Posted by: Kathy Temean | December 10, 2011

Illustrator Saturday – Angela Matteson

Angela Matteson is a multi-tasking daydreamer and illustrator; specializing in the children’s market, fueled by dark chocolate, and a love for telling stories through pictures.

Every day brings new inspirations as she discovers the characters that inhabit her sketchbook. Her color-driven works are filled with storytelling imagery that elicits an emotional response. Her characters often come with issues, but doesn’t everyone?

After a 9 year sojourn in a humble suburb of Chicago, where she worked as a greeting card and gift packaging designer, CCAD grad Angela Matteson has serendipitously returned to Columbus, OH, where she is the design & marketing director for a snack foods company.

As a SCBWI member she is also pursuing her dream of creating her own picture books.

Angela loves singing loudly in the car, and stays grounded with long walks in the woods where she finds the quiet stillness that opens her mind to a world where squirrels cry, pigs fly, and anything is possible.

Here is Angela to let you know a little bit about her process:

I begin each project brainstorming ideas, searching through my favorite inspirations, and researching the subject matter. Often my initial ideas end up on post-its just to get the loose concept down before I hit the sketchbook. For one of the paintings for a recent gallery show I used the theme, ‘robots’ from our group blog, and challenged myself to come up with my own unique spin on the topic.

Once I had the basic shapes for a bunny bot character a scene quickly played out in my sketchbook. To adjust sizing, angles, and composition I xerox the drawing, and cut and paste. I then finalize the drawing, and xerox that for transferring onto the wood board.

Before transferring I prep the board by brushing on a thin acrylic wash as a base color. I use a brown colored pencil to strengthen my linework. I then scan the drawing on wood into Photoshop, and create a color study. I love when I already have a color palette in mind. (Sometimes the color idea comes even before the drawing.) But, if not, I go to my ginormous collection of paint swatches and Color-aid, and play around in Photoshop until all the colors are working in harmony.

I keep my color study close at hand, and for this painting I used mostly a dry brush technique, being careful to preserve the wood grain as much as possible.

This painting is 6″ x 6″ on a 1/4″ thick board, but for page spreads like for these James and the Giant Peach illustrations I used 11″ x 17″ 1/8″ boards, as the thin boards are much more practical for multiple pages.

These are some preliminary sketches which I showed my awesome critique group, and they helped point out the scaling and positioning issues. I knew I wasn’t happy with the insects, and they pointed out there was too much sameness in the composition, so I varied it up by making the grasshopper dominant.

Here is a pictorial of Angela’s process for another piece.

How long have you been illustrating?

I’ve been drawing and painting since I could hold a pencil and pen. My interest in studying art grew around middle school, and once I saw a listing of 4 year art colleges in the back of Artist’s Magazine I realized I could turn it into a real career. I received a scholarship to Columbus College of Art & Design, and graduated with a BA in Illustration. One of our assignments senior year had been to send out 20 promotional packets, and I was hoping for some freelance leads, but a greeting card/calendar/packaging company called me up, and offered me a full time in-house designer/illustrator position. Through 9 years, I learned all the things they don’t teach you in college, such as working with a sales team, setting up files for press, working with die templates, press checks, creating catalogs, etc…

How did you decide you wanted to illustrate books?

I’ve always been interested in children’s books, but my love of color and pattern lead me into the greeting card market. After drawing holly and snowmen for so many years my desire to tell more of a story through illustration grew. About 6 years ago I picked up a sketchbook, and put aside all the rules that I had on the job, and drew just for me. I credit Illustration Friday for getting me into the weekly drawing habit, and through posting on my blog I found an entire art community of the most wonderful, supportive people on the planet. I then joined SCBWI to learn all I could about children’s books.

What was the first thing you illustrated and got paid for?

In my final year of college, Michael J. Rosen was putting together a book of stories, photos, and illustrations all about the VW Beetle, called, MY BUG. I, along with many of my classmates and instructors were asked to contribute. A xerox copy of the check is still folded inside my copy of the book. 

How long have you been working on illustrating for children?

I joined SCBWI at the end of 2008. I’d say that marks the beginning of me focusing specifically on this path.

What are you working on now?

I’m designing a new postcard for a mailing, and I have a private painting commission I’m excited about.

Do you do all your illustrating on wood?

I’ve done all my gallery show work on wood. Besides loving working with the woodgrain I like the presentation. I also work digitally.

How do you decide what type of stain or wash you will use to start on the wood?

It depends what type of mood or tone I want, and how the base color is going to affect my color palette.

How do you make the stain or wash? What do you mix with the acrylic?

I don’t use any mediums in the paint. I use a very diluted wash of the Atelier Interactive Acrylics, the same paint I use for the rest of the piece. These acrylics have the ability to re-wet. I was told at the art store that some people freak out by how these paints act, and return them immediately. I started out as a watercolor girl, so these paints fit my style of working. Between the paint and the natural wood, I’m in heaven when I work.

How does this type of art hold up?

The Atelier Acrylics are archival and lightfast. For printed pieces I scan or photograph the work, and make adjustments in Photoshop. I start out by trying to make the digital file match the original as closely as possible, but then I remind myself that once it’s digital the most important thing is that it looks good on screen, and that it will print well.

Do you paint something over the illustration when you are finished to preserve the illustration?

I brush on Golden’s Polymer Varnish with UVLS (Satin), and dilute per the package instructions.

How long do you think it would take to illustrate a 32 page picture book this way?

The James and the Giant Peach spreads from concept to final paintings took me about 2 weeks. I would expect an entire 32 page book to take about 6 months to a year.

Would you scan the pieces in order to send it to the publisher? Or do you envision mailing in the originals?

I would most likely photograph the pieces. I haven’t been happy with the scans lately. A photograph captures truer colors and represents the woodgrain texture better. I would send digital files to the publisher.

You mention using brown pencil to draw on the wood. Is this to help hide the lines?

Actually the opposite. I use my favorite Pablo Caran d’Arche Bistre colored pencil to strengthen the lines. I also use it to shade some initial values. Then throughout the painting I let some lines disappear when a paint edge is strong enough on it’s own, and some areas I’ll add more pencil lines.

Are you represented by an agent? If so, who?

I am not yet represented by an agent, but I am looking. Ideally, I would love to work with a literary agent, but I’ve been debating submitting to a few art reps to take on a variety of projects.

Do you have a strict schedule for working in your studio? Or just a loose weekly routine?

By day, I work as a Creative Director/(one woman art department) at a snack food company, so that sets my weekly routine. In the evenings, I grab a quick dinner, and I’m in the studio until around midnight. I live for the weekends when I can spend full time in the studio.

Are there any marketing things you have done that helped you get additional work?

Networking through SCBWI, and maintaining an online presence through my website, blog, facebook, and twitter, and gallery shows have led to assignments and commissions.

Do you ever use any other materials besides the wood, acrylics, pencil and brushes? Do you use any special brushes to paint on the wood?

Besides regular sable brushes, I use Da Vinci Top Acryl bristle brushes.

Do you own a graphic tablet?

Yes! I can’t be without my Wacom Intuos 3

Do you do any of your art digitally? If so, what software do you use? And what process does it play?

The pieces on my website in the ‘children’s illustration’ section were all colored digitally in Photoshop after a refined pencil sketch was scanned in. I also use Adobe Illustrator at times to refine lines, or work with type, etc…

Have you changed your approach or style from when you first started illustrating?

Most definitely. At my first job the art department laughed at me for barely touching the computer during my first few projects where I watercolored everything. The job promoted experimentation, and I ended up learning a lot of techniques in Photoshop, and I do love the endless possibilities and endless layers and undos! I started the wood technique for one gallery show on a whim, and rediscovered my love for working traditionally, and getting lost in the ‘painting zone’. Every artist is constantly evolving. I’ve brought things I learned from working traditionally to the computer, and things I’ve learned from working digitally to my traditional work. I’ve been thinking about doing some experiments on paper again as well, and working more with collage papers.

Have you ever thought of writing your own book and illustrating it?

Becoming an author/illustrator is my ultimate goal. I completed a picture book dummy I had written, and had it critiqued at the SCBWI summer conference this year. It was a very rough attempt but I received excellent advice on what I need to work on. I love to tell a story through one illustration, but an entire story is still a challenge. I have a great respect for writers who craft wonderful manuscripts.

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

For anyone having trouble getting started I give the advice I’ve told myself, and that’s less talking about what you’re going to do, and go straight to doing it. I can tend to be someone who overthinks everything. But every time I took the leap, whether it was starting the blog on Christmas Eve, going on a spontaneous 11 day trip to Guadalajara, or attending my first SCBWI conference I’ve never regretted silencing my doubts, and taking myself on a new adventure. Also, take lots of reference photos! Now, with Facetime it’s super easy. My computer is filled with odd photos of myselfI use to study proper hand positioning and poses.

Thank you Angela for sharing your unique artwork and process. If you would like to see more from Angela, you can visit her website: . Spread a little joy by leaving Angela a comment to let her know you appreciated the artwork she shared with us today. Thanks!

Talk tomorrow,



  1. Angela, this was utterly fascinating! Your work has such beauty, warmth and VERY distinctive style, it can’t help but be appealing. I know I would be drawn to pick up a book with your work on it. Thank you SO much for sharing this with us (and Kathy for putting it out there for us). I also have to say that, although I loved EVERY picture, I was particularly impressed by the little girl holding the Harry Potter doll 😀 I’m a HUGE Potter/Rowling fan 🙂


  2. Donna, thank you so much for your kind words.


  3. Kathy, I’m so honored and humbled to be featured amongst the great talents of your Illustrator Saturdays. Thank you so much for featuring my work, and for all your time in putting this all together.


  4. Really lovely work Angela – and the “Angelato Shoppe” blog name just cracked me up! I will never look at snack food packaging the same way again…trying to guess whose wrappers you are designing!

    Thanks for sharing your process – I learned a lot!


    • Thanks, Cathy! I hope to get my Angelato Shoppe Etsy store up soon.


  5. Every Saturday, I look at these illustrator posts and am amazed. And they just keep on being more and more amazing. I love all of these works by Angela, but the little crying squirrel just captured my heart. Thanks for sharing these beautiful paintings and talking about your process.


  6. Hello, Angela, What a treat to find your comment here…so many years after MY BUG debuted. How wonderful to see all that you’ve accomplished since then. Lovely work. Thank you for the small testimonial. And all good wishes for all that’s ahead for you, Michael J. Rosen


    • Wow, so nice hearing from you Michael! I felt so fortunate to be a part of MY BUG, and it’s so fun to page through the book, and see the work of my classmates and instructors as well. Thank you for the opportunity!


  7. fantastic work Angela! A true inspiration! Your technique, composition color, humor, characters, as well as your “just jump right in and don’t overthink” advice is priceless, as are your comments on working by hand and digitally informing each other….thank you and continued success!


  8. Your work is so fun Angela! What a treat to hear about your process and your life. I really love the wood paintings, they’re so soft and magical. Keep up the great work!


  9. Angela, you are so fab! Thank you for sharing your thoughts, process, and lovely artwork with all of us! 🙂


  10. Such a wonderful interview Angela! It’s great to read more about your process and see so much wonderful art. You’re a star!!


  11. what beautiful and amazing artwork! i really enjoyed your interview, too…thanks, kathy, for this wonderful segment! thanks for sharing, angela!


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