Posted by: Kathy Temean | February 8, 2020

Illustrator Saturday – Kayla Stark

Kayla is a freelance illustrator currently living in Nashville, TN, staying up late, and working on numerous fun projects. Most of her work is illustrated using a combination of traditional and digital media. Most often she uses gouache and colored pencil, but she love experimenting with different media and adding new techniques to her toolkit. 

She typically incorporates animals and nature into her work one way or another and enjoys finding humor in the small nuances of life and in human interactions with nature. In her personal life, she loves spending time planning fun trips and game nights, bird watching, camping, hiking, and relaxing by a fire.

Kayla is represented by T2 Illustrators andAuthors 


1) This is the digital sketch I did in Procreate on my iPad Pro. I use the 6B pencil to sketch and will add some shading and value into the sketch using the hard edge watercolor brush by Vivibrush. I love sketching on the iPad, it’s easy to quickly move things around and resize as needed.

2) When I worked on this page I didn’t have access to my light box so I did the good old fashion sketch to watercolor paper transfer with tracing paper. I put the tracing paper over the sketch, traced the line work, flipped it over onto my watercolor paper, and lightly traced over the lines again to give myself a faint guide. 
3) Once the sketch is transferred I start laying out base colors with watercolor (My favorite brand is Schmincke). I’ll also use color pencil at this point to mix in textures and start building up structure and detail. You can see my swatches and where I figured out my colors at the bottom. I had already chosen my color palette well before this point, but I needed to ensure I was getting consistent shades and mixes.
4) For “Bread For Words” I did half traditional, half digital–meaning after a certain point I would scan my painting and add finishing washes and details in Procreate. I also make the colors richer, but still maintain the texture I got with the watercolor and colored pencil. I used a mix of the default 6B pencil and the Vivibrush brushes made for Procreate.

Interview with Kayla Stark

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

I believe it was a commission for an anniversary gift. I drew the scene where the couple had their first date and did custom lettering of their names and the date. I remember being so nervous when working on it and just hoping that they liked it.

How long have you been illustrating?

Professionally and full time for 3 and half years.

Did you study art in college? What did you study?

I did—I studied graphic design in college but my work always leaned heavy into the illustration world. My school didn’t have an illustration major, so it wasn’t until years after graduation I realized illustration could actually be a full-time job.

What school did you choose?

I attended UTM, (the University of Tennessee at Martin).

Did art school help you get illustrating work when you graduated?

No, not really. Since I studied graphic design in school, I wasn’t prepared for what being an illustrator entailed or how to go about finding clients/agents/jobs. I slowly learned what I know now through being around other illustrators at my shared studio space and doing a lot of research and trial and error.

What type of work did you do when you started your career?

My first real jobs were all in the children’s industry. (picture books, children’s magazines, educational illustration, etc.) Before those jobs came in, I was slowly trying to build up a surface design and licensing portfolio.

When did you decide to illustrate children’s books?

Pretty much as soon as I decided I wanted to be an illustrator full time. When I took a good look at how I draw and the subject matter I’m most interested in, children’s books were the obvious route. I kind of just draw what I like and that’s where it fits best.

Was Mr. Pack Rat Really Wants That published in October 2018 your first published book?

It was! I’m so thankful to have that experience because I think it led to me finding my agent!

How did Blossom Books discover you?

I believe Marcus Ewert, the author of “Mr. Pack Rat Really Wants That”, saw my work on the Women Who Draw website and asked the publisher to reach out to me.

Last January you illustrated The Fox and the Crow (Classic Fables in Rhythm and Rhyme) by Emma Carlson Berne. It includes music with the book. Is this something that Cantata Learning is known for?

Yes, I think most, if not all, of their books have music associated with the story. The reader can follow along with the song as they read which helps them retain and recall information.

In August 2019 you illustrated another book Trying Again (My Feelings, My Choices)Emily Arrow with Cantata that included Music was this a two book deal?

No, it wasn’t a two book deal. I used to share a studio with Emily Arrow, the author, and was brought on again to work on that project with her. The Cantata Books are fun and pretty quick to do as they are shorter than a typical 32 page picture book.

Then you started out 2020 with a beautiful book, Bread for Words that was published by Sleeping Bear Press. How long did it take you to do the illustrations?

All together the illustrations (from sketch to final) took about 4-5 months while working on other projects at the same time.

On June 2020, Friends at the Firehouse: Double Booked: 35 lift-the-flaps inside! (Firefighter Board Books; Firetruck Books for Toddlers) lists you as the author, but then it sounds like it is a collection of board books. I know you illustrated it, but did you do any writing for the book?

Yes, I did! Friends at the Firehouse is the third book in the Double Booked lift-the-flap series and all were authored by the illustrator. In “Friends at the Firehouse” I created the story of a parade and looking for a lost puppy to lead the reader around the parts of a firehouse.

Did you have a hand in designing the 35 lift and flaps inside the book?

I did! I was given total creative freedom on the shape of the book, and the shape, location, and artwork of the flaps. The printer and the rest of the team at Chronicle were wonderful in helping me understand the complex page margins and any limitations for production.

Are you still open to illustrating a picture book for an author wants to self-published?

Sure I am! It would have to be discussed with my agent, but if it worked both financially and time wise I’m open to any good story!

How many picture books have you illustrated?

6 so far!

I see that you are represented by Nicole Tugeau at T2. How did the two of you connect and long have you with them?

Yes, I’m so proud to be a part of the T2 team—since September 2016! I had known about the T2 agency for years and had it at the top of my list as a dream agency. Once I decided to go full-time in the illustration world I gathered up enough courage to submit my work to T2. A couple of weeks later I had signed on!

What do you feel influenced your illustrating style?

I think a lot about design when illustrating—keeping a balanced composition, balancing color, and evoking a specific mood. I definitely lean into the stylized side of illustration and choose not to draw too realistically. It’s hard to pinpoint who or what exactly influenced my style. I have a collection of older children’s books and kids science-y type books that I look to when I feel stuck. But a lot of the times I’m chasing a specific feeling or texture when working.

Do you work full time as a free-lance illustrator?

Yes, as of mid 2016 I’ve been doing illustration full time!

Do you have a studio in your house?

I do—I have a small area upstairs with angled ceilings and a nice little view. I just reorganized the space to include a bookcase and research/reading area. It feels very cozy. (I even have a little spot for sewing and more crafty projects.) It is also sometimes my exercise area. It’s become very multifunctional and I love it!

I also share a community studio in East Nashville with 11 other illustrators. I try and work there 2-3 times a week; it’s so important for my social life and mental state.

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

Absolutely! I have a few ideas and manuscripts in the works right now!

Have you ever illustrateda book cover?

Yes, I’ve illustrated 3 book covers. None are YA or middle grade…yet. 😉 I really enjoy book cover projects. It’s a quicker job to break up the longer picture book timeline and it’s a fun challenge to convey the book in one image.

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

I have, I’ve worked with Bravery Magazine twice (the Bessie Coleman and the Mary Anning issues) and I just finished a piece for Highlights.

Have you ever thought about illustrating a wordless picture book?

It seems like such a challenge, but I have thought about it. I love that ideally anyone could pick up a wordless picture book and understand the story regardless of language or reading level.

What do you think is your biggest success?

I am very proud of “Bread For Words” and how it turned out. I learned a lot about myself and my process (or rather how my process changes) while illustrating that book.

What is your favorite medium to use?

Watercolor, colored pencil, and gouache right now!

Has that changed over time?

Definitely—it’s always changing depending on the project at the time. I used to work solely digitally but I realized I needed a balance of both digital and traditional media in my life.

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

I try to carve out a few hours every day to work and experiment. Some days I get more hours and some days I get less, but my goal is to be more regimented about my drawing time.

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

Yes and this is my absolute FAVORITE part of the process! For “Friends at the Firehouse” I scheduled visits to 2 different firehouses in Nashville. I took tons of photos, asked questions, went for a ride in the firetruck and slid down the fire pole. The research phase is always so fun and where all the possibilities live.

Do you use Photoshop or Painter with your illustrations?

If I’m illustrating with traditional materials I’ll use Photoshop to help with layout, cropping, and touch ups/final details. But if I’m illustrating solely digital, I’ll usually stick with Procreate on the iPad Pro.

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

I used to use a Wacom Bamboo tablet + Photoshop. I never absolutely loved that set up, but it worked fine. Once the iPad Pro + Procreate came along I was completely converted.

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

Getting an author/illustrator book deal is at the top of my list. And I would like to have a gallery show in the future (either group or solo). Traveling is one of my favorite things to do—having travel opportunities through illustration would be an absolute dream!

What are you working on now?

At the moment I’m working on fleshing out my own manuscripts and book dummies to pitch. I’m also developing products to start an online shop.

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 switch between brands but I prefer using a heavyweight smooth paper—usually a hot press watercolor paper. The Faber Castell polychromos colored pencils are my favorite as they don’t have as much of a waxy build up. One of my friends turned me on to pan pastels, they are great for laying down large areas of color fast, but it can be a little troublesome to put wet media on top of it. The iPad Pro is so useful for working remote and making edits—I highly recommend it and Procreate as an illustration tool.

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

I think this is probably a very common answer, but make a A LOT of work and take notes on what is successful and what isn’t. I keep a notes app open in my phone while I work and will type in a specific technique that worked out or something that I’m having trouble with so I can reflect on it later. It’s helped me feel like I’m having a purposeful practice time. Also meet up with other illustrators and writers! Having a great friend group and support system of other artists and writers makes all the difference. If I’m struggling with something or looking for a specific opportunity, most of the time someone at my studio has been through it already and can offer advice and support.

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





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

Talk tomorrow,



  1. Wonderful illustrations! I love how they set the tone of the story (or at least I can feel a tone/emotion when I look at them). Best wishes!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you Angie! I try really hard to convey tone in my illustrations; I’m so glad you could feel it!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Bread for Words is gorgeous! Glad to have met you, Kayla, through SBP!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you Carol! So glad to have met you too!


  3. Kayla, Such Beautiful Illustrations! I ordered Bread for Words for my Grands, they have always enjoyed Books.
    You are such a Talent, keep up the Good Work.
    Grateful I now have Source for Books for Grand Children and their Friends.
    Thank you so much for making a positive difference in Our World!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you Elizabeth! That means so much, honestly! Sometimes it’s hard to know if all the work comes across in the end. Especially when I’m illustrating alone most of the time! haha I hope your grandchildren enjoy the book and that they always keep reading!


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