Posted by: Kathy Temean | August 5, 2018

Illustrator Sunday – Leon P Strapko

Leon Strapko’s Dad was also named Leon so his Mom put the “P” in to avoid confusion. 

After he graduated from Parsons School of Design he got into direct marketing (where the money was) and was an art director for many, many years when he finally came to the realization that he’d rather be doing the art than doing the direction. He is now actively pursuing a career in illustration. 

Better late than never.    Twitter: @LeonStrapko   Instagram:  lstrapko   FB: LPStrapko


Hey there, Leon! Thanks so much for submitting your art- I’m excited to share my thoughts with you on it. Let’s go!

So, first things first: Piece number one.

The movement in this piece is BEAUTIFUL. While I don’t know the story behind it, I am immediately curious and have tons of ideas about what’s going on- and this is due to a beautiful marriage of effective composition with clever lighting. You’ve successfully guided my eye along a good path, moving from the tip of the Mouse’s tail, down through his forward leaning motion with his finger, and then up the Crow’s beak, down to the bright lights and finally landing on what I imagine Mouse is pointing to: a cat! The bright lights and shadows, or areas of high contrast, work similarly to the angles and shapes in the composition to help guide the eye and reveal details in a progression that works with the drama of the narrative.

I do, however, have one note. The crow’s expression is flat compared to the high drama of the expression and gesture in the mouse and the action of the scene below. While I imagine you may have been working to keep the crow accurate to real-life, the expression right now has the eye looking out at nothing specific. I think it would be better to create one more level of connection and expression there by simply having the crow look back at the Mouse that’s shouting which way to go. I did a quick mock-up for you to see what I mean.

This then makes the Crow feel like more of a character between the other main points of interest: the mouse and cat.

You do this really well in your second piece- both the crow and the mouse have equal weigh as characters, each with well thought out poses and expressions.

This piece again shows that you’ve got a great handle on how to frame an image to create visual interest and drama- the central composition gives us a figurative (and literal, by way of the lantern), spotlight on the action. It’s impossible not to feel like the characters do- the darkness and spooky creatures are closing in all around them- they are surrounded literally and feel trapped because of how you’ve used the looming trees in the foreground and the darkness and eyes in the background to give the crow and mouse no exit from the tension.

That said, I will mention that the crow’s expression is, again, not immediately clear. I sometimes view it as a gesture of protection, the crow reassuring the nervous mouse along a path with a guiding wing and a watchful eye. Other times I look at the crow and see nervousness. But either way- it’s not obvious or clear enough. The mouse’s expression could also be pushed a bit further as well, I think. In addition, I’d recommend pushing your lighting further. We could get more highlights on the crow’s feathers and face, and the bit of soft foggy blue behind the pair competes with the brightest point of the lantern not far below it. I’ve done a quick mockup here as well to show how you might make the space above the characters darker and lower contrast, as well as playing up the highlights on the mouse and crow in order to make them pop even more. In the mockup, I used a dark blue layer in photoshop to push the upper half back, used soft yellow highlights (set to Soft Light) and a large soft circle of light on the characters to bring them forward. I also did my best to show how to push their expressions slightly by giving their eyes and “eyebrows” more expression as well as giving the crow’s beak a down turn in the corner.

The suggestion to play with lighting a bit more on your last piece is similar to what I’d advise on the third piece you submitted.

The emotions in this piece are strong- the mouse is alone, seemingly stranded and with only a can and a small fire to warm and protect him from the rain storm. That said, the color palette in this piece feels pretty vibrant, and vibrancy in a sad piece confuses the mood. I think it’s great to show how the fire gives warmth to the character and warmth to the colors of the piece- however, the emerald greens in the forest don’t speak to the dreariness of the rain. So, I would suggest that you desaturate the outer parts of the image, while leaving the fire and mouse in full saturation. Check out the edit below to see what I mean!

Overall, your style and ability to paint are both SO strong. You have a great grasp on how to frame a piece to make a beautiful composition that pushes the nuances of the narrative. You’ve made shape and lighting do beautiful things to increase drama!

The areas I’d focus on honing are expressions in realistic-looking animal characters, and taking your beautiful lighting to the next level, using it to push the mood even more. Best of luck to you, Leon, and well done!

Thank you Andrea for sharing your time and expertise with Carolyn and us. Can’t wait to hear about your online workshop with Mira and the illustrator/writers when it is done.

Andrea Miller has designed and/or art-directed many successful children’s books for both Sterling Publishing and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt including, “Lady Pancake and Sir French Toast” by Josh Funk, “Mira Forecasts the Future” by Kell Andrews, “Accident!” by Andrea Tsurumi and “Winter Dance” by Marion Diane Baur. Most recently, she co-art directed and designed the #1 national best-selling children’s book, John Oliver’s “A Day int he Life of Marlon Bundo”. Andrea is also a published illustrator, and is co-creating a series of comics with her wife. She is excited and honored to jump in with the Children’s Book Academy for a rewarding experience as part of their esteemed faculty while looking for fresh talent in this course.


CALL FOR ILLUSTRATORS: Art Director Andrea Miller at HMH or Dr. Mira Reisberg at Clearfork/Spork could critique your submission on Illustrator Sunday. It starts on July 8th for seven Sundays in a row. This is a limited opportunity to get your work seen by an art director. Illustrators should send in 2 or 3 consecutive illustrations that could be used in a picture book to kathy.temean(at) Please put July/Aug Illustrator Sunday in the subject line, put illustrations in the body of the email and include a picture of yourself and your bio. All .jpgs need to at least be 500 pixels wide.

Talk tomorrow,



  1. Amazing illustrations. Beautiful


  2. Excellent post! I really enjoyed Leon’s stunning illustrations and Andrea’s insightful feedback.


  3. Thank you, Kathy, for this wonderful opportunity and all the good things you do for writers and illustrators on your marvelous blog. And thank you, Andrea, for the insightful and helpful critique and kind words of encouragement. Very much appreciated!


  4. Very nice work!! Thank you for sharing.


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