Posted by: Kathy Temean | January 25, 2014

Illustrator Saturday – Bob McMahon

Bob McMahon picBob McMahon’s work for the past 20 years has ranged from advertising, toy concepts, movie posters, educational and children’s books. Bob enjoys creating his unique humorous illustrations from his home studio in Southern California where he lives with his wife, daughter and his crazy dog Riley.

Here is Bob explaining his process:

I had this image that flashed into my head of a boy feeding dinosaurs at the park. What it needed was someone to react to this bizarre scene so I imagined a woman, looking a bit alarmed, feeding pigeons sharing a park bench with the boy.

Here’s my first sketch of the idea. Done quickly, I just wanted to get the image out of my head and down on paper…or the computer screen as I use program Corel Painter 12 from sketch to completion for all my art.

bobFeeding Dino's at the park SketchSomehow the vertical format just wasn’t working so I tried doing the sketch horizontally. Compositionally this seemed to work out better and made it not so cramped looking.

Originally I had the perspective drop off so you could see the end of the park with trees and the city in the background, but I wanted to focus the attention on the woman, boy and dinosaurs so I made it a winter scene and cropped in on the main characters.

bobHorizontal sketch Dino ParkAt first I thought that would do an ink line version and then do the color on the layer underneath, like painting animation cells. I think the ink line version looks pretty good actually and I loved using the dry ink pen in Painter 12.

bobDino park line versionBut in the end I decided to make it look like a painted piece using Painter’s Artist Chalks. I tried make this art look more painterly and less digital by not using most all of the layers and digital effects in Painter 12. I’ve found that by doing this it gives the artwork a nice naturally painted feel to it. Since nobody really knows how the dinosaurs looked and what kind of coloration they had, I could really use my imagination and try to create some fun creatures there. The pigeons, honestly, were not as much fun to do, but at least I tried to give them some character.

bobDino Park SM

Here is the finished art, ready for my postcard and website.

bobCard sing 4 zen

How long have you been illustrating?

I’ve been illustrating now for about 30 years…I can’t believe it’s been that long!

bobBoy Who Cried Fabulous-Sample

How did you decide to attend Cal State?

I attended Cal State Northridge mainly because it was close to my home at the time and they seemed to have a decent art department even though I wasn’t quite sure of what kind of artist I wanted to be at that time.

bobBrunos Bakery

Can you tell us a little bit about that school?

It was a great school, not too much academic pressure with good teachers. It was near the movie studios and they filmed scenes from Battlestar Gallactica there. Sometimes you would come to school and find a spaceship crashed on the library lawn and aliens in costumes wandering around.

bobHappy Happy Doggie Zen

What types of classes did you take at CSUN?

2-D art classes mostly but they make you take other classes besides your major there so you get some exposure to other disciplines like science, geology and logic.

bobEat slow

What classes were your favorites?

I really liked the art history classes there! I didn’t expect to since it was all memorization which I usually am not good at but learning about the artists, their lives and how they fit in the history of art was fascinating to me.

bobFalling Cans

Did the School help you get work?

Not really. I’m not sure if it’s this way anymore but there was a disconnect between what they taught you as an art major and getting a  job in the real world. It  was like “Here’s your degree, good luck!” and they shoved you out the door. They never taught you about the business of art, getting in an art gallery or getting an art job somewhere.

bobI'm a Pirate Box Art

What type of job did you get after graduation?

I got a wonderful job that taught me a great deal about art and the business of art- I got a job at an art supply store, Continental Art Supply in Reseda California. Working in that job exposed me to wonderful artists who worked in etching, painting, silkscreen, watercolor and many other mediums. I got to learn about the business of art, play with all kinds of paints, brushes and papers, use the bookstore part of the store as my personal library and I got to interact with people who were in the business of doing what I wanted to do. It was an amazing time and I’m still friends with a lot of the people who I worked with way back then.

bobFamily Car Trip

Do you feel that the classes you took in college have influenced you style?

No, not really. What influenced my style was doing political cartoons for college newspaper and looking at all the other political cartoonists around the country. I loved how they made a point with their cartoons and I really wanted to be a political cartoonist at that time.

bobCents Car Wash

Did the area where you lived after college have a robust art community?

I lived in the San Fernando Valley north of L.A. and I can’t say it really had much of an art community but working at  art supply store put me in contact with lots of artist so I got my exposure there.

bobCents Bike

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

I thought “Wow! People want to pay me for drawing cartoons?!” I was amazed.

bobCents Rake

How did you decide to illustrate for children?

It was a long road really. After working at the art supply story I drew political cartoons for local newspapers until I figured out that they could never pay me what I needed to live so then I went on to do advertising illustration for a while until that industry died out then I realized I could do art for children’s books and educational projects and that’s where I’ve been ever since.

bobGrandma & Boy

What was the first illustration work you did for children?

I really don’t remember which was the first illustration job I did for children. Since I was drawing cartoons for clients they appealed to both adults and kids so there is no real demarcation line.

bobHighlights rainy day

How and when did you connect with your art rep. Ronnie Herman?

I got a list of artists representatives from the Artists Market book and sent postcards, about 3 per year and Ronnie eventually responded and signed me up. You know in the 10 or so years that she has represented me we have yet to meet face to face!

bobCents Title Page

What was the first book that you illustrated? When was that?

I think It was a Rookie Reader book called All Kinds of Kids. I really didn’t know what I was doing and it was a real steep learning curve for me.

bobHighlights Cooking

How did that contract come about? How did you connect with the publisher?

Postcards! I love to send out postcards. It’s my way of getting an art directors attention for 10 seconds so I try to make my cards worth a second look.


What do you consider as your first big break?

I think getting Ronnie Herman as my agent. I definitely put me in a new league.

bobShopping With Dad (1)

Do you think you will ever try writing and illustrating your own book?

Yes! Yes! Yes! I have a whole file full of ideas that I want to turn into children’s books. This year I’m finally going to make dummies of these ideas and send them out!


Did you do anything specific to get your first contract to illustrate Rookie Readers with Children’s Press?

I pretty sure it came through a postcard mailing I did. And then they went to my website and liked what they saw and hired me to do the book.

bobSnow Finish

How many books have you done with Children’s Press?

I think I may have done only one with them.


How did you get the opportunity illustrate MAKING CENTS come along with Tricylce Press?

They saw my postcard and then my web portfolio. That was a challenging book to work on! I had to illustrate the various denominations of money but at the time the Treasury Department was changing the look of a lot of the bills and I had to change a lot of artwork to keep up.

I illustrated a book for them a long time ago called  “Kids Write Right!” that had black and white illustrations and a color cover.

bobSing Clap Praise

How long do publishers give you to complete the artwork for a picture book?

Generally about 6 months, which sounds like a lot of time but when you break it down there’s 32 pages of sketches and then revisions and then having to do the final art  on 32 pages plus the cover and end papers it makes for some very late nights.

bobWeird Girl Zen

Have you done any work for children’s magazines?

Yes, I have done work for Hightlights Magazine. They are wonderful to work with.

bobWeird Boy Zen

Have you worked for educational publishers?

Oh yes. Those sometimes are an illustrators main income. Sometimes they have a ton of work and it can be very challenging due to the amount of work and the deadlines. But it’s also fun too.

bobWalking House

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

I make sure my representative, Ronnie Herman has up to date sample that she can put in her agency portfolio and send out in the Herman Agency mailers that she does regularly. I also send out my own postcards regularly, 3 or 4 times a year so the editors don’t forget about me when they are assigning work.

bobRain Fnish

What art project was the most successful?

Hard to say, I’ve illustrated a book called Apple Days that’s coming out in August that I think is pretty good but I think just the feeling of working in my chosen profession makes me feel pretty successful.

bobPaul Bunyan

Do you ever use paint as a medium anymore?

No, I don’t use traditional paint, ink and art boards anymore. I’m 100% digital and have been for at least 10 years. Sometimes I kind of miss the smell of wet watercolor paper, the skritch skritch of a croquill pen on paper and going to the art store and buying all kinds of new paints and brushes. I don’t miss the clean-up of paints and brushes and palettes and such. Digital is so much faster and changes are really easy but there is something lost by not working in with real paints, brushes and inks but I am OK with that now.

bobPirates Book Cover

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

My books! I have all kinds of children’s books and Mad Magazine books in my bookcases for inspiration. I really need those and I need to get more bookcases too.

bobNoah's Ark

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

I work on it all the time. I’m always playing with new brushes, colors and papers in Corel Painter. There is so much there in that you can experiment forever. Even after 10 years with Painter I’m still finding new things in it to play around with.

bobBeth N Seth Houses

Have you ever won an award for your illustrating?

I think I won some merit awards from the Society Of Illustrators LA a while ago but I don’t generally enter art contests and maybe I should.

bobOut & About art

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

Sometimes I take pictures for reference. I have an young daughter so she is great to take pictures of for reference. For everything else I search Google Images and Pinterest.

bobMcMahon Museum

Do you think the Internet has opened doors for you?

Oh yes! I remember the days when you only had a portfolio book and no one saw your art unless you mailed them samples or made an appointment with them to show your book. Now everyone around the world can see your art and you can keep in touch with other great artists on Facebook and you can comment on their work and they can comment on yours. It’s wonderful!

bobMcMahon Museum Boy Girl

I see you use Corel Painter to paint your illustrations. Did you take any classes on the “ins” and “outs” of working with the software?

I learned Painter on my own for the most part. Looking at the Painter Tutorial helped but I just like to sit down and get into it and start playing around and trying to figure out how to do what I want to do.


Do you own or have you used a Graphic Drawing Tablet to illustrate?

I have a Wacom tablet but it’s only the 5X7 size which is good enough for me.

bob12-07-20 Carry

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

My style has changed a bit because I like to experiment around and keep the art fresh looking. I think I reached a point now where I’m very happy with the style I’m doing now.

I’m still working with Corel Painter but I’m intrigued by some of the new art programs coming out such as ArtRage and Mischeif.

bob13-10 Bad Teacher portfolio

Are you open to working with self-published authors?

I think Ronnie Herman would prefer her artists try to publish their own e-books. From a financial point of view there has to be some sort of guarantee of some up front money before working doing illustrations for self-published authors and that generally doesn’t happen.

bobFirst Crush Painting Back no title zenfolio

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

I would love to have a series of children’s books and I’m working everyday toward doing just that.

bobfirst crush

What are you working on now?

I usually wake up a 5 am and start working on writing children’s book stories that I have stuffed in a file. I found I can write in peace for at least two hours before everyone wakes up in the house. After that I work on ideas for my portfolio or just whatever amuses me.  I just finished a self-promotional postcard that will be mailed out soon. I have a few client jobs that need to be worked on too this week. I like to stay busy even if it’s working on my own stuff.

bobLost Bunny SM

Do you have any tips you can share with us on how to use Painter? Example: A how to tip, etc.

In painter I work with just a small group of tools- Pastel chalks, sponges, croquill pen and some blenders. Just find what your are comfortable with in Painter and work with those otherwise you will lose your mind trying to paint with every brush configuration in there.

bobVampire's Ride

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

I saw a great saying on Facebook by the wonderful illustrator Matt Faulkner which says “Don’t think just draw!”. I think that just about sums it up. Just keep drawing and get your artwork out there where it can be seen!

bobMessy Brother


Thank you Bob for sharing your journey, fun illustrations, and expertise with us. Please let us know of all your future successes. You can see more of Bob’s art at: or

Please take a minute to leave Bob a comment. I am sure he would like that and I know I would. Thanks.

Talk tomorrow,



  1. I’m not an artist, but I love bright colors, and your illustrations are just that. Love them!


  2. Great interview! Bob, I LOVE your sense of humor! Hope to see one of your book ideas out of the files and into the bookstores soon!


  3. Bob’s work has an authentic warmth to it that makes me smile. So nice to read of his background, process, projects and future plans. A series of his would be fantastic! Great post!


  4. Bob has a great sense of humor and a gentle way in making a mental concept into a solid fun visual. He has the “funny” always ready and gives so much with his style and ease of execution. I’ve known him for over 35 years, he is a fantastic artist and a person who always finishes his sentences and colors inside the lines,.. he is a good boy. I have a shelf waiting for his book series.


  5. Great interview! Bob, I LOVE your art and don’t think it will much of a leap to create engaging stories based on your illustrations. Good luck!


  6. This is so charming. I particularly like Don’t Snow too Much and Miss Dubois. It’s always interesting to follow the journey an artist takes. Thanks for another wonderful Illustrator Saturday.


  7. Fantastic!


  8. Really engaging and fun illustrations. I particularly like the pigeon being chased by the dinosaur, and the cumulonimbus hair!! Creative and hilarious. Thanks for the interview!


  9. Bob McMahon’s art is always amazing! So full of life, humor and color! I hope to see his original line of books come out soon!


  10. I love all of Bob’s work and always have. His drawing style and great sense of color are so much fun to look at. We’re anxiously waiting for that line of books. I hope they include dogs, because nobody creates happier dogs than Bob McMahon!


  11. My partner & I have just written our first children’s book. We also just joined the Society of Children’s books & illustrators . Bob McMahon seems to have the style we vision for our book. Our big question is. .what would be the cost of illustrating a 32 page picture book? We love his style. ..but can we afford him?


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