Posted by: Kathy Temean | May 25, 2019

Illustrator Saturday – Joshua Heinsz

Joshua Heinsz is an internationally published illustrator, writer, and designer specializing in markets for children and a focus on character design for animation. He is a graduate of the MFA in Illustration Practice program at MICA and holds his BFA in illustration from SCAD. He has a love for bright and whimsical imagery with a flair for the fantastical and an air of nostalgia. Outside of the studio, Joshua can be found teaching college courses or moonlighting as a group fitness instructor.

If you are looking for a youthful spirit, vivid imagination and propensity for all things bright and joyful for your next project, look no further! Joshua is available for hire to fulfill all of your creative needs. Some of his clients include Little Bee Books, Hachette UK, Sourcebooks, Cricket Media, Cottage Door Press, Auzou Publishing, and more. His resume is also available upon request.

To contact Joshua, please email him at


Every piece that I work on starts with a rough and loose sketch where I play around with pushing my shapes and the composition of the spread or illustration.

I then lay down my color flats, and while I complete this digitally, I always still paint stroke for stroke to further emphasize and hand painted feel. This is where I also take time to explore various color compositions once the flats have been laid in. Sometimes I get it right within the first shot or so, but I still try to play around a bit and see if something fun comes up I wouldn’t have naturally thought of. Next I come in with a layer of textures to add both a little more dimension to the illustration as well as some pizazz through different mark making, usually utilizing some sort of dry media brushes.

Lastly I come in with some loose line work to give the final love of detail and add extra pop where I would like to in the image. Throughout the process though, I try to keep an emphasis on color and shape play and to keep my texture and line work looser to add energy and emphasis on how those are interacting.

Represented by The Bright Agency

How long have you been illustrating?

I’ve been actively working as an illustrator now for about six years.

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

Actually back in high school I used to take commissions for realistic pet portraits, a far cry from where my work is now haha.

How did you choose to attend Savannah College of Art and Design to get your BFA in illustration?

I’ve always been a very goal oriented person, and I actually decided that I was going to SCAD by the end of my sophomore year of high school. I had already been looking into various art colleges, and funnily enough I wasn’t too keen on SCAD at first, but once I looked more into it, I just knew it was where I was going to go.

Did you go right from SCAD to The Maryland Institute College of Art for your MFA? What type of decisions went into making that choice?

I took one year off in between the two schools to continue to develop my work and kind of mentally prepare for graduate school. In retrospect, I think maybe even a little more time would have been valuable because the two entities are so different. It was still a little hard to get out of the mindset of how undergraduate programs are structured at first, but at the end of it all, I’m glad of how my timeline all worked out.

How did you end up living in Chicago?

I actually moved out here for a design job after graduating from MICA, even after swearing off winter weather forever haha. I’ll actually be moving back south at the end of the month though!

Did art school help you get any illustration work?

100%! Without my education, I would have been so lost on the business and promotion side of things, and graduate school was particularly helpful in that.

What type of illustrating did you do first starting out?

It’s really not to far from where I’ve landed now. My work has always naturally leaned toward an aesthetic that suits itself best for children, but for a short while I really thought I was going to go into fantasy illustration for some reason. Clearly, that did not stick, haha.

Was LITTLE SPOOK your first illustrated book?

No, Little Spook actually sits somewhere in the middle of my current body of work.

How did get that contract?

Like most of my contracts, they just come to me through my agents. They’re really good about rallying in new projects.

It looks like you have a good number of books coming out this year. How hectic was 2018 trying to get all of those illustrations done?

Quite frankly, 2018 was insane. I was also working three other part time jobs, because they were all things I cared about, and there was a point where I was working on eight books at once. There was a nearly three month period where I only slept 3 or 4 nights a week in order to get my work done, and even then it was like constantly swimming upstream. I can say that I firmly do not recommend this, and it was very much a learning experience for me in needing to say no sometimes, but boy did I grow a lot through it all!

We are doing a book giveaway of CHIP AND CURLY this month. How did that contract come your way?

Similarly to Little Spook, my agents took care of me here having submitted my work to Sleeping Bear Press, and they were interested in finding a title to work with me on. Chip and Curly happened to land the mark!

I see The Bright Agency represents you. How long have you been with them and how did they find you?

I’ve been with Bright for gosh, I think about four years now. I actually connected with them through the recommendation of a friend at Hyperion.

Among the books coming out this year, I see you have four with The Physics of Music. Can you tell us a little bit about that publisher?

This was a bit of a tough project because I personally have no experience playing instruments, and everything needed to be accurately positioned within the illustrations for each of the instruments being played. The publisher was really great to work with though and very thorough in our back and forth to make sure we got things right while keeping the style of the work still fun and loose.

Was this a four or more book deal?

This was for the four books.

Do you have any desire to write and illustrate a book?

Absolutely! It’s something I plan to focus on more in the coming year or two. I have several ideas I’ve been fleshing out, so it’s just a matter of time.

You mention that you teach college courses. Where do you do this and what are you teaching?

I taught at the Art Institute in Chicago for a little over two years until they recently closed down actually. I was teaching a variety of courses within both the illustration and foundations departments, from life drawing and perspective to business of illustration, illustration history, digital illustration, and several others.

How many books have you illustrated?

Somewhere around fifteen books I think, ranging from trade to commercial to educational.

I noticed that you illustrated a book in Portuguese and the same one in Spanish. Was that hard to do when you don’t read the language?

Actually, everything sent to me is always translated to english and then later published in other languages.

You have some illustrations with repeat designs, like hot air balloon, mermaid, parachutes, etc. Did you do them for fabic or wallpaper?

I did! For a while in grad school I really got into the idea of going into licensing and working with textile design. It’s something I definitely still have interest in, but it has since taken a back seat to books and other projects for the time being.

What do you feel influenced your illustrating style?

I’m definitely very inspired by both the mid century modern era and animation throughout history. Those are probably the heaviest influences on my work, but I am constantly inspired by artists and designers from various periods as well that skew my primary aesthetic in different directions. Whatever project I am working on often dictates what visuals I reference for inspiration at that time as well.

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

Probably not. I get approached about this with relative frequency, but when it’s something that’s more of a personal project like that, I would rather dedicate that time to my own personal projects.


Have you worked with educational publishers? Which ones?

I have worked with several actually, but honestly I’m terrible at keeping track of them because they are projects I don’t often see again.

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

I actually haven’t done a lot of magazine work, I mostly do books, but I have done some work with Cricket Media.

Have you ever thought about illustrating a wordless picture book?

Yes! This is something I’m very interested in, and I’ve had a particular idea I’ve been playing around with for a while. Wordless books can be tricky though, so it’s something I really need to nail down before I’m ready to pitch.

What do you think is your biggest success?

I can’t say that I have any one outstanding moment yet, at least in my eyes, but I’m really proud of some of the books I have coming out soon that deal with breaking down gender stereotypes as that is such an important concept to me.

What is your favorite medium to use?

While I most frequently work digitally for the sake of time, watercolor will always have a special place in my heart.

Has that changed over time?

Absolutely! I’ve worked digitally on and off since early high school, but I swore I would always work traditionally until about half-way through grad school, and it’s been that way ever since.

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

Absolutely, whether I’m actively creating or researching new techniques or artists or histories, I’m always trying to absorb knowledge and hone my skills to improve as a creator. Our taste levels are almost always higher than our capabilities, so I feel I’m almost constantly
in pursuit of reaching the next level.

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

Research always! I’m sort of a pinterest fiend, so I create moodboards for pretty much everything that I do.

Do you think the Internet has opened doors for you?

It is undeniable that social media plays such a large part in the design and illustration world today. I’m far better connected with the use of instagram and twitter than I could be without them.

Do you use Photoshop or Painter with your illustrations?

Photoshop, always.

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

I’ve been using a cintiq for years, and there’s no going back for me.

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

I definitely want to move more into writing and illustrating my own content in the coming years. I’d also love to work a bit in board games and do some more work in animation as well. Outside of illustration, I’d also really love to focus more on fiction writing at the novel length, most likely within the realm of YA.

What are you working on now?

Currently I’m working on this really great book with Sterling, though I’m not sure how much I’m allowed to say? But I’m also in the process of a cross country move, so I’m using this time to focus on some new self written projects to pitch over the summer, so stay tuned!

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.

Even though I don’t often work in watercolor for commercial projects these days, I’ve always been such a big fan of Jack Richeson 300lb cold press paper. I don’t feel like it’s a go-to for many people, but I fell in love with it back in college and I very much recommend giving it a try to any fellow watercolor painters out there.

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

Be true to yourself and your voice. It’s important to be aware of trends and to do market research of course, but at the end of the day your work will stand out so much more when it is coming from an authentic place. Be unabashed about liking whatever it is you enjoy and express that without hesitation in your work. For a time, I really let other people’s opinions of what my work should be and look like shape what I was doing, and while constructive criticism is helpful and invaluable, you have to learn how to know what parts of it you can interpret successfully into your work remaining true to your expression and what is just someone’s personal opinion.

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

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

Talk tomorrow,



  1. Joshua, your work is aMAZing! And you look SO young to have had such a wealth of experience and knowledge! I’m blown away 😀


  2. This artwork is STUNNING. Joshua will no go on my list of people I’d love to work with someday! Breathtaking.


  3. *NOW go on…


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