Posted by: Kathy Temean | November 19, 2016

Illustrator Saturday – Jennifer Zivion

jennportraitJennifer Zivoin has always loved art and storytelling, so becoming an illustrator was a natural career path. She has been trained in media ranging from figure drawing to virtual reality, and earned her Bachelor of Arts degree with highest distinction from the honors division of Indiana University. During her professional career, Jennifer worked as a graphic designer and then as a creative director before finding her artistic niche illustrating children’s books. In addition to artwork, she enjoys reading, cooking, and ballroom dancing. Jennifer lives in Indiana with her family.

Jennifer is a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators and is represented by MB Artists.


I always start with tiny quick thumbnails in my sketchbook. I try out many compositions and ideas until I find one that I like.


Next, I start creating a refined sketch in Photoshop.


I start painting by roughing in colors and tones, and then start building up the lights and shadows.


Sometimes during the illustration process, I realize that certain elements are not working, and major revisions are needed. For this piece, the girl was looking more “queenly” when I was really going for a “princess” look. Also, the perspective on the table wasn’t correct. For this revision, I made the girl look younger both through her body shape, hair and accessories. I fixed the angle of the table, and changed the design of the lamp to make it a more interesting prop.


Once the problem areas were addressed, I could move on with taking the piece to completion. I focus on lighting, subtle layering of colors to create luminous hues, and adding details both in the foreground and background.


The final piece. Before a piece is finished, I add special touches, like a warming filter around the princess’s face, refined shadows and highlights, a softened glow around the lamp, and sparkles of light on the crown and accessories. Now the illustration is ready for my portfolio.

Below is Jennifer’s next book coming out February 2017.


Jennifer illustrated a page of interior art for GIVE PLEASE A CHANCE in Bill O’Reilly and James Patterson’s new book.


Coming out this coming week.


Here are a few of Jennifer’s book covers:






How long have you been illustrating?

I have been illustrating professionally since 2004, when I began freelancing for the Society of Professional Journalists.


Where do you live?

I live in Carmel, Indiana.


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

My very first paid illustration assignment was a piece of cover art that the Society of Professional Journalists commissioned for one of their publications.


What made you chose to attend the Indiana University?

I debated between going to a liberal arts school or attending an art school.  Ultimately, I chose Indiana University because I felt that attending a college at which I could take classes that pertained to a variety of my interests, such a literature, law, science and business, would provide a more rewarding educational experience and would ultimately benefit my career.  I feel that being able to meet many different types of people and being able to have access to many different fields of study was enriching and helped me to have a well-rounded background to support my artistic profession.


What did you study there?

While at Indiana University, I focused on Graphic Design and Digital Imagery, with a minor in Art History.  Through these concentrations, I was able to work on projects ranging from traditional figure drawing to CAVE virtual reality.  Also, being part of the honors division allowed me to take some amazing classes in literature and law, which were so interesting and engaging.


Did college help develop your style?

While in college, I was still trying to decide exactly what artistic field was right for me. I always knew that I wanted to work with visual storytelling, but I also knew that I would need practical job skills that would allow me to find employment after graduation. So my classes focused more on graphic design, and I developed my illustration style independently.


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

After graduation, I became a graphic designer for a local paper products company, where I did the layouts for catalogs. Later, I moved to a digital marketing company where I worked as a creative director and assisted with project management.


Did they help you get work after you graduated?

No.  The university was not involved with helping me find my first job after graduation.


Have you seen your work change since you graduated?

Absolutely!  When I first graduated, I was very unsure of my style, and was still trying to find my artistic voice.  I experimented with many mediums, but mostly used watercolor, acrylic and colored pencil.  Today, I work digitally.  I think that continuous learning, change, and growth are part of every career, not just for professional artists.  If I looked back over the years and did not see an evolution in my style and approach to illustration, I would be very worried that I had missed opportunities to develop as an artist.


When did you decide you wanted to illustrate for children?

I finally decided that I wanted to illustrate for children while I was working as a graphic designer. I realized that I didn’t want to work with other people’s art. I wanted to be creating my own. I love the still image, and the ability to use an image to tell a story. It is funny, actually, that it took me so long to realize this. I feel like I was looking for a complicated answer to the question “What should I do with my life”. I thought about animation, and video game development, but the answer was very simple. “I love to draw. I should do that.”


Was The Curse of Snake Island your first book?



How did that contract come about?

I had been advertising online in the Directory of Illustration, and an art director at Grosset & Dunlap saw one of my illustrations there.  It was painting of a boy fighting a giant phantom serpent in a cave full of gold coins.  The funny thing is, I almost didn’t finish that piece, and thought about throwing it away several times!  When I got the call from Grosset & Dunlap saying that they had seen the piece and wanted to work with me on the Pirate School series, I was so excited!  They sent me the script, and there were actually several scenes in which the pirate kids encounter a giant serpent in a cave full of gold coins.  Sometimes success in this industry is about the right person seeing the right illustration at the right time.


How many pirate books did you illustrate?

There are 8 books in the Pirate School series.



How did the contract for All My Stripes: A Story for Children with Autism book come your way?

Since 2008, I have been represented by MB Artists, so my agent made that connection with Magination Press and negotiated the contract.  I was very excited when Mela, my agent, told me about the project, and was eager to be a part of it.

ac59d76e2c76d996Did you do the covers for the Lily series books?



Did the Lily book have any interior art?

Some of the Lilly books have interior art, and some do not.  I believe that the “Beauty Book” and the “Body Book” are the only ones with interior art.


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

Yes!  In fact, I have a book of my own in the works right now!  It is still in the early stages of being written, but I hope to be able to take it all the way to publication.


What do you think is your biggest success?

There hasn’t been any one “biggest success”, but more like a series opportunities that successfully moved my career forward.  Certainly being chosen to work on the Pirate School series in 2006 was a big moment, because it launched me into the world of children’s book illustration.  In 2008, I signed with MB Artists, and since then, my agent has been instrumental in helping me develop my style and grow my career.  “All My Stripes” was the beginning of my professional relationship with Magination Press.  This publisher has been wonderful to work with and has allowed me so much creative freedom.  I have felt very proud of the books that the Magination Press team has allowed me to be a part of, and I am now illustrating my 4th picture book with them.  Recently, I also worked with The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis, the largest children’s museum in the world, to create the artwork for their Pirates & Princesses exhibit.  One of the pieces for the lobby façade is larger than my house!  It has been exciting to be a part of so many great opportunities, and I look forward to seeing what comes my way in the future.


Have you ever tried to do a wordless picture book?

I have never worked on a true wordless book, but I try to approach all of my picture books as if they are wordless.  Many young children cannot yet read, and I want to create illustrations that can tell those children a story even when there is no adult to read to them.


Do you have an artist rep.? How did the two of you connect?

I have been represented by Mela Bolinao at MB Artists since 2008.  I am a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, and the organization has resources to help illustrators and art representatives connect.  MB Artists was one of the agencies that I was interested in.  After sending Mela a letter of introduction and some art samples, we began a dialog, and determined that we could be a good fit for each other.  We have been working together ever since, and I have been so grateful for the input and impact that Mela has had on my career.


Do you illustrate full time?

Yes.  I work from home, so I am both a full time illustrator and a full time mom.


Do you have a favorite medium you use?

I create all of my illustrations digitally in Photoshop.


Do you take research pictures before you start a project?

I always research before I start a project, but I don’t always have the opportunity to take my own pictures, depending on what subject matter is needed. Luckily, the internet has photos pertaining to just about every subject imaginable. Often, more than just visual reference material is needed. I try to research each subject of a project as much as I can so that I can be informed. Being knowledgeable about a topic benefits the illustrations and helps me to meet clients’ needs.


Have you worked with any educational publishers? If yes, is there any difference working with them?

Yes, I do many projects with educational publishers.  Those assignments are usually have faster turn-around-times than picture books.  Also, the art usually has to be a direct mirror for the text, since the goal of the art is to support what is being written and to assist the student to understand the text.


Do you use Photoshop with any of your work?

I create all of my art in Photoshop.


Do you have and use a graphic tablet?

I use a Wacom Cintiq.


Has any of your work appeared in magazines?

Yes, I have done work for Highlights, Highlights High Five, Ladybug, Babybug and Clubhouse Jr.


Do you have a studio in your house?



Is there anything in your studio you couldn’t live without?

My computer. If my computer or the Cintiq that is attached to it fail, then all illustration creation stops. That is why I have backup equipment and backup hard drives, in case of a technology-fail situation.


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

Several times a year, my agent and I talk specifically about my goals and ways to develop my porfolio to keep my career moving in the right direction.  We identify some things that I can be addressing in my artwork, such as ascpects of my style or subject matter.  Then in every piece of art that I create, I try to grow and challenge myself with those goals that we set in mind.  This helps me to explore, grow and create with a focus, and ultimately have a stronger portoflio.  I also love to attend SCBWI conferences when I am able to learn from and be inspired by other industry professionals.


Any exciting projects on the horizon?

I am excited to be one of the illustrators in Bill O’Reilly and James Patterson’s upcoming book “Give Please a Chance”, which will be released on November 21st.  I am also working on my 4th book with Magination Press, which I believe will be released in late 2017.


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

The internet has absolutely impacted by ability to work as a freelance illustrator. Because of the internet, I can live wherever I want, and still do business with clients all over the world. I use an ftp site to deliver illustrations to my clients. Since I don’t need to worry about shipping artwork, I can work right up until due dates if needed, and then my clients can easily retrieve their files online. Plus, the internet provides the opportunity to connect with other illustrators and industry professionals. It is great to be able to hop online and talk with other illustrators about techniques, tricks, tips and to receive critiques. I have been so inspired by my fellow artists!


What are your career goals?

I am really open to whatever comes my way.  Mostly, projects that are unique or that have some special quality are exciting to me.  I hope to be able to work on more trade picture books, but also really enjoy being a part of toy products, magazines and special custom illustration assignments.  I hope that with every project that I grow as an artist and can create beautiful artwork that can inspire children.


What are you working on now?

Right now I am working on a new picture book for Magination Press, which I believe will be released in late 2017, some educational illustrations, and a holiday TV Guide cover piece for a client in England.


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

For me, going digital was a great career move.  It allowed me to be more free and experimental than I was when I worked in watercolor, because I no long needed to be afraid of making mistakes.  If I don’t like a color, I just change it, or turn off that layer.  However, it is important to me to be able to keep my digital art looking natural.  One of the best tips I got was not to make the art look too “tidy”.  Keeping the “mistakes” and little imprefections allows the piece to have the look of being touched by an artist.  Also, I love using “mulitply” layers in Photoshop to give shadows a luminous tint.  Recently, I have been experimenting with selective use of warming and cooling filter layers over certain parts of the illustration to enhance the color depth and the overall tone of the piece.


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

First of all, join the SCBWI. There are so many resources for aspiring artists: information about publishers and agents, publications that address important industry topics, and forums where illustrators can find answers to so many questions, and even get critiques from other members. I have found it so important to stay connected with other illustrators. I am part of a local SCBWI illustrator group. We meet regularly to discuss our art, exchange information about conferences, and help each other develop our craft. I am also a part of an online Facebook group of illustrators speciaically from MB Artists, and the critiques I have received from my fellow artists have been so valuable. (cont.)


So, find a way to get in touch with other illustrators! Attend conferences. Get portfolio reviews from industry professionals, and take their advice to heart. Find out where you need to develop and grow, and then make an effort to push your art so that your portfolio can be the best it can be. Best of luck to all illustrators as we continue to grow our careers and inspire children through visual storytelling!


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

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

Talk tomorrow,



  1. Your colorful work makes me smile this morning! What talent you have for telling a story through art.


  2. I really enjoyed Jennifer’s vibrant style. Thanks for sharing, Jennifer & Kathy!


  3. WOW! xo How interesting, detailed, and lovely.


  4. Fabulous art, Jennifer.


  5. Thank you Jennifer. I love your pictures. I was honored to meet you at the SCBWI in Franklin.


  6. Wonderful art!


  7. Wonderful insight! Thank you for sharing.


  8. Hey Jennifer, I miss our Once Upon a Sketch critique chats but I loved seeing your new work! 😉


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