Posted by: Kathy Temean | June 7, 2014

Illustrator Saturday – Rob McClurkan


rob mcclurkan photo290Rob McClurkan grew up in Nashville, Tennessee and spent many happy summers visiting his grandparents on their farms.

In college, Rob studied graphic design. Upon graduation he moved to Atlanta, Georgia where he got his first job at an in-house art department. After several years of job hopping Rob, settled in at a non-profit that gave him a children’s magazine to art direct. This gave him the drive to build a portfolio and eventually work as a full time illustrator. Rob has worked with HarperCollins, Scholastic, Usbourne, American Greetings, Highlights for Children. Rob’s first picture book Aw, Nuts! The nutty adventure of a squirrel in pursuit of the perfect acorn is in stores Aug 26.

Here is Rob explaining his process:


Step 1: I always start with a sketch that I create in sketchbook pro. Sketchbook has been a big time saver for me. I can sketch without having to scan the image in and it saves on paper too. Sketchbook pro offers a desktop version and a version for the iPad so you can sketch on the go.


Step 2: I like to start with the main character. I feel like it sets the tone for the illustration. If I get it right the rest seems to fall into place.
I enjoy using texture but I try not to over use it. Here I used a brush to add a little texture under the runners eyes. The rosy cheeks and red nose with highlight  adds a little more interest to the characters face.

Step 3: Next I colored the ground. I always struggle how I want to deal with the ground especially when it is grass. Here I just decided to add interest by using a gradient.


Step 4: I then move to the smaller characters and elements of the image. Here I took a wood texture that I had in photoshop and brought it into illustrator.
The wood texture was originally a black and white wood texture but when saved as a tiff, you can change the black color to any color you need in illustrator by choosing a swatch.
I then create the shape I want for the wood sign and use a clipping mask so that you only see the wood grain in the wood sign.




The final result of the mask a fun little wood sign complete with wood grain.


Step 5 : Next I add the other elements in the mid ground as well as the background color.


Step 6: I waited until I had the background to add these buildings. I was not sure how I was going to solve them but once I had the background color I really liked the effect of the buildings fading into the background as if there was a ground fog.


Step 7: I created a texture using photoshop brushes and brought it into illustrator the same way as I did the texture in for the wooden sign.

I never want to overdo texture so I limited my use of it since I knew I was going to use it in a big way in the background.


How long have you been interested in art?

I can’t remember a time when I didn’t enjoy drawing and creating my own characters.


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

I attended Samford University in Birmingham, Alabama. I studied graphic design.


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

The classes I liked were geared toward concept, design, layout and typography. I am a big fan of type I just don’t think I am particularly good with it. I took a class on cartooning and comic strips that I loved. After the class I started submitting cartoons to magazines and created a comic strip for the school paper.


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

Barbie Magazine I did an activity scene in watercolor.


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

My first job out of college was the world’s worst waiter. I thought I was doing a good job but one of my customers didn’t think so. My first design job out of college was working for a wholesaler of RV parts and anything that goes along with the RV lifestyle. I had to design a weekly marketing mailer that RV retailers would use in their stores. The mailers were similar to the Sunday circulars that are in the Sunday paper. My claim to fame was removing the foot from a camping toilet that you flush with your foot. This was before layers in photoshop. That took mad skills. 😉


How did you get involved in Advertising art?

I landed a job at a small advertising agency. I think I knew someone that knew someone. They did newspaper ads which were similar to what I did for my first design job. There were a few illustration opportunities as well.


Did you have to leave Tennessee to find opportunities in commercial art?

No – I followed a girl that I eventually convinced to be my wife.


What do you think influenced your artistic style?

My biggest influence I would have to say was the Sunday Funnies. I loved reading them and the art seemed accessible. I felt like I could draw those characters. Saturday morning cartoons were a big influence as well. Any other day of the week I was not a morning person but on Saturday I was up by 5:30 watching the pre-cartoon show which was “Farm Digest” with Murray Miles. I thought that 30min show would never end.


I see that you have done greeting cards. Do you still do them?

Or was this something you did only early on in your career? Greeting cards are so much fun to do. I still enjoy working on them. I have some that I want to show in my portfolio so badly, but they have not been released yet. Greeting cards are like comic strips quick reads and funny. Sometimes I buy a card just because the art is awesome and they make me laugh.


What was your first big success in illustrating?

Being able to quit my day job and illustrate full time. That was a huge step.


When did you decide you wanted to illustrate for the children’s market?

Early on. I ended up at a non-profit that had 2 kids magazines, and they gave me one of them to art direct. Budgets were tight and so I would hire out some illustrations and then do some on my own. That was a great time of learning because I tried different mediums traditional and digital. I also couldn’t believe I was getting paid to draw.


When did you do your the first illustration for children?

My first illustration for children was the Barbie magazine I mentioned above.


How did that come about?

One of my best friends from high school lived in New York. At the time, he was a designer at Marvel comics. I was surprised to learn they also created Barbie Magazine. He knew I wanted to be an illustrator so he thought of me for the job. I think I redrew that image 5 or 6 times trying to get it right. It was my first illustration job and I was very nervous.


Do you have an agent to represent you?

If so how did you connect? If not, would you like one? I do have an agent. I am with the Bright Agency. An artist friend recommended them. About the same time I realized that Bright’s New York agent was following me on twitter. Once I connected those dots I just direct messaged her through twitter.


How did you get the opportunity to do the WHAT TO DOODLE? Activity Books with Dover Publishing?

I sent out postcards within a day or two of mailing them out Dover called, referenced the postcard and wanted me to do the doodle book. That’s my plug for direct mail. It’s very effective.


Is AW, NUTS coming out in August with HarperCollins you first picture book?

I have illustrated a couple of short run books in the UK and some Bible story books here in the U.S. but “Aw, Nuts!” is the first picture book I have written and illustrated.


How did that contract come about?

It was actually sort of a happy accident. My agent was pitching another story and the publisher mentioned they would be interested in a board book about color. They were not necessarily asking me to write a book it was just mentioned in passing. That was on a Thursday. I wrote Aw, Nuts! over the weekend and sent it to my agent as a dummy book on Monday morning. In the end, I really saw “Aw, Nuts!” as a picture book so I dropped the color idea and reworked the story and then HarperCollins came along.


How long were you trying to get a picture book opportunity?

I had toyed around with writing and illustrating my own book for several years, but the bug really bit when I attended the 2013 SCBWI Winter Conference. Mark Teague and Mo Willems both spoke that weekend and if I remember correctly encouraged the artist to write their own stories. Their speeches fired me up.


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

I have another book right now we are pitching and others ideas I am noodling with.


Are you open to illustrating a self-published book?

I may be in the future at the moment I am focusing on working with publishers.


Have you worked with educational publishers?

I have. I really enjoy working with education publishers. My wife is an elementary teacher and if I am not careful she steals my printed samples.


Have you done any illustrating for children’s magazines?

I do. That is how I got my start so I always enjoy working on an editorial piece.


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

My agent helps a great deal, but I also use direct mail and I am on a few websites. has been a fun way to connect with artist and get jobs at the same time.


What is your favorite medium to use?

I work digitally, but for fun I like pen and ink. I am also planning on pulling out my watercolors this summer.


Has that changed over time?

Digital has always been the way I preferred to work. I like the idea that I can easily rework a piece if I need to and send to the client without scanning or dealing overnighting a project.


Do you have a studio in your house?

I do. I call it a studio everyone else calls it a basement.


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

Windows. In our old house my studio was tucked away in a room with no windows. I was so excited when I actually got a studio with a view.


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

I am constantly writing and sketching ideas, visiting the library, bookstores and toy stores. I also throw ideas out to my kids and wife. She loves picture books as much as I do. She is a great to brainstorm with.


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

I rarely take pictures for research. I used to keep magazines or cut things out that I thought would be an excellent reference. Now I use pinterest. My boards are research, inspiration or image boards for ideas I have brewing.


Do you think the Internet has opened doors for you?

Yes, especially social media. It has been a great way to connect with other artist, clients and agents.


Do you use Photoshop with your illustrations?

For a long time I mainly used Illustrator but I am starting to work in photoshop.


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

Yes, that is another thing in my office I can’t live without. I have a Wacom Cintiq that I use for sketching and Photoshop and an intuos that I use when in Illustrator. Those tablets are tools of the trade that I have to have.


What do you think is your biggest success thus far?

“Aw, Nuts!” is by far the biggest. I am so excited for the book’s release. I had the opportunity to share the book at my wife’s school and the kids loved it! Seeing how they responded to the book was probably the biggest reward. My new favorite thing is the letters I received from the children after the visit. The other really cool job I got to do was creating the packaging for a toy that Mattel gave to John Lassiter as a gift. The toy was a John Lassiter action figure/doll the packaging was inspired by the fact that he wears lots of Hawaiian shirt. I had to create pixar characters as tiki idols. I never knew what happened to the toy, but I always imagined it in his office. One night I was watching a documentary on Pixar and sure enough at the end of the show they showed a zoomed in shot of the toy and I can just make out some of my art. That is the 2nd coolest job I ever worked on.


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

I would like to continue writing and drawing my own books and would love to work on chapter books.


What are you working on now?

I have a couple of story ideas brewing. I am also trying out a new style. I don’t want to be just the Adobe Illustrator guy. Aw, Nuts! was the first thing I have worked on where I didn’t use Adobe illustrator. I enjoy pushing myself and moving beyond my comfort zone, which at the moment is Adobe Illustrator.


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.

My biggest tip is to connect with other writers and illustrators. I have learned a ton from just listening or asking questions. If you can join a crit group they can be super helpful.


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

For me it has been as simple as read a lot and draw everyday. Quit dreaming and start doing.


Thank you Rob for sharing you process, journey, and expertise with us. I know you will have many more successes in the future and we would love to hear about all of them, so please drop me a line when good things happen.

To see more of Rob’s illustrations you can visit him at: Please take a minute to leave a comment for Rob, I am sure he would love to heard from you and it always makes me feel like Illustrator Saturday should continue. Thanks!

Talk tomorrow,



  1. I love your illustrations Rob- lots of color and action. I will be looking for your book Aw Nuts. Thank you so much for sharing your experiences.


  2. Rob, your illustrations are so colorful, quirky and full of character! I am always impressed by the commitment to the artwork in graphic novels. SO much work! Thanks for sharing, and thanks, Kathy, for the hard work 🙂


  3. Rob is super talented and a very cool dude! I love his work and can’t wait to read and enjoy his new book with my family!


  4. I’ve been interested in Rob’s style of illustrating since I saw a small robot in a Weekly Reader magazine. I work as a freelance graphic designer and, frankly, work on some pretty boring stuff. Perhaps I’ll take his advice and stop dreaming and start doing!


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