Posted by: Kathy Temean | February 29, 2020

Illustrator Saturday – Tracy Subisak

Tracy Subisak studied industrial design in school, subsequently working in the field internationally for seven years, designing computers for the future, before turning her focus to freelance illustration and design.

She is the illustrator of several picture books including Grizzly Boy, Cy Makes a Friend, and Shawn Loves Sharks, which received a starred review from Kirkus, was a Junior Library Guild selection, and received a 2018 Washington State Book Award. Upcoming nonfiction picture book title Wood, Wire, Wings by Kirsten Larson is a bio of Emma Lilian Todd, the first woman to successfully design and engineer a working airplane.

Tracy is the proud daughter of a Taiwanese mother who was a Chinese language instructor and art teacher, and an American father, son of Polish and Slovakian immigrant parents, who is an engineer. She was born and raised in Columbus, Ohio, has lived in Taiwan, South Korea, NY, and San Francisco, and now makes her home in the PNW in Portland, OR. She is always eager to go adventuring and is a true believer that experience begets the best stories.

Tracy grew up in Ohio, and currently lives in Portland, Oregon. She is always eager to go adventuring and is often found traveling around the world. She is a true believer that experience begets stories begets connection. Tracy is also a certified yoga teacher (YTT 200 hours + HIIT Yoga certificate) and teaches at Flex and Flow. She cares a lot about helping others take care of their body and minds. She thinks about food a lot (I’m not kidding), along with puppies, nature, and her lovely, talented, inspiring, fun pals.

Here is Tracy discussing her process:

Wood, Wire, Wings Process:

I started out with rough sketches on my iPad to lay the book out. Since it’s a nonfiction picture book, there is more information than usual, and it was helpful for me to get a “zoomed out” look at the whole book as I sketched it out. 

Once the book was laid out, I found that flipping the image to have a more “forward read” was important, and started to tighten up the sketch.

Color is so important in telling the story, so I did a mock-up of how I wanted the colors to move throughout the dummy using Photoshop. I wanted to reinforce Emma Lilian Todd’s dream with the blue tones. 

For my final artwork for Wood, Wire, Wings, I inked out the final linework with Chinese brush and India ink, scanned it in and cleaned it up, and painted the rest in Photoshop. 

Here is the final result! 

Interview with Tracy Subisak:

How long have you been illustrating?

All my life, I reckon! I began freelance illustration and design in 2014. 

What did you study in college? 

I studied Industrial Design at University of Cincinnati. I chose that field because I knew it was heavy in drawing, critical thinking, and was full of possibilities. I worked in the industry for 7 years designing products from kitchenware to computers for the future. I’m so glad that I worked in the field – a couple of things I appreciate from the skillset that I obtained from that field are that I can visualize and draw characters and objects at every angle, and my professional practice of project management, and working and communicating with clients/publishers.


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

I did a lot of storyboarding at my job before I started freelancing, showing how a new product or feature would be used, who the product would be used for, and showing case scenarios. I loved doing it to the point that I took two continuing education classes on illustrating and writing picture books at Pacific Northwest College of Arts taught by Victoria Jamieson. The rest is history. (Thanks for believing in me, Vicky!)

Your first two books, CY MAKES A FRIEND and SHAWN LOVES SHARKS came out within a month of each other. What was your first book illustrated picture book? 

I actually worked on and finished SHAWN first! It was meant to come out a full season earlier, but ended up being released a month after CY. 

How long do you generally have to illustrate a picture book?

So far, after the dummy (sketched rough draft) is approved, I’ve generally had about 6 months to work on final artwork. This includes time to figure out how I want to execute the final artwork. Given that I have freelance client work in addition to book work, it takes me about six weeks to 2 months collectively to work on final artwork for a picture book (or however much time it takes to listen to all 7 Harry Potter books on audiobook).  

I just featured your latest book, WOOD, WIRE, WINGS: Emma Lilian Todd Invents an Airplane by Kirsten Larsen and published by Calkins Creek. How much direction did the publisher give you with this book?

I was given a lot of creative freedom in the book, as in all the other books I’ve worked on. In terms of content, since this is a nonfiction book, Kirsten provided me a huge stack of information and imagery as reference so I could have accurate imagery.


Do you work full time as an illustrator?


Does teaching yoga help with your illustrating?

Yes! It not only gives me both resilience and relief from the physical demands of illustrating, but it gives me a chance to socialize and have a mental cleanse. 

Do you have a studio in your house?

I have a set-up in my home, however, I am most productive and happy working around my peers. I’m currently lucky to share a studio space with my friend and colleague Sheryl Murray (check her amazing work out!). 


How did you connect with LK Literary Agency? And how long have you been with them?

I met Lori Kilkelly at my first ever SCBWI conference! I was already agented at the time, but she made an awesome impression and she agents a few friends in town who love her as an agent (and human bean!). I submitted to her via her guidelines on her agency website, and happy to say I have been with her since fall of 2018!

What do you think is your biggest success?

Currently, I would say working on JENNY MEI IS SAD (2021), my debut author/illustrated picture book, with Alvina Ling and Veronique Sweet at Little Brown has been highly rewarding.  


What is your favorite medium to use?

Currently loving ink with Chinese brush and Japanese watercolors. 

Has that changed over time?

Of course! Always changing!


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

I use a Wacom Cintiq to digitally paint and edit artwork. 


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

Since I am illustrating for a living, I am inherently always working on my craft. Drawing every darn day. 

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

Yes. I often create an image board when starting a new project.

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

Of course! 🙂


What are you working on now?

I am currently wrapping up final artwork to my debut author/illustrated picture book JENNY MEI IS SAD (Little Brown 2021). I am also illustrating covers for a few middle grade books with two different publishers at the moment. I am so excited about them and can’t wait to share when the covers are revealed! 

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.

The best material tip I can give is to play! Everyone has a different background, style, and way of executing their artwork. So try out as many materials as you can! If cost is an issue there, make friends and ask for paper scraps to try, have a gathering and try out each other’s pencils and brushes! 


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

You are exactly where you need to be. Take care of your body – exercise, stretch, look at the sky. And go to SCBWI conferences. And get a Critique Group!

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


LK Literary Agency:


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

Talk tomorrow,



  1. Tracy and Kathy, I love this post. How fun to see your process and that you measure time by Harry Potter audios. Thank you both for a great interview.


  2. What a wonderful post! Love seeing the different illustrations and your process, Tracy. Best wishes from a fellow Pacific Northwest resident, up a state…


  3. Wow! I LOVE your work, Tracy! Can’t wait to checkout your books.


  4. Fun illustrations. Thanks for an interesting post.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.


%d bloggers like this: