Posted by: Kathy Temean | April 21, 2012

Illustratior Saturday – Kevin O’Malley

This week I spent sometime getting to know author and illustrator, Kevin O’Malley. I am going to give you a link to one of his school visit videos, because not only is he a tremendously successful, talented children’s book illustrator and author, but he is extremely funny. I watched his whole school visit and he had me laughing right along with the kids. You can’t help but like this man. I am sure you will enjoy watching it, too.

Take a look and see how he keeps the kids entertained.

The bio below gives you an hint of his humor.

The yellow sticky note was written by Melissa Turk, his artist rep. Makes me think she has a good sense of humor, too.

Here’s Kevin’s rough set up for you.

This book ‘Once upon a cool motorcycle dude’ is about a boy and girl who can’t agree on how to tell their favorite fairy tale.

I wrote this book with the idea of using two other illustrators. I can draw fairly well but if I’m asked to draw a princess she might just look like me in a wig. I need Carol Heyer to draw the sweet and lovely images that the girl uses in her story. Scott Gotto needed to express to attitude of the boy.

I wrote up the story in a 32 page dummy book I have made up with a print service. (I always work with staple bound pre made dummies. It allows me to beat them up and toss the if I don’t care for what going on.) I sketched out all the pictures and emailed them to Scott and Carol to give them a rough Idea of what I had to include. The rough position of my character and the word balloons.

I set to work on the kids in the story. Which didn’t take to terribly long. Except that I was surprised how interested the editors were in the outfit that the little girl was wearing. I think I drew about ten different styles of hair as well. I redrew them in pencil and created a zip-a-tone pattern with the shadows.

Then I simple added a nice flat photoshop coloring.

I didn’t see Carol or Scott’s work until the designer and I received all the file from both of them. We layed my pixs on the art we received and added a shadow.

Finished Cover Below.

KT: When did you start illustrating?

KEVIN:I started as a profession illustrator straight out of college but I didn’t get my first book published until 1990 or so.

KT: What was the first thing you did and got paid for?

KEVIN: Believe it or not, I was payed to do a job advertising ATM machines. They were brand new at the time and people didn’t understand the idea.

KT: What was the first picture book that you illustrated?

KEVIN:‘Froggy went A’Courtin’ It was published by the former Mr Martha Stewart.

KT: How did you get that job?

KEVIN: It’s an odd thing but sometimes you get lucky. Mr. Stewart, of Stewart, Tabori and Chang, published my book because he use to sing ‘Froggy’ when he was in college.

Kevin: Do you think your illustrations sold the book?

KEVIN: Probably but my take on the old song amused Mr. Stewart.
My frog was a gangster who robs a bank. I changed the text to fit my needs and finished the book with the line: “Where Froggy’s livin’ sure isn’t heaven cause now he’s doin’ seven to eleven.”

Below is a page from HOW THEY CROAKED. It belongs to the part of the book that feature James A. Garfield. Unusal facts and Kevin’s artwork makes it look like a very interesting book. Did you know that it is believed that Henry VIII’s remains exploded within his coffin while lying in state? You can look inside.

KT: How many books have you written and illustrated?

KEVIN: I think my name is on over 70 books now. Most are out of print. Most are third world fuel or laminated into Ikea coffee tables.

KT: What was the first book that you wrote and illustrated?

KEVIN: ‘Froggy went A’Courtin’

KT: Which of your books is your favorite?

KEVIN: All I ever want to do since I was a kid was picture books. It took me a long time to get published. I think ‘Froggy went A’Courtin’ will always be my favorite.

The above illustration is an example of Kevin’s earlier work.

KT: Did you belong to a critique group?

KEVIN: No, I have never been part of a crit group.

KT: How did you Melissa Turk and you get connected?

KEVIN: It was suggested by a very kind editor at Jim Henson’s publishing wing that I contact three agents. Melissa was kind enough to take me on.

KT: Is looks like you use watercolors. Do you use other types of paint, too?

KEVIN: I like to change my style to fit the needs of the text. I have used every imaginable material to complete my end of the project.
Pencils, oil, watercolor, computer even Cray-paz.

KT: Did you go to school for art? If so, where?

KEVIN: I went to the Maryland Institute College of art. I graduated in 1983.

KT: Did that help develop your style?

KEVIN: The beauty of art school is that it lets you develop your craft. Changing styles to fit class requirements. Maybe the best part is hanging around other artist. I know I remember my college days quite fondly. I met my wife at MICA.

KT: Could you share how your style may have changed over the years?

KEVIN: I don’t think my style has changed. It certainly has gotten better, more professional, over the years but I still draw the same way. In fact it’s a bit of a disappointment that it hasn’t changed more.

KT: Do you use Photoshop during the process of illustrating?

KEVIN: I use photoshop as a cut and paste devise as well as a coloring system. I’m very poor at laying down flat color with paint. Photoshop does not have that problem.

KT:Do you own and graphic tablet? If so, which one? What does a graphic tablet bring to your art tool box.

KEVIN: I have always worked with a mouse. I had a tablet but didn’t care for it’s texture the smooth feel when I was drawing.

KT: It looks like Walker Books keeps you pretty busy doing books for them. Do you have time to fit in other publishers?

KEVIN: I think I might be one of the original OCD boys. I work very quickly. I’ve done as many as 6 books in one year. But Walker Bloomsbury have kept me quite busy and I am grateful to them.

KT: Do publishers get offended if you accept work from other houses?

KEVIN: There is some concern that folks will only by one of my books in any given year. Publishers do bring up the issue occasionally. I honestly don’t think that many people are making the tough call of which Kevin O’Malley book to buy. It seems silly.

KT: Do you have a studio?

KEVIN: I work just about everywhere in my house but the primary studio is in the attic.

KT: Do you follow a daily routine?

KEVIN: I do a lot of school visit during the year. Scheduling or creating a routine gets harder and harder. When I was a young guy I worked around my children’s schedule. Up early and done by 2:00 o’clock or so.

KT: I hear you do a lot of school visits. How did you get the ball rolling with the schools?

KEVIN: I solicited a couple of local schools and charged them a nice low rate. After that word of mouth started to get me gigs.

Do you do anything on a regular basis with the schools to keep getting visits?

KEVIN: This year I did send out notes to librarians that are within three hours of Baltimore. The hardest part of the school visit gig is the travel time. I’m in Iowa for a week coming up and you never know what will happen to the schedule when you’re flying

KT: What type of things do you do at a school visit?

KEVIN: I do stand up comedy for the kids. I want to make them go home complaining that their faces hurt. Inside my talk are a lot of messages about trying, suffering and practice. I alway retell a fairy tale in a contemporary fashion.

KT: Is there one book that the kids always want to talk about?

KEVIN: By the time I get done the seem to have forgot how to ask ‘good’ questions. Usually they are just lit up.

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

KEVIN: Be on it. Make a list of goals for the day. Do it every day. If you get a gig from somebody, be grateful.

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

KEVIN: If you can’t handle somebody telling you no than you probably shouldn’t be self employed.

Thank you Kevin for sharing a little of your books and artwork. We can see why you have been so successful. You can visit Kevin at Please take a minute to leave Kevin a comment.
Talk tomorrow,



  1. Kevin, Thank you for sharing your beautiful artwork and sense of humor. I just finished watching your school visit with a Kindergarten class. Not an easy task to keep 5 yr olds mesmerized. Your illustrations are wonderful.
    Barb Massa


  2. I love Mr. O’Malley’s work. These illustrations are delightful. There is lot’s of personality and character in all of his drawings. Great share, Kathy! 🙂


  3. Kevin,
    I thoroughly enjoyed watching your presentation to the Kindergarten – 2nd grade classes!! Your sense of humor is INCREDIBLE (but then I laugh hysterically at Spongebob Squarepants…). Your connection with the little ones is so great, I’m going to show the video to my 2nd grader grandson… I know he’ll love it!
    Oh….. did I mention that your talent for illustrating is wonderful? Such a variety of looks! Not many artists have that capability. Terrific interview! I learned so much!


  4. The video clip was terrific! My 9 yr old belly-laughed for half an hour! Way to do an outstanding school visit.


  5. I absolutely adored this post. What an exciting glimpse into an illustrator’s work. Kevin O’Malley is one funny guy! 🙂


  6. Wonderful interview! Love the art & the attitude! I tried the school clip – but the video quit after about 2 min. w/some grumpy dialog box….grrrr. Will try later.


  7. Thank you Kathy and everybody who took the time to look over my work.
    Your comments warm my heart.

    PS: I showed my wife. She handed me a list of home projects that should decrease the size of my head.


  8. I just love my copy of “How They Croaked.” Kevin is such a facile and talented illustrator!!


  9. Thank you E.R.
    (Your name is quite fitting for a book about croaking.)


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