Posted by: Kathy Temean | July 11, 2015

Illustrator Saturday – Lori Keehner – Give-Away


Lori Keehner attended one of my workshops at the NJSCBWI in June and asked her if she would like to be featured on Illustrator Saturday. Along with being featured, Lori has offered to give-away  ceramic mug with one of her illustrations – your choice of illustration at


All you have to do to enter is leave a comment for Lori below. If you would like addition chances, just reblog, facebook about this post, and/or tweet about it with the link. Just let me know in the comment section how many thing you have done.

Lori holds a BA in Studio Art and a minor in English with an emphasis on children’s literature. After graduation she worked as a children’s librarian while building her freelance career.

She later took the position of Art Director and Lead 2D artist for an animation/gaming start-up. There she worked in hand, flash, and stop-motion animation, as well as web, game, and app design.

Since going freelance in 2009, she has worked with clients and corporations in areas including production and graphic design, story-boarding, character design, animation, greeting cards, and children’s illustration (most recently for Ladybug Magazine).

Lori started out in chalk pastel and those messy little sticks of color will always have a special place in her heart. These days she works mostly digitally for convenience. Characterized by bold color and playful lines, her work reveals the great joy she finds in the unconstrained, the uneven, the crooked, and the curious.

Originally from Iowa, Lori currently lives in a tiny stone cottage under a giant Norway Spruce in rural New Jersey. She shares it with one nicely bearded husband, one largely indifferent cat, and one very naughty dog. They find themselves quite contented to be wherever they are, together.

Here’s Lori explaining her process:


I begin with a sketch. This time I used pencil and paper. Sometimes I sketch directly on the Wacom. I usually do a quick color study before moving on.


I then create my outlines using the Wacom. I keep all the pieces on separate layers but grouped in a folder, e.g. “father outlines,” “kid outlines,” etc.


Then I do “fills.” Again, I keep all of the fills on separate layers, but group them in their own folders. I usually keep the fill folder directly below it’s outline folder. In this piece, I lowered the opacity of the flask fills, and stacked their folders above the two characters so they appear transparent.


Then I begin to shade. I keep the general highs and lows on their own layers so that I can tweak them if needed. These also get grouped in their own folders.


I add the final touches of bright whites and reflected light.


Finally, I play with the hue/saturation and brightness/contrast until I’m happy. In this case, I pushed the contrast pretty hard because I wanted some drama.

How long have you been illustrating?

I suppose you could say since I was about four or five. I used to crawl behind the big papasan chair in our living room with a stack of typing paper, a stapler, and my trusty Crayola markers. I spent many an hour back there, creating my masterpieces. As I had little skill in writing at the time, I would then crawl out, and dictate the words that belonged on each page to any semi-willing family member I could rope into the task. I still have some of those “books”.

If you want a serious answer, my first real illustration job came the summer before my senior year at college. That was 2001, but 2009 was when I stopped doing other work and became a full-time illustrator, so about seven years.


What was the first thing you painted where someone paid you for your work?

I think, actually, it was a chair. I covered a wooden thrift-store-find with paintings of bugs and flowers when I was in high school and sold it to a distant relative. After that, it was probably a few graphite portraits.


Your bio says you earned BA in Studio Art and a minor in English with an emphasis on children’s literature. Where did you go to college?

I went to a little private school in southern Iowa called Iowa Wesleyan. Unfortunately, they are closing their art department this coming year. It’s very disappointing. I have such fond memories of my time there.


What kinds of things did you learn with Studio Art?

We studied fundamental design, drawing, life studies, painting, photography, ceramics, and art history. I was supposed to take print-making but with enough whining, was allowed to take extra painting classes instead, since I knew that’s where my interests lay. I also begged off the second semester of ceramics because I had worked, since my junior year in high school, as a potter’s assistant. We learned to build a website, and we each put up a senior show. The show was the hardest part of the entire process.


Do you feel College helped develop your style?

I suppose to some degree. I discovered I really liked pastel while I was there, which eventually led to a digital style that emulates pastel.

f12013_6cf675fd29e24cfd874b856bc0194917_png_srb_p_600_465_75_22_0_50_1_20_0What type of work did you do after you got out of school?

I worked as a children’s librarian for a while, then switched to the “grown up” books because I could get more hours. In the meantime, I painted some murals for homeowners in town, and did a couple of custom Christmas cards and some logos for a local broom company. I also got into textiles and sold some elaborate banners and stoles to churches.


Did the college you attended help you get work?

Only in the sense that my professors always put out a good word for me. If someone stopped by and asked if they knew anyone who might do XYZ for them, they often gave out my contact information.


What inspired you to take a minor in Children’s literature?

I was very torn when deciding on my major. I’ve always loved to write and I seriously considered pursuing a degree in creative writing. For whatever reason, I decided to get my Studio Art degree with a minor in English. I became a member of Sigma Tau Delta, which is an English Honor Society, and that gave me a lot of one-on-one with the English professors. Because of that closeness, I was able to take some independent courses and tailor them to my interest in children’s lit. That’s one of the wonderful things about a small college.


What type of things did you do as an Art Director for animation/gaming company?

My first project was creating hand-drawn images which we then scanned and turned into a puppet-like animation for an opening sequence in an independent film. I used Adobe Illustrator to create all the assets for an app called “Poke My Voodoo,” and a couple of other little games. I did storyboarding, some stop-motion, Flash, and hand animation. I did bits of graphic, user interface, and web design. I also learned to rotoscope and a lot of other details of live action film that I might never have learned otherwise.


When did you start doing freelance artwork?

After I left animation, I did a stint as a graphic designer for a magazine called Premier Guitar. It wasn’t my cup of tea, so as soon as I was able, I went freelance full time.


What type of jobs did you get in the beginning and did they change over time?

My first freelance job was for a Flash animation. Next, I did a series of hand-drawn greeting cards on commission. I also worked on a hand-drawn 2D animation. As time passes, I do less and less animation/app related work, though it still interests me. Later I did a series of topical picture books for a promotional products company. We also worked on a series of books that included pop-out masks for kids to wear. Later, I did a long list of coloring books for the same company.


When did you decide you wanted to illustrate for children?

Since I was old enough to know that we all had to “be” something when we grew up, I wanted to be a children’s book writer and illustrator. My mother read to me a lot, and I guess that’s where the passion originated.


Have you created a book dummy for a picture book idea?

I have a dummy for a story I wrote called “Eggs With Legs”. I took it to the New Jersey SCBWI conference this June and got some great feedback.


Have you done any illustrations for a children’s magazine?

I have a few illustrations in the July/August 2013 issue of Ladybug magazine. It was for a piece called “Who’s There?” by Dianne Moritz.


Have you ever thought about doing a wordless picture book?

I’ve never really considered it. I love words, so I like the combination of art and language, but never say never.


I see that you are represented by Cornell & McCarthy Artist Reps. How did that come about?

I sat down with an issue of Children’s Writer’s & Illustrator’s Market and combed through the agent listings until I had a list I thought matched my style and needs. I checked all their websites and weeded the list a little more. Then I emailed every one of them with a link to my website. Cornell and McCarthy got in touch and they felt like a great fit. Since then, Cornell & McCarthy has become Cornell & Company.


What type of things do you do to promote yourself and get your work seen?

I send out postcards through my agent every so often. I have a website that I work hard to keep relevant. I have a blog, which I’m trying to keep updated (really I am). I also have a professional Facebook page which I mostly use to re-post my blog-posts. I think the most important thing I’ve done for my career is attending SCBWI conferences.


Have you ever worked with a self-published author? Would you be open to that?

I’m currently working with an author who plans to self publish. We’re working on a picture book called “Chef-A-Rella.”


Do you do any other type of illustration other than for children books?

Some of the animations, graphic design, and the greeting cards I’ve done wouldn’t necessarily be considered “for children.”


Do you have a favorite medium you use?

It used to be pastel. I have since switched to Photoshop. I do also love working in Illustrator, but I don’t use it as much these days.


Do you take research pictures before you start a project?

Usually, no. I do look for references online–to get a handle on body position, etc. I occasionally photograph my own hand if I’m struggling to get it right.


Do you use Photoshop with any of your work?

Even if it begins on paper, it almost always ends in Photoshop.


Do you have a studio in your house?

We live in a tiny two bedroom cottage and the second bedroom is my studio. I do have to share it with my husband who is a medical illustrator and fine artist–and with our chihuahua, Mona, who thinks she owns every room.


Do you follow any type of routine to attain your career goals?

Sigh. Routine? This is where I have always struggled. I make LOTS of lists, and they are probably the only thing that keep me from losing my mind. Mostly, I wake up, I eat breakfast, I go to work. If I have a deadline and my work isn’t done at the end of the day or the end of the week, I keep working.


Any exciting projects on the horizon?

I may work on a self-pub middle grade novel soon.


What do you consider to be  your biggest success?

Just finding an agent felt like a great win! Having my work in a publication whose name people recognize (Ladybug) was exciting.

Not to get existential, but really, I feel like my greatest success so far is the fact that I haven’t given up yet.


What are your career goals?

Mostly, I want to illustrate for trade books. I want to see my work on a bookstore shelf. Some more children’s magazines would be fun as well. I’ve written some picture books that I’d like to illustrate and publish eventually. I would love to see some of my YA’s or Middle-grades published, but that’s a horse of a different color.


What are you working on now?

Currenlty, I’m working on illustrations for (someone else’s) self-pub picture book. In between, I’ve dashed off some quick jobs for a couple of clients not related to children’s books (a 2D animation and some graphic design). I was recently invited by a couple of agents to submit my YA manuscript, so preparing that for submission is keeping my nights and weekends very busy.


Are there any painting tips (materials, paper, etc.) you can share that work well for you? Technique tips?

When I went freelance, I replaced my aged imac with the biggest monitor I could find on sale, a refurbished PC, and bought and installed some extra RAM and a mega graphics card. Luckily, my husband knows how to fiddle with computers. A lot of artists are snobs about PC’s, but let’s get real, folks; if you can paint, you can do it on a PC just as well as you can on a Mac. PC’s are also easier to upgrade and a heck of a lot cheaper.

Secondy, I bought a used Wacom tablet. It all has to be functional, but you don’t need the best of everything to make good art. The good part comes from you, the computer just adds pizzazz (or doesn’t).


Any words of wisdom you can share with the illustrators who are trying to develop their career?

Join SCBWI and attend conferences. They’re expensive for a starving artist, but you’ll meet so many wonderful people, most of whom are willing to help you. You’ll also get a feel for how your work compares to other professional illustrators. Meeting with editors, art directors, and agents at conferences will give you a chance to get very concise feedback.

If you can, get an agent. They know so much about the industry that you never knew you didn’t know. They can guide you along the way.

Be realistic and honest with yourself. Does your work stack up? Really? Really really?? If no, keep improving. If yes, keep improving anyway.

If you don’t love illustrating, for heaven’s sake, find something easier to do with your life! But if you love it, if it’s the only thing you can imagine ever doing, don’t give up. I honestly think perseverance is an artist’s greatest asset. If you aren’t good enough now (but you keep working to improve), you will more than likely be good enough eventually; If you already are, you’ll get work sooner or later–but not if you quit.


mylittlevoodoo_logo_v001Thank you Lori for sharing your talent, process, journey, and expertise with us. Please make sure you keep in touch and share your future successes with us.

To see more of Lori’s work, visit her Web site,

If you have a minute, please leave a comment for Lori. I am sure she’d love it and I enjoy reading them, too. Thanks!

Talk tomorrow,



  1. LOVE, LOVE, LOVE your art and would be thrilled to see an example of it each morning on a coffee cup! Thanks for offering a give-away!


  2. Beautiful work, Lori! Thank you for sharing!


  3. LOVE that little ballerina! (Well, really, I pretty much love ’em all.) And I agree–success is never giving up!


  4. Great demo! Thanks Lori. Beautiful work.


  5. Great advice…and enjoyed seeing your process!


  6. Thanks, Kathy! And Lori, thanks so much for sharing your insights, thoughts, and process. LOVE your work, especially the bunny family!!


  7. Thanks for being so enthusiastic about digital illustrating. So many people are resisting both authors and illustrators who have stepped up to current technology. Your illustrations are filled with energy and Your characters are delightful. A cup of tea in your cup would be fun. Thanks for sharing.


  8. When big sisters admire their little sisters, it’s because their little sister is awesomely amazing. Love you Lori Payne!!!


    • Aww. ❤ A little sister's awesomeness can often be traced back to her awesome big sister's influence. Just sayin'.


      • Well, thanks. I knew it had to be my influence…somehow 😉


    • I forgot to mention that I shared this. Now I’m sharing it again.


  9. Your art is beautiful. Making the story come to life with pictures an amazing gift, thank you for sharing it with us and every lucky child that reads the books you illustrate. 🙂


  10. Lori…you had me at indifferent cat! I really love your illustrations and the expressions you convey in your characters eyes. I found myself wishing for your illustrations in a humorous holiday ms I wrote (with cats as MC’s) …wish the industry worked that way!


  11. These are delightful pictures. They are colorful and vibrant and magical.


  12. So, where can we buy these magical mugs? I don’t want to leave this up to chance.


  13. So inspiring! Pastels for you is what watercolor is for me it seems. I am so encouraged by your demo to make another attempt at digitall. I am completely overwhelmed with the brushes in Photoshop. Seems I know enough to get completely engulfed then fall down the rabbit hole and completely lose focus. Then I find myself going back to the drawing board (pun Intended!). Thanks for the step by step. It really helps! What classes or videos did you use to make the transition to digital? The values and hues you are able to achieve (and tweak) is amazing. Very nice work and wonderful characters. Can’t believe you’re not already in trade books. Any day now I am sure!
    Best to you!- Kary


    • I’m so glad I helped, Kary. I’ll be posting some tool and technique tutorials here and/or on my own blog soon. You can subscribe to my blog if you don’t wan to miss them. Here’s a link.


  14. Awesome job, Lori! How did we not know about your illustrations in Ladybug?! Stella loves Ladybug! 🙂


  15. Always loved your work! Especially thrilled with your self portrait and your little stone cottage!!


  16. The grandkids thought that was a crazy scientists with a crazy kid. The kids loved your pictures Lori. This was pretty cool.


  17. Thanks for sharing your process and especially the message about not giving up. It is helpful to see that even expert illustrators need to keep their spirits up. Love the bunny cup the most. Those eyes – love those eyes. Your illustrations are totally alive!


  18. I love the mother bunny with her kids and the ballerina. But really, all your work is wonderful.


  19. I love Lori’s work. I’m glad I read this. It’s very inspiring. She is so talented and I can’t wait to read one of her books! Sidenote: Id love to win the little girl holding the chicken mug ; )


  20. Thanks for this interesting interview. I am not an artist, but love learning about how others create, especially when it combines traditional materials and digital techniques.


  21. I keep a computer file I call “Jody’s Quoties” for quotes that hit home for me. Under Improvablism (my preference over perfectionism), I’ve just added and credited this by Lori: “Be realistic and honest with yourself. Does your work stack up? Really? Really really?? If no, keep improving. If yes, keep improving anyway. If you don’t love illustrating [read writing], for heaven’s sake, find something easier to do with your life! But if you love it, if it’s the only thing you can imagine ever doing, don’t give up. I honestly think perseverance is an artist’s [read a writer’s] greatest asset. If you aren’t good enough now (but you keep working to improve), you will more than likely be good enough eventually; If you already are, you’ll get work sooner or later–but not if you quit.” Lori Keehner, in Kathy Temean’s Writing and Illustrating blog, July 11, 2015.


  22. I love seeing this process. thanks for posting it–beautiful work.


  23. I love the way you capture the emotions of the characters. The colors you choose are so bright and fresh your drawings just grabbed my attention. I’m from Iowa also so my eyes popped when I read that.


  24. Your illustrations are magical…love them!


  25. Amazing work and great interview! Love it! 😀


  26. I am constantly amazed with your beautiful work. I want every one of your paintings! I love you to the moon and back.


  27. I love your art! Thanks for the opportunity to win one of your beautiful mugs. ❤


  28. How can anyone look at your creations and not instantly smile? The vibrancy of the colors and the energy and playfulness of your characters create a joyful feeling within the viewers soul. They are absolutely delightful, Lori!


  29. You do beautiful work. I love your chicken picture!!!


  30. Lori, your animal characters came to life! Love the colors you use as well. 🙂


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