Posted by: Kathy Temean | July 7, 2018

Illustrator Saturday – Sandy Steen Bartholomew

Sandy Steen Bartholomew is an author, illustrator, cartoonist, mixed-media artist, and a Certified Zentangle® Teacher. She runs an Etsy store (Bumblebat), a studio in her converted barn (Beez Ink), and a bigger studio (The BeeHive) at the Concord Community Art Center. Her life looks like a Zentangle – all tangle-y and full of crazy patterns! She is inspired by juicy, jewel-tones and rusty-crusty, peeling, earth-covered things. Magic and mystery, bits and pieces, and weird little creatures. If it sits still, she’ll paint it.

Although her art training is in illustration (and Egyptology!), She’s constantly trying new materials and projects. Her current passion is comics.

Sandy says, “The best description for my work is bi-polar mixed media. I love luscious, bright colors, but I also adore rusty, crusty, ancient artifacts. My challenge is to find ways to combine the two! I use whatever materials I need to to convey the idea.”

Sandy lives with her two kids and a cat in their colorful, mixed-media house in Warner, NH – a town full of introverted artists.


I’ll use the cover of “Ready, Set, GOrilla!” As an example of how I work.

(A Cover Thumbnails)
I start by brainstorming a bunch of different layouts for the back and front covers. I love lettering, so I encourage
the characters to interact with the title! I sketch out the best options as tiny pencil thumbnails (about an inch
or so high). I think of the back and front covers as “mix and match”.

(B Cover Thumbnail pick)
Once the art director has selected a front and back cover, I scan and enlarge the thumbnails in Photoshop.

(C Cover Thumbnails color)
I try out a bunch of different color schemes. (The fourth one was the art director’s choice.)

(D Cover Blue pencil)
This next step is my favorite! I work the same size as the final piece and sketch out my design using a non-photo
blue pencil. Then go over the sketch with an Ebony pencil and refine the details.

(E Cover on lightbox)
I lay a piece of watercolor or thick Bristol paper over the sketch and tape it to my lightbox. I lay in all the larger
areas of watercolor using the sketch as a template. Some of the smaller details are also added with a fine watercolor

(F Cover Watercolor)
I love Yarka wet-poured watercolors, but I also use a variety of gouache colors, and Derwent Inktense watercolor
pencils. Prismacolor pencils are great to add texture and details and for lighter details on darker watercolor
areas – like Gorilla’s fur.

(G Cover in Photoshop)
I scan the final art into watercolor and mess with the colors and add and remove some details. Pink cheeks!

(H Cover Final)
I add the text in InDesign.

(Publisher Cover)
This is the cover from the publisher -they’ve added the back cover blurb and the barcode/logo.


How long have you been illustrating?

More than 30 years.

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

I think it was in High School… I did comics for a local newspaper. I also painted the windows at our comic book store!

Did you go to college to study art?

No. And Yes. I went to summer programs at art schools when I was in High School – but I was expected to go to a “real” college. I went to Brown University to study Egyptology. I left after a while and went to the School of Visual Arts (NYC), then to the Rhode Island School of Design.

How do you find illustration work?

I trip over it. Seriously. It never comes from where I expect… marketing? Nope. Someone sees my work in the science museum while shopping with their kid…

What is a Certified Zentangle Teacher? How did you get certified?

Zentangle® is a meditative drawing process. It’s blasphemy to describe it this way, but it’s “focused doodling”. I was one of the original guinea pigs in the certification program – class #1!
And I wrote the first books on the subject. It changed my life – it’s kind of “trendy” now – but it’s true magic is that it teaches “creative confidence”.

What is Zentangle for Kidz!

“Zentangle for Kidz!” – the rest of the title is “A Comic Guide with Alex and Lilah”. My kids, as cartoon characters, explain the magic and mystery behind the Zentangle process. I have a website where we used to post tangled work by kids and their grown-ups. I’d love to redo that book, expand
it and add workbook type projects, and republish it. Also, that’s where the Lilah Beans first appear as star characters. My daughter, Lilah, started drawing these little Bean c Many of them are creativity, drawing and Zentangle related “How-to” books. “Tangled Fashionista” is an activity coloring book. A few books are comic books and comic-picture book hybrids.

Is AlphaTangle your latest book?

“AlphaTangle” was my first book (2009). My latest book is “Ready, Set, GOrilla!” Written by Melissa Stoller. It’s coming out this fall from Clear Fork Publishing.

Did you self-publish it with Design Originals?

“AlphaTangle” was originally self-published (black cover) then picked up by Design Originals (red cover). (Design Originals is now part of Fox Chapel Publishing).

What do you feel influenced your illustrating style?

Impatience! I used to be a Zone System photographer (hours in the darkroom to produce one perfect print) and those photo-realistic watercolor/colored pencil drawings, too much school, too much training, add a touch of OCD… I think I imploded. What was left in the rubble was a ballpoint pen and cheap paper! I also admire Maurice Sendak, Edward Gorey, Charles Addams, Oliver Jeffers, and Melissa Sweet.

When did you decide you wanted to illustrate for children?

Hmmm… when I was about 5? I don’t think I illustrate for children… I draw pictures to tell stories and explain things that I have trouble finding words for… I don’t think it’s much different whether I write and draw for kids or adults, I just have to be more careful about word choice.

How did you get started doing comic book art?

Comic art is how you start drawing when you are a kid. You draw a picture of your fantasy bedroom, label the cool features, put a speech balloon coming out of the robot-butler’s mouth (“your dinner will be served on your pillow in ten minutes, master”)… and then all along the edges of
your middle school notebooks… My high school AP Art project was a comic-style picture book! After college, I worked as an exhibit designer at the Children’s Museum of RI and I drew comics and created comic books based on their exhibits.

Have you taken any illustrating courses that helped you?

Lots of them! I’m kind of a junkie for learning stuff. But two that were particular game changers were Lilla Roger’s, “Make Art That Sells”. And Mira Reisberg’s “The Craft & Business of Illustrating Children’s Books” – the feedback and networking were exceptional.

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 don’t have one – but I’d love to find one! Not just for books, but licensing and surface design projects too. Marketing, phone calls, contracts… NOT my superpowers! I just want to draw stuff.

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

I’m working on one now.

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

Always! I have about 20 file folders and boxes, labeled (I’m OCD), with various projects and dummies in all stages of completion. Yep, I need an agent. And an assistant. (And a housekeeper).

Have you illustrated for children’s magazines or educational publishers? Which ones?

Yes – years ago I did a bunch of illustrations for textbooks and classroom magazines with Harcourt Brace and Houghton Mifflin. More recently, I illustrated a picture book for ABC Mouse. I’ve always wanted to do illustrations for Cricket magazine.

What do you think is your biggest success?

Raising a daughter who is passionate about books AND loves to write and draw her own stories!

What is your favorite medium to use?

I like to ink with a ballpoint pen or Sharpie Pen. I add color with watercolors and colored pencils. I do touch up work in Photoshop.

Has that changed over time?

I used to use Microns to ink and Prismacolor colored pencils. I tend to use Inktense pencils now. They’re great colored pencils, but you can add water and they turn to gorgeous, super-bright ink! Like watercolor pencils, but the ink is permanent once it dries – so you can work over it and it
doesn’t lift or bleed.

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

As Yoda says, There is no “try”. All I have to do is “Plan” and things go in the other direction. So I practice my craft all over the place. I draw on everything. Walls. Kids. Its hard to find a blank napkin on our kitchen table.

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

Yes – especially for the science comics. I do all the experiments and get my mini-art director (my daughter) to help me draw sketches and brainstorm. For the “Ready, Set, GOrilla!” book, I had to look at a lot of pictures of gorillas. Real ones, then cartoon ones and other picture books. They
are not pretty creatures! I spent hours and hours researching playgrounds too!


Do you think the Internet has opened doors for you?

I started using the internet when it was only available to college students. I think my entire life is on the internet. I can’t imagine life without it. But… it’s just a tool. If you don’t know how to use it, you won’t see any doors, open or closed. I love it most for answering all my research questions
and allowing me to connect with other creative introverts all over the world.


Do you use Photoshop or Painter with your illustrations?

Ha ha! I started using Painter when it was called “Fractal Design Painter” and came in an actual
paint can! Seriously – it did! But I dropped it a long time ago. I use Photoshop for clean up and I
keep intending to learn Procreate on my iPad. At least, I installed the APP…

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

Yes, I use a Wacom tablet. I also have an iPad Pro and an Apple Pencil.

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

Hmmm. I’ve done most of the things on my bucket list already. I got my Masters in Applied Cartooning last year! I’m working on a new list. I would love to get my characters licensed. I’m trying to create a cooperative studio space and I need sponsors – oh! I’d love to work with Tombow
to have my own line of art supplies – that would be cool! Or Crayola. Mostly I’d love to be able to get all the stories and ideas out of my head and onto paper – and out into the world – before my time is up.

What are you working on now?

I just finished another set of kids’ science comics for the Montshire Museum of Science (VT) and Dartmouth College. I’m about to start on an illustrated book for a life coach. Reworking my own picture book called “Benji Boodle’s Tail”. And writing/drawing the sequel to my comic “We
Will Never Leave You – A Comic Interview with my Inner Demons” for the Graphic Medicine conference in Vermont. In August. (Oh dear, I better get to work on that one!)

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 am a strong believer in making sample swatches. I cut a piece of watercolor paper to fit in the space between the pans in my watercolor box, then I paint a swatch of each color next to the pan. I do the same thing with my Inktense pencils. I scribble with the pencil, then wet half the scribble.
When it’s dry, I tape it to the top of the pencil. That way I can see at a glance exactly what I can expect.

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

Marry a publisher?

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

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


Talk tomorrow,







  1. Sandy this was wonderful and what I love the most is how you own up and very much project your style. I am working on my first picture book alone….and I am trying to design the layout and think of some awesome fonts. I too love the hand lettered look. Oh I long to do what you do and do it full time. Right now I am a sub teacher and studying to at least teach art I tell myself. My heart is with art and I struggle with making money from it. Any advice on how to put yourself out there. Thanks.


    • Hi Mireya – Thanks! 🙂 Good for you, keep working at your picture book. And don’t worry about the full-time thing. It’s hard to support yourself doing just books, having a “day job” is a blessing and it takes a lot of the pressure off of you.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Sandy, the scope of your work is mindboggling! It’s impossible not to be drawn to it 🙂 And I happened to do a giveaway a while back and ZENTANGLE was the prize everyone was clamoring for! 😀 ( )


    • Oh, and thanks for mentioning INKTENSE pencils. I’ll be checking them out!


    • Thanks! I’ve been working on it a very long time… and I don’t sleep well, so I draw away my nights. 😉


  3. What a great indepth write up and it’s all about you! You’ve come a long way and still have more to give. Keep it up! And best of luck with your latest book!


  4. I first found Sandy because I found Zentangle. For a long time, it was through her “Zents” that I followed her, then recently came across her blog and knew what I had been missing. She has a unique voice, and a warm wacky spirit that shines through her art and her writing. She makes me smile, and what more needs to be said. These days we so desperately need the souls who make us smile. Your post on Sandy was so enjoyable and showed her in all her glorious uniqueness. Thanks for the enlightenment.


  5. Just, wow! I saw Gorilla in his earliest stages, so it’s wonderful to see this stage and to learn so much about Sandy! Yay, another writer/illustrator to add to my faves!


  6. I love Sandy! I know her mostly through her Zentangle work. I have her Totally Tangled book (great resource) and I love her website. Thanks for featuring her!


  7. Thank you for sharing your fun and lovely work!


  8. […] One of my most favorite illustrators! […]


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