Posted by: Kathy Temean | August 31, 2013

Illustrator Saturday – Michael Garland

garlandpiccroppedAward winning author and illustrator Michael Garland has been out on the New York Times Best Seller list four times.

Some recent Michael Garland books from are; Oh, What A Christmas! Scholastic, Miss Smith Under the Ocean, Dutton Publishers, and Grandpa’s Tractor, Boyds Mills

Michael Garland’s greatest success has been for writing and illustrating children’s picture books. Garland’s Miss Smith’s Incredible Storybook recently won the California and Delaware State Reading Awards. He is currently working on his thirtieth book as author and illustrator.

Michael Garland has illustrated for celebrity authors like James Patterson and Gloria Estefan. His illustrations for Patterson’s SantaKid were the inspiration for Sak’s Fifth’s Avenue’s Christmas holiday window display in New York City. Garland’s Christmas Magic has become a season classic and is currently being developed for a for a TV special.

His work has won many honors and is frequently included in the Society of Illustrators and the Original Art of Children’s book show as well annuals from Print, Graphis and Communications Arts magazines. Recently, Michael Garland was included on the list of the top one hundred Irish Americans by Irish American Magazine. Michael Garland is frequently asked to speak at schools, literary conferences and festivals across the country.

Check back. I will add Michael’s process steps and text details as soon as I receive it.

How long have you been illustrating?

Thirty nine years.


I see you got a BFA from Pratt Institute. How did that opportunity come about?

Pratt was a well-regarded art school, but it also provided the opportunity to get a BFA. A degree I never really needed until I recently, when I became an adjunct professor at Marist and Mount Saint Mary Colleges.


Can you tell us a little bit about your time at Pratt?

Pratt provided a high quality, diverse foundation in the visual arts. I had some very encouraging teachers.


What type of classes were your favorites?

Because I came from a non-artistic educational background, almost all my classes were a revelation.


What classes influenced your work the most?

Ultimately my illustration classes held the most interest for me. I could really understand how you could make a living from an applied art.


Did the school help you find work?

The skills I learned at Pratt started me down the path to finding work. The actual school had a small ineffectual job placement program that generated almost nothing in the way of employment. I had to find my way in the world of professional illustration on my own.


Have you always lived in NYC?

I was born in Manhattan’s French Hospital. I grew up on Staten Island. I went to school in Brooklyn. I met my wife in Brooklyn and lived there when were newly-weds. Then we moved to Westchester County than further north to Putnam County, where we currently reside.


When did you get your first illustration job?

A few months after graduating, I was driving a taxi in NYC, when True Confessions Magazine purchased my first illustration directly from my portfolio. It was a gothic paperback sample of a pretty girl running away from a haunted house. Gradually, I was able to build a portfolio of printed samples that helped to establishes credibility among potential art buyers.



How did you get your first big break?

I never did get a “big break”. I earned every opportunity that ever presented itself. One small success was built on the back of another. It was a slow and steady progression of small accomplishments.


How long was it before you started thinking about writing & illustrating your own books?

It was midway through my career. I had been considering it for a long time before I actually did it.


How many books have you written & illustrated?

I’ve written and illustrated over thirty published books.


How many picture books have you illustrated for other authors?

I have probably illustrated over seventy books for other authors. I’ve lost count.



Do publishers still ask you to illustrate books for other authors? Do you ever accept?

Yes. Publishers regularly ask me to illustrate other author’s books. I love doing it. By the time the text gets to me, all the minor issues have been resolved and I go ahead an start making the pictures. It’s pure enjoyment from then on. I did one last year for Regenery publishers and one this year for Holiday House.



What was the title of the first book you wrote and illustrated? Who was it with? How did you get that contract?

My Cousin Katie. I was illustrating reissued, young adult backlist titles for Harper Collins. The new covers were a big success and they offered me the opportunity to illustrate a picture book, but the advance was so low, I literally could not afford to take the time to do it. I had been considering writing a story of my own and I countered with the text for My Cousin Katie. The book was a labor of love because I was able to combine my landscape painting with my illustration and our daughter Katie was the model for the character.
My Cousin Katie did well but also created a dilemma for me. Since we have two other children, I felt a self-imposed pressure to create two additional books for the. Our other daughter Alice was the model for Circus Girl and our son was the model for Dinner at Magritte’s.


When did you write and illustrate your first Mrs. Smith book?

I wrote Miss Smith and the Incredible Storybook in 2004. It won the California State Young Readers and the Delaware State Reading Award. The first Miss Smith book inspired the next two, Miss Smith Reads Again and Miss Smith Under the Ocean.


I see it was with Dutton. How did that contract come about?

I had a long running relationship with Dutton, doing young adult book jackets. The art director at the time, Riki Levinson kindly acted as my advocate for my early picture book proposals.





Have you done any work for children’s magazines?

I’ve worked for my many Scholastic magazines and Highlights as well.


Are you represented by an artist rep.? If not, why have you chosen not to have one.

For most of career, I’ve represented myself. For general illustration, I have occasionally tried a rep but problems can arise when you are one small part of a large stable of artists. I’ve always represented myself when it comes to picture books because I like dealing directly with art directors, editors and publishers. Going it alone can be difficult because now there are publishers who won’t even consider a proposal if it doesn’t come from a rep. It is an open question if a rep can gain you greater access and maybe get a better deal.
I currently have a rep that gets me general illustration work outside picture book publishing.


I have read that you were one of the first illustrators to jump on the digital painting technology. Did you pick it up quickly?

I saw early on that paperback illustration was going in the digital direction. At the time, I was still doing a lot of paperback work. I took a gamble and made huge investment in equipment (everything is cheaper and more powerful now). Then I took an evening Photoshop course at a local community college. I didn’t know if any of my clients would accept digital illustration. I would have to guarantee if they weren’t satisfied, I would do the work over with traditional materials. My first digital picture book was The Mouse before Christmas for Dutton. Riki Levinson, who was the end of her long career, had the vision and insight to embrace the new technology when many others were stubbornly reluctant. The book turned out to be the biggest seller of my career and I was on my way.


garlandmouse2_largeI notice that you have a good relationship with Boyds Mills Press. How did you develop that?

I have an enduring relationship with Boyds Mills Press. It started when my wife and I were living in Bay Ridge Brooklyn. Our landlord asked me if I would look at his daughter’s portfolio. She was getting ready to graduate from art school. Throughout my professional life I have continued to advise anyone who would ask me. The young student was Rosanne Guararra. She later went on to become the art director of Highlights magazine. She introduced me to everyone at Highlights and Boyds Mills Press. I still continue to publish books with them. Last year’s Grandpa’s Tractor was selected for the Original Art Show at the Society of Illustrators and well as the Nebraska Children’s Agricultural Book of the Year.



How long does it take you to illustrate a picture book?

It varies, depending on the style and complexity of the illustrations. It could range from six weeks to six months, sometimes longer.


garlandtractor197371_444990185537362_2146299709_nWhat book was the hardest to illustrate?

I’ve never thought of any of them as hard, just opportunities to try new things.



Do you have a favorite illustration? Besides the ones with my children, my favorite is always the one I’m working on at the moment. Every time I start an illustration, I think to myself, this is going to be great! I’m the eternal optimist.


Have you done anything for educational publishing houses?

Oh yes. I’ve done lots and lots of educational work. It may not be the most exciting and creative but it can pay the bills.




How did you get the deal to do The Magically Mysterious Adventures of Noelle the Bulldog Gloria Estefan? Did you have any interaction with Gloria?

Gloria chose me from an array of illustrators that the Harper Collins people presented to her. She was very nice. We talked over the phone while I was preparing to illustrate the book. She had never gone through the process of publishing a picture book, but she was a pleasure to work with.


garlandgloriaWhat is the story behind get the job to illustrate James Patterson, SantaKid at Little, Brown?

James Patterson also chose me from a selection of illustrators presented to him by the people at Little Brown. He was very impressive. He is a whole industry unto himself. James Patterson can make things happen and it was really fun to see my illustrations transformed into the Christmas window display at Saks Fifth Avenue in New York.


What is your favorite medium to use?

My favorite traditional medium is oil paint. You can see my gallery paintings at my website Most of my illustration is done digitally in Photoshop, for the flexibility and editing capability it allows.


garlandamericaDo you take pictures or do any research before you start a project?

Depending on the project, I may shoot photos as well as gather reference on the Internet. I assemble reference sheets and then I print them out. I use the reference as information but I draw freehand in a general independent way.


What is the one thing in your studio you could not live without?

Light and space.


Do you try to spend a certain amount of hours every day working on your art?

It depends on deadlines. I still regularly put in fifty plus hour weeks. I’m nothing, if not productive, either working on current projects or writing new ones.


Do you think the Internet has opened doors for you?

Yes, because people has access to my books and my website to contact me for schools visits and learn about my new books.

 Have you ever made an app or a book trailer?

I’ve partnered with a startup developer to make two e-book/apps, Icarus Swinebuckle and An Elf for Christmas. The challenge is marketing them. It’s difficult to make anything stand out on the “infinite bookshelf” of digital publishing. I’ve never done a book trailer, but I intend to.


What types of software do you use with your illustrations?

I use Photoshop. In the past, Corel Painter.

Do you own or have you ever tried a graphic Drawing Tablet?

You can see I have a Wacom Tablet. I’ve never tried a Cintque tablet.

Do you think your style has changed over the years? Have your material changed?

My style is constantly changing. I find it enjoyable and creatively stimulating to change looks. Sometimes I will revisit something I’ve done in the past, what ever works best for the particular book.


Do you still have to market yourself and what types of things do you do or used to do?

Marketing is more of a challenge than ever. It’s difficult to find something that consistently works and that is cost effective.


Do you have any career dreams that you still want to fulfill?

Yes. Right now I am in the process of writing a Young Adult novel. It’s something I’ve wanted to do. I’m about three-quarters finished.


What are you working on now?

Besides writing my YA. I’m putting the finishing touches on the illustrations for a Holiday House, fact-based picture book by Michelle Lord called Animal School, What Class Are You? I also doing some educational work and a large commissioned oil painting about tuna fishing in California in the 1930s’.



Do you have any material type tips you can share with us? Example: Paint or paper that you love – the best place to buy – a new product that you’ve tried – A how to tip, etc.

When I’m working digitally, I use Photoshop. When I want to print a digital image, I have an Epson printer. I use Epson pare and ink. I make prints to show the publisher or to make a book proposal. When I’m working traditionally I use Winsor-Newton oil paint. Everything else is pretty much, standard artists grade.




Any words of wisdom on how to become a successful illustrator?

The way to become a successful illustrator is to work very hard, be flexible, open-minded, and adaptable. Also, try and develop a very thick skin. You’re going to need it.

Just had to share the other side of Michael Garland and let you see a few of his fine art oil paintings. He seems like he does it all.


Thank you Michael for sharing your illustrations and journey with us. We look forward to receiving your process pictures and details on how you create your wonderful art.

If you would like to drop by Michaels website it is: Hope you will take a minute to leave a comment.

Talk tomorrow,



  1. Terrific interview!


  2. What a timely interview! Michael will be at our local SCBWI conference in Denver next month. Can’t wait to meet him and hear more! Thanks for posting this interview, Kathy.


  3. Wonderful interview and fantastic art work. I just love Saturdays!


  4. Gorgeous, gorgeous, gorgeous! And I know I’ve seen the Mrs. Smith books on the Barnes’ shelves 🙂 It’s nice to hear Gloria was a pleasure to work with, too 🙂 Thanks for sharing, Michael and Kathy! 😀


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