Posted by: Kathy Temean | February 1, 2014

Illustrator Saturday – Carol Heyer


I had a number of photos I could have used of Carol Heyer, but I fell in love with this one. The golden fur of Carol’s precious dogs against the dark color of what Carol is wearing and the teal background makes everything pop. What a great picture – take note photographers and illustrators.

Carol’s work is recognized for its stunning realism and rich, vibrant color, developed when she was a young student, first at Moorpark College, and then at California Lutheran University. The recipient of grants and scholarships, she graduated with a Bachelor of Arts Degree.  Before beginning her freelance career Carol worked for a movie production company as production designer and writer of feature films, including Thunder Run, a film released by Cannon Films and May Day, a direct release to video.

As her assignments and accolades mounted, her parents encouraged her to start her own business.  She launched “The Touchmark” in 1992, and has never looked back.  Her art has appeared on everything from book covers to bookmarks.  She has done work for BAEN BOOKS, WIZARDS OF THE COAST, RAY BRADBURY, SCHOLASTIC, PENGUIN PUTNAM/Henry Winkler, and many others.

Carol has written/illustrated twenty-eight children’s picture books.  Her most recent projects were “ THE LITTLE SHEPHERD’S CHRISTMAS” , “ONCE UPON A ROYAL SUPER BABY” and “HUMPHREY’S FIRST PALM SUNDAY”.

Well Over Two Million of Carol’s Picture Books have been sold.


Here is Carol Explaining her process:

I use acrylic paints.  Jo Sonja acrylics are my favorites because they are all toned beautifully, especially the Background and Vintage Collections. I buy most of my specialty paints and brushes online from  When I block in the painting I use large amounts of water to cover the canvas quickly.  After that I use paint right out of the bottle or tube.  I prefer those in a plastic bottle because they have flip tops and I can use one hand to open them and squirt out what I need.  I mix a retarder into paints when I need a longer drying time.  I also use glaze mediums and mixing mediums from tole painting lines such as Ceramcoat.  I’m not a paint snob so I also use some of the tole brands that you can find at Michael’s or JoAnne’s.  They’re inexpensive and have a broad color range.


I’ve been working on some new portfolio pieces for a fantasy book idea I’m developing. I’ve been doodling some new characters in my sketchbook.  I decided to paint this guy and named him Poggle.  Before starting the painting, I scanned in the sketch and played around with proportions in Photoshop.


I decided that the squatter fellow was more what I was after so I used this version for the painting. I order rolls of canvas that have a fine weave or tooth which is good for detail work.  I cut the size I need, this canvas is 14 X 20,  then I use an archival spray glue to attach it to a thick foam core board.


Here is the blocked in character.  I like to cover all the canvas before I start to sharpen and finalize.


I’m constantly changing things and experimenting with different configurations.  I don’t mind reworking or completely changing areas if I think it will make the painting better.  You’ll see in the next stage that I changed the staff from an astrolabe to a globe.  I also changed the objects hanging from his jacket.

carol progress3

I thought the Poggle was looking a little too cute in the previous version so I tried to make him a little edgier here.  You can see that I use the foam core border to wipe off extra paint or to shape my brushes for detail.  I use the foam core over and over, so there are colors from previous works still there.  Before I make a big change, I sketch it in with a chalk pastel pencil.  You can see some of those marks on this version.


Here he is with his monocle attached to his ear like an earring.  I’m almost done, but continue to add and change the equipment he carries.


Here is the final Poggle. He’s not too scary, but you still wouldn’t want to meet him on a dark street!

carolfirst Christmas

Scholastic Book Club Selection and a Crown Award Nominee

carolsfirst palm sunday

Carol loves camels – the two are covers of books where she used her favorite camel for inspiration.

carollittleshepCrossings Book Club Selection
Scholastic Edition




How long have you been illustrating?

I’ve been illustrating for twenty-five years!  I started out with fantasy/sci-fi and picture books in 1989.


How did you decide to attend Moorpark College, and then at California Lutheran University?

Well, at that time in my life I wasn’t even sure if I was going to college.  I’d never planned on it, but when I found out most of the kids at my high school were going to attend Moorpark College, a local Junior College, I thought I might just try it too and see if I liked it.  I LOVED it!  The campus was amazing and brand new in those days.  I took every art class I could get. When I graduated from Moorpark my grades were good enough to get some scholarships and grants to help me to continue my education at California Lutheran University, which is within walking distance of my home.  I continued my major in art and was selected as Art Assistant/TA my senior year by my professors.


Can you tell us a little bit about that school?

Moorpark College was a wonderful place.  I actually hadn’t enjoyed high school very much, so I didn’t hold out too much hope for college, but it was so different and so amazing.  The campus is situated in the hills surrounded by open country.  It was brand new with modern buildings, and a wonderful place to study and learn.  The teachers were amazing and the encouragement and freedom to learn was exciting.  My first day signing up they asked me what my major was and the only thing I could think of that I loved from high school was art!  I never changed my major or my love of art.


What types of classes did you take at CLU?

I TOOK ART CLASSES!!!  :0) Of course.  I took anything and everything that had to do with art, including the school magazine, pottery, photography, costume design, etc.  I loved it all.  I also took a lot of psychology classes and thought of minoring in that subject until statistics were introduced.  I’m terrible at math, so I changed my mind, and wound up minoring in English, and took everything from modern lit to Shakespeare.  The CLU campus was a mix of old and new buildings.  One by one the old was being replaced with the modern, except the art department.  It was never a priority.  We had art classes, sculpture etc. in an old barn/hen house that had been converted to tiny classrooms!


What classes were your favorites?

I really enjoyed life-drawing classes at Moorpark.  I took all that were offered and found it challenging.  I also had fun in my drawing class, where we used Prismacolor pencils.  Not forgetting painting class, where I learned about acrylics and saw a version of the dry brush technique I’ve used ever since.


Did the School help you get work?

In a way they did.  One of my professors at CLU kept getting calls from parents in the community for the college to offer art classes for children.  Since I was the teacher’s aide for art he asked me if I would be interested.  While I was still in college I started teaching classes at my home studio.  It blossomed and I wound up with over sixty students, children and adults.  But after graduation the college just kind of said good-bye and good luck. When I graduated I was just set free into the real world with no idea how to make a living.  There were no business courses offered or encouraged for artists.


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

I used to paint or do chalk pastels of animal portraits, dogs, cats, birds, wild animals.  I sold them in the grocery store across the street and in an interior-decorating store.  I did pretty well with them and paid for my schoolbooks and some of my college expenses.


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

Yes, especially the classes from Moorpark College.  My professor, Frank Sardisco was an incredible artist and I admired him greatly.  He taught life drawing, techniques I still use in my art.  He also taught the Prismacolor on Canson paper classes I took and taught me how use pressure control in my pencil and brush work.  There was another professor James Sturgeon who used to paint on his own projects in the empty classroom during lunch hour.  I used to come in early and watch him work.  He was another great artist, but more contemporary.  He used a dry brush technique that I really admired.  I would watch him working, ask questions and then go home and try to reproduce the same effects.  I finally came up with my own version of his dry brush technique that I still use today.


I read that you got involved in film and movies after graduation. Could you tell us a little about that?

Sure!  Well I mentioned I used to teach art to adults.  One of the women I worked with was an art director for an independent film/special effects production company.  She wanted me to teach her quick sketch skills so that she could do storyboards for the directors.  Finally she said she didn’t have the time or patience and wound up hiring me to do some work for her, design, conceptual, etc. Eventually I wound up being hired full time for her company, writing, painting and drawing.  One of the scripts I co-wrote, Thunder Run was produced and released by Cannon Films.  I also did the production design on that independent film.

carol dancing

Was it scary to  leave a full time paying job to go off on your own to do freelance work?

It was terrifying to leave my film job for freelance work.  However it came to a point where there weren’t enough hours in the day.  I’d work more than full time at the movie company (or out on location) and then go home to do book covers, magazine and picture book work.  I finally got burned out and had to make the decision.  I choose the freedom of the freelancer and haven’t regretted that ever.  My parents subsidized me for a while until I was able to make it on my own.  If it weren’t for them I’d never be doing what I love so much.


How did you decide to illustrate for children?

When I first started my freelance career I had a list of things I really wanted to accomplish, a Dragon Magazine cover, AD and D work, a picture book, prints, book covers, etc.  Once I set my sights on the job, I never gave up marketing and working toward reaching those goals.


What was the first illustration work you did for children?

One of my freelance jobs was for a small company, Northwind Studios, they sold art to church bulletins.  They had two existing characters, Hopscotch and Sebastian.  The owners, Katherine Zwers Francis and John Tobin wrote the text for the panels, I drew the characters in pencil and then an inker went over my work.


How did that contract come about?

Through my mother…. our mothers really.  My mother knew Katherine’s mom.  They talked, Katherine’s mom knew Northwind Studios was looking for an artist.  My mom told her I was a great artist ( Gotta love my mom! )  So they collaborated and coerced us into a meeting.  The rest, as they say is history, and it was also the beginning of my picture book career.


Do you have an art rep.? If so, who and how did you connect? If not, how did you track down all the work that you have done?

I’ve worked with art reps and continue to do so, but I’ve never had an exclusive contract with an art rep.  I’ve only worked with them on a freelance basis. I’ve found direct marketing gets me my greatest result.


What was the first book that you illustrated?

It was A Star in the Pasture. When was that? 1989.


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

I was still working with the film company, so everything for my first picture book was pretty much done by Northwind Studios, the company that owned Hopscotch and Sebastian. We actually had a choice of publishers as three different companies were interested.  We all picked Ideals Children’s Books.  They were a religious publisher at the time and our project fit with their line perfectly.  After doing two books with these same characters, the publisher opened up to include a secular market and I was asked to do a version of Beauty and the Beast.  I was thrilled because fantasy and faerie tales are my favorite subjects and they allowed me to do a retelling.  Twenty-eight picture books later, I still love what I do.


What do you consider as your first big break?

My Dragon Magazine Cover was my first assignment and at that time, number one on my list of dream jobs!  I sent in samples to the art director and as it turned out she loved one of my paintings titled The Frog Prince.  It was a 36” x 48” canvas of a magician sitting on the back of a frog.  She selected it for the cover of Dragon!  Another exciting thing was that she already had a painting from another artist set for the cover, but when she saw my art, she bumped the existing cover art to a full page interior and put my painting on the cover.  I was thrilled and it is still one of my best career memories.


How many books have you both written and illustrated?

I am writer/illustrator on eleven of my twenty-eight books.


Do you plan to write any more original picture books?

Oh yes!  After the success of Humphrey’s First Christmas I’m working on several new project ideas. Right now I’m polishing up a new story and working on the layout and dummy for a fun, non-scary, monster book.  I’m heading back to my cartoon character style for this one and having a great time.


I see that your mother was part of The Hutsons, a famous Harmony Bombay singing group, like the Andrew Sisters in the US. Were both your parents from India? Did you visit India when you were growing up? Do you feel that experience and background influences your illustrations?

One of my fondest childhood memories was sitting with my mom and going through pictures of her in her beautiful gowns.  She designed most of them herself.  She was an amazing artist and taught me all my basic drawing skills.  I also loved listening to the records that the Hutson sisters had recorded.

Well my mother was born in India but, her father was from England and worked for the British telegraph and her mother was from Spain.  My father was from Cuero Texas! (Me too)  He was in the 82nd airborne and fought in the Burma campaign during World War II.  He met and married my mother in Calcutta/Kolkata and she came to this country as a war bride.

My parents never went back to India and I have never been there… yet!


Above: The Hutson Sisters, a close harmony singing group immensely popular in India. Carol’s mother is on the left.

I notice that a number of your books are about Christmas, Easter, Palm Sunday, etc. Did you come from a religious family?

My mother was very religious, my father not so much.  I’m a blend of the two I think.  I love Christmas very much, it’s my favorite day with so many lovely memories.


How did you get to illustrate over a 100 angels? I think that must make you the all time expert in that arena.

I’ve been painting angels for five or six years now.  Doreen Virtue found an angel painting I had up on my web page.  She contacted me to do a few angels for her next deck.   Since then I’ve done numerous angels for different decks and book covers, interiors etc.  Recently I did all forty-four paintings for her Indigo Angel Card Deck.  Since then I’ve done another forty-four angels for a new card deck still in process at the publisher.


How did you hook up with Kevin O’Malley and Scott Goto, for the Once Upon a Time books?

A few years ago I did a book for Walker & Company titled Here Come the Brides, written by Ellen Jackson.  The publisher knew I also did fantasy work and so they called to ask if I’d be interested in doing the princess section of the Once Upon a Cool Motorcycle Dude project!  I read the manuscript that Kevin O’Malley wrote and it was brilliant!  I said yes!  Scott Goto was selected to do the dude illustrations.  Kevin also illustrated the two narrator characters.  So, as far as I know, this is the first picture book done by three illustrators.  I love the result!  It has won numerous awards, including eight state awards!!  Our same team worked on the sequel, Once Upon a Royal Superbaby.


I love the pictures of you with the camels. Do you own one?

I wish I owned a camel!  I love their goofy funny faces, but I know a couple of people that do own them.  There is one camel named Humphrey living on The Lazy JV Ranch in Kentucky.  Humphrey has his own page on the site:   Val the owner told me that her Humphrey is very much like my character, both are very dramatic and make adorable faces!

The first animal painting I ever did was of a camel.  Out here in Thousand Oaks there was a place called Jungleland and next to it was an import export business.  I used to go there after school and they usually had a camel or two running around the compound.   I loved watching them, sketching them and finally doing paintings of them for sale and also to include them in my Christmas books.


Above: Replica of Bilbo Baggins’ Hobbit hole where  four of Carol’s Lord of the Rings paintings, Gandalf, Laurelin’s Death, Balrog’s Enemy, and Legolas, purchased by Bernd Greisinger for The Greisinger Middle Earth Collection, hang.

How did you make the contact with The Bernd Greisinger Middle Earth Museum for the illustrations for them come about?

I had done three frontispiece paintings for a Lord of the Rings leather-bound trilogy and also a few cards for some Lord of the Rings collector cards.  A representative of the BGMEM knew of my work. The gallery that sells my fantasy/sci-fi art, Worlds of Wonder, was approached by the museum and they purchased all of my LOTR art.  Now it is in the permanent collection of the Greisinger Middle Earth Museum in Jenins Switzerland. The collection is housed in a replica of Bilbo Baggins’ home, only there are several stories underground.  It’s an amazing collection of Tolkien related books art and sculptures.  An incredible place and I’m thrilled to be a part of it.


Have you worked for children’s magazines or educational publishers?

I’ve worked and done hundreds of illustrations for the educational market.  I’ve also done many pieces for children’s magazines.  This is bread and butter money for most artists.


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

I “shop” in bookstores, gift shops, gaming stores etc. looking for products and publishers that I might approach, puzzles, collector cards, books etc. Then I put a package together and mail it out.  This is followed by “millions :0)” of postcards and updates, online and snail mail.


What art project was the most successful?

One of my most successful picture books has been The First Christmas.  It sold around 220,000 copies and selected to be read at the White House, which was very exciting.


What is your favorite medium?

I like so many different things, including pastels, colored pencil, felt pens, scratchboard et al.  But my favorite is still acrylic paints. I love the feel of the brush on the canvas.


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

In the dark ages I used to do drawing demonstrations on the first tablets. I did this for a small computer company.  They used to fly me to various conventions like SIGGRAPH and pay me to sketch live in their booth to bring in customers for their hard copy print machine.  It was a lot of fun and I met a lot of great people.  It also got me over my fear of drawing in front of people!


Have you moved over from traditional paint to digital?

I’m way out of touch now with the digital world. I’m trying now to catch up, but I’m still working traditionally.  That will always be my first love.


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

I’ll have to take two things, a 6B drawing pencil and a sketchpad.  I can write stories, sketch out ideas and do finished art from light to dark, with those two basic things.


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

I work everyday on my art and/or writing.  I don’t have a specific amount of time set aside.  That’s a perk of being a freelancer.  As long as I get my work done, I can take time off to spend the day with friends or to take a trip or…


Of all the awards that you have won, which one are you most proud of receiving?

I think that would be the Print Magazine award I won for a science fiction illustration titled A Flock of Seagulls.  It’s also still one of my favorite paintings.


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

I do a huge amount of research online for my projects especially if they are historical or educational and I love doing it.  I usually over research and then cherry pick the info I need later.  I take photos for my picture books, especially when I have a main character.  It makes painting easier and faster with this reference.


Do you think the Internet has opened doors for you?

Yes, I think it has opened doors.  More publishers see my art and I’ve gotten a lot of work from my website, so that has been wonderful from picture books to angel cards!


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

My style has been changing in the last couple of years.  I’m trying to loosen up my brushwork and use a more painterly style, as opposed to the “air brushed” look of my dry brush paintings.


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

I’d like to be in a position to paint what I want to paint and sell that art to the print market, limited and unlimited editions.  I think most artists do their best work when it comes from their hearts. I’d also like to concentrate on cover assignments and my own picture books.


What are you working on now?

I’m working on an educational project and a fantasy book cover.  I’m also trying to work on several of my own projects.  I have a writer’s group that meets at my house every week and I’m working on middle grade and YA fantasy stories.  I’m also doing an illustration/writing combo fantasy art book idea, as well as a picture book I hope to sell. I’m always drawing and painting!  Even when I don’t have work, I work on my own projects.  I think they call that a busman’s holiday.


Do you have any tips you can share with us any digital tips or some other traditional painting tip?

I love my acrylics, but sometimes they dry a little faster than I’d like, so I use a fine mist spray bottle. I always use bottled water, no spots that way.  What makes it work better for me is adding a good amount of a liquid retarding agent this slows down the drying time.  I spray the mixture heavily on my palette to keep my paints moist and also I spray it on my canvas when I want to do clouds or work wet in wet.


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

Write all the time and paint all the time.  Market, market, market and never give up!  There are a lot of talented artists out there that quit when things don’t go their way.  You have to believe in yourself and really want to be an illustrator/artist to succeed.

I had one mystery novel company that I’d been sending samples to for years with no work.  Finally one day I got a letter offering me a book cover.  The publisher wrote:  “Thank you for your persistence.  We have an assignment you’ll be perfect for.”  I’ve said ever since receiving that letter, that my middle name is now PERSISTANCE!  Carol Persistence Heyer, that’s me!!


ABOVE ILLUSTRATION RECEIVED AWARDS: Print Magazine, Society of Illustrators LA

Carol, Thank you so much for sharing your talent, journey, process, and expertise with us. Please keep in touch and let us know of all your future successes. We would love to hear about them.

You can see more of Carol’s work on her website:

Please take a minute to leave Carol a comment. I’m sure Carol would like that. I know I would.

Talk tomorrow,



  1. Carol, Wow! Your work amazes me. Beautiful!!! Thanks for sharing so much.


  2. Thanks Kathy, such masterful work.


  3. Thanks so much for sharing.. this was wonderful…. I’m in awe of Carol’s work…


  4. Thank you for sharing your incredible art work, Carol and Kathy. Carol, I’m going to show my 14yo daughter this post. I think she will be gobsmacked as she loves drawing.


  5. Thank you!
    Carol. It’s so great to see so much of your artwork and hear your story!
    I am always in awe of the amazing detail and heart you express in your work!


  6. Thank you so much for sharing, Carol. I enjoyed reading about your experiences in marketing and your process as much as seeing the artwork. An uplifting experience today that I didn’t expect. Now I’m off to your website.


  7. Oh, my. This is just wondrous artwork. I especially love the angel picking meadow flowers and the wonderful face on the crescent moon. Thanks for sharing this with us.


  8. Thanks everyone! It’s so great to hear that you like my work! Thanks Kathy for a great showcase!!


  9. Thanks for doing such an in-depth interview, Kathy! Carol, your work is wonderful and I’m equally impressed with your history of persistence. Inspiring all around!


  10. Carol, your artwork is beautiful and full of life. I love the pink/purple/green dragon. Thank you for inspiring me. 🙂


  11. really interesting, thank you, love those angels


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