Posted by: Kathy Temean | October 17, 2020

Illustrator Saturday – Lisa Goldberg

Lisa Goldberg is a freelance illustrator living and working on the Lower East Side of New York City.  Her background is architecture, but she rediscovered her love of picture books when her daughter was young, and found herself checking them out from the library long after her daughter had moved on to chapter books and beyond.  Several years ago she took a wonderful illustration course through the online Children’s Book Academy.  She was immediately hooked, and a few years – and a few online classes – later, her first traditionally published picture book, Sadie’s Shabbat Stories, is coming out in October 2020.

Lisa Sharing her Process:

When Mira Reisberg (Art Director at Clear Fork Publishing) first sent me the manuscript for Sadie’s Shabbat Stories by Melissa Stoller, what I loved most about it was the message that storytelling has the power to keep the past alive.  That idea is so powerful as a way of making sense of life, love and loss, I knew I wanted the illustrations to visually amplify it.

After reading the manuscript a few times, I started by sketching lots of ideas for how the two main characters, Sadie and Nana, might look.  (Early ideas included anthropomorphized cats.)  I also looked at how I might compose a couple of scenes that struck me right away as particularly significant.  In the book, Nana and Sadie tell each other stories, and Nana’s stories are all about her relatives in WWI era Europe.  This got me thinking early on of Marc Chagall’s paintings.  I have a big book of his work, and was inspired by his depictions of Jewish life in the Russian village of his childhood, and especially by the way he interwove everyday life with dreams and memories.

Sadie’s Shabbat Stories has been my first experience with being published traditionally, and the whole process was wonderfully collaborative.  Mira’s method was to provide a video critique each time I submitted artwork, and her feedback was so insightful and constructive.  She was very open to my ideas all along the way, and together we began to refine the look of the (human, rather than cat) characters.

Once the characters, and a couple of scenes, began to take rough shape, I created an InDesign document where I played with how the text might spread out across 32 pages.  When I was happy with the pacing, I printed up a stack of picture book templates and began playing with different thumbnail compositions for each spread.  There are lots of templates available online, but I especially like these, from

This particular spread is one of three in the book where Nana tells Sadie a story about one of the family heirlooms that sit on their table every Friday for Shabbat.  Here she’s telling Sadie about the candlesticks, which once belonged to Sadie’s great-great grandmother.

When I had a composition that was beginning to work at the tiny scale of the template, I scanned it into InDesign and worked on placing the text in relation to the image.  When I had a rough sketch with text for each spread in the book, I printed up a little dummy and sent a pdf off to Mira for a critique.

For this spread, my next step was to refine the background.  I made several sketches where I replaced the abstract “bird’s nest,” as Mira had jokingly called it, with a scene incorporating elements from Nana’s story.  I kept a couple of the small inset vignettes from the original sketch, to highlight the most important parts.  Here I was working quite small, with pages about 3-1/2” x 3-1/2,” in pencil on tracing paper.  I find tracing paper is perfect for trying out lots of quick ideas and reminding myself that sketches shouldn’t be precious.

In Nana’s story, Sadie’s grandpa travels as a child with his mother, to visit his grandparents in Europe just as WWI breaks out.  I played around with different imagery to depict that time and place, including marching soldiers, though Melissa’s text does not explicitly mention them.  I also incorporated a bird in the spread, which was something that had come out of Mira’s most recent critique.  The bird already appeared elsewhere in the book, and at this point became a visual subtext appearing in every spread, symbolizing peace of course, but storytelling too in a way.  This pencil sketch was about 5” x 5.”

The next step was to add color.  I paint both traditionally and digitally, and for this book Mira and I agreed I would use Procreate, because of the greater ease in making changes.  I scanned my final pencil sketch and brought it into Procreate on my ipad.  I used neutral, sepia tones for the background, and brighter colors for Sadie and Nana, and for the two highlighted vignettes.

Throughout the illustration process, each of my art submissions and Mira’s critiques were also shared with the author, Melissa Stoller, and publisher, Callie Metler-Smith.  Not often, but on occasion, they offered their input, and here Melissa felt strongly that there should be no direct reference to soldiers or war in the book.  Mira agreed and suggested I find a way to allude to the violence without showing it outright.  Additionally, Mira felt that Nana should be younger and hipper, and offered some specific suggestions for changing her appearance – particularly about being mindful of her nose, given the longstanding stereotype around Jewish noses.

Among the changes for the final illustration, the soldiers have been replaced with the aftermath of violence – broken windows and such – and Nana is looking more youthful and has coloring more like Sadie’s, to emphasize their affinity.  I also ended up moving the bird to the lower right vignette, where its wings echo Sadie’s great-grandfather’s arms welcoming his family home.

Finished Illustration

Interview with Lisa Goldberg

How long have you been illustrating?

I was hired for my first illustration job in 2015, to do a pair of picture books for use by speech therapists working with children.

What and when was the first piece of art you created for money?

I think it was a painting I did while I was in architecture school – I made it in response to a studio assignment and a classmate asked to buy it.

Did you know when you attended Haverford that you wanted to get your masters in architecture?

No, I thought I might apply to art school eventually, but not specifically for illustration.  I wasn’t at all sure though, and after college I spent a year in Japan, teaching English and travelling.  I became interested in architecture there, and thought it would be a nice way to combine my interests in art and math, and also that it would offer a more practical way to make a living than an art degree would.  Again, illustration hadn’t even occurred to me at that point – when I thought of art school, I was thinking of fine art painting.

Did you take any art classes while getting your BA or MA?

Yes, I took some printmaking classes during college – etching, lithography, and linocut – and I took oil painting and ceramics classes in graduate school.

What made you choose The University of Texas at Austin to get your masters?

Well it has a great architecture program, so that was a big factor.  I considered a few other programs too, and in the end decided on U.T. based in part on what a nice place to live Austin seemed to be.  And it was – I miss living there!

Did you get a job using your degree in architecture when you graduated?

I did.  After short stints in a few different offices in New York City, I ended up working at a small firm here for eight years.  It was a good experience, except I felt increasingly that architecture wasn’t the right career choice for me.  I was very lucky to be able to take time away from working when my daughter was young.  That allowed me to figure out how to move- slowly, slowly- into illustration as a second career.

What do you feel helped you develop your style?

Mostly producing a lot of work.  Looking critically at other illustrators’ work too, to try to identify what makes it successful and appealing – or not.  But most of all it seems to take producing a lot of work myself to find out what it is that comes out of my own particular hand and mind that’s worth pushing further.  Illustration is solitary work though, and it’s also been essential to find people to give me feedback along the way.  I’ve taken several amazing online classes, and having my work critiqued by the instructors and other students has been crucial because it’s how I started to understand what other people see in my work.  I’m also a member of the SCBWI and, through that, have found a local critique group which has been really nice.

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

I’d just taken my first illustration class – a wonderful one online called The Craft and Business of Illustrating Children’s Books – when, through a friend, came the opportunity to illustrate the speech therapy books I mentioned earlier.  So, my very first illustration job was in fact a pair of picture books.

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

When my daughter was young, I started taking painting classes at a neighborhood arts center.  At one point a classmate commented that a painting I’d done looked like a children’s book illustration.  A lightbulb went off in my head.  My daughter was little, so we were constantly reading picture books, which I adored.  But somehow it wasn’t until that moment that the thought occurred to me to try my own hand at illustration.

Did you take any children’s illustrating courses?

I did.  I took several online courses.  My daughter was young and I was doing a bit of freelance architecture work so given that, the flexibility of an online class was ideal.  The first course I took was amazing.  It was The Craft and Business of Illustrating Picture Books through the Children’s Book Academy.  It was taught by the incredibly talented teacher and Art Director, Mira Reisberg, along with another insightful Art Director, Kristine Brogno.  That course was illuminating in so many ways.  It covered a really wide variety of topics in a lot of depth, relating to both illustrating and publishing children’s books.  It was interactive and so inspiring.  We produced lots of work and had it thoughtfully critiqued.  It introduced me to a wonderful community of illustrators and writers. Students were assigned to small critique groups, and I stayed in touch with some of my critique partners after the class ended.  Actually, I got so much out of that class that I signed up to take it again about two years later, and got just as much out of it the second time around since I was at a different point in my own journey.  In between the two, I took another wonderful online course: Mark Mitchell’s Make Your Marks and Splashes.

Did you take any online workshops or classes to help you navigate the children’s book industry?

Well, as I mentioned, the Children’s Book Academy course offered a lot of insight into the workings of the children’s book industry.  Both of the teachers were Art Directors at publishing houses.  And all of the students who took the class were offered the opportunity to submit to various Art Directors and agents who were members of the guest faculty.  And Mark Mitchell’s class too included lessons taught by professionals in the publishing industry.

How did Clear Fork find you to illustrate Sadie’s Shabbat Stories by Melissa Stoller?

Actually that came directly out of my having taken the Children’s Book Academy class.  Mira Reisberg of CBA is also Art Director at Clear Fork Publishing.  She’s very invested in helping her students get published and invites them to submit online portfolios to her.  It was a couple of years after I’d submitted my portfolio that I got a call from Mira asking if I’d like to illustrate Sadie’s Shabbat Stories!

How much time did they give you to do the illustrations?

The final illustrations were approved about a year after we signed the contract.

I see you have a second book coming out later this year titled, Teddy. How did you get that contract?

Teddy is the picture book companion to a song by the wonderful “kindie” (kid indie) musician Willie DeVargas.  Willie writes, performs and teaches music to young children here in New York City, and he was a teacher at the preschool my daughter went to.  He knew from Instagram that I was doing children’s illustration, and a few years ago asked me to design a logo for his music label, Super Giant Creatures.  After that I found out that he’d been dreaming about turning a new song he’d written into a picture book, and we decided to collaborate on it.  We’ll be self-publishing Teddy later this year, and have a couple of other books in the works based on his songs.

Was it hard juggling illustrating two books at the same time?

The illustrations for Teddy were largely finished when I started working on Sadie’s Shabbat StoriesWhat we hadn’t yet figured out was how we were going to get it published.  We’d at first hoped to publish traditionally, but have now decided to self-publish, which will happen soon through Ingram Spark.

Do you have an agent? If so, who and how did you connect and how long have you been represented by them? If not would you like to work with an agent?

I don’t have an agent.  I’d certainly be interested in learning more about the agent-illustrator relationship if someone were interested in representing me.

Is Ted and Todd: A Toad Tale a picture book? You say it is from a Leaders Project. Can you tell us the story about this project?

Ted and Todd, Parts 1 and 2, are two books within in a larger series created for speech therapists to use with children recovering from cleft palate surgery.  They’re fun because each one is a little tongue twister of a story to keep the kids engaged in practicing their speech sounds.  Ted and Todd provide practice with “T” and “D” sounds. The Leaders Project at Columbia University is a non-profit program with the mission to make speech therapy resources available to families in need around the world.  They’ve published picture books in several languages which are available free of charge on their website.  A mutual friend referred the Director of the project to me.

Have you done any illustrations for other books?

So far, just the four we’ve discussed.

Have you done any illustrating for children’s Magazines or any other magazines? If so, who?

I haven’t.

Do you have a studio in your house?

I do- I’m lucky enough to have a studio in my NYC apartment, though it also houses stacks of our family’s paperwork and an array of other random items unrelated to illustrating.  Re-organizing in there is high on my To-Do list right now!

Have you ever tried illustrating a wordless picture book?

Willie and I considered making Teddy wordless.  Of course, it still would have followed the song lyrics, so even without words printed on the pages, there would have been words associated with the pictures.  In the end we decided to include the text, but I love wordless picture books.  I think they sometimes allow a reader to feel even more immersed in a story.  I’m thinking of Arrival by Shaun Tan, Journey by Aaron Becker, Sunshine by Jan Ormerod and all of Brian Selznick’s work.

Do you work full time as an illustrator?

I do.

Is working with a self-published author to illustrate their book something you would consider?

Well, Willie and I are self-publishing.  It would really depend on the specific project and my relationship with the author.  With Willie, it’s very much a collaboration and partnership.  The jury is still out for us though on the actual experience of getting the book printed and distributed.  I’ll have to see how that part goes.

What do you think is your biggest success so far?

I would have to say illustrating Sadie’s Shabbat Stories.  It was such a thrill to have Mira ask me to do it.  And working with her throughout the process was incredible.  She’s so good at what she does, it just brought the work to a higher level.

What is your favorite medium to use?

I’d say my favorite medium is gouache.  I also really enjoy sketching with a plain old #2 mechanical pencil, or a Micron or Muji pen.

Has that changed over time?

It has.  There was definitely a time when oil paints were my favorite. Since my focus shifted toward illustration though, I’ve been working smaller and prefer a medium that dries faster.  Also, I’m working at home rather than in a painting studio, so using oils and solvents without special ventilation isn’t so appealing.

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

Yes, I use Procreate on my ipad.  It’s pretty great, and as I mentioned it’s how I colored the illustrations for Sadie’s Shabbat Stories.  I love traditional painting, but Procreate is very intuitive, and of course it makes set up and clean up a whole lot easier.  It’s also vastly easier to make changes to a digital piece than a traditional one.

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

I always begin sketching with pencil on paper, and I always use pencil on tracing paper to develop my sketches.  After that, for color illustrations I sometimes transfer my final sketch to cold press watercolor paper and paint with gouache.  In that case I’ll use Saral transfer paper which works like carbon paper to transfer a drawing from one surface to another.  That’s what I used for Teddy and the Ted and Todd books.  In those cases I ended up making some final corrections digitally, using Procreate and Photoshop.  For Sadie’s Shabbat Stories, I brought my pencil sketches into Procreate and added all of the color digitally.

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

I do.  I try to spend time every day drawing or painting on a personal project, or with no project at all in mind.  The amount of time I spend varies a lot depending on what else I need to get done- it could be just 15 or 30 minutes or it could be much more.  And truthfully sometimes it doesn’t happen at all.  But I’m a much better illustrator – and a better person really – when I prioritize that time.

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

Yes, not necessarily before starting on some very rough initial sketches, but soon after, and throughout the process.  The internet is of course incredible for finding visual source material – pictures of facial expressions, body postures, animals, places, period clothing, furniture, almost anything!  For Sadie’s Shabbat Stories I looked at lots of pictures of Eastern Europe in the 1910’s.  If I can’t find just the right facial expression or body posture, I might ask someone to pose for a picture.  I also find it helps a lot just to arrange my own body or face for the action or emotion I’m trying to capture.

Do you think the Internet has opened doors for you?

Absolutely! I never would have connected with Mira, and probably wouldn’t have re-connected with Willie, without the internet.  And the community of picture book creators that’s active online has provided me with so much inspiration and moral support.  Despite often longing for the good old pre-internet days, it’s really been invaluable for me in moving into this second career.

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

I’d like to write and illustrate a picture book with an animal rights theme.  Animal welfare issues are a passion of mine and I have a couple of early-stage story ideas percolating for ways to present the topic to young kids.

What are you working on now?

Well, following up on my previous answer, I have an ongoing project to create a series of illustrations which, I hope, may help raise some awareness around animal rights issues.  I’ve been posting these along the way, mostly on Instagram, and sometimes in blog posts.  I’ve exhibited some of them as well.  I’m thinking about ways I might bring them together in a book format.

Another ongoing project that has no particular goal, but feels fruitful, is a series of pencil and ink drawings, that I think of as automatic or stream of consciousness drawings.  I start drawing lines with no subject matter in mind, and as I go I tend to see faces and figures- human, animal or somewhere in between- and develop those.  I do the same kind of thing with paint sometimes.  It’s a bit like searching for shapes in clouds.

Also, I’m working on getting Teddy self-published, and on preliminary sketches for another collaboration with Willie DeVargas.

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 actually get a little overwhelmed at the idea of switching between lots of different mediums.  I tend to keep it very simple and sketch with mechanical pencils and Micron or Muji pens.  I paint with gouache on cold press watercolor paper.  I’ve long used very inexpensive Reeves gouache paints.  They work for me, but I’ve been meaning to try out some higher quality paints.  One tip for painting with gouache is to use a Masterson Sta-Wet palette.  Gouache dries quickly, and this is a way to keep it wet and workable for much longer.  It’s basically a box with a snap-on lid, and a reusable sponge that sits under your palette.  The sponge keeps the paint wet so you can mix colors, take a break, and come back to paint that’s still wet.  It’s quite useful.

Any words of wisdom for new illustrators?

Well, some things I try to keep in mind myself are: (1) Draw every day; (2) “Perfection is the enemy of the good,” so stay loose – work that’s a little messy is more fun to create, and often more fun to look at too; and (3) Again: Draw Every Day!!

Thank you, Lisa for answering the interview questions and sharing your expertise with us. Please let me know your future successes so I can share it with everyone.

To see more of Lisa’s work, you can visit her at:





Talk tomorrow,



  1. Perfectly adorable. I particularly like the frogs living in the flower pot. Thanks for a fun post.


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