Posted by: Kathy Temean | November 26, 2011

Illustrator Saturday – Christina Forshay

Christina Forshay was born and raised in sunny California, where she lives with her amazing husband and the two cutest kids in the world!

Of course, as a child she could be found drawing, coloring and admiring her grand collection of crayons.

Christina graduated from California State University Long Beach with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Illustration in 2002. Since then, she has been proudly working as an illustrator for the children’s market.

Cover of Christina’s book titled, The Really Groovy Story of the Tortoise and the Hare (Albert Whitman & Sons, 2011)

Here is Christina’s Process with her new book:

So, the first step to working on the first picture book I illustrated, The Really Groovy Story of the Tortoise and the Hare, (Albert Whitman & Sons, 2011) was to read through the manuscript and jot down some initial notes and ideas. I was also sent a PDF from the art director of the layout of the book that had the text and some notes for each spread. That made it somewhat easier for me, as figuring out where the page turns will go seems to be half of the initial battle in terms of the flow and continuity of a picture book. I printed out the pdf in a smaller format and cut and paste the pages to form a miniature version of the book so that I would have something tactile to hold, and pages to turn. I kept this right in front of me on my desk every day. This really helped me along the way to bridge the gap between the written word and how I envisioned the final book would look .

After a few days spent mulling over the manuscript, gathering my thoughts and creating small, scribbly sketches, I began working on character design and development for the two main characters. Here is one of first pages I sent the art director of how I envisioned the hare.

The Art Director thought he needed to head in a more “hip and cosmopolitan” direction, so I trolled the internet looking for inspiration. I sent Nick (the Art Director) this image I found on a certain “hip” clothing store’s website and he agreed that this was the direction we should go.

So, that is how we ended up with the final look for Hare.

Once the character designs were finalized, it was time to move to the sketches for the spread. Though I work digitally for the final paintings these days, my sketches are mostly done pencil on paper and then scanned in.

I started very small on a sheet of paper with thumbnail size sketches that are approximately 1” by 2” each. These thumbnails are proportionally correct in size to the final artwork size. As you can see, these are super messy, but contain the essential large shapes and figures which I think will eventually create a strong and dynamic composition. These are tiny compositional studies for my eyes only and are meant for me to work out ideas before I move on to the more finished sketches which are sent to the Art Director.

From this point, I enlarge each thumbnail and begin more finished sketches for the Art Director to review. Here was my first rough idea sketch for the first spread (which you can see, changed from the thumbnails above):

This round of roughs went through a couple more rounds of changes until I ended up with this working sketch that the art director was happy with.

So after all the sketches for the 32 pages and cover have been finalized and I’m given the go-ahead to move forward (yay!), the painting part comes next.
And….here comes the technical and Photoshoppy part:

I use Photoshop for painting these days and I usually work in a LOT of layers. I usually start with a base layer that is tinted a burnt-orange color. I like to do this because it helps to tie together all the colors I like to use. Then, the drawing is placed on top in a “multiply layer” set to about 40% opacity. You can see here that my final sketch is not a 100% perfect line drawing and is not exactly how it turns out in the final because I like to be able to have some spontaneity left for the painting process. I don’t want to feel like I’m coloring a coloring book and “staying in the lines”.

Regarding color, I rarely ever do color studies as I usually have a color palette in my head that I know I’m going to work with, but I do look at a lot of different artwork that inspires me color-wise. I like to work with color organically as I’m painting and having multiple layers helps me to tweak colors as I go. Playing with color is one of my favorite parts of painting!

I used quite a few different custom Photoshop brushes that I created to give more of a painterly look to each painting. The brushes are usually set to about 70% opacity to allow the colors to be layered and “glazed” much like I would do if using traditional oils or acrylics.

I usually work from background to foreground, meaning I almost always (99%) of the time paint the sky first using a big, broad brush. I think I just like the look of the blue against the burnt-orange background—that color combination always gets me excited and ready to paint! Here you can see the background (orange) color with the background buildings painted in (and various guidelines):

Once the background is painted I start adding the characters, usually in their own layers combined into their own groups. This aids in making color/position changes easier later on down the line.
Once the entire painting has been completed, I add environmental factors to create ambience such as smoke, halos for lights and or layers which help to create areas where I need extra darks or lights. Here is the completed image without extra lights, darks and glows:

And here is the final image as it appears in the book with some areas darkened, highlighted and contrasted to create more mood and drama.

And that, in a nutshell, is my process!

Q: How long have you been illustrating?

A: Well, I’ve only been getting paid as an illustrator for a few years. And really only very recently (as in the past year or so) can I say that I could potentially (meagerly) support myself as an illustrator if I really needed to.

Q: How did you decide to get into children’s picture books?

A: As I’m sure many artists will say, I’ve been drawing and coloring since I was a very small child. It wasn’t until my fourth year in college though, that I decided picture books was the route for me. I took a lot of college courses in graphic design, but I really thought it was too restricting for me. It was then that I decided that graphic design wasn’t for me and that illustration was they way to go.

Q: What was the first thing you sold? When was that?

A: The first legitimate project I did that I actually got PAID for was a really fun educational project for a small company that does books for Korean kids learning English. It was about six spreads and it actually paid pretty well! This was in 2005, about two years after I graduated from college. It took me a looooong time to get my first job. And it took a long time after that to get an illustration job again! At that point I had an office job and wasn’t persuing illustration as much as I wanted to.

Q: How many picture books have you illustrated and published?

I’ve illustrated and published two books. One was a picture book for a very, very small non-profit agency. This book dealt with teaching children how to cope with a parent who has cancer and was done in 2009.

As far as doing a picture book for an industry-established publisher, I’ve only done one so far. It’s titled “The Really Groovy Story of the Tortoise and the Hare and was released in April of 2011 with Albert Whitman & Company.

Q: When did you get your first book contract?

A: I got my first book contract with Albert Whitman & Company in May of 2010.

Q: I see that you are represented by The Bright Agency. How did that happen? Have they gotten a lot of work for you?

A: Back in 2009, after fiddle-faddling and dabbling in the illustration world and not getting very far, I decided to start a search for agents. I felt my portfolio was at the point that, even if I wasn’t picked up by an agent, I might get some positive feedback by one. I had been out of college for a few years and felt like I was going nowhere illustration-wise. Well, one day out of the blue, I got an email from the founder of Bright saying they were “keen on representing me”. I hadn’t yet discovered them, so I after some researching, I found out they are an awesome London-based agency and decided to sign with them. I’m not exactly sure, but I believe they found my website either on or through a network of illustration friends’ links I have listed on my website or blog.

Bright is an amazing group and work very, very hard for their artists. In my experience so far, they get me as much work as my time will allow. They are very understanding and work with you to get you as much work as you can handle!

Q: Do you follow a daily routine with your illustrating career?

A: As far as following a routine goes, I try! But with two kids under five and a firefighter husband with a C-R-A-Z-Y work schedule, any kind of work routine I might conjure up flies out the window! I try to get large chunks of work done when my husband is home and at night. I usually have a graveyard shift that goes from about 9pm to 2am when I have an impending deadline. I am also extremely thankful for my parents who live a few minutes away who are extremely supportive of me and help me out a TON with babysitting when I need them.

Q: What marketing things have you done that you feel brought you more work?

A: Well, since I have been with Bright, I can say that they find me the right amount of work that I can handle, but before them, I was signed up with and that brought me some work here and there. I am horrible when it comes to marketing for myself! I’ve only sent out postcards once ever. I do really need to work on that…

Q: What materials do you use? Acrylics, oils, watercolor, pastels, colored pencils? Any special techniques? Any special papers, brushes?

A: Currently, I work digitally in Photoshop. But previous to working digital I loved using walnut-based oils. I’m really, really missing them and think it might be time to pick up a paintbrush again soon!

Q: Do you do any of your art digitally?

A: Besides rough sketches, which I do with blue or red col-erase pencils on plain printer paper, all of my work is digital.

Q: Do you own a graphis tablet? What part of the process does it play?

A: I have two tablets, a 12” Wacom Cintiq and a larger Wacom Intuos 4. I mainly use the Cintiq with my desktop computer at home as it’s more intuitive since you can draw/paint with the stylus directly on the screen. Sometimes I use my parents house as my studio and take I use the Intuos tablet with my laptop when I travel because it is more portable than the Cintiq. It allows you to have a “portable” studio. There’s no way I could do digital work without a tablet. It is an absolutely essential tool for my work.

Q: Have you ever attempted to write your own book an illustrate it?

A: Not yet! I do have lots of ideas floating around though. In the past, I was always so focused on getting my illustration skills up to par that writing or creating my own stories never even entered my mind. But now that I feel more confident in my illustration abilities, I’ve been itching for the freedom of working on my own original ideas.

Q: From looking at your blog, I see you have been active member of the SCBWI. How does that figure into your success, if any?

A: I really can’t say enough about SCBWI. My illustration career can be distinctly divided into two eras: pre-SCBWI and my post-SCBWI. The SCBWI has been such a catalyst for jump-starting my fledgling career in so many ways. Their website is a treasure trove of insider information. Besides their website and newsletters/bulletins, the relationships I have built with fellow “SCBWI-ers” through attending conferences and local “shmoozes” are life-long and AWESOME. Really, being an SCBWI member is priceless in so many ways.

Q: Do you have any words of wisdom for your fellow illustrators that might help them be more successful?

A: I’m really just a beginner myself—new to being a professional illustrator, but once I started to KNOW that I will eventually meet all my illustration goals, things started to change for the positive. You have to get to the point of confidence in your craft that you that you KNOW you will eventually meet your goals. I’m not saying to be cocky and that self-doubt goes away. What I ‘m saying is that you have to believe in yourself to the point that you overcome your fears about being an illustrator. To get to that point though, you have to work hard at your art—lots and lots of painting and drawing and studying other art that appeals to you. Study what art makes you excited and why it makes you excited. BUT, at a certain point, you have to put everyone else’s art away and just create. Shut off the computer and other people’s art sites, close the “Art of Pixar” book and create your own work.

And lastly, put your work out there! I’ve found portfolio showcases, reviews and contests through local and national SCBWI events have played an integral part helping to get over fears that create roadblocks.

And a glimpse of a Black and White illustration.

Thank you Christina for sharing your talent and process with us. If you would like to visit more with Christina, you can visit her at  or at:  

I am sure we will be seeing a lot more from Christina Forshay in the future. 

Please leave  comment.  I’m sure Christina would love to hear from you.

Talk tomorrow,



  1. love her work and humor…and rich coloring, but spontaneous and ‘cool’ as well. All wonderful. wish I’d seen her before the Brits! bestest,


    • Thank you! That means a lot coming from you, Ms. Tugeau!



  2. Great interview! You have an interesting process and thanks for sharing about the progress of your career. Love your painterly digital style–rich in color and texture, as well as adorable characters. Best success Christina!


  3. Christina’s work is beautiful – so rich and layered and full of humor, warmth and meaning. It’s wonderful to see her successes – I look forward to seeing many more of her books!


  4. Christina’s work is truly inspirational! What a wonderful interview. Can’t wait to see what she does next!


  5. Thank you for all the very nice words, ladies! I would love to read some interviews from you, my talented friends and colleagues! 🙂



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