Posted by: Kathy Temean | January 17, 2015

Illustrator Saturday – Joan Charles

Joan Charles is an illustrator, writer, and graphic designer. In addition to creating work for gallery exhibitions, juried competitions, curated shows, magazines, and books, she is the illustrator of the award-winning middle grade adventures Lost in Lexicon and The Ice Castle, written by Pendred Noyce, both published by Scarletta Press.

Below are some of Joan’s clients:

New Moon Magazine
Scholastic UK
Boyds Mills Press
Dover Publications
Spider Magazine
Tumblehome Press
McGraw Hill
Scarletta Press
Los Angeles Times

Here is Joan explaining her process:


I always start with a sketch; sometimes that sketch is done in pencil on paper and sometimes I make the sketch directly in Photoshop. This particular sketch was done with a 4B Faber-Castell drawing pencil on Strathmore drawing paper, then scanned into Photoshop at 300 dpi.

When I first started using Photoshop to illustrate, I was guilty of creating an obsessive number of layers. As I got more comfortable with the program, I cut back on the number of layers until finally I hit upon my current forumla. I now work on one layer only, just as I would do if I was drawing on paper or painting on canvas. I feel that this gives the work a more organic feel. I also “glaze” my work – meaning that, instead of laying down flat colors at 100% then adding highlights and effects, I draw or paint using brush and pen tools at about 30% capacity. That gives more depth to the final work and by building up the intensity and texture, is closer to traditional drawing or painting.


How long have you been illustrating?

About 15 years.


Did you go to school to study art? If so, when and where?

I went to the Art Institute in Pittsburgh, where I studied commercial art. That included everything from graphic design, to lettering, to illustration to cartooning. I’ve also taken illustration classes at Otis College of Art and Design, painting at UCLA, and printmaking at Santa Monica College.


What was the first painting or illustration that you did where someone paid you for your artwork?

Right after I graduated from art school I sold an illustration to a radio station in St. Louis.


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

I worked as a plastic flower arranger in a department store (not my dream job), then went to work as a production artist at the in-house advertising agency for a large chain of shoe stores.


What do you think influenced your style?

When I was very young, my parents had a copy of Wuthering Heights illustrated with amazing, darkly dramatic woodcuts by Fritz Eichenberg. I was both fascinated and frightened by those images. I also loved the illustrations of Johnnie Gruel and I read lots and lots of comic books.


When did you do your the first illustration for children?

Mt first children’s illustration was a cover for New Moon magazine.


How did that come about?

New Moon used to invite artists to submit ideas for covers, based on pre-determined themes. I submitted concepts a couple of times and was finally chosen.


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

In the summer of 2000 I took a children’s book illustration class at Otis College of Art and Design with author/illustrator Delores Johnson, and I was hooked. I’d tried creating a children’s book earlier in my career, but was stymied by the process and just sort of gave up. This class was key in unlocking the mysteries of plotting and laying out and preparing a dummy. Ms. Johnson urged us to join SCBWI, which I promptly did. That changed my life.


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

I’ve never illustrated a picture book, just middle-grade novels.


How many children’s books have you illustrated?



What book was that?

Lost in Lexicon, by Pendred Noyce.


How did that contract come your way?

My portfolio was on and the publisher found me there. Originally, the publisher was interested in three artists. In order to choose one, they had us audition by illustrating a scene from the book. I’m very happy to say that I got the job!



How did Scarletta Press find you to illustrate LOST IN LEXICON?

Lost in Lexicon was originally published by Tumblehome Press. About a year after it was published, Scarletta Press bought the rights to Lexicon and re-issued it under their imprint as they launched their new line of children’s books. Originally, it was supposed to be a four-book series, but in the end the author wrote only two of the four volumes: Lost in Lexicon and The Ice Castle, but of which I illustrated.



Can you tell us a little bit about Scarletta Press? Example: How many books do they publish each year? How long have they been in business?

Originally, Scarletta was a publisher of adult books. About 5 or so years ago they launched Scarletta Jr., their kids’ book imprint. I read recently in Publishers Weekly that they’ve changed their name to Mighty Media Press and they continue to have great success with publishing books for kids.


What type of work did you do with Boyds Mill Press?

I did an illustration of molecules for The Night Olympic Team by Caroline Hatton, a book about scientists who test Olympic athletes during the games.


What other types of art have you done?

I’ve worked as an op-ed illustrator for newspapers, made hundreds and hundreds of line drawings for catalogues, created my own line of greeting cards, and make fine art for gallery exhibits.


Would you like to write and illustrate a children’s book?

I’ve written and illustrated about five picture books, but I’ve never really pursued publication with any of them. I’ve always looked upon those books as a kind of training ground for my craft. At the moment, I’m in the midst of writing a (non-illustrated) middle-grade novel and hope to have it finished by the summer.


Would you be open to illustrating a book for a author who wants to self-publish?

Yes, if it’s the right fit.


Have you worked with educational publishers?



Have you done any illustrating for children’s magazines?

Yes. Although the pay is not great, it’s a terrific way to gain experience.


Do you have an Artist Rep. to represent you?



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

I send post cards four times a year and of course, I have a website. Sometimes people find me through my blog or my Etsy shop.


What is your favorite medium to use?

For illustrating, I work digitally.


Has that changed over time?

Yes. Initially I worked in pastels, then moved on to acrylics before going digital. For my gallery work, I paint almost exclusively in acrylics on panel or canvas.


Do you have a studio set up in your home?

Yes. I have one room that’s dedicated to my computer and a section of another room that houses my drawing board. (That’s where I do my painting.)


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

Yes – my Wacom tablet!


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

Yes – I’ve been a freelance graphic designer for many years and I enjoy my work – both the design and the illustration. I work at last eight hours every day (except Sunday.)


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

Generally, no. If possible, I like to rely upon my imagination. If I use picture reference it tends to make my work look stiff.


Do you think the Internet has opened doors for you?

Definitely. The internet allows people from around the world to interact with you.


Do you use Photoshop or Painter with your illustrations?

Yes. I use Photoshop.


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

I use a Wacom tablet and couldn’t imagine my life without it!


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

I’d love to have my novel published!


What are you working on now?

A series of 10 paintings for an upcoming exhibit.


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.

Sorry about this one – can’t really think of anything!


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

This is a long-term business. Don’t give up! Keep honing your craft and keep sending out illustration samples and manuscripts. Go to conferences and get critiques – advice from professionals is invaluable. It’s like getting a chance to look inside an editor’s or art director’s head! SCBWI is a wonderful resource, especially for beginners. In addition to all the free programs and the conferences, you’ll meet so many generous and supportive people who will become your friends and mentors.


Thank you Joan for sharing your process and journey with us. Please let us know about your future successes, so we can cheer you on. You don’t need a map to find Joan’s artwork. You can find her on her web site: or visitor he blog at see more of her process on Joan also has an Etsy shop: Raven & Renn

If you have a moment I am sure Joan would love to read your comments. I enjoy them, too. Thanks!

Talk tomorrow,



  1. Gorgeous, distinctive artwork, Joan! Thanks for sharing! And I hope you get your novel published, too 🙂


  2. Ms Charles captures her characters facial expressions beautifully. I think the ability to bring life to characters as such is what separates the good artists from the great artists. Kudos to Ms Charles on her lovely work. 🙂


  3. Very pretty artwork. Thanks for sharing!


  4. I really love your work, Joan!


  5. Beautiful work and interview! Wow, one layer in Photoshop! That’s amazing! I’m guilty of hoarding all my layers… gets a big crazy. Thanks for sharing!


  6. Oops, I meant a bit crazy!


  7. I am in love with the provocative and dreamy images that Joan creates! I need to work up to creating art 8 hours a day too. I would love to but I’m so easily distr—squirrel! 😉


  8. Joan, I agree with Teresa, your art has a dreamlike quality. And I think you should publish your five books. 🙂


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