Posted by: Kathy Temean | December 7, 2019

Illustrator Saturday: Deborah Melmon

Deborah Melmon is out featured Illustrator this Saturday. Here is Deborah telling you a little bit about herself. “Over the last ten years, I have illustrated over fifty children’s books which include picture books, readers, and board books. As a free-lance artist, I have also designed greeting cards, gift wrap and fabric. I graduated from the Academy of Art University in San Francisco and continue to live in the Bay Area with a nutty terrier named Mack.

“My illustration process is a hybrid of pencil sketches, hand-painted backgrounds and textures which I scan into Photoshop and then manipulate digitally. This gives me the ability to submit high resolution art in layers and to also make alterations to the art quickly. I love to create work that is fun and engaging for kids with lots of details and humor.

“I love…

Almond milk lattes, bird watching, walking 10,000 steps every morning, living with dogs, online courses, golf, podcasts, Maui, walking barefoot, growing tomatoes, bird feeders, Netflix, problem solving, Irish accents, New Zealand, collecting picture books.

“Clients Include…

Two Lions Publishing, Capstone, Scholastic, Zondervan, Kar-ben Publishing, Parragon UK, Highlights Magazine, Music Together, Kane Press, Viking Children’s Books, Penguin Young Readers Group.”

Here is Deborah sharing her process:



My sketches are loose and I try to keep that feeling in the final art. I think this is a good example of it.

Finished color illustration

This is a sketch I sent the art director while we were trying to work up the cover. Neither the editor or art director had a clear direction on how the cover should look. Sketch 1 is the first idea I had which missed the mark a bit as it didn’t really convey the idea of Santa’s Secret.

My second idea which turned out to be more how the art director thought it should go, showing all three Santas. Comments on this version were to emphasize the winking Santa in the department store, brighten up the background, and turn the little girl’s notebook around so we could see her notations.
Third image is the final art that was used.




Interview with Deborah Melmon

How long have you been illustrating?

I’ve been illustrating in one way or another for over 25 years. I got a bit of a late start with my career as an illustrator. I didn’t graduate from art school until I was well into my thirties.

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 art teacher, Mr. Jenkins, asked my girlfriend and I if we would like to paint windows at Christmas time. He went to the shopping center next to our high school and got us the jobs and we would paint after school and on weekends. It was so much fun! I actually turned it into a window painting business for several years to earn extra money around the holidays.

Have you always live in California? 

Yes, I was born in Los Angeles, as were my parents, and lived in Long Beach during my childhood.  I moved to the Bay Area while my husband was attending dental school and fell in love with the climate in Northern California.

How did you decide to attend the Academy of Art University in San Francisco?

I always wanted to attend art school, but life had other plans. When my marriage ended, I decided to just finish my degree in industrial education at California State University, Long Beach as the art department was impacted.  I took every technical illustration class I could. My professor was watching me ink an exploded view of a piece of machinery in 3-D and told me I should go to art school. It was his encouragement that gave me the confidence to pull the trigger. The Academy was an easy fit as I was so familiar with the Bay Area. I showed a portfolio and was accepted.

What did you study there? Which classes were your favorites?

At the time, I was enrolled in the Illustration Department, headed up by Barbara Bradley. Lots of figure drawing, color theory and illustration classes that covered all aspects of illustration. There were no children’s book illustration classes, but my work was definitely leaning that way.

Do you feel school helped you develop you style?

It helped me develop “a style.” My work was whimsical and quirky, but highly influenced by my instructors and a bit all over the map. I look back at some of that artwork and it looks so dated and unfocused. Not anywhere near what my art looks like now.

Did the school help you find work using your art skills?

In my senior year, my instructor would bring in art directors with real assignments. I was published several times doing editorial work. But I always assumed I would work freelance and just find work through my rep or on my own.

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

Somewhere, deep down, I knew I would illustrate a children’s book. It was just what I gravitated to and I had quite a large picture book collection. For years, I worked in the children’s educational market. I worked on small readers and board books, but feedback on my portfolio was that it was “too educational looking” for trade books. I also had a rep that was more connected in advertising than the children’s market so I ended up skirting around the edges of what I really wanted to do for many years.

Was Crunchy MunchyPaperback by Brenda Parkes your first published book?

I can’t remember if it was the first, but it was part of the educational market I was working in.


How did you get that job?

I got that job through my rep.

Did you sign a two book deal when you got the job to illustrate Underpants Wonderpants after you finished Underpants Thunderpants by Peter Bently? 

I did not sign a deal with Parragon for the Peter Bently books. As I recall the first book did well and Peter was asked to write a sequel after the fact. There was a third story floating around but it never came to fruition.

Mitzvah Pizza by Sarah Lynn Scheerger came out in May with Kar-Ben Publishing. I noticed that you also illustrated Chicken Soup, Chicken Soup by Pamela Mayer. Have you published other books with them?

Yes, I think I’ve done five books for them. Picnic at Camp Shalom was the first. It was my very first 32-page picture book and I remember how panicked I was at the time. I didn’t really know how to put a book together as we were never taught that in art school. I only had the experience of the small readers I had worked on in the educational market – which were highly structured by editors and art directors. This was the first time that I could really do what I wanted to do as an artist.

I featured Santa’s Secret by by Denise Brennan-Nelson, published by Sleeping Bear Press on Writing and Illustrating. Did Sleeping Bear Press give you guidance on their vision for the book or did they just set you free?

They set me free! Except for telling me the age of the little girl I was given a lot of blank white pages to start. But I’ve illustrated over 50 picture books, so now the process is more of excitement rather than trepidation. And I’ve learned that when I get stuck, stepping away, taking a walk or a nap, or just shutting it down until the next day will turn things around. Putting a book together is like a puzzle and I really love the design process.

It looks like you have another Christmas book out this year. ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas: A Highlights Hidden Pictures® Storybook (Highlights(TM) Hidden Pictures® storybooks)by Clement Clarke Moore.
Was this your first opportunity to illustrate a hidden picture book?

I have worked for Highlights High Five magazine for years and have done many hidden pictures pages for them. So I’ve had experience designing this type of artwork. But this was the first picture book I have ever done. The book was on a fast track and there were many, many hidden objects including both on the front and back covers and the title page. It was hard not to repeat myself!

Do you have any desire to write and illustrate your own picture books?

I have toyed with the idea of writing my own book, but it would be like starting another career and I’m not sure at this stage in my life that I have the patience to try and write and continue illustrating.

Are you represented by an artist rep.? If so, who and how did you connect? If not would you consider using a rep at this stage in your career?

I had a rep for many years after I graduated from art school. She was representing one of my instructors at the time. But my career as a picture book illustrator took off after we separated and I took control of marketing myself. I think it was at a time where the internet, blogs, websites were just easier to navigate. My sister helped me do a huge mailing and things just took off from there.

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

I do get asked to illustrate for self publishers but most of them don’t truly understand the process or the cost. I suggest they join SCBWI. There are so many resources for the self-publishing writers on that site.

What is your favorite medium to use?

Digital for sure! A good scanner, Photoshop and the iPad pro and Procreate have changed how I work incredibly. I use the iMac with a Wacom tablet. I sketch on the iPad or sometimes directly on my computer. I remember the days of tracing paper, but now it is just much more efficient to size and resize digitally. I have printed out sketches on watercolor paper and painted directly that way. I have drawn final line work onto paper and scanned into the computer and added color in Photoshop. But now with Procreate, I airdrop the artwork back and forth between my computer and my iPad. I can add textures in Procreate and tighten up the final art with the iPad while sitting in front of the TV. Keeps me from sitting at my computer all day long.

I do still like to dabble with traditional materials, but mostly for texture. I’m currently playing with Pan Pastels. I love working digitally, but I never want the artwork to look that way. Texture is the key for me.


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

I’m working on my craft when I’m working on a job, but I wish I had more time to play and experiment. Deadlines can be exhausting and many times I just want to take a break. I’ve found the best way to work on art for myself is to take an online course. Very stimulating. And I love learning new things.

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

With the internet I rarely take pictures anymore, unless I just need a shot of a hand position. I can get all I need off the internet. But yes, with each project I research locations, people, animals, etc. I look at other artwork for inspiration and color palette ideas.

What are you working on now?

I’m currently working on another picture book for Sleeping Bear Press about a tooth fairy. Due to be released in 2020.

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 love the Bardot Brushes for Procreate. And Blackwing pencils for my sketchbook. Online I purchase from Dick Blick, but get me in a good art supply store and I impulse shop. My goal is to one day use up all the art supplies I have sitting on my shelves.

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

Put in the work and be easy to work with. If you are agreeable and willing to please your client, you will get repeat assignments, which is how I built a business. I have done multiple books for each of the publishers I’ve worked for. It’s never been easier for artists to learn new things and market their work. Marketing with a postcard, no matter how old school that seems, is still the way to get your art in front of an art director. That’s exactly how I got Santa’s Secret with Sleeping Bear Press.

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



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

Talk tomorrow,



  1. Such fun illustrations! Love your use of color. Thanks for sharing your process, Deborah. Best wishes!


  2. Perfectly adorable. I will look for her books. Thanks for the post.


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