Posted by: Kathy Temean | March 16, 2013

Illustrator Saturday – Katie McDee

katieMcDee_PhotocroppedKatie McDee was raised in the sun-filled, salty-fresh air of Southern California and is lucky enough to still live and work there. Katie’s interests include movies that don’t stink, delicious eateries, and discovering new places. Her free time is spent playing ultimate frisbee and capturing her friends’ most embarrassing moments in her sketchbook.

Katie’s artistic talent and creativity has always been a part of her life. Whether it was hand-made cards or Super Market art contests, as a child she was always drawing. In high school she not only starred in musicals but also designed the Tshirts and posters. Although she excelled in many areas of school, art and music were always her favorite.

Today she works as a traditional and digital illustrator for the children’s market. Past projects have included books, magazines, video games, board games, T-shirts, greeting cards and packaging.  With a BFA in Illustration from CSU Long Beach, and years of freelance experience, Katie has the knowledge and experience of working with art directors, designers, and other creative professionals.

Her clients have included:  Oxford University Press, Capstone Publishing, Highlights High Five, Pearson Education, Lakeshore Learning Materials, Friend Magazine, Pockets Magazine, The Los Angeles Times, Bionic Games, Appy Entertainment, The Topps Company, and San Diego Gas & Electric (Sempra Energy).

Here is Katie explaining her process:


Thumbnail: When I start figuring out the composition of a piece I always draw small. Really small. I scratch out a bunch of little thumbnails and once I have one I like I scan it and enlarge it in Photoshop.

katieMcDee2-SketchSketch: Sometimes I’ll draw over the blown-up thumbnail in Photoshop or move pieces around, But usually I just print it out and trace over it with tracing paper and a BiC mechanical pencil.


Color rough: I like to do a quick color rough in Photoshop.


Blocking in: Once I’ve scanned in the final sketch and received approval, I place the sketch in Illustrator with opacity scaled back to 50%. I lock that layer and start blocking the shapes in layers. I usually have background and foreground layers with others as needed.

katieMcDee5-AiBlockedinBlocked in: After everything is blocked in with Illustrator, I export each layer as PSDs and put it all back together in Photoshop.


Final: In Photoshop I use even more layers to shade and highlight and bring in texture overlays. And voila!


How did you end up going to CSU Long Beach to get your BFA in illustration?

I actually started out at CSULB as a music major. I thought I was going to be a choral director. It wasn’t more than a couple months before I realized that my talents were better suited for visual art. So I switched majors and focused on illustration. Lucky for me I married a high school choral director so now I’ve got the best of both worlds.


What types of classes did you take that really helped you to develop as an illustrator?

All of the illustration, composition and design classes were my favorites but every art class I’ve taken was invaluable, from watercolor to screen printing. But my illustration skills have developed most through freelancing. There’s nothing like learning on the job.katieBathtub_McDee

Did they help connect you to companies that could give you work?

No, I don’t think I’ve had any work come from classes, though keeping in contact with some classmates through social media sites and email has.


Did you start out using watercolors for your illustrations?

Yes, in college I painted everything in watercolor (unless I had to use some other media). And my very first paid jobs were created in watercolor. I still love traditionally painting illustrations for clients and my own personal work.


What was the first thing you did that you got paid to do?

I can’t remember exactly. It was either a caricatured family portrait or a gigantic mural depicting castles, gnomes and fairies. But those were private commissions. My first freelance gig was a series of paperback reader books for Lakeshore Learning Materials.


How long have you been illustrating?

7 years professionally. 31 years doodling 🙂


What types of things do you do to get your work seen by publishing professionals?

My work is showcased online on my website/blog and a couple illustrator sites like I’ve contacted art directors directly and sent mailers in the past but usually contract work comes through my online presence and word of mouth.


Have you ever tried to write and illustrate a children’s book?

Yes, there have been a few attempts. I’ve learned a lot since and plan to dust some of them off and give ’em a complete overhaul one of these days.


Do you have an agent? If so, who and how long have the represented you?  If not, would you like one?

I do not have an agent or art rep. I’ve considered it many times and I’d like to have a good working relationship with one. But I’m waiting for the right fit.


Do you want to concentrate on being a children’s picture book illustrator?

That would be so great. Ultimately I’d love to just spend my time working on picture books exclusively. Though I’d probably miss the diversity and fun of illustrating for games and magazines.


Have you made a picture book dummy to show art directors, editors, and reps.?

No, not yet.


Do you ever use two different materials in one illustration?

Yes. Pencil sketches, painted textures and photoshop. Ink and watercolor. Sometimes even cut paper.


How did  you find the companies where you have done commercial illustration, games, etc.?

I have friends in high places, haha. No but really, most of the time they find me online or through word of mouth.


Do you attend the SCBWI Conference in LA? 

If so, how do you prepare for attending something like that? I attended one year, I think it was in 2009. I participated in the portfolio showcase so there was months of drawing, designing, and printing a portfolio and postcards to show off. It was a lot of fun and I met some amazing people that I’m now blessed to call my friends.


Have you seen your style change since you first started illustrating?

Oh, definitely. Though I was looking through old sketches the other day and noticed I still draw umbrellas and shoes the same way.


Have you gotten any work through networking?

Yes! Thank you blogging and Facebook.


I see you have had your illustration published in quite a few magazines.  How many magazines have published your work?

Six, so far. I hope to double that in the next year. I love illustrating for magazines.


How did the LA Times find  you to illustrate a story for the ‘Kids’ Reading Room’ section of the newspaper?

I think I called the Art Director. Never underestimate the power of the ‘cold call’.


Are you open to doing illustrations for self-published picture book authors?

I have in the past. Unfortunately, I don’t take on self-publishing authors now because they don’t have a budget I can pay bills with. It’s a sad reality, especially when their book ideas sound so fun.


What made you go digital?  Is Photoshop your software of choice?

When I started freelancing for companies, it was all digital, all the time. There were many late nights figuring out Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop as deadlines sped towards me. Now I can’t live without my computer. I enjoy the crisp look and edit ability of Illustrator and the fun challenge of rendering an illustration to look painted with Photoshop. While I still love painting with watercolor and gouache, the computer affords me and my clients much-needed versatility. And there’s nothing better than ‘command Z’, am I right?!


Do you have any tips that would help other digital artists?

Get a bigger scanner and printer. The biggest you can afford. And a Wacom tablet. It’ll save your arm.


Do you own a graphic tablet? If so, how do you use it?

Me and my Wacom Intuos 3 are best buddies. I don’t even use a mouse. My mouse is dead to me.


How much time do you spend illustrating?

Depending on the circumstances (deadlines or family commitments) I can spend as little as 5 hours to as much as 12 hours a day working.


Do you have a studio set up in your house?

My family insisted I take one of the bedrooms as my studio instead of a guest room. Sorry visitors but it’s mine and I love it!


Is there anything in your studio, other than paint and brushes, and your computer that you couldn’t live without?

My drafting table is 7 feet wide. I am spoiled.


Any picture books on the horizon?

I’m about to start working on an early reader book with Oxford Univ Press.



What are your career goals?

My goals include more book, magazine and licensing work. I think pairing up with an agent or rep may be my next step. I’d also like to set up an online shop to sell some of my random paintings and creations. My ultimate goal is to spend my days writing and illustrating my own books and board games.


What are you working on now?

Right now I’m working on some spot illustrations, early reader book(s), some educational activities/games and 2 magazine illustrations.



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

Why stretch watercolor paper when you can use illustration board? I like Crescent. Sometimes I print out a copy of my sketch and paint a color rough right on it. Hmm, what else? I used to ink with a croquil pen but now I use Microns. They’re waterproof and come in multiple sizes and colors.



Any words of wisdom you can share with the illustrators who are trying to develop their career?

Here’s my 2 cents. And that may be all it’s worth to you, but… Try something new. Get out of your comfort zone. I see many people who are only willing to work in one way or for one type of publishing. You will grow as an artist and more doors may open for you if you say yes to something different. Tackle that App, comic book, or board game design rather than sitting around waiting for your big break in picture book publishing (or whatever it is you so desperately desire).



Katie, it was pleasure getting to know you through your illustrations and this interview. I am sure we will be seeing a lot more from you. Please let me know when you have new successes and send in new illustration that I can use during the month. That way we can stay connected.

You can see more of Katie at the following sites: 

Please take a minute to leave Katie a comment about her work.  It is much appreciated.

Talk tomorrow,



  1. Love love love these!


  2. Love you Katie Mc Dee! What a wonderful interview! Love and hugs and blessings in all your new adventures.


  3. Very colorful and fun illustrations! Thank you for sharing!


  4. I leave a leave a response when I like a post on a site or I have something to valuable to contribute to the
    conversation. It is triggered by the sincerness communicated in the post
    I read. And on this post Illustrator Saturday – Katie
    McDee | Writing and Illustrating. I was moved enough to post a thought 🙂 if you
    are posting on additional online sites, I would like to
    keep up with you. Would you make a list the complete urls of your public pages like your Facebook page, twitter feed, or linkedin profile?


    • Victor,

      I am very happy that you found me and hope you stop back. I should add all three of those things to my blog. I have a twitter page. It is kathytemean. I have a facebook page. That is Linkin is: kathytemean



  5. I need rainy seasons drawing plzzz mam


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