Posted by: Kathy Temean | April 9, 2016

Illustrator Saturday – Amy Schimler- Stafford


Amy’s love of color began in her early childhood growing up in Brooklyn, NY. She never wandered too far without her chunky red crayon. Moving to Miami at a young age continued to fuel her love of color and pattern. She went on to study textile design and painting at Massachusetts College of Art and the Rhode Island School of Design. She is now a designer and illustrator specializing in children’s books, children’s and women’s apparel, stationery and gifts, textiles, and wall decor, having received industry recognition and awards for her work. She continues to delight in the beautiful colors that surround her daily in her tiny cabin in the woods. She shares this joy with others through her art and feels it is both a gift and a privilege.

Here is Amy talking about her process for “Flood Warning.” an educational book written by Katharine Kenah highlighting the dangers of floods coming out later this year.



I needed to show runoff water and the debris that gets picked up along the way as well as the turbulence of the water. There was also a sidebar illustration needing to show how trees absorb water and create an avenue for water to seep into the ground.


Here is a very loose sketch I did to start – basically to give myself an idea of the layout and how it would integrate with the text, and to suggest the textures I would need to create. I usually don’t develop the illustration too far at this point. My goal here is to establish the layout, but it can change quite a bit as I go to color.

Wood Textures:

wood textures[1]

I began by creating textures for the debris using watercolor and gouache.



Here are some more textures I created with Acryla Gouache.



I keep a box filled with homemade brushes, adapted rollers, and a variety of materials, sponges, bubble wrap, corrugated cardboard, etc.



My favorite part of the process is combining the textures in the final illustration. I just keep layering the image until I reach a desired effect. Sometimes this is done off of the computer. And sometimes I do this digitally by scanning in my textures. I do finish most of my illustrations in Photoshop ultimately, as I can play with building the textures and work with transparencies. I also use Photoshop to be able to easily tweak the colors. This is the final result.


Two Covers



How long have you been illustrating?

My first answer would be ever since I can remember. In grade school I used to draw my favorite comic book characters, then in middle school I would go to the library before school started and draw fashion models from magazines. I started illustrating textile patterns in the mid-eighties, but I have been illustrating professionally (as my day job) for the past 15 years.


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

In the early 1980’s I belonged to a ceramic studio and began painting patterns and small scenes on my pottery. That would be officially the first time I actively sold my artwork, although it was three-dimensional. In terms of my illustration career, it would have been about 15 years ago when I sold a design to 3M for post –it notes that were sold in Target stores exclusively. They bought two designs, one was a coffee cup illustration and repeat pattern and another was a butterfly, also with a repeat pattern. It was a thrill to go to Target and see them in the stores.


What made you choose to attend the Massachusetts College of Art?

When I was working in the pottery studio and noticed I was much more interested in painting scenes than creating the pottery, I decided to go back to college and pursue painting. I also had begun taking continuing education classes in oil painting at the Museum School in Boston and my teacher encouraged me to further my education. At the time I was an occupational therapist (that is what my college degree was from the University of Florida). I was about to turn 30 and applied to art school, a lifelong desire. I was able to work part time as a therapist and attend a full time schedule at Mass Art.


You also mention the Rhode Island School of Design. Did you attend that school after you left MCA?

I applied to both schools and got accepted to both, but chose Mass Art because of a very practical reason, the cost. I began as a painting major and quickly switched to fiber arts. I was fortunate to move to Providence Rhode Island soon after I started Mass College of Art and was introduced to textile design through their program at RISD.


Do you feel College helped develop your style?

I am not sure about that. I think my style evolved over many years of experimentation. I did a lot of hand painted clothing when I was at Mass Art and wound up selling my wares at the ACC (American Craft Council) show in 1986 in Springfield, MA. School did expose me to many avenues of expression and gave me the freedom to play and explore, which you don’t get to do as much when you are trying to sell your artwork. It definitely set my path in motion. I think I was always determined to figure out how I could support myself with my art full time. When I took my first textile design class it did feel like a light bulb went off and I found my direction.

bus stop

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

As mentioned above, I began by painting directly on fabric and creating clothing and accessories. I then began developing pattern designs and found a rep in NYC, although I started a family soon after and wasn’t able to pursue that for very long between being a mom and working part time as an occupational therapist.


Did art school help you get work when you graduated?

I did sell my wares for a short bit, but it wasn’t enough to replace my regular work as an OT.


Have you seen your work change since you left school?

Oh yes, I returned to pattern design in the late nineties. I bought a used MAC, taught myself Illustrator and Photoshop, and began doing pattern design digitally. Previously I had hand painted all of my designs with gouache. Working on the computer, although I missed painting, was faster and more practical in terms of building a portfolio quickly. I did love the fact that I could easily change colors and play with different color combinations so effortlessly. I still enjoy that aspect of working digitally.


When did you decide you wanted to illustrate for children?

I was able to get a job working in-house for Carter’s after showing them my portfolio that I had developed on the MAC. Since it is a company that manufactures children’s clothing, I was immersed in that world. It was a good fit for my style which always had a playful, juvenile-friendly style. My initial goal when I began freelancing was never to illustrate children’s books. The more work I produced, the more my portfolio became a good fit for that market and I started getting contacted by publishers. I loved the creative process of developing artwork for children’s books and it soon became a goal of mine.


What was your first book you illustrated?

I illustrated two novelty gift books for MQ Publications, which is no longer in business. Moms Make the Best Friends and Dad Make the Best Friends. It was the very beginning of my current illustration style, but my portfolio has changed so much since working on those books.


How did that contract come about?

The author found my portfolio online and contacted me. After I left Carter’s I put my work up on an illustration website and that is what jump started my illustration career. I got work within the first few months of posting my portfolio online.


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

Yes, and I continue to. I was freelancing as a textile/pattern designer with an agency in NYC that I still work for. I was also mostly doing greeting cards and illustration for children’s products. I worked as a contract artist for American Greetings for several years. Again, the art director for American Greetings at the time found my work online.


How many books have you illustrated?

I have illustrated 20 books and am presently working on #21.


It looks like most of your books have been board books. Do you feel they are easier to illustrate?

I have done novelty books, board books, educational books, and picture books. Board books are fun to do, usually geared for a younger audience. I wouldn’t say I prefer them over picture books, each presents its own unique challenges. Perhaps they are easier in the amount of work required.

jack and the beanstalk

I see you have a new book coming out this year, titled Flood Warning with HarperCollins. How did that contract come about?

My agent was contacted by the art director at HarperCollins. She responded to my artwork on a postcard mailer that was sent to her. They reached out to several artists and had us submit sample artwork and then decided my samples fit their vision for this particular book.


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

Yes, I did author one of my board books, “Splish Splash”. It was fun illustrating my original concept. I find that my illustration style is a little bit freer when illustrating my own work and I do look forward to developing more stories to illustrate. I have one project I am shopping around presently.


What do you think has been your biggest success?

In terms of children’s books, I would list two successes. I ilustrated a book for Ladybird Books in the UK titled, “Why is the Sky Blue?” It was chosen by a nonprofit organization,, for their bookbag program which distributes books to first year school children in the UK. My book was paired with an Eric Carle title and distributed to over 700,000 kids in the UK.

The second success for me is the book I am working on now. It is for Eerdman’s Books for Young Readers and is early on in its development, so I can’t share too much. I can say that it is my dream job and I feel like the past 14 plus years of illustrating has led me to this. I have a lot of freedom and creative license on this project and am enjoying every second of the process.


Have you ever tried to do a wordless picture book?

Not as of yet, but I think that would be really challenging and fun to try.


Are represented by Artist rep.? If so, who and how long?

Yes, I feel very fortunate. My agent is the fantastic Marietta Zacker at Nancy Gallt Literary Agency.


Do you illustrate full time?

Oh yes, actually I call it full time plus! It is really hard for me to turn down work. I find myself saying, “I will not take on another project” and then something I feel I just can’t say no to turns up. I think that is what happens when you love what you do.


Do you have a favorite medium you use?

I probably love working with gouache most, but I always answer this question by saying mixed media. It sounds vague, so to be more specific I like making a mess and experimenting with new materials, and I love creating new textures and finding new color combinations that excite me. I also like printmaking, particularly monoprinting. I would love to explore that more as well as silkscreen printing.


Do you take research pictures before you start a project?

Yes, sometimes. Now with the internet it is so easy of course to find anything and everything you might need to look up. But I love to photograph things that inspire me to use later. I live in a very woodsy beautiful neighborhood and I walk every morning and see new things on the same route everyday that excite me. In fact “Splish Splash” was inspired by the animals I see every morning as I walk around our neighborhood lake.


Do you use Photoshop with any of your work?

I use Photoshop often, it has proved a really useful tool.


Do you have and use a graphic tablet?

Yes, I use a Wacom tablet and pen.


Do you do exhibits to show off your art?

I haven’t in quite some time.


Would you be willing to work with an author who wants to self-publish a picture book?

I do get contacted by self-publishing authors. As a rule, I don’t, but if it was someone whose work I knew and/or admired, I might reconsider. I love to collaborate with other creative people. I think it could be a lot of fun with the right partner.

whale fun

Has any of your work appeared in magazines?

Yes, mostly children’s publications – Cricket, Babybug, Highlights, Family Fun to name a few.

baby bug Jan '16

babybug jan 16 spread detail

Do you have a studio in your house?

I have two work spaces. Digital and non digital.


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

I have to say the other important ingredients besides the actual art tools are inspiration and imagination. I couldn’t live without that magical feeling of being inspired to create something. It seems what is just outside my studio is what I couldn’t do without. Just a 5 minute nature walk will inspire and start my imagination going.


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

My routine has changed over the years. There are many things I know I ought to be better at, like a newsletter, sending mailers, etc. But for me the most important routine is to make sure I am creating new art and to keep pushing myself to elevate what I do. Sometimes it is difficult to find the time, especially when working on deadlines. I find the best way to do this is to take some time out to create art for myself vs. an assignment. I usually wind up selling or using the artwork at a later time and it always moves my artwork, career, and client list forward.


Any exciting projects on the horizon?

The book I am working on now for Eerdman’s as mentioned earlier. I do have a possible licensing opportunity on the horizon for children’s products that I am looking forward to and a couple of books I am writing and illustrating that are in development.

blue sky

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

Completely. I would not have sustained my career this long without it. I have been working steadily as an illustrator for the past 14 plus years because of the internet.

book worm

What are your career goals?

I love creating pattern design and can’t imagine ever not doing that. I am really hopeful I get to do more projects like the one I am working on now for Eerdman’s, where my style is a good fit to the story and I get to collaborate with other creatives. And I do hope I get to publish more of my own stories. And of course, my most important goal is to keep creating new work. I have started working more and more off the computer and I’m excited to see where that takes me.


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

I have found that everyone responds differently to different materials. I would say experimenting with a variety of tools seems to be my favorite way to work. I also think it is important to understand what inspires you and what you are trying to communicate, for every artist that is slightly different. Personally, I love gouache. Nothing matches the color intensity you get with gouache. Holbein’s Acryla Gouache is not as chalky as traditional gouache and is very versatile. It can be used like acrylics, like watercolors, or used to lay down solid flat opaque color swatches.


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

I came up with the three p’s –be positive, persistent, and productive. It is important to put the hours in, keep plugging away despite rejections and keep improving your work. It is so easy to get discouraged. If you believe in yourself and your ability and/or your potential, just keep working at it. I guess I could add a fourth p, perspiration.


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

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

Talk tomorrow,



  1. Really wonderful work!


  2. Thank you for sharing your work, Amy. The colors and textures are so pretty!




  4. Love your happy colors and especially like your bird art.


  5. Love this. And so much beautiful artwork!


  6. Amy, your work is beautiful!


  7. Love the colors, textures and patterns you get with your mixed media technique Amy!


  8. Thanks for this wonderful feature – I appreciate the support and lovely comments from your blog audience.


  9. Really enjoyed poring over the gorgeous images in this post!


  10. This was so much fun to look at! Beautiful, beautiful work.


  11. Fabulous work!


  12. I did so much appreciate your sharing of your style and materials. Your illustrations are magical. I get lost in the beautiful details. Thank you so much.


  13. Thanks so much for sharing your fascinating creative process. Absolutely beautiful work!


  14. Wow, Amy, your illustrations are gorgeous! Your woodpeckers took my breath away, and the otters are so much fun.


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