Katherine was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota and grew up near lakes and surrounded by trees. Now she lives in San Francisco, with her husband, in a house on a hill.
Her studio is in a cozy corner of her house, in a space filled with brushes and bottles, scraps of paper and paints. Her dogs, Sookie and Chi, keep her company while she works. They nap and watch out the window for visitors, use their cold black noses in the late afternoon to remind Katherine when it’s time for a walk.
Katherine says she remembers the first time she painted a picture and the paint went where she wanted it to go. That was in third grade, working with watercolors and was very excited by the experience. Now, she uses all kinds of paint, charcoal, pens and paper. She likes playing with the materials and they all provide seemingly endless possibilities for expression.
Katherine says, “The picture books that fill her many bookcases hold a special place in her heart. I love this form of storytelling that pairs carefully chosen words with imaginative illustrations and binds them together in a package for hands to hold”.
Currently, she is working on her seventh picture book. She says the work continues to give her the same pleasure and excitement that she felt so long ago in grade school when I brushed paint on paper and watched it form a tree.
Here is Katherine discussing her process:
I tried many different paints and techniques for All Ears All Eyes and none of them felt right. It made me a little crazy so I set that problem aside and I began the sketches. Like many of my fellow illustrators, I like to begin with small roughs and gradually move to larger, more finished pieces.
After I complete a small rough sketch dummy, I work on more finished black/white sketches.
It was time to approach color and technique again. I experimented with watercolor and finally landed on a technique where I paint individual parts of a composition and then layer them in the computer. It’s difficult to show on a large piece but here is a small example.
First I work on painting the background. I used lots of sponging.
Then I added in the leaves, which I had painted separately.
Next the tree trunks. Also painted separately.
Last came the owl.
Then add to background.
It took me three years to complete the art for All Ears All Eyes. It was definitely the most difficult book I have ever illustrated but also the most satisfying.
You can look forward to reading more about this book in April with a Book Giveaway, so check back.
Some other book covers below.
Interview with Katherine
How long have you been illustrating?
I have been illustrating children’s books since about 2001.
Did you go to the University of Colorado Boulder for art?
Yes. I was an art major.
Why did you choose to attend CU?
It is a good university and offered a broad choice of majors. I was not certain how I wanted to incorporate art into a career.
What did you study there?
I took classes in art, history, literature and education.
Do you think art school influenced your style?
When did you decide you wanted to illustrate for children?
I believe I have always been interested in illustrating children’s books but it wasn’t until around 2001 that I actually began to pursue a career more diligently.
I see you have illustrated a new book coming out on March 7th, titled, ALL EARS, ALL EYES. How long did the publisher give you to illustrate the book?
I worked on the illustrations for All Ears All Eyes for three years.
How did that opportunity come your way?
I have illustrated a number of books for Atheneum, and they knew my style. Atheneum Executive Art Director, Ann Bobco asked me if I would be interested in illustrating this manuscript. I was delighted to accept.
Where do you find inspiration?
San Francisco has a wonderful arts scene. I am also especially fond of paging through the Bologna Illustration Annuals. I will fix myself a cup of coffee, relax in a soft chair and slowly turn pages while letting my mind wander. Sometimes I will go to the San Francisco Main Library and look at the children’s picture books from other countries to look for inspiration.
Did you get to work with Caitlyn Dlouhy on the book?
Yes. It was a pleasure to work with Caitlyn.
What was the first book that you illustrated?
I consider my first book to be Penguin and Little Blue.
How did you get the job to illustrate that book?
Dick Jackson, an editor with Atheneum, saw an illustration sample that I created. He asked if I would be interested in illustrating Penguin and Little Blue.
How did Atheneum find you for that first picture book contract?
At the time I had an agent and she presented my work to Dick Jackson.
Have you won award for your illustrating?
Would you like to write and illustrate a children’s book?
Do you have an Artist Rep. to represent you?
I currently represent myself.
What is your favorite medium to use?
I love to paint with watercolor. It can be quite magical.
Has that changed over time?
Yes. I used to prefer to paint in acrylic and oil.
It looks like you have incorporated textile materials into some of your illustrations. Can you tell us about that?
I used paste paper for the illustrations in All the Water. It has an appearance that is somewhat three-dimensional. Here is a site that describes how paste paper is made. https://lilbookbinder.wordpress.com/2011/01/27/paste-paper-tutorial/
Do you try to spend a specific amount of time working on your craft?
The time I spend varies, depending on the projects and deadlines. I am generally working all day, every weekday. As deadlines close in, I often also work in the evenings and/or weekends.
Do you take pictures or do any types of research before you start a project?
I find the computer very useful in researching. I also take photos as needed.
Do you use Photoshop or Painter with your illustrations?
I use Photoshop occasionally. I do not use Painter.
Do you own or have you used a Graphic Drawing Tablet in your illustrating?
I own a tablet, but I do not use it much. I find that I draw more expressively with a pencil or pen.
Do you have any career dreams that you want to fulfill?
I would love to both write and illustrate a picture book.
What are you working on now?
I am currently illustrating a new manuscript by Dick Jackson. It is a re-telling of a folktale.
Do you have any material type tips you can share with us? Example: Paint or paper that you love – the best place to buy – a new product that you’ve tried – A how to tip, etc.
I have a new Japanese brush pen that I find creates a very expressive line. I purchased mine in a Japanese stationary store in San Francisco but I believe you can find them online as well. https://www.jetpens.com/Kuretake-No.-13-Fountain-Brush-Pen-Black-Body/pd/2660
Do you have any advise for aspiring illustrators?
Celebrate and cherish your unique vision as an artist.
I always find it helpful to keep drawing. My friend and fellow children’s book author/illustrator, Lisa Brown, renders a sketch a day. I am not that disciplined but I recognize the more I draw, the better my illustration.
I also love to explore how other illustrators think through visual problems. Recently, I was wowed by the illustrations that Yuyi Morales rendered for the Sherman Alexie title, Thunder Boy Jr. Separate the text from the pictures and you can see how she stretched and added to the story. Yuyi is also terrific at capturing emotion. Here is another recent title I admire, This Beautiful Day, by Richard Jackson and illustrated by Suzy Lee. Suzy Lee is among the best at capturing emotion. http://www.simonandschuster.com/books/This-Beautiful-Day/Richard-Jackson/9781481441391. Emotion is something I am always looking to include in my illustrations.
Well, and then there is this quote, which I keep close by.
“The secret to creativity is knowing how to hide your sources.” – Albert Einstein
Thank you Katherine 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 Katherine’s work, you can visit her at her website: http://www.katherinetillotson.com
If you have a minute, please leave a comment for Katherine. I am sure she’d love it and I enjoy reading them, too. Thanks!