Posted by: Kathy Temean | November 23, 2013

Illustrator Saturday – Stacy Heller Budnick

Stacy Heller BudnickStacy Heller Budnick was born in Richmond, Virginia and raised from the age of 5 amidst the tobacco fields in Farmville, (population 4,600), North Carolina. She knew at age three that she wanted to be an artist, but the high school she attended did not offer art.

She took painting lessons at the Farmville Art Society where her first painting experience was alongside retired ladies and gentlemen who painted lovely pictures of tobacco barns and flowers in vases. The saving grace was a teacher there who was a graphic designer. She says the visit to his studio changed her life, because that is when she decided she wanted to become a “commercial artist” like him.

She attended East Carolina University School of Art and graduated with a BFA degree in Communications Art and afterwards took a job as a graphic designer at a major woman’s magazine in NYC. She was promoted to art manager where she was able use her illustration skills and design skills, then decided to do freelance work for magazine and fashion clients from her own studio, where she created everything from logos, hand lettering and illustrations.

When Stacy became a mom to her two adorable daughters she decided to work on a children’s book portfolio, joined the SCBWI, met her rep and started getting illustration jobs. Then she returned to graduate school to become an art educator. As she watched her daughter’s advance through elementary school , she became interested in educating high school students (probably because she had no art when she attended high school). She has been illustrating and educating for the past 6 years. She is a teaching artist. She teaches the kids, and the kids teach me.

Stacy did not take pictures as she worked on her paintings, but you can see a couple of sketches and their final illustrations below. I asked Stacy questions about materials, etc. and have shared her answers underneath the illustrations:

elijah sketch

For the examples here of Elijah, I used oil paint on Arches paper designed specifically for oil paint.I use Arches 40 lb cold press water color paper for watercolor (Example: the Dyer books) Stonehenge printmaking paper for color pencils (Examples: Ice skaters at Rockefeller Center,  The monkey and bus Driver).

I use several different types of  mediums depending on the time constraints of a deadline. I love the  following mediums for the following reasons:  watercolor for speed, oil for brilliancy and reworking, and color pencil for its beautiful layering capabilities. I layer  every medium I use. I start off with light layers and build layer upon layer which builds the intensity and brilliance of the color.

Elijah full page spread500 (some animals)

Regardless of the medium I use, the process is always  the same….I research my subjects thoroughly. I collect copyright  free images from the internet and take and use photos of my daughters  and their friends or even the neighborhood kids. From there, I begin sketching  from specific images and/or combining elements from various images. I use an HB  drawing pencil for this stage. For fine detail, I use a mechanical drawing  pencil with a 2H lead. For the Dyer books, I use my imagination as well. I  have a mirror on my drawing table…when I need a reference for drawing a hand  for instance, I draw my own hand from observation in the mirror. Sometimes if I  need a specific expression, I also use my mirror and draw my own expression. I  love drawing from observation. Many of the vases, plates, and patterns  on clothes in my illustrations are drawn from my own stuff in my  house. If an illustration needs trees or clouds, I just look out my window  and draw what I see.

Elijah sketch2 enhanced

I use red sable and  Kolinsky brushes for watercolor and a mixture of sable and synthetic  brushes for oil. I use Prismacolor color pencils.

Elijah full page spread500 (All Animals)

I correct most of my  mistakes, but occasionally an art director will photo shop corrections. In terms  of correcting mistakes, I sometimes use a sharp exacto blade to scratch away color very carefully. I have become quite good with the blade when  needed! I hate making corrections, so I try to be meticulous when drawing and  painting. It takes a lot of practice.

I always work on the  background of a painting first. This allows me to set up my color palette for  the remainder of the painting. I also like to get the background out of the way  because it is not as engaging to paint as the figures (characters) and  details.

Unstoppable me095

Here are some of Stacy’s book covers.

No Excuses500



When did you start illustrating?

Technically I started illustrating in the mid 1980’s. I did spot illustrations and “how-to” illustrations for Woman’s day Magazine. I was a graphic designer for Woman’s Day at the time.


Did you go to school for art? If so, what school did you attend? What type of degree did you get?

I attended East Carolina University School of Art. I was overwhelmed my first semester by my peers who had attended art programs in their high schools and were clearly ready for art school. Determined, I played catch up by practicing drawing and more drawing until my skills improved. I graduated with a BFA in Communications Art. My portfolio was an illustrator’s portfolio geared for the adult market.

I have BFA degree in Communications Art from East Carolina University, School of Art. (Greenville N.C.). I also studied printmaking for a while at Pratt and took illustration classes at Parson’s School of Design and School of Visual Arts in NYC.

kidergarten book 091

What classes were your favorites?

Figure drawing, painting, printmaking and photography.


Did the School help you get work?

No. My undergraduate school did not help me obtain work. Upon graduation I wanted to relocate to New York City from my hometown of Farmville N.C. It was my roommate at ECU (through her connections) that helped me obtain a job interview at Woman’s Day Magazine when I graduated. It was there that I got my foot in the door…


Do you feel the classes you took influenced you style?

Yes. There were three professors at the time at ECU that influenced my technical skills, Michael Elhbeck, Elizabeth Ross and Ed Reep.


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

When I was in high school, my local junior high school paid me to paint their mascot on a large masonite panel for their gym.


What was the first illustration work you did for children?

Text books


How did that come about?

My  agent Wendy Lynn & Company got me the jobs.


When did you decide you wanted to illustrate a children’s book?i>

When I had two daughters and I spent hours in the library reading to them.


What was the name of your first book?

“Unstoppable Me” by Dr. Wayne Dyer.


Can you tell us the story behind how you got that job?

Dr. Dyer’s co-writer, Kristina Tracy and graphic designer, Jenny Richards for Hay House Publishing found my work online and contacted me.


How many books have you illustrated?

I have illustrated 5 books and several text book covers.


Is Hay House a self-publishing company owned by the authors? If not, could you tell us a little bit about them?

The Hay House division I work for is not their self-publishing division. Hay House is a new thought and self-help publisher. It was founded in 1984 by author Louise Hay. Hay House has international divisions in the United Kingdom,  Australia,  India and South Africa. They are located in Carlsbad, California. The writer I work with is Kristina Tracy. She co- writes with Hay House author, Dr. Wayne Dyer.


Are you open to doing illustration work for self-published authors?

I illustrated a self-published author recently. The book was entitled, “Elijah”. I was given much artistic freedom and a lot of time. As a result I was very pleased with the way the paintings turned out.


Do you have an artist rep or an agent? Could you tell us how the two of you connected?

My rep is Wendy Lynn & Company. We connected through a SCBWI portfolio event at the Society of Illustrators in New York City.


Have you done any work for children’s magazines? Could you tell us how your got those jobs?

I have illustrated for Highlights Magazine. Again, the work came from my rep.


Would you ever like to write and illustrate your own book?

I most definitely would! I have some ideas that I am beginning to work on.


What types of things do you do to find illustration work?

I rely on my rep, my website and the online directories I am a member of.


What is your favorite medium to use?

I have several several depending on the time constraints of a deadline. I love the following mediums for the following reasons:  watercolor for speed, oil for brilliancy and reworking, and color pencil for its beautiful layering capabilities.

Camp Canoe500

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

Music, great paint brushes and light.

Child painting094500

Do you try to spend a specific amount of time working on your craft?

My goal is to spend all of my  time in the future working on my craft. As of now, I share my career as an illustrator with being an art educator. I started teaching 6 years ago as a New York City Art teacher. I teach grades 9-12, Studio Art, Advanced Drawing and Painting. I also help these students prepare portfolios for Art colleges.

King Fish500

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

I draw from life and from photographs. I always research the subjects I illustrate. Not only does the research make the illustrations accurate, but it is interesting to learn new things about the various subjects that I am illustrating.

Stomping through the snowy woods500

Do you think the Internet has opened doors for you?



Do you use Photoshop with your illustrations?

I do not. I only use technology to scan my art work.


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

I will most likely try a graphic Drawing Tablet in the future. I love learning new things!

Share a book093500

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

My style has changed over the years. When I started illustrating my style was only representational. I have developed a whimsical style as well. I enjoy working in either style depending on the client’s tastes and needs.

I rarely work in pure 100% color pencil anymore due to quick deadlines.  The vast majority of my work is watercolor.


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

Yes…to write and illustrate my own books and make art 24/7. 


What are you working on now?

A book by Dr. Dyer’s daughter, Saje, and some text book illustrations for kindergarten level readers.

Skater Spinney500

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.

I just discovered an Arches paper for oil painting…no priming necessary! Absolutely gorgeous paper. I also love 40lb Arches cold press watercolor paper…for color pencil, Stonehenge. I also adore Holbein watercolors…their colors are bright and beautiful.

school play500


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

You must be passionate about what you are doing. Have a strong work ethic and most importantly, love what you do and you will do your best work. Promote yourself and the right people will notice.


Thank you Stacy for sharing your journey, process, and illustrations with us. It was great getting to know you through your artwork. I hope you will stay in touch and let us know about your future successes.

You can visit Stacy’s website at Please take a moment to leave Stacy a comment. Thanks!

Talk tomorrow,



  1. Thanks a lot!!. Always learn a bit from your wonderful interviews 🙂


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