Posted by: Kathy Temean | December 1, 2018

Illustrator Saturday – Jim Starr

Jim says, “I’ve always loved drawing. In elementary school, I remember being sent out in the hall with my desk having been caught drawing instead of paying attention. So it was natural for me to pursue a career as an illustrator. I am grateful that I have been able to make a living doing what I love.”

Jim graduated from Carnegie-Mellon University, with a BFA in illustration. Just two years later, he found his dream job as a staff illustrator at Eucalyptus Tree Studios in Baltimore, Md. Working alongside accomplished illustrators at Eucalyptus Tree, he learned the value of versatility.

Over the last 20 years as a freelance illustrator, this flexibility and versatility has kept his illustrations current in today’s ever changing market. Jim’s goal in every assignment is to work closely with the designer/art director to come up with a conceptually strong and well designed illustration. He has worked for a wide range of client needs including logos, icons, package design, editorial, corporate, portraits, event posters, and web graphics. Jim’s styles and techniques include graphic, scratchboard, airbrush, woodcut, pastel, paintings, watercolor, pencil, and pen and ink. His work has been accepted into Print magazine, the Society of Illustrators Annual, and the Washington DC. Illustrators Club Exhibit.


Many on location photos from Lewes Delaware and local were shot for reference and used in the sketches and finish.  This is the first rough which needed compositional changes requested by the Art Director,

2nd rough approved to go to tighter sketch.

Tight sketch approved for Color Finish.

Finished Color Art Created Entirely in Adobe Illustrator CC. My favorite effects were the mask (to make the art fade and transition, and the Feather Effect.

I noticed WHITE HOUSE HOLIDAY TOUR BOOK on your website. How did you get that job? Did they let you in the White House to work on the book? Can you buy the book? I couldn’t find it on Amazon.

The White House called me September, 2017, to see if I was interested in illustrating the Holiday Tour Book.  They found my work initially on MB Artists and then called me personally.  Though this was a pro-bono assignment, I considered it an honor to serve my country with my illustration, so I was glad to accept it.  They needed the booklet with around 20 illustrations turned around in a little over a month, so I had to get going within the week. After clearing background checks, my wife and I went down to the White House to shoot reference photos as we were guided around by the White House staff.  It was crazy timing for me as 2 days later I had a hip replacement.  Within several days and on major pain meds I started the sketching and digitally painting the illustrations with my leg raised on a pillow.  It was a good way to take my mind off the pain.  All went well, with a lot of back and forth from the staff who received feedback directly from the First Lady.  Shortly after finishing, my wife and I were invited down for one of the gala White House Holiday Parties.  The staff met us upon arriving at the White House and wisked us away to a small line by a divider on the ground floor.  Turned out, we waited in line and had a handshake and picture with President Trump and the First Lady.  We were a bit giddy, and still are about the experience of meeting them and the beauty of the White House all decked out for Christmas.  I have a few extra Holiday Tour Books saved if you would like one.

How long have you been illustrating?

Professionally, since 1982, – so a lot of years.

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

1982, some icon or logo work for a small shop out of Ephrata, PA.  I think I made like $20.00 on it.  I remember telling the guy I couldn’t work for him anymore at some point because of his cheap budgets, at which he told me I wasn’t anything special and wasn’t going anywhere.

Did any of the schools help find illustration work for you?

‘nope, totally on my own. Though my one Illustration teacher at CMU, Frederick Carlson gave us a lot of pointers on how to go around getting work and how to do bookkeeping.

What made you choose Carnegie-Mellon University to study illustration?

I did receive a partial scholarship there through the Scholastic Art competition, but what drew me there was the acclaimed Graphic Design program. While in the Graphic Design Major, in Freshman year, I took an elective class in Illustration. At the class, I realized that my passion was heavily invested in drawing and painting, so I transferred to the Illustration Department the last three years.  I graduated with a BFA in Illustration.

What do you feel influenced your illustrating style? 

At first my teachers at CMU, but I was very aware of the professionals in the market place through the Society of Illustrators, and showcase books like the Directory of Illustration, as well as publications such as Print, and Grafik Magazine.

What type of things did you learn at your job with Eucalyptus Tree Studios in Baltimore, Md.?

A whole world of valuable experience working with some young illustrators like myself under the guidance of seasoned veteran Illustrators.  In this studio environment, I didn’t have to worry about advertising or seeking for work in this studio environment, I just concentrated on honing my craft and learning the trade.  At “E-tree” we focused mostly on advertising and some publishing illustration.  I was able to do freelance in the evenings and eventually, with regular work coming in I had the confidence to go on my own and freelance full-time.

Before you got the job to illustrate your first book, what type of things were you able to sell? Example: Book covers, ads, commissioned art, etc.

If it can be illustrated I probably have done it.  I’ve worked on logos, icons, editorial magazine illustrations, text books, corporate publications, event posters, packaging art, art used in animations, and web graphics.

When did you decide that you wanted to illustrate for children?

I’ve always enjoyed the opportunity along my career to illustrate for children. But being a parent of now grown children, reading with them story books opened my eyes to the amazing work in children’s books.

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

I definitely would, as I mentioned before about “ Danny’s Magical Midnight Adventure”.  Since I’m under contract with MBArtists, all children’s publishing work must go through them.  MBArtists would negotiate the price and contract.

How did you connect with the publisher to get that job?

An individual writer found my work on an illustration website.  I referred him to MB Artists to process the work.  At the moment, he is looking for a publisher.

I see you are represented by MBArtists. How did you connect with Mela?

I had another representative before MBArtists, but work seemed to be drying up.  So I just reached out to her.  I believe I saw her presence through  I liked the illustrators work who she represented.  I had been getting into illustrating in a painterly technique and I thought that I might be able to land some childrens publishing work through her help. 

Have you worked with educational publishers? Which ones?

‘sure have.  McGraw-Hill, Sadlier, Scholastic, Sundance Newbridge, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt 17. Have you done any illustrating for children’s magazines? Which ones? Scholastic Storyworks Jr.

Have you ever thought about illustrating a wordless picture book?

Not until now.

What is your favorite medium to use?

Digital Oil brushes in Photoshop.  In Traditional media, Oil Paint on board.

Has that changed over time?

I always enjoyed Oil Painting, but the digital media has become amazingly good in replicating the look.  And there are many reasons in the commercial art world why digital art is quicker, more flexible, more forgiving, and even more creative in some respects.

What was the title of your first picture book?

The Great Gold Rush Adventure

How did you get the contract for that book?

The publisher found my work through my representative’s website.

How did you get the job for Beebe Medical Center Montage?

I have been working over the years for a design firm in Lancaster, PA who has ties to Lewes Delaware.  Beebe Medical is one of their clients.  So they thought of me for this digital graphic montage look.

Can you tell us a little bit about your studio?

I work out of my home with my wife and two active doggies who like me to take breaks and take them for walks down our gravel country road. My studio is equipped with two drawing tables, one flat (for scratch board/ pen and ink work) and the other vertical for sketching. I do most of my work on my big screen iMac with the aid of a Cintiq Wacom Tablet. I make use of the screen built in to this tablet when doing close up details that require precision.  Most of the time I just look at the screen of the iMac and draw or painting with my pen on the tablet.

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

I learn as I go.  I learn a lot also through

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

Yes, both.  Google searches are great for details, but if I use people I often take photos.

Do you think the Internet has opened doors for you?

Definitely! People can find your work all over the world, even the White House.

What do you think is your biggest success?

The Pepperidge Farm Logo and the White House Holiday Tour Guide.  Big Sam was my best book so far.

Is BIG SAM: A ROSH HASHANAH TALL TALE your most recent book?

I’ve recently completed a book named “ Danny’s Magical Midnight Adventure”.

Do you use Photoshop or Painter with your illustrations?

I used to use Painter, but Photoshop has improved it’s brushes and it’s has a much better interface and filters.

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

Possibly, but so busy at the moment!

Do you ever exhibit your art?

Besides websites, no.

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


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

It would be cool to create my own book.  I’d like to do more real oil paintings and sell them too.

What are you working on now?

A lot of Holiday art.  Just finished a scratchboard calendar for Rogue Creamery in Oregon.

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.

For my scratchboard I use “Claybord” by Ampersand.  For learning how to illustrate in Photoshop and get tips by working professionals join and watch their videos.  I’ve learned so much by seeing how the great digital artists work and how they think.

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

Be versatile in what you do.  Learn how to do a lot of things so you are more marketable and then you can afford in your spare time to get better at what you want to specialize in and do full time.

Thank you Jim for sharing your talent and expertise with us. Make sure you share your future books with us. To see more of Jim’s work, you can visit him at:

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

Talk tomorrow,



  1. I love the detail in your work! Thanks for sharing it with us, Jim. 🙂


  2. Excellent work, Jim! What a story, about the assignment for the White House tour book – talk about working on a deadline! And you produced some beautiful images, congratulations on that honor.


  3. Wow. Absolutely beautiful work. Thanks!


  4. Jim, your work is amazing! It’s plain to see why the White House chose you 😀 They sure didn’t give you much time though!


  5. Absolutely breath-taking art, Jim. Thank you for sharing your journey with us and your talent with the world.


  6. Thanks for all the kind words of encouragement!


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