Posted by: Kathy Temean | October 21, 2017

Illustrator Saturday – Lesley Breen Withrow

Lesley Breen Withrow is a children’s books illustrator as well as an artist and designer specializing in surface patterns and stationery items for The Gift Wrap Company. Her artwork can be seen on many products including children’s books, stationery items, gift wrap and bags, children’s apps and toys.

For as long as she can remember, she has been creating art. One of her first memories is drawing with her Nana. As a kid she enjoyed making pictures and telling stories visually and was always the girl with a pencil and sketchbook in my hand. As an adult, she still loves seeing the world through the eyes of a child and feel so lucky to make pictures every day!

Leslie loves to bring a fun and energetic spirit to all of her pictures. Her favorite projects incorporate lively lines, colors, textures, and patterns, and are specially suited for a very young and inquisitive audience.

How long have you been illustrating?

I’d say all my life, but professionally for 15 years.

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

When I was just out of college I works as a graphic designer at an architectural firm. One of the architects there commissioned me to draw his dogs in pen and ink and design it into a puzzle. I remembered being excited that he recognized my artistic abilities and that he wanted to pay me for them.

Did you live near the Rhode Island School of Design and was that a factor in deciding to go there?

I suppose, I am from Cape Cod and was looking for a school that wasn’t too far away. Actually, I went to Roger Williams University in Bristol, RI for college, which is not far from Providence, where RISD is located. I had wanted to be an architect when I was younger which is what drew me to RWU and their fabulous architectural program. But math was challenging for me and I knew that architecture wasn’t the right. Since I had always had a love of architecture, history and art, I majored in Historic Preservation and minored in art at RWU. Both these programs are a part of RWU’s art and architecture school so it was a good fit in many ways. I have always had a love of children’s books so after college I enrolled in RISD’s Children’s Book Certificate Program. There I met some incredible instructors and just loved being apart of the RISD community.

What did you study there and did you have favorite classes?

At RISD I loved the children’s book, story telling classes of course, but I absolutely love portraiture so I’d have to say my most favorite class was portrait drawing. I loved drawing from live models and a highlight was getting to sculpt your own face in clay.

Do you think art school influenced your style?

I wouldn’t say that I really went art school, although in hindsight I really wish I had. I think it would have been fun! But I do think my experiences have influenced my art style. I had the joy of travelling to the United Kingdom for a semester to study historic preservation and there I got to tour most of the UK’s historic buildings and cathedrals. My group was permitted to go ‘behind the scene’s’ a lot, in places that you don’t typically get to go on tours, which was incredible. A real highlight was getting to walk through the upper floors and the roof of Westminster Abbey! I do think my love of architecture and my many years of architectural drafting come into my children’s artwork. I still really love drawing buildings. You can see them in Bunny Bus and I plan to work them into more of my children’s books in the future.

Did the school help you find art jobs to get you started?

No, I seemed to find them naturally.

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

I worked briefly making historic architectural drawings for a small building/remodeling company that specialized in historic preservation. I would measure buildings and then create hand-drafted architectural drawings, floor plans, elevations, etc. My job was to not only make these drawings accurate but to add an old-fashioned, hand-drawn, unique and historic look to them. I then worked as a graphic designer at an architectural firm and learned all about new construction.

When did you start illustrating greeting cards and how did you find a publishers to work with?

After the architectural firm, I worked as a Planner for Paramount Cards (a 100 year old greeting card company that closed it’s doors in 2005). As a Planner I designed greeting card lines and collections, created specs and gave art direction to freelance and in-house artist. I loved working with freelance artist and finding the right ones for specific cards and collections. I was thrilled to see my concepts and quick sketches turned into final art and product. Getting to talk to and work with freelance artists was incredible for me. It was then that I knew I wanted to be one of them!

When did you decide you wanted to illustrate for children?

I have always had a love of children’s books. When I was 7, Norman Bridwell, The creator of Clifford the Big Red Dog visited my elementary school. I remember him reading some of his book, talking and answering questions about what it’s like to write and draw children’s books. And I very clearly remember this… he drew an incredible drawing of Clifford and then handed it to the girl next to me. I was disappointed for sure, but I then knew I wanted to make children’s books. After that I would make lots and lots of little dummy books and I read lots of children’s books. My favorite story at that time that I created was called ‘The Heart Friends’. It was about two hearts that were friends. Ha! In college I would take out lots of children’s books from the library and study them for fun.

How many picture books have you illustrated?

3 books so far – You’re My Boo, Beach Lane Books (imprint of Simon & Schuster) September 2017
Written by Kate Dopirak – Bunny Bus, Farrar Straus Giroux, January 2017 written by: Ammi-Joan Paquette – Maximillian Villainous, Running Press (imprint of Perseus Books/Hachette Book Group) August 2018 written by: Margaret Chiu Greanias

What was the name of your first illustrated book?

My first children’s book is ‘You’re My Boo’, Beach Lane Books (imprint of Simon & Schuster) September 2017 written by: Kate Dopirak. I have worked on other books but they were more novelty books like the ‘Little Ocean Books’ for babies, which are a series of 10 little chunky recycled paper board books packed in a stackable tower, by innovative Kids.

How did you get the job to illustrate that book? How did you get the attention of Beach Lane Books find discover your artwork for illustrating YOU’RE MY BOO?

In 2013 I sent out a postcard with my newly signed agent, Chris Tugeau, at CATugeau Artists Agency, and within a month or so after the mailing Beach Lane Books contacted me and told me that they wanted to work with me. They said that when they saw my postcard come across their desk they just knew that I was the perfect artist to illustrate ‘You’re My Boo. I was thrilled!

How long did they give you to illustrate the book?

It was about a year and a half or so.

Your latest Book, BUNNY BUS was written by Ammi-Joan Paquette and you both live in New England. Did you know each other before illustrating her book?

No, Joan and I did not know each other before Bunny Bus. We were brought together in a different way than is typical for most children’s books. Joy Peskin, Editorial Director at Farrar Straus Giroux also liked that first postcard that I sent out with my agent. One side of the postcard had little clothed animals eating lunch at a school lunch table and this is the image that Beach Lane Books liked for ‘You’re My Boo’. The other side of the postcard had a big Bunny Bus character with school kid animals waiting to hop onto it. Joy told me that she loved my postcard and Bunny Bus character and tacked it onto her wall and thought, there’s a book there. One day her young son came into her office and ran right over to my postcard said ‘Bunny Bus’ excitedly. Joy contacted me the next day and said let’s make a book called Bunny Bus! I was over the moon. I did not have a story written for Bunny Bus yet but was open to someone else writing it. Joy reached out to Joan and I absolutely loved the story she wrote. I had the pleasure of getting to meet and do two children’s book events with Joan this past winter. One at ‘The Blue Bunny Books & Toys’, Dedham, MA, and owned by the amazing Peter and Paul Reynolds (and one of my all-time favorite book shops). Bunny Bus, much to my amazement, was selected to be placed on the octagonal tables at all Barnes & Nobels around Easter time, since it’s an Easter book. It is a real honor to have your book selected to be featured on that display table, so our other even together was at a local Barnes & Noble. It was a real thrill to get to meet Joan and do our events together, as a writer and artist team!

How did you connect with CATugeau Agency to represent you? How long have you been with them?

I had won the first NESCBWI Anne Barrows Memorial Scholarship Award and it was especially
meaningful to me as I had met Anne several years before. Anne had been represented by CATugeau Artist Agency and after winning this award I reached out to Chris Tugeau, the owner of CATugeau Artists Agency and she reviewed my portfolio and gave me some wonderful feedback. I wasn’t the right fit for her agency at that time but I really liked Chris and knew that I wanted to approach her again at some point, when I had developed my art more and when the time was right. And so, in 2012 I reached out to the CATugeau agency again and everything clicked! I signed on with them in early 2013.

Have you done any book covers?

No, I haven’t done book covers, but I’d love to!

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

Yes, I very much would love to write and illustrate children’s books! I have several stories that I have written and am in the middle of writing. I am currently working on creating book dummies for them.

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

Possibly, but at this time with my very hectic schedule, I am looking for established publishers.

Have you ever tried to illustrate a wordless picture book?

I have thought about this, but have not attempted it yet. I absolutely love and am amazed by David Weisner’s wordless picture books.

Have you worked with educational publishers?

Yes, I have done several books and many products and spot illustrations for educational publishers.

Have you done any illustrating for children’s magazines?

Yes, I have illustrated for children’s magazines. One of my favorites was a story I illustrated for a Highlights “Hello’ washable paper book. I would love to do more magazine work.

Are you still illustrating for greeting card publishers?

I work also work as a Senior Designer for The Gift Wrap Company when I illustrate and design many paper collections and stationery products such as gift bags, gift wrap, cards, letter writing sets, journals, sticky notes, etc.

What is your favorite medium to use?

I love to draw and paint and collage and so I create these pieces and then scan them in. I then bring them together in Adobe Photoshop and this is where I finalize my art. I also love to paint with Corel Painter and bring those ‘digital’ paintings into Photoshop as well. So I consider myself a mixed-media artist.

Has that changed over time?

Yes, it has and I am sure it will continue to evolve. Although I do love my playful, colorful cartoon/collage look, I also love pencil, pen and ink and scratchboard and I absolutely love portraiture and real-life drawing (and painting) as well. In fact those were my go-to mediums for a very long time before I started to develop my children’s book ‘look’ more. For many years I considered myself a black and white artist. I do hope to do more with those mediums in the future. I would absolutely love to draw/paint artwork for Middle Grade and YA books. I think as artists we love to grow and try new things and I think this can keep our work looking fresh as well.

Do you have a studio set up in your home?

Yes, right now I have a small space set up in my home. In the future I’d love to have a bit more space, but this works well.

What the most important thing in your studio?

Hmmm… my computer. Without that, nothing can get done.

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

I work a lot in a creative way so I don’t feel that I have to designate specific time for my craft. I do feel lucky that my job at The Gift Wrap Company and my children’s book work are both highly creative and involve design and drawing and creating artwork.


Do you use Photoshop or Painter with your illustrations?

Yes, I use Painter and Photoshop in my illustrations as well as scans of papers and drawings and painting and textures and all. In Bunny Bus some of my daughter’s finger painting and writing from Kindergarten is in there.

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

Yes, I use a Wacom Tablet

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

I would love to both write as well as illustrate children’s books. I would also love to work on the art for a Middle Grade and/or YA book.

What are you working on now?

This has been a very busy year. I illustrated a storybook & game for Peaceable Kingdom that just came out last month and is an exclusive at Target. I visited our local Target recently with Mother and 12 year old daughter and it was such a thrill to see my game there with all the other incredible games they carry! I also just completed artwork recently for a children’s book with Running Press Kids (imprint of Hachette Book Group). The book is called ‘Maximillian Villainous’, written by Margaret Chiu Greanias and will be out August 2018. ‘in the story, a tenderhearted monster simply cannot behave in the tradition of his villainous family, especially when he become smitten with a bunny’. (as said in the Publishers Weekly announcement)


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

Make good art. Keep at it. Keep drawing and reading and developing your ideas and techniques and style. And tap into your inner child an play.

This is one of my favorite quotes from the amazing author Neil Gaiman. It’s from the commencement speech he gave for the University of Arts Class of 2012 and is truly one of the best and most inspirational speeches I’ve ever heard. It’s on YouTube and it’s totally worth checking out if you haven’t already seen/listened to it yet.
Sometimes life is hard. Things go wrong, in life and in love and in business and in friendship and in health and in all the other ways that life can go wrong. And when things get tough, this is what you should do.

Make good art.

I’m serious. Husband runs off with a politician? Make good art. Leg crushed and then eaten by mutated boa constrictor? Make good art. IRS on your trail? Make good art. Cat exploded? Make good art. Someone on the Internet thinks what you’re doing is stupid or evil or it’s all been done before? Make good art. Probably things will work out somehow, and eventually time will take the sting away, but that doesn’t matter. Do what only you can do best. Make good art. Make it on the bad days. Make it on the good days too. And …while you are at it, make your art. Do the stuff that only you can do.

― Neil Gaiman, Make Good Art


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

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

Talk tomorrow,



  1. Adorable characters, Lesley! Thank you for sharing here!


    • Thanks so much!! 🙂


  2. Lesley, your art for kids is so adorable 🙂 I love that your piece served as the inspiration for an entire book by Ammi-Joan! And thanks for mentioning the speech by Neil Gaiman. That man is amazing! In fact, just today he posted one the more poignant, beautiful “speeches” about weddings that everyone can enjoy…


    • Thank you! It was wonderful working with Ammi-Joan Paquette. And yes, Neil Gaiman’s speech has always spoken to me. I checked out his wedding speech, how fabulous… so Neil!


  3. What a wonderful interview with Lesley! I love her work so much! 🙂


  4. Thank you for such a wonderful interview. I loved learning more about Lesley and look forward to seeing the books she creates as an author-illustrator. I am a huge fan of her art and can’t wait for everyone to see what she did with MAXIMILLIAN VILLAINOUS. She absolutely brought the character and world to life.


    • Thanks so much Margaret!! I it was wonderful working on your fabulous story and I absolutely loved bringing Max and his world to life!


  5. I just read Maximillian Villainous to my children last night and was smitten with the illustrations (and the story too!) Thanks for the great interview. I love your work, Lesley!


    • Aw, thanks so much, Leah!!! I am so happy to hear that you and your children enjoyed Maximillian Villainous too. Was such a wonderful book to work on. Glad you enjoyed my interview too. 🙂


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