Posted by: Kathy Temean | January 14, 2012

Illustrator Saturday – Courtney Autumn Martin

Courtney Autumn Martin graduated with honors in Illustration from the Rhode Island School of Design in 2006. She is a versatile artist dedicated to strong visual communication, be it through traditional illustration or print and web design work.

Currently Autumn is a full-time freelancer. You can see her illustration work for the children’s market in picture books, book covers, classroom readers, magazines, museum murals, and children’s painting kits. Using a combination of traditional drawing mediums and digital painting, has helped her to adjust to the fast-paced illustration market and provide projects with a quick turnaround.

When not illustrating, she enjoys other creative outlets including painting, writing, photography, web design, and layout design. Her husband, fellow artist and designer Adam Hunter Peck, has been featured on Illustrator Saturday (something I didn’t realize when I asked Courtney if she would like to be featured.) She lives happily in their book-filled home in Slatersville, RI with our two cats, Griffin & Miette.

Red Riding Hood, Publications International, 2010

This illustration below was not part of the book, but one done for Courtney’s portfolio.

Ballots For Belva, Abrams, 2008 written by Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen

Buffalo, Macmillan McGraw-Hill, 2009

How long have you been illustrating for children?

I’ve been illustrating for children periodically since I graduated from RISD in 2006, so about 5 and 1/2 years. Since that time I have also worked simultaneously as a web/graphic designer. It’s only been about a year and a half since I made illustrating my primary focus.

How did you decide you wanted to illustrate books?

I adore children’s books. I love them as a sophisticated art form that combines narrative and image and speaks not only to children but to people of all ages. They can be fun, insightful, inspiring, exciting, touching, and beautiful little adventures. I’ve wanted to be a part of creating them in some capacity, and if that means illustrating, so be it.

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

My first contracted illustration job came a little over one year after I graduated. I was hired by a small company called Red Farm Studio that manufactured children’s painting kits (a bit like paint-by-numbers). The job called for 6 pencil drawings of children and animals interacting in beach environments. These drawings were reproduced on heavyweight paper and packaged with a small paint set. It was a fun job, with a solid two-month deadline and what I considered to be an awesome budget. (In fact, it significantly helped me to purchase the 24” iMac that I use today.) Overall it was a very positive first experience.

Do you own a graphic tablet?

Yes, I own an 8×6 Intuos 3 Wacom Tablet.

What software do you use?

I use Photoshop CS5 for all of my digital painting.

Did you always work digitally?

I have not always worked digitally. I worked traditionally while in school and it wasn’t after graduating that I got a drawing tablet and finally had a chance to learn how to use it. Working digitally came gradually. I first used it just as a tool to correct or touchup my work, and eventually it became my primary medium.

Can you let us know some of the things you like about your graphic tablet and would you recommend it to other illustrators thinking about buying a graphic tablet?

I’ve only ever used the Intuos line of Wacom tablets. Typically I prefer the charcoal textured nib and often cover the surface with a piece of paper. It gives me the feeling of working with pencil on paper and counteracts the slick, slippery surface, a draw-back of tablets. The pen pressure and sensitivity are good though I’m not super informed about the options available.

Have you changed your approach or style, since you started working with the graphic tablet?

I have come along way since I fist used the drawing tablet. In the beginning I was in the terrible habit of infinitely zooming into a piece while I worked. This slowed me down to an excruciatingly pace, caused overworking, and made for a final product that lost the sense of scale in the brush strokes. My work has improved now that I stay zoomed out while I work. I also finally hit a stride with using brushes that I enjoy. One is a custom pastel brush that allows me to get a more traditional feel to my work. I generally do not like it when my work looks digital, so I try to disguise it as much as possible.

Do you think using your graphic tablet cuts down on the amount of time spent bringing a piece to the final illustration?

Working digitally saves a tremendous amount of time and effort overall. You can work quickly, blocking out colors and shapes, adjusting tone, composition, etc. This is especially true when it comes to adjusting things during the final rendering. Gone is the need to re-paint a piece if something goes wrong. Working digitally allows for quick tweaks and adjustments at any stage in the process. So long as I’m careful not to nit-pick and overwork an illustration just because I can, working digitally is a life saver.

How many layers do you end up with before pulling it all together?

I usually condense my layers into as few as possible as I go along. After a certain point the file size gets too cumbersome and I find it helps things run more smoothly when I keep my working file below 4 layers:

(Layers in order from top to bottom:)

1. Top Texture overlay
2. Overpainting
3.Pencil drawing
4. Underpainting

The swirls of texture on your pictures are something you add at the end in Photoshop? Are you trying to imitate brush strokes with the swirls?

Typical of my style is a swirly brushwork texture that is overlaid at the last step of my illustration process. It was taken from a technique that I was using in my traditional painting years ago. I have never been very good at using brush strokes as they ought to be used, and I find that the swirly texture adds a kind of underlying energy and movement that enhances the image.

Are there things that an illustrator in the market for a graphic tablet should look for? Example: Do not buy the biggest tablet, unless you have a lot of room or Buy the biggest one you can afford, because the bigger the tablet, the easier it will be for you to work.

From my experience the size of the tablet doesn’t necessarily affect the ease of use. In fact, I found it easier to paint using a medium sized tablet than I did a larger size. The larger the tablet, the more surface area your arm has to cover to do the same motion. It can actually be more tiring!

I can’t really offer too much in the way of tablet recommendation in particular since my experience with different types is limited, but when it comes to any investment for your career I’m of the “spare no expense” perspective. That is to say that if you do your research and determine that a certain piece of hardware or program will make your job easier, find a way to finance it. It will be worth it in the long run.

How did you get the contract to illustrate RED RIDING HOOD?

Red Riding Hood is a novelty picture book published by Publications International. I had worked with them previously on two separate covers for illustrated story treasuries. They then asked me if I would be interested in doing the Record-A-Story book and sent me the manuscript shortly thereafter.

How long did it take you to illustrate your latest picture book, RED RIDING HOOD?

I was given about two months to take Red Riding Hood from sketch to finish. There were only 7 spreads and a cover image so the timeline was manageable. Publications International is very specific and good at communicating exactly what they want (they even send simple compositional sketches along with the specs). Much of my planning time was cut drastically because of this, which helped the deadline a good deal.

Was the Experience the same with BALLOTS FOR BELVA?

Ballots for Belva was an extremely unique situation for me. It was really my first relevant professional job and a picture book to boot. I got a call late on a Friday afternoon from an editor at Abrams who had seen my portfolio on and asked if I would be interested in illustrating a picture book. After nearly dropping the phone in astonishment I said yes, and she immediately sent me the manuscript to read. Since I had never done a project of that scale before, I was asked to first sketch a spread from the story and submit it by that Monday (two days later). I dropped my weekend plans, got to work, and crossed my fingers that they’d like it enough to hire me.

Thankfully, they liked the way I characterized the main character in the sketch and hired me the following week. Abrams was super eager to get an illustrator on the project because they had an extremely tight deadline: I had just 8 weeks to research the topic, lay out the dummy, submit sketches, get approval, and complete 13 spreads, a cover, and a spot illustration. I got that first call on November 15th, and the final art was due January 15th. Factoring in the holidays made it even trickier. It was a trial by fire but I didn’t care. It was a book, and I had to prove to myself that I was capable.

Looking back, I did the best I could under the constraints, but I’ll always wonder how it could have turned out if I had been given a more appropriate amount of time to work. Here’a s fun bit of trivia: I actually came up with the title of the book which had originally been called Belva for President. They liked my suggestion and changed it

BALLOTS FOR BELVA was written by Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen. She is on our June conference faculty. Did you get her input on the illustrations while working on the book. Actually, do you ever get input from the authors?

I did not correspond with Sudipta at all during the illustration process, and from what I can tell that is fairly typical. My contacts were limited to my editor and art director. They sent me the manuscript and gave me the freedom to paginate the text and choose what I thought each spread should illustrate. They gave me an absurd amount of initial freedom which I can only assume was born out of the need to finish the book at lightning speed. After the book came out Sudipta and I did exchange kind words via email, which was nice.

Do you feel that doing illustrations for the educational market is different from the commercial book market?

Absolutely. I long for working in trade publishing but all of my recent work has been for the educational market. It is undeniably the bread and butter of a children’s illustrator’s career but the jobs are often uninspiring and lack creativity. Educational projects are generally very specific and don’t offer much creative freedom or expression. To me, the educational jobs are akin to mathematical work; a problem is given and there is only one solution, you just have to do it. Trade publishing offers more creativity and self-expression, allowing one to arrive at a number of solutions. I’m glad for the jobs that I receive and I’m happy to be paid to illustrate, but my heart will always be with commercial book publishing.

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

Yes, I have been with Nicole Tugeau of since the fall of 2010. It’s been very helpful to have someone with contacts in the educational market because I would likely never get my hands on those jobs on my own. It’s also very nice to have someone else on your side, encouraging you, and giving you feedback for how to develop yourself further. Also, when things go awry you have someone standing up for you and fighting for your money.

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

When I have work to do, I try to get it done as soon as possible. I do not procrastinate and can’t relax if I have too much to get done. Treating freelance work like any other 9-5 job is the goal, though in actuality I generally need to take several breaks throughout a day in order to prevent art fatigue. When there isn’t any work to get done, I try to work on pieces for my portfolio.

What are you working on now?

I am in the middle of another educational project at the moment. It is a simplified 1st grade retelling of The North Wind and the Sun fable for National Geographic.

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

Writing and illustrating my own book is an important goal of mine. I have ideas that are swirling around, but none that have come to anything yet. Ultimately I don’t think I’ll be satisfied with only ever illustrating another author’s words. We all have our own stories to tell, I just hope mine will be worthy enough to share.

My husband (Adam Hunter Peck) is an illustrator as well. It is my not-so-secret dream to one day collaborate with him on a book.

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

I sing the praises of online portfolio sites like and as much as I can. For a manageable yearly fee you get exposure to tons of publishers looking for new illustrators. It is the best career investment I’ve made.

What are you working on now?

I am in the middle of another educational project at the moment. It is a simplified 1st grade retelling of The North Wind and the Sun fable for National Geographic.

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

To me, if I’m doing what I want, I’m happy. And if I’m happy, I’m successful. In this industry, it is very easy to constantly compare yourself to others and feel inadequate for it. But it’s much healthier and happier to remember that EVERYONE has the right to do what they love with their life, no matter what their individual skills or talents may be. If you want to be an illustrator, be an illustrator! Practice. Research. Work. Study. Inform yourself. Practice some more. Learn. Grow. Play by the rules. Know how this industry works, and work with it. Meet deadlines. Act professionally. Challenge yourself. Accept yourself. Be the best illustrator YOU that you can be, and you’ll be on the right track.

Thank you Courtney for sharing your talent with us. It was fun to find out that you and Adam are married. I am sure having two artist in the house, just adds to both of your creativity. Anyway, I look forward to seeing a picture book wirtten and illustrated by you in the future.

If you want to see more of courtney’s artwork you can visit her on her website: or her blog: or

If you get a moment, I am sure Courtney would love to hear your thoughts on her illustrations.

Talk tomorrow,



  1. Thanks so much for sharing lovely work, Courtney. And thanks for a very informative interiew, Courtney and Kathy!


    • Dana,

      Thanks for leaving a comment about Courtney’s art. I appreciate it.



      • I’m impressed with the vibrant illustrations on this page. Thank you, Ladies for sharing.


    • Thank you, Dana! 😀


  2. This work is absolutely gorgeous! The colors pull me right in! I must say, Courtney—you and your husband make quite the talented pair! 🙂 Thanks for sharing your work, and as always, thank you, Kathy, for all your hard work!


    • Thank you so much, Donna! I really appreciate your kind words.
      All the best,


    • I see the comments on this pages are since 2012. Can someone refer an illustrator to my email


  3. Donna,

    Thanks for always leaving a comment. I know you realize the effort that goes into bring everyone a talented illustrator each week.



  4. Courtney, Thank You for being so informative..I now know why I was told to become a member of this site..You shared so much information that I wouldn’t have even known about.

    Kathy, I am a novice at all this blogging stuff…I almost didn’t join up ! But I am glad I did , Thanks for all the hard work that you must do to keep this going.


    Liked by 1 person

    • Anne, whoever told you to follow Kathy’s blog is a WISE person 🙂 Glad you did!

      Liked by 1 person

    • Ann,

      I am so glad you have joined us. Hooefully, our paths will cross in the future. Where do you live?


      Liked by 1 person

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