Posted by: Kathy Temean | November 3, 2012

Illustrator Saturday – Lauren Gallegos

Lauren Gallegos earned her Bachelors of Fine Arts in Illustration from Cal State Fullerton in 2009 and has been a proud member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) since 2008. She has illustrated several Children’s Books already, and continues to look for opportunities to illustrate great stories with the desire to see how her work will impact the young minds of our future. When Lauren isn’t illustrating, she loves to hike and enjoy the beauty of nature, as well as explore places she’s never been before.

Lauren lives in Southern California with her husband Byron and is available for illustration, graphic design, and other fine art projects.

Here is Lauren explaining her process using images from her new project Dimplemeyer’s Design :

I start with rough thumbnail sketches to work out what I want the image to look like, what action is taking place? what part of the story do I want to tell? What angle do I want to show? How will the composition work? etc… I usually do several of these for each image so I can try different options and see what would look best. These sketches are usually a lot less detailed than what I envision in my mind.

I pick the composition that I like best and do a larger rough sketch to make sure spacing, proportions and lighting are generally correct and that there are no major compositional problems. (this step is not shown here)

Next I scan the rough sketch into photoshop, turn the opacity down to about 10% so you can only see the faint pencil lines, and print it out at full size. I use this as a general guide for my final, clean sketch with details.

Once that is done I scan the final sketch into Photoshop again and make any small adjustment or changes that the image needs (that I was too lazy to erase and redraw!). Sometimes I draw the head too small or a leg that’s too long but I don’t want to erase the whole thing because it is drawn fine, it’s just proportionally too small. It is much easier and faster to lasso the section that is not right and resize it than redrawing it by hand.

Once the sketch is where I want it to be I digitally add value and color to get a sense of what the final painting will look like. I work out value problems and make color choices here so when I paint it is smooth sailing and less time is spent on making changes to the painting. (Again, using the computer helps me save time!)

The final step is to paint. I turn off the color layer of the photoshop image so it is just the values (sometimes I will tint the values blue or another color) and print it full size or a bit larger onto thick cardstock paper. Then I mount the paper onto illustration board with Liquitex Matte Medium. It dries clear and works like a glue between the paper and board. I let it dry and put a layer or two of the Matte Medium right over the top of the image to seal it. This creates a layer between the paper and the paint so I’m not actually painting on the paper anymore, I’m painting on the Matte Medium. I let it dry again and usually flatten the board under heavy books overnight so it is flat.

Then I paint! I use acrylic paint and put a few drops of Liquitex Flow Aid in my water cup for better blending. There are so many other mediums out there to add to the paint, but I haven’t found one that I like enough to use regularly. So I usually end up using just paint. I like to build up layers of paint slowly and work in the darks and mid-tones first. Then add in the highlights last.

Once the painting is done I scan it into Photoshop and clean up any tiny mistakes I might have made and sometimes I like to brighten the image with Levels or saturate it a bit to really make the colors pop!

Below is a finished interior illustration from Dimplemeyer’s Design , followed by some sketch that Lauren is still working to finish.

Love the illustration for Dimplemeyer’s Design. Is that going to be a picture book?

Dimplemeyer’s Design will be a classic-fairytale-type Picture Book. It’s a story about a princess and her jealous sister. Lots of drama, action, and suspense! It’ll be a great story for both girls (who love princesses) and boys (who love action) and even adults (It has a bit more sophisticated vocabulary). A great read-to-me book! This has been a very long project but I think it will be a quality book, and one that is dear to me.

How long have you been illustrating?

I have been illustrating “professionally” since I graduated college in 2009. However I have always had an interest in drawing. It wasn’t until half way through college that I realized how much and exactly what I wanted to do with my art.

What was the first thing you painted and got paid for doing?

There have been several artworks I have done that I did for a school project or for myself that someone ended up buying, and there have also been too many that I’ve been commissioned to do for free (don’t do it!) but I guess those don’t count. The first thing I can think of that I was hired to do for money was in early 2009. It was a caricature drawing for a Lieutenant as a retirement gift. Of course I had never done a caricature drawing before but I wasn’t about to tell that to my first client! So I had to sort of teach myself and copy what I’ve seen other caricature artists do and hope that he would be satisfied. I was given a picture of the person and a description of what they wanted in the image, so it turned out being pretty fun and a great learning experience for me as an artist and a businesswoman.

I see you went to the California State Fullerton. Could you give us the low down on what types of classes you took?

My experience at Cal State Fullerton was priceless in so many ways. Looking back, every class I took was tremendously valuable in it’s own way. I started college as a Graphic Design major so the first 2 years I took mainly design classes, which has helped me know how to make my own professional looking promotional materials and website. It has also given me a great base for learning how to layout and design children’s books, which I have done for all of my books so far. After taking a few illustration classes for fun, I was encouraged by some of my professors to pursue illustrating children’s books, and that is exactly what I did! I switched my major and took all kinds of courses. Some of the most valuable classes were Life Drawing For Animation (great way to learn to draw people with force, energy, and LIFE!), Animal Drawing, Digital Illustration (helped me learn to incorporate digital aspects to my creative process to improve my final product). The two classes that helped me grow the most were Sequential Art, a class completely focused on Children’s Books where we learned the basics of children’s books and all that goes into them (page turns, pacing, storytelling, etc.), and a Special Studies class that allowed each student to work on any personal project they pick. I, of course, did a children’s book.

Something I found even more valuable than just the classes I took were the people I met and formed relationships with. There are classmates that I still keep in touch with and encourage each other through whatever we are working on and critique each other’s work. This is invaluable now that I am out of school and spend most of my time working alone. It can get discouraging and draining without having someone there to push me along. A few of the professors I had helped set me up for success by exposing us to the industry as much as they could so we knew what we were getting into and how to make it. I was introduced to the SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) by a professor and I joined it right away. One of the best decisions of my career. With the help of a professor I also got to do an internship at a small Children’s Book Publisher in Santa Monica, CA which really taught me what the industry was like and gave me great insight into what it’s like to be on the Publisher’s side of things, not just the illustrator. I am eternally grateful for the people who believed in me and pushed me to be better.

Do you feel your experience at the college helped develop your style?

In school I was blessed with professors that always encouraged the students to find their own style, whatever that was. They didn’t try to put us in a box or make us draw a certain way. They simply taught us great technique and ways to use our skills to make great art. Personally, I had (and still have) a hard time with my own style. I still don’t really know what to tell people when they ask me. I am constantly fighting the urge to copy someone else who I think it awesome, and the urge to try and make everything super realistic. I want to invent my own ideas and draw it in a way that works with the story, not necessarily what is always true to life. Otherwise, where’s the creativity and imagination? However, as I continue to make art I think it becomes more and more clear what my style is. Maybe by the end of my drawing life I will be able to describe my own style.

Can you give us the story behind Vulture Verses?

Vulture Verses is a book of love poems to unloved and misunderstood animals. Each page has a poem to a different animal thanking and appreciating them for what they do for us and the environment. In my opinion, that is such a great concept!

I actually heard from my husband’s grandmother that a local publisher was looking for illustrators to do their first Children’s Book. I looked them up and immediately sent them an email inquiring about this book project. I think the Publisher was a little surprised to be getting an email for me about this because she told me that hadn’t told anyone about this book and they already had an illustrator in mind. However, they invited me to their office for an interview. Of course I went! They loved me and got the job!

It was such a pleasure to have worked on this book with the ladies at Prospect Park and Diane Lang, the author. It was a huge milestone for me and a step forward in my career. I am so thankful.

How did you hook up with the author of Vulture Verses?

It is very rare that an illustrator ever even speaks to the author of a book (so I’m told), but with Vulture Verses, it has been quite different. Prospect Park included Diane Lang in almost every part of the book making process. I met her the first day I went out to Pasadena to meet the Publisher, she had a hand in deciding to use me as the illustrator, I sent her all my rough and finished art for her accuracy approval, I was her roommate at the last SCBWI Summer Conference, and I have been to a few book events with her over the last few months. Needless to say, we are friends, and what a great friend to have!

Have you seen your work change since you started?

Absolutely! Just scroll through my blog posts from the beginning until now and you will see for yourself. I would say I noticed the biggest change in my work and style as soon as I left school. As much as people learn in school I think they should learn 10 times more when they are in their workplace (whatever that might be), because it is more hands-on. Every illustration I do I learn something new and, to me, that’s how it should be. I always want to be growing, learning, and improving. If I’m not making new discoveries every time ,and my art is where I want it to be (in other words, if I’ve “arrived”), then where’s the motivation to make more and better art?

I am not familiar with Prospect Park Books could you tell us a little bit about them?

Prospect Park is a small publisher located in Pasadena California. It is literally made up of 3 people who do so much wonderful work, it’s unbelievable! They mainly publish West Coast writers, illustrators, and designers. I am proud to say that I was able to illustrate their first Children’s Book, and hopefully not the last. They also do several other types of books that are all very creative and diverse. Some are cookbooks, some are humorous, some are fiction, some are historical. They seem to be branching out to more and more genres each year! Visit their website and learn more about them at, and find them on Facebook at

It looks like you have done a number of books for self published authors. How have you found that experience? Do you feel they give you the freedom you want? Can you make enough money illustrating books for self published writers? Did you have a contract written up to use?

All the books I have done so far, except for Vulture Verses, have been self-published by the author. I think my experience with this type of work has been better than some in certain ways. Many people stay far away from self-publishers and for fair reasons. I have certainly not taken all the offers I have been given because a lot of the time good intentioned people set out to make a book when they have no idea how to do it and have not done any research. I have tried my best to make sure the client has done their research and have a plan for their book before I say yes to anything. I also make sure it is a project I really want to work on before taking it. As enticing as the pay can be sometimes, I don’t want to spend hours and weeks and months on a story that isn’t written well or doesn’t interest me. Maybe I haven’t succeeded in this every time, but we learn and we grow. There is always next time.

Most of the books I’ve done, the author has given me as much creative freedom as I need. I do, however, like to ask the author what they envision for the book because it is their story and they might have something specific in mind. It also saves time. If I go off and do my own thing with their story they might not be satisfied with what I come back with, and I’ll just have to go back and change it. In the end they are paying me to create art for them and I want to make sure they get what they are paying for.

At some point, however, I would hope that I can take a story and do what i want with it. Right now I don’t feel like I have that freedom, which is probably my own fault. Maybe I just lack the confidence. Someday I will learn…

As for using a contract, I did my own research on creating a contract for freelance illustrators and made up my own standard contract that I send to all my clients before I start on a project. I believe it is a contract that is fair for both sides, but I am always open to negotiations. The one thing that I am pretty adamant about is that I keep the rights to my own work. There have been a few times I have not and I regret it every time. If the client isn’t willing then I probably wont do the project. So far almost all have been.

What was your first book?

Well there a few answers, I suppose: The first book I ever made was my own version of “The Ant and The Cricket” Aesop fable. I did all the sketches and a few finished pieces and made a full book dummy. It is still yet to be finished and published, so I guess that doesn’t count. But it was my first experience making a full book on my own.

My first published book was The Mahogany Door, which counts to me, but some might not count a self-published book a “real” book…

My first published book by an established Publisher was Vulture Verses. Of course, some might not count that either since it was their first Children’s Book. But if that doesn’t count than what does?? In my opinion each of these books were a milestone and a step up for me. I am proud of each on I have done. They all count in my book!

Do you have a favorite medium that you use?

Right now my favorite is acrylic paint. I honestly haven’t experimented with all that many mediums. I’m terrified to try watercolor because of how unforgiving people say it is. I like to know that I can fix my mistakes without having to start over. I started doing most of my work in colored pencil on Pastel paper, but the illustrations would fade so much that they were worthless. I tried countless different fixatives and sealers and almost went crazy with frustration. I decided not to lose any more of my art and made the switch to acrylic.

Tell us about Ratty Rhymes.

I finally got the word in September from the publisher that they COULD commit to a second book! (I knew they would all along…hehe)

So with MUCH excitement, this is my official announcement that the sequel book to Vulture Verses is Ratty Rhymes! Coming Fall 2013, published by Prospect Park, with more fun and educational poems by the wonderful Diane Lang, and illustrated by me, of course! This book will be mostly bugs that live on or in the ground, but also the oh so cute mouse and rat!

I see that Split Rail Multimedia is listed as the publisher for The Mahogany Door. Is this a self published book? Could you tell us how this project came about?

I would categorize The Mahogany Door as a self-published book, but the author and publisher of the book decided this book was important enough to him that he wanted to start his own business to get it published, and so named it Split Rail Multimedia.

Mark Boliek, the author, contacted me after seeing my portfolio on the SCBWI website. He loved my style and asked if I’d want to illustrate his chapter book. This being my first offer to illustrate with decent pay in return, I agreed! This was my first published book and a real fun one to illustrate. I don’t do a lot of black and white illustrations, or a lot of spot illustrations, but this book had both. It was a great first learning experience and the author was wonderful to work with. I would do it again; which could be a possibility. The Mahogany Door is supposed to be the first book in a Trilogy. I’m hoping I will get a call that the second book is ready to go.

Do you take research pictures before you start a project?

I shamefully have to say that I don’t unless it is absolutely necessary. I really should. However, I definitely spend lots of time researching and finding photo references online. Sometimes I just don’t have access to some of the things I am looking for, like a Florida Manatee. If I were rich and famous, then I would fly to Florida and observe them in their natural habitat, but until that day comes I will have to settle with what I can afford and do the best with what I can find online. If I am having trouble with some perspective I will sometimes act it out and take pictures, but that’s it. Otherwise, I try my best to draw from my head and hope that it is accurate enough that no one will call me out on it.

Do you use Photoshop with any of your work?

I use Photoshop with ALL of my work. I don’t know what I would do without it! I might be addicted…Photoshop is always open on my computer, even when I’m not using it, because you never know when you’ll need to throw something into Photoshop to play around with or adjust. I use it for every step of my process, which has made everything go faster. Don’t leave home without it.

Do you have and use a graphic tablet?

I do. I have a Wacom Intuos 4, medium size. Also don’t leave home without it. I will always prefer a pencil and paper over a tablet, but especially with how much work I do in Photoshop, it is a great investment. It’s perfect for resketching something quickly or trying a very fast, experimental sketch before I draw it. It took some time to get used to, and I still don’t think I have great control with it, but it’s enough to be an advantage than a hindrance.

Could you share the story about how ON THE DAY LOVE WAS BORN was born?

The author and publisher of the book, Dana Cerrito, contacted me after seeing my website and asked if I’d be interested in illustrating the book. It sounded fun and I was looking for my next project at the time, so I took it. This was the first book I did as Work-for-Hire and it will probably be my last. It is so hard spending months on artwork to just send it away and never see it again. But it was a growing experience and my first time designing and laying out a picture book on my own. I am thankful for the experience and opportunity.

How did you connect with Chris Karim for Be Little?

Chris called me one day out of the blue and asked if I’d be interested in illustrating his book cover. I was in the middle of working on Vulture Verses, with a looming deadline, so I was hesitant. But I read his manuscript and loved the story so much, I just couldn’t NOT take the project. It was a wonderful project that was a lot of fun and I truly hope that I can work on another book with him again someday. He is a great storyteller.

I see you did the cover for an e-book for Kindle – Ghost Tales. Do you think e-books do better than physical books?

I have heard every side of this question and they are all contradictory. People tell me e-books are the future and there’s no going back. Don’t waste your time with real books. I’ve also heard that e-books aren’t doing as well as people thought and children always end up going back to the printed book where they can turn the pages because they prefer it over a digital screen. I don’t know what the facts and statistics really are, all I know is I will always take a real book over an e-book, I love the smell of a new book! But that doesn’t mean I hate e-books. They have their advantages too.

Above: Digging for Aesthetics

Do you have an artist rep. or agent? If not, would you like to find one?

I don’t have either one, but I have started researching agents in the last couple of months and will eventually start pursuing some. Of course if one came to me, I wouldn’t be opposed… ehem. 🙂 Actually, I’ve been told that it’s beneficial to start your career without one so you can learn the business side of things for yourself and what goes into it. I believe I have done that the passed 3 years and the more I do it, the more I realize how much I don’t want to be a businesswoman. I want time to just be creative and make good art. But, alas, I will continue to do everything that is required of me until I find someone who wants to take me on.

Above commissioned art.  Below is a little drawing done for a Sweet 16 party. This is the cake design as well as the image that will be used on the invitations.

Do you have a studio in your house?

My house IS my studio. Me and my husband live in a 200 sq. ft. pool house behind someone’s home. It has room for a bed and 2 desks, and that’s about it. I store all my art supplies under the bed and sit at my desk in the corner all day while I work. It’s about as small as you can get, but it’s home and we’re comfortable. There are times when I spend all day working and get a little cabin fever, but for the most part I do most of my work here. I do admit that I dream of the day that I can have my very own studio space where I can put reference pictures and inspiration all over the walls and put all my art supplies out, ready to be used instead of stashing them away and having to dig them out every time I want to use them. Someday…

Two cover concepts for THE ANT AND THE CRICKET Cover

Of all the books that you illustrated, which one is your favorite?

Such a hard question! I will always have a special place in my heart for The Mahogany Door because it was the first book I did. But I would have to say Vulture Verses also has a special place in my heart because it was my first published book, and it is such a brilliant book concept, I enjoyed working on this book the most so far.

Do you follow any type of routine to attain your career goals?

I send out postcards to editors and art directors every 3-4 months, or when I have something new to show. I’m not always the best at keeping up on this, but I try my best. I keep my website updated and try to blog consistently so people who follow me can see that I am actively working and creating. I attend monthly SCBWI illustrator meetings to connect with other illustrator friends, and attend as many SCBWI events as I can (Illustrator’s Day and the Summer Conference). I enter art shows and try to be an artistic presence in my own community. The best way to be noticed is to put yourself in front of people so they have to notice you. One of the best moves I’ve made in my career is joining the SCBWI and putting my portfolio on their website. Almost all of my clients have found me by sifting through the SCBWI portfolios. If you have your portfolio on there, always keep it updated!!

Painting titled GLUTTONY: Based on Proverbs 23:1-3:

Piece titled: GREED – done in acylic.  Trying out Liquidex Flow Aid. I give it a thumbs up! I mix in a couple drops to my water cup and it really helps with the flow of the paint and makes it easier for me to work up thin layers of paint.

Are there any painting tips (materials, etc) you can share that work well for you? Technique tips?

I don’t claim to be an expert in the medium I use. In fact I still feel like I am learning how to use and control acrylic to do what I want it to do. It will probably always be a bit of a struggle. I make sure I do an under painting with values and paint in mid-tones and darks first, and build up to the highlights with thin layers. This helps me get a smooth blend/transition between colors/values. Otherwise, I have any secrets to share…if anyone has any they want to give me, I’ll be happy to take them!

What are you working on now?

A lot!!! 3 books at once (not recommended) and one on the waiting list as soon as one of the other 3 are finished. I am in the middle of sketching the sequel book to Vulture Verses, called Ratty Rhymes, which are more love poems written by Diane Lang, being published by Prospect Park, coming Fall 2013. I am also working on another educational book about the Florida Manatee called Kobee Manatee, coming in May 2013. Another book that I have been working on for over a year, Dimpemeyer’s Design, is in the final painting stage and will be out in 2013 as well. After those are done I’ll be working on a book called Cinder and Ashes about a kitten and a dragon. I’m anxiously awaiting this book, it’s going to be a lot of fun! And of course, if there is time (which there isn’t) I want to be working on some personal projects. Once this group of books are finished I will need a time to regather myself and hopefully find something I can do that is more near and dear to myself.

Cover Promo piece for Last Train to Nibroc theatre production, done in oils.

Asani The Lion, Children’s Book

Have you given any thought to writing and illustrating your own book?

For the longest time, I didn’t give it much thought at all. I thought, someday I’ll write my own story, but for now I’m content with illustrating other people’s stories because that is what I know how to do. I don’t consider myself a good writer. In fact, it terrifies me to think about writing my own story. It is a skill and art in itself and I haven’t spent the time learning it. But for some reason I became really inspired after the last SCBWI Summer Conference to write my own stories. I have 2 stories that I have started writing. The basic storyline is there, but that’s about it. It will be a long road until those books come to life, but I will slowly chip away at them until they are ready. That is not something I want to rush.

Lauren’s Self Portrait

Commissioned Graphite Drawing for First Anniversary.

Lauren won 1st place in the 14th Orange open Juried Exhibition at the Guggenheim Gallery at Chapman University for this drawing below.

Do you have any words of wisdom to share with other illustrators?

Work diligently at your craft and feed your creativity daily. If you want to succeed in making illustration a career you have to treat it as if it is already your career, and take it seriously. Have the mindset of a student and take every experience as a learning experience, you should always be growing and improving. If you don’t see a change in your art over the passed year, ask yourself what am I learning, how am I actively trying to improve myself and my art? What is one thing I can add to my daily routine that will push me forward and inspire me? Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there in front of people because they won’t always come to you.

Most of all, have fun and draw what you love. If your heart isn’t in it, it will show. If you have the privilege to do what you love as work, or simply find an hour a day to draw or sketch, be thankful. I am thankful every day that I get to do what I love.

Sketch done at the Washington DC Zoo of Guira Cuckoos.

To go along with the Vulture Verses idea of caring for the unloved animals out there, I helped put together an Official Spider Shuttle to help shuttle spiders outside when you find them in your home. Instead of squishing them immediately, you let the spider crawl onto the Official Spider Shuttle card, cover them with a glass, and gently carry them outside.

Let’s be nice to our little bug-eating friends…

Lauren thank you very much for sharing your talent, process, and information with us.  We will be looking for more good things from you in the future.

If you would like to watch and visit Lauren, her website is If you have a minute, please leave lauren a comment.  I am sure she would appreciate hearing from you. Thanks!

Talk tomorrow,



  1. Lauren, though I’m sure you don’t need me to tell you, what an incredibly talented artist you are. With such vivid details and vibrant energy flowing thru imagination, it’s as if the pictures come alive and are staring back at me while telling a story. I really enjoyed looking at your work. Thank you for sharing this. Best of luck!


  2. I love your work Lauren. You have quite a bit of versatility. Thanks for sharing.


  3. I love this site. It is so interesting because every artist or writers take a different approach. They all “think out of the box” and they are so creative. Lauren was very fortunate to find a state university that supports illustrations. Bravo to Fullerton State.

    Her journey from paper to digital was wonderful. I love her artworks. Hope to hear more.


  4. Lauren, I so enjoyed seeing your work both the sketches and finished work. Look forward to seeing more of you in books to come….


  5. your work is so inspirational. one can feel your energy and enthusiasm for illustrating just by reading the article.


  6. Doin’ a little catching up on some of the Illustrator Saturdays 🙂 Outstanding work! Thanks, Lauren and Kathy 🙂


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