Temean | October 15, 2011

Illustrator Saturday – Helena Bogosian

I think you are really going to enjoy your visit with Helena Bogosian and her very talented and creative approach to picture books. Here is Helena:

My venture into illustration is a lot like the story of the three little pigs. I tried different mediums before achieving success. After receiving a Bachelors of Science degree in Art, I was a graphic artist by day and aspiring illustrator by night. The first medium I tried was colored pencil. I generated lot of interest but no contracts. Next, I tried painting illustrations in watercolor and gouache, again to no avail.

Finally I tried clay. Sculpting came naturally to me. I always seemed to be struggling with pencils and paintbrushes. I sold my first illustration, a maze, to Highlights for Children magazine. Within a few short years of creating my first clay illustration, I had a book series called “Clay Quests” published by Sterling Publishing, another book published by the Penguin Group, numerous magazine assignments, school visits, and library appearances. I was a voted illustrator of the month by both and Highlights for Children. I recently received the Pewter Plate award for Picture Puzzler of the Year from Highlights for Children and was awarded 2011 SCBWI Magazine merit honor for illustration.

Many people, especially children, are curious as to how I go about creating my illustrations. I start with a very rough sketch. Then, I block out the composition in pre colored polymer clay. This is the type of clay sketch is what I send to art directors. I then create the final art piece by piece. Everything from elephants to eyelashes to the hairs on a witch’s wart is made from pre colored clay.

After the pieces are sculpted, I bake them and then assemble the composition. Once this step is complete, I digitally photograph my work. This photograph is what is sent to the publishers and I retain the original sculpted work. I bring the originals to schools and display them in libraries upon request.

Do you draw out how you want the scene to look? I draw out a very very rough scene for placemnt and usually they contain alot of “blobs” with labels in them. I may draw an oval with pointy ears and write cat over it. Sometimes my sketches are just maps that show a basic background with words here and there…fish…frog…lilly pad here, cattail there. Then I do a rough sculpture of the items in clay. The details are all worked out in clay rather than the sketch.

What did you use for the sand in the Letter “S” picture? I used real sand:)
Is it glued on? baked on? The sand is just poured onto a cookie sheet and then all the items are arranged on top of it after they are baked. When all the items are baked and cooled I arrange them into a scene. Each illustration calls for a different type of arrangement. The seashore illustration was made from separate pieces that I then arranged on sand. A maze is usually done in one big piece, and baked all at once.

The videos are very cool, but the reader will want to know all the materials and all the steps, including how you photograph it. The lighting? The backgrounds? I used the tinfoil to get the frog body shape and to save on clay, sometimes if the clay is very thick it will crack when it is baked in the oven. Foil is great because it can remain in the figure before, during and after the baking process.

How did you set up the picture and make the water? I made the water by sculpting the shapes of the splashes from polymer clay. Then, after I baked the clay I made a mold of the splashes out of latex ( I attached a picture of me making the mold). Then I poured the clear epoxy resin into the molds and voila! The illustration was assembled on top of two pieces of styrofoam which were covered by a piece of blue paper, which was covered by cling wrap. I arranged the leaves and mushrooms and frogs ontop of that and was able to pierce through everything with the water splashes. This was they could stand straight up. I also had one frog placed on a stick and then used the clone brush during editing to erase the stick. You can see the stick still in place in one of the pictures I have attached here.

Most of my work has an interactive component where the viewer is asked to solve a b puzzle or find an object. I enjoy creating something to engage the audience and get them thinking. I have designed illustrations for the very young to upper elementary age and dabble in animation as well.

Like this hidden picture puzzle below. Can you find the match to the four socks on the wall?

The above is from Clay Quests: Hidden Picture Puzzles published by Sterling (November 4, 2008)

Above is the cover and below is another page from the book. These volunteers are collecting cans. Can you find a match for the four cans on the wall?

Below is the cover and four pages from another book – CLAY QUESTS: Maze Magic Published by Sterling Publishing Nov. 4th 2008.

What materials do you use? I use all sorts of materials. Everything from toothpicks and tinfoiil to more expensive sculpting tools. The type of clay. Where you buy it? I use Sculpey, Fimo, Cernit and Daisy Clay. I get the Sculpey and Fimo from art supply stores and the Cernit and Daisy Clay online. Daisy Clay is an air drying polymer clay I get from Thailand, it’s great for making flowers.

Do you need a kiln? I bake everything on a cookie sheet in my oven.

Do you ever paint the clay? I don’t paint the clay. I use pre colored clay. I have to mix paint into the Daisy Clay when it is wet because it is only available in white. Daisy Clay also air dries, but all the others are baked.

Do you use something to roll out the clay? I use a clear lucite rolling pin made for rolling polymer clay. It’s great and nothing sticks to it. I cover my work surface with school notices and scrap paper, typed side down of course! A form of recycling I suppose.

Does the clay have to be mixed? Sometimes I will mix precolored clays together to create another color.

Do you always use the same materials and the same techniques? Each illustration calls for different techniques, but overall I use the same process and materials. Some pieces need armatures under the clay, some don’t. Some pieces need to be glued together after baking, some are baked in one big piece.

I digitaly photograph my work. I set it up either freestanding or in a photographic tent. Depending upon the illustration I either use natural light or a studio light. It took quite a while for me to learn how to take a good picture. What used to take an hour now takes me a minute! I like to use scrapbook paper as backgrounds quite often, usually for images of the sky.

When did you get your first picture book contract? How did that happen?
The first illustrations I did were two puzzles (mazes) that I sent to Highlights for Children in 2008. While I was waiting to hear from them, I created a bunch more. I was surprised when Highlights purchased my first pair of puzzles. I had all these other puzzles waiting in the wings and I sent them to Scholastic and they referred me to Sterling Publishing Co. Inc. Sterling offered me a contract to create two puzzle books for kids ages 7 to 10. After I completed those books, they wanted me to do two more in the series for preschoolers in board book form. Shortly after those were finished I was offered a contract with The Penguin Group to do a counting book that came with puzzle pieces.

Did you sell your clay scenes before you started doing the books? No, but in between illustration contracts I did have a line of retail items sold in boutiques. Room decor for kids, like picture frames etc.

Do you sell the scenes after the book is sold? No, I keep all of the original illustrations in my attic:) I take them out to display in libraries and schools. I also bring them along to school visits so the students can see the “real thing.”

How many books have you done? I have done five books so far, well five published books:) Tell us about the books? Four of them are from the series “Clay Quests” published by Sterling Publishing Co., Inc. The series includes a book of mazes and another of hidden items for kids ages 7 to 10. The series also includes two board books where preschoolers are asked to fins animals and shapes. I also did another book for the Penguin Group. It’s a book that teaches kids to count and comes with a drawer if puzzle pieces to practice math skills.

Do you send the clay pieces to the publisher for them to professionally photo? I photograph everything myself. It took a while to learn the proper techniques but it was necessary for me to learn how to shoot my own work. There are so many tiny pieces involved and the clay can be brittle that transporting the illustrations would cause more harm than good.

What made you start working with clay? I tried other mediums and always seemed to struggle with them but sculpting came naturally to me. I had no idea I could put those skills to work in an illustration until I randomly saw a clay illustration in a magazine. It seemed like something I would like to try and I did and it clicked! I also started working in this medium after I had my second child. I had two kids in two years and clay was a great medium to use when you have to leave your work aside and tend to you kids every five minutes:).

How long does it take to create a scene for a page? It can take a few hours to a few days. It depends upon the details of the assignment. I did the book for Penguin in two weeks ( I really hustled!!), and the first two books for Sterling in three months. Usually it takes about a week from start to finish for a really detailed illustration.

Do you write out what you want to say for each page? Or do you work with the clay and let that direct the text. I usually get the inspiration for the illustration visually, and then use words to describe it.

Below: I Can Count! I Can Add! Published by Grosset & Dunlap (April 16, 2009)

What steps do you take to preserve your work? Do you spray anything special on the objects? I box most of the illustrations in pizza boxes, new boxes not used:) I store them all in my attic. I don’t have to spray anything on them to preserve them. If they are too larg for a pizza box I place them on a board and cover them in foil.

Do you have trouble keeping tiny hands off your creations? I would think any child visiting your house would want to get their hands in everything. Yes you are right, kids love to touch my work! I did a school arts festival where I actually glued everything down on foamcore. I did an arts festival where some kids got stucky fingers and took off with some small pieces, luckilly enough their consciousnesses got to them and they returned the items, after that experience I glue down most of my travelling pieces! I keep a small box of items they are allowed to touch too. I have some pieces framed in shadow boxes to protect them.

Does this talent carry over to cakes? Yes! Funny you should ask! So many people tell me I should work for the Cake Boss in Hoboken! It’s not far from where Ilive . I want to give modelling chocolate a go when I have some free time. I have decorated cakes and cupcakes with my kids.

What is the life expectancy of the things you create? They last forever because the clay is a form of plastic.

Did you go to school for art? Yes, I have a Bachelor of Science Degree in Art.

Are you represented by and agent or artist rep. No.

How do you promote yourself? I currently represent myself. I promote my work through the old fashioned postcard and I also send out work all the time to various magazines and book publishers. I just started using Twitter and Facebook to promote my work and have videos up on YouTube. I am finding social media really gets the word out quickly and to a broad audience.

What’s next for you? I am currently working on two books written by two talented authors. One is an alphabet book in English and the other is a book about flowers in Spanish. They are vastly diferent but I am enjoying the experience of both. I have illustrations in Highlights for Children magazine, High Five magazine and Hidden Pictures magazine this month. I have just started looking into digital publishing too. My mind is always racing with ideas and inspiration:)

I am constantly inspired and always working on new ways to push the conventional 3D envelope. My next illustration involves a water effect I have been experimenting with for a long time. I am very excited about it. The unique feel that a conventional 3d illustration achieves is what keeps me going.

Thank you Helena for sharing your art and expertise with us this Saturday. You can visit Helena at her website:

Talk tomorrow,



  1. OK, I just discovered ONE thing I DON’T like about Illustrator’s Saturday: it reminds me of how quickly the weeks go by! It seems we get to enjoy one illustrator and before we know it, there’s another one!

    All I can say is it’s a good thing we have 6 days in between to catch our breath because EVERY week the work is truly breathtaking! I mean, can you get more talented than this?

    Thanks for this, Helena and Kathy 🙂


    • Donna,

      I always amazes me how much talent is out there.



      • Thank you!!!!!!


      • Helena,

        I teach a class on Social Media and last night I had the twenty – two people in my class drooling over your art.



      • wow, i’m speechless:) thank you so much again.


  2. I LOVE your work. Fun, funny… I’ve got a big smile on my face. Thanks for sharing. Barb


    • Barb,

      Maybe you could try your hand building something with legos for your book.



  3. That is just wonderful, talented, and lovely work!


    • Linda,

      It makes me want to buy some clay.



  4. We have all of her books. My kids absolutely love Helena’s work and so do we. both kids have one of a kind Door Plated handcrafted by Helena…I am 46 and i want one too. I cant wait for her next book!


    • Thanks for letting us know you are already a fan. Do you live near Helena and get to see her work in person? Whatever, I am glad you found her.



  5. How fun! I love this. I want to touch it!


    • Sarah,

      I am with you on that. After I suggested that little kids might have a hard time keeping their hands off the atwork, I thought, Heck, I would have a hard time not wanting to play with them.



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