Posted by: Kathy Temean | November 17, 2012

Illustrator Saturday – Sara Jane Franklin

Sara Jane Franklin is an illustrator and greeting card designer specializing in whimsical, line-based illustrations using watercolors, pen & ink drawings, markers, paper textures and hand lettering. Her art is whimsical for kids and kids at heart.

Her love of art started as soon as she was old enough to draw and paint. Fast forward to art school, her passion to design and create flourished at CalArts where she received her BFA in graphic design. Next she started working at a boutique design firm specializing in the music industry. She had fun designing custom type for bands such as the Silversun Pickups. She also really fell in love with illustration while illustrating cd covers and in 2007, she decided to make the leap and began illustrating full time.

Her passion to illustrate combined with her love for cute, whimsical animals and characters is what inspired her to launch her greeting card company Paper Loop. She was excited (and a bit nervous) to debut her card collection for the National Stationery Show in 2008. The collection caught buyer’s attention and after that it’s been a whirlwind! The cards are currently being sold all over the US (and some internationally). She has been building her card collection year after year and is now up to over 300 designs and is constantly working on new cards.

Most recently, she’s been illustrating something a little bit different: a children’s book app for the iPad for Red Piggy Press. Along the way she has illustrated cd covers, editorials, a collection of surfboards for Billabong and children’s murals. She has also designed websites, logos and identities. She is currently working on licensed products, her wholesale line and blogging at Sara Jane Draws and Watercolor Lab.

Here’s Sara explaining her process:

Each new illustration is a combination of drawings and paintings that I scan in and combine in Photoshop. My background is in graphic design, so I am most comfortable working digitally while drawing and painting on paper. At CalArts, we learned a process of drawing, scanning and collecting imagery to be combined, edited and modified on the computer which worked well for me. Now as an illustrator it allows me the freedom to edit and combine things in a way that I wouldn’t necessarily think of if I was just working on paper.

When I start a new illustration, I will start with very rough thumbnails just to get some ideas going. In this case, I am working with the idea of sound, and how you can visualize it, or sense it in a story. I like the sound of water, and decide to go with the sailing sketch.

I scan in the sketch and blow it up in Photoshop. Then I begin to redraw it at a much larger scale in Photoshop with my Wacom tablet.

I leave the original sketch layer on at 50% and begin drawing over it in a textured Photoshop brush that looks just like pencil. I turn the sketch layer on and off to view my progress and make adjustments.

I really like the handdrawn lettering I did for ‘let’s explore’ but I decide to turn this layer off and save it for something else. I continue drawing the boy…

Once I’m happy with my large sketch I will print this out and use a lightbox to redraw it with a nice pen and high quality paper. Sometimes I use caligraphy pens dipped in ink, and sometimes I use thinner archival markers, depending on what type of line quality I am looking for. In this case, I use a thin archival marker for an even line weight and a good amount of detail.

Once the black and white drawing is complete, I scan this back into the computer and begin to layout my final composition. I also clean up the drawing and fix any lines that I didn’t like with my Wacom tablet.

Now I’m ready to start coloring!

I go back to my art desk to work on some watercolor textures. I want the illustration to be filled with color so I begin by painting large watercolor circles that overlap and bleed into each other to create the feeling of sound and movement for the drawing. I also paint more traditional looking water lines in blue. Then once they are dry, I scan in all my watercolor textures.

The most fun part of my process is when all my final elements come together and I can begin exploring how to best combine the drawing (or sometimes drawings) and paintings. I scan in my watercolors at a very high resolution so that I can crop into them and use them at different scales. I decide that I really like the watercolor layer zoomed in and settle on this cropping to go with the drawing.

Now I turn on my drawing layer and see how the color and the drawing work together. Exciting!

I also want to try a version with less color, so I duplicate the watercolor layer and do a blue version of it. I also begin adding colors to the characters to highlight them. I tried this blue version.

I decide this is too much blue and I go back to the full color version of the original watercolor painting. I really like the energy of all those colors together! I also add some solid colors in Photoshop to give the drawing some variety and help set apart the things I want to highlight. Next I add in the wave lines I painted, and limit them to just the river area. Here is the final version.

Voila! This is my process in a nutshell. I really love this process because it allows me to experiment and try different versions. I also love working with the Wacom tablet so that I don’t have to go back and forth between paper and the computer as much. I find that the Wacom tablet is excellent for drawing, especially because you can zoom in so closely to the lines and really refine some of the details. It also really speeds up the process sometimes! But, I am also a huge fan of analog drawings (and of course paintings). Often times those drawings have the most personality and I use the Wacom for the refinement stage.

I see that you worked on a children’s app with Red Piggy Press.  Could you tell us how that works?  Do you just provide the art or are you also involved in the animation?

My job was to illustrate the book app. I handed off the final artwork to the Red Piggy Press team for the animation phase.

Can you tell us a little bit about Red Piggy Press?

Red Piggy Press is a new publisher for interactive book apps for kids. The All Fixed Up app will be their first book app, which is really exciting to be a part of!

How did that business come your way?

Through a CalArts alumni connection, and my e-mail newsletter.

What type of art classes did at CalArts?

I took four years of graphic design and typography classes. I also took other classes like motion graphics, web design and image making.

Do you feel that you developed you skills at CalArts or do you feel you found you style after college?

CalArts was an excellent foundation for my skill set. I learned so much! I am so grateful to my teachers for teaching me everything I know about design, composition, colors, typography, conceptualizing and how to apply these skills to projects every single day. My illustration style is more of a personal growth. It always came through in my design work, and I’ve been developing my illustration style ever since. It is constantly evolving as I experiment and explore new illustrations for my greeting card company Paper Loop and illustrations just for fun.

What type of illustrating did you do once you graduated?

I illustrated cd covers and album artwork for indie bands while working as a graphic designer for the music industry. It really inspired me to continue illustrating and to explore it further.

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

My first illustration job was a set of custom family portraits for a client. The finals were done as acrylic paintings.

How hard is it to make a living selling cards?

Honestly, it is not easy! It takes persistence and commitment, along with learning what retailers expect and how to deliver a great product to them that will sell. It’s a learning curve that takes time and gets easier the longer you do it, although it’s never easy.

How do you get people to see your cards and want to do business with you?

When I first started, I exhibited at the National Stationery Show for three years in a row. I built up relationships with customers and sales reps. I now work with sales reps all over the US to keep my line in front of retailers. I also do direct mail, update the catalog frequently and update the website often with new products. Most importantly, I release new cards on a schedule that is in sync with the wholesale buying schedule. Think 6 – 12 months ahead of the actual holiday. At first it was a little weird designing Valentine’s day in August, and holiday cards in March, etc. but now I love it! I’m used to it.

What type of materials do you use to make your wonderful illustrations?

Watercolors, pen & ink, markers, colored pencils, bristol paper, found paper textures, my scanner and wacom tablet.

What type of materials do you use to make your wonderful illustrations? 

Watercolors, pen & ink, markers, colored pencils, bristol paper, found paper textures, my scanner and wacom tablet.

Has your style changed over the years? Materials?

Yes. I used to use a lot of acrylics. Now I stick with watercolor as my paint of choice.

I found your promo card at the LA SCBWI Conference.  Do you want to illustrate a children’s book?

Yes! I would love to.

Have you put together a portfolio gear for the children’s book industry?

Yes, I have many new illustrations on my website ( for the children’s book industry. I am always adding to my online portfolio.

Have you tried your hand at creating a picture book dummy? 

No, I haven’t yet.

You write text for cards, do you think you will ever try writing a picture book?

Yes! I have a couple ideas for children’s books that I am developing in my sketchbooks. They are works in progress and am excited to challenge myself to writing for this category.

Have you done any illustrations for Newspapers and Magazines?

Yes! I have worked with a number of magazines on editorial assignments. I have really enjoyed these projects!

Are you represented by an artist rep or agent?  If yes, how did you connect with him or her? If not, would you like to find a rep.?

I am not currently working with an agent. I’m open to working with an agent if it’s the right fit.

Are you doing anything different to market your art for children’s books?

I’ve spent a lot of time working on my illustration portfolio for the children’s book market, so I plan on using the new work in my e-mail newsletter and prospecting for new clients in this market.

Do you think the economy has had an impact on the amount of work being offered to illustrators? 

I think so. I started my business right before the economy started declining, so I can’t compare it to previous years when the economy was good.

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

Yes I try to work on my illustrations every day. Sometimes I get to illustrate all day long, and sometimes only for 15 minutes. I make sure I illustrate everyday, because I need to be creative every day in order to be happy.

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

I use Photoshop all the time! It is a great tool to combine my drawings, paintings and textures into a final illustration. I enjoy the freedom of moving things around and changing the colors and composition until I am totally happy with it.

Do you use a graphic tablet?

Yes I use my Wacom tablet every day. Sometimes I draw in the computer, sometimes I draw on paper and refine the drawing with my Wacom tablet in the computer. It is great to be able to go back and forth, depending on what I need to do to get to the final illustration. I’ve spent a lot of time developing my own custom brushes that look like the pen and ink drawings I do on paper. The tablet is an amazing tool which I love!

Do you have a studio in your home? 

Yes, my home is my studio.

Do you try to stick to a schedule in your studio?

I try to keep normal business hours (9am – 6pm ish), but when things are really busy I work from early in the morning to late at night to meet all my deadlines.

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

My scanner and my wacom tablet.

Do you take research pictures before you start a project?

I love taking pictures, and I enjoy building up a reference library of photos. When I start a new project I usually go through my photo library and pull images that I might want reference. I also will take new pictures if I have something specific in mind that I want to shoot.

Have your ever won any awards for your artwork?

Over the years, I have received awards or recognition from the National Stationery Show for Best New Product nomination, the Society of Illustrators of Los Angeles: Illustration West 45 & 46, American Illustration 26 online gallery, Type Directors Club, Print Regional Design Annual, California Design Biennial, Pasadena Museum of California Art, the Independent Film Channel and the Independent Music Awards for Album Package Design of the year.

Are there any marketing tips you can share? 

I really recommend attending tradeshows and conferences to learn about an industry and to build up a network. My e-mail newsletter has also worked well for me. It’s a good way to stay in touch with people and let them know what I’m up to.

What are you working on now?

I just finished up the new card release for Paper Loop to debut in January of 2013. It’s my biggest card release to date and includes a mix of birthday, everyday, wedding, baby, moms, dads and grads. I’m especially excited about my new sloth birthday card!

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

Draw every day. Do what you love and don’t give up!

Thank you Sara for sharing your process, journey and illustrations with us.  You can see more by visiting  Sara at:

Please take a minute to leave Sara a comment about her artwork or journey – Thanks!

Talk tomorrow,



  1. It’s been quite a while since I’ve had the time to relax and enjoy an Illustrator Saturday from beginning to end. This was REALLY enjoyable! Thanks, Kathy and Sara!

    Your artwork really is so whimsical and unique. I love the colors! For some reason, I often thought “french!” Good luck, and I don’t know why I get the feeling Scott T. might like this artwork. Hmmmmm…


    • Donna,

      Boy life just gets in the way of getting to do all the things you want to do. Like I have been wanting to e-mail or talk for weeks, now. Have a Happy Thanksgiving. Is you son and his new wife comeing over?



      • Life most definitely gets in the way. John Lennon was right! 🙂

        No, they’ll be with his Dad this time around, but they’ll be here Friday since it’s my birthday, so we get to see them 🙂 I’m glad both are close together ’cause I can start dieting sooner. I’m not going to torture myself, getting rid of sugar cravings only to have a Thanksgiving meal, then birthday cake screwing that up lol

        I hope you’re going elsewhere for dinner so you don’t put more work on yourself right now 🙂 Stay safe traveling! oxox


  2. Sara, your artwork left me smiling! The combination of colors and style truly drew me in. Thanks for sharing with us. (and I agree about the “french comment” above- I thought Toulouse Lautrec!)


    • Wendy,

      Thanks for leaving a comment for Sara. I hope we see more from Sara in the future. Have a great Thanksgiving.



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