Posted by: Kathy Temean | December 21, 2019

Illustrator Saturday – Adriana Bergstrom

Adriana Hernández Bergstrom is a Cuban-American mixed-media illustrator and designer. A lifelong learner, she studied industrial design at RISD (‘08) and fine art & theatrical set design at the University of Miami, FL. She loves literacy and languages and speaks English, Spanish, and German. Adriana is represented by Wernick & Pratt literary agency. For all inquiries related to publishing please contact: info(at)wernickpratt(dot)com .


1) Most illustrators start with thumbnails: rough, quick illustrations. Thumbnails are critical to my process and I like to do them in graphite or digital graphite.

2) After feedback from my editorial team, I take them to half or full size rough sketch. I scan in the thumbnails and trace or sketch over them digitally.

3) Refined, nearly final sketch. This is the part that takes the longest. The sketches before going to color and final are the ones that take a lot of time to get right, lettering must be right, angles checked, composition, text placement, etc.

4) Color test/Color illustration. I don’t know if all illustrators do this, but coming from design, it’s important that colors hang well together. Sometimes colors look flat on one monitor, and sing on another so the best practice is to print out your illustration! I like doing color tests either with marker on my printouts or with printouts of my digital work. Typically, I create a palette before starting color, and adjust after doing a key image. This first spread was my key image.

5) Final. The final reflects feedback received from the color test. That green on the uniform of the “Pupperdine” staff looked too flat and same-samey with the background so I went in and picked a color to contrast with the background. The crowd looked too generic, so we added more details. The last bit is that the colors needed more “mmph” so I upped the saturation and contrast using an adjustment layer within Photoshop. This way, if anything needs to be changed, we don’t lose any of the data in the drawing and it’s fully reversible (just delete the layer or turn it off). It’s a non-destructive method of adjusting color.


How long have you been illustrating?

I loved to make intricate shoe-box paper dioramas and accordion and pop-up books since very young. In general, I was an art & crafts kind of kid. I loved to make things: sewing, drawing, weaving, crocheting, painting, creating characters, writing, refinishing furniture, making weird Xeroxed magazines, etc. In high school, I made the choice to pursue art rather than science, and I’ve been chasing the dream ever since. I’ve been illustrating/painting professionally for about 15 years.

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

In elementary school, classmates would ask me to draw Disney characters and I used to sell pencil/crayon drawings of the Little Mermaid with Flounder or Sebastian for a dime until I got in trouble for selling in class. But, my first real sale was as an art student at the University of Miami where I sold an intaglio print to the Dean of Arts & Sciences at a student art show.

Have you always lived in Miami?

No. I grew up there, but I haven’t lived there since graduating from UMiami. I’ve lived all over the U.S. working as a scenic artist and teacher. My partner and I lived in Germany for nearly 7 years and when he got homesick, we repatriated. We moved back to Florida to the Space Coast a few years ago (it’s several hours and 200 miles north of Miami).

What influenced you to attend RISD to study industrial design?

I thought industrial design would help me make a bigger impact on society while using my skills in art and design. Alas, industrial design was not a fit for me… I graduated in 2008 at the height of the recession with very little prospects and a mountain of debt.

What type of classes do you take for industrial design?

RISD’s graduate courses in industrial design were very conceptual. Our required studios were thought-provoking and investigative. They centered around the responsibilities of designers in society and dove into various philosophies of design. I loved the critical thinking aspect, but ironically (or maybe it was on purpose?), the studios made me think we didn’t need more “things” in the world… this didn’t bode well for my thesis project! Hah! That said, the ID courses required lots of drawing and storytelling to sell your ideas which I loved. But, I tended to thrive more in the courses outside of the ID Grad Studio. They had lovely printmaking courses, traditional and puppet animation. I’d say more important than the classes at RISD were the people. To me, the strength of the institution was meeting and befriending some of the most wonderfully creative and talented people I’ve ever met.

Did art school help you get [a job] when you graduated?

No. I used many of the resources available at RISD like the portfolio reviews and Careers office, but no luck. In retrospect, the combination of industrial design not really being a good fit for me + the recession of 2008 was not good. The design firms I’d applied to either didn’t respond or told me they were in a hiring freeze. As a result, I packed up and moved back to Austin where my partner was finishing up his degree. In Texas, we made a deal: whoever got the first job offer, that’s where we’d move. He was offered a position in Munich. So that’s where we went.

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

My first professional gigs were graphic art illustrations like: logos, fonts, technical illustrations, hand-lettering, web ads, signage, shop banners, and illustrated short stories for knitting magazines. I illustrated whatever I could. That mountain of debt from RISD was pretty ominous!

When did you decide to illustrate children’s books?

When I went to the University of Miami, my original intention was to be a children’s book illustrator, but the semester after foundation studies, the university eliminated the traditional illustration track! I was a frugal scholarship student, so I went into printmaking and theatrical set design to finish my degree. I went back to that original dream after repatriating and attending trade shows where I received positive feedback toward my illustrations.

How did you get the job to illustrate BOOMER AT YOUR SERVICE?

Mira hired me from her Children’s Book Academy course. Throughout her illustrating picture books course, I was working on my own author/illustrator manuscript. I think she saw some of those illustrations in the course along with some of my cute critter paintings. Afterward, she asked me to do some character test drawings of a dog, and the earliest versions of Boomer were born.

I see you are represented by Wernick & Pratt literary agency. How long have you been with them and how did you connect with them?

I have been with the agency for a year, and I connected with them after being chosen for the Walter Dean Myers Grant at the end of 2018. It was a surreal email to receive!

What do you feel influenced your illustrating style?

I think all my past experiences as scenic artist, printmaker, and all that drawing really influenced my style. I’m also influenced by the media I am working with in the moment I’m working.

Do you work full time as a freelance illustrator?

Yes. Though I sometimes teach art to supplement my income.

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

Yes, very much. I have one manuscript thathas been considered for acquisition, and several manuscript dummies at varying degrees of readiness for submissions.

Have you ever thought about illustrating a wordless picture book?

Not really. I love language probably as much as art!

Have you taken any classes since you graduated that have helped your career?

Many! I love learning new techniques and it helps to know the mechanics of how things work, and stay current on the best practices within an industry. Here are some of the courses I’ve taken:

  • SCBWI’s webinars and in-person workshops
  • Highlights Foundation: Getting to Know Your Picture Book with Debbie Ridpath Ohi & Heidi Stemple
  • Children’s Book Academy: Craft & Business of Illustrating Children’s Books with Mira Reisberg & Andrea Miller
  • SVS Learn courses on art licensing, portfolio building, and illustrating
  • Storyteller Academy’s courses on revising, making dummies, character development, and submitting/pitching
  • Make Art That Sells: Illustrating Children’s Book course

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

It depends on the terms of the contract.

What do you think is your biggest success?

I think the momentum I’ve built over the last two years has been my biggest success. I found a great local and online critique group, an agent, illustrated Boomer, received mentorships and grants which have been amazing. I look forward to what 2020 has in store.

What is your favorite medium to use? Has that changed over time?

I’m a mixed media artist. I’ve always liked to mix things up. I started with dipping pen and ink and watercolor which is pretty standard. In the printmaking studio, I would mix techniques by adding silkscreen and lithography to my intaglio prints. I would sometimes hand-paint my prints. But when I started moving around a lot, I found that intaglio was not a very travel-friendly technique so I switched to pen and ink, lino-cut, and acrylics. Then when I got back into Photoshop things got very mixed media.

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

I just try and work on administrative tasks on Mondays and the rest of the work week I try to stop working at 6pm to spend time with family. Even then, I might have my i-pad or a painting in the background. Not sure how healthy that is, but I’m working on creating a better work-life-balance.

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

Yes to both. I love asking my local librarians for help at the start of a project.

Do you think the Internet has opened doors for you?

The internet is a great research tool, but nothing can replace meeting people in person and sending physical postcards. In the end, picture books are a tangible, physical thing. And human connections are an important part of communication and understanding which is vital for books too, wouldn’t you say?

Do you use Photoshop or Painter with your illustrations?


Illustrator sometimes.

Procreate (ipad) for sketching.

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

Indeed I do. I have a monolithic second-hand workhorse Wacom 24HD Cintiq that I got off of Craigslist. I also recently purchased an i-pad to be able to work while traveling.

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

I’d love to be an author-illustrator and see some of my stories be published. Also, I would love to illustrate mores stories that celebrate bilingualism, diversity, and travel. I guess my career dream is to make this my dream career.

What are you working on now?

I’m working on a knitting lifestyle book illustrated in a graphic novel style (pen & ink). I’m also working on revising several of my manuscripts/dummies.

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?

My work is very mixed media so this is tough to answer. I love a lot of different materials and often it’s found materials or accidental textures that make me happy. I like Golden acrylics and synthetic brushes.

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

I’m sure there are heaps of wise words from wiser people, but I think if I were to offer anything up that’s been helpful to me, it would be to work toward a discerning eye. To elaborate: you know that finished look that a great illustration has? It has a sort of edge to it. It’s got life to it, intention, effective composition, selective color, and the unexplainable emotional connection. You can see it in others, but next is applying to your own work what you can see in the work you admire. I’m not saying copying. Not at all. I’m saying look for the elements of beauty and connection and resonance in the work that inspires you. Then, try to refine your skills to achieve that level of finish in your own work. Hah! It’s so much easier said than done of course. It’s something I am always working on to improve. I fight myself all the time about this. Knowing when something is finished is a skill of its own. It’s that last 10% that’s the toughest and discernment helps you get there.

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



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

Talk tomorrow,



  1. This is such a cute book. It was interesting to read about Adriana’s road to publication.

    Liked by 1 person

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