Posted by: Kathy Temean | April 20, 2019

Illustrator Saturday – Noel Ill

Noël ILL earned her BFA with honors in illustration from ArtCenter College of Design in Pasadena, California. Throughout her design and illustration career, she has had the opportunity to apply her artwork and tasteful design sense to the publishing and entertainment media fields. Her more notable commercial work includes production art for the quirky HBO animated series, The Life and Times of Tim, the “Be Mine” sticker pack for Facebook stickers, and “The Sweetest Little Ghost” her licensed illustration for Papyrus greeting cards. Currently, she is working on illustrations for a children’s Halloween book, titled, IF YOU’RE SCARY AND YOU KNOW IT is set for release with Familus publishing in August 2019.


I’m showing an example of my process using samples from If You’re Scary And You Know It.

First thing I do is thoroughly read the manuscript. The author’s story is what prompts my imagination and gives me an idea of what the reader would like to see.

Then I start researching. For this particular story, I searched for images online of Halloween and trick or treating. I even searched other sing along books to make sure I didn’t subconsciously create anything similar to what’s already on the market. Researching also helps me get layout ideas and color palette inspiration.

Next step is I start sketching. Because this book had 8 different main characters, I knew I had to make each child stand out. So, I really concentrated on their designs. I sketch these ideas with pencil in a sketchbook. The first idea sketches I create are not always exactly like my final illustrations. A big part of the creative process for me is the character’s spirits telling me who they are and I’m just jotting it down in my sketchbook as if I’m meeting them for the first time. I also rough sketch very small layout and composition ideas for the page spreads.

After that I, I move over to Photoshop and create the rough sketch digitally and then clean up the rough sketch so that it’s basically an outline illustration. This is what I send to the art director for approval.

When the sketch has been approved, I began to color. In Photoshop, I have the sketch on one layer and each colored object on another layer. Having each object like eyes, legs, head, hat, will make it easier for me to change the color of any object at any time if needed. Sometimes I like to try out different color combinations and this technique makes it easy to do so.  The digital brushes I use are by Kyle T. Webster and they create a natural gouache texture as I paint.

I complete the main objects and characters first with their shadows and details and then I paint the background last which is also on it’s own layer. I tend to add more layers of texture on backgrounds so they look nice and painterly.

When all the layers are visible, the illustration is complete! 

Interview with Noel Ill 

How long have you been illustrating?

I’ve been drawing since I was 3 years old, but I have been illustrating professionally for about thirteen years.

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

When I was in high school, my neighbors across the street commissioned me to paint a mural on their little girl’s bedroom wall.

Did you choose to attend the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, CA?

Yes, with the encouragement of friends and family who brought the school to my attention. I started taking night classes there while I was still in high school, to build up my figure drawing skills for my application portfolio. Art Center has always felt like my Hogwarts.

What type of classes were your favorites?

I enjoyed all my classes, but my favorite classes were the ones that allowed me to explore outside of the foundations of illustration. For example, I loved my independent publishing class where we learned how to fabricate our own comics, zines and books. I also loved my business in entertainment class where we learned how to take our art and ideas and brand them. Putting our designs on products and promoting them to an audience.

Is that where you learned what you needed to get into illustrating?

It definitely helped me learn what possibilities were out there for an artist. That there were many different paths an artist could take and many different industries that held career opportunities for illustrators.

Did the Art Center College of Design help you get illustrating work?

Not actively, but the school had a job bulletin where I found jobs to apply to and luckily got some of my first professional jobs that way.

What type of illustrating did you do when you were first starting out?

My first professional job was illustrating a children’s book for an educational publishing company.

You are holding a bag in your picture. It shows off one of your illustrations. Did you make the bag, too? Do you make them for customers?

Although I do like to sew, I did not sew the bag. There is a company called Zazzle and they help artists and designers put their artwork on retail products. I have a shop on called Little Paper Farm where I sell products with my illustrations on them, like this tote bag and also greeting cards!

Tell us about working on the animated series with HBO. What type of things did you do and work on?

I worked on the animated TV series, The Life And Times Of Tim, that aired on HBO for three seasons. I digitally drew and colored backgrounds, props and designed characters using Photoshop. I mainly worked on Tim, the main character of the show. I would draw his movements frame by frame. The show had a very stop-motion-like animation style and this is where I picked up a few animation techniques. I had never worked in animation prior to working on the show. I learned later that I was hired because of that reason. The producers wanted a quirky naive style of art and animation. After I drew the different movements of the Tim character, I would then send those to the animators who would string all the drawings together in a proper animation program, adding extra movements if needed. The final result is what we see on screen. Working on the show gave me inspiration to explore animating my personal illustrations. To create my animated illustrations, I use the Timeline feature in Photoshop. I draw each individual movement on a separate frame and then save it as a GIF file. As a GIF, the sequence of frames play together and the image appears as if it’s moving. Animation is a very technical process that takes a lot of time to create. I don’t make animations often, but it’s always fun to see illustrations move, so I have fun with it every now and then.

How did you get that job?

I saw the job posted on the Art Center job bulletin and applied.

Do you still do animation?

No, not professionally, but I still create simple animations for fun and for myself. In 2018, I entered the GIPHY film festival with my 18 second animated short called, Chocolate Cake Asks Pumpkin, and the film was one of the finalists.

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

I had decided that was something I wanted to do when I was in community college. I took several children’s book and children’s literature classes. I just love the stories and imagination in children’s literature.

Is IF YOU’RE SCARY AND YOU KNOW IT your debut illustrated picture book?

It is my debut illustrated picture book for trade publishing. I’ve illustrated a total of 11 books for educational publishing.

How did you get the contract?

The art director saw some of my illustrations I had posted on a website called Behance. He showed them to the author and out of three other artists, she picked me!

How many picture books have you illustrated?


Would you like to write and illustrate a book?

Yes, I would. I like writing poems, so I would like to write a book of poems and illustrate them. I wrote and illustrated a short story about my grandfather from Mexico as part of a contribution to the book, The Art of Memory published by Lectura Books.

Do you have an artist rep.? If so, who and how long have you been with them? If not, would you be willing to consider representation?

No, I do not have a rep. I am very content with being a free agent.

Do you do freelance illustrating full time?

No. My other job is voice acting for mobile games and cartoons.

Have you done any book covers for novels?

No, but I would like to. That would be really neat.

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

Unfortunately, no. I only work with companies for contractual purposes.

What do you feel influenced your illustrating style?

Illustrators from the 1950’s, 60’s and 80’s inspire me.

Have you worked with educational publishers? Which ones?

Yes. I work a lot in the educational publishing field. I’ve illustrated 9 picture books and 2 young adult chapter books for the bilingual English and Spanish publishing company, Lectura Books, and The Latino Family Literacy Project. I’m half Mexican and I don’t speak fluent Spanish, so I get to learn more Spanish with the books I illustrate for that company.

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

No and I really would love to!

Have you ever thought about illustrating a wordless picture book?

Yes of course! I would love to fill every page of a book with head to toe illustrations. It’s definitely something I have thought about.

What do you think is your biggest success?

It’s every time I see my art published in any form. It still feels very surreal to me. When I saw my work from The Life And Times Of Tim on TV, I thought, “I drew that! My drawing is on TV!” Or when I look at the books I’ve illustrated I have to let it sink in that those are my illustrations and I illustrated a book. I also had one of my illustrations licensed by Papyrus Greetings. It’s called The Sweetest Little Ghost and it’s a Halloween greeting card. I have the card framed in my room to remind myself that I am a successful artist. It’s almost like looking in the mirror and giving myself motivational speaking.

What is your favorite medium to use?

I like working digitally because it makes it easier to test out different color palettes. I can create illustrations a lot quicker or do revisions for a client a lot easier too. It’s also less expensive. I don’t have to keep buying a lot of expensive painting or drawing materials. My other favorite medium is watercolor.

Has that changed over time?

Yes. The first two books I ever illustrated were painted with acrylics on illustration board. There were a series of books and I asked my publisher if I could try illustrating the third book in the series digitally because I knew I could work faster that way and also delivering the final illustrations would be easier. The illustrations could be sent to the publisher through the computer instead of having to be delivered and photographed. My publisher agreed to the idea and that’s when I started illustrating digitally.

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

I actually take as many days off from drawing as I can because when I work, I barely come up for a breath of fresh air. I really focus on my projects till they are completed. But, my days off are just as important because I use that time to get inspired by visiting book stores, gift shops, reading books and watching art history documentaries or biographies of well known artists throughout history. I also like to test out new brushes and textures in Photoshop.

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

Yes. I always research before every project, no matter how big or small the project is. It helps me get ideas and become inspired. I sometimes get introduced to new subjects through researching for a project. Researching is one of my favorite parts of the job.

Do you think the Internet has opened doors for you?

It has definitely opened doors for me. Thanks to the Internet and social media, there is a place where I can share my work to a wide audience. I’ve received most of my job opportunities from art directors coming across my artwork online.

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

Yes. I use a Wacom Tablet. I feel like they are already old fashion because I see a lot of my illustrator friends drawing on iPads and cintiqs. It would be nice to draw on an iPad when I sketch, but the reason why I use a Wacom Tablet is because I like to keep my arm down on the pad and my head looking straight at my computer screen. If I drew on an iPad, my head would be down and it would hurt my neck, and if I drew on a cintiq my arm would be elevated and it would get tired.

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

My number one career dream was to be a children’s book illustrator so I would like to continue fulfilling that dream. I would also like to license out more of my personal illustrations for paper goods, stationary, greeting cards and stickers. Or partner with a company to create a line of fun products. Maybe even some plush toys!

What are you working on now?

I just finished illustrating another educational bilingual book.

Do you have any material type tips you can share with us?

Actually, I have a business organization tip. There is an application for my Gmail that I have been raving about. It’s called Streak and it helps me organize my work emails into a chart with color-coded columns. I can categorize my emails into different stages, for example: New Projects, Books in Progress, Completed Projects. You can customize the chart to your needs. I think writers would like it a lot because it could help them keep track of manuscripts they have submitted to agents or publishers. It took a while to figure out how to customize it, but I recommend it tremendously.

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

Yes. I always remember two things; don’t be lazy and take healthy risks that take you a little bit out of your comfort zone. Personally for me, the second thing is hard to do, but I have to admit every time I go out of my comfort zone, my career leaps forward.

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

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

Talk tomorrow,



  1. Noel is such a multi-talented artist! I am thrilled with her illustrations for my Halloween book, IF YOU’RE SCARY AND YOU KNOW IT. I was incredibly fortunate that the art director let me choose the illustrator. Noel’s style is a perfect fit with my words. I couldn’t be happier. Thank you, Noel!


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