Posted by: Kathy Temean | June 30, 2018

Illustrator Saturday – Gael Abary

Gael Abary is an illustrator and metalsmith living in Philadelphia, PA with her family, and a cat, and a retired racing greyhound.

She worked as an illustrator in the fashion industry while studying metalsmithing at Parsons School of Design and later worked with an NYC based jewelry company before moving to Woodstock, NY where her daughter was born. Over the years of reading to her daughter every night she developed a passion for picture books and is currently illustrating her first one.

Here is Gael discussing her process:

These images are from a work in progress, currently working on final art.

First I identify who my character is, and then I like to do a lot of sketches.  I narrow it down to a few and pull together the elements that I like into one character and keep tweaking it until it feels right.  My initial character was a bit too old so I reworked her to make her younger.

Thumbnail sketches are where I plan out the images and composition. Often times I’ll do more than one sketch for a spread.  I send it in for feedback and make revisions.

Once the thumbnails are approved I enlarge the images and start creating a dummy, this is where I work on text placement and details.  Then I add color.

How long have you been illustrating?

I first started illustrating in 1994.  I was working in the fashion industry while studying metalsmithing at Parsons School of Design.  I’m pretty new to illustrating children’s books.

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

It was probably that job.  It was a summer job after my first year of college.  I started out as a fabric swatcher.  They were looking for a new illustrator in the art department and interviewed and tested several people.  They knew that I could draw and asked me if I wanted to test for the position, and I got the job.  I continued working with them while in school and afterwards.  It wasn’t until the early 2000s that I sold my first painting.

Why did you decide go to Parsons School of Design to study metalsmithing?

Initially I went to Parsons as a business major.  In my second year, I decided to switch to illustration and had to reapply to become a BFA candidate.  Then I saw a student product design exhibit and fell in love with form and function.  I discovered that I love to make things with my hands. I ended up majoring in product design with a concentration in metalsmithing.

Do you feel you have carried over some of that training into your illustrations?

Yes, other than technique, I think a lot of what I learned could apply to all types of design and visual art.

Do you feel your illustrating time in the fashion industry helped develop your style?

Yes, and at the same time there are old habits that I’m trying to break.  As a jeweler/metalsmith, my renderings had to be very precise and I preferred doing everything by hand rather than with a computer, so I have a tendency to tighten up.

When did you decide you wanted to illustrate for children?

When my daughter was born, I started to develop a passion for picture books.  When she was around 1 1/2, I told someone a story about how she would run away from her shadow and they said, “That would make a great children’s book!”  And the seed was planted.  Around the time she started kindergarten, I wrote my first manuscript, joined SCBWI, found a local critique group, and started taking online courses.

What types of things are you doing to get your children’s illustrations noticed?

Instagram (@gaelabary), SCBWI events and competitions, and I plan do a postcard mailing soon.  I’ve also taken a few online courses, and one that was particularly helpful in getting my work noticed was Children’s Book Academy’s – The Craft and Business of Illustrating Children’s Books, taught by Mira Reisberg (editor and art director at Clear Fork Publishing), and co-taught by Sharismar Rodriguez (art director at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt).  There were opportunities during the course to get direct feedback from guest art directors and editors, and at the end there’s a Golden Ticket contest judged by art directors and agents.  I was the recipient of 2 Golden Tickets, and I’m currently working with Mira illustrating my first book. The course is being offered again and this time around it’s co-taught by Andrea Miller (HMH senior designer/art director) and there’s a great group of Golden Ticket judges!  For those interested in checking in out:

What has it been like working with your Art Director?

It’s been such a learning experience.  She’s a wonderful mentor and I feel like I’ve grown.

Have you made a picture book dummy to show art directors?

Yes. I received some good feedback from an agent and I’m in the process of doing revisions.


Tell us about your daughter and how she got in an ad for Philadelphia Museum of Art?

Her great-aunt gifts us a family membership every year, since she was 2.  We would take advantage of all the family programs, especially Art Splash which is all summer long.  My daughter loved it so much she asked to enroll in the art classes offered there.  She became a regular, and the teachers and guards have watched her grow over the years.  They asked if she wanted to participate in a photoshoot for family programming, and they used her photo in a brochure and email and we thought that was it.  The following year we started getting texts from friends saying they just saw her on the side of a bus or on a poster.  Then one day driving on I-95 my jaw dropped when I saw her on a billboard holding up her artwork!  Her face and artwork were all over Philadelphia last summer.

Do you use your metalsmithing skills to make jewelry?

Yes, I was a production manager and assistant designer for a jewelry company for several years while also doing commissions on the side.

Have you done any greeting card art?

Not yet.

Do you have an artist rep. to represent your illustrations? If so, who and how long. If not, would you like to find one?

I do not at the moment, and yes.

Have you done any book covers?

The cover for Crow Spirit is my first one. I really like the graphic design aspect of working on covers.

Do you have a daytime job or do you do freelance illustrating?


Would you illustrate a book for an author who wants to self-publish?

Sure, if it’s a right fit.

Do you have any desire to write and illustrate you own book?

Yes. I’ve been working on one and have some ideas on the back burner.

Have you worked with educational publishers? Which ones?

No, but I had the pleasure of working with Play Pattern, a company that designs and creates STEAM toys/products and programs for schools.  I did some instructional illustrations.

Have you done any illustrating for children’s magazines? Which ones?

No, but I really love the art in Illustoria and Bravery magazines.

Have you ever thought about illustrating a wordless picture book?


What do you think is your biggest success?

Being able to work doing things that I love to do.

What is your favorite medium to use?

Most of my work starts with a mechanical pencil.

Has that changed over time?

Not that much. What’s changed a lot for me is the iPad Pro, but I still draw a lot with a mechanical pencil first (preferably a SharpWriter) and then I might work on an image more in Procreate.

Can you tell us a little about where you create your gorgeous art?

I work from my home in Philadelphia. I have a tiny space where I cram my jewelers bench and work table. Sometimes I work at the coffee-shop too.

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

I try to draw daily even if it’s just making doodles with my daughter. Sometimes new ideas and techniques emerge from play.

Do you take pictures or research a project before you start?

Yes, I really enjoy the researching part.

Do you think the Internet has opened doors for you?

Yes, as someone who at one point didn’t have the internet, I fully appreciate the ability to take online courses, build a network, have a website and Instagram, and work remotely.

Do you use Photoshop or Painter with your illustrations?


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

I use the iPad Pro/Apple Pencil.

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

I would love to write and illustrate my own books.

What are you working on now?

I’m currently working on illustrating a book called Crow Spirit written by Debra Bartsch (I’m excited it’s available for preorder at ). I’m also working on a book that I’m writing and illustrating, and I have a fun collaborative project lined up that combines my love of picture books with my love of food.

Above is the cover of Crow Spirit, Gael’s debut picture book coming out this fall? 

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 to play and explore new materials and techniques. Recently I tested out a variety of surfaces with colored pencil, watercolor, gouache, and ink. It was a fun experiment to see and feel how each medium worked differently on the different papers.

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

Make lots of work and have fun doing it. I like to revisit this Ira Glass quote whenever self-doubt comes to visit:

Thank you Gael for sharing your talent and expertise with us. Make sure you share you future successes with us. To see more of Gael’s work, you can visit her at her website:

If you have a minute, please leave a comment for Gael. I am sure she’d love to hear from you and I enjoy reading them, too.


Talk tomorrow,



  1. Thanks for sharing. I like the depth of emotion you show in their eyes.


  2. Beautiful work! Thank you for sharing!


  3. I’m very mesmerized by Gael’s illustrations that have both intensity and whimsy. I hope we see a picture book from her soon!


  4. Love your art Gael. Great learning more of your story. 🙂


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