Posted by: Kathy Temean | July 28, 2012

Illustrator Saturday – Tim Bowers

Tim Bowers was born in Troy, Ohio, where he began drawing at an early age. His career in illustration grew from his childhood interest in art and an active imagination. Even then, his artwork reflected an ability to tell stories, using humorous characters.

Bowers continued his art education at the Columbus College of Art & Design (Ohio), where he would pursue a career in illustration. During those years, he was introduced to the work of many great illustrators of the past, including Howard Pyle, N.C. Wyeth, Maxfield Parrish and Norman Rockwell. He was influenced by the work of popular illustrators of that time, including Mark English, Bob Peak and Bernie Fuchs. This is also when he began collecting children’s books and admiring the work of Maurice Sendak, Wallace Tripp and Etienne Delessert. Such a diverse group of artists inspired Tim to explore his interest in both decorative and realistic imagery. He graduated from C.C.A.D. with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree.

Tim worked in a Dayton, Ohio illustration studio after graduating from college and gained valuable experience creating artwork for corporations such as Procter & Gamble, Kenner (toys), Huffy (bicycles) and Wendy’s. His drawings were also used for local television commercial storyboards and his cartoon characters were used to promote various products.

Bowers left the Dayton studio and was soon recruited by Hallmark Cards in Kansas City, Missouri. There, he worked in several humor groups and helped launch the popular Shoebox Greetings card line. It was during those five years in Kansas City, that Tim also illustrated his first three children’s books.

Tim Bowers and his wife now live in central Ohio. He has illustrated over thirty children’s books, including The New York Times bestseller, Dream Big, Little Pig! written by Kristi Yamaguchi and Dinosaur Pet by Neil Sedaka and Marc Sedaka. His work has been published in children’s magazines, his illustrations have been used on a wide variety of products and his characters have appeared on hundreds of greeting cards. Each year, Tim travels to schools and libraries to promote literacy and share his artwork with students.

Here’s Tim as he walks you thru an illustration from Cat and the Fiddle:

For The Cat and the Fiddle, I photographed my daughter in bibbed overalls. I positioned her and the fiddle to closely match the cat that I had drawn in my initial idea sketch. Then, I took several photos of the arrangement. The photos gave me information that was needed to paint the clothing and fiddle with convincing detail. It’s the combination of an imaginative idea and realistic detail that captures my interest.

1. Idea sketch (pencil drawing

2. Underpainting- Monocromatic value study (sometimes painted with acrylic washes).

3. Laying in areas of local color (background).

4. First layer of color on main characters, keeping simple shapes of light and dark areas.

5. Adding color to entire image, allowing the underpainting to show through in various places.

6. Adjusting color relationships, textures and unifying all areas of the painting.

7. Finished painting.

1.  Cover Sketch for Tim’s New book, Maestro Stu Saves The Zoo.  It hits the bookshelves in September.

2.  The underpainting is acrylic and the other top layers of paint are oil… on canvas, that I buy pre-primed in a large roll. I measure and cut pieces of canvas, tape them to my drawing table and paint, paint, paint…

Can you explain the importance of using an underpainting?

An underpainting establishes the values of the piece. This makes it a little easier when adding the color layer. The values are already there – you just have to add the color. I usually start with an acrylic underpainting (burnt umber, raw umber) when painting with oils. The top color layers can be matched to the underpainting and some of the under layer can remain visible, which can help unify the entire painting.

3. Adding in color

4. Final painting

5.  Final cover

Earlier this year, I ran into some illustration board problems. The art for this book is on canvas so I’ve temporarily solved my problem. I’m using Fredrix Knickerbocker (574) canvas. I’ve used it in the past and it’s a tightly weaved surface which is nice for painting detail. Earlier this year, I visited Dean Mitchell, a very excellent painter and friend. He showed me a Crescent Premium Watercolor board that looked interesting – nice surface, thick enough with an acid free core.

The example below was created for Sunrise Greetings as a Father’s Day card. I always begin with a sketch of the idea. Sometimes that goes through several revisions before a design is selected and I can begin painting the final art.

After the sketch has been approved, I transfer a line drawing to my board, including crop marks and a bleed area (which is the art that extends beyond the crop marks).

When the line drawing is complete, I lay in areas of local color with thin acrylic washes.

Then I start to render areas, adding texture, dimension and depth to the flat areas of the design.

I do this with additional layers of thin acrylic washes, dry-brush and scumbling techniques.

Can you explain “Scumbling”? 

Well, scumbling is a layer of paint, applied over another dry layer of paint where you intentionally leave some of the under layer showing through. Usually a lighter color over a darker tone. I’ll have to show a more detailed demo sometime in the future.

When most of the rendering of the image is complete, I add any other details that I feel would enhance the painting, including a bit of glazed color (as seen on the rosy cheeks of this little guy) and highlights (as seen on the eyes… my favorite part to paint).

That’s it. 

Below:  I enjoy creating texture in my artwork.  Much of my educational publishing work is done with this technique. I’ve also created a few picture books, using a textured surface to create the artwork. Though much of my art is more realistically painted, I find a certain amount of playfulness and experimentation when working with texture in a more graphic approach to the illustration.

This snowman is a small illustration in a holiday series that I created a few years ago. I wanted to incorporate a folk art influence and an overall texture in the painting. I usually start with a piece of three-ply Bristol and apply a thick coat of gesso, brushing in various directions. When the gesso is completely dry, layers of thin acrylic color are applied. Here, I start with a light brown wash, spatter the entire area with dark brown paint (using a toothbrush) then outline the drawing with black paint.

Now I paint semi-transparent washes of color (I like to see the spattering and under painting through the color washes) and dry-brush some shaded areas of the snowman with a light, gray-blue.

With opaque white, I start to create some form to the snowman, being careful not to cover too much of my line work. I like to be able to see most of the paint layers, including spatters and under painting in the final image.

After the color is applied and the rendering is complete on the snowman, I continue to add decoration. Snowflakes, rosy snowman cheeks and some detail is added to other areas of the painting. I also start the placement of some hand-lettering at the top and bottom of the illustration.

Here is the finished illustration. After completing the image and lettering, I use an Exacto blade to sweep across the surface of the illustration, scraping off some of the higher brush stroke ridges. It just adds a bit more interesting texture. I did this same thing a few years ago on the art for a book titled, Gorgonzola, A Very STINKYsaurus (Katherine Tegen Books- HarperCollins). This texture technique was also used on other books I’ve illustrated: Fun Dog, Sun Dog and Cool Dog, School Dog (Marshall Cavendish).

It’s exciting to wash, spatter, dry-brush, scrape and render, all on a single image. This technique is a nice break from my time-consuming, tightly rendered painting. So grab your gesso, toothbrush and Exacto blade… and have some fun!

One of my 2012 children’s book is Dinosaur Pet by Neil Sedaka and Marc Sedaka (published by Imagine! a Charlesbridge imprint) was recently featured on a few television shows.

CBS This Morning had Neil Sedaka visit to promote the book. The Dinosaur Pet book cover was displayed in the background but the morning show host had a hard time focusing on the book. She wanted to talk about other things… oh, well.

Fox News had Mr. Sedaka and his family on the Huckabee show. Neil Sedaka’s grandchildren were singing with him and they did a fantastic job performing the song, Dinosaur Pet. The picture book was featured and Neil’s son, Marc was in the audience to answer a few questions. Check out the segment… you’ll be singing the song all day. It’s a really catchy tune.

What made you decide that you wanted to be involved in children’s books? 

When I graduated from college, my dream was to become a big-time editorial illustrator (inspired by Mark English, Bernie Fuchs, Bob Peak, etc.) I had always enjoyed telling stories with my art, humorous illustration and creating cute characters, so children’s books were always a great source of inspiration. After the editorial art market took a hit and my experience in the advertising art studio was becoming less fulfilling, I found myself asking a lot of questions about what I should do. That was a difficult time. I walked away from a good studio job, started to free-lance and set my sights on children’s book illustration. 


Did you have an art class at C.C.A.D. that you feel helped develop your style?

The Columbus College of Art & Design offered great classes in color, design, drawing and perspective. Those are the classes that gave me information that I still use to create my artwork.  My style kinda’ evolved over time. Many of my  (junior/senior year) assignments were done with the oil wash technique (inspired by Mark English) My school work looks quite different from what I do today. I did a lot of experimenting and stretching my skills in different directions. Over the years, my work has narrowed to a more recognizable style.

After you left College you got a job in an illustration studio.  Was it like working for an Advertisement Agency?  Can you tell us a little bit about this business?  Are there a lot of these types of jobs today? 

After my junior year at CCAD, I landed a summer job at the Wannamaker Advertising Art studio in Kettering, Ohio. The studio had sales reps, who would visit businesses and ad agencies to pick up work for the studio. A few of the clients that I remember were: Wendy’s, Huffy bicycles, Proctor & Gamble and King’s Island (amusement park). I sat in my small work area and received various assignments. There were also other illustrators, designers and production artists in other work areas. I’m not sure if that kind of studio is still around. The whole illustration world has changed since my studio days.

How did you get your first picture book contract?  What was the book?  What year?

As a free-lance artist in Dayton, I did some work for a local company. One job included cartoon line drawings for a student safety packet that would be distributed in schools. The project was sponsored by McDonald’s (hamburgers). Fast forward a couple of years… I married and moved to Kansas City, Missouri, where I worked for Hallmark cards. I continued to do a little free-lance on the side. Anyway, the company that commissioned me for line drawings also did some book packaging. They called and asked if I would be interested in illustrating a children’s book. A book packager takes an existing story (manuscript), finds an artist for the project and sells the entire book design process to a publisher. The company handles a lot of what the publisher usually does which saves the publishing company some time.

That package was sent to and rejected by many publishers for over a year. Finally, after my hope was starting to wane, a publisher accepted the package and my first children’s book was in contract.  The title is The Toy Circus by Jan Wahl, published by Harcourt Brace Jovanovich in 1986. From there, the publisher offered me a contract for several more books.

Were you excited when you were asked to illustrate Neal Sedaka’s Dinosaur Pet and Kristi Yamaguchi’s picture books? 

Oh, yes! It’s a huge honor to be associated with such quality people and their projects. I credit both New York Times Best seller listings to the popularity of Kristi Yamaguchi and Neil Sedaka (and his son, Marc Sedaka).

You certainly have worked with some big name authors, like Eileen Spinelli and Andrew Clements.  Do you ever get to correspond with them? 

No. I never correspond directly with the author, during the making of the book. If there is a comment or note from the author, it is given to me through the publisher if the publisher thinks that it is necessary.

Did you find it hard to find time to complete the illustrations while you were working full-time?

Yes, I spent many nights working until the wee hours of the morning, then heading back to Hallmark without sleep. I also used some vacation time and weekends to work on the book. Our first three children were born while in Kansas City… the stress of family, job, and first book was very heavy. I tried to have it all. After five years at Hallmark, a house filling with little ones and more new book contacts, we decided another decision needed to be made.

Do you have a book or an incident that you remember thinking, Now I’ve made it

You never forget the excitement of the first title with your name on it. Then, being considered for some high-profile authors is a real honor. I’ve worked with some very popular authors. Then, when my books land on the New York Times Best sellers list, I have to pinch myself to make sure this whole thing is real. I appreciate every project that comes my way because I’ve gone through some tough times and realize that “making it” can be temporary.

I see that you are represented by Rubin Pfeffer and the East/West Literary Agency.  How did that happen?  

Rubin Pfeffer is one of the biggest reasons that I am a part of this interview. In 1986, Rubin was working with Harcourt Brace Jovanovich and was responsible for my first book contract (The Toy Circus). I’ve kept in touch with him while we both navigated careers in publishing. In 2001, I sent Rubin an update with illustration samples. As a VP with Simon & Shuster, Rubin shared my samples with editors, which resulted in a jump-start for  my children’s book career with the Little Whistle series (written by Cynthia Rylant). After learning that Rubin was with East West, I reconnected with him and mentioned working with him on a project in the future. He told me he had heard of the Yamaguchi book and wanted to submit my work. The rest is history. Our first East West project was a winner! Rubin Pfeffer has a great sense of direction for ideas. I owe a lot to him for the career path that I’ve been traveling. He and Deborah Warren at East West are a great team.

Have you had other representatives over the years? 

Not in publishing.

Do you have a desire to write and illustrate a book?  I noticed one book on Amazon that says Tim Bowers on the cover. 

Yes, I am working with my agents to develop some of my own stories. The title that you are referring to is A New Home. I didn’t actually write that story. I illustrated it as an educational publishing assignment, which then became a trade edition. When I received the proofs, I noticed that my name was the only name on the cover. I called to correct the mistake and was told that the story was written in-house by staff so they decided to credit the book to me.

Do you except projects that are not children’s book related? 

Yes. Most of my work was greeting card illustration and educational publishing until several years ago. The mix has changed and the last few years has been filled with children’s book work. I enjoy kid’s magazine work when I get a chance to do it. I would like to spend more time with licensing images on various products to keep the income flow a little more consistent. 

Is acrylic paint your favorite material to use when you illustrate a picture book? Do you always work on Bristol board?

All of my illustration work is created with either acrylic or oil paint. I used to use Bristol board for everything. Now I use canvas or premium watercolor board. The Bristol was creating problems so I was forced to find another surface to work on.

Do you do anything to the board to get it ready to paint? 

Some of my illustrations are done on a textured gesso surface. This gives me some nice brush stokes to work with (examples can be seen in: A New Home, Sam and Jack, Gorgonzola, Fun Dog, Sun Dog and Cool Dog, School Dog).

How long do publishers give you to complete the illustrations for a book? 

It varies. When my schedule is full, I may schedule a book, a year in advance but I give the final art about three months if I can.

Do you think your style has changed over the years?

A little bit. I try to approach each book differently. I try to let the story dictate which direction my style should follow if one has not been suggested by the publisher.

Of all the books you illustrated, which book was your favorite and why?

It’s hard to choose a favorite book. I have four (now grown up) kids and I always say it’s like choosing which child I like best…they are all very different and special in their own way. Books are kinda’ like that.

Have you ever done a book with black and white illustrations? 

A few. One title is The Six Voyages of Pleasant Fieldmouse by Jan Wahl (Tor Books) It was a re-issue…the original version was illustrated by Maurice Sendak.

Each illustration was painted with acrylic paint on 3-ply Stathmore bristol. Here are some interior images from the book.

Are there any art techniques you have found helpful, that you can share?

There’s not enough space for a lengthy explanation to this one but I have learned  a lot from the way Norman Rockwell painted and painting techniques used by the Impressionists and classical realist painters. Of course, I take any of that information and fuse it to my own way of working but there’s really no secret or difficult technique.

With Maestro Stu Saves the Zoo coming out in September, that brings you up to four titles published in 2012.  Is that the most books you have released in one year?

 I think so.

Acoustic Rooster and His Barnyard Band was nominated in the Outstanding Literary Work- Children category for the NAACP image awards.

The paintings were created with oil paints on Bristol board. I started with a pencil drawing, then a burnt umber acrylic underpainting, followed by a complete coating of acrylic gloss medium to seal the paper from the oils. After that, several layers of oil paint were added to complete the image. Lastly, a final clear coat of Liquin was applied to create a more uniform paint surface.

Do you ever use Photoshop to clean up an illustration? 

I do for my own use but when I send the art to the publisher, they have them scanned, cleaned up and take it from there. I don’t use my computer for much art, at all.

With all the illustrating you do, is it hard to find time to do school visits?

I try to schedule visits to support the sales of the books and to connect with the readers. It’s a ton of fun and it’s a chance to get out of the studio. This past year, I scheduled a lot of studio time to create the books but didn’t have much time to visit schools. With a lot of books coming out, I hope to get back into the schools to share the new stories with readers.

Where there any animals in Maestro Stu Saves the Zoo that you never had illustrated before?

Yep. I did a lot of research on some of the animals…that’s a fun part of prepping for the job. Animals are amazing! It looks like God had a lot of fun putting some of them together.

What types of things have you done to help you get new work?

My new association with East West Literary Agency is an exciting part of my future work. I’ll continue to stay in touch with publishers that I’m working with and maybe put a few eggs in other baskets. I’d like to pursue licensing, maybe more greeting card work and start selling original art. I think you always have to be thinking of new sources for work and connections that can open new possibilities.

Do you have a studio?

After years of working in all kinds of spaces, I’ve landed in a nice, big studio with good lighting, storage and a coffee maker, of course. It’s everything I could imagine as the ultimate workspace and it’s been great.

I appreciate having such a nice place to work but the next studio will likely be smaller and that’s fine with me. As long as I’m comfortable, inspired and can focus on my work. There are pros and cons to each studio and the challenge is to adjust and be creative in whatever space we have.

What is your next project?

I’m working on three more books that come out next year. One is finished and in the proof stage, the other two are waiting to be painted this fall and winter.

Tim’s painting for the Picture Book Project Foundation’s Art Blocks for Ghana – a charity art auction of original works created by top artists within the animation and illustration community to promote boarding and education of orphaned children in Ghana, West Africa.

Any words of wisdom for illustrators who have not signed a book contract, yet?

Don’t give up. It doesn’t happen overnight (for most of us). Keep learning more about the craft of storytelling through illustration, make contacts with those in the profession who can help you. The SCBWI is a great network to connect with for support and info. When one door closes, look for another door that may be opening… that has been a pattern in my life.

I had the opportunity to contribute some artwork for the posters and t-shirts for the Granville Hot Licks Bluesfest.  I love music… especially the blues, so I jumped at the chance to make some blues art.

I want to thank Tim for sharing so much of his work, journey and process with us.  You can visit Tim at: or stop by his blog:

Hope you will take a moment to leave Tim a comment.

Talk tomorrow,



  1. Wow……truly classically beautiful!


    • Thank you for the comment, Christina. Have a great day!


  2. Amazing art. I love seeing Tim’s work in progress. I kept saying “that looks fabulous” but it just kept getting better and better! Please let us know when that auction happens! I’d love to bid!


    • Hello Tara. Thank you for the kind words. The auction that Kathy mentioned was actually done a few years ago….sorry. Have a great day!! Best, TB.


  3. Wow is right!!! What an informative, interesting, inspiring interview! Your work is over the top beautiful!


    • Hi Susan, An over the top thank you for your comment. Wishing you the best. TB.


  4. Tim, your paintings are beautiful! I really love the detail in the image of the bunny painting the egg. You are truly inspiring!


    • Thank you Kate… I appreciate the kind words. The bunny is one of my personal favorites. Have a great day!!


  5. Wow! Just amazing! Thank you for sharing.


    • My pleasure. Thank you for your note.


  6. Tim, I hope you are still tracking comments here. I was in Barnes yesterday and saw NOT YOUR TYPICAL DINOSAUR 🙂 As would be expected, your illustrations were incredible. The book is absolutely adorable! 🙂


    • Hi Donna, I just checked comments (it’s been a while)… thank you for writing such nice things about my work. The dragon story is one of my favorites.


  7. Fantastic Work! I am inspired!


  8. Fabuleux…..
    Rempli de bonheur mon coeur d enfant de 64 ans…..


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