Posted by: Kathy Temean | June 23, 2012

Illustrator Saturday – Anne Belov

Anne Belov has been painting Fine Art for over 35 years, and doing printmaking for the last 17 years. She studied art at Philadelphia College of Art and later got her MFA in painting from the University of Washington in Seattle.

Over the years, she has realized nothing goes to waste.  All her artistic endeavors have taught her that she can carry over things learned from one project to the next.  From etching, she learned to love process, strengthen her value range and composition in my paintings, and enhance my ability to meet a deadline and now the impulses toward narrative in her paintings has fueled her desire to make visual stories for children.

Today she is venturing down the road of children’s books illustration and letting her life long passion for Panda Bears show up in her wordless picture book, Pandamorphosis.

She has been a pandamaniac since childhood. Four years ago, a chance encounter with an Atlantic Monthly story on pandas reignited her obsession. Since then, her online cartoon The Panda Chronicles has been gaining fans in leaps and bounds.

A serious painter, as well as a panda punster, Ms Belov resides in the Pacific Northwest where she presides over the Institute for Contemporary Panda Satire. Here is Anne showing and explaining her process:

This is actually 3 steps down the road to this new painting. I’ve done the drawing, under-painted a value study in egg tempera, and then glazed it with a mixture of a warm yellow-green and transparent yellow ochre, mixed with lots of neomeglip. As soon as I decide “I’m always doing it like such and such”, I start doing things differently. I’m working on a smooth clayboard, which is a commercially made product by Ampersand. Sometimes I like to use a very smooth surface, especially when I want to include lots of fussy and subtle detail.

This is halfway between stage 1 and 2, where I am reinforcing the value underpainting with a layer of mostly transparent purple underpainting. This will help reinforce the value structure, particularly in the darker passages. One of the big challenges is to keep the darks more transparent, which keeps them from going “dead”. Here is the full stage 2

Stage 3:  OK now we’re on to adding color over most of the painting. OK well all of the painting. Still very rough at this point. I always want to keep edges soft until I’m at a more final stage in the painting. I’m working on the foreground first, as I want it to really pop out from the picture plane, so I want the background to work with the foreground, rather than vice versa. Capisce?

This is Stage 4

Stage 5: What happens here is that I try to experiment with a more imagined background in the painting, as I want it to recede maybe more than usual. Also, pay attention to those forks in the front and center.

Stage 6:  Hey! who stole the forks? Seriously, the foreshortening just wasn’t working, so I decided it would be better for everyone (well, for me, anyway) if I just took them out. Good decision, yes? Also the background is interesting, but still way too dark.

Stage 7:  Ok, it’s lighter, but the color is way too distracting. Not the effect I was going for at all. I decide to handle the rhododendrons behind the table more realistically, at least in terms of color. So, here’s what I came up with:

Final piece:  Much better, huh? They are still somewhat stylized, but I think they work.

When did you start painting?

I started painting at a very young age.  I have this vague memory of finger-painting when I was about 5 or 6, but I also remember doing a drawing of a Redwing blackbird when I was in first or second grade that won an award.

Did you go to art school?

Yes.  I started out at Temple University in Philadelphia, PA, and then transferred to the Philadelphia College of Art (now called The University of the Arts, as it merged with the dance, music, and theater schools in Philadelphia.)  I got a degree in painting, and also had the opportunity to spend a semester at the Delaware Water Gap Artists for the Environment program, where I learned to love plein air painting.  I then got an MFA in painting from the University of Washington in Seattle.

Can you tell us a little bit about some of the things you studied and what you learn?

I concentrated on painting/fine art.  I hate to admit it now, but when I was in school, the painting students were notoriously snotty, and had no time for either printmaking or illustration.  My bad.  I guess it just goes to show you that having a preconceived idea where you think you should be going is counter-productive.

Because I loved to read as a child, it was definitely my refuge, it was always in the back of my mind to illustrate children’s books.  I just didn’t know it, as I was concentrating on becoming a good painter.  The printmaking urge came quite a bit later as well.  I’ve been painting for over 35 years, and doing printmaking for the last 17 years.

What was the first art related project you did and got paid for?

To tell you the truth, I can’t remember that far back. I do remember having a show at a frame shop in Amherst, MA after I’d been out of school for a year. I sold several paintings although they were all under $100.

What type of surface do you paint on?

When I was in school, we used to paint on anything that would stand still, and I grew fond of shellacked paper as a painting surface. If you mount it securely on a board, and with archival glue, it’s just as good as a stretched canvas, and gives a very different and fun painting surface. It’s got a little texture and “drag” on the brush, but not so intrusive as even fine weave canvas or portrait linen. An added bonus is that I can do an underpainting in watercolor, then shellac it, and then start my color layers over the shellacked surface.

Tell us a little bit about Whidbey Island.  Do you live there?

I’ve lived on Whidbey for 23 years now.  One of my friends from graduate school, sculptor Georgia Gerber, moved out here a year or two after she was finished with school.  I would come to visit and think, what a great place to be an artist.  There were quite a number of artists living here already.  I moved here in 1989 when I was finally selling enough work to quit my day job and paint full-time.  Artists are drawn to beautiful places, and the community at large is very supportive of all of the arts.  We have quite a writing and music community here as well.  It’s almost like living in an art colony, except you have to cook and clean up for yourself.

Do you have a picture book dummy?

I have a 99.9% completed picture book dummy of Pandamorphosis.  Here is the cover.  The illustrations are all done in colored pencil, except for the cover, which also has watercolor.  As a painter, I’ve worked in just about every media except for pastels.  Different subject matters have different visual qualities, which can often be best served by different media.  Colored pencil felt right to me, as it has a softer, dreamlike quality to it.  As the story progresses, I let the color fade out of the drawings because at night, color becomes less intense. As the story comes to a conclusion, the color comes back in with the morning.

When I started working on the book, I thought it was the girl’s story, but as I progressed, it turned out to be the cat’s story. Pandamorphosis is Metamorphosis + Through the Looking Glass + The Cat in the Hat, except with pandas. Was it a dream, or a real magical transformation? I leave that up to the reader to decide.

What sparked your interest in Panda Bears?

Ah, the pandas.  I blame it mostly on James Fallows.  In 2007, while he was writing from China for the Atlantic Monthly, he wrote an article about the research and breeding programs in China that were trying to pull pandas back from the brink of extinction.  In 2006, one of the facilities had 16 panda cubs born there, and a friend gave me a picture of eight people with 2 panda cubs each on their laps.  It was kind of like a class picture for pandas.  That was what really pushed me over the edge.  Don’t ask me how many stuffed pandas I now have.

I was never one of those little girls who played with dolls. I loved stuffed animals and my brother and I had several stuffed pandas. I think that the pandas were quietly waiting, just biding their time until I rediscovered them. At the time of my “pandapiphany,” I had been drawing a lot of cat cartoons, which I would fax along with orders to my picture framer. Once the pandas reared their furry heads, pandas started showing up in my cartoons and quickly took over. So my panda obsession actually has two outlets. The first were the cartoons, Your Brain on Pandas, which you can read on my blog . I let my main protagonist, Bob T. Panda, have his own Facebook page, where he has connected with panda fans from around the world. Watching panda kindergarten videos on YouTube constitutes research. (At least that’s what I tell myself.)

I see that you are a member of the SCBWI. Did the Panda Bears start you getting interested in children’s books?

Sometime after 2007, I started thinking about writing and illustrating for children. My friend Deb Lund, a fellow Whidbey-ite, (Dino Sailors, All Aboard the Dino Train, Dino-Soaring, and several other books) had suggested that I might be good at and enjoy illustrating for children. At the time she suggested it, I had too many other irons in the fire and put the idea aside. About 4 years ago, it popped into my head that I wanted to do this, and took a class with her on writing for children and so Pandamorphosis was born. It went through a number of changes both in the story line as well as starting out with text and then metamorphosing into a wordless picture book.

What would you like to accomplish in the Children’s Book Industry?

I would love to get Pandamorphosis published. I would also like to do other books (not necessarily with pandas, although I have more panda stories in my head) using my skills as a painter to create lush, beautiful illustrations. I have an idea for a parody of an art history book, with pandas appearing in famous paintings throughout art history. I’ve already done a painting, Arrangement in Black, White and Gray, which is a parody of the famous Whistler painting. I recently went on a painting trip to Italy, and took photos at a medieval banquet that could form the core of a story. I will start playing with the images, doing some paintings to see if it goes somewhere.

Starting to do illustration, where I don’t have a complete image to work from is especially challenging for me. I started cartooning and I think that has helped a lot with that. The more I do them, the more complex the compositions get.  Here is a link to my cartoons:

 These two spreads and pages 8 & 9 are the final art work for the book.  The other illustrations shown are still works-in-progress.

Have you thought about self-publishing a picture book? I would think you probably have a big fan base with your fine art accomplishments.

While I am seriously thinking about self-publishing a book of my panda cartoons, I’m not ready to think about it in regards to my children’s books. With all the projects that are in my head (not to mention my calendar) I don’t think I’m ready to take on all the jobs in publishing, marketing and distributing. I believe that Pandamorphosis will find a home with a traditional publisher eventually. It’s just a longer road than I hoped it would be, but isn’t it always?

Tell us a little bit about your lithographs?  How long have you been doing them?  What do they bring to the table that oils do not?  Any techniques you use? etc?

I had a brief experience doing real stone lithographs back in the mid 1980’s.  As working on stone is a very specialized, chemical intensive process, I did not do more.  When I got into printmaking in a more committed fashion, I did a series of aluminum plate lithos with Stone Press studios in Seattle, and then learned etching at Island International Artists in Anacortes.  When I finally got my own home and studio, I decided to buy at etching press.  Between the time that I worked with Stone Press and got my own studio, new lithography materials had been developed.  I work on a polymer litho plate that is very thin, like a piece of Mylar.  There are many advantages to this material.  It’s lightweight, translucent so that you can stack plates to register different color plates to each other.  On my recent Italian trip, I took small plates with me to do direct sketches on them, which I am now printing in my studio.  These prints form the bulk of the rewards for the Kickstarter project that partially funded my trip.

What I really love about printmaking is that the process does not always work out the way you plan it. Sometimes the surprises are good, other times not so much. For me the process is more like drawing, which I feel I have more control with than painting. Also, the fact that they are multiples makes them more accessible to people than an oil painting. I often say that I am “artistically promiscuous” because I like to work in multiple media and subject matters. I think that by broadening my experience, I bring unexpected things to each medium I work in. For instance, the layering I do in a monoprint has more to do with layering in watercolor than it does with oils, although I layer there as well.

Monoprint, monotypewhat are they and what’s the difference?

A monotype is a singular form of printmaking, which kind of seems like a contradiction in terms. I mean, if it isn’t going to be a multiple, why do it? Why not just do a painting? Well, settle down in your chair, and I’ll try to explain it in a way that won’t make you run screaming from the room, with your eyes rolled back in your head.

It boils down to this: ink transferred from one surface to another has a different look than ink or paint applied directly to paper. Simple, no? There is a spontaneous and accidental quality that you can get when doing monotype as compared with any direct painting method. Now, for me, I like a little more defined detail than you can get while doing a straight monotype.

In monotype, you apply thin layers of ink or paint to a smooth surface, lay your paper on top or the plate and run through a press, or rub from the back of the paper. You can add as many thin layers as you like till you like the image. I learned the hard way not to put too much ink on the surface, as it just squirts out the other side, making a mess of your press and the blankets.

A monoprint, on the other hand, adds the element of a repeatable image, such as an etching plate, woodblock, or lithograph. You can turn a plain old etching into a monoprint by a method called “alla poupe`” (or as some printmakers like to call it, “Grey Poupon” ) which is french for “big stinking mess. ” In this method, you add different colors of ink to the same plate, and then blend the edges of color together. You will never get the exact same inking on subsequent prints, so they will be similar, but different, thus making them a monoprint, more than an editioned etching. I like to use lithography as the repeatable part of a monoprint, which is what I’ve done with the print above, and my Italian series of prints. By combining the detailed and structured litho with the loosey goosey-ness of the monotype, you get something that is both structured and spontaneous.

What kind of press do you use in your print making?

I have a 30″x60″ Takach table top press, made right here in the US of A by people who are so sure of their product that they give it a 20 year warranty. I can do larger monoprints and etchings on it and a Buffy Cribbs’ new Minerva Mini- Halfwood Press, that she built under the guidance of Bill Ritchie, who is the developer of the press. It’s really another part of the printmaking revolution that’s been happening around the world of printmaking. Bill, who was a professor at the UW where I went to graduate school…um…let’s just say a while ago…developed this press as an alternative to the 600 lb. monsters that many printmakers (myself included) own and create hand pulled prints on. Don’t get me wrong… I love my big press, but Gail Gwinn introduced me to the “mini” and she also has a larger press. There are a number of small presses out there, and I’m not going to mention them by name, because mostly they are not worth half the price. A few of the excellent press makers do make smaller models, but they are still really studio models, meaning you can’t easily take them on the road to teach or do demonstrations. The mini is easily picked up and carted around, and pulls excellent prints. They are not cheap, but when was any good quality art producing product, from brushes to easels to presses, inexpensive?

Here’s a link to Buffy Cribb’s website if you decide you can’t live without your own Mini Halfwood. Her model is called the Minerva, and uses the same metal assembly that Bill uses on his press, and is created with his blessing. (after all, he might want to retire sooner or later.) http//

Is the print making process less time-consuming than doing a piece in oils?

Printmaking is not necessarily less time-consuming, especially in plate making part of the process. Once the plate is made, however, because you are printing on several plates and prints/pieces of paper in a day, I could print maybe 20 small or 5 large prints in the time that it would take to paint a medium size oil.

Which do you like doing more; painting or printmaking? Which do you do more of?

I go back and forth between painting and printmaking, and which I like better. There are times when I work about half time in each, but since getting into the cartooning and illustration, that has thrown my schedule off. I keep a calendar where I write down what I want to work on in a particular week. This is really helpful when I am working on several multi-plate prints, or have a show of paintings that I am planning for. If I get frustrated with one, I think the other is my favorite.

How long does it take you to do an oil painting?

The amount of time it takes to do an oil painting varies by size. I am definitely not a fast painter. Because I work in layers, even a small painting can take up to a week. I like to have several paintings going at once, so that I can work on a different painting as one becomes too wet to work on.

Do you have a favorite oil paint?

My favorite is Vasari Classic Oil Paint. They make small batches of paint, the old-fashioned way. Check ‘em out.

Do you have an artist rep or agent? Would you like one?

I don’t have an agent (yet) though I would like to work with one. Because I have worked well with galleries, I have a great respect for people who get your work to the market place and free you up to do the work that you really want to be doing in the studio. It’s not that you can just hand that part over to them, there is work that you need to do and understand, but a good literary agent knows where the pitfalls are, and both what you can ask for in your contract and where the best home for your work might be. I have learned so much through SCBWI. The western WA region puts on a great conference, with wonderful faculty coming from all over the publishing industry. I’ve made some really good friends there as well.

It definitely looks like you have a lot of expertise to share with other artist. Do you ever teach any classes?

Yes, I do teach some classes, mostly at the Whidbey Fine Art Studio in Langley Washington (here on whidbey) I don’t teach often, and when I do, it’s more about some particular concept, rather than specific medium techniques. (Like getting a sense of illumination in your painting, or working with composition and color to create a narrative) I have also taught printmaking, which is a little more technique-y.

Which do you like doing more; painting or printmaking? Is that reflected in the amount of pieces you have done over the years?

I think that what ever media I am working at the time, if I get stuck or frustrated, I like the other better. I love the printing process because I can listen to books on tape, because at the point I am printing, it’s mostly technical. Drawing the plates, or figuring out the color separations so that there are a reasonable number of plates (one for each color) is like painting. Lots of brain work.


I read you are trying to move to a less toxic environment in your studio. Are there some things you could suggest doing for other illustrators in their studio?

No open jars of paint thinner or turpentine with handfuls of brushes sticking out, just waiting to be knocked over. Use baby oil, kept in a jar with one of those coil things to help remove pigment from the brushes, then do a final rinse with soy solve. If the brush needs a little extra TLC I might use Master’s brush soap or one of the waterless smooth hand cleaners: I like “Fast Orange” which is available at my local hardware store.

Can you tell us more about the coil thing you use to help remove pigment from your brushes?

It is a heavy glass jar with a screw-on lid with a coil inside. You put water, solvent or Silicoil Brush Cleaning it and stroke your brush across the smooth surface of the aluminum coil and it opens and separates the hairs for proper cleaning without damaging the delicate split ends of brush hairs. Click her for a picture:

Why do you say it’s difficult to be COMPLETELY non-toxic?

Many pigments themselves are actually toxic. Cadmium is pretty nasty stuff, but I still use it. No synthetic color has yet equaled a really yummy cadmium vermillion red. Just don’t lick your brushes. And to those who think that “water-soluble oils” are any healthier to use, they are not. They are still bound with oil that has been hydrogenated to accept water molecules. They are not “water BASED.” I’m not saying don’t use them, I’m just saying know what they are. I do use small amounts of Gamblin’s NeoMeglip medium, which is not very stinky, and I only have a small dollop on my palette. I did try the water-soluble oils when I went back to oil painting, but I found the texture was not to my liking. By using a high quality oil paint, the texture of the paint, and the experience of painting is much more pleasant.

I see you do a lot of art exhibits. How important has that been to your career? How many do you do each year?

Exhibiting (and selling) my work has allowed me to work as an artist full-time for the last 24 years. It is a rather precarious existence, as I’ve learned in the last 4 years. Some years I exhibit more than others. When I was first starting, I would do one major exhibition a year, but since I’ve been on Whidbey, there are more opportunities to have a smaller number of works in group shows. Now I try to have only one or two shows a year, where I am the solo artist, or sharing the show with one other person, and participate in 3 -5 group shows. Every other year I organize a group show at a friend’s house/garden, called the Froggwell Biennale. It’s an amazing show, in an amazing setting, with printmaking, painting, and sculpture. I started a blog (another one) to profile the artists in the show and give information about the show. We have also done a couple of “forgery” shows, where we invite artists to do copies of their favorite (dead) artists. I’ve done copies of Vermeer, Sargent, Whistler, Degas, and Inness. It’s really fun and definitely stretches you as an artist. You can visit the blog at

Do you have a favorite size that you like to work with?Big? Small?

I love doing large paintings, because you can really get lost in them, but I don’t do many as they take me a really long time both to do and sell. I think my best working size is between 16″x 18″ up to about 24″x28″. I like slightly off square rectangles, more horizontal than vertical, though obviously not a hard and fast rule.

You mention the use of egg tempera in one of your work-in-progress painting. Can you tell us a little bit about that technique?

I’ve worked with it a little in college, but not a lot since then. Part of my reason for going to Italy this year (you need a reason? Who knew!) Was to study with Fred Wessel who is one of a VERY small number of contemporary egg tempera masters working in a very picky, tedious medium. I really liked it, because it’s more like drawing than painting, in that you are building up value and color with very small strokes of paint. You really do use egg, and dry pigment, along with a little water. Her is a painting I did during the workshop, with a very small amount of transparent oil glaze over the egg tempera after I got home. Huzzah! another even SLOWER medium! (this is a very small painting, 6″x6″)

You also mention that you make your own linen panels with Rabbit Skin Glue. Why do you do that, instead of buying a linen panel?

To get the quality of linen and panel I want, I’ve found it is better to make my own. The less expensive panels either have too coarse of linen or they only prime with oil or acrylic ground. The expensive ones (true Gesso) are just that. expensive, especially if you like to have a lot of stock on hand. I like to have enough panels of varying sizes to last for a year or more, so that I don’t get so precious and uptight about using them or making mistakes. Once you learn how to do your own panels, you can dedicate a couple of days and make enough to last for a year or more, and for about 1/4 to 1/3rd the price of the best ready made panels. It also allows me to experiment with surfaces and ground colors. In my recent class in egg tempera, Fred Wessel recommended only using bright white true gesso panels. I had brought one of my linen/RSG gesso panels that had venetian red pigment added to the gesso instead of titanium white, which gave a medium (think brick-red) dark color to the panel. It worked beautifully, and gave me a fuller value range to my painting than the white panel did. (Limone #2)

I have been gluing the line to 3/8″ MDF (a smooth fiber board used as a building material) but I am experimenting with other supports, like gator board, masonite and illustration board.

Do you have any tips you can share with other artist reading this interview?

Don’t be afraid of exploring different media.  Schedule your art making time first, and then let the rest of your life fill in around it. (Easier said than done, particularly with a family.)  Look at lots of different art.  The more you can see in person, the better.  Some of my greatest thrills have come from seeing paintings around the world in “the flesh” that I knew (or thought I knew) from books.  Treat your desire to make art seriously, but don’t take yourself too seriously.  Let yourself “play” – As someone who trained in a “serious” art school to make “serious art,” nothing has freed my spirit like my panda cartoons and drawings.

Thank you Ann for sharing your talent, artwork,  journey, and process with us.  I can’t wait to hear more from you and see your future published picture books. 

If you would like to keep Anne and her journey on your radar, you can visit her sites: 

Please take a minute and leave Anne a comment.  I am sure she would appreciate hearing from you.

Talk tomorrow,



  1. Thank you Kathy! I feel like a star. 🙂


  2. Anne! You are a master of light and color. Love the rich colors and luminous quality of your work. To be skilled in so many mediums is amazing. Loved the Panamorphosis illustrations and the playful mischief of the pandas. You are a star!


    • And you are a peach! Thank you for your really kind comments.


  3. Very interesting and very impressive. I wanted to be a real artist once, but I became a nurse instead but I can still dabble.


    • Panda Linda, you are an artist-it’s your latest career and there is a group of folks that love your work! You know who were are . . .


  4. WOW Anne………..this is a VERY impressive collection of your images…..and ideas, and creations. I enjoyed the scrolling journey very much. Congratulations………..Joanie Govedare


  5. What a wonderful and informative interview that showcased your work beautifully. I really enjoyed reading it.


  6. This artwork is incredible! When I see this kind of work and read about the processes, I realize that, although I’ve spent a good portion of my life doing artwork and consider myself an artist, there’s a difference when someone has gone to school and spent most of life doing it. This wasn’t only enjoyable; it was VERY educational. I loved hearing more about the printmaking process since it’s something I was never involved in or read much about.

    Good luck with your illustration/book career Anne. Thanks for sharing! And Kathy, as always, thanks for all the hard work that brings us such wonderful content!


  7. Everything is very open with a clear description of the challenges.
    It was definitely informative. Your website is useful.
    Thanks for sharing!


  8. Congratulations to both the artist and the writer/interviewer. This is an informative and beautiful interplay of image and thought. Well done.


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