Posted by: Kathy Temean | March 30, 2013

Illustrator Saturday – Danielle Arbor

danielleb&w(lg)smallerDanielle Arbour’s whimsical designs have long decorated kids’ rooms through bedding, accessories and other lines of soft goods (as marketed through her home textile company, Clair de la lune, Inc.).  After studying arts at both the University of Ottawa and Sheridan College in Oakville, Danielle received a diploma in Graphic Design from George Brown College in Toronto. Danielle spent the next several years working, as a Designer, for some of Toronto’s largest Advertising Agencies before starting her own company. She now freelances from her home studio as both corporate designer and children’s writer/illustrator. Danielle Arbour currently lives in Toronto with her husband, two young children and new Jack-Chi puppy Lulu.

danielle1pumpkin b&a

The first three images are taken from various FarFaria stories that I have illustrated. Here I show the process.

Danielle2sally b&a

I have to supply the client with a rough dummy,  followed by a tight linear (in this case I have already shaded them) and the final colored product.

danielle3snowman b&a

Each main element/character must be separated onto its own layer in Photoshop, for animation purposes, which is why I normally draw a lot of elements separately.

danielle4otis b&a

This is a page from Otis the Love Monkey picture book. I illustrated this book to accompany a knit sock monkey for The Monkey Project, in the US.

danielle5forest green b&a

This is an illustration that I did for an international children’s music project in Amsterdam. Each illustration
represents a colour. My colour was forest green.

danielle6ben 2 b&a


These are to show my process. I pencil draw my illustration. I scan them in and colourize them in photoshop.
If there are patterns or textures I will normally draw them separately and overlay them. The same goes for
little details, like birds. This way I can control the balance and composition of illustration.

Danielle7Aben b&a

I generally illustrate most of my drawings in separate elements these days (not one big image) This allows
me to play with composition and with apps and ebooks, most elements need to be layered so that the
animation can easily be added. If my characters are walking, I separate the legs from the bodies. Eyes are
layered in so that they can open and close to give the characters life. I have left some descriptions on this
image to show you what I mean by this.

Danielle8Bben instructions

I want to describe how different illustration has become with ebooks and apps. I feel this is important for illustrators to understand. Technology has changed so much.

Initially, you would create one scene to describe a passage of text. With book apps, and animation, you first have to create an environment or stage, and have your characters function within this environment. You then have to think outside of the environment if you want little visual surprises to pop up or zoom in. You have to think in broader terms with layering backgrounds and details which may add visual interest once animated. I guess it is closer to animation than book illustration.


Have you always lived in Toronto?

No. I grew up in Midland, Ontario, a small town, about an hour north of Toronto.

Danielno children

How did you end up going to University of Ottawa and Sheridan College?

Initially, I had wanted to become a writer, and so I was studying general arts at the University in Ottawa. Throughout the year, my aunt, living in Ottawa, encouraged me to change my studies to Graphic Design. She believed that from a young age, I had great artistic abilities. (side note: I have attached a drawing (wash stand.jpg) of the wooden laundry stand that I sketched at 5 years old. My aunt was visiting with her artist friend at the time, and he was amazed with the drawing. He took it home, framed it and had it on his wall for 25 years. For my 30th Birthday, my aunt presented it to me. I had no recollection of drawing it, but I had spent many hours playing on that stand as a child. I have scanned it and attached it with my other drawings. It’s a terrible scan because I didn’t want to remove it from the frame.) I attended Sheridan to create a portfolio, since I had not taken visual arts in Highschool.

daniellerump lorez

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

All of my classes helped me out. I think that my design courses and photography influenced my style as much as my fine art classes. My style is somewhat graphic. Illustration is about space conception and colour balance.


What did you do after you graduated?

When I first graduated I got an apartment with a friend in Toronto. We were broke. I remember walking about 4 miles to a part-time job at a clothing store, where I designed in-store signs. I could not afford the subway. We could barely afford to eat. I soon got offered a job at Columbia House, where I stayed for three years. I worked on their product catalogues. It was here that I developed my computer skills.

daniellepage 14

I see that you got a degree in Graphic Design from George Brown College. Did you do that before or after attending the other two schools?

This was my final stop. After Sheridan, I was accepted into the Sheridan Illustration program and the George Brown Graphics program. I chose the graphics at GB, thinking that this was a more practical choice. I was right.

daninellesepteber 26th

What caused you to decide to go to George Brown College for Graphic Arts?

It just so happens that Graphic Design was quite big when I graduated and illustration was becoming obsolete. I still have no regrets about choosing Graphics.

daniellela flore

Did any of those schools help connect you to companies that could give you work?

Yes, definitely. Being Colleges, both schools helped me in putting together a good practical portfolio, which is so important. When you are first seeking employment, this is all you have. People will judge your skill level and talent strictly on this. In those days, the Universities did not offer Graphic Design. Everything has changed now.

daniellecat & kittens lr

Do you use materials like watercolor, acrylics, etc. when you illustrate?

I used to paint strictly in acrylics and ink. I loved the boldness of acrylics. I now draw and shade everything in graphite pencils (H to 4B range). I then scan and colorize my illustrations using photoshop. I am definitely a product of old-school meets new school.

danielleotis blog

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

When I was still a student, I was commissioned to design and illustrate the interior concepts for a chain of fast-food Chinese Restaurants. I still remember the name, Yu Chus. It was done all in fuschias and cool greys. Looking back, I still find it bizarre that an entrepreneur would have chosen a graphics student (and not an interior designer) to do this. They opened some restaurants, but the chain is no longer around – go figure.

danielleotis pg2

How long have you been illustrating?

I have been drawing since I was five. I have been illustrating professionally for about seven years.

dannielleMilton blog

Can you tell us about your advertising background?

Yes, after Columbia House, I was hired at my first downtown Agency. Six months into it, the Agency lost two key clients and it closed its doors literally overnight. My employer landed at a bigger Agency and he brought me with him. I worked in the studio with a group of very talented designers. I learned so much here. The hours were hectic. We drank lots of coffee and lived off donuts. Some new business pitches kept us their overnight.


It looks like you have done commercial art for products. Can you tell us how you got involved in that and what types of products you have done?

I’ve done a variety of product designs. My first product created for myself, however, was children’s bedding. I created Clair de la lune Inc. with my sister, who is a teacher. I did everything from illustrating my own textiles, to designing all of my branding, web, etc. We sold our children’s bedding at One of A Kind Show, NYC Textile Sow, ABC and many boutiques throughout North America. I had the business for seven years.

At SandyLion Stickers, where I was Associate Creative Director, I designed and illustrated many children’s stickers and activities, as well as dimensional stickers for scrapbooking.


Did you first work for a company and then form your own company from there?

I left advertising to start Clair de la lune Inc. Advertising was not enough of a creative outlet for me and the hours were crazy.


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

I have concentrated on this for some time. It can be a bit of an uphill battle. You really need a tough skin and a passion for it to continue on.

At this point, I think that I just want to concentrate on creating things that I love. Whether it be products, books, apps, t-shirts, it’s the creative process that gets me excited. I love coming up with new ideas and figuring out how to execute them. Illustrating is just a part of it.


Is your goal to illustrate a children’s picture book?

I would love the opportunity to illustrate a beautifully written story. I do currently illustrate and write children’s ebooks for a company called FarFaria in San Francisco. I just completed illustrating one of my favourite stories, The Selfish Giant. I have also illustrated and conceptualized a PB for a US charity called the Monkey Project.


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

Yes, I have worked on a few dummies, which were sent to most of the big publishers. I also have to create a full linear dummy each time I illustrate an ebook. I have done about half a dozen of these in the past year.


Do you think you would ever want to write and illustrate a children’s book? Any ideas in the works?

Yes, I have already written three unpublished stories and I have more ideas in the works. I get just as excited about writing as I do about illustrating.


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

As mentioned above, I have sent my manuscripts and dummies out to many publishers. I have posted my work on a few illustrator websites, such as and I have a website and a blog where I post my most recent illustrations.


I see that East West Literary Agency represents you. How did you make contact and get them interested in you?

It’s a very long story. When I first started illustrating, a woman from Kentucky called me to see if I was interested in illustrating her manuscript idea. I had illustrated a line of children’s dishes for a Canadian Company and she had received them as a baby shower gift. She loved my style and found that we were a great fit. We developed her concept together, and we sent it to publishers. We sought editorial advice from a company. They liked our book and put us in touch with East West. East West later represented my own projects.


Do you ever use two different materials in one illustration?

I always do. I use traditional pencil with photoshop.


Do you belong to the SCBWI in Toronto? 

I am not, although I did attend a weekend workshop in Muskoka one year. It’s something that I should probably do. It’s good way to networking. Networking is the most important thing – in any field.


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

Yes, I think that my pencil drawings have become a lot tighter. I am also experimenting with more photoshop textures, brushes and layers. I try to evolve constantly.


Have you gotten any work through networking?

Yes, a lot my work has come through word of mouth with ex-work colleagues, friends, etc.


Have you published any illustration in magazines or newspapers?

I have had a few very basic drawings for a community newspaper and graphics for ads published.


Do you ever use Photoshop?

Yes, all of the time. I use Photoshop for my pencil renderings and illustrator for my vector illustrations.


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

Yes, I just got a Bamboo for Christmas, and I am still learning to use it. I use it instead of a mouse for everything. I was starting to get a lot of pain in my hand and I find that this has helped. I can sometimes work 12+ straight hours on my computer. It is also a more natural motion when drawing.


How much time do you spend illustrating?

I probably spend fifty percent of my time illustrating and the other fifty doing my freelance design work.


Do you have a studio set up in your house?

I do. My computer is set up in my basement and I do my drawings on my dining room table.

danielleforest green (lorez)

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

I would really miss my bond paper and pencils. I could live without my cat’s litter-box, which is 4 feet away from my desk.


What are your career goals?

I want one of my stories to be published. It’s my dream to share this story with children. I am also in the process of creating my own children’s app. I have been working on this for many months. I hope to continue creating children’s products and to keep up with all the latest technologies.


What are you working on now?

I am working on a children’s app, which I hope to complete by summer.


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

I think that each illustrator has to experiment on his own. What works for me, will not necessarily work for someone else.


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

You will get a lot of feedback about your style – some good and some bad. If you believe in what you do, stick with it. Be selective in whose feedback you take to heart. And most importantly, only do it if you love it, because it really is a labor of love.


Thank you Danielle to sharing your talent with us, answering the interview questions, and sharing your process with us.  We will be keeping an eye on you and your future.  Please let us know about your many successes.  You can find Danielle at: – –

I am sure Danielle would love if you left her a comment. It would be much appreciated if you could take a minute to respond.  Thanks! Hope everyone has a great Easter and Passover.

Talk tomorrow,



  1. I loved seeing the before and after photos and the description of the layering of images. Great post!


  2. Danielle,
    I really like your style…so many interesting details to look at. Congratulations all your successes!


  3. Wonderful stuff. I love the sock monkey. So cute.Thanks so much for posting this. I so look forward to Illustrator Saturday.


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