Posted by: Kathy Temean | October 22, 2011

Illustrator Saturday – Colin Throm

This week we have illustrator, Colin Throm. I picked up one of his postcards at the NYC SCBWI Conference in January. It has been sitting on my desk ever since and probably is sitting on a number of art directors who pick one up at the conference, too.

So illustrators don’t let the importance of postcards and getting yourself out there to meet people slip by, you never know where your postcard could end up.

Here’s Colin – Enjoy!:

I have been drawing ever since I was old enough to hold a crayon. Always surrounded by art and children’s literature from Norse mythology to Oz to Dr. Seuss, to this day I hold a love for both classic illustration and cartooning. Though I have spent the past two decades working with computer graphics and multimedia, I prefer to get my fingers dirty with pencil, ink, and paint. Nature provides me with endless joy and inspiration. The vibrant colors, the subtle play of light and shadow, discovering odd faces in trees and stones, even the feel of sun and sky all give me fresh perspective and ideas. The woods, mountains, and seaside are full of wonder and beauty, and are sacred spaces for my wife, Anna, and me. As we enjoy frequent rambles and adventures in the natural places around us, I tap into that same feeling of joy and magic when I return to the studio. From these journeys, my art offers a generous helping of whimsy and fantasy. I am deeply grateful for my wife and lifestyle that support staying in touch with nature, and provide continuing inspiration.

Here is a little bit about Colin’s Process for “Ghost Stories”, the October cover for “Stories for Children” online magazine:

I begin with a series of thumbnail sketches, anywhere from 5 – 10 quick, small compositional ideas. This is where the Art Director and I start the conversation.

I gather or photograph as much reference as possible. I use stock imagery, internet search, photos of wife and family or friends, and photos of myself. In this case, I was particularly interested in campfire lighting effects for hands and faces.

After picking a thumbnail to work with, I create a rough pencil drawing at full size or larger, and in correct proportion to final output. Depending on how I plan to proceed, this drawing may be worked up to a very close-to-final state. Sometimes I draw directly on my final painting surface, which will usually be Arches hot press watercolor paper or Strathmore illustration board. In this case, the drawing is on plain smooth drawing paper, at 150% of final output size. In any event, I will always digitally scan the drawing for future reference before starting to paint. This is especially important if I am going to paint over the original drawing.

One of the most difficult moments in this process is the transfer of my final drawing onto a painting surface. Normally, I use the old-fashioned but still effective carbon paper method. I have created my own sheet of carbon transfer paper with tracing vellum, ebony pencil, and rubbing alcohol. A transfer sheet will last me several years.

If I draw directly on the painting surface, I will lightly erase the drawing before applying paint. I want to eliminate sketch lines and heavy pencils, but still have enough of the drawing show through to provide a guide for painting.

For this piece, I tried something a little different. Instead of manually redrawing a complex image using carbon paper, I resized, colored, and lightened the digital scan of my original drawing. I then printed it out on Arches hot press watercolor paper.

When did you decide that you would like to do illustrations for children’s book? What was the trigger for wanting to move into picture book illustration?

I think I have wanted to illustrate children’s books ever since I was a child myself. I fell in love with the work of RL Neil, Arthur Rackham, and other classic children’s illustrators. For me, there has always been the desire to illustrate, so there never really was a “trigger” as such.

Some of the illustrations on your site look like they are from book dummies or a children’s book. Which are they? Were they done to promote yourself?

That depends on which works you are looking at. It’s a real mix. Some of the images on my site were done purely for self promotion (“Be Careful What You Wish For” springs to mind, the image is from Arthur Conan Doyle fantasy writing and it was done as a portfolio piece.) But I created most of the images for specific reasons. A number of my fantasy images were for an online serial that never got published, and many of the character and monster drawings were for contests or other development exercises. When I don’t have paying work, I look for opportunities that will at least expand my portfolio. Many of the children’s illustrations I have posted are from an e-book publication of “The Wind in the Willows”.

I see that you use watercolor and ink as your main tools, but do you use Photoshop to clean up your artwork? Or ever paint using Photoshop or Painter?

I work with a computer all day, so when I’m on my own time I prefer not to work digitally. Having said that, I do sometimes paint or color with both Photoshop and Painter. Honestly, I have never yet had to send originals to an Art Director. My work has always been submitted electronically, which affords me the chance to do Photoshop post-production and cleanup before sending it out.

What type of paper and materials do you use?

The first thing is, for me archival is important! Make sure your paper is acid free, and never use “Sharpies” or office pens for artwork.

I will draw pencil on almost any archival paper, but I prefer something with mild tooth. My tools of choice are a .5 mm mechanical pencil and a Pentel “Tuff Stuff” eraser stick, which allows me to remove sketch lines with high precision. For larger works, I use Ebony pencil and sometimes charcoal.

Ink requires a smooth surface, and I use Borden & Riley’s “Paper for Pens”. I do most of my ink work with 0, 1, and 2 brushes, Kolinsky winter sable or Windsor & Newton series 7. I also use split quill dip pens, mostly “crowquill” or “hawksquill” nibs for lining and the “flexible” nib for variable line. My ink is now always either plain India or Acrylic India. Nothing gives a deep black like India ink, and it’s water-fast. Do not make the mistake of using fount inks if you are even thinking of getting water anywhere near your work. My favorite inks are FW Acrylic India, PH Martins “Bombay” or “Black Star”, and Windsor & Newton.

Since I combine pencil with my watercolor, I work on either Arches hot press watercolor paper or Strathmore illustration board. These surfaces are smooth enough to draw nicely on and still take the watercolor nicely. Cold press watercolor paper takes the color a little better, but is too rough to draw on. Never use “1 ply” Bristol for water media, it buckles like crazy. I use a variety of brushes but currently favor a series of “Masterwork” filberts. For paints, I buy small tubes of the best quality I can find. Watercolor in a tube does not get used up very quickly, so small is fine. I don’t have a favorite brand, but stay away from “student grade” colors. I also combine casein paint with my watercolors for opacity effects.

Has your style or materials changed over the years?

Yes, I used to work much more with pen and cross-hatching. I was very line-oriented and then went through a phase of working mostly in pencil tone. I now feel that I have integrated linear and tonal approaches pretty well. Also, and this is a big one, it took a long time for me to embrace color. I always told myself that black and white is challenging enough. I really do love color though; it just took me a long time to get comfortable with it. I tend to experiment with new methods and techniques a lot.

It looks like you have done a lot of artwork for gaming companies.  I guess that is how you got into fantasy illustrations.  How did that all get started? 

As a boy I liked to draw dinosaurs and monsters, I think most boys do. When “Dungeons and Dragons” came out it was something very different and fascinating, like a story you write yourself, yet you don’t know how it will end. I never really got into playing the game, but I found the books and writings to be powerful vehicles for imagination. As an adult artist, I always knew that role-playing games would be a good fit for me.

Do you have an artist rep. or an agent?

Not at the moment. I did work with a virtual studio for a while, which was nice because I didn’t have to do the legwork. I would definitely be interested in talking with a rep. or an agent however.

Do you spray your final illustrations to help preserve them?

I spray pencil and charcoal pieces with workable fixative, but otherwise no. Once it dries, watercolor is impervious. If I plan to frame and hang a piece, I might also treat it with fixative to protect it from the sun.

What are your plans to get your work noticed by art directors?

I have been attending more SCBWI events and other artist’s development events lately, and I am planning to launch a postcard campaign soon.

Where do you live? Where did you grow up?

My wife and I currently live in Colonia NJ and travel to many places throughout New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and New York to get our time in with woods and nature. I grew up on a farm in Skillman NJ, which is near Princeton. We still enjoy going back to that farm for walks, and to Princeton campus for the architecture and magnolia blossoms.

Any tips for other artists starting out? Is gaming a growing opportunity for artists?

My best general advice is to work at what you love but be open to learning new things. Do whatever helps you generate real portfolio pieces and gets you experience, but don’t be suckered into doing less than your best for “the exposure”. If working for free will spur you to create something useful for your portfolio then do it, if not then don’t. I know that if I don’t have a paying job, I’m still better motivated if I have a reason behind it, such as a contest or activity.

Gaming is a mixed bag for beginners. It’s a low-end market so it’s hard to make any money, but it’s relatively easy to find work. There is also a lot of talent and competition. There are only a few gaming companies with the budget to pay well and only a few top artists that really make a living at it. On the other hand, there is a lot of work available if you don’t mind working cheap. You can use online communities such as  or  to find work, but realize that you will be more successful if you are active in those communities.

“Bone Necklace” graphite

“Diminishment of the Ma’Saiid” graphite

“Marii Moon dance” graphite

“Trees of the Dark Forest” wax pencil

As a freelance illustrator, how do you go about getting jobs?

For the most part, I rely on a day job to pay the bills. I can’t take on a large number of freelance assignments at any given time, so I can afford to let jobs come to me. When jobs come in, they are usually either from someone I’ve worked with before or in response to portfolios posted in various online communities. I comb through SCBWI publications and the Artist’s Market for leads, and use company websites to get submission information.

Colin thank you for sharing your illustrations and your process with us. I love the new picture of the Halloween children around the campfire. Here is the link for anyone who would like to buy a copy of the magazine.  The illustration is on the cover.

You can see more of Colin’s art on his website:

Talk tomorrow,



  1. very nice illustrations…and styles… fun to see…thanks Kathy


    • Chris,

      Thanks for leaving a comment. What have you been up to?



  2. Thanks also from me for the comment!



  3. Way to go Colin…Great to see you’ve kept the handcrafted artwork going…I’m still trapped in the digital world and can’t get out.


    • Hey Steve, good to “see” you here! Thanks for posting, and we should catch up sometime soon.


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