Posted by: Kathy Temean | September 12, 2015

Illustrator Saturday – Carolyn Le


Carolyn Le

Carolyn draws on the sunny California days, and her love of storytelling to create her watercolor paintings. She has received a Merit Award from the Society of Illustrator of Los Angeles an Editor’s Choice Award and an Original Art Award from the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators and a Reader’s Choice Award for Illustration for the picture book Clarence and the Traveling Circus. Currently, Carolyn is writing and illustrating her own picture books and taking care of a bunny that is half cat in attitude.

Here is Carolyn explaining her process:

Clarence 1

When I get a project, I start with thumbnails. This is how I work out the composition, combining type and images. Usually I have about ten to twelve thumbnails before I decide on one that will work.


For Clarence and the Traveling Circus, I wanted a vintage circus feel, so I researched old circus posters on Google images. I liked the colors so that became my inspiration for the book.

Once I decide on an image, I sketched it to scale, the size of the book.


Then using a light box, I transfer the sketch onto 140lb smooth press Fabriano watercolor paper.


Now the painting starts. I tend to be methodical laying out broad strokes of color left to right( I am right handed and this keeps the smudging down to a minimum), top to bottom, light to dark (I like to leave the white of the paper as my whites), all the while building up the layers of paint. Once I am happy with the look and feel of the painting, I work on the details to clean my edges and punch up the colors.

How long have you been illustrating?

I have been illustrating for around fifteen years.

The Nightingale

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

My first paid illustration was for a juried art show where I won $50 dollars.


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

I studied Illustration at Otis College of Art and Design.


How did you develop your style?

My style is a combination of the painting techniques I learned while painting in oils and using pastels plus a lot of trial and error and experimentation with watercolor.


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

After I graduated, I worked as a touch-up artist and color specialist for a print company. I also did some freelance work as a designer and then worked as Display Artist and eventually as a Visual Merchandising Specialist.


When did you decide you wanted to illustrate for children?

It was in 2003 when I was reading Owl Babies by Martin Waddell to my then 3-year-old nephew, that I realized I wanted to be a children’s book illustrator.


Was Clarence and The Traveling Circus your first picture book?

Yes. When the writer approached me about the project, I was hesitant because I had not considered working for an independent publisher. But Melissa won me over with her story of Clarence and her dedication and enthusiasm for the project and her commitment towards becoming an independent publisher.


How did that contract come your way?

I had met Melissa at a local Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrator’s event. She contacted me a year later.


What has been your biggest success?

Every time I overcame an obstacle is a success for me; building my website, illustrating my first picture book, developing a style.


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

Yes, I am working on several picture book drafts right now.


Have you ever thought about doing a wordless picture book?

I love reading and since I started writing, I love painting pictures with words, so I don’t think I can do a wordless picture book. Although I don’t rule that out either, it just has to be as good as David Wiesner’s Tuesday.


Do you have an artist rep.? If so, how and when did you connect? If not, would you like to have an agent?

I do not have an artist rep at this time, but I plan to eventually work with one.


What types of things do you do to get work?

To promote my work, I have a website that features my portfolio, send postcards, query agents, attend SCBWI events, enter juried shows, post to my Facebook page, follow art directors, editors and agents on Twitter and I also have a portfolio on


Have you done any illustrations for a self-published book? Are you still open to working with a self-published author?

Clarence and the Traveling Circus is a self-published book. I am always open to new projects.


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

I love illustrating children’s books, so this is my focus right now.


Do you have a favorite medium you use?

I enjoy painting in watercolor; there are still surprises and happy accidents.


Do you take research pictures before you start a project?

I take research pictures, and I search Google images after I start a project. I always start with thumbnails to figure out the pacing, character designs and design of a story before I start going into the details of the images.


Do you use Photoshop with any of your work?

I only use Photoshop if I am on a time crunch and have to clean up an image.


Do you have and use a graphic tablet?

I have an Intuos tablet, but have not really used it. I am still a mouse kind of girl.


Do you have a studio in your house?

No studio. I have a corner for my computer and the living room floor is my studio. There are wood floors, so it is easier to clean up; when I am painting, I somehow get paint everywhere.


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

I don’t really follow a routine. I generally send out postcards, post on Facebook (which I need to be more consistent with), follow people in the industry on Twitter, update my website as I create new work, write and paint.


Any exciting projects on the horizon?

I have a couple of paintings in a London-based art gallery for a show in October.


Do you think the Internet has opened any doors for you?

Without the internet, I would not have the opportunity to be a feature illustrator on your blog and my art would not be in a gallery in England.

DarkBB 5

What are your career goals?

My goal is to be able to have a career as an author/illustrator.

First Snow500

What are you working on now?

Right now, I am working on finishing the illustrations for The Mystery of the Barking Spider by Melissa Northway, I just started teaching art and am working on doing some library readings and school visits.


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

I use Fabriano 140lb smooth press watercolor paper which I don’t stretch. I like painting on the surface with the sizing still on it. To stop the buckling when I finish a painting, I dampen the back of the finished painting with clean water (paper does not need to be soaked), lay the painting face down on a hard clean surface, cover the painting with a clean towel to absorb the moisture, weigh the whole thing down with another board and some weights. Let stand overnight. This usually gets rid of the buckling.


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

This is not an instant success kind of career, so I would say to be patient, love what you do, be persistent and seek out people who will encourage you, but also tell you the truth when you need it. My writing group and illustrator group has really helped me grow as an author/illustrator.

Fluffy 2

Thank you Carolyn 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 Carolyn’s work, you can visit her website:

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

Talk tomorrow,



  1. Lovely to see your work here Carolyn; it is stunning as usual. Best to you!


  2. I love to hear about other’s illustrator journeys. I have grown kids and am just starting out on mine, as an illustrator. Though I have been an artist/painter for years, and now a fledgling writer, it is encouraging to hear yours has been a slow, but upward climb to get to the place you would like to be.
    Your illustrations are inspiring, delicate and dear…some that will take you to that secret place of imagination. Best to you as you press on with your “magic brush.”


  3. What stunning works of art! Carolyn does gorgeous renderings and has such a nice range of styles! I foresee a bright illustrating future ahead of her.


  4. I love Carolyn’s work – it’s full of magic!


  5. I appreciate hearing about another artist’s path she is following; and particularly enjoy the expressions in your characters, Carolyn. My favorite thing about this interview was your definition of success. Thanks and congratulations on your well-done work.


  6. Thanks for sharing your beautiful artwork and your story, Carolyn.
    Your characters are delightful!


  7. Carolyn, your art is detailed, soft, and beautiful. Thank you for sharing your process, and I’m sure you will be successful…sounds like you already are. Showing how you go about working on your thumbnails was very helpful. Thanks, Kathy! 😀


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