Posted by: Kathy Temean | April 6, 2019

Illustrator Saturday – April Hartmann

April Hartmann is an illustrator, graphic designer and writer, freelancing from her home-studio in Washington, Pennsylvania. Her illustration style is layered and textural, combining bold shapes with painterly fills and decorative line work. She begins her art with traditional mediums of watercolors, gouache and pastels, and brings it all together in a Photoshop rendering. Her online portfolio can be viewed at

April began her career designing at various ad agencies and publishers, while building her illustration career through freelance projects on the side. During this time she illustrated 2 books by traditional publishers, Keeping a Secret and The Alpha Building Crew, along with many stories for educational publishers. When it came time to stay home and focus on her 3 kids, she was able to maintain some of her freelance business. Now with those kids getting into their teens, she’s reigniting her passion for children’s books and concentrating on her longterm goal of becoming a published writer. You can follow her journey on Instagram @aprilhartmanncreations.

More from April: I can often be found zipping from one thing to another. Mostly I draw and I paint, both digitally and with actual paint. When not at the drawing table, I’m usually involved in some other creative task like writing, decorating, or testing recipes to get my family to eat more vegetables. But with each stop along the way, there’s this intense focus, just like the hummingbird. Multi-tasking is out. Creative-tasking is in. It’s not just about getting things done. It’s about discovering what I bring to the task that no one else could.

I earned my BFA in Illustration (with honors) at the College for Creative Studies in Detroit. Today I have more than twenty years of experience as a professional designer and illustrator. I’m a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators and also the Pittsburgh Society of Illustrators. 

As a freelancer I’ve had the pleasure of working with a variety of clients, including McDonalds, Keebler, Petsmart, Kraft, Quaker, Midas, Sears, Build-a-Bear Workshop, Kindermusik, Harcourt Brace, McGraw-Hill, Pearson Education, Simon & Schuster, Houghton Mifflin, Ogilvy & Mather, and Andersen Consulting.

Here is April discussing her process:

I begin with several sketches on paper and pick the one that best captures the action or character.

I then scan that to Photoshop and do a more finished sketch in a new layer.

From the final sketch I will build vector shapes, filled with just flat color. I adjust those colors as I go, experimenting with various palettes. Then I replace the flat color with scans of hand-painted textures.

I’ve built a library of paintings that include watercolor, spattering, and abstract brushstrokes. Also some pastel textures and even photos of things like wood grain and fuzzy sweaters. When I bring them into Photoshop I play with the color using the “Adjust Curves” and “Hue/Saturation” options. I also use some specialized brushes to add shading and line detail.

Finished illustration

Interview with April Hartmann

How long have you been illustrating?

Professionally, about 27 years.

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

My first professional commissioned illustration was for a brochure advertising a product that attaches to rain gutters. I was still in art school and was hired by a local graphic design firm. But I guess I could also go as far back as 3rd grade. I was drawing pictures of my friends as cat-people. Other kids in the class liked the drawings and would pay me (probably 10 cents) to draw them too.

Do you live in the Pittsburgh area?

Yes, I have lived in the Pittsburgh area for about 12 years. I grew up in a suburb of Detroit, and also lived in Houston, Texas and Chicago, Illinois.

Did you go to school to study Illustration? If so where did you go?

Yes, I earned my Bachelor of Fine Arts, with a major in Illustration, at the College for Creative Studies in Detroit, Michigan.

Did the school help you find illustration work?

Yes, the school did connect me with internships after graduation.

What do you feel influenced your illustrating style?

My style has evolved a lot over the years. Early on I experimented with many forms of traditional illustration, including pastels, scratchboard, paper sculpture, and watercolor, but gouache became my favorite for many years. I still use gouache to create most of the textures in my digital art. I’m currently leaning towards a more folksy-naive drawing style, which is almost like “unlearning” to draw.  I think it’s because I want to capture the way a child sees the world, or maybe even the way they could see the world. I’m often reminded of the quote from Picasso “It took me four years to paint like Raphael, but a lifetime to paint like a child.”

Was KEEPING A SECRET your first illustrated book?

Yes, Health Press commissioned the illustrations.

How did you get that contract?

They contacted me from a promotional mailing I had sent to them. At the time I was mailing color copies of my work to many publishers and ad agencies on a regular basis. These days I find it easier to send postcards since you can get a small quantity at a reasonable price.

Did you ever have an artist rep.? Would you be willing to consider representation?

For many years I was represented by Wilkinson Studios for educational publishing. But I’ve gotten away from that and have since been concentrating on writing. Plus I’m exploring the market of surface design for kids products.  I would consider representation that has experience with artists in all of these areas.

Have most of your illustrating work been with product marketing?

No, the majority of my past work has been in educational publishing and religious publishers.

How did you get the job to illustrate, THE ALPHA BUILDING CREW?

That book was commissioned by Kindermusik and they contacted me through Wilkinson Studios.

Would you like to write and illustrate a book?

Yes, it was on the backburner for a long time, but now I’m ready to make it a priority.

Several years ago I tested the waters with a self-published book titled The Cure for the Christmas Crazies. It’s the story of Norbert the Elf. His family is going crazy with things like Christmas shopping and decorating and baking. So he asks Santa for help. Santa’s advice is patient and full of Christian teachings. When my kids were little I wanted a Christmas book that helped explain why Santa brings gifts. This story includes some historical background about Saint Nicolas and his many good deeds. (Available through website.)

Since then I’ve been working more on the mechanics of writing and brainstorming lots of story ideas. It’s taken a while to develop my writing style and a lot of soul searching to discover a unique message I might share with a larger audience.  I’m taking all the necessary steps to workshop and research and revise as much as I can to create a polished manuscript. Karen Grencik at Red Fox Literary has been very generous with feedback and encouragement along the way. I have several stories in the works and they will be ready for submission very soon.

What type of illustration is your bread and butter?

I still work with a large variety of clients, both with illustration and design. Most of the art is related to art for children.

What types of things do you do to get your artwork seen?

I have a portfolio website, an Instagram account and advertise through I also send promotional mailings directly to companies and art directors.

Do you illustrate full time?


Have you illustrated any novelty books?

No, but it sounds like it would be a ton of fun.

Have you done any book covers for novels?

No. But again, sounds like good creative fun.

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

Yes, I have already done quite a few actually. If the story has a professional quality and a reasonable budget for art, then I’m all for it. I consider it a creative challenge and just as legitimate as any logo or other project I might do for an individual. I really enjoy the partnership working with authors to help them bring their stories to life. And as a designer I’m able to help with layout, file management and even selecting the publisher too. There are so many routes to publishing these days that authors can reach out to very specific audiences, without even having to print a single book.

Have you worked with educational publishers? Which ones?

Yes, I have illustrated many stories and workbooks for publishers such as Harcourt Brace, McGraw-Hill, Pearson Education, and Houghton Mifflin.

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

Not yet, but I have been researching a few to add to my promotional mailings.

Have you ever thought about illustrating a wordless picture book?

Actually I have been thinking more about that lately, and a few ideas have come to mind. It really does present an interesting creative challenge.

What do you think is your biggest success?

Just the fact that I have pursued my ambitions to make a career of art is a success to me. I faced a lot of doubt from family, friends, and even myself. It takes so much dedication and sacrifice to stick with it.

Highlights include the publication of The Alpha Building Crew and sharing copies of that with all the kids in our family. I also got a kick out of seeing my artwork in some of the materials that my own kids would bring home from school.

What is your favorite medium to use?

Gouache and Photoshop.

Has that changed over time?

Switching to digital rendering was the biggest change.

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

Every day.

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

I do a little bit of internet research, but that can turn into a time-wasting distraction so I always give myself a set time limit.

Do you think the Internet has opened doors for you?

Yes. I have moved around a lot, but the internet makes it possible to maintain client relationships no matter what. And also the opportunity to work with clients around the world.

Do you use Photoshop or Painter with your illustrations?

Yes, I use Photoshop and sometimes Adobe Illustrator.

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

Yes. For part of my process I use an Apple Pencil and iPad.

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

Publishing as author/illustrator with a major house would be awesome.

What are you working on now?

T-shirt designs for a clothing company, illustrations for a self-publishing author, and a couple of picture books almost ready for submission.

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 use an app called Astropad so that I can draw directly in Photoshop on my iPad with the Apple Pencil. It took a little getting used to, but it’s worth the time spent. Now I can do all my sketches and revisions right on the screen, instead of printing and re-scanning. I also like that I can add natural hand-drawn details so easily.

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

Get professional feedback all the time. But don’t take rejection or critiques personally, just use it as a tool for improvement. Learning doesn’t end after graduation. Stay in touch with new styles, technology, and marketing tools.

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

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

Talk tomorrow,



  1. April, I just LOVE the playfulness of your work, and your use of color! Thanks for sharing, ladies 😀


  2. Very cute illustrations. I especially love the pig in the bathrobe.


  3. Great interview! Love the illustrations and the variety of characters included in this post. 🙂 Best wishes!


  4. Letting kids see that Santa is forgiving doesn’t let them off the hook with their behavior, but rather helps them appreciate and practice that same value. Just as being saved by grace doesn’t give us free reign to sin, but instead inspires us to let God’s goodness shine through us. I like this message much better than telling kids to be good to get lots of presents, which is basically teaching them to ask “what’s in it for me?”


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