Posted by: Kathy Temean | May 31, 2014

Illustrator Saturday – Mike Moran

mikepicMike Moran is a New Jersey based artist and children’s book illustrator. “Are We There Yet?” is a peek into his humorous world of zombies, down and out mice, sea creatures and more. His work is presented through a variety of mediums from wooden sculptures to prints on bullet-proof glass.

Over the years Mike has  worked for some really fun clients like: Major League Baseball, The Grammys, Scholastic INC., Disney, American Greetings, Dial Books, Penguin Books, Harper Collins, Blue Apple Books, Highlights for Children, MasterCard, New York TImes and many more. One day he hopes to play first base for the New York Mets and be a songwriter in Nashville!

Here is Mike explaining his process:


1) I still do my sketches with pencil on tracing paper. The Art director for Dial sent me a PDF of my sketch in layout form.

I placed it in an illustrator file then made it a template. I then added a new layer to start working on.


2) With the pen I start to go over my sketch with a stroke lining out shapes. I don’t work in the outline setting, I like to see the colors as I go along. As I keep creating stroke shapes I turn them into fills, again I like seeing the color, not just an outline. For the shading behind Iggy’s eyes I make fill circles then blur them with a gaussianr blur (under effects), then lowering the opacity for the right fee.


3) Other ways I do shading is with gradients. Sometimes I just make a fill color shape like the crescent on step 3 then lower the opacity.


4) I keep adding shapes together to form Iggy all on different layers. I place the eyes over the blurred circles. I work very hard on getting the eyes just right. I feel it’s the most important part. I add a brush stroke of the hair.


5) Iggy is completed! To give the knees on the jeans a worn out feeling I add white blurs.
The designer asked for a yellow background so I added that.


6) I wanted to give Iggy a little super hero glow around him so I added another blur.


7) I add some bees then I’m done working in illustrator. I export him in photoshop to keep all the layers.


8) I take a texture of a brown paper bag. Place it over the layer with the yellow background. I lower the paper bag opacity to 70%.


9) Using a textured brush I go along the blanket giving it a fuzzy look. Iggy is done and officially a superkid in training!


Here is the final cover.


Another book over to the series.


Interior cover art for POOPENDOUS.


Cover art for POOPENDOUS


How long have you been interested in art?

I fell in love with drawing when I was just a kid. I learned from the best Hanna-Barbera. I spent many, many hours watching and drawing the Flintstones, The Jetsons and Top Cat.   When I discovered Charlie Brown I would then create my own cartoon strips. Haven’t stopped!


Did you study art in college? If so, what college did you attend and what did you study?

I went to community college for 2 years then transferred to the School of Visual Arts in NYC. That was a bit of an eye opener. Here I thought I was this really good artist and walked into SVA and was blown away with all the talent.

I majored in illustration I took a lot of life drawing classes, painting and illustration classes. I also took some graphic design, photography, printmaking plus all the other classes needed to get a BFA degree.


Can you tell us a little bit about the classes you liked?

One of my favorite classes was an illustration class taught by one of my

favorite teachers Marshall Arisman. In the class we would talk about past and present illustrators, the highs and lows of the business. He would always have a guest artist come in who was currently the hotshot illustrator of the NY Times at that moment.

One minute we would be talking about Thomas Nast then Ralph Steadman.

Marshall was a very fun, caring teacher and what a talent!


What was the first painting or illustration that you did for money?

My first paid job was a spot illustration for NJ Monthly magazine.

If I remember correct the article was about a statue of St. Patrick driving the snakes out of Ireland. I remember it took me forever to finish the illustration it had to be perfect because it was my first paying gig. I think I had over a week to finish it and I took every minute of that to do it.


What type of job did you do right after you graduated?

I paid my way through college working at a liquor store. When I graduated SVA I continued to work there. I would work the night shift and all weekends. During the day I would work on my portfolio or take it into NYC to show art directors. I also did some graphic design that I wasn’t crazy about. Working at the liquor store provided me with more time to work on my art and shop it around during the day.


What do you think influenced your artistic style?

Top Cat! I just grew up a fan of cartoons. That’s how I geared my style.

That’s what makes me happy and I want to make people laugh and smile.


When did you do your the first illustration for children?

I don’t recall. I did a lot of work for Scholastic when I first started, good chance it was for them.

beaver copy copy

How did that come about?

When I first started out you could call up an art directors and make an appointment to show them your portfolio. There were also drop off days when you would drop your portfolio for review then pick it up the next day I’m sure that’s how I got my first illustration for children.


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

I’ve always wanted to just illustrate. Books, toy packaging editorial, animation. I wanted to do it all, still do.


How long did it take you to get your first picture book contract?

I’m not sure how long it took. My first book fell in my lap.


What was your first book that you illustrated?

The Naturalist Handbook : Activities for Young Explorers for Gibbs Smith.


I see that you have done a number of Cloverleaf books, published by Millbrook Press. How many have you illustrated and how did the book contracts come your way?

I’ve done about 6 books for them. They came to me. I have them on my mailing list so it might have come through that. I worked with a few different editors there so I think they most likely saw the other books I did for them.


Are you open to illustrating a self-published book?

If you mean working with an author who is self publishing ,no. I like to deal with a publishing company. That way I know the story , design, text , printing are top noch. I want to represent myself the best way I can.

mikecarepairHow did you get the contract to illustrate Iggy Loomis, Superkid in Training?

Luck! I illustrated a Scholastic joke book for Marc Tyler Noble. He is friends with Jennifer Allison the author of Iggy Loomis . She asked him for an illustrator recommendation and it was me. I soon heard from the good folks over at Dial. Small world. I just finished up the art for the second Iggy Loomis book last week. We are hoping for good things!


Have you worked with educational publishers?

Sure have many ,many of them.


How many children’s books have you illustrated?

Give or take 15 ?


Do you have any desire to write and illustrate your own book?

I do. Right now I’m working on some ideas and have I have been pitching them to my agent. One idea I’m starting to flesh out right now. It’s exciting.


Have you done any illustrating for children’s magazines?

Oh, yea! I’ve had worked for many from the US to Canada. It’s really sad to see what was come to the world of magazines. There are a few hanging on and that’s a good thing that is happening.


Do you have an agent to represent you? If so how did you connect? If not, would you like one?

I am represented by Erica Silverman at Sterling Lord Literistic in NYC. I was introduced to her by Jennifer Alison the author of Iggy Loomis.

gator copy copy

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

I send out postcards with my own mailing list I keep. Networking, I’m on a  few group websites. Lots of web exposer. I’ve gotten work through facebook that has turned into a monthly column for a magazine.


What is your favorite medium to use? 

I’m in love with the computer! I’m a big fan of illustrator . More and more I’m loving working in photoshop. Can’t get enough of a marker and a sketchbook.


Has that changed over time? 

Everything has changed. More and more companies have closed many art directors and editors losing jobs. I once did a lot of editorial work for major magazines and newspaper, its all changed. There are still open doors out there just not as many.


Do you have a studio in your house?

My studio is in the house. It nice to be home when my boys get come home. The hard thing is the studio is right in the house. It’s always hard for me not to go in there and do something. You feel like you are always on duty.


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

My computer and Adobe software.


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

I’m always working on making my work better. The best is when I just sit down and work on my own personal work. I just recently had a solo gallery show at The Speakeasy Art Gallery in Boonton NJ.

Besides showing my digital work (some printed on bulletproof glass) I started making crazy wooden toys for the show. That was so much fun working with wood.


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

I don’t take reference pictures that much at all. Maybe if it’s a difficult angle of a hand. I do use the internet for research all the time. I illustrated a children’s book Poopendous by Artie Bennet for Blue Apple books. It’s a humorous/educational look at the use of poop. I had to research all kinds of animal dung. Fun!


Do you think the Internet has opened doors for you? 

Oh, yes the internet has opened many doors. For good or bad.

One good thing is now illustrators are reaching out to each other illustrators becoming friends and networking. You don’t feel alone as much locked alone in your studio all the time. Finding information is so much easier like names for your mailing list.

How about getting layouts sending in sketches and finals. Not like the days of faxing in sketches and using FedEx to send in the finals and hoping the art didn’t get bent.


Do you use Photoshop with your illustrations? 

The majority of my work is done in illustrator then I export it into photoshop for textures .

mikemonster500aDo you own or have you used a Graphic Drawing Tablet in your illustrating? 

I have the largest Wacom Intuos that they made. It’s 24 x18 and the drawing area is 19×13. I can really move my arm around and it gives me the feeling like drawing on paper. Thinking about getting the Cintiq. I played with one in NYC a few months back. Photoshop felt great , illustrator felt a little clunky. I need to go back and play with it more.


What do you think is your biggest success thus far? 

I’ve had many cool clients/jobs I have worked for over the years. One of my tops is that I illustrated the 2008 World Series and playoff programs, Phillies vs Rays. I’m a big baseball fan so that was a thrill. The programs go into the Baseball Hall of Fame so I joke that I’m in Cooperstown!

PZM_interface copy

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

Of course, getting a book that I wrote published would be fun. I love animation. Want to learn it better. I’ve pitched cartoons series in the past. Getting one of those would be amazing.


What are you working on now? 

I just finished up the art for the second Iggy Loomis book last week, “Iggy Loomis and a Hagfish called Shirley”. Ever see a hagfish? They are disgusting!

Now I’m working on a series of ads for Disney Resorts, a few Highlights projects and I do a monthly cartoon strip for Boy’s Life Magazine.


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 use a great plug-in for illustrator called Xtream Path. It allows you to rag,stretch , push and pull the path. Here is the link

For photoshop I’ve been using Kyle T Webster’s photoshop brushes.

Kyle is very talented, good guy and one of the hardest working illustrators out there. You will love his brushes. I’m having so much fun with them.


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

I think one important thing is to remember you are a business and have to act like one. Dealing with promotion, clients needs, deadlines, billing to contracts. There is much more then involved then just drawing pictures.


Mike, Thank you for sharing your illustrations, journey, and process with us this week. We look forward to following your career, so please let us know about your new books and all of your future successes.

You can see more of Mike’s work at :  

or on  

Please take a minute to leave Mike a comment. I am sure he would love to hear from you and I would appreciate it, too. Thanks!

Talk tomorrow,


11) The Naturalist Handbook : Activities for Young Explorers for Gibbs Smith.


  1. I love this post! I’ve been a big fan of Mike’s work for a long time — it’s so great to see his process here. 🙂


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