Posted by: Kathy Temean | September 7, 2013

Illustrator Saturday – Kristi Valiant

KristiValiantPhoto280In fourth grade, Kristi often got in trouble for drawing too much during class.

After graduating magna cum laude from Columbus College of Art and Design as an Illustration major, I worked in the graphics department at an educational publisher. Now I write and illustrate children’s books.

She’s represented by Linda Pratt from Wernick & Pratt Agency.

I’ve illustrated the following: THE LITTLE WINGS Chapter Book Series (Random House 2012) THE GOODBYE CANCER GARDEN (Albert Whitman & Co., March 2011) DO YOU LOVE ME MORE? (Standard, Jan 2011) OLIVER’S FIRST CHRISTMAS (Accord, Oct 2010) DANCING DREAMS (Accord, Sept 2010) CORA COOKS PANCIT (Shen’s Books, 2009)

Kristi is the Indiana Regional Advisor of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) and has great news she has just made her debut as author/illustrator with the publication of PENGUIN CHA-CHA from Random House.


And I have Great News for all of you. Kristi has agreed to give away a Penguin Prize Package – a signed book along with a magnet, sticker, and bookmark for this adorable book. Anyone that leaves a comment will get their name put in the hat one time. If you would like to collect more entries into the hat you can do the following:

One entry everything you tweet this link (One a day)

One entry for putting the link on facebook or your blog.

Five entries if you read the book and talk about it on your facebook page or blog.

Please leave what you did in the comment section, so I know how many times to put your name in the hat. You have until this coming Thursday to enter to win the Penguin Prize Package.

kristiBarnesNoble_PenguinChaChaI think she looks excited. Here is Kristi Showing her process.


Sketch drawn on Wacom Centiq – from the original dummy submitted.


Quick color studies painted in Photoshop to find the overall color scheme of the page.

kristiPenguinsSketch8-9CBlocking in the color.


Painting the details and muting the background so Julia stands out more in Photoshop.


Above: This is the finished piece. Below: An Early Version of Penguin Cha-Cha.


How long have you been illustrating?

I illustrated my first book while still in art school, so I’ve been illustrating children’s books for 14 years.

I see you graduated magna cum laude from Columbus College of Art and Design as an Illustration major. That is pretty impressive. Can you tell us a little bit about how you decided to attend CCAD?

My high school art teacher showed me a promotional book from CCAD with work by CCAD students. I had looked at other art schools, but loved the illustration work from this art school the best. The decision was made even easier when I received a partial art scholarship to CCAD and one of my closest friends decided to go to Ohio State in the same city.


What types of classes did you take?

It’s a 4 year art school, and all of our courses had to do with art in some way. Freshman year I took classes like perspective drawing, figure drawing, art history, 2D design, 3D design, color concept, typography, painting, etc. After freshman year I was able to take courses in my specific major of Illustration as well as electives.


What classes were your favorites?

Digital illustration, advanced Photoshop, an illustration class taught by C.F. Payne, color concept, and fashion illustration.


Did the School help you find work?

Yes. From a job fair at CCAD, I received some freelance illustration work from Bath & Body Works drawing Christmas characters for on merchandise, and I found an internship at a tiny children’s book publisher called Berry Books. During my senior year, all illustration majors had an assignment in which we illustrated a few pages from a children’s book by an educational publisher called Seedling Publications. The publisher choose me as the final illustrator for the book. I went on to work in their graphics department laying out children’s books after I graduated as well as illustrating more books for them.


Do you feel that the classes you took influenced your style?

That’s hard to say. I’d like to think my style is my style and I would have drawn the same no matter what, but I’m sure learning specific techniques and seeing the work of other students and masters definitely influenced what I do. In C.F. Payne’s class we had to put together a binder of artwork that inspired us. Looking through each student’s binder was very telling as to what styles they loved. But then C.F. Payne encouraged us to find different styles and learn to respect and see the mastery in that work as well. It’s opened me up to playing more with color and texture and different kinds of things that I notice in different art styles than my own.


What was the first thing you did where someone paid you for your artwork?

As a young teen I face-painted at events, and as a freshman in high school I created an airbrush t-shirt business after learning how to airbrush in art class. Then I did murals at my local YMCA and Walmart in high school too.


What was the first thing you did for children?

My first children’s book that I illustrated was for a tiny publisher called Berry Books.


How did that come about?

I met the owner of Berry Books at a job fair at my art school. He hired me to help with graphic design, marketing, book layout, and so on. It was such a tiny publisher that there were only 3 of us. The owner also owned a berry farm, and during berry season, we’d head out to pick berries and eat bowls of vanilla bean ice cream with berries for lunch. Yum!


When did you decide you wanted to illustrate for children?

I’ve always loved children’s books and have a special one with gorgeous illustrations from when I was a child (actually, it’s my brother’s, but don’t tell him). It’s called Dean’s Mother Goose Book of Rhymes, illustrated by Janet and Anne Grahame Johnstone. I think that’s one of the main reasons I chose to illustrate for children. I made my first book in elementary school. My teacher asked me to read it to a younger class, and I was hooked.


Have you done any work for children’s magazines?

Yes, for Highlights magazine. What a wonderful company!


Have you worked for educational publishers?

Yes, I’ve illustrated over 30 books for educational publishers and I worked in the graphics department of an educational publisher, Seedling, after graduating from art school. It was a family run business and a joy to work there. I’ve also illustrated hundreds – perhaps thousands – of black and white vector illustrations for educational publishers.


How many children’s books have you published?

A hand full of hardcover picture books in the last four years for various publishers as well as a chapter book series called Little Wings for Random House (the 5th in that series just came out), and before that I illustrated dozens of educational children’s books.


Was CORA COOKS PANCIT (Shen’s Books, 2009) your first picture book?

Yes, CORA COOKS PANCIT was my first picture book for the trade market. It was the Picture Book Winner of the 2010 Asian/Pacific American Awards for Literature (APALA)! The author, Dorina K Lazo Gilmore, and I both flew to Washington DC for the award during ALA. It was such an honor for our book to win the award and I loved meeting Dorina!


How did that connection come about?

I happened to send a postcard art sample to Shen’s Books just as they were looking for an illustrator for that book. What perfect timing! The book’s main character is a Filipino girl named Cora and I had sent an Asian girl on my art sample that they liked.


Can you tell us a little bit about Shen’s Books?

Shen’s Books is a small publisher of multicultural books based out of California. Their books are lovely!


In 2010 you published two books with Accord. Could you fill us in on that publisher and share the story of getting those contracts?

I honestly don’t remember how Accord found me. They create innovative children’s books that have some kind of novelty to them usually. Both of the books I illustrated for them, DANCING DREAMS and OLIVER’S FIRST CHRISTMAS, are part of their AniMotion series in which the illustrations appear to be animated as you turn the page. I illustrated them as normal spreads keeping in mind exactly where the animated part would fall, and they created the animations.


Then in 2011 you published DO YOU LOVE ME MORE? with Standard. How did that come your way?

I think Standard found me through my website. This book has a wonderful way of explaining God’s grace. Standard is a great publisher of Christian books.


How did you end up being represented by Wernick and Pratt Agency? When did that happen?

I met Linda Pratt at a dessert party during an SCBWI conference. I had sought her out when I felt I was finally ready for an agent, because I really liked her clients and thought we may have a bit of the same taste, so perhaps she’d like my work. She had just seen my artwork on display for winning the illustration contest at the conference and commented on it. We had a great chat and she invited me to submit. I was very blessed to have had such an easy time finding my dream agent.


How many contracts have they gotten for you?

Linda became my agent just as Random House wanted to acquire PENGUIN CHA-CHA, so she negotiated that one. She’s also negotiated a number of books I’ve illustrated: the Little Wings contracts, a book cover, and now PRETTY MINNIE IN PARIS, a picture book written by Danielle Steel that will be published by Doubleday/Random House in fall 2014.


When did you decide to start writing and illustrating?

In 2007 I started writing some manuscripts and joined a critique group to help with my writing. Writing picture books really means learning a whole separate skill set. It took years to get one manuscript that was solid.


Is PENGUIN CHA-CHA from Random House the first book where you were the author and the illustrator?



Kristi and her editor, Michael Joosten in front of the illustrator’s wall at Random House on the kid’s editorial floor. Some big name illustrators have drawn on that wall, and Kristi says she was thrilled when Michael asked her to add her penguins to it! 

Tell us a little bit about the story and how you came up with the idea.

PENGUIN CHA-CHA began as an illustration for in my portfolio. I was in a swing and Latin dance group and wanted to draw some dancing illustrations. I like penguins and thought it would be fun to make them dance in a Latin dance competition, so that became a portfolio piece. Editors and art directors kept pointing out that illustration in particular in my portfolio and asking for a story to go along with it. I wrote story after story about dancing penguins until I finally got one that I really loved. Julia discovers that the penguins at the zoo are dancing when no one is around. She wants to join their jitterbug, but they freeze like penguin Popsicles whenever she approaches. Will they ever dance with her?


How long have you been Regional Advisor for the SCBWI in Indiana?

Since 2010. SCBWI has been instrumental in my career, so it’s an honor to volunteer in the role of Regional Advisor.


Have you ever illustrated a book for a self-published author?

Yes, twice when I was first starting out and needed pieces for my portfolio. I don’t anymore. One was a great experience and one wasn’t.


Where does most of your paid work come from?

I focus my time on my books, and I still illustrate black & white line vector drawings for one particular educational publisher.


Do you do any marketing on your own to find illustration work?

Not anymore. Before I had an agent I would send sample postcards a few times a year to editors and art directors.


What is your favorite medium to use?

I work all digitally. My book illustrations are done in Adobe Photoshop and my vector drawings are done in Adobe Illustrator.


Not counting your paint and brushes, what is the one thing in your studio that you could not live without?

I don’t use paint and brushes except with my kids! I love my Cintiq – it’s a large monitor that I can draw on with a stylus. I also need my large collection of picture books that inspire me.


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

I have two little girls, so I need to work quickly while they’re in preschool and childcare or napping. I have deadlines and try to schedule out how fast I need to work to get done in time, but sometimes an illustration doesn’t come together like I want it to and I end up working late into the nights.


Have you ever won an award for your writing or illustrating?

Recently, I won a regional art show with a Prodigal Son theme in 2012 for my artwork titled “Love That Lifts a Child.” A couple of my books have won awards: THE GOODBYE CANCER GARDEN won 2011 Best English Language Children’s Book at the Sharjah International Book Fair and CORA COOKS PANCIT was the Picture Book Winner of the 2010 Asian/Pacific American Awards for Literature (APALA). I won some illustration contests and one picture book writing contest at SCBWI conferences. I won a marketing grant from SCBWI for PENGUIN CHA-CHA.


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

It depends on the project as to how much research or photos are required. Right now I’m illustrating a book that takes place in Paris, so of course, I HAD to visit Paris with my husband and try out all the pastries… I mean take lots of photos for visual reference, since there are tiny visual details, like electrical outlets, that look different in Paris than here. For CORA COOKS PANCIT, I definitely had to research the Filipino culture, try my hand at making Filipino food (yum!) just like the main character, and I took lots of photos of a little Asian girl as a model for Cora. Other books, like my PENGUIN CHA-CHA, didn’t require taking photos, but I have a dance background and was able to move into the dance positions myself in order to feel how to draw them. I usually always collect lots of references of clothes, colors, textures, and perspectives that I want to use in each book as I go.


Do you think the Internet has opened doors for you?

Oh yes. My website has brought new clients, and I’m able to research and be inspired so much easier. I recently joined Pinterest and am loving all the fashion pins as I draw a picture book that’s heavy on fashion. I also use the Internet to connect with other writers and illustrators as well as reach new readers. I have a book trailer for my PENGUIN CHA-CHA picture book, and seeing the number of hits it has is fun. Being on blogs like this one is also wonderful!


Do you use Photoshop with your illustrations?

Yes, I draw and paint my books entirely in Photoshop!

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

Yes, I used to draw with a drawing tablet, but now I only use that when I travel. I use a Cintiq at home. It’s a large monitor that I draw on and is attached to an arm that allows me to turn it easily like you would a piece of paper and bring it right down into my lap to draw comfortably. I love it!


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

I used to illustrate educational books, so when I decided to work on breaking into the trade book market, I had to evolve my style to work with that market. I attended SCBWI conferences and had every portfolio critique with an art director in children’s books that I could find. One art director in particular, Laurent Linn, was very helpful at explaining the difference in my illustrations between the educational book look and the trade book look. I still am learning and developing my style. I think I always will. As for materials, in art school I had to learn how to use many mediums. In the educational books I tried out various mediums and styles. But I’ve always been one who enjoys being spontaneous and not planning everything out in the painting first but experimenting as I go. The problem with real paint is that you can’t move things around and resize them in your painting after you paint it. But digitally you can! Digital illustration has come a long way and some of my editors and art directors don’t even realize I work digitally until I tell them.


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

To continue to write and illustrate my own books as well as illustrate others’ books that I really enjoy. I could say I want to win a Caldecott or something like that, but since that isn’t a goal that I have control over, I’ll stick with really enjoying my own books and hoping that others enjoy them too!

What are you working on now?

I’m illustrating a picture book written by Danielle Steel called PRETTY MINNIE IN PARIS! It’s a lovely book full of fashion, Paris, a teacup Chihuahua, and a stylish little girl. So much fun to illustrate! I visited Danielle and met the real Minnie when I visited Paris, and they were both a delight.


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.

Since I illustrate in Photoshop, I would suggest not using the awful pencil tool that comes with Photoshop, but instead create your own or download lots of free Photoshop brushes (search online for Nagel’s or others). Play with the brush settings such as shape dynamics, scattering, texture, etc. It took me years to create a pencil tool that looks and feels like a real pencil, but now I love sketching in Photoshop. Whenever I sketch on real paper with a real pencil, I want to hit the undo button!


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

Join SCBWI and volunteer. Meet other writers and illustrators and make friends. If you want to write or illustrate books, you need to read, read, read those books currently being published. Study what’s out there and figure out how to make your mark while staying true to who you are. Find out what makes your face light up – what subjects and themes and characters – and do that kind of work. Love what you’re doing!

Kristi christmas_frontcover

Thank you Kristi for sharing your process and journey with us. Penguin Cha-Cha looks like such a cute picture book. I wish you much success with that and your future books.

You can visit Kristi at the following sites: www.kristivaliant.com – Facebook: – Twitter:

Free Penguin Cha-Cha Storytime Activity Kit:

Remember all you have to do is leave a comment for Kristi to receive one entry for your chance to win a signed copy of Penguin Cha-Cha. Hope you help spread the word for Kristi’s debut as author/illustrator.

Talk tomorrow,



  1. Very nice work, Kristi! There’s so much movement in your dancing penguin illustrations. Very gestural, nothing frozen (even though penguins like the cold). Doris Ettlinger


  2. Such charming illustrations. I love the one of Julia in the penguin costume. I can’t wait to see the book. Thanks for another wonderful Illustrator Saturday.


  3. Hi Kristi,
    I love the colors you use and the composition in each illustration is wonderful.
    All the best with your new book. I’ll be checking it out…I love penguins. 🙂


  4. What a wonderfully flowing style you have, Kristi! I especially love the poses on the Penguin Cha-cha cover. Thanks for sharing!


    • Leslie,

      Did you see that you won the book? Please send your address, so Kristi can mail it out to you.




  5. Kristi, your art is just lovely!


  6. Kristi, I love the way you draw children. There faces are so sweet and I couldn’t help but smile as I went through your work. Your animals are delightful too. Well Done!


  7. I had the pleasure of becoming acquainted with Kristi’s work—and Kristi—on a recent interview on Tara’s site, too, and just LOVED the whole concept of PENGUIN CHA-CHA! Now, getting to hear so much about her process and see more illustrations is SUCH a TREAT!

    Kristi, I see you holding your book by a Barnes shelf! I’m still waiting to see it one MY Barnes’ shelf! Hopefully soon! 🙂 And I can’t imagine how intimidated I would feel if I were asked to sketch something on that wall! Of course, that won’t happen to me, and your work is fantastic so it actually belongs there! lol How exciting!

    Thanks for all the hard work and sharing, ladies 😀


  8. I especially loved the shadow of the mother and child. Beautiful, imaginative paintings that do make me smile!


  9. Wonderful interview and gorgeous illustrations. Loved reading about the process of being an illustrator.


  10. Kristi, you are so talented and I can say, “I knew you when!”


  11. This looks like such a fun book! I enjoyed watching the Penguin ChaCha trailer, too!


  12. Congratulations on your beautiful work! Keep it coming!


  13. So excited for you, Kristi. You are a testament to hard work + passion = results!


  14. Lovely work! Thanks for the tips on getting additional brushes for Photoshop (I don’t like the pencil either but I just thought I didn’t know what I was doing :-p ). Good luck and I’m rooting for you and your future Caldecott!!


  15. Gorgeous work Kristi! Love those Penguins and your linework! I stumbled across your work and had to stop becauase of the beautiful artwork and had to stay when I read CCAD! I am also a graduate of CCAD and love the work of C.F Payne! It was a pleasure to see your work hope to meet you in person some day 🙂 I am sure your Caldecott is right around the corner.!
    Kathleen (Moore) Streitenberger


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