Posted by: Kathy Temean | August 26, 2017

Illustrator Saturday – Kim Gatto

Kim Gatto is an artist at heart and has loved creating since she was a child. As a child she usually opted to give family members and friends handmade creations such as paintings, crafts and jewelry. As a professional and personal enjoyment, her creative endeavors have ranged from illustration, design and paper engineering; to crafting, sewing and much more.

Kim has worked for some of the top book publishers and manufacturers of party-ware & gift accessories both as an in-house Art Director, Designer and Illustrator. Her main focus now is Illustration.

She has been spending the past few years raising her two young children while freelancing. Kim lives in Roxbury Township, New Jersey with her best friend and husband Michael, two amazingly fun and creative children Derek and Aimee, and princess Choco kitty. They all inspire her in so many ways! When she is not creating she spends as much time as she can with her family.

Clients include: McGraw Hill Publishing, Benchmark Publishing, Harcourt Publishing, SRA (MMH) Kaleidoscope, William H. Sadlier, Inc., Element llc, Zonderkidz, Schwartz & Wade Books, Running Press Kids, Rizzoli Publishing, Designer Greetings, Berwick/Offray, Christmas Tree Shops, and International Playthings.

Here is Kim explaining her process:

This is the image I did for the New Jersey SCBWI Conference. I had a couple ideas for this image. I always start by researching and saving reference on Pinterest. You can see my boards here: I am inspired by other artists any visual media e.g. photography, etc. My original thought was that the woods are very alive with trees, plants, animals and creatures. And kids create mischief in nature. I sketched out some quick thoughts.

I wanted to have some kind of creatures in the art. Then, I couldn’t make up mind between dragons or fairies, so I kept both. I also wanted kids involved so I had them going on an adventure into the woods near their home. I didn’t want it to be too scary; but a little spooky.

All my sketches are started by hand on paper. Then, I scan and adjust as needed and place in my final document. (sketch 3 here)


The final art is all digital. Here are a few images showing the different steps I use to illustrate in Photoshop. There are many different layers that go into each piece of illustration. I love to add subtle patterns in the background. One way to do this is to scan and place the pattern onto a new layer and then paint over the pattern on another new layer; I did this for the grass area below. Another way is to make pattern brushes and just paint the background. This is a step that is continually growing.


The trees and grass are made up of at least 5 layers.

I also work with the sketch showing slightly over the art and color the different parts of the image on different layers, for example: fairies, kids, dragons, etc.

In the end, I make final color adjustments. This is where photoshop makes life so much easier than traditional painting.


Final illustration

How long have you been illustrating?

I have been illustrating professionally since 1997.

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

My first project was in 1997, pub date 1998 for Grosset & Dunlap under Art Director Ronnie Ann Herman. I wanted to work in children’s publishing and I was looking for a full-time position. I responded to an ad for a Children’s Book Designer at Grosset & Dunlap in NYC. I interviewed and got the job. Ronnie Ann Herman was great! She gave me my first illustration job to do a book cover for a coloring book called “Unicorns Color & Story Album”.

The opportunity came while working as her in-house designer. I did a few more projects with her after that. It was an amazing start! Another project I worked on with her was a Sticker Styles series (as designer) “My Favorite Dolls” book (as illustrator); all of these were published in 1999.

Did you go to school for art?

Yes. I went to the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) in NYC. I received my B.A. for General Illustration. I also completed a few classes at The Cooper Union, NYC.

What types of classes did you take?

During the first two years at FIT I took: fashion, color theory, painting, drawing, photography, life drawing, printmaking, etc. The second two years were more specific toward my chosen B.A. and included: book illustration, poster illustration, storyboard, animation, etc. One of the B.A. requirements was a mentor program. Your mentor needed to be an industry professional working in your chosen field of study. The mentorship program requirement was two years. I was fortunate to find a fantastic Young Adult artist willing to take me on. Her name is Catherine Huerta; this is her Facebook page I stayed with Catherine for two years until I graduated. I stayed with her for a while as her assistant after I graduated. This was such a valuable time in my life. I was working for a professional Illustrator; helping her with her projects. I made a bond that will last a lifetime; and truly enjoyed every minute. She really helped me to see what working as a freelance illustrator would be like. The mentorship was the most valuable part of my four years in college. 

At The Cooper Union I was fortunate to have Christopher Zacharow as my professor; this is his Facebook page These classes changed my perspective on illustration and further helped me find my direction. I still have one image on my website I did with him because I LOVE it. (Add Autumnlarge.jpg I attached)


Do you think art school influenced your style?

I try to find inspiration from all of my experiences. So yes, I believe it did. Learning the fundamentals of drawing and painting had some impact. The mentorship was especially influential and inspiring. But looking back at my early works, I can see that my style continues to evolve to this day.

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

I wanted to freelance illustrate right away. But my first job out of college was as an enamelist at Peggy Karr Glass; this is her facebook page I actually designed a set of dinosaur ornaments there that were sold at The Museum of Natural History in NYC. This job only lasted about a year. During this time I took every opportunity to visit publishers in NYC and drop off my portfolio for review in hopes of getting illustration work. I also continued to work with Catherine Huerta whenever possible.


What made you join the SCBWI? How long have you been a member?

I was a member of  the SCBWI a few years ago. We moved to a new home/town in 2014. I started looking to meet local people who were also interested in art & design. I met a very talented artist/writer named Francesca Picone. She mentioned that she was going to the NJ conference and suggested I attend. I was very intrigued by how she described it. I always wanted to go to one, but somehow never found the time. I was so happy she asked me to go with her. I joined and immediately signed up for the conference. The timing was right. It was a great experience. I plan to attend yearly.

How did you get started doing greeting cards and invitations?

I started doing greeting cards for the company Designer Greetings in 2009. I actually cold called them to ask if I could show my portfolio; they said ‘yes’ and it went well. Unlike other companies I’ve heard about, they were open to seeing sketches first and approving images before going to final art; not many greeting card companies work this way. I enjoyed doing them so much that I did some other illustrations for myself that I thought would work well on greeting cards. Most of the invitations I did that are now on my site are for my kids birthday parties and other personal events. I truly love planning the kid’s parties from creating the invitations, to the planning the activities, even creating the party favors and everything in between. There are always a new and exciting themes for both boys and girls.

How did you get the job to give Art direction, book design and paper engineering for Little Simon Books?

When I worked at Grosset & Dunlap/Penguin Putnam I met an awesome Editor Amy Hampton-Knight. She left to take a position at Simon & Schuster as Editor. She told me about the Designer position, I interviewed and got the job. I worked my way up to Associate Art Director. I worked there for 8 years with so many amazing people from Designers, Art Directors, Editors and Illustrators. I learned everything about paper engineering from my boss Gene Vosough. It was an amazing experience; one I will never forget. I also had the opportunity to work with Artists like David Carter, Robert Sabuda, Matthew Reinhardt, Linda Bleck, and many more. (Add David Carter jpg and Pepper Books here)

How did you get started doing illustrations for season decor and gift for the home-goods chain?

I swopped 10 & 11 for sequence of events for you? After working in NYC for 10 years I decided to look for a job in NJ so that I would be closer to home. My husband and I were thinking about starting a family and the commute to NYC seemed too overwhelming if pregnant. So I found this job at a company called EK Success. They were starting a new line of wedding invitations and decor. I was offered the job as Package and Product Designer. My main responsibility was to work on centerpieces, invitations and packaging with pop-up elements. I loved the idea of this because I absolutely loved working on pop-up children’s books and this was supposed to be all original designs. After a month of working at EK, Martha Stewart bought the wedding line. This was a great experience, I learned so much, but the job I took and what it became were two different things. I decided after a year to move on. A colleague from EK moved on to a home goods company and we kept in touch. They needed someone to do some freelance design and I was excited to take that on. Since then I’ve done a bunch of illustrations as well as designs for cups, t-shirts, bags, placemats, cutting boards, and more. It’s been a great experience. Working on that end of Illustration is very full-filling.

How did you get to do book designs for Rizzoli Publishing?

I worked with Robb Pearlman at Simon & Schuster. He later moved onto Rizzoli Publishing. I kept in touch with him and he needed a freelancer Designer. So I picked up some freelance work with him. I worked on about 5 books with him over a few years. It was great opportunity to get back into book design after leaving publishing as a full-time job.

Do you feel that these experiences have added to your skills to illustrate a picture book?

Absolutely! Learning the full aspects of how to create a book from initial concept to final product helped enable me to visualize a concept and bring it to life. Watching and working through the process in that environment definitely added to my skills.

When did you decide you wanted to illustrate for children?

After college, I thought children’s books was where I wanted to be. Once I started working in-house at Grosset & Dunlap and later Penguin Putnam and Simon Schuster, I fell in love with the genre; it became evident to me that it was where I belong.

Have you illustrated any book covers?

Not yet!

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

Absolutely. My son is becoming a great writer and illustrator. As a family, we think of all these great ideas for books. My son and daughter love to collaborate together. They are always creating funny stories; sometimes about real life situations. We have a bunch of ideas started. I hope to finish up the sketches for one of them soon.

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

If I feel the story is great and has potential I am open to it.


Have you worked with educational publishers?

Yes. A prior artist representative that I was working for found some educational work for me. (You can add this image if you’d like EducationalImage.jpg)


Have you done any illustrating for children’s magazines?

Not yet.

Have you tried to illustrate a wordless picture book?

Not yet. But it’s something I’ve considered. There are a bunch of great ones out there already.

Do you have an artist rep. or an agent? If so, who?

No, currently I do not. I am in search of the right one for me. Anyone reading this who is interested can contact me.

What types of things do you do to find illustration work?

This year, I made it a priority to pursue Illustration work more than ever. I started by joining SCBWI and going to the NJSCBWI conference in June. I have been doing illustrations for a few different blog sites like:,,, also other illustration challenges to keep myself drawing everyday and getting my name out there. I started a promotional postcard mailing using some contacts from the SCBWI-The Essential Guide for Publishing for Children, as well as connecting with people on social media sites like: LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and my blog. (Links to my sites: )

What is your favorite medium to use?

I can’t believe I am saying it; but lately, it has been digital media using Photoshop. When I were to paint traditionally, I use acrylics and color pencil on Illustration board. I also love Pen & Ink.

Has that changed over time?

I started noticing that digital media was becoming more popular. If you were unable to provide your art digitally, some clients wouldn’t hire you. I was working traditionally in acrylics and color pencil on board only at that time. I worked in Illustrator, Photoshop and InDesign mainly for designing books or giftware. I was scared to take that leap, but knew I had to. I made sure to learn how to paint digitally keeping close to my traditional painting style. I started with Corel Painter, but eventually switched to Photoshop. I can see that my style continues to evolve with each project. It’s amazing to me that my style still comes through using digital considering it is such a very different thing than traditional/manual mediums.

Do you have a studio set up in your home?

Yes. I use one of our bedrooms and share it with Princess Choco Kitty. She sits by my side every time I am working. Here is a picture of her.

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

My kids artwork and photos. They love to draw. They keep me inspired and motivated to continue working toward becoming the Artist I’ve imagined myself to become.

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

Yes. When my kids are in school I spend a lot of time in my office and close the door to the mess behind it. I try to dedicate one day per week working on promotional stuff; the rest of the time is dedicated to working on sketches, new artwork or projects I have at the time. My family is very supportive and understand that freelancing is a different way of life. When you have a project, schedules have to be adjusted. I’ve worked many late nights and weekends just to get work done. But it’s all good!

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

Absolutely. I love photographing everything. I do a lot of research on the internet and save things to boards on my Pinterest account. Pinterest is priceless! (Here is a link to my pinterest account

Do you think the Internet has opened doors for you?

Absolutely, yes.

Do you use Photoshop or Painter with your illustrations?


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

Yes. I own a Wacom tablet. There are many out there but if you are a digital illustrator, it is a necessity.

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

Yes. I feel you can never be done growing, learning, and making dreams come true. My goal is to have constant paying illustration projects as well as publish my own stories.

What are you working on now?

Right now, I am working on a few design projects for a major retail chain. These are designs for home-based products. I am also working on a couple promotional samples; my own stories and illustrations; I’m also trying to keep up on social media projects like and and my promotional mailing.

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 took a double class with Leeza Hernandez at the NJSCBWI conference. She had us getting down and dirty using watercolors, paper, pens and even making our own stamps with Moo Carve. I bought these Pentel Watercolor Brushes that you can fill with ink, dyes, or watercolor paint. I tried them in her class. It brought me back to the fun times in college when we freely experimented with all different mediums. I recently did a few new images with these. Try them if you like to ink. Also try new things, old things, different styles; not every image needs to be a final portfolio piece. Take a risk; push the envelope. It’s a very effective way to discover new ways of doing things. Post it, enjoy it, and learn from it; even your mistakes! Get yourself out there, especially on the web; you never know who will see it, love it and hopefully give you a chance. (You can add these images attached as examples Treehouse.jpg or BeautyWonderMystery.jpg)

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

Like Dori said in Disney’s Finding Nemo: ‘just keep swimming…’. Never give up! Opportunities will come if you’re persistent and continue working hard at your craft. Remember that every detour has a purpose; and learn from your mistakes. Roll with it, change is usually good. This attitude will help you become who you are meant to be.

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

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

Talk tomorrow,



  1. Thank you for sharing, Kim! Your work is superb!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank You so much. I am so happy you took the time to read it.


  2. Kim, there’s SUCH a sweetness to your illustrations! Thanks so much for sharing, ladies 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much. I am honored to be one of the illustrators for Illustrator Saturday. Many amazing Illustrators before me. Thank you for taking the time to look and write. It’s very inspiring and motivating.


  3. Kim thank you so much for including me in your interview. You are a sweetheart! Your work is wonderful.- Linda B

    Liked by 1 person

    • The best part of being an Art Director was meeting such amazing artists like you Linda. Thank you.


  4. I enjoyed reading that. What a gift you have…Your work is amazing! So excited to see what’s next. Thank you for sharing. Keep up the great work!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks to good friends like you I am motivated and inspired. Thank You my friend.


  5. Oh, this reminds me how much I miss children’s books and working with you! Your stuff –new and old — looks fabulous! Pepper is still my all time fave pop-up because of you and Linda!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Erin, I feel the same about you. I loved those days working at Simon & Schuster. I love the Pepper Books and the hold a big space in my heart since it was my first series where I worked with Linda Bleck (amazing artist) and did the engineering, art directing and designing. Aimee and I were just looking at them yesterday. LOVE! Thank you so much Erin, it’s been an amazing journey. I can’t wait to see what comes next. Hugs!


  6. Hi Kim, thanks for sharing! So inspired by your incredible work. I love the insight into your process as well. So very talented!


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