Posted by: Kathy Temean | March 31, 2012

Illustator Saturday – Marcela Staudenmaier

Marcela Staudenmaier was born in Argentina where she earned her Diploma in Architecture from the National University of Tucuman.

She is an Architect who has made writing and illustrating for children a full time commitment. In 1997, she moved to New Haven CT to join the practice of architect Cesar Pelli, collaborating with him for over twelve years in the design of a wide range of buildings in the United States of America and around the world.

In 2010, driven by my lifelong passion for drawing and writing, she enrolled in the Children’s Book Illustration Certificate Program at the Rhode Island School of Design and, joined the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.

Here’s Marcela talking about her process:

Three dimensional Paper collage, 22” x 15” x 3”-thick.

This piece illustrates an excerpt from the traditional tale of Chicken Licken by P.C. Asbjornsen. I used Arches watercolor paper and I painted it with gouache to achieve each one of the different colored layers. I took the photographs of the artwork under sunlight conditions.

Using photographic references, I first explored the unique characteristics of each animal with graphite pencil on my sketchbook.

Then, I did a rough pencil sketch of the idea.

I created two color schemes for the background, knowing that each one would influence the colors of the animals in a complete different way.

I incorporated the animals into the setting cutting them out from paper, so I could move them around. Then I selected the complementary color scheme. And at this point, I decided that I wanted to try a three dimensional collage technique for this piece. I fabricated my own colored paper with Arches watercolor paper painted with Windsor & Newton Gouache. I used FoamCore board for support and structure.

With the help of the Color Wheel, I created my palette. My intention was that the colors of the animals would always be complementary to the colors of the background.

I used several resources to add depth to the composition, such us: overlapping elements; using color temperature changes (from cool in the background to warm in the foreground); creating actual depth (layers of FoamCore board under the colored paper hills that would help to create shadows); adding texture and detail to the elements in the foreground.

The hills were first cut from watercolor paper and painted with gouache. Then, each one was mounted onto FoamCore board. Later, they were arranged on the base in the previously assigned location according to the original sketch.

The row of trees was made out of a single piece of paper. Later, I decided to add more depth gluing an extra layer of paper to each tree top.

Texture for the grassy hills in process.

The complex shape of the turkey’s body was made of several pieces. Here, the feathers of the tail are being painted one by one and later assembled.

Every part was glued together on top of the turkey’s base layer, which provided the coordinates to help each piece fit in the right place.

The rooster was made with multiple overlapping layers, one for each different color. After defining which color went where, I proceeded to cut all the pieces from watercolor paper. Then, I painted them with gouache (front and back, to prevent curling).

Photographing under natural light meant that I had to follow the sun and orient my artwork at different angles. So, all pieces had to be glued down to the base at this point. I took pictures at various times of the day; with direct and indirect sun. It was worth the effort; natural light reveals true colors and creates believable shadows.

Above: Detail of the finished rooster and turkey. Below: Photo of the finished illustration.

Do you feel your career as an architect helped you with your collage work?

My experience building architectural models was definitely a big advantage when making three dimensional collages. Accuracy, patience and persistency are big components when it comes to bringing to life a collage illustration. This technique – that I enjoy enormously – is time consuming and requires plenty of planning ahead.

Three dimensional paper collage, 16.5” x 10.5” x 1.5”-thick.

I created this piece inspired by one of my most beloved childhood memories: mama cat bringing all her kittens to play with me every morning. I feel that in this work I was able to merge my two worlds: the one of illustration and the one of architecture, applying my model-making skills to this three-dimensional collage technique. This piece was meant to be a double page spread that illustrated a poem. I used Canson Mi-Teintes paper and I took the photographs under a natural light situation.

Which came first the drawing and painting or the collage illustrations?

Drawing and painting.

In the picture below, I transferred my final drawing onto paper using a light box.

I added the different values with graphite pencil. I scanned this drawing and printed it on watercolor paper.

Above: Finally, I painted with watercolor on the black & white print.

Below Finished illustration: Watercolor, graphite pencil, permanent marker and black & white laser print on watercolor paper; 10.5” x 8.5”

What sparked your interest in architecture?

My interest in architecture started at a young age, watching my father – who was an architect – designing and building. He taught me to appreciate the journey of the sun during the course of the day; the importance of the light as a design tool; the concept of space as an element essential to architecture. He was passionate about his profession. As a young child I lived in a house designed by him. It was round and subterraneous, and had a 21-foot diameter glass dome. When I turned eight, I was already drawing plans, sections, elevations and even perspectives of my own imaginary projects.

Above:  Rough graphite pencil sketch, 4” x 3” Below: Color study with Acrylic on GessoBoard, 10” x 8”

What finally made you decide to take a different path with writing and illustrating for children?

I have always loved drawing and painting. As soon as I learned to write, I started to create my own stories. Illustrated children’s literature has captivated my attention and admiration throughout my life.
During the years when I was practicing architecture, I missed the fact of having free time to draw and write. After my daughter was born, seeing her enjoying her books left no doubt in my mind that telling stories through pictures was what I wanted to do next.

Above: Graphite pencil sketch, 16.5” x 10.5” Below: The final piece was executed in Windsor & Newton Acrylic on Arches watercolor paper, 16.5” x 10.5”

Watercolor and permanent marker on Arches watercolor paper. 16.5” x 10.5”

This illustration was originally conceived as a hypothetical children’s magazine cover (front and back).

To start, I drew a frame with the same dimensions of the final art requirements. There, I sketched my first ideas.

I scanned the pencil drawing and printed copies. I used these copies to do quick color studies with crayons.

This drawing was done with permanent markers on vellum, tracing over the previous studies. Here, I made all the necessary adjustments and finalized details.

I transferred the drawing onto 140 lb hot pressed Arches watercolor paper using permanent markers and a light box. The final painting was executed in watercolors.

Was your family behind you when you told them you wanted to leave your career as an architect?

I have been extremely fortunate to have always the full support of my amazing husband and my entire family.

Tell us a little bit about the Rhode Island School of Design. What types of classes did you take?

Since 2010, I have been enrolled in the Children’s Book Illustration Certificate Program at RISD. The curriculum of the Program is wonderfully designed. I have already taken “Children’s Book Illustration I” with Lori Surdut Weinberg; “Children’s Book Illustration II” with Cheryl Kirk Noll; “Children’s Book Illustration III” with Emilie Boon; “Drawing Children” with Michele Noiset; “How Professionals Design Their Portfolios” with Mary Jane Begin; “Online Portfolio” with Brian Rodrigues; and “Color Workshop for Painters and Illustrators” with William Miller.

Do you feel the time you spent there has helped you develop as an illustrator?

Starting classes at RISD has been instrumental for my development as an illustrator. Each one of my instructors has been able to transmit their experience in the field as well as providing well organized and interesting courses. The assignments are always challenging and exciting. The critiques are open, positive and helpful. Most of my current portfolio pieces have been developed during these courses. The interaction with my instructors and classmates has enriched my own work and me as an artist.

Does the RISD help their students get work in the field?

RISD has an online job and internship database called ArtWorks. Through it, students and alumni can access a broad range of jobs and internships; can create a profile that links to resumes, web sites or portfolio samples; and can use the Employer Directory to network with companies.

Where do you create your illustrations? In your home, studio, etc.

I work in my home in a sixteenth-floor apartment. I have a big wooden table in front of a 16-foot wide window facing south. I can see the sun rising and setting while I work. At a distance I can see the Long Island Sound and the harbor; down below, the activity of the city.

Do you try to follow a schedule or a routine with your illustrating?

I like to know when the next deadline is. According to that, I am able to organize my time and assign a given amount of hours/days to each of the different steps of the process.
When I’m illustrating, I try to keep a routine. I start to work at around 9:00 AM and continue until 5:00 PM. But I am very nocturnal, so sometimes, I write or work in the computer in the evenings.

How have you been marketing yourself?

I have a website. I send mailers to Art Directors at least twice a year. Last January, I attended the SCBWI New York Winter Conference where I had the chance of networking with hundreds of illustrators and authors from every state of the USA and other countries. I participated in the Portfolio Showcase and took the Marketing Intensive for Illustrators, which provided in-depth coverage of the marketing techniques you need to know to promote your work and build and audience for your art.

I see that you also work in clay. Is this something you just added to your other creative endeavors?

I developed “clay girl” with the intention of using it as a model for my drawings. So, I made it fully articulated. But, as I was taking pictures of her, I realized that she was telling her own story, so I wrote it down.

Of the three materials you use to create your illustration, which is your favorite?

Each material gives me something different to enjoy. I like drawing with graphite pencil or markers, because I can let the lines flow free on the paper. When I paint, I love to feel the vibration of the color. Creating paper collages forces me to make a synthesis and gives me the freedom of moving around all elements before having to glue them down.

Do you write and illustrate?

Yes, I love to do both. There are different challenges that arise from illustrating somebody else’s story or your own story. I find them equally interesting.

Have you made a book dummy? If so, how long did it take you to finish?

I have been working in a picture book. Text and illustrations were conceived together and intertwined from the beginning. I made a tiny 3”x 3” 32-page book dummy and shared it with my critique group in April 2011. Because this book is a concept book, I wanted to make sure the idea was clearly represented by my illustrations. It took me about nine months (on and off) to bring each of the double page spreads to the next level.

I worked with Adobe InDesign from the beginning to set up my pages. So, the printing and crafting of the book dummy took me just a couple of hours.

Any tips you can share that might help another illustrator?

Create a website that showcases your work. Join the SCBWI. Join your local SCBWI critique group. Try to attend a SCBWI Conference. Work hard at your craft. Give always your best. Don’t be afraid of showing your work. Be open to constructive critique. Keep learning new illustration or writing techniques through courses offered in your area. Read as many picture books as you can. Connect with other illustrators and help each other. Have business cards with you at all times. Tell the world what you do! And, if you haven’t done it yet, read a book called “Writing With Pictures” by Uri Shulevitz, about how to write and illustrate children’s books.

Do you have an artist rep.? Is that something that you would like to have?
I don’t have an artist rep. But, it’s a possibility I would like to explore.

Thank you Marcela for sharing your illustrations and sharing your journey and process with us. We wish you much success in the future .  We’ll be watching your career develop in the children’s book Industry.

You can visit Marcela at her website: . If you get a minute, I am sure Marcela would love you to leave her a comment before you end your visit.

Talk tomorrow,



  1. I love her art works… She is great. Thank you, Thank you, with my love, nia


    • Thank you Nia!


    • Nia,

      For a long while I wondered whether people appreciated the time it took to show off established and just starting out illustrators, but getting comments like yours make me think writers and other artist are enjoying Saturdays and picking up little things by stopping by. Thanks for the comment.



  2. Marcela’s work is lovely. I like the way she uses alternate media’s to create some of her illustrations. I also use ‘book dummies’ when I work up my orples books. I end up with two or three prototypes of my book(s) sometimes, tweaking, and correcting mistakes as I go, and sometimes rearranging illustrations, and/or text, to better fit the pages. This post shows a wonderful example of Marcela’s work. I’m sure she is proud of her accomplishments.


    • Thank you so much for your kind comments.


    • Marcy,

      It’s funny, but your comments made me think of how many times I have changes the few book dummies that I made. It seems that I revise as much as I di when writing – maybe even more.



  3. Marcela’s work is beautiful. I especially like her cut paper illustrations and the detailed process she spoke about.


    • Joanne, thank you for your kind comments. I am so glad your liked the description of the illustration process.


    • Joanne,

      Thanks for stopping by and weighing in. I, too, love her cut paper illustrations. I’m thinking that it must take a lot of time to do.



  4. Amazing. The cut paper illustrations are superb! The rest are wonderful as well, but I love the cut paper.


    • Thank you Rosi!


    • Rosi,

      I feel the same way. Her illustrations are very good, but her collage work really stands out. Maybe we are drawn to collage a little more, because not many illustrators are taking the time to do 3-D illustrations. It must require so much more time. Well, there’s a question I shold have asked. Maybe Marcela will see it and let us know.



  5. What a wonderful interview with Marcela. Her work is beautiful and she’s very versatile. I’m especially fond of her paper cut illustration for Chicken Licken, partly because she made it for my class, but mostly because it’s absolutely gorgeous! I feel lucky to have had Marcela as a student.


    • Emilie,

      Wow, that is so cool that you stopped by and left a comment for Marcela. Did she learn these techniques from you?



      • I wish I could say that I was the one that taught Marcela her collage techniques in my Chirldren’s Book Illustration III class. But I think she learned collage in Illustration II from my wonderful colleagues Cheryl Kirk Knoll and Judith Moffat. She has certainly continued to refine her technique and artistic vision!


    • Emilie,

      What an honor to receive a comment like yours! Thank you!
      You are such a talented artist. I have been so fortunate to have you as my Instructor. Taking your class was a joy!



  6. Marcela’s work is stunning. Thank you for sharing it here.


    • Thank you Heather!


    • Heather,

      My pleasure! Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment.



    • Heather,

      I think so, too. Thanks for letting her know. It’s important to hear someone say how much they like your work, once in awhile. Thanks for leaving a comment.



  7. Whenever I get butterflies in my stomach when looking at illustrations, I know, I’m looking at something special 🙂

    Marcela, from your detailed sketches on through, they are so beautiful, and I am in total awe of the patience and skill you possess to make such breathtaking paper art like I’ve never seen before. Even my boyfriend was impressed, and that’s saying a lot! lol

    Thank you, Marcela and Kathy, for sharing!


    • Donna Marie, thank you so much for your kind comments! I am so glad you enjoyed the collage illustrations.


  8. Super-duper WOW! Marcela you are so talented in so many ways and mediums!! Very, very inspiring! I especially love the little girl in her bedroom with the visiting kitties… It reminds me very much of myself as a little girl who loved kittens, and how I would like to remember or imagine myself as that little girl in her beautiful room at that moment! Thanks for sharing about your experiences at the RISD… how awesome! Also appreciate that you shared your techniques from drawing to finished product. Super-duper WOW!!


    • Kathleen, thank you so much for your words! I am glad that my illustration is able to evoke cherished memories from your childhood!


    • Kathleen,

      That illustration with the kittens is one of my favorites, too. I really like the wispy curtains, the little girl’s hair and the kitten playing with it. Thanks for leaving a comment.



  9. Wonderful interview with an amazing illustrator!


    • Leslie, thank you so much for your kind words!


  10. Kathy,

    Thank you so much for this amazing opportunity to be featured in you blog!
    Thank you for giving me the chance to show my work and talk about the process leading to the finished illustrations.
    The comments of your readers made me so happy! I am grateful to each one of them for stopping by and leaving words of encouragement.



  11. THANK YOU Marcela and Kathy for this interview. It is always inspiring to see another illustrator’s process from start to finish. Marcela you are amazing! I love the collages – they seem to breathe – as do your illustrations – I love the little girl and the beagle (my granddaughter is 4 and has a beagle-I’ve seen these pictures for real :D)

    Kathy – this is my first visit to your site – it’s wonderful – I’ll be back. (I found it through Mark Mitchell’s How to be a Children’s Book Illustrator.


    • Laura Anne, thank you so much for your kind comments. I am honored when I receive feed back from my fellow illustrators.


  12. Marcela, Beautiful1 You have inspired me to continue with my desire to write and illustrate children’s books. I’m just getting started! You are truly gifted.
    God Bless you.


    • Patti, thank you so much for your kind words! I’m so glad you feel a renewed inspiration to wirte and illustrate for children! Everyone of us has the pontential to tell a meaningful story, we must find the time to put it on paper.


  13. Hi Marcela! I’m so happy to have found your interview! I just love your work–especially your paper-cuts!


    • Hi Elizabeth!
      Thank you for your kind words. I am so glad you found the interview. It was fun to prepare all these process images for it. I am thrilled that you enjoyed the three-dimensional collages!


  14. Hola Marcela, antes que nada te felicito por tu trabajo, es excelente, (no sé si te acordas de mi pero fuimos compañeras en el colegio s.barbara), bueno reitero mis felicitaciones un fuerte abrazo, María Iglesias


    • Maria,

      Thank you for leaving Marcela a comment. I’m sure she will be glad to hear from you.



    • Hola María!
      Tantos años! Muchas gracias por tu amable comentario. Espero que estes muy bien!
      Un abrazo grande,


  15. Marce querida amiga, estoy super emocionada por todo esto, acabo de encontrar tu pagina , los gatos………..te acordas de todos los tuyos??? tus patos etc……… te mando un beso muyy grande y te re felicito por tus logros, te admiro amiga….


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: