Posted by: Kathy Temean | February 15, 2020

Illustrator Saturday – Yevgenia Nayberg

Yevgenia Nayberg is an illustrator, painter, and set and costume designer. Her illustrations have appeared in magazines and picture books, and on theatre posters, music albums, and book covers; her paintings, drawings, and illustrations are held in private collections worldwide. As a set and costume designer, she has been the recipient of numerous awards, including the National Endowment for the Arts/TCG Fellowship for Theatre Designers, the Independent Theatre Award and the Arlin Meyer Award. In 2018 she received a Sydney Taylor Silver Medal for her illustrations for Drop by Drop by Jaqueline Jules. Her debut author/illustrator picture book, Anya’s Secret Society, came out in 2019 and received a Junior Library Guild Selection Award. Her new books, Typewriter and Mona Lisa in New York, will be published in 2020. She lives in New York City.

Yevgenia Nayberg was born in Kiev, Ukraine. After graduating from The National School of Art in Kiev, she began working as a freelance illustrator and an assistant art director for, UkranimaFilm, an animation studio. Yevgenia moved to the United States in 1994, where she studied theatre design at Carnegie Mellon University. At the age of 23 she received her MFA degree in Theatre design from California State University, Long Beach. She has since enjoyed a successful career as a painter, scenic – costume designer, and illustrator. Yevgenia’s dedication to theatrical arts is clearly manifested in her illustrations which rely on color intensity, fantastic landscapes, and dramatic light and shadow to tell a story. When illustrating, she likes to look for a visual equivalent of a word, for metaphorical translation into the language of visual art.


I am going to share the process for my upcoming picture book, Mona Lisa in New York.

This book turned out to be very technically complex, because I had to combine Renaissance art with graffiti while keeping everything cohesive.  It is very tricky, if you don’t want to end up with a chaotic kaleidoscope of colors. I also had to constantly change Mona Lisa’s expression, but in a very subtle way, so that was another challenge.

I will show my work on one of the spreads—Mona Lisa dancing salsa on the High Line in New York City.


  This is my first stage. It may seem cryptic, but to me it is crystal clear!

Here I’m testing different dancing positions for Mona Lisa and her partner as well as other dancers. I love to dance salsa and I think about my real life salsa friends- the way they look and dance.

Next, comes the final sketching phase. I have decided on the dancers’ position and the composition of the page.

The next stage is acrylic painting. I will add the rest of the elements digitally.

Now I am adding the body of Tag, the graffiti man, animation style, creating each body part separately. I am using my graffiti collection and making a collage out a many different graffiti samples. I drew his face beforehand and added it digitally. You can see that I’ve added Mona Lisa’s face and slightly changed her expression. I am also aging” her clothes, giving her a new neck and adding delicate hands.

This is the final illustration.

I have digitally created the cityscape of New York, the plants, added (and edited) the Old Man’s Grandson by Domenico Ghirlandaio. Last came the text placement. Overall, I have about Photoshop 40 layers in this image.

And that’s all to it!

Interview with Yevgenia Nayberg:

How long have you been illustrating?

I illustrated my first book when I was four years old. It was a long, wordless book about cats!

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

I was in tenth grade. The assignment was a coloring page for a children’s magazine. I had a hard time maintaining a consistent line with my ink pen and had to redo that page many times.

What did you study at The National School of Art in Kiev?

I studied classical drawing and painting but wanted my thesis project to be illustration series. My professors reluctantly agreed.

What types of classes did you enjoy the most?

I preferred painting classes. Overall, it was a very formal education. I loved homework because we got to experiment in any way we wanted, but in class we had to follow the strict rules of Academism.

Do you feel school helped you develop your style?

I am glad my school gave me a solid traditional foundation. It allowed me the freedom to experiment with new materials with confidence. I am sure it was my school’s environment more than its actual art program.

Did the school help you get the assistant art director for UkranimaFilm, an animation studio when you graduated?

It was my mother, who was a Production Designer there, who helped me to get that job.

I was a frequent guest at the animation studio growing up and knew it and many of its artists.

What made you decide to move from Ukraine to the United States?

I came with my family as a part of the Jewish refugee program.

Was it the art director job with UkranimaFilm that inspired you to study theatre design at Carnegie Mellon University?

Indirectly yes, because I was fascinated by the transformation of a text into a visual story.

Did you start working on theater sets and doing costume design while you attended California State University in Long Beach?

I did. CSULB had a professional theatre company as a part of their MFA program.

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

I loved illustrating since I was a girl, but I’m equally interested n illustrating for children or adults.


Was The Wren and the Sparrow your first book illustrated book?

It was my first traditionally published illustrated book.

How did you connect with Kar-Ben Publishing for that contract?

I sent my portfolio to them and they reached back rather quickly.

How exciting was it to receive a Sydney Taylor Silver Medal for your illustrations in Drop by Drop?

This was my second Sidney Taylor, first being a Bronze Medal for The Wren and The Sparrow, so naturally, I was excited to get promoted!

Did you sign a two book deal with Kar-Ben Publishing when contracted you for The Wren and the Sparrow?

They were independent projects, and very different in nature.


I love your book Anya’s Secret Society, which came out in 2019. Was this the first book you wrote and illustrated? How long did it take you to complete the book?

Anya’s Secret Society is my debut as an author. The idea came to me spontaneously and I wrote the story quickly. I spent a lot of time on the illustrations and the dummy. Once my agent submitted the project it took about 8 months to find the publisher. This is where things really slowed down. The hardest part was to keep working on manuscript edits and not being able to get to illustrations. When the story was finally approved, it was a pure joy to illustrate! It took two years to publish Anya.

How did you get Charlesbridge interested in your book? Did you send a full dummy to them?

My agent submitted a full dummy to several publishers and we ultimately went with Charlesbridge.

Anya’s Secret Society received a Junior Library Guild Selection Award. What inspired the story for you?

Anya’s Secret Society is based on my childhood memories. I grew up in the Soviet Union were, at the time, lefties were quite rare. It is a story about being different, but also about creativity and secret imaginary worlds.


Now you have Numbers in Motion by Laurie Wallmark coming our March 3rd. How did you get that contract? Did Laurie point out your illustrations to Creston Books?

I illustrated Martin and Anne by Nancy Churnin for Creston Books in 2019. I was still in the process of working on that book when the publisher asked me to illustrate Numbers in Motion. I am sure it was her call and I hope Laurie was happy with that decision.

I can’t wait to see your new book Typewriter that you wrote and illustrated when it come out on February 25th. I am not familiar with Creative Editions. Are they a UK publisher?

Creative Editions is a part of The Creative Company, a Minnesota based publisher. I’ve really lucked out with them. It was a wonderful, truly collaborative process and I will work with them again in a heartbeat.

Have you ever tried illustrating a wordless picture book?

Yes, as a four-year-old! Jokes aside, I might do it one day, but right now I am excited about developing my voice as a writer, it is a fascinating and scary new territory.


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

I do and I am working on it as we speak.

Do you have agent representation? If so, who represents you? How long have you been with them? How did you connect? If not, would you be interested in finding an agent that fits?

I’ve been represented by Anna Olswanger of Olswanger Literary for about three years. I approached her about representation before I was writing my own texts and she was the one who encouraged me to write.

Tell us a little bit about Mona Lisa coming out later this year. Who is the publisher? Have you finished the illustrations?

Mona Lisa in New York is my latest author/illustrator picturebook and a love letter to NYC. It’s a story of, naturally, Mona Lisa, a tired know-it-all, who experiences New York for the first time and finds art, love, and inspiration in unexpected places. It’s coming out this fall from Prestel Books. I had finished my illustrations already and it was, by far, the most challenging and thrilling experience.

What do you think is your biggest success?

I hope it is ahead of me.

What is your favorite medium to use?

A 2B graphite pencil.

Has that changed over time?

Yes. It used to be a ballpoint pen.

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

Yes, I am a die-hard fan of my beloved Cintiq Tablet. It changed my life.

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

I use pencils, ink, acrylic, oils… it’s hard to name them all. Whatever fits the concept of a project best. I often use Photoshop on top of everything else.

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

I work all the time. If I’m doing dishes it doesn’t mean I am not simultaneously working.

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

I love researching and always try to avoid anachronisms and other historical inaccuracies. The most exciting research was for my latest books: I got to look at a thousand typewriters for Typewriter; I photographed graffiti and visited the Met Museum for Mona Lisa in New York.

Do you think the Internet has opened doors for you?

Absolutely. It accelerated my communication and gave me access to far-away clients.  But nothing means more to me than discovering the works of genius artists all over the world every morning I go online. It is  the most humbling and inspirational experience.

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

I’d like to continue to do what I’m doing as an illustrator and theatre designer. My dream is to broaden the circle of my creative allies. And, perhaps, to work in animation again.

What are you working on now?

I am writing and illustrating two new picture books and starting on a graphic novel.

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 use Photoshop extensively for my daily work, so lately I’m really into the “ancient” materials, like traditional inks and yarn. Recently I was able to get my hands on some carbon paper. I often use it to transfer my sketches. Carbon copy creates an interesting line.

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

I don’t think one can control her success. My technique is to look into the future with more curiosity, fewer expectations.

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




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

Talk tomorrow,



  1. What a wonderful glimpse into the process of art creation. I’m a huge fan and supporter of Yevgenia’s work. Loved seeing some background and some artwork I’ve never seen before.


  2. What an inspiring interview! Thank you so much for sharing this interview and Yevgenia’s work!


  3. Although my editor suggested Yevgenia as the illustrator for Numbers in Motion: Sophie Kowalevski, Queen of Mathematics, I could have declined. After seeing her beautiful artwork, I couldn’t wait to see what amazing art she could do for my book. And she didn’t disappoint. Her illustrations are amazing. Our book comes out March 3, but is available for preorder now.


  4. Love your style! It is so unique and full of personality. Congrats!!


    • Thank you!


  5. Wow, this is why I tell people that some of the best art to be found today is in children’s picture books. Thanks for sharing!


  6. I absolutely love Yevgenia’s images! Thank you for showcasing this wonderful artist!


  7. I am simply enthralled by Yevgenia’s art! Thanks to her and Kathy for sharing so many samples along with interesting interview context and creative journey details.


  8. I am fascinated by Yevgenia’s artistic style. These illustrations are amazing.


  9. Thank you, Kathy!


  10. I loved finding out more about the amazing Yevgenia, thank you for this lovely interview, Kathy! And I’m so happy Anna encouraged you to write. You’re a natural born storyteller, in your art and your words, so excited for all there is to come for you, my friend!


  11. Love the use of color! Wonderful interview. Thank you!


  12. I love your illustrations. I can imagine spending hours looking at the detail.


    • Thank you so much!


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