Posted by: Kathy Temean | February 4, 2012

Illustrator Saturday – Casey Girard

I would like to introduce you to Casey Girard. She studied Illustration and Graphic Design at RIT in upstate NY and currently works out of the Boston, MA area. When she moved to Boston in 2006, she joined the Publishing world at Houghton Mifflin; first as a temp in the marketing department of the School Division and by the end of summer a full time marketing designer in the Trade Division.

She says, “It was a blast getting to be a part of all their amazing books and helping them be received into the world.”

In 2009 she stepped out of her full time position with Houghton Mifflin Harcourt to become a full time freelancer. She continues to create marketing materials for a few companies including Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, The Boston Conservatory, and Shambhala.

Casey says, “My illustration has been ongoing throughout the years in my own projects, pieces that fit with my marketing jobs, and attendance at SCBWI conferences. Now as a freelancer I am putting more emphasis on my illustrating through time and marketing.”

She works in colored pencil, using the process of burnishing to create soft surfaces, and watercolor, to keep my pieces loose.

Here is Casey’s Process:

With all these animals I use lots of reference. I do my best to collect my own. In the case of this story I was able to use my photos from our zoo trips.

When I start my illustration I begin with sketching. Getting to the illustration is usually after I have done numerous studies to fully know my characters. Once I get to drawing an image I will usually sketch out a piece over and over to get it right. Although, even then I may have to go back and rework am image once I see how the color changes things. Especially in this example. I challenged myself, which I love to do, by having a scene with over 20 animals. It caused need for a lot of back and forth.

Generally once I have my sketch fully worked out and tight, I will scan it into my computer to do a color comp. Since I paint on wood it’s not desireable to start over. Photoshop is a quick way to flesh out a color idea and know if something is working.

With this image I originally tried to use a blue tone for the background. In photoshop I felt this worked, on the board it did not. Things got muddy fast. So, for this image I repainted the final. I did not complete a second color comp. I went right into using yellow as the background tone.

Before I began my final painting I addressed other compositional problems. I changed my sketch by moving some of the animals around and removing a few of them. They were making the image look cluttered and distracting from the main action.

Then I went in with watercolor. Using washes to build up the tones. I finish my paintings with colored pencils for added textures and color smoothing. I can’t get away from my burnishing! I also use white paint pens and gel pens to get my brightest highlights.

How long have you been illustrating?

I became a professional illustrator in 2003, I got my first job/internship with the Democrate & Chornicle in Rochester NY. But of course, as will most illustrators I have been drawing and illustrating my whole life. I have had a sketchbook or pad of construction paper at my side since I understood how to weild a crayon.

How did you decide you wanted to illustrate books?

I went to my first SCBWI conference in 2004 and realized the publishing world was where I wanted to be. I at first wanted to illustrate other folks books but, it didn’t take much time of plotting out stories, for my own to rise to the surface.

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

A magazine article for Sacred Fire in 2006. It was multiple spot illustrations.

How long have you been working on illustrating for children?

I have always been inclined to draw for children. I would say it found focus in college during the summer when I was teaching a workshop at Writers & Books in Rochester NY. The specific class spent our hour building all forms of books, using magazine clippings and other found materials. It was one of the more inspirational classes I attending during my college years. It was when it became fully clear that I wanted to participate in story telling with books.

I see you are a freelance artist for Houghton Mifflin. How did you get that job? Does it take up most of your time?
I am a freelance designer from Houghton Mifflin. It was a continuation from my position as marketing designer. They usually need extra hands around catalog season.

Are you represented by an agent?

Not currently.

What mediums do you use to create your illustrations?

Watercolor and colored pencils. Last March I started using woodcanvases to create my illustrations. I still use paper, but I love the process and freedom I feel from working on the woodcanvas. I also use a technique called burnishing. It is the slow process of blending layers of colored pencils. For this I must use paper. It is how I created my Animals in Alphabet.

Have you changed your approach or style, since you started illustrating?

Definitely. I would say I have only in the past year solidified the way I want to work. I originally approached all of my illustrations with burnishing colored pencils. It is so precise and focused I began to loose the whole illustration. I was encouraged by a friend to get back to my sketchbook and only use a sharpie marker. It would push me out of my comfort zone and help me find better compositional answers.

Do you ever touch up your illustration in Photoshop?

This is the digital age. It is pretty impossible to get away from using a little bit of photoshop. I generally only clean up sketch lines I don’t like or fix spots that show up from scanning. I don’t add highlights or shadows, although, I could if I wanted.

Do you own a graphic tablet?

I have a Wacom Intuos. It’s not too fancy, but I can’t imagine being without it. I have so much more control over my digital marks. I’m left handed but, use a mouse with my right. I can’t make the mouse switch to my left hand. The Intuos allows me to do my digital work with my left hand giving me more control.

You are the Illustrator Coordinator for the New England SCBWI Chapter. How did you get involved in that? How long have you been the IC?

I got involved with NE SCBWI as soon as I moved to Boston in 2006. I began by offering to volunteer at the conference however they needed help. At the 2008 conference I attended the first Illustrator Academy. Anna Boll had run it and I knew she was organizing the whole conference the next year so I offered my help. She passed the Academy over to me and I have been running that ever since. This will be my fourth year running the Illustrator Academy. Then in September I was named the Iillustrator Coordinator of New England. It has been very exciting. I am trying to pull together new events for illustrators in the region. I’m very happy I am able to give back. I got my first publishing job, marketing designer in Houghton Mifflin’s trade division, from connections I made at my first New England conference.

Do you think doing that has helped you?

Yes, it has given me the opportunity to meet many editors and art directors. It gives me a chance to show them how I work and start a relationship.

Do you have a blog?

I have a blog I post to twice a week. I have a few themes I post about, Wednesday Animal, Kids!, Matt’s Choice (this is an idea given to me by someone else, usually my husband). Then I post about what is going on. Lately I have been sharing a lot of news so my themes have been mildly neglected. Recently I was posting my sketchbook project progress on Tuesdays.

What are you working on now?

Today I am working to finish my Animals in Alphabet, X is for Xenops! After that I will be working on my Picture Book Dummy, following the PBDummy challenge schedule, you can participate via twitter at the hashtag #PBDummy. Along with that I will be filling out a new character and discovering her story.

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

I have two that I am currently working on. New stories seem to be bubbling their way to the surface everyday. It was like once I opened my mind to writing the stories couldn’t wait to get out!

Do you try to follow a schedule for working on your art? Have a regular routine?

I have all of Tuesday and Wednesday to work then I work every night until I can’t help but fall asleep. I usually start with a fun sketch to warm up then I tackle my main project.

Where do you do your illustrating? Do you have a studio?

I have a studio space on the sun porch of our house, it is thankfully heated so I can work out there year round. It is wonderful to have so much light. It looks out over conservation land; we get to see a lot of wildlife. We also live close enough to our local zoo that I can hear the wolves howling at night and the gibbons hollering about the day beginnig. Since we have been living at our current home I have felt much more creative.

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

Signing up for Behance Network was the best thing I have done marketing wise in the past year. I lucked out and was one of their featured artists. You never know which online site will be the one to get you work. Dribbble, Facebook, G+, Twitter, another portfolio site. Many are free, sign up for as many as you can handle is my motto.

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

Don’t give up. Be diligent. Being an artist is all about your own desire to be successful. If you aren’t making sure you have the time to work you won’t continue to improve or get work. You have to constantly push yourself out there but, don’t be blatant about marketing yourself. Publishing is a small industry and very friendly. Listen to what others have to say, you will have a chance to show off.

Thank you Casey for sharing your story, illustrations and your process. If you would like to visit Casey’s website you can find it at  Please take a minute to leave Casey a comment. Thanks!

Talk tomorrow,



  1. It’s always so enjoyable hearing how artists come into their life work. This was fascinating! The artwork is beautiful; I was particularly drawn to the painting with the two snowmen, and your alphabet is outstanding! So clever!

    Thank you for sharing this, Casey, and Kathy for putting it out there for us 🙂
    P.S. As an aside, when I saw the photo of you, Casey, on that cliff, what I couldn’t believe is this is virtually the EXACT image in my mind of a place which exists in my novel. It was quite a surreal moment for me! lol My boyfriend thought it was “creepy.” lol


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.


%d bloggers like this: