Posted by: Kathy Temean | November 14, 2015

Illustrator Saturday – Luanne Marten

Luanne big picture2Luanne Marten illustrated over 35 children’s books for educational and trade publishers as well as many children’s magazine pieces, greeting cards, and other licensed products. She has a BFA in Illustration and Graphic Design from the University of Kansas and a BA in Social Work from Iowa State University.

Select Client List:

Harcourt Achieve, Highlights Hidden Pictures Books, Highlights “Hello” Magazine, Ideals Children’s Books, JistKids, Kirchoff Wohlberg, Legacy Publishing, McGraw Hill, Norwood House Press, Pauline Books & Media, Perfection Learning, Scholastic Club Originals,

T. S. Denison, The Child’s World, The Little Lutheran, United Methodist Publishing House, WinCraft

Here is Luanne Marten explaining her process:



Usually I sketch on tracing paper with pencil, then scan. The tracing paper allows me to easily change my composition by cutting and taping parts together. [Before this stage would be rougher sketching and poses, with this being what was settled on.] Then I scan the sketch. Usually I clean that up some in photoshop using levels or brightness/ contrast. The drawing layer is placed on top of a white layer with painting layers to go in between. I set the drawing layer to ‘multiply’ so that it is transparent and can be painted under. I do clean up the sketch as I go and tighten.


Here I am blocking in color with photoshop brushes, experimenting with color combinations. I like to make backgrounds that have variety and look organic. I can block in one color and then use a brush at a low opacity on top of that. Also I have added a texture, a brushy canvas texture I created. This layer is either set to overlay or multiply. If multiply, probably the opacity is turned down (less opaque).


I decided to try a cooler, more contrasting background behind the warm-colored figures. Still roughing in and experimenting with color combinations. I will often make a background layer in one color, hide that layer, and then try another layer in another color. But I also try changing the hue of a layer (image, adjustments, hue). Sometimes that creates an interesting look.


I decided to flip the image so the interaction between the boys was happening on the right side of the picture. (my reasoning: our eyes read left to right) I changed the background from blue to green. I added a little more of a storytelling element with the moon and the rocket image on the front of the book/pamphlet.

Photoshop makes it easy to change and try out things. Saving previous layers and previous iterations is always good so you can go back to that. Sometimes if I leave the art for a day or more, I can look at it with a fresh eye  and maybe decide I like a previous version better. Sometimes the freshness of a previous version gets lost in overworking so it’s good to be able to recapture it with a saved version.

Now that I look at this, I think the blue background worked better! Maybe a better foil for the warm colors in the figures.


How long have you been illustrating?

Since 1998


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

I was probably in high school (back in the dark ages) and my Aunt Betty paid me for an acrylic painting I did. Bless her heart! I think it was $25 and that was a lot of money!


Where did you study art?

I’ve had the great benefit of studying art in many places: Central College (Pella, Iowa) Central College (London, UK program), Iowa State University. Seven years ago I got a BFA from the University of Kansas in Visual Communication with both Illustration and Graphic Design tracks. I’ve also done a lot of fine art classes and workshops through local teachers in pastel and watercolor.


What did you study there?

Illustration, fine art, graphic design, sculpture, life drawing (my favorite)


Do you feel College helped develop your style?

At the University of Kansas we were required to do an animation class and I needed to learn digital painting for this class. Learning digital was a big benefit to the work I took after graduation.


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

I started my illustration career long before graduating from KU and illustration jobs helped pay my way through school the second time. After KU I continued to do educational illustration jobs, some work for licensed products and kids magazines like Highlights and The Little Lutheran.


Did the college you attended help you get work when you graduated?

Not in illustration.


Have you seen your work change since you left school?

Yes I think my skills have improved, and I’m always working on improving my art and portfolio.


When did you decide you wanted to illustrate for children?

I always wanted to be an artist. I began college the first time as an art major, but, surprise, finished with a degree in social work. I worked as a social worker for a couple years, then our four sons were born and I was able to stay home with them. When my grandmother died in 1993, I decided to pick up my sketchpad again. She was an artist and was very inspiring to me. I started taking adult ed art classes. Around that same time I found a copy of Childrens Writers and Illustrators Market in the library. Having an entire book of addresses to send samples to was the impetus for me to call myself an illustrator!


What was your first book you had published?

A book of toddler activities for T.S. Denison. I created 101 black and white spots  in about 6 weeks!


How did that contract come about?

Sending out postcard samples.



Did you do other types of illustrating before you got the book contract?

That was the first illustration job but I had done a published piece for a literary magazine here in Kansas City.

can't wait willow

You illustrated, Can’t Wait Willow. How did that contract come your way?

Through an agent.

musthave martin

I see that the following year you illustrated Must Have Martin with them. Did you sign a two-book deal with Ideal Books when you signed for Can’t Wait Willow?



Do you consider those books your biggest success?

My biggest success is persevering in the illustration business and still finding joy in creating art!


Do you illustrate full time?

Even though there have been seasons where the illustration work was many more hours per week than full-time, I’ve almost always had part-time jobs. I’ve worked in a fabric store, as a picture framer, in a bookstore, taken real estate photos, and since graduating from KU, as a part time graphic designer for a vegetable oil company.


Would you like to write and illustrate your own picture book?

Yes, I am working on that goal!


Have you ever thought about doing a wordless picture book?

Thought about it, yes, haven’t done it yet.


Do you have an artist rep? If so, who and how did you connect?

If not, would you like to find an agent? I’ve had art reps in the past.


Do you have a favorite medium you use?

I love the variety of digital but since recently working with traditional media again, it feels completely different. So many things come into play when putting pen, pastel or watercolor to paper. It feels more like a cohesive approach. It’s a little hard to describe, but all previous instruction plays in my head in a way that it doesn’t when working digitally. I’m really enjoying it.


Do you take research pictures before you start a project?

I used to do that and had to have photo reference for everything, but now I use google and do more drawing from my head. If it is something really specific I might still photograph it but more likely I use myself in a mirror as a model for a pose. For instance, if I needed a kid sitting in a specific way, I draw myself doing that, then base my illustration on that.


Do you use Photoshop with any of your work?

Yes. Some work I’ve done all digitally, but for most I do a drawing on paper, scan, then finish in PS. I’m experimenting with using traditional media as a base and finishing in PS. It’s just too easy to flip your drawing and correct it in PS!

ice cream

Do you have and use a graphic tablet?

Yes, a wacom intuos 3.


Do you do exhibits to show off your art?

I haven’t done this for many years, but I did exhibit as a fine artist.


Would you be willing to work with a self-publisher picture book writer on a project?

I’m interested in the traditional publishing route, so no.


Has any of your work appeared in magazines?

Yes, I’ve done work for Highlights, Highlights High Five, Highlights Hello, My Friend magazine, Story Friend magazine, The Little Lutheran magazine.


Do you have a studio in your house?

Yes. We recently moved and in our previous house I worked on my computer in our front room. I’m excited to have a space in the basement of the new house that has large west windows.


Is there anything in your studio, other than paint and brushes that you couldn’t live without?

I have a large collection of art reference books and picture books that I look at often. They are some of the first things I unpacked at the new house!


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

On a good day I’ll get in a walk first thing, do some quiet time, then work on illustration projects. I work from a to-do list every day and set goals often.


Any exciting projects on the horizon?

Yes, I’m excited to learn more about writing and in particular, non-fiction writing for kids.


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

It’s definitely been a great way to meet illustrator friends. I’m part of a small online illustrator group that has been together since the late 90s and we’ve become very close. Recently twitter and instagram have been fun and a great way to see wonderful illustration from all over the world.


What are your career goals?

Continue to improve my art. Write and illustrate my own books.


What are you working on now?

Revamping the portfolio (always!), experimenting with traditional watercolor and ink, and learning about writing.


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

Advice I need to take myself: Refine and fully flesh out the drawing, always do a value study, then a color sketch. It would make the final piece so much easier instead of correcting as I go.

A bear is in the grocery store shopping, with all his items stacking up in his arms.

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

Keep at it! Perseverance will get you there. And, no matter what, you are your own best advocate. You have the most vested interest in the direction of your career.


Thank you Luanne 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 Luanne’s work, you can visit her at website at:

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

Talk tomorrow,



  1. Love your work, Luanne! Thank you for sharing!


    • Thank you Dow! I’m a fan of your work also!


  2. Wonderful work!! I use the cut and tape method with sketches, too. I especially love your drawing of the girl sitting on her bed, drawing. Thank you for the encouraging words. 🙂


    • Thank you so much Jill!


  3. Luanne, I so enjoyed learning about your process. I also like to cut and tape and scan, haven’t attempted Photoshop though. Your color combinations, backgrounds, and your characters are all wonderful! 🙂


    • Thanks Tracy, very kind of you!


  4. Beautiful art work!


  5. I am very proud of you, Luanne! 🙂


  6. Thank you for sharing your advice and pictures! I love the close ups of children and all their expressions. Children are so honest and make such wonderful subjects to draw and paint. You have captured the joy of it all!


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