Posted by: Kathy Temean | August 12, 2017

Illustrator Saturday – Kelsey Garrity-Riley

Kelsey Griffin-Riley is an illustrator living and working in Brooklyn, New York. I grew up in Germany and Belgium before moving to the US to pursue my love of art at the Savannah College of Art and Design where I graduated from in 2010. She drawing and painting as a child. So I might say as long as I can remember! I started selling some of my watercolors in high school, in college I started getting a few small jobs, and its grown from there.

Kelsey has a line of greeting cards can be found at the amazing and two published books:
Goldie Takes a Stand, Written by Barbara Krasner (Kar-Ben, Fall 2014)
Other Wordly, (Chronicle Books, Fall 2016)

Here are  some of your Clients: Harvard Magazine, Chronicle Books, Charleston Magazine, The South Magazine, BHLDN, Anthropologie, Thriving Family, Kar-Ben, You and Your Wedding, Waitrose, Back in the Day Bakery, Venture Magazine, The Paris Market, Red Cap Cards, Response Magazine, Albert Whitman & Company, Il Corriere della Sera.


Here are a series of sketches and the final piece I created for a spread in Other Wordly.

I start off with rough (very rough!) thumbnails

I slowly move through a series of more detailed sketches. I definitely had a few more versions in between these all while working, but unfortunately I don’t hang on to all of my preliminary work.

Final sketch.

The final pieces was created with gouache and ink pen with a little bit of editing in Photoshop.

How long have you been illustrating?

I always enjoyed drawing and painting as a child. So I might say as long as I can remember! I started selling some of my watercolors in high school, in college I started getting a few small jobs, and its grown from there.


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

When I was probably 12 my mom paid me to add illustrations around the cards she had written out in the books where she kept her recipes.

Do you think growing up in Germany and Belgium is reflected in your work? 

Absolutely! I always return to the visuals and emotions of where I grew up for inspiration in my work.

Why did you choose to attend the SCAD in Savannah, GA?

I knew I wanted to study art, and as an American citizen I knew I would study in the US. I heard great things about the school and liked that they were so well rounded for being an art school and offered so many specific creative majors.

What did you study there? 

I took a little while being sure what exactly I wanted to major in, which now seems funny to me, because of COURSE I wanted to be an illustrator! But I took a lot of classes in fashion and some in photography as well, all of which helped me grow creatively.

Do you think art school influenced your style? 

It was definitely the most important period of growing. It was great being around other creatives all exploring and developing our visual voices.

What type of job did you do right after you graduated?

Right after graduating I had a job as a visual merchandiser at a wonderful store in Savannah while also working to create new pieces for my portfolio. It was actually a really formative time and my day job helped me grow creatively. I slowly started getting some editorial jobs and my first book project, Goldie Takes a Stand came a couple years after graduating.

Why did you move to Brooklyn?

My husband and I always knew we wanted to move to New York City. Its an exciting, engaging place to be and we appreciate the closeness here to jobs and creative opportunities, great food and international communities. 🙂

When did you decide you wanted to illustrate for children? 

That dream has always been there- but has grown stronger and stronger. Its such a great platform to share visuals and exciting way to communicate. I adored children’s books when I was young, and still do. Its just such a special thing to get to be a part of.

What was the title of the first picture book you illustrated?

Goldie Takes a Stand

How did that job come your way?

An editor at Kar-Ben reached out to Christina to see if I was available to work on this story.

How did you get the job to illustrate Goldie Take a Stand? 

Through Christina and CATugeau.

How long did the publisher give you to illustrate the book?

 That book was about a year in total I believe.

Is Other-Wordly: words both strange and lovely from around the world a book of poems?

It’s actually a collection of wonderful words from different languages that don’t have a direct translation in English. Really beautiful evocative, sometimes playful and often emotional words. It was a really special project to get to work on.

Did the publisher give you more time to illustrate the book, since it is 64 pages?

I was probably working on it for two years. There was a lot of back and forth. It was a great process of picking out and putting together words, back and forth with layout and sketches and then final art, edits and working on the cover for the book.

How did you connect with Christina Tugeau and get her to represent you?

She came to review portfolios at a career day at SCAD, and we met through that! She signed me to CATugeau shortly before I graduated.

You say you collect material for collage work. When did you start doing collage?

I have always loved collecting materials for collage. A few years into my time at SCAD I finally put together that I could actually use these pieces in my illustration work and I loved it.

Have you done any book covers?

I have. I really enjoyed working on the cover for Rooting For Rafael Rosales which came out this year, and I’m currently working on another one.

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

I definitely do. I’m working on several right now and have more ideas in the works!


Have you illustrated a book for an author who wants to self-publish?

I have done some personal book projects for people in the past. But don’t imagine taking on more in the future as I am more focused on pursuing working on my own stories, or ones that editors reach out to me with.

Do you still illustrate greeting cards?

I do. I absolutely love working with Red Cap Cards. They are wonderful people and such a pleasure to work with.

Have you worked with educational publishers?

I haven’t yet, but would definitely be open to it!

Have you done any illustrating for children’s magazines?

I haven’t.  All my editorial work so far hasn’t been specifically for children’s magazines, although often the illustrations do feature children!

Have you tried to illustrate a wordless picture book?

I would love to try my hand at it some day, but I haven’t yet.

What do consider to be your biggest success?

Other Wordly was really satisfying to see once it all came together in print. It ended up being a very special, personal project to me and I’m grateful Chronicle approached me to work on it. I’m SO excited to currently be working on a project I am both writing and illustrating, that I cant yet share anything about but am thrilled for.

Do you do anything to find illustration work or is that totally Christina’s job?

If I reach out to editors its always once I’ve dialogued with Christy and Christina about it first. The main thing I’ve been working on more and more is creating dummy books of my own stories to then give them to pitch to publishing houses.

What is your favorite medium to use?

Lately I use mostly all gouache. But I also like using ink, some pencil and collage sometimes.

Has that changed over time?

Definitely. I used to use more watercolors and washes, and more ink lines and collage. I will still use all of that on occasion- but lately gouache has been great.

Do you have a studio set up in your home?

I do, although I sometimes move around the house and often take over the kitchen table.:

What is the one thing in your studio that you could not live without?

I’ve got a growing shelf of children’s books I love pouring through, and I love listening to books on tape while I work ( lately Agatha Christie’s books)

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

There is no set schedule, although I’m trying to develop a routine more and more. I always feel better if I get up and get to work early, but sometimes its the reverse where the day starts slowly but I work late into the night.

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

Definitely do a lot of visual research- especially for projects that require historical accuracy. And if its a gesture that needs figuring out I’ll take a snapshot, or have my husband help me pose.

Do you think the Internet has opened doors for you?

Its definitely a great way to be able to reach out and connect with people, and has so many great platforms on which to share work- especially through Instagram.

Do you use Photoshop or Painter with your illustrations?

I always scan in and clean up and ,when needed, edit my pieces in Photoshop once they are finished.

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

I don’t.

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

There are so many ideas for stories I have in my mind that I feel very passionately about wanting to develop into picture books. I’d love to keep growing that  and to really develop a confident approach to creating them.

What are you working on now?

I’m super excited to be working on a couple of children’s books! Sorry I can’t share more details than that- I wish I could! I think I’m allowed to say though- that one is of a story I wrote myself, and the other is not.

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 love using Holbein’s Acryla gouaches, and Windsor and Newton’s peet brown ink. 

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

Just keep creating and don’t give up! Things take a while. Pursue your own ideas and create pieces you would imagine getting to make for a dream project and then share them online.


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

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

Talk tomorrow,



  1. Kelsey’s work is so lovely – filled with charm and personality. Thank you for sharing!


  2. Just beautiful, Kelsey! I love your style and how distinct it is!


  3. Lovely work! I find myself studying your palette – so different from my own, and intriguing to see the levels of detailed pictures. But I admit to being the most taken in by your most colorful piece, busy and yet distinct. Curious to know what that was from ( insects, tiny girl, hedgehog… Your very strong
    layouts are clearly foundation for subtle color choices, and bright ones, too!


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