Posted by: Kathy Temean | February 11, 2012

Illustrator Saturday – Kris Aro McLeod

I picked up Kris Aro McLeod’s postcard this past summer at the SCBWI Conference in LA and I am very happy to share her talent with you. Her art captivated me, as it seems to have done with Cricket, Spider, and Ladybug Magazines, and Shoofly, an audiomagazine for children.

She studied art at the Center of Creative Studies in Detroit and then acquired a BFA in Fine Art from Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo, MI, then studied painting at Montana State University where she earned her MFA.

Kris is a freelance writer and illustrator and a part-time art teacher for grades 4th, 5th and 6th at Pioneer Elementary School in Davis, CA. Here artwork has been displayed in galleries across the US, in Asia, and Romania. She is also a member of the SCBWI and co-Illustrator coordinator for the North Central California SCBWI Chapter and it looks like she is just as successful selling her poems as her artwork. She even has a bedtime counting picture book out that she wrote, but did not illustrate.

This is where Kris creates her fantastic illustrations. Kris says,
“This is just the corner of my bedroom, under the lights of many lamps. My little drawings and paintings are scattered about. They start in those perfect moments of beauty and love that we stumble on each day.

My paints and brushes, pencils of every color and length, are here. So is the soft white paper of dreams and imagination.
My brush flutters and a sea appears…
My pencil waves and a mermaid flips…
I’m a children’s writer and illustrator. I’m a teacher and a mom. I’m thrilled. My first picture book is out and it’s called Hush-a-Bye Counting. It’s about dreams, and love…”

Kris Shares her process by sharing this painting she recently finished for a book proposal:

These are a few of the thumbnails that I drew to figure out how to get all the visual elements into the spread, while leaving room for text and the gutter. I ended up going with the lower right one which I enlarged on the computer to the correct size.

I use tracing paper to refine my sketches. I did 3 complete sketches and ended with this one. I think you can see how I cut and move things around on the tracing paper, sometimes cutting out a piece of one drawing and taping it into another. Most of the work comes before I even get my paint out.

I use a light box to trace the final tracing paper sketch onto Fabriano soft watercolor paper. Then I start to shade everything in with a mechanical pencil. This is the final drawing which I scan into the computer.

In photoshop I change the line to brown and print it onto Arches 140 press. I stretch this print onto gaterboard so that when I put my washes on the paper stays flat. I have an Epson 2400 printer and use Epson inks that are waterproof. I probably shouldn’t put that Arches through the printer, but now that I’ve started printing on it, I find it hard to stop.

This is the painting when I first scan it in. For some reason, my scanner is always too light so I have to adjust the color. Sometimes it needs more than just the color tweaked.

In Photoshop I needed to change some things. The sunset wasn’t working for me yet. The color looked dirty in places; I needed to increase the contrast. Sometimes I go back to the real painting and repaint areas to get the effects I want. On this piece, I went back to the original and rubbed out some of the tiger, repainted it, scanned it, and pieced just the tiger over the illustration in Photoshop. No one would ever know. Sometimes I have to do an entire piece over.

But finally this one came together.

Below is a tropical Valentine that Kris did in watercolor

The next three illustrations show the up close details.

How long have you been illustrating?I

I’ve always considered myself an artist. I followed in my mom’s footsteps. But I started to think about illustrating for children when I was pregnant with my first child.

Ridin’ through the universe on the Milky Way. How much fun would that be? This piece below was originally created to go with my book, Hush-a-Bye Counting. If you read the book, you will know which page.
It was published later in the November ’07 issue of Ladybug Magazine. The original is painted with watercolor, then I used colored pencil and a bit of gouache.

The next two give you a close-up look at the details.

What was the first thing you did that you got paid for?

I sold my fine art first. Watercolors of flowers, when I was in college.

I notice that you have illustrated for a number of children’s magazines. How did you get noticed and get your first contract?

I sold Carus some poetry and they are very open to having the author illustrate. I illustrated one of my poems for Cricket, then much later one for Spider. At about the same time I met Karen Kohn an AD from Carus at our Davis conference. She was very warm and we hit it off, but I don’t know if she helped to get me my first jobs with Carus. Karen did say that they work in close proximity to each other and know all the illustrators and the work that goes into all the magazines. Sue Beck is the AD for Ladybug, and was the AD for that Spider poem. She is also really nice and very approachable, and I started pitching her ideas. I wrote a little poem-activity to go with a portfolio piece. They took it right away and asked me to do the cover. Ever since, I’ve been on their list I guess; I get work from them every six months or so.

You mention that you use colored pencil and watercolor in a number of your illustrations. Do you use the watercolor more as a wash and then color on top of that with the colored pencils, or the other way around?I used to use colored pencil, but very rarely now.

GOOD MORNING SUNSHINE – Pencil and Watercolor. This picture was in the September 11 issue of Ladybug

I love the Wizard of Oz- especially the part after the Wicked Witch of the East is crushed by Dorothy’s house. “Wake up you sleepy heads, stretch your arms, get out of bed! Ding dong, the wicked witch is dead!” Love those babies waking up in their flower beds. I love that whole song. When Ladybug asked me to illustrate Good Morning Sunshine, I thought of those babies, and put them in my illustration.

Close-up look.

Below is how it looked in Ladybug.

Have you changed your style since you started painting for children?

I get bored easily. I change all the time. But I’m very pleased with this new way of working that you see in the tiger piece and I’m going to stick with it for a while.

Kris says she is not above stealing ideas. On top is a very imaginative picture that my son drew of his dream vacation – a snowman shaped lodge with all the winter sports you could imagine. Below is what Kris’s copy.

Detailed close-ups below.

You also mention using Photoshop. Are you finding you are starting to use Photoshop more than just for picture cleanup?I use PS to cleanup and to correct color. Watercolor lacks intensity and I like to pump it up by using variations -darker, yellower, and heightening the contrast. I also use PS to change the quality and color of line and give texture to the work.

This is a picture that Kris’s daughter drew when she was about 5. Another inspiration for Kris. You can see talent runs in the family.

Here is Kris’s Cow Girl.

Do you own a graphic tablet? No


I saw a picture of a garden inside a wrought iron fence and wanted to paint something like it. The wrought iron looked a little scary; it made me think of a witch. I went into the backyard and instead of picking the flowers in bloom, I picked all the dead ones that I could find and put them in a vase to paint. I couldn’t believe how beautiful they were!

The next three show you all the beautiful detail.

I also noticed that you have an Etsy shop for your artwork. Do you find that this is a good place to sell your work?

The first year I had my shop I sold a good amount of work, it’s gone downhill ever since. Maybe because I don’t do enough marketing? Or the economy? I didn’t sell anything from July through January, but I sold 3 pieces last week!

CALL OF THE WIND – Watercolor and Colored Pencil

Closer look

I also noticed that you wrote a book titled, HUSH A-BYE COUNTING, but you didn’t illustrate it. Why didn’t you write and illustrate your own book?

The publisher wanted a different style from the work I did at that time.

Tell us a little bit about Piggy Toes Press.

Piggy Toes Press is a mass market press.

Do you have any plans to write and illustrate your own book?

I have book proposals but no takers so far.

DREAM A LITTLE DREAM – Pencil and Watercolor

When Ladybug Magazine asked me to create an illustration based on a child’s dreams, I was thrilled. I knew I could have a lot of fun with this illustration and I did. I got to follow my imagination and I also got to experiment with a new way of working. I wanted to make the picture very dreamy so I used a limited palate and pencil to make it look fuzzy and cloud-like.

Close-up look.

What types of freelance work have you done with Scholastic and Simon & Schuster?

They have bought poetry of mine to use in anthologies and teacher workbooks. A friend of mine, Betsy Franco, used to write a lot of anthologies for Scholastic Professional and she was kind enough to include many of my poems in them.


I woke up in the middle of the night with the image of a small cabin seen through tangled branches. I started sketches the next day, adding details like the birds and the sweet little girl feeding her chickens. I call it “Little Green Valley” after a song that we used to sing at Camp Metamora, a Girl Scout Camp in Michigan. It used to be way out in the country, but I drove by recently and was amazed to see strip malls and civilization all around. In the midst of all that was a small sign just before a side street… “Camp Metamora” with an arrow pointing the way. This painting has a nostalgic feel, but is a little modern too.

Next three give you a close-up look.

It looks like you grew up in MI and MT; how did you end up in CA?

I grew up in the Detroit area where my family still lives. I went to grad school in Montana where I married. Afterwards my husband got a job in California and that’s where we’ve been ever since. I love California. I never wanted to move here, but it is wonderful! We hike, backpack, eat and enjoy! I love the landscape, the cities, the coast, and mountains.

SUMMER PEACHES – Watercolor and Colored Pencil

When the peaches are ripe we go out in the backyard and eat them right off the tree. Summer never tastes so good as it does when we stand out there, leaning over, as the juice rolls down our chins. This painting that was created to go with my haiku “Summer”, published by SPIDER Magazine.


Two girls enchanted by the glow of a hundred fireflies; inspired by a story my mom used to tell us. When she was a girl, her family vacationed at a tiny summer cottage in Northern Michigan. Thinking up practical jokes was one of the ways she and her siblings entertained themselves. One cloudy day they spent an afternoon collecting fireflies. That night they opened the jar inside their little cottage, spilling darting bits of light into the darkened rooms!


How long have you been doing art exhibits?

I don’t do so many art shows anymore. It’s a lot of work and money to frame and mat pieces. But I’ve had work in galleries since I was in college.

It sounds like you have exhibited all over the world? How did you manage to exhibit out of the US?

Yes, It’s pretty amazing. My work was included in traveling shows here in California and I didn’t have to do anything. The artwork went from Taiwan to China and a few places in between. More recently I was included in a SCBWI show in Romania. Illustrators submitted digitally and the exhibition organizers printed the artwork up there. They picked my piece for the poster!

Do you go to the places where you exhibit?

I wish I could afford to!

What type of marketing things do you do that have helped put you on the road to success?

I don’t feel like I’m on the road to success. I always feel like I’m almost on the road to success. But the best thing I did was those pitches to Carus. At least I have some things published now. I should send more samples out (postcards)

Are you represented by an agent?

No, I’m not but I’d like to be. I have a hard time submitting and it would be nice to have someone take care of that for you.

Any tips you can share for artists starting out?

Join SCBWI of course. It’s where I’ve learned everything I know and I’m still learning.

One of the hardest things for me to do is to listen to that nagging feeling that something’s not right in a piece. I want to be done, I’m tired of working so hard, I’m not sure if that voice is telling me the truth…

But there’s no such thing as “good enough.” When I have those nagging doubts it’s usually for a good reason. It’s better to do something over rather than present a piece that you’re not completely happy with. I used to compare myself to illustrators that I didn’t admire. That was a mistake. It doesn’t make you better. To be truly good, you have to compare your work to the people you love most –  that’s your competition. You have to be better than them.

I heard Yuyi Morales speak a couple of years ago and she said to pray to your god, “Don’t let me get up until I’m in awe of my own work.” That’s a hard thing to do; hard, hard work. But I think that’s what successful illustrators do.

Thank you Kris for sharing you work with us. I am sure you will end up being a big success. If you have minute it would be really nice to leave Kris a comment. I’m sure Kris would love to hear your thoughts. Here is the address for Kris’s website at:  and if you are interested in buying one of Kris’s prints you can do that at:

Talk tomorrow,



  1. kathy…..I like her work very very much and would love to talk to her about representation in the future IF she is interested. Good fit for our CAT agency perhaps. 🙂


    • Oh Chris,

      Isn’t she wonderful? It took me over 10 hours to put her post together, but she is so worth the effort. I’m excited that you are interested in her.



  2. Kathy, you really struck “illustrator gold” when you were in LA! Illustrator upon wonderful illustrator every week!

    Kris, even just from your thumbnails, I “felt” the composition 🙂 Your fish are too cute for words, and for sure, your kids have imagination. That snowman lodge (I love snowmen) is GREAT!

    In working my way through all your beautiful illustrations, when I got to the one with all the children with balloons on the road among all the houses, I was REALLY impressed how, with so much going on, the picture was still readable. And of course, I can NEVER get enough of hearing about an artist’s process! Thank you both for sharing this!


  3. Donna Martin e-mailed this to me. I thought Kris would enjoy reading it.

    Kris, I LOVE your illustrations…especially Good Morning Sunshine…although it’s hard to pick a ‘favorite” with some many wonderful pieces to choose from! Thanks Kris and Kathy for sharing this talent with the writing community!

    Donna Martin


  4. Thanks for your kind comments and all Kathy’s hard work!


  5. Your compositions, children’s faces and color are magical! There’s so much movement and flow but everything is still “readable”. Curious to know how you rendered the wrought iron so well! Delightful “glow” within all your worlds. Thanks for sharing!


  6. These illustrations are gorgeous! Thanks for sharing 🙂


  7. Thank you for Illustrator Saturdays! I look forward to them every weekend…

    They’re like my grown-up version of Saturday morning cartoons.

    I just LOVE the girls enchanted by fireflies!

    ~Eileen Balesteri


    • Eileen, what a perfect comparison! Saturday morning cartoons for adults 😀


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