Posted by: Kathy Temean | September 22, 2012

Illustrator Saturday – Michele Noiset

Michele Noiset has been a freelance illustrator for over twenty-five years since graduating from the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) with a degree in Illustration. She has worked on publishing, advertising, and editorial jobs for companies nationwide. Her drawings have been reproduced on many products from rugs to snowboards. She has illustrated children’s games and puzzles, and has developed lines of greeting cards and Christmas ornaments.

Her published illustrations are colorful, whimsical, and animated, usually painted traditionally in gouache and acrylics. 

Recently Michele took a departure from her whimsical illustration, returning to school to work on her MFA. She completed her studies at the University of Massachusetts/Dartmouth (UMD) in May 2010. Besides teaching full-time at UMD, Michele continues to pursue her freelance illustration business, and conducts Pastel Workshops and a ‘Drawing Children’ course at RISD.

Here is Michele explaining her process:

This is a spread for a poem titled “Barnside Halloween”. I start very rough and then tighten the drawing on overlays as I move forward.

I do a value study when I am happy with the finished sketch.

Below process is for the ‘Back to School’ cover of Ladybug Magazine.

I worked through many thumbnails.

There were many opportunities and directions I could have chosen.  This is a small sampling of the sketches.

At first, I was imagining the image from a parent’s point of view of the first day of school.

Kids ready at the break of dawn, waking up much too early with anticipation.

I decided to show the approach of the school bus in the far distance, the children waiting with trepidation, the parent’s nervous and happy, coffee in hand.

The first day of school pictures are a staple across the states I think.  I wanted to have both parents shown though, but notice the cat, that turned into the baby croc did not make the final cut.

I do small color studies before I go to final, trying out different palettes.  I liked the warm, autumnal feel of the right hand study.

After I complete my color and value studies, I transfer my sketch to Arches 140 lb. cold-pressed watercolor paper. I like using watercolor blocks because of the nice firm support. I have used all different types of surfaces, but this is the paper that I turn to the most often. I like using it with gouache as well as with acrylic.

After I have transferred my drawing, I tape the edges and begin working in layers.  I work the whole image at the same time. I develop and build the colors up slowly to get a full-bodied, saturated color.

Long ago, I read about an artist who used workable fixative in between layers of watercolor paint. I began using it when painting with gouache. I can build many layers and get vibrant, rich colors. I use Winsor and Newton Gouache paint exclusively. I have many different brands of brushes and
have never been as particular about what manufacturer of brush I use.

Building the paint slowly, I cover every surface of my drawing with one pass. I use Oxgall in my water to extend the paint and to be able to work into it a little as I blend.

I spray the fixative and then make another pass with paint covering all surfaces. This can mean hours of painting in between layers of fixative. I will spray two to three times throughout the painting process. The trick is not to be overzealous with the spray. When I have overdone it, I have had to take a fine sandpaper to the paper surface so that it would not repel the paint. That is rather painstaking, so better to be frugal with the fixative.

With the water soluble gouache, the point is to set it just enough to be able to layer. The gouache has much more vibrancy than acrylic, which can look flat even in reproduction. Still, depending on my deadline, I sometimes turn to acrylics as I can work a little more quickly.

Mircles Can Happen Illustration

These were four options that I submitted for the Children’s Miracle Network poster. I was happy with the sketch on the bottom right that they approved for finish.

At that point, I went back in and tightened the drawing, adding the dad, the helmut on the dog, and refining other details.

Little Miss Muffett for Mother Goose Book

These are the thumbnails for the Little Miss Muffett rhyme. I did six images used as 24 inch square puzzles.I often start my sketches with word lists and then move into tiny roughs running through various possibilities. Using words and writing often allows me to work through ideas more quickly.

This is the tightened drawing. My sketches are very tight, so that everything in terms of composition is resolved before I go to final.

Finished Little Miss Muffett Illustration

This sketch was for the poem “It’s raining, it’s pouring, the old man is snoring” for Publications International. When light is an element of the finish (not always the case, as I sometimes use color and line to define an image) I really use my pencil value study as a guide.

Finished piece.

Below is the cover and a few interiors of 17 CHRISTMASES written by Dani Daley MacKall and illustrated by Michele Noiset.

Interior Pages

Number One of the Trip

BUG ON THE BUS written by Paul Orshoski and D. J. Panec – Illustrated by Michele Noiset

Interior Pages below:

What was the first piece of art you did and got paid for?

Immediately after receiving my BFA, I moved to the San Francisco area. I made appointments wherever I could get in. One of my first appointments after arriving there was with an editor at Harper & Row Publishers. I showed the editor my work, and as soon as she was finished looking through my images, she said “I think I have something for you”. She ran out of the office and came back with an assignment for a full color book cover called “Whirling Dervishes and other Sufi Tales”. I was ecstatic. Things have not always fallen in my lap, but that first assignment, that seemed to come so easily, certainly set me off to an optimistic start.

When did you graduate from Rhode Island School of Design?

I graduated with a BFA in Illustration in 1980 and have worked ever since as a freelance illustrator.

What classes did you enjoy the most at RISD?

 I loved taking every opportunity when I was at RISD. I tried many different mediums. One of my favorite classes, believe it or not, was a wood sculpting class. We worked on huge pieces of wood with sharp chisels and five pound mallets. I loved the physicality.  I developed amazing biceps! Working in wood taught me that every medium can be approached in a similar way in terms of problem solving. Creative problem solving was one of the most valuable things I learned as an undergrad. I recently began using the Universal Traveler, a book that we all carried around like our bible, in my own teaching. It is a wonderful tool to navigate through a process in order to find a focus or solution.

Do you feel that going to RISD provided you with skills you may not have if you didn’t go there?

Being in an atmosphere of like minds was the best thing about going to RISD. I loved my time there. The students were all very passionate about their work; curious, introspective, and enthusiastic, which made for a vibrant and exciting environment.  I have always questioned whether I would have had a similar education elsewhere. I have six siblings and they all went to State Universities for their undergrad degrees.  RISD’s tuition equaled that of my three siblings that were in school at the same time as I was. Returning for my graduate work at UMass Dartmouth and teaching there now, I think that students that are curious and driven can achieve success wherever they go. Ultimately, whatever institution a student attends, it is up to them to take advantage of resources, find mentors, and define their journey.

Did they try to help you on your journey to becoming a successful illustrator by matching you up with publisher or companies?

There were companies that visited RISD to interview students, but the business aspect of being an artist was never addressed head-on. We prepared our portfolios and dove in to the workforce feet first. I learned a lot from making mistakes.

What type of illustrating did you do once you graduated?

I worked on board games, greeting cards, magazines, advertisements, and illustrations for company annual reports–you name it! I have never really defined myself as a children’s book illustrator, honestly. I have always worked on jobs in which my style was appropriate, so my clients, from the start have always been incredibly varied and continue to be. I think that my style is whimsical and child-like so it does fit well into a market that appeals to children and children at heart.

Have you done any illustrations for Newspapers and Magazines?

 I have done illustrations for many newspapers and magazines. Their deadlines and turn-arounds tend to be faster though so when I had children, I started pursuing work with longer deadlines, as it became more difficult to turn things around very quickly.  

When did you realize that you wanted to illustrate children’s books?

I wanted to be an illustrator before I knew that Illustration was a word. I love illustrating and feel as enthusiastic about drawing and image making as I ever have.

What was the title of your first picture book?

I think that the first picture book I did was for Publications International and it was Sleepy Time Songs, lullabies using animals as the characters.

How did that contract come about?

I was signed on with a rep in Chicago for about a dozen years back when people would stake out ‘territories’ to cover. She marketed my work in Chicago and the mid-west, and I marketed to the coasts. She negotiated that first book contract for me.

Your bio says you work in gouache and pastels.  Does that mean do some illustration in gouache and some in pastels or do you combine the two?

I rarely combine the two, although I have used pastel in backgrounds of some gouache paintings when I want soft gradual transitions. I choose the medium that works best for the particular illustration, but my tighter publishing work is most often done in gouache and more and more I am using acrylic.

I see that you are represented by Christina Tugeau.  How did the two of you connect?

I reminded Chris of this story recently when she was kind enough to skype with the senior illustrators at Umass/Dartmouth where I teach.

I received a call from an illustrator in California who was interested in making a foray into licensing. She had found my work on a Licensing site. Wanting to ‘pass the information forward’ as I stated above, I spoke to her for a long time. During our conversation, I said that I had thoughts of looking for a publishing agent again, as I had become immersed in licensing contracts. I wanted to round out my work a bit more. She referred me to Chris Tugeau, raving about what an incredible rep she was. I hung up the phone, and immediately emailed Chris. We made a great connection. It was perfect timing, and I have been with her since.

Do you feel you get more work having an agent?

An agent does not guarantee you work, but most illustrators are really great at marketing until they get busy. When you are inundated with illustration deadlines, marketing is the first thing to go. I have had various reps for the many stages I have worked through. Chris Tugeau has without a doubt been the best. She stays on top of changing trends and keeps all of her artists connected. She makes us feel like one big family by constantly feeding us information on the market that keeps us current, and updating us on each other’s accomplishments.  

Do you try to spend a certain amount of hours each day illustrating?

Yes, I have always spent the bulk of my day in the studio. I start in the late morning and love to work until late at night if I have a tight deadline. Teaching has made my time management much more challenging though. I am still trying to find a good balance!

Have you ever thought of writing and illustrating your own book?

Yes I have. One reason that I returned to grad school besides being able to work with young, enthusiastic students was to be able to pursue my own self-directed projects.

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

I work traditionally, but I use Photoshop to reformat images for different product categories especially  with my licensing work.  I also will use it to fine-tune images for print after the paintings are completed, enhancing contrast, cleaning areas up, or tweaking colors.

Did you set up a studio in your home? 

Yes, my husband built out a beautiful studio for me. It is the one room in the house that can look like utter chaos. I like to keep on-going projects out and often have many drawings being worked at once.

Excluding the normal things like paper, paint, brushes, pencils, and pastels, is there one piece of equipment in your studio that you really like and would not want to live without?

I have an old projector that I think is probably considered an antique by now. I use it to transfer my drawings onto board. The newer ones can be plugged right into the computer, but my old one is sturdy and heavy, and feels like it will live forever!

Do you take research pictures before you start a project?

No. I start by drawing from my head and make decisions about what elements I will include by working through the thumbnailing/sketch process. After I have settled on a rough comp, I look for reference pictures to check on accuracy of objects or animals.

Do you start laying out a picture book on newsprint and then after you get it right draw it on better paper?  Or do you tend to get it right from the beginning?

I work with 14 x 17 pads of tracing paper. Tracing paper is my favorite tool. I start my drawings very, very rough and tighten by working on overlays until I am happy with the composition and characters. Often I have dozens of ripped tracing paper taped on top of my drawing to fine-tune specific portions of a drawing. I make a copy after the final sketch revision and then transfer to my board.

Can you share how you come up with such interesting characters? Do you see them before you start to draw?

I really do my thinking with pencil in hand. The characters develop as I doodle away. I think that often I have a person, or several people in mind when I am drawing. The papa crocodile for the Ladybug cover reminds me so much of my father-in-law. My husband always tells of how embarrassed he always was that his dad would drive him to school in his pajamas, and that he was never so mortified as the day that they got into a fender bender before arriving at school.  I was thinking of that a lot as I drew that cover.

Tell us a little bit about teaching at UMass Dartmouth and how that happened.

Several years ago, I was struggling with my work.  I felt it had gotten stale and although I felt that I had so much more that I wanted to do, I was not excited about it. I was not sure what direction to take. I decided to pursue a Master’s degree, thinking that I if it was not the right direction, I would try something else. It turned out to be a great experience. I loved getting constructive criticism from people who were not afraid to give it. I felt that it pushed me into areas I would never have explored. I developed a series of dark, grim, dystopian images very different from my whimsical work. I discovered that I could be just as happy working on dark subject matter. It was quite a learning experience. I finished my graduate work  at UMass/Dartmouth in 2010 and was hired to teach Illustration the following year. I just started my second year of teaching there full-time.

Out of the children’s books you have published, which one is your favorite and why?

I honestly have worked on more children’s products, games and posters than on books. The different puzzle series  (starting with Mother Goose) that I created with a company in Arkansas were such fun to work on. Forming a relationship with an art director or editor who has enough confidence in your work to give you free reign is a great pleasure, and that was the case with this company. I was able to suggest ideas for products and the art director was willing to give them a try. We worked in a very similar way and his feedback was always positive and constructive. 

What are you working on now?

I continue to take freelance commissions, but I am working on several story manuscripts and juggling my teaching and drawing schedules. I am also preparing for a solo gallery show in several weeks of my large-scale dystopian pastel work, which is a new and exciting direction as well.

How did you get involved in doing licensing work and product illustrations?

I saw an ad in a trade magazine for the Licensing Show in New York. I am always looking for new outlets for illustration so I called the Jacob Javitz Center, where the show was held, to learn more. I knew no one who was pursuing licensing at the time. I asked the representative for the Javitz Center how much it would cost to rent a booth space. She said, “eighteen”. I could not believe my good fortune. Even I can afford eighteen dollars, I replied. She nearly barked back, ”that is eighteen hundred dollars, not eighteen dollars”, making me feel like the world’s biggest moron. Still I decided to go ahead and rent a booth. I asked the representative for a list of all the exhibitors. I began calling people on the list one by one, to see what I could learn. I had many people hang up on me. One man said “Why would I want to give you all the information that I worked so hard to get”.  Perhaps he had a point, but finally I found a woman who was willing to talk. She said that her friend also exhibited at the Licensing Show. I called her friend, who spoke to me for hours, over the weeks and months leading up to the show. Her help was invaluable. We became great friends and shared booth space in later years. I have always resigned myself to pass on the kindness of that friend, and am always willing to share information that may get someone started in a new direction.

My licensing work is done almost all in pastel. I think because I often have no size restrictions (I often generate the ideas that I will sell), I work very big. I usually work my pastels on Canson Mi-tientes Felt Gray paper. It gives a nice neutral base. Pastel is best used on a toned ground and on a surface that holds the pigment. A smooth surface will work against you. I use Felt grey Canson, unless I have a decidedly warm palette, in which case I use tobacco (a deep brown) Canson paper. I use different pastel brands to achieve different results, but mostly Rembrandt and Sennelier colors.

I have found Art Spectrum Colourfix primers to be a wonderful surface to work on as well. They come in all different tints and work beautifully with pastels, and with gouache and acrylic too! I know that you can make your own toned grounds with gesso, acrylic tints and pumice to get just the tooth (texture) that you want, but Art Spectrum Colourfix got it just right for me. Someday I will experiment though, to make my own surfaces to work on. I use Colourfix colors, Rose Grey and Elephant (which is very close to the Canson, Felt Gray).

I measure off my drawing dimensions and then paint the primer on. I use BFK Rives printmaking paper with the primers, and tape it to a masonite or plexiglass surface for support.

When I draw in pastel, I also layer my colors. I guess that Krylon Workable Fixative is my most used art supply, because I use it even more with pastel then I do with my gouache work. I layer pastels many times, making many passes until I get the gradation and color-mixing that I want. I love to render in pastel, and so I can work ten to twenty layers. Sometimes I have to be told to stop!

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

I suppose it has been said many times, but persistence is perhaps your most valuable asset. And then there is the talent of course, which we all continue to try to build and improve upon.

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

I have marketed in many different ways from bulk national direct mailings to advertising in source books to renting booth space at trade shows. The one thing that has always been very successful is targeting specific companies where my style fits in, tailoring mailings and higher cost packaging to make connections. It is harder to ignore a well-designed and presented promotional piece, tailor-made for the recipient.

Michele, I think I had most of these illustrations on gift bags that I gave or was given, except for the last two with the dogs.  Hope I see them somewhere, because they are adorable.

Thank you so much for sharing your wonderful talent and journey with us. I know I am going to be looking for any picture books you do in the future. In fact, please let me know when they come to a store and I will let people know. 

You can see more of Michele’s illustrations on and Christina A. Tugeau Rep. site. I’m sure Michele would love if you left her a note, so take a minute to comment. THANKS!
Talk tomorrow,



  1. So much fun reading this, Michelle! …. you are SO talented, and because of our discussion those many years ago I’ve added pastels to my illustration work, which has worked out very well for me. Much faster than working with colored pencils for the highlighting and shading! I love that you are willing to be helpful – unlike the man you called who was so selfishly rude. Your work is wonderful, and I loved seeing your process! :o)


    • Of course, Susan, you recognize yourself as the one who suggested Chris Tugeau to me, don’t you! I am forever grateful. And so great that you are now part of the group! Thanks so much for your kind words.


      • So funny, Michelle, I actually didn’t recognized it until I’d reread it! It was a great conversation! LOVED the interview!!
        Best of luck to you with all that you’re doing :o)


  2. Kathy,

    thank you for this wonderful interview with Michele Noiset.

    I had the fortune of having Michele as my Instructor at RISD CE. The class was called ‘Drawing Children’. It was amazing! She is such a dedicated teacher. I learned so much from her. I try to apply Michele’s lessons every time, specially when I draw the human figure.

    It’s so interesting to see the process for Michele’s beautiful illustrations. I love her use of color, perspective and the expressions of her characters.

    Thank you Michele for sharing your art with all of us!



  3. Michele’s colors are so rich and the movement in her paintings really brings them to life. I loved seeing the process of creating her adorable characters. Thanks for this interview, Kathy!


  4. Michele’s work is so filled with enthusiasm. Her characters come alive and seem to dance off the page. I love the colors and techniques she uses. Her drawings can evoke a wide range of feelings. Thanks for the interview, Kathy!


  5. I’m SO glad Kathy put up her “year’s best” because I hadn’t seen these yet. I could use a million adjectives to describe your talent, Michele, but I’ll simply say “breathtaking, awe-inspiring, amazing!” Thank you!


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 )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google 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: