Posted by: Kathy Temean | May 6, 2017

Illustrator Saturday – Mark Fearing

Raised by a pack of wild geese, Mark learned to fly at an early age. No? How about — raised by gophers Mark learned to dig extremely fast at a young age. No matter the truth, I can say that I grew up near St. Paul, Minnesota, and ended up graduating from The University of Wisconsin, Madison. I enjoyed studying ancient art history, comparative literature and Chinese, but ended up with a BFA focused on design. I proceeded to work in politics, advertising and graphic design in Madison until I transferred myself to Los Angeles where I worked in graphic design, motion graphics, video games, animation for TV and film and created several TV shows that never saw the light of day or even the glow of a TV.

I later attended the MFA program in animation at UCLA where I made The Thing with No Head. The best animated short ever made. Ever. OK. That’s subjective.

I ended up working as an art director for Sony Online, a new media creative director for Pearson Television and a current production manager for Walt Disney TV Animation. Along the way I was writing and illustrating books—sending them out and enjoying the resulting letters that varied between, “You should never work in children’s books,” and “Send more samples!”

In 2007 a small publisher in Long Beach published several of my comic books. In 2009, Tricycle Press published The Book That Eats People, which I illustrated, and since then I have been fortunate enough to work on  many books which you can read about on this site and if you order the books or check them out from a library you can read the actual books.

My favorite genres are science fiction, horror and humor. Or a combination of all three. And oddly enough, geese didn’t teach me to fly. It was the gophers that taught me that. Who’d a guessed!?

Here’s Mark explaining his process:

Top is the scanned in pencil sketch.

I adjust the pencil sketch to darken the lines using ‘levels’.

Drawing in photoshop now, drawing on a layer. Above my pencil sketch. I went with a brown line feeling it was slightly warmer and less formal than
a solid black line.

I tried different colors working with the art director.

Usually I have a handful of color layers and while I want to keep things easily divided I like painting on layers so it doesn’t feel overly ‘computer’ with the colors feeling separated.

I create dozens of layers working on a book. The layers displayed on the right show what a typical spread would have.

The two kids by the wall were in a layer that was turned off in the previous .jpg. I often select characters and move them – sometimes I remove them all together.

I changed the bookshelves to a rusty red when I was working with the art director and revising colors. This process went on to the very end. I’m very happy with where it ended up!

Here is the cover of the book.

How long have you been illustrating?

I’ve been drawing since I can remember. It’s only been a focus for my career in the last 10 years.

What and when was the first painting or illustration that you did where someone paid you for your artwork?

While attending the University of Wisconsin I illustrated a locally published book and did cartoons for the student newspaper and the city newspaper.

What drew you to choose to attend The University of Wisconsin?

I have to admit I didn’t put a lot of thought into it. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do, I grew up near the Twin Cities in Minnesota and visited Madison and liked it. I was interested in attending UCLA and had attended a summer program in TV writing in 11th grade but my high school councilor thought my odds of getting into UCLA weren’t good and as an out of state student it would have been prohibitively expensive. So Madison won out. Years later I would attend UCLA for graduate school. So I did finally get in!

What did you study there?

I spent quite a few years in undergrad and moved from being an Ancient Art History Major to a Comparative Literature major and finally received a BFA focused on print making! I took the classes I was interested in and enjoyed learning new things, only later did I think about what I expected from college.

Do you think college influenced your style?

Both undergrad and graduate school (the MFA animation program in the film school at UCLA) broadened my appreciation of art styles and introduced me to new ideas and techniques.

What opportunity drew you to LA after college?

I moved to LA after working in Madison for 3 years or so looking for new and interesting opportunities.

Out of the animation, film, TV, and video games, which one did you like doing the most?

I enjoy narrative art in whatever form. I really love the process of traditional 2D animation, but I enjoy working on books more.

Did you do illustration jobs while you were studying for your MFA at UCLA?

I was taking regular drawing classes as part of the animation program. This included life drawing, drawing at the zoo and drawing at museums. I was working part time as a graphic designer and motion designer while in graduate school.

What type of things did you do as a production manager at Disney?

It is a bit of a confusing job, but I worked under the head of TV Animation Production and helped oversee the process of developing and making an animated show for Walt Disney TV. This included being aware of legal issues, broadcast issues, and creative notes. Helping show creators work within the organization and making sure that the process of turning script and storyboards into broadcast ready animation went as planned and no unexpected difficulties effected the production schedule.

When did you decide you wanted to illustrate for children?

I always loved picture books but had no idea how one did this job. I found other ways to make my living but not until I took a class with Marla Frazee did I think I might be able to do it.

What was the first picture book you illustrated?

The Book That Eats People was my first picture book. And it’s still in print and still eating people!

How did that contract come your way?

I had been attending SCBWI conferences, showing my portfolio, sending postcards and having my work reviewed by editors and art directors for about 5 years before I got the call to illustrate The Book That Eats People.

Was The Three Little Aliens and the Big Bad Robot your next book? How did you get that contract?

Earthling! The graphic novel I wrote and illustrated was the next book, followed quickly by The Three Little Aliens which came about because the editor had seen my work for The Book That Eats People.

We’re doing a book giveaway of Sandy Asher’s book CHICKEN STORY TIME. What medium did you use to do the illustrations? How long did it take you to illustrate the book?

Chicken Story Time was a big project. It took me about a year and a half to illustrate. I did pencil sketches and scanned them in doing the final art on the computer using Photoshop. All my books final art is done on the computer using a Wacom Tablet and Photoshop.

Do you have an Artist Rep. to represent you? If so, and how did you connect and how long have you been with them?

My Agent is Sean McCarthy. I have worked with him for 9 years or so now. Sean’s agency saw my work at a SCBWI conference and contacted me.

How many picture books have you illustrated?

I think I’m currently working on my 11th picture book.

Did you do any book covers while getting established?

I have not done covers.

Would you like to write and illustrate a children’s book?

I have written three picture books that have been published, (Giant Pants comes out in October from Candlewick Press). I also wrote Earthling!, a young reader graphic novel.

Would you be open to illustrating a book for an author who wants to self-publish?

No. Unfortunate my schedule keeps me too busy to take on work from outside my agent. When I have some down time I use that to work on my own writing.

Have you ever tried to illustrate a wordless picture book?

I have written two wordless picture books but neither was acquired by a publisher. I’d love to create one that works!

Have you worked with educational publishers?

I have not.

Have you done any illustrating for children’s magazines?


Have you won any awards for illustrating?

I have a few awards for books I’ve written and illustrated. I’m very proud that The Book That Eats People was the North Carolina Picture Book of the Year in 2011.

What do you feel is your biggest success so far?

That’s a tricky question, because various books are successful in different ways. Some because I am very happy with the art, some because they solved a difficult problem that probably isn’t obvious to readers, some because they resonate and become beloved. I don’t have a single favorite and almost every book has an aspect that I feel is a success.

Do you still work to find illustrating projects? Or do publishers look for you?

My agent is contacted by publishers with manuscripts and I write my own manuscripts which my agent sends out for consideration.

What is your favorite medium to use?

I enjoy working on the computer for many reasons. It allows me to try things quickly, to make mistakes and fix mistakes without destroying an entire canvas. I am NOT a great painter. I have to work really hard to get a good looking painting. It’s not natural to me. I am a ‘line’ guy, I love to draw in my spare time not paint. So working on the computer helps me fix my mistakes.

Has that changed over time?

I started working on the computer as a graphic designer and slowly did more and more of my illustrations on it.

Do you have a studio set up in your home?

Yes. I work from my home and spend way to much time in there!

What the most important thing in your personal studio?

I like my two desks that sit next to each other. One with my Wacom and computer and the other with my light board and pencils and paper. I can go back and forth easily.

Do you try to spend a specific amount of time working on your craft?

I try and write for at least a few hours every week. I draw every day either on deadline or for personal pieces.

Do you take pictures or do any types of research before you start a project?

I do photo research (thank you Google!) but have never taken pictures of models. I do take digital pictures of interesting textures and landscapes for inspiration.

Do you think the Internet has opened doors for you?

I don’t know…I don’t think I can say the internet has helped or hurt me. It has made research easier, made it easier for people to see my work I suppose. But I’ve never been made aware that it  helped me directly.

Do you use Photoshop or Painter with your illustrations?


Do you own or have you used a Graphic Drawing Tablet in your illustrating?

I use a Wacom tablet for drawing connected to an iMac.

Do you have any career dreams that you want to fulfill?

Tough question. I guess I would love to have a Best Seller, but at the same time I don’t feel like I control that, so it’s not really something I can make happen or not happen. I just do the best I can with each book. I can’t ‘try harder’ or ‘try more’. It’s not an athletic parallel where the more practice you get the faster you are because a best seller isn’t just about ‘drawing better’ or writing ‘better’. It’s about creating a vision that resonates culturally at a given moment. So you have to keep working or you have no chance to have a book become a best seller, but I can also create plenty of books that I love that are not best sellers. So I best not peg my happiness on that.

 What are you working on now?

I’m painting a new picture book, finishing illustrations on a middle grade novel, shortly starting illustrations for another middle grade novel, drawing a long delayed graphic novel, doing sample pages of another graphic novel for editors to consider and writing a new picture book. I don’t do it all in the same day!

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.

Every illustrator has to find out what they love to do, and what they do better than other illustrators. Along the way they need to find their voice in their work. My personal preference is for work that is not technically perfect but instead hints at the personality of the artist. I don’t want another lesson in drafting skills, I want an emotional connection to the work.

Any words of wisdom on how to become a successful writer or illustrator?

Just keep doing it. The most boring advice in the world! Keep at it, and share your work with editors and art directors when you have the opportunity and listen to what they say. Not to change what you do, but to understand how your work is effecting people – which you may not even be aware of. Then decide what you want to alter and understand why. Our job is to communicate clearly. Communicate with charm and humor and drama and infuse it with character and meaning. You have to find what you love to do in order to share it.

Thank you Mark 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 Mark’s work, you can visit his website:

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

Talk tomorrow,


  1. Thanks Mark for an enjoyable read and sharing your process! It’s always fun to read about what goes into the making of art. Your artwork is very light-hearted and jolly! 🙂


  2. These illustrations are hilarious! What a great sense of humor – best of luck to Mark on Giant Pants, it looks great!


  3. The illustrations are simply brilliant, everything about them is great: color, composition, idea. There is a lot every illustrator can learn Mark😊


  4. Love your work, your post, and your humor!


  5. Very fun work!


  6. […] You can see the images and read about it by clicking here. Thanks for the opportunity Kathy! […]


  7. Loved all the comments and your answers to the questions. Keep up the good work and take it easy. Great illustrations and stay away from the political cartoons, stay with the kids!



  8. This was so much fun learning more about you, Mark 🙂 I had NO idea you had such a diversified career! I knew Sean repped you, but not for so long. How wonderful 🙂 And thank so much for sharing a bit of your process. It always fascinates me and I always learn something 😀


  9. I love his illustrative style! Thanks for sharing!


  10. Thank you for the kind comments! I’ve received a few additional questions via email that I might as well answer here to. I draw all my roughs with a pencil and paper and scan them. I use photoshop to draw and paint. I work very rough with my sketches and I do most of the ‘heavy lifting’ on the computer. But often I have to go back and do another round of pencil sketches. For some reason I like using a pencil and paper for those first roughs, I tend to draw perspective awkwardly in the computer and have to work that out with my pencil. I doing my final pairing at 600dpi at 100% scale. Above in the interview I gave a confusing note about how I use layers in Photoshop. What I meant to say is that I use many layers so I can easily adjust scale and position while I draw. But I often pain on only a few layers. I purposely do this so that all my colors aren’t separated cleanly. I don’t want the feeling of a foreground, middle ground and background all living separately and not interacting. So I tend to paint things and mix it up, creating a new layer, painting on it and then combining it with the layer below. I feel this adds an organic feel that might otherwise be absent from computer work. I do not care for work that is too clean, too antiseptic and ‘cold’. I like to get a sense of a surface that has been touched.


  11. I just love your work. I like that there’s so much to explore in each illustration, but I’m especially impressed with the movement and emotion. Thanks for sharing!


  12. I love the energy and personality in your work. Your characters show so much emotion. Your illustrations have that wacky, fun vibe kids love. Thanks for sharing!


  13. It’s always funny when you’re Facebook “friends” with people but you only get to know them better through a different venue. 😀 Glad to learn more about the talented Mr. Fearing in this post. What fun! His humor really shines through.


  14. I’ve actually read The Book That Eats People. My mom got it and we highly enjoyed it for its imagination and pure silliness.


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