Posted by: Kathy Temean | July 13, 2019

Illustrator Saturday – Will Terry

Will Terry has been a freelance illustrator for 23 years. He was horrible at math, English, and science…luckily he found art. After finishing his BFA project at BYU he began working for magazines and newspapers not far from where he grew up in Washington D.C. His early clients include publications such as Time, Money, Wall Street Journal and ads for Sprint, Pizza hut, M&M Mars, Fed Ex, and Master Card. He has illustrated about 30 children’s books for Random House, Simon Schuster, Scholastic, Penguin, Klutz, and Albert Whitman. He has created several indie ebooks that have sold tens of thousands of copies and has started a story app series with Rick Walton beginning with Gary’s Place. He also co-owns – online illustration classes for children’s book illustrators selling in over 80 countries. 

Here is Will explaining his process:

I begin by exploring my idea with free sketching and thumbnails. If I have a particularly complex object or set of objects I might just draw it out and then move it around in Photoshop.

I pick one of the thumbnails that I like the best and begin adding value trying to imagine it working as an illustration.

I enlarge the thumbnail a little, lighten it up in Photoshop, and then I draw over top of it. It’s very important to work up from a thumbnail because you cannot get the right positive and negative spacial relationships right when you work large from the beginning.

I lighten and enlarge again, much larger, and begin to draw more details moving things around and fixing spaces and objects. I want to make sure that I have enough room around objects to avoid awkward tangents.

I enlarge and lighten yet again moving to my final working size on the computer. I work 100% of the print size so at this stage I’m actually working on the image that I’m going to send to my client. At this stage I spend a lot of time fixing all the details. I don’t need to worry about design because that’s already been worked out in previous stages. Now I’m just concentrating on fixing and drawing the tiny details, zooming in and working the entire drawing.

This is where I adjust the color on the drawing. I like to move the color into the muted warm red tones to mimic an old master’s technique called a grisaille. That’s an under-painting usually monochromatic and usually done in warm red tones. At this point I’m also adding darker values where they belong.

The final digital painting. Moving to this stage takes the longest. I start towards the back of the painting and work forward – that way the foreground objects can be painted over top of my background painting.



How long have you been illustrating?

I started freelancing for editorial clients in 1992 so I guess that makes 27 years…wow, has it been that long?

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

I was still in school and one of my illustration teachers shared a job that came in as a class project and the illustration selected would be printed in the Covey Leadership magazine and paid $200…and I won! Now that was exciting!

How did you decide to attend Brigham Young University to get your BFA?

I found out they had a really good illustration program and since I was already a member of the LDS faith – it made sense – but I never finished my BFA – I started getting freelance work before I could finish my last two classes so I never finished.

Did you expect to go back to DC after college in Utah?

Being a poor college student with a wife I needed to work each summer to earn enough money to survive the school year even though I worked part time all through school. I grew up just outside D.C. and my parents were eager to help us save money, so it made sense to live back there and work in between school semesters.

Did the school help you find illustration work?

There wasn’t any direct help in that area however I approached a few of my teachers for coaching after school and they really helped me get going.

What type of illustrating did you do right out of school?

I started illustrating editorial work for magazines right out of school. My first job was for the “Washingtonian” magazine out of D.C. I landed a really tiny spot illustration and never worked for them again…I have a feeling they either didn’t need illustration or didn’t like what I did. 🙂 My second job was for $1200 for Psychology Today magazine – it was a story about how people think about the bad foods they eat. I was so excited to land this job and get a pat on the back from my parents who we were living with.

Did you immediately graduate and start your freelance illustrating career?

I got an old job back working for dining services at the University of Maryland making posters, flyers, and brochures for the food service on campus. On days off I dropped off my portfolio in the city and sent out postcards to advertise my work.

When did you decide you wanted to do children’s book illustrations?

I was given an opportunity to illustrate Pizza Pat from Random House and realized I enjoyed narrative illustration more than conceptual illustration for editorial publications. I just like telling stories with images.

What do you feel influenced your illustrating style?

In school I really started following a group of illustrators that had styles I really liked: Gary Kelly, Chris Van Allsburg, Mary Grand Pre, Steve Johnson, and Brad Holland…I also really dug what Cezanne had done. I tried to make an amalgam of their work.

What was the title of your first illustrated published book? How did that come about?

My first published book was Hanna The No Cow Wife published by Deseret Book. It was a continuation of a folk story told in Mormon culture about the worth of individuals. I got the job because the art director visited our illustration class at BYU and liked my portfolio. He contacted me right before I left school so I immediately found my summer project.

Was Monkey & Croc the first book that you wrote and illustrated?

Yes, I really wanted to explore the possibilities of digital self publishing direct to Amazon and Barnes and Noble. That book and the two other books I wrote and illustrated sold extremely well but mostly because of the timing of that technology.

Do you plan to write and illustrated more picture books?

That is my ultimate dream but I’ve gotten involved in comic conventions and running my online school – Down the road when I have more time I’ll focus on my writing again.

I noticed you illustrated two books Bonaparte Plays Ball and Skeleton for Dinner written by Margery Cuyler. How did the two of you connect for the books?

It’s actually too long a story to tell and there was actually some drama over a book that went south years before. I’m really glad we were able to figure out how to move forward past the unfortunate events that happened. Margery is an excellent writer and editor and I’m flattered that she likes my illustration style enough to recommend me for projects. I just finished the art for the sequel to Bonaparte which is due out spring of 2020.

Did you get to interact with Lee Bennet Hopkins when you illustrated his book, Nasty Bugs?

I didn’t on the book but he’s one of my facebook friends and we’ve chatted a few times privately over events in our lives.

How did you get involved in creating the Society of Visual Storytelling for children’s book illustrators?

Another long story but the short of it is that I was interested in teaching online and after releasing some of my own classes I approached Jake Parker to see if he would want to do some team teaching. We created a few classes and learned that we enjoyed working together and have mutual respect for each other’s work ethic and entrepreneurial passions. about 18 months later we were joined by Lee White.

The Student Art Gallery on SVS is quite impressive. Do you have any direct contact with the students?

We have a vibrant forum where students can post their work at Students give each other feedback and from time to time I poke my head in to give encouragement and feedback. We are also getting ready to start an “office hours” premium feature where students can get extra coaching and critiques.

How long have you been making a living from illustrating?

I’ve been supporting my family for the past 27 years and feel blessed to be able to spend my time making art and helping other artists.

Do you have an artist rep? How did you connect with them and how long have they been representing you?

I’ve had 3 different reps over the years. I contacted my first rep with postcards of my work but the second two contacted me from seeing my work in publications and online. I’m currently with Illozoo and they have gotten me some really nice work.

Have you illustrate a book for a self-published author. Is that something you would do now?

I’m approached on average about twice a week from authors who would like me to create a self published book with them. I’ve turned all of them down and I created a video that goes in depth on the reasons why I’ve decided not to work on self published projects.

How difficult was it to make an app for you ebook series?

I would have never embarked on app making if not for my son who wanted to tackle the technical side of it. He did a great job but struggled learning the ins and outs of app development and submission to the Apple app store which is a complete nightmare.

How do reader find more information about these books?

The story apps we created got 5 star reviews from 3 different rating sites and a starred review from Kirkus! And yet we couldn’t get any traction in the app store for sales. I decided not to renew our licenses simply because commercially they flopped.

Have you worked with educational publishers? Which ones?

Yes, I’ve worked with MacMillan, McGraw Hill, Houghton Mifflin, Pearson, Leap Frog, and Abrams. In the early 2000’s I got a lot of my income from these publishers. I’ve worked away from textbook work because it pays less and often the art direction is heavy handed.

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

For some reason the children’s magazines have largely left me alone even though I’d love to work with more of them. I have done some work for National Geographic Kids magazine.

Have you ever thought about illustrating a wordless picture book?

I have but I think the story needs to be very well written first and then the illustrations are even more important – so I think it would actually be more difficult in many ways.

What do you think is your biggest success?

Wow, this is a tough question that could be answered many different ways. On one hand my biggest success could be that I’ve been freelancing for 27 years. Drilling down I’m really proud of many of the projects I’ve started – even some of my commercial flops. I don’t think I could pick one over the others because each one taught me valuable lessons.

What is your favorite medium to use?

There’s nothing like moving oil paint around but I can’t control it as well as acrylic paint…but nothing compares to the control of working digitally…so if I had to pick only one it would have to be digital. I hope to be able to afford the time to go back to painting though.

Has that changed over time?

Since I can work twice as fast with digital I’ve evolved away from traditional mediums because I can earn twice the money or the same money – half the time.

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

Right now I’m using a Wacom cintiq in the studio and use an iPad Pro for most of my drawing which gives me the flexibility to work anywhere…except underwater 🙂

What materials and/or tools do you use to create your work?

I’m just using the iPad and the cintiq monitor.

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

Right now I have so many different things going (including a podcast for called “3 Point Perspective”) that I just work on what needs to be worked on.

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

Yes, this is a step often overlooked and so necessary to explore visual possibilities for a book. I gather lots and lots of images from google and other online sources and take photo reference myself if I can.

Do you think the Internet has opened doors for you?

The internet is responsible for so many projects and opportunities I’ve taken advantage of over the past few decades. I think the challenge is for artists to realize how powerful they are with online tools.

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

I’d love to write and illustrate my own picture books eventually. I don’t have the time to dedicate to my writing at this time but in the future I’m sure I will.

What are you working on now?

I’m working on a bunch of new classes for, a new mentoring program for, and I am writing a business book for artists. I’m taking many of my youtube channel talks and including many of my ideas in the book. I should be announcing the book sometime early next year.

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.

Because I work exclusively digitally right now I’m afraid I’m out of the loop when it comes to traditional mediums.

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

In this day and age of the internet and amazing publishing tools we don’t have to wait to be picked by the gatekeepers. I suggest that artists get busy honing their craft and creating products and selling them online. Making your own products (if they are really good) gives you experience, portfolio pieces, and exposure. Illustrators trying to break into the market need all three of those things but waiting to be picked will tend to discourage most artists. Get busy and good things usually follow.

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

YouTube Channel:

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

Talk tomorrow,



  1. Will’s illustrations are wonderfully expressive. I especially like the sly looks on the faces of many of his animals.


  2. Will, your art makes me smile 😀 and I definitely see the influence of Van Allsburg and Grandpre in your work…LOVE them! You, as are they (and Thomas Kinkaide)—painters of light. Your talent is mindboggling!Thanks for sharing all this 🙂


  3. I’ve done a few workshops with Will and highly recommend them. Learned so much from him!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Great illustrations! Love them! I recognize Pizza Pat! from my preschool teaching days. We loved that book!


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