Posted by: Kathy Temean | March 30, 2019

Illustrator Saturday – Kate Cosgrove

Kate Cosgrove is an illustrator and artist from Michigan. She received a BFA with honors from Michigan State University. Kate’s illustrations have been published in all kinds of print and web media. She has exhibited in galleries and online, with collectors across the United States, Australia, Canada, Colombia, England, France, Switzerland, and Ukraine. Cosgrove illustrated ‘Family Album,’ a children’s album by the hit rock band The Verve Pipe. In 2011 she was awarded an Arts Council Individual Artist Grant for her child-friendly art show “Animal ArtVenture,” hosted by the Lansing Art Gallery.

She says of her art, “I was born into a family where everyone makes something: art, music, food, clothing, noise, a mess… I found I like to make messes and art at a very early age. I expect to keep doing both until I draw my last breath. I’m a lucky girl.”
For a complete client list and to view additional illustrations, visit Kate’s website:

Kate Cosgrove is a 2016 Barbara Deming Grant recipient and a 2011 Individual Artist Grant Recipient, ACGL.


Colin Firth movie (Arthur Newman Golf Pro 2013), Holiday House Publishing, Sparrow Hospital, Dawn Ius, Norwood House Press, Pioneer Valley Books, Mennonite Brethren Herald, Gather ‘Round/Brethren Press, First Steps Press, The Verve Pipe, Potter Park Zoo, Duke University, The Little Lutheran, Two Men and a Truck, Chicago Welcomes You, Michigan State University, Accident Fund Insurance Company of America, Clark Hill Law Firm, The Noise, Funky Mama, Greater Lansing Woman magazine.

Kate discussing her process:

I start by reading the manuscript for THE BULLFROGS SING. Then I created tiny quick thumbnail sketches, sometimes with just a dark marker or pen (lately I really like the Tul black gel pens). I then develop the sketches into more detailed, larger (usually formatted to the size or at least the proportions of the final book) mechanical pencil sketches/drawings. Below are three example of double page spread sketches with the final art.

I like mechanical pencils because they smudge in interesting ways, I can get very fine points that I can’t usually get from sharpening a wood pencil or cutting the tips with an art knife, I also like the layers they can create if I keep developing the drawing. Once those are in a finalized form, the publisher receives scans of the drawings and they [publisher] have a few weeks to give me feedback (edits, questions, concern, etc.) If changes are minor I might just correct the sketch or leave notations of any changes directly on the sketch. If the changes are major, I may need to create a full new drawing for the publisher to approve.

Once changes are agreed on or the “okay” is given, I import the scanned drawings into Adobe Creative Suite where I redraw a digital version of the art, using colors this time. Personally, I like to use the program Illustrator for my digital illustration, sometimes I use Photoshop, but mostly I’m an Illustrator person. I have a background in vector logo creation and I like that Illustrator gives you a really clean, high resolution image that you can make really large or really small and the quality is not compromised.  Occasionally I use scans of fine art painting, crayon, pencil, etc, that I make in my art studio that I’ve imported into my programs for a mixed media “hand drawn” feel.


Herbert-Herman Cancer Center:

Kate says, “Papercut for me is an extremely meditative art form. I sometimes make just a small gesture drawing of my idea for the piece, but often I just sit and very slowly I start cutting my images, not really sure how they will turn out, guided by what feels right – almost like playing the piano by ear, I’m creating this in a similar fashion. I have to move slow because it’s such a delicate thing and one tiny cut can change everything, one elbow swipe and it can tear. I use exacto knives and I have to constantly change blades because they dull very quickly. This large project in the photos you’ve attached, I went through over one hundred blades.”

Interview with Kate Cosgrove:

What inspired you to start doing your paper cut illustrations? Are you still doing them?
After I graduated from college I mostly worked in fine art with a torn paper collage style. So paper has always been a medium for me that has felt natural and exciting. Then I started to take an interest in book illustrators who were using cut paper and collage for their illustrations, ie Eric Carle, among others. It all came together for me when I had written a grant for an illustration exhibition that celebrated my favorite novels from childhood (Little Women, Anne of Green Gables, Jane Eyre, Secret Garden). I was struggling to find the right medium that would really bring that imagery to life and I kept thinking “I just want to rip the words out of the pages of the book” and then I was like “Or… I could cut the words out… and cut the pictures out.” I decided to experiment with straight papercut and it came together in the most pleasurable, beautiful and challenging way. (see Secret Garden image below from that project)
Yes, I am still actively exploring papercut illustration inside and outside of the frame. I’ve been playing around with larger size works and am headed towards taking them to a sculptural level after a metal artist friend taught me some welding tricks.

How long have you been illustrating?

I’ve been drawing probably longer than I’ve been walking. I’ve been a professional artist since college graduation in 2001.

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

To help pay for college, I worked in an office as a “Student Assistant” and my adult coworkers were extremely supportive. I would draw illustrations and cartoon squares for them that they would post them in their cubicals. Two of them commissioned/purchased paintings from me and another bought a fancy cake and set it under my senior art show flyer to encourage people to attend. And then practically the entire office attended that art exhibition. I think that is when things started to get rolling for me on a professional level.

How did you make the choice to attend Michigan State University?

I’m a born and raised Michigangster, so it was sort of always in my life plan that I would graduate from MSU.  When I was small, my parents would drive my sister and I through campus and show us all the pretty ivy covered buildings, and take us to The Union for Blue Moon ice cream cones. I’m not sure it was even a choice!

What did you study at Michigan State University to get your BFA?

Unfortunately MSU didn’t have an illustration program, but I took a LOT of drawing courses and majored in Graphic Design with a concentration in Painting. Ultimately this was the best decision because I not only became well-versed in Fine Art (and Art History) but I also benefitted from the problem solving aspects of design. So I have a good sense of how type and story can work with my images. I also became proficient in the digital design programs which helps me with book-making layouts, editing and my ongoing love affair with digital illustration.

Did MSU help you get illustrating work?

They did not, but at the time it wasn’t a program they offered.

The mentioned you have exhibited your art in many countries. Do you feel doing these exhibits helped you get illustration work?

Every step, project, doodle, job, etc. has somehow helped me on my journey to kidlit. Exhibiting lead me to playing around with “fun art” which morphed into art for kids which morphed into art shows for kids which eventually turned into illustration for kids.

How did you get to do the artwork for The Verve Pipe “A Family Album” cover?

I’ve always been a fan of their music. I attended a concert where a belligerent person having a bad day sort of wrecked the show and was knocking into the band. SO I sent the manager a complain-ee email. The email had my website link at the bottom and when he forwarded it to the band, they forgave my concert rage and really connected with the illustrations on my site, mainly an annoyed looking orange cat. They were extremely lovely to work with and both of those ‘Family’ albums were a lot of fun. Plus the music is awesome!

What type of illustrating did you do first starting out?

I started out doing sports illustration and logo redrawing at a Cooperstown Hat company. Then I moved onto corporate illustration which made me so bored I wanted to pull out my hair. I started doing as much illustration as I could for different projects – corporate flyers, calendars, etc. Eventually I realized that stock photos of business people depressed me and drawing was my love and I needed to make that my full time job.

When did you decide that you wanted to illustrate children’s books?

When I was a nine, a funny, energetic, brilliant illustrator came into our classroom during ‘Young Authors Week’ and I knew at that moment that I wanted to make kids books just like she did. Children’s books remain the one item that I have collected and continue to collect.

Was Enid Spring your first illustrated book?

My first book was called “Ah Mu Weaves A Story” for a beautiful organization called “Chicago Welcomes You” that I do not believe exists anymore. Through word of mouth, I heard about their project and submitted some illustrations and they picked me. The goal was to create an English/Karen Tribe children’s book about the journey of Burmese Refugees in refugee camps in Thailand who would soon be making the move to Chicago as their permanent home. The goal was to help make that very scary transition a little less frightening for both adults and children. Through that project I became very dear friends with the Author, Sara Gilliam who continues to support refugees through organizations like “Carry The Future.”

Was this a self published book? How did you connect with the author?

Enid Springs was a contract job for a self-published author. She contacted me through my agent and we put together a project plan for that story.

Is And the Bullfrogs Sing your latest illustrated book?

Yes, however I’ve worked on a couple contract books for educational publishers like Pioneer Valley Books in between the creation and release of Bullfrogs. So I guess my projects are leapfrogging… Sorry, dad joke!

How did you get the contract?

Holliday House approached me through my agent Janet DeCarlo.

How long did it take you to create all those gorgeous book illustrations?

The very nature of the book biz involves a lot of start and stop and requires copious amounts of patience. So start to finish I believe I’ve been connected to this project for about two years. The black and white sketches took a couple months and the final art took about six months with some minor revisions and cover art after that.

How many books have you illustrated?

Seven total, but And the Bullfrogs Sing: A Life Cycle is my first/debut traditional publishing experience.

Would you like to write and illustrate a book?

Yes. I am very interested in both Picture Books and Middle Grade stories. I also do some comic art and writing that I hope morphs into a graphic novel for Middle Grade readers at some point.

I see you are represented by Janet DeCarlo at Storybook Arts, Inc. How long have you been with her and how did you two connect?

I teamed up with Janet and SBAI officially in 2010. In 2009 the world was strangely less digital, so I was researching and mailing out small physical portfolio books that I had printed up through Kodak. It took forever, it was extremely expensive and I was rejected A LOT. Eventually my work reached Janet and she gave me one of the greatest phone calls of my life. But even after the contract ink was dry, it took us a couple years to really find consistent work for me. Again, patience is key! Working with Storybook Arts has been wonderful, Janet is extremely kind and reliable and the most organized human on the planet. She takes all the business pressure off my shoulders so I can focus on the arty storytelling side of things.

Do you do freelance illustrating full time?

Mostly yes, however I sometimes put together exhibits of fine art (last few years has been papercut illustration) which involves grant writing and installation work.

Have you done any book covers for novels?

I have not, yet! But am definitely interested in that work.

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

At this point I keep fairly busy, so I would need to really connect with the story and they would also have to go through my agent first. I do prefer working with publishers though, the support and marketing are a more comfortable fit for me.

What do you feel influenced your illustrating style?

Art History 100000%, I love to look at images from my predecessors of all eras, and learn from their eyes, hearts and color palettes. I also am very interested in Biology, for about seven/eight years I created a lot of illustration work and exhibit signs for my local zoo. I love plants and animals so very much and I’m definitely influenced by the designs of nature.

Have you worked with educational publishers? Which ones?

Yes, Pioneer Valley Books, Norwood House Press (I think they are considered an educational publisher – it was a contract style book) I’ve also created some religious education illustrations for a few faith-based publishing houses.

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

Not YET, I’ve been obsessed with Highlights Magazine and even attended a workshop at the Highlights Foundation last year, so I’m coming for them!

Have you ever thought about illustrating a wordless picture book?

Yes, this is on my professional wish list.

What do you think is your biggest success?

I’m my biggest critic so I’m never quite satisfied. I would say I have more ‘milestones’ than big successes. Finding agency representation was a big milestone, The VervePipe albums were my first illustration work to end up on the Barns & Noble store site, I had some illustrations as set designs in a Colin Firth/Emily Blunt movie and it was pretty exciting to see them actually on the wall in the film! The Purple Pussycat reader was my first book to end up as a listing in my library system, which has been a dream of mine since childhood. All of these have been important moments and also help me to stay focused on those days that I am filled with doubt. Working with Holliday House and David L. Harrison on And the Bullfrogs Sing: A Life Cycle, has definitely been a jewel in my journey though. It’s been a dream! The BEST dream, not a scary dream after you eat something weird…

What is your favorite medium to use?

I flip all over the place. Sometimes I think I’m just going to use a mechanical pencil from here on out then I get a crush on color pencils or acrylic paint or papercut knives or digital illustration. Sometimes I just want to smash them all together in one big mixed media party.

Has that changed over time?

It changes every day.

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

I’m a workaholic. I wish I were joking, but I have to tell myself to put the art supply down or the book about the art down or the website ordering the book and art supplies down. The problem is, my work is my love and my hobby, so when I’m not working on something for someone else, I have a lot of my own ideas that I want to tackle. I don’t think I ever take a day off, unless I’m sick and even then… I still do something related to my work.

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

All of it! I research art history, I flip through my collection of books, I check books out of the library, I look up information about artists, I make my husband and daughter pose in different ways so I can photograph and sketch humans. If they are busy I might photograph myself and draw from that. I am a very research-based creative.

Do you think the Internet has opened doors for you?

The Internet is a blessing and sometimes a curse. It makes clients, publishers, agents more accessible and I’m not printing out and snail mailing samples and manuscripts any longer, but it also adds to the pressure that I need to constantly be producing, updating and moving and I worry a little about burn out sometimes.

Do you use Photoshop or Painter with your illustrations?

I love the Creative Suite products. Illustrator is my favorite, Photoshop is always helpful and sometimes I use InDesign if I want to see something as a layout (old Graphic Design habit).

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

I do have a Wacom Tablet and I like it, but I don’t use it a ton. I’m more of a mouse drawer.

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

I want to do ALL the kidlit things! More book illustrating, book writing, more school visits and all the stuff in between. Storytelling in all mediums is my life.

What are you working on now?

I’m slated to illustrate another picture book project authored by David L. Harrison. I also put out a weekly comic collaboration with my nine year old daughter called “Junicorn” under the pen name Jude Nevermind. She’s extremely funny, so I illustrate our conversations. Available for free on Instagram:
And I’m writing a grant to fund my next papercut illustration exhibition.

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 just went on a big pen taste-test and ended up really loving the TUL needle point pen. It’s fun for writing and doodling. I get a lot of ideas from just mindless doodling with a solid pen.

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

Set up a fort in your library –the librarians might report you to security, but that’s part of it. Then read every kids book and study every illustration and art book available. And when you’re not reading, looking and doodling, learn to be extremely patient. In my experience, bookmaking is a snail’s race.


Mandy Hubbard, Emerald City Literary Agency

Janet DeCarlo, Storybook Arts, Inc.

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

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

Talk tomorrow,



  1. Wonderful article! I especially love the papercut works!!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Wonderful to read about such a creative force and fellow Michigander

    Liked by 1 person

    • Great interview. I really enjoyed the art and behind the scenes peek at her work. Cheers

      Liked by 2 people

  3. Beautiful work – I love the variety of styles!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Wow! Those papercut illustrations are amazing. I liked her list of milestones rather than the big success. That’s a great perspective. Thanks for the post.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. OMG! I love your kid art the best. Obsessed with the detailed backgrounds.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. The paper cut illustrations are especially gorgeous!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Gorgeous artwork Kate, and I enjoyed hearing about your journey so far, all the best to you as you continue!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Beautiful work. That giant paper cut piece is exquisite!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Love the bright colors and variety and the paper cutting! Great illustrations and artwork! Thanks for sharing with us!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I enjoyed this whole post, but can’t get over the intricacy and beauty of that paper “mural”…WOW!!!!! 😀


  11. The paper cut art is spectacular!


  12. Kate!

    I am so pleased to have stumbled on this article. Glad you are doing so well.

    All the best,


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