Posted by: Kathy Temean | April 4, 2020

Illustrator Saturday – Sarah Lynn Reul

Sarah Lynne Reul is an author, illustrator and award-winning animator who likes science, tiny things and drawing on photos. Originally from Brooklyn, she now lives near Boston with her family.

After some years in science museum education, she was lured back to school by the magic of making drawings come to life. Armed with an MFA degree in 2D animation, Sarah Lynne now strives to pack the energy of animation into each illustration. She spends her workdays creating new books and talking with kids during school author visits throughout New England and beyond.

Her books include THE BREAKING NEWS (Roaring Brook), ALLIE ALL ALONG (Sterling), PET THE PETS (Little Simon) and NERP (Sterling Kids).

Here is Sarah discussing her process:

Most of my illustrations start with a pencil & paper thumbnail sketch – a really tiny sketch about 2″ wide, that is sort of a map to how I might want to lay out the picture     

Then I’ll do another iteration of the sketch, moving things around so they communicate more clearly – I’ll usually do it digitally, like this image.

For NERP!, I had to build a set of the dining room where the story takes place. (1_2), plus 4 other images at the bottom. I tried to use all recycled materials that I found around my house – a rug with glued-on yarn, little chairs

and a table out of cardboard,

walls of larger cardboard, and then I drew a hardwood pattern on another piece of cardboard for a floor.

I had to figure out a lighting setup and photograph the whole thing (lighting setup),

taking lots of different shots to get the right angle and shadows. This image was one of the first ones I made for a sample in the initial dummy – I used my iphone camera to take the photos, but as you’ll see later I had to redo the whole thing at the end since the resolution wasn’t high enough to print as a full-size book.

My next step was to determine the color palette that I could use digitally to go with this room, color -picking from the photo and adjusting saturation, tint & shades to get a bunch of choices that would look ok in the finals. I also re-sketched the characters to make sure they’d fit on the photo.

After that, I made some adjustments to the photo – lightening the floor behind the pet, extending the baseboards out (by drawing them), sketching on the frames in the background and painting flat colors for the characters.

Next, I painted in contact & surface shadows, and added some more detail for the frames(1_5), and I added some filters to enhance the color and tie it all together

This image was finished before most of the others; but I had to revisit it when I created the rest of the finals, since the resolution from my iphone wasn’t high enough to print.

I re-photographed the room with some stronger lighting choices, did some redrawing and adjustments so that this image fit better with the rest of the book, and so this is the final image

Thanks so much for checking out my process, and for your interest in my illustrations!

My Interview with Sarah:

How long have you been illustrating?

I’ve been illustrating since 2011, when I made a career change and went back to school to begin my master’s degree in animation.

What made you decide to go to Cornell University to study Agriculture and Life Sciences?

I actually thought I would end up working in science – I had worked in the Prospect Park Zoo in Brooklyn when I was in high school, and I was considering a career working in zoos or field biology. My favorite classes were organism-level biology classes, where we studied groups of life forms – vertebrate biology, ornithology, herpetology, entomology, etc.

Was getting the job at the Museum of Science the reason you moved from NY to Boston?

Nope! I moved to Boston after college because my boyfriend (who’s now my husband of almost 19 years) had graduated the year before and had moved back to his hometown of Arlington, MA. I worked in a bead store on Newbury Street for a few years (I loved all the colors of the beads on the wooden shelves – it was like walking into a rainbow), then I worked remotely for a social venture that rescued unwanted books from college campuses for several years before I started working at the Museum of Science, teaching in the Overnights program & running the Internship program.

What made you decide to attend the Academy of Art University in San Francisco to get your master’s in animation?

I had always wanted to draw more – and to gain enough skills to feel like I really could draw.  Also, after a few years of working in an office job, I realized that I wanted to try to pursue a career where I could draw on a daily basis. I found the online MFA program through AAU, which was great to study how to make lots of drawings and to bring them to life through animation. I actually completed all of my coursework from home in Massachusetts, from 2011- 2015 (which worked out great, since I was on bedrest for several months in 2013 while pregnant with my younger daughter).

Do you feel getting your master’s helped you develop your style?

Definitely! Studying hand-drawn, traditional 2D animation (through a digital pipeline), I had to make hundreds of drawings to create animated clips of just a few seconds (most 2D animation has 12-24 separate drawings/second).  I was able to log tons of hours drawing as part of that program, which really helped level up my illustration skills. I worked digitally in TVPaint & Photoshop, drawing on a Cintiq tablet, so that workflow really influenced my illustration style.

How did you get the job to paint the mural in the Museum of Science in Boston?

While working at the Museum, I had created some animal masks for the Discovery Center area, when I found at out that they needed some while recruiting interns for them. When I left the museum, I reached out to the managers of that program to let them know that I’d be available for illustration jobs if they came up. The murals were fun, since they combined my love of field biology & illustration, in service of an organization that I also really love. I painted them digitally in Photoshop – the New England Forest Animals Mural is over 16 feet long, and the Beaver dam & lodge mural is about four feet wide.

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

Upon getting my MFA degree in 2015, I realized that there wasn’t much of a market for the style of hand-drawn animation that I wanted to do, so I looked around for other industries where I might be able to use some of my newly-polished skills. I found the kidlit community to be incredibly welcoming and supportive, and I found a lot of parallels between creating short films and creating 32-page picture books.

Was THE BREAKING NEWS, the first picture book you wrote and illustrated?

I had created several other dummies for submission prior to BREAKING NEWS that have yet to be published, and PET THE PETS was actually acquired first, but BREAKING NEWS was the first one to be published.

How did you get that contract?

My agent, Emily Mitchell, submitted the dummy, of rough sketches + 2 final color samples, to several publishers. Claire Dorsett of Roaring Brook Press picked it up, and we went from there!

Did you present a finished dummy to sell NERP! to Sterling?

I usually send along a PDF of the entire book sketched out, plus 2 sample “finishes”, especially if it’s in a style that’s different from my earlier work. That’s what I did for NERP! – it was especially important to show examples of how I’d do the illustrations in that case, since I was using a new combo of cardboard dioramas, photography and digital drawing to create the images.

How did you connect with Emily Mitchell of Wernick & Pratt Agency ? And how long have you been with her?

When I decided to pivot from animation to illustration, I studied up on the picture book industry by searching through SCBWI & other resources. I created several dummies and a spreadsheet of agents that I’d like to work with, and started sending them out. Luckily, Emily was in the first round of my submissions, and I was very happy to connect with her – she’s a former editor, and I really appreciate the feedback that she gives me to help make my projects stronger before they go on submission.

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

I think that everyone needs to consider what their own definition of success will be at any point in time, while considering what you have control over and what you don’t. I haven’t been able to predict which of my projects will be picked up by publishers and which will be rejected repeatedly. For me, it’s a balance of learning as much about the industry as I can, doing business-y stuff (marketing, outreach, social media etc) and then making sure that I’m still doing the fun parts of writing, revising, drawing, experimenting with mediums to see what works and what isn’t yet working.

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







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

Talk tomorrow,



  1. Wow! The combination with the cardboard diorama is spectacular. Well done!


  2. Thank you for sharing your creative journey Sarah, it was inspiring!


  3. I love the 3D models as part of your process. It looks like they’re fun to make.


  4. This is an amazing post about an amazing illustrator. Thanks!


  5. Love this profile Sarah! I’ll have to take a closer look at the MOS mural on my next visit! 🙂


  6. Very inspiring and I love your art!


  7. Great interview! I saw you reading Nerp today. So cute!


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