Posted by: Kathy Temean | June 22, 2013

Illustrator Saturday – Jason Kirschner


jasonIMG_6399Jason’s name might sound familiar, since I showed off his winning illustration from the NJSCBWI June Conference the other week. If you read Jason resume above, you will see how successful he has been in his career already. I am sure it is exciting to work around other creative people like he does on the David Letterman Show, but Jason is expanding into the children’s book market and I am sure he will be just as successful with that endeavor. Below you will see Jason’s process, but we start with his answers to my question about how he paints and what materials he uses.  Here’s Jason:

I color everything digitally now and have done so for about a year and a half. I used to use watercolors, colored pencil and prismacolor markers but I’ve eliminated all of that. Digital is quicker and soooooo much easier to revise. You never have to wait for the paint to dry and its all free (after you’ve finished paying for Photoshop, of course).

As for Pencils… Right now I’m in love with Prismacolors. They’re nice and dark when you want a strong line. I also like the fact the line has a little bit of breakup in it. As stupid as it sounds–It keeps my drawing looking hand drawn. Beyond that, I’m also really happy with a nice #2 pencil.

As for paper I will really use anything. I probably should be more particular. I do like Strathmore or Canson sketch or watercolor paper. Honestly though 95% of the time I end up using cheap photocopy paper– 11″x 17″ if its around. The lack of texture is an advantage when I’m using the Photoshop magic wand to isolate different elements  drawn on the paper. Truthfully I add whatever textures I want later in the process anyway.

jasonbrigade step1

Step 1:  After I figured out my idea and did a few rough sketches, I drew finished versions of each character with pencil and scanned each in separately. With each character on a separate layer I played around until I got a composition I  liked.

jasonbrigade step2

Step 2:  If I’m going to use a texture or paper I lay it in right at the beginning.  That way I can choose colors accordingly.  Here I was going for a classic sort of feeling so I chose an old paper from my texture library and placed it on its own multiply layer above all the pencil sketches.

jasonbrigade step3

Step 3: Next I lay in the color, also on a multiply layer.  For the most part I use solid blocks of color.  In some places I start to indicate highlight and shadow but I do most of that in the next step.

Jasonbrigade step4

Step 4: Finally, I add a layer for shade and shadows , and one for highlights.  This is also the time I’d use any sort of photoshop filters but I mostly avoid them.


What made you decide to go to Emory University to get a BA in Theatre Arts?

One day someone from the Theater Dept. came in to my  high school art class and asked if anyone could paint a giant sunset for South Pacific.  I raised my hand and was drafted into service.  I loved working on sets in High School.

At Emory I designed and directed theater on the side. I was actually a math/computer science major for most of my time there. I used to go the the computer lab after rehearsals and work until late in the night. One night I was in the computer lab at 3:30am looking for a missing semicolon in 4000 lines of code while sitting between two guys arguing over which Star Trek captain was better – Kirk or Picard.  I quit the next morning and declared a theater major.


Tell us about how you decided to go for you Master’s in Stage Design at Brandeis University?

I had been designing sets for a few years and I really enjoyed it.  It seemed to be a career where I can draw for a living but not be a starving artist.  I really liked the program at Brandeis (which is now sadly defunct)  and after four years in Atlanta, I missed winters.  It was great to have three years to really concentrate on nothing but Theater and sketching and painting.


Were you working in the theatre business while getting your master’s? 

I did take a few outside design jobs but mostly I designed shows for Brandeis.


Did any of the contacts you made in college help you get you work?

My grad school contacts not only got me work — they got me my career.  A Brandeis alum was working at the Late Show at the time and through him I started a brief internship there while they were designing a new set.  That experience was invaluable to me. That credit on my resume helped me get an interview at Late Night with Conan O’Brien right out of grad school. When there was an opening a year later they offered me the job. I really loved my four years there.


Did that lead to working with the David Letterman Show?

While I was working at Late Night,  I would occasionally fill in over at the Late Show. When a position opened up I interviewed and got the job.



Did you ever take any illustration class?

I’ve honestly never taken an illustration class.  I did take figure drawing once in grad school. I’ve always loved drawing but I’m mostly self taught.   I’ve got sketchbooks from when I was three or four years old.  I started copying Sunday comics and comic books as a little kid and I’ve never stopped.   I try to draw every day.


When did you decide that you wanted to try your hand with children’s books?

It’s always something I wanted to try.   When my wife and I had our twins and started reading picture books I really wanted to make my own.  I started putting together an illustration portfolio which is decidedly different from a scenic design portfolio.  I’ve been at if for three years now and I feel I’m growing as an illustrator every day.


Do you think working in stage and theatre has influenced your children’s style?

The skits we do at the Late Show are usually very short so you only get a few seconds of screen time to set the scene.  You have to pick your details wisely to convey setting.  I think its a useful skill I draw upon when illustrating.   Just like in TV or movies I try to start with a wide establishing shot to set the scene before I go in for close-ups.  Lastly, set sketches are always very conscious of the lighting and mood of the scene.  I try to bring that into my illustrations as well.


Do you think your style has changed since when you first started?

Definitely. I am always trying to evolve my style while trying to keep my illustrations looking like they’re mine.   I find when I stray too far, people say the work doesn’t look like my own.  I also really love line work so I am always trying new ways to keep things looking hand drawn.


What is your favorite medium to use? 

Pencils.  Prismacolor Pencils and Photoshop seem to be my preferred method these days.  One day I’d love to get back to more conventional mediums like watercolors or colored pencils.   Time becomes a huge factor and digital is just quicker.  You can revise indefinitely without starting over.  Any medium I can walk away from for a while and pick back up whenever is best for me lately.

The way I work now is to hand draw everything –pencil on paper.  I try to draw all the elements separately. I scan them in and compose and edit in Photoshop.  Then I color it all digitally.


What was the first piece of art that you sold?

I’ve never actually sold anything.  Anyone want to buy something?


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

I have! I’ve spent the last ten or eleven months working on a picture book I wrote and illustrated called Monster Nanny. I’m constantly revising and rewriting and redrawing.  I actually brought it to the NJ SCBWI conference earlier this month. I got lots of great feedback.


Are you represented by an artist rep.? If so, who? If not, would you like to find one?

No.  Not yet.  I would love to find some representation. I love the drawing and the writing but I’m new to the business end of it all.


Do you think you will ever write and illustrate your own book?

I really hope so.


Have you thought of submitting your illustrations to children’s magazines to help get you noticed?

I honestly haven’t but I’m open to any venue that will help me get my work out there.


Do you use Photoshop with your illustrations?

YES. All the time.  I’ve been using Photoshop for years at my day job and I am constantly finding new ways to speed my process up by using Photoshop.  I’ve also started coloring all my illustrations in Photoshop.  I’ve also started using 3D modeling programs like Sketchup in the early stages of a drawing to help me figure out composition and perspective.  I am also trying to make Corel Painter a part of my process but I’m not there yet.


Do you own a graphic tablet? 

Yes. Love them. At home I use an Wacom Intuos tablet. At work I recently got a Cintiq which is so cool. In the few months I’ve had it I’ve already starting skipping some of the pencil drawing and doing it directly in Photoshop. Using different virtual brushes, I’m getting better at imitating a pencil line digitally. I can see doing more and more of that in the future.


Do you have a studio in your at home?

I do. It’s a recent addition for me and it makes me so happy. I go up there most nights after dinner and draw. I’ve got a drafting table and a computer station. The only problem is that the office is across the hall from my kids’ bedrooms so no TV or music without earphones.


When do you find time to work on the children’s illustration when you are doing The Late Show With David Letterman?

Nights and weekends. I’m always a little sleepy.


Other than the award you just won at the NJSCBWI Conference for the above illustration, has your artwork won any awards?

Sadly, no.


What types of things are you doing to get your work in front of publishers?

Not enough. I’m admittedly not good at selling myself. I’ve sent out a few postcards here and there.  I’m working on a new illustration for a bigger postcard mailing in the next few weeks.


What are your career goals?

I’m pretty happy being the Production Designer for the Late Show.

I love working on the picture books as well. I’d ideally like to write and illustrate my own stuff but I’d be happy drawing someone else’s manuscript too. Maybe I could one day down the road transition to being a full time illustrator. Who knows?

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

I am always reading blogs for these answers!  I’m so terrible at knowing what to use.  Once in a while I get up the energy to try a different kid of paper or marker or pencil but honesty I’ll draw on anything.  More often that not, I draw with prismacolor pencils on cheap photocopy paper.  Mostly because I’m lazy. I’m experimenting with drawing in browns and purples instead of black.  Its a softer line but it isn’t appropriate for every illustration.

On the digital side, I keep trying to develop techniques that don’t look digital. I’ve been collecting a folder full of older papers and textures that I layer into my illustrations to give them a classic feel.   I try to use layers to my advantage. I leave things separated until the end so I can keep playing with composition. I also try to use old school techniques of shadow and highlight, also on separate layers.


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

At this point in my illustration career, I am probably someone who should be taking  career wisdom rather than doling it out.

Here’s what I can offer: First — draw every day.  I do. I think it takes a while to get into “the zone” where you feel your drawings are worth keeping.

Secondly – I am not a spiritual person at all but I do believe that opportunities find you.  You have to do the work and put yourself out there.  Opportunity might open a door for you but you do need courage to jump on those opportunities and the skill to back it up.



Thank you Jason letting us get to know you and sharing your process. Make sure you keep us updated on all your future successes. If you would like to visit Jason, here is the link to his website:

Please take a minute to leave Jason some encouraging comments – Thanks!

Talk tomorrow,



  1. Kathy, when you mentioned Jason’s winning artwork from the conference, I did visit his website (EVERYone should!) and thoroughly enjoyed his work, plus getting to know more of his background 🙂

    Jason, your work is great (I adore that overhead of the boy in bed in his bedroom!). Coincidentally, I was recently going through a lot of material gathered over my many years of writing and illustrating research and reading, and lots of stuff from past conferences, etc. and came across your handouts! I didn’t get a chance to be at this year’s conference, but HAD picked up your cards when I saw them ’cause I was so impressed then, too 🙂 (I think it was at the Hyatt.) Anyway, great stuff! Thanks, Jason and Kathy 😀


  2. Jason is a REALY nice friendly smart guy too! and I am working with him toward a repped situation perhaps…. much promise! glad you highlighted him!


    • Oh, yay, Chris and Jason 🙂 I hope that works out!


  3. I love this interview because it feels like you are catching Jason just before he hits it big! 🙂


  4. Yes, I think it won’t be long until Jason has a contract!


  5. Jason, your art is so appealing.
    My favorite today…well there are too many to list.
    All the best. 🙂


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