Posted by: Kathy Temean | May 19, 2012

Illustrator Saturday – Elizabeth Rose Stanton

Elizabeth grew up in Western New York State, studied art history at Skidmore College, and went on to earn a master’s degree in architecture from Columbia University. After working as a freelance architect and designer for, among others, The Municipal Art Society in New York, The Port Authority of NY & NJ, and various architectural firms, she got married, had a couple of kids, moved to Seattle, and had another kid. All the while, she kept herself sane by drawing pictures– mostly of other people’s kids– and did some fine art for a wonderful gallery in Seattle.

Upon completion of her maternal duties, she discovered that all of her architect brain cells had died, so she turned to drawing and painting full-time–most recently FOR other people’s kids–and hasn’t looked back since. Her subject matter wanders over to the dark side sometimes, but generally she keeps things light, and always with an eye towards humor and whimsy. She is a fan of, to name but a few, John Tenniel, Beatrix Potter, John R Neill, James Thurber, Edward Gorey, and Lisbeth Zwerger–oh, and things that go bump in the night.

Elizabeth is a member of SCBWI International and SCBWI, Western Washington.

Here is Elizabeth explaining her process:

My illustration process varies, but generally begins with a lot of thinking about the overall “feel” of what I want to achieve. I tend to do a lot of research before I actually put pen or pencil to paper. I look at a lot of pictures, and I take a lot of pictures. When I’m satisfied, I start drawing the “pieces,” usually beginning with the main character(s), and then moving on to the setting and/or other characters. I then “assemble” them. I rarely plan anything out from start to finish. I tend to make decisions as I go along.

For example, for the IIllustrator’s Workshop at the SCBWI Western Washington conference few weeks ago, our “assignment” was to do an illustration of a classic Brothers Grimm fairy tale–with a “twist.” I chose Hansel & Gretel. I looked at a lot of old illustrations of Hansel & Gretel, pictures of woods and trees, and walked around my neighborhood looking at various trees. What popped into my head first was the notion of, “hungry children.” Hungry children aren’t always thin, I thought, and the house doesn’t necessarily need to be made of gingerbread and candy. So, as I usually do, I grabbed whatever paper or sketchbook that was on hand (in this case it was copier paper) and started sketching and came up with the characters. My work tends to be very character-driven, so that’s where I usually start.

I had an overall image of a classic setting, so I started to think about the next “piece”– the house. I wanted it to be tall and narrow, appearing as though Hansel & Gretel couldn’t fit through the door. I also wanted it to be a little ominous–it is, after all, a Grimm tale. I did an image search for tall narrow houses, and based it loosely on one I found.

Next, using the computer, I assembled the two. Then I printed it out (again on plain copier paper) and started making adjustments. Sometimes I use trace overlay (we used rolls and rolls of it in architecture school) to work out an idea, and sometimes I will just start drawing lightly and make erasure adjustments here and there, and then go over it in ink or hard line pencil.

Then I did another round of printing and scanning to get the image a little smaller to make room for the next step of the drawing—the trees. I drew them with a black crayon from a set that I bought at a toy store.

At this point, things started looking “right” so I scanned it in again, and started to do some digital enhancing. I wanted there to be the hint of enticing treats visible through the narrow door, so I drew some candy and added it digitally.

For my final step, I printed it up on 140# Cartiera Magnani Pescia watercolor paper. I went back over it one last time with water color, gouache, a little colored pencil, and digital tweak here and there.

One last scan, and I printed up the two copies, and sent them in! Generally, this is the pattern I use in most of my work. Sometimes there is more drawing-on-paper involved, and sometimes there is more digital manipulation involved—it depends on the project, but I always work from a base of original drawings on paper. As for materials, my basics include all different kinds of paper ranging from smooth hot press watercolor to copier paper, and sometimes even paper bags. I’m sort of a sketchbook junkie. I buy them sometimes because I like the feel of the paper, or because of how they are bound, and often just because they are on sale. I use about four different kinds of colored pencils including Prismacolors, Irojiten (from Japan), Col-erase, and my favorite– Lyra Rembrandt Polycolors. For pens, I usually use very fine Microns. When I use watercolor, I tend to prefer gouache.

When did you start illustrating?

All of the art I have done over the years has been representational and could, I suppose, be defined as some sort of illustration. For many years I worked as a fine artist and portrait artist. I’ve also done greeting card illustration and design, and freelance design/illustration for clothing companies, as well as some non-profit illustration work. (AllDogsGo_ERStanton)

I see you went to Columbia University for architecture. What spurred your interest in that area?

I double majored in art history and business administration in college, thinking I might have a career in arts administration.  THEN I realized how I was attracted to the the beauty and history of architecture and that– coupled with my love of drawing–led to my decision to apply to graduate school for a professional degree in architecture. Admission was competitive, and I theorized that, if I didn’t get accepted, I could always “fall back” on arts administration.  Fortunately, I got in.  It was an amazing, grueling three years of incredible training. Ironically, the first job I got out of grad school was in arts administration–developing programs in architecture for children at the Hudson River Museum in upstate NY.  After that, I worked on a freelance basis as an architect, and then eventually for the Municipal Art Society in New York, as their staff designer.

Do you feel that any of that training helped develop your style?

As architects, we had to do a lot of drawing and rendering. It was before CAD, so we produced everything by hand. I suppose it made for a certain precision in my style, and certainly contributed to my fondness for pen & ink and pencil work. As for the training, it has been invaluable relative to what I am discovering about putting together a picture book project—the processes are actually quite similar!

You really do have a style all your own. Has that developed over the years?

I think it has. I have been working recently to draw more spontaneously, and know that the results are as valid as something that has been worked with more precision. I am actually finding it quite fun. Doodling is also something that I am doing more and more of.

How much work do you get from your editorial illustrating?
This is another area that I actually haven’t really delved into. I’m definitely open to it, and some of my work lends itself to it, but my sights have really been set on writing and illustrating picture books.

How did you find and land Joanna Volpe at Nancy Coffey Literary and Media Representation?

I had a very good experience attending my first SCBWI conference here in WA a year ago, so I decided it would be fun to go to one of the “big ones.” So one of my crit group buddies and I signed up for the SCBWI New York conference this past January. I participated in the portfolio display. I had no idea what to expect, and was excited (and nervous) to have my work on display in such an amazing venue! Joanna saw my work, and picked up one of my cards. She phoned me a few weeks later and, after a bunch of phone meeting and discussions, Nancy Coffey Agency offered me a contract! Joanna is very professional, bright, and energetic– and she really knows her stuff—so it was a pretty easy decision on my part to sign on with her. We have a wonderful rapport and I really think I couldn’t be in better hands!

Do you have any writing aspirations?

I absolutely want to write and illustrate my own work. Language is as much an art to me as the pictures!

Do you use Photoshop? How and where do you use it?

I use it primarily for touch-up, and assembling the “parts” of an illustration, if necessary.

Do you have or use a graphic tablet? If so, which one do you have? Do you like it?

I have a Wacom tablet that I use on occasion—mostly for those instances when it is more comfortable using a stylus than a mouse. I actually do like it, but I truly prefer the feel of pen & pencil on paper.

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

My studio is set up in the basement of my home (fortunately, there are some windows). I have an alcove where I do the bulk of my drawing, and another station set up on a big table with my Mac where I do a lot of my research and touch–up work. (See Top of post)

Have you created a children’s book dummy? If so, what is it about?

I have created a couple of picture book dummies: one is about a sleepy monster-thing under the bed, and the other is about an anatomically challenged chicken.

When did you decide you wanted to illustrate children’s books?

About three years or so ago, I had been looking at some of Edward Lear’s work and, inspired by a little drawing of his, I decided to paint a couple of little vignettes of an old frog and her hungry little tad pole—just to see what it would be like. Well, it was totally fun, and got me thinking a little about children’s illustration. Then, coincidentally, a friend of mine talked me in to taking a class with her here in Seattle on children’s picture book writing and illustrating. It was great, and I went on to take a couple more. That led to joining the SCBWI and I haven’t looked back since!

Does your rep weigh in on your portfolio?

Only if I ask. That’s one of the great things about Joanna. She’s as “hand-on” as I ask/need her to be. The other thing I love about being represented by the Nancy Coffey Agency is that they are a literary agency—which is exactly what I wanted. Since I want to write AND illustrate, I had already decided to look for a literary representation, as opposed to solely art representation. As for the content of my portfolio, I feel it represents my interest in all things cute on up to a little more of the “dark side.”

What are you working on now?

I am working on two picture books, and have just started to develop the character for a third.

What was the first thing you got paid to do?

I was tapped by an interior design firm in New York that was working with I.M. Pei on the renovation of a hotel in Houston to do the art work for the service china for two of the hotel’s restaurants. One involved drawing elevations of the buildings of the Place Vendome in Paris, and the other, oak leaves.

How long have you been a freelance artist?

I have worked as an artist off and on since I graduated from school, but I began in earnest when my youngest child entered kindergarten. It freed up big enough blocks of time for me to be able to get things done! This is when I worked primarily as a portrait artist. I was also represented by a fine art gallery here in Seattle, and had a couple of shows. All the while, I tried to take as many art classes as I could: portrait painting, sculpture, pottery, life drawing, etc.

Have the materials you used changed from when you started?

As I mentioned, I still have a great fondness for pen and ink and pencil work. I am using more colored pencils than I used to and, of course, the computer. When I worked as a portrait artist, I used primarily chalk pastels. For the scientific illustration and fine art work, I used a variety of media, techniques, and supports–but mostly gouache and watercolor on paper.

You studied scientific illustration. Do you still get work doing that?

I never really worked as a scientific illustrator, per se. I studied it with the aim of enhancing my fine art work which, at the time, focused on flora and fauna.

What opportunities does Seattle offer for artists?

Seattle has a vibrant art scene in general. I still get requests for portraits, and the gallery that represented me in my fine art days (Martin-Zambito Fine Art) is still going strong. For illustrators, though, there’s nothing better than our SCBWI Western Washington chapter for opening the doors to the world of children’s publishing!

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

I started my blog,, about a year and a half ago, but really started using it in earnest about a year ago. I also have a website,, and have started using Facebook in a professional capacity, as well. They are a great way to showcase my work, as well as connect with other writers, artists, and industry professionals. In addition, I have participated in programs like The Sketchbook Project, and, of course, have some of my work on my SCBWI illustrator page. I have also submitted to some on line art journals, most notably, the children’s “dark” literary magazine, Underneath the Juniper Tree, and a website that features free downloadable books, short stories, and poems called Sharing Books . The exposure has been great, and I’ve virtually “met” a whole bunch of really nice people along the way.

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

1. Join the SCBWI. Go to the conferences. Go to the meetings.

2. If you can afford it, take as many classes in drawing, art, sculpture, etc. as you can. The more the merrier.

3. Draw, draw, draw.

4. Network, network, network.

5. Be persistent.

Thank you Elizabeth for sharing your illustrations and process with us. I’m sure everyone enjoyed your learning about you and your process. We wish you great success and will be watching your career as it progresses.

Please take a minute to leave Elizabeth a comment about her work. I really think her black and white drawings are really scary. What do you think?

Talk tomorrow,



  1. My favorite part about these illustrator Saturdays is the process. We who do not illustrate do not realize the many steps an illustrator marches through in order to complete a piece. It’s fascinating to watch. I love the large Hansel and Gretel and the thin house–what an original twist! I look forward to seeing more of Elizabeth’s work in print!


    • Thank you, Tara, for your kind comments, and I so appreciate your observation about the process (I especially like your phrasing, …”the many steps an illustrator marches through…”)!
      Kathy does such a wonderful job putting these interviews together–to the benefit of us all


  2. Wonderful art!!! Go Skidmore – class of ’74 here 🙂


    • Yay Bettelynn! Yay Skidmore! 🙂 Thanks so much!!


  3. Thank you, Tara, for your kind comments, and I so appreciate your observation about the process (I especially like your phrasing, …”the many steps an illustrator marches through…”)!
    Kathy does such a wonderful job putting these interviews together–to the benefit of us all 🙂


  4. Still love your work. I am especially drawn to the dark side, dark but still silly. 🙂


    • We dark and silly girls need to stick together! Thanks Fran!


  5. In these sorts of interviews, there is always the subtle assumption that some sort of secret can be passed on by the interviewee — who has achieved success — and those who trail her in their own dreams. With Elizabeth Stanton, what you have is a combination of talent — which is a gift, skill — which is developed and street smarts — which include determination, hunger and, yes, wisdom.

    She has fully merited this stage in her development as an artist and all its attendant recognition — and yet, I am certain it is only a beginning (of sorts.)

    It’s the kind of beginning for which years of foundations have been painstakingly laid. When I read,

    ‘Fortunately, I got in.’

    I laughed and thought, ‘damn straight!’

    Our girl Lizzie is a gem.


  6. Thanks, thanks, thank you for putting this all together – I thought that visiting the ice cream stand for the first time, this season, would be the pinnacle of my day but this beats it by a mile!!! =]

    (…and, I just noticed that that isn’t your hand…..hahahhahahaaaa – cough – splutter….!=D)


    • Katy! Wow! Being put on the same level as ice cream is about the most awesome compliment, ever! Thank you!!!
      Oh, and…glad you like my handy joke 😉


  7. Elizabeth, your art is wonderful! You are so talented! It was a pleasure to meet you at the New York SCBWI Conference last January.
    Kathy, thank you for this great interview featuring Elizabeth’s work!


    • Hi Marcela! Yes–it was really fun talking with you (and our other architect/illustrator compadres) at the conference. I still remember your gorgeous cut-out work! Thanks for stopping by Kathy’s amazing blog, and for the kind comments!!


  8. I am so glad I read this. You are so interesting and I love your art even more so!


  9. This is a great interview of one of my fav illustrators.


  10. This is a fabulous interview!! I especially love hearing about your process–I’ve been timid about morphing my digital planning sessions with my final artwork. Next project I work on, I’m going to try a bit of your process.

    And by the way, you are INCREDIBLE!!! What utter fabulousness.


    • Sarah, you’re making me blush 😉 I am so flattered to get such great comments from someone who KNOWS! (For anyone reading this, be sure and check out Sarah’s new book, “Puzzled by Pink.” It’s total fun!) Thanks, Sarah!


  11. So much talent. Being your neighbor but not seeing you very often it is great
    to see where you are spending your time. I treasure all the pieces I have seen you create and have received from you. You have continued to broaden your talent. I still love to look at your portraits and appreciate even more now that I am a grandmother. I hope you still do them?? Keep up the great work( not so much on the dark side) but don’t
    get so involved we won’t see you out walking the dog in the neighborhood!


    • Thanks, Dabney! Walking the dog will be a good reason for me to surface! Meanwhile, who WOULDN’T want to do portraits of your grandkids 🙂 —they’re adorable!! Thanks for your kind comments!


  12. I loved hearing your story! I’ve so enjoyed seeing all your art you post on your blog and now I know the history! Good luck on being both the illustrator and author of a book.


    • Thanks so much Timaree! I always appreciate your kind comments! I will be sure and keep you “posted” on my book adventures 🙂


  13. You are such a talented artist! I especially appreciate the facial expressions your characters portray. I write YA and enjoy describing expressions rather than saying, “She scowled” or whatever. Your drawings have given me ideas for new descriptions. Thanks!


    • I’m so glad you found my characters inspiring! I think writers are awesome. Good luck with all your YA work! Thanks for stopping by and for your kind comment 🙂


  14. Wonderful interview! I love seeing your process, and have been a fan of your art since finding your blog. Many successes in the future!!


    • Thanks SO much, Linda–and I wish all the very same to you!


  15. You so rock, Elizabeth! What I especially liked about this interview is seeing your versatility. Your range, from scientific to naturalistic to whimsical is phenomenal, is solid and a joy to behold. Congratulations on your many successes!


    • Reading this comment from you made my day, Mardi! Thanks so very much! 🙂


  16. Wow, great interview! I had wondered about the person and the processes behind all that beautiful art. This interview shows that your work is awesome and that you are too, Elizabeth! Thanks for sharing, and by the way what a great portrait of you. You’re funny!


    • Hey Koosje! I love hearing from people who’s work I admire, so your comments are doubly flattering! Thanks SO much!!


  17. Great to see how broadly talented you are, Elizabeth.
    Also nice to see a photo of you! I’ve always wondered how you would look.
    See, most illustrators look like their characters…which is a bit difficult to imagine with your ‘staff members’.


    • Hi Paula! Yes, having my pic “out there” is a little odd…since I really think people would much rather see my characters 😉 (‘staff members’ –hahaha!–I love that!). Thanks for stopping by and for your kind comment!!


  18. Your attention to detail, your fine line, your passion show throughout. Thanks for sharing your process-my inspiration.


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