Posted by: Kathy Temean | July 29, 2017

Illustrator Saturday – Mike Ciccotello

Mike Ciccotello received a BFA with a concentration in painting from Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers University. He has fourteen years experience in broadcast motion graphics, working at CNN and Fox Business Network. Currently, he is the Art and Design Director at Telos Corporation. His art has been featured on, CNN,, Artists & Makers Magazine, and Industry Magazine. He has exhibited at Johnson & Johnson Headquarters and the NY Design Center. He is an active member of SCBWICBIG, Drawn to Picture Books, and a contributing member of

Here’s a quick-ish breakdown of how Mike works, using ProCreate.

Rough image – First, I create a rough sketch, you can do this by drawing directly within ProCreate or you can import an image to a lower layer. Once I sketch out the basic shapes, I turn down the transparency of that layer and go into more detail on a new layer, above the previous one. You can repeat this technique until you have a rough illustration you are happy with.

Perspective – If I need help with perspective, Procreate has a great tool that allows you to create up to 3 point perspective over your illustration. You can even turn on an assist function that will aid you in drawing straight lines on that perspective grid. If I use this feature, I tend to draw my perspective guides on a separate layer, and trace over them to create my final space.

Line Art – Once my rough is complete and the perspective is working, I create final line art on a new layer.

Color – Recently, I’ve started to paint over my line work and remove most of the line. Some illustrators like the line. Either way, you have the control to keep it, or paint over it. You can move the line art layer above, or below the color layers. There is quite a bit of control with color and brush choices. There is an array of dry and wet media brushes that react how you want them to. The oil pastel will blend into other colors and have that oily smudgy feel to it. The pastel will show the textured paper if you use the side of the pencil when you shade. The details are absolutely amazing.

Working with Layers – When you create your canvas and set your DPI, you will get a preview of your maximum number of layers for your file. Larger files, with higher dpi, will reduce the number of layers you can have. I tend to work on a few layers and then merge them into one. It feels more natural for me to work this way. One technique I enjoy is creating 2-3 versions on different layers and seeing which one works best. In this case, I believe in this piece, I played with the glance of the little girl’s eyes to see where I wanted her looking. Again, the application doesn’t do the work for you, but it makes it easier for you to swap out these items to see what works best.

Final touches– When I get to the final touches, I usually work on a separate layer or layers until I am happy with lighting, shadows and effects. In this case, I added the rain, puddles of water, shadows etc. I utilized that perspective grid to make sure the rain reinforced the perspective. Each layer has a full range of transparency modes, just like Photoshop. This is great for overlay, multiply, or soft transparent light effects.

How long have you been illustrating?

a. I’ve been making art as long as I can remember. The last time we spoke I mentioned that I first knew I wanted to be an artist when I was in kindergarten. It’s true. Other than a short stint of wanting to be a racecar driver, I can’t remember a time when I didn’t want to be an artist. I’m so happy that I stuck with it. My kids think I go to the office to color all day – and technically, I guess I do.

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

a. In an earlier interview, I mentioned that the first art I was paid for was a mural of Pink Floyd’s, “The Wall” that I made when I was 15 or 16. But, I thought it was also important to share the story of an early painting I didn’t sell. Coincidentally, it was also a painting of a wall, the Berlin Wall. I painted it right after the Berlin Wall fell, when I was 15. An art teacher at school offered to buy it from me. I thought about it, but in the end, I decided to keep it. I ended up giving it to my brother, and he still has it.

What made you choose Mason Gross School of Arts, at Rutgers University to study art?

a. Well, I wanted to go to school in NY. My parents wanted me to go to a state school. Luckily for me, being a NJ resident, Mason Gross School of the Arts happens to be at a state school, Rutgers University. So, I was still able to get my BFA at a well-regarded art school, in state.

Do you feel college helped develop your style?

a. Yes and no. I certainly feel my college education helped get me to where I am today, but the way I create now compared to college is much different. These days, my interactions with other illustrators are influencing me the most. The conversations at conferences, portfolio reviews, critique groups, social media, seminars… all of these peer interactions are playing a huge part in shaping how I create, and who I am as an artist. I think the most important part of developing a style is to keep exposing yourself to new influences and keep your mind open.

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

a. Out of school I bartended, worked at a liquor store, designed menu boards for local business, and painted murals. While working on murals at a local club, I made a contact who got me an interview at CNN. Three years after graduating, I got a job in broadcast design at CNN. That was a turning point in my life; working at CNN really lit a fire under me. It taught me excellent work habits, discipline, design, animation – and I owe so much of that to the excellent team of designers and artists that took me under their wing.

What made you join the SCBWI?

a. I knew I wanted to create children’s books when I was in college, but I didn’t know how to get there. I realize now, that at the time I wasn’t asking the right questions. It wasn’t until many years later that I found SCBWI through Instagram. What? Yes, Instagram. I discovered Danny Beck, an incredibly talented illustrator who was talking about Inktober and this other illustrator, Jake Parker, on Instagram. I visited Jake’s site and learned about this online school, After additional research, I learned that the site offered a children’s book illustration course for $300. A full course for $300! I thought that was worth checking out. It was in that course that I learned about SCBWI. I joined immediately and I am so happy that I did. Good things can come from Instagram!

Are you part of a critique group?

a. Yes, I’m a member of two separate critique groups. Drawn to Picture Books is our illustration critique group. It’s a wonderful group that took me under their wing after my first SCBWI conference. They helped me assemble my children’s literature portfolio, and offer great conversation and criticism when I’m in a tough spot with my work. I also joined a children’s literature writing critique group about a year ago. They are a fantastic group that can shine light on your work, show you the trouble spots, and point you in a much better direction. I’m grateful to be involved with both groups.

Are you still doing Doodle Cups?

a. I just recently decided to stop doing my Coffee Cup Doodles. I truly enjoy creating them, but they take up a lot of time. If I want to be serious about pursuing children’s illustration, I need to make hard decisions about what I spend my time doing. I realized that the Coffee Cup Doodles were the thing that needed to go.

Have you created a book dummy for a picture book idea?

a. Yes, a few. My agent and I have something out on submission, and I’m working on a few new manuscripts I would like to develop into dummies.

Have you ever thought about doing a wordless picture book?

a. Yes, and I actually created a wordless picture book dummy. But after a lot of editing and revision, the book now has words. Maybe I’ll come back to a wordless book in the future, but for now, words are good.

Do you have an agent?

a. Yes, I am represented by Rachel Orr of Prospect Agency. SHE’S AWESOME! Hi, Rachel!

Have you done any illustrations for a children’s magazine?

a. I would love to, but I haven’t yet.

How did your artwork find its way to Fox Business Network, Fox News Channel, and CNN?

a. Taking advantage of opportunity, I suppose. After working at CNN for a while, it was well known around the newsroom that I enjoyed drawing. I wound up getting a contract for a weekly comic on, The Dolan’s Unscripted. It was really fun to create and I learned so much. It’s interesting to think how I might approach those illustrations today. Anyway, I did that series, and some illustrations for Nancy Grace, Lou Dobbs, Aaron Brown, Ali Velshi, and Pat Kiernan. Then I moved over to Fox Business. I did some work with John Stossel, Don Imus, and Dave Ramsey. Those illustrations made it on to other shows, too. I think everyone enjoyed it for the same reason. It was different than my day-to-day work. It was fun!

What do you do to promote yourself and get your work seen?

a. This is really important. I use a combination of online and offline tactics to promote my work. Online, I leverage my website, blog, social media channels, and I have participated in online challenges, like StoryStorm, Inktober, and Illustration Friday. And nothing can replace the in-person interactions and experiences of critique groups, kidlit gatherings, conferences, leading workshops, portfolio reviews, and even sending postcards!

All of this helps promote my work, and believe it or not, all of this is marketing.

Have you ever worked with a self-published author?

a. I have not. Currently, I’m only looking to work with traditional publishers.

Do you have a favorite medium you use?

a. Hmm… interesting question. It used to be pen and ink. But now, I’d have to say digital. I truly enjoy drawing on my iPad Pro with an Apple Pencil. More on this a little later…

Do you take research pictures before you start a project?

a. Absolutely. Sometimes I search for images on the Internet, sometimes I draw from life, and sometimes I shoot my own photos. The best place to lose many hours of your life and swear you are getting work done is Pinterest. I have boards upon boards of reference material on Pinterest. It’s amazing, and unfortunately, I will never get that time back… but I have SO MUCH reference material.

Do you use Photoshop with any of your work?

a. Yes, but more important than Photoshop these days, I use ProCreate. It’s a digital painting and illustration application available for Apple’s iPad. I do 95% of my digital work in ProCreate. Currently, I only use Photoshop for color correcting and type generation.

Do you have a studio in your house?

a. I did have a home studio in our basement. But then we had twins, and I couldn’t imagine locking myself downstairs to work. Now I do most of my work on an iPad that running ProCreate. I can work anywhere! I’m pretty crazy about that application. I’m sure I’ll bring it up again before the end of the interview.

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

a. I have twin toddlers at the moment, and a full-time corporate job. I can’t say it’s so much a routine as it is an understanding that I need to work smart and efficiently. A good friend and creator of Evil-Inc., a web-comic, once told me that the secret to getting it all done is time management. You need to find the pockets of time, and use it as best you can.

Any exciting projects on the horizon?

a. I’m working on some new manuscripts, which will eventually turn into dummies. I’m always sending in new samples for promotion. I’m just about to take down an art show at the Interchurch Center in Manhattan, and I’m about to start a solo show at Johnson & Johnson’s Main Gallery at their Corporate Headquarters. That show goes up at the end of August.

What are your career goals?

a. In the short term: I want to make books for children. In the long term: I want to make more books for children.

I noticed that you gave a workshop for illustrators at the NJSCBWI Conference. Could you tell us about it?

a. Yes, the workshop was about… wait for it… ProCreate, the digital painting application. (I told you I’d mention it again.) The workshop served as an introduction to the application. I enjoy working with people within applications; I enjoy demystifying the technology. It was actually part of my role at CNN and Fox. This workshop covered the basics, but it also highlighted some of the unique features that ProCreate has to offer. This application is a serious game changer.

Oh, and all of the work I am showing here was created in ProCreate, all except the painting of the Berlin Wall.

Had to give you a peek of Mike’s Instagram page (above). It is a good example of how to creatively show off your work.

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

a. Take the time to invest in you and your work. Start off with small, specific, attainable goals. Accomplish the goals. Celebrate the accomplishments. Move on, and set new goals. If a problem arises, re-evaluate your position, and move on. Always keep an open mind and continue to learn.

Don’t miss the fun opportunity to win this 11”x14” archival print (above) done by Mike Ciccotello. It is titled, STAR SEEKER, on cold press watercolor paper.

Mike is working to promote his Instagram feed and would love your help, so all you have to do to get in the running for STAR SEEKER is Click this link: and leave a comment on that page saying you visited Mike’s Instagram page – clicked and followed him. Of course, you will get additional points for promoting on Facebook, Twitter, reblog, or your other social media channels. You can find him on Instagram at @Ciccotello or use the above link.

Mike was featured a few years ago on Illustrator Saturday. Here is the link if you want to see how his art has grown.

Thank you Mike for sharing your work and process with us. Mike will be back in September with a more in-depth article on his illustration process. If you have a minute leave a comment for Mike.

Other ways to follow along with Mike’s projects:
Instagram: @ciccotello
Twitter: @ciccotello
Facebook: The Art of Mike Ciccotello

Talk tomorrow,



  1. Mike, your work is fabulous!! I’ve enjoyed following your work! – Dow

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Mike’s work is fabulous…so happy to share the NJSCBWI space with such a talented illustrator.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Reblogged this on Darlene Beck-Jacobson and commented:
    One of my favorite illustrators: Mike Ciccotello.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Hi Mike! Thanks for sharing. Do you plan to hold more workshops to teach ProCreate?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi, Manju! Yes, I plan on having more workshops for Procreate. please send me a message through my website (link below) and let me know where you would like me to present. Also, I will be doing a more in depth process post with Kathy, after the next release of ProCreate. I’ll be talking about unique features of the applications and some best practices I’ve learned along the way.

      Here’s a link to my message form – Thanks!


      Liked by 1 person

  5. You didn’t have to give me an incentive to follow Mike’s Instagram! Wow, what an “out of the box” (ha) way of doing it. I would love that print though too 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Mike, you already know I adore you AND your work and this makes me REALLY wish I had an Apple iPad and ProCreate! I hate that I wasn’t able to sit in on your workshop at the conference, but hopefully I’ll get other chances! 😀


  7. Thank you, Mike, for sharing your journey! Fabulous art!


  8. Lovely work! You’ve got a new Instagram follower! @juliebergmannlacombe


  9. I already follow Mike and his marvelous art on IG! He’s super talented, that’s for sure.


  10. We are big fans of Mike’s work and follow his WOWEE! page on Instagram. What an inspiration. Thank you, Mike!


  11. Lovely work and great Instagram page, Mike.


  12. Very informative and inspiring interview. A question for Mike. Mike, would you consider giving a workshop to SCBWI San Diego Chapter Illustrators? Do you have any instructional YouTube videos that people like me can benefit from? I am an illustrator and I work on Procreate as well, but would love a workshop to build my confidence.



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