Posted by: Kathy Temean | February 25, 2012

Illustrator Saturday – Kelly Kennedy

Kelly Kennedy is a 3rd generation Californian, raised on a diet of Mad Magazine, television cartoons and all the other pop culture Southern California has to offer. I think you will see that reflected in his illustrations. He says, “By college (Cal State University), all there influences and a lot of new ones merged to create my personal style.” A couple of his favorite are Disney designer MARY Blair and 50’s LP artist Jim Flora.

Before freelancing fulltime, he worked in the animation business A topic we have discussed this week) doing storyboarding for a variety of kid shows.

He has done advertising and design work for Saathcie & Saatchie, Warner Bros. Television, BBDO, Sketchers, Pizza Hut, and MacMillon Publishing. His work has also been featured in Disney Adventures, Nickelodeon Magazine, Family Fun, L.A. Times, Chicago Tribune and many book projects for Scholastic.

He is currently working on an animated TV show as well as somme of his own children’s books.

I love the picture of Kelly in the boat with his son Jack. Don’t you?

Here’s Kelly explainging his process:

The first three illustration show a series of how I work when painting in gouache. It always starts with a small thumbnail rough which I’ll then scan into my mac and play with the colors digitally til I have something that works. It always saves time to have a guide to paint to, so I’m not doing any second guessing once I commit to the gouaches – a total headache to redo any of that! Some little things might change or some details will get added, but not too much once I’m happy with the little thumbnail.

How long have you been illustrating?

Professionally, about 12 years. I was working for Nickelodeon where they have these months long hiatus periods where you don’t get paid
so I would try marketing myself during those stretches. Eventially freelancing got to be a full time job, so I left animation to work on my own.

Did your parents encourage your comic book style growing up?

Oh, yeah, they were always supportive. They could tell I had a passion for it even as a kid.

The next four are all done in my gouache painting style. Kind of the same, but I think they tend to keep the energy that the roughs always have, so although they are more work and time consuming, they always satisfy me a little more when they’re finished.

I like your gouche painting style. Did this develop before your digital painting techniques?

Actually no. I was using dyes before that – real paint was too intimidating! But I was seeing all these background painters in the animation
business who could work quick and had a nice loose style that I liked. I’m also a big fan of Mary Blair who was a Disney artist in the 1940’s.

She designed ‘It’s a small world’ and did a lot of kid’s books too.

Do you take the gouche paintings over to Photoshop and work on it there, too?

Yes. Once finished I scan it in and touch up little things, Like maybe move an eye a little lower or add some small shading.

Have you found any digital brush that gives the same feel as what you are doing with the gouche?

No, but I’d like to. I recently bought Adobe Illustrator and was going to take a class and solve some of those Adobe mysteries.

I assume you own a graphic tablet. Which one do you use? Do you feel there are newer tablets that could do more for you?

I used to own a wacom tablet, but I never got the hang of it. Since then I’ve heard of a Cintaq (sp?) that’s sounds better and more versatile, so I
want to try one of those this year.

How did you land Chris Tugeau as your artist rep?

I just kept sending her samples…. she probably figured it was easier to sign me up than put up with me bugging her. She’s really good. I’ve had illustration reps before and they did practically nothing – you never heard from them! Chris is a marketing dynamo, constantly in touch with ideas and pushing you to keep working, planning, creating new promos, everything!

Since you have an artist rep., do you leave all the marketing up to Chris or do you still do marketing on your own? If so, what types of things do you do?

I have some house accounts, but I leave most of it to her. I do keep a site at TheIspot directory and do mailings every now and then for magazine and editorial work. Usually postcards.

It sounds like you have plans to write and illustrate your own children’s book. Is that right?

Yes – I was creating dummies of my own stories for a few years, before I signed up with Chris, but I never sent them in to any publishers. I kept thinking they’d just sit in a slush pile, but now I’m back to working on them.

Did the creative process just push you in the writing direction or did you always like to write besides draw?

I was always writing too. Sometimes it might just be a sentence or paragraph for an idea, but I still keep them all in a folder to go back to.

Do you plan to do more shorts like the one you did for Nickelodeon?

I’d love to, but they take so much time and that was a unique opportunity – they don’t make too many non series shorts there.

Take a look:

How about a video to promote the Chicken in the City? You have so much movement with those pictures, it would be fun to have him come alive.

That’s a great idea Kathy! Maybe I should call Scholastic and suggest that! Scholastic are you listening? A Chicken in the City video could be really fun!

How often do you work on your illustrating?

I don’t practice, but I do sketch and doodle in these writing pads I use pretty much everyday. It’s kinda like a journal with sketches, ideas, notes, just about anything. I find it relaxing and it keeps me organized.

Do you have a studio in your house? If so, do you have to put limits on family interruptions?

Yes – I have a home studio but it’s not attached to my house – it’s down this hill in my backyard, but it’s still tough working at home if you’re easily distracted. You just have to be a little more focused ..and tell the kids “Dad can’t play basketball right now – dad has to work”. Sometimes you have to be the bad cop.

What illustration is your favorite?

That’s a tough one, but I’ve always liked the Christmas shopping family one, mostly because it’s based on my own family.

Do you use any special materials while working on your illustrations?

No, nothing fancy. I do customize my own brushes for inking though. I get a triple zero and then xacto about half of it away to get it really fine.

Do you use any sprays to help preserve your work?

No, I’m always afraid that they’re going to yellow the art or deteriorate it somehow. I do keep them in a drawer with a folded sheet of acid free paper over them.

Do you have any giclee prints made of your illustrations?

Not yet, but I’m planning to – I really don’t like the idea of selling the original paintings.

Does most of your work come out of the LA area?

Not at all – it’s all based on the east coast, which is weird cause I never actually meet any of my clients. Some I’ve had for years – and I have no idea what they look like!

Do you have any suggestions for new illustrators that may help them get noticed and get money paying jobs?

I think you need to really look at what kind of stuff art directors are using. You’ve got to look pro even if you’ve just gotten out of school. Take a page in those directories like the Workbook or Showcase or the online illustration directories. It can be expensive, but you’ve got to be seen to get hired. And be persistent,
I think that’s as important as talent.

Thank you Kelly for sharing your illustrations with us and giving us a taste of your journey in the field. I expect we will be seeing a lot more of you and even a future book that you have written and illustrated.

You can see more of Kelly’s work on his website:  If you can leave Kelly a comment. I am sure he would love to hear from you.

Talk tomorrow,



  1. I love these drawings. One day when time and money allow, I’d like to try my hand at animation. From what I understand, it is a time consuming process, thus the main reason, I’ve not explored it further. Best of luck to Kelly on his books. I think once published, marketing and exposure is the greatest hurtle to overcome, or so I am finding out.


  2. Wonderful visuals and interview you two. (and yes I’m blushing) So happy to have Kelly as a CAT ARTIST! 🙂


  3. I used to work with Kelly many years ago at The Learning Works, a children’s educational publishing company. We worked on dozens of books together (and yet we never met in person!) I was always in awe of his talent. It is great to see how his work and career have evolved. Thank you for sharing this.

    Kimberley Clark, Public Information Officer, Burbank Unified School District


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