Posted by: Kathy Temean | November 21, 2020

Illustrator Saturday: Dawn M. Cardona

Dawn Cardona is a self-taught illustrator working mainly in Children’s publishing. Ever since she was a little girl, it has been her dream to illustrate Children’s books and no matter how hard she tried to convince herself to do something more “practical” with her life, that dream never faded. In 2017, at the age of 35, she decided to finally listen to her heart and take the leap!

She says, “I am thrilled to share that dreams really DO come true. My first picture book was published last year in 2019. My next two picture books are due out in the Fall of 2020 and the Spring of 2021!”

Other bits: Dawn currently lives and work out of her home in Kailua, Hawaii. She loves to garden and adores bird watching. She is obsessed with vintage ephemera.

A few of her wonderful clients include: Simon and Schuster, Augusta Convention & Vistors Bureau, Busy Hands Books, Redemption Church, Wolf and Finch and Alicyn Packard.

Here is Dawn sharing her process:


Scalpels or Scissors? I use my scissors about 98% of the time and will pick up a knife only if I have to, but not because I don’t like it. I am just not very good with a knife and I find them uncomfortable to use for long periods of time. When I am working on personal projects or flexible commissions all of my work is freehand. When I am working on Children’s books, I have had to adjust mmethods in order to work efficiently and make sure that the work meets the spacing requirements of a printed book. I have around 15 or more scissors and every single pair cuts a little differently and gives me a different outcome. I have yet to find a pair that will replace the scissors that I have been using since I first started cutting nearly 16 years ago. My favorite pair has a dull edge and a slow, controlled cut that is unmatched by any other pair, especially around curves. I often joke that if I ever lose these scissors, I am finished as an artist!

Interview with Dawn Cardona

How did you realize that you were good in art?

To be honest, it took years to admit to myself that I am an artist.  I still struggle with the idea that I am any good at illustrating, but I had a moment when my daughter was six where I realized that I was giving advice that I wasn’t even taking myself.  So I set out to find my own courage and pursue the one thing I had always wanted to do since childhood, which was to illustrate Children’s books.

You say you are a self-taught illustrator. Did you ever take any art classes to help you with technique?

No, I have always taken the initiative to teach myself all the things that I love to do.  I was always too afraid to take an art class when I got to college. Instead, I got a degree in Environmental Science and art continued to be a hobby for me until just a few years ago.  I still take time to learn, everyday.

It looks like you started out with painting. I like the picture of you standing outside a building in front of a painting of two girl with one rolling over the back of the other. How long ago did you do this?

I actually started out drawing with inks in the early 2000s, but drawing never felt right for me.  It was in 2004 when I learned about the art of Paper cutting and developed a passion for all things paper made.  The artwork that you came across was actually a blown up image of a tiny 5 inch paper cut that I created in 2010. I submitted the artwork for a window display with a local art gallery in downtown Augusta, Georgia in 2018.

Do you still do paintings?

I have tried painting, but I keep it to a minimum. I do use paint in my paperwork to add in texture.  I have been experimenting with gouache and Posca paint pens for about a year and a half now.

Do you sell the small crafts you show on your website?

I do sell my work from time to time via Instagram stories, which I have found to be more successful than selling from my Etsy shop. Mostly, I do custom pieces for folks who reach out to me privately.

Have you ever made greeting cards?

No, not officially. I used to create little gift cards that I called “art cards,” where I would attach tiny originals to a card that can later be removed for framing purposes. I always loved the idea of giving something sentimental to a loved one that didn’t necessarily have to end up in a box.

How did you start getting jobs to do bookstore displays?

I was given my one and only chance to create a window display in 2018. I did have plans to do many more, but life threw us a curve ball and sent us on a two year journey that included three majors moves to three separate states. For the bookshop display at The Book Tavern in Augusta, I simply approached the owners about the idea and they were happy to lend me their window. It was a one-time thing, but I would definitely be more than happy to do it again and again!

What did you do to create the 3-d flowers and the leaves for the display window that says Greetings from Augusta Georgia?

The original artwork was created with a bit of gouache paint and hand-cut paper using scissors and glue on a 12 inch x 12 inch piece of cardstock.

Was this for a restaurant? Or maybe it is a window on the outside of the airport?

The artwork was created for the Augusta Convention and Visitors Bureau. They commissioned me to create a version of an old postcard  for display at their shop Augusta & Co. and to be turned into small magnets, postcards and a giant wall mural for the baggage claim area of the Augusta Regional Airport.

You have a fabulous display inside the airport. It is amazing. You must be so proud that everyone getting off a plane in Augusta gets to see your work. Have you gotten other work from the exposure?

I was surprised to be asked to create a piece with so many wonderful local artists still living in Augusta. I had been away for nearly two years, living in Hawaii when they contacted me. It was a thrill to come back to see the display for the first time when we arrived back in Augusta this past August.  My daughter and I got a photo together in front of it, which made it all the more special. I am not sure if some of the recent work that has come my way has been a result of the Airport mural, but I am sure it has helped.

How did that job with the airport come your way?

In 2018, I was asked by Redemption Church to create six mini installations around downtown Augusta.  You can read more about that project here: (

One of the pieces that I created for that project was my take on an old postcard, which caught the eye of the Community Engagement Manager at the Augusta Convention & Visitors Bureau. She wanted to take that idea and blow it up into a mural for the airport and I was more than happy to take on the challenge!

What made you decide to start doing children’s books? 

Illustrating Children’s books has been a dream of mine since I was a little girl. I didn’t know how to read very well (English was my second language), but the pictures in books always made my heart smile. I knew from a young age that I wanted to spark joy in others the way that all the books from my childhood did for me. Pictures in books meant a lot of me, as we moved a lot when I was young.  I could always find comfort in books

All the Little Snowflakes just came with Little Simon. How did you get that contract? 

I worked on another book with the same designer and author at Little Simon. (See next question)

It also looks like you’ve Five Little Thank-Yous was also with Little Simon. Do you expect to do other board books with them? 

Five Little Thank-yous by Cindy Jin was my very first book offer.  I still can’t believe that I have had the opportunity to illustrate two published books with Little Simon and a third that is to be published next Spring.

Was Five Little Thank-Yous your first illustrated book? 


Have you illustrated any other books?

I have also illustrated a book with Busy Hands Books called Always Be You by Ioana Stoian.

How many picture books have you illustrated?

A total of four books since 2018!  It has been a wild two years!

How did you connect with Christy Ewers at The Cat Agency?

I have been a fan of Christy Ewers and her agency since I joined Instagram! She seemed to really care about the artists she represents and I quickly fell in love with how she shared her artist’s work via her feed.  I knew that one day I would write to her about representing me, but it took a little push from the pandemic to get up the courage to write to her.  She replied within hours and the rest is history!

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

I am not sure if I will ever write a book, but I have added it to my bucket list. It may be the last thing I do before I die, who knows.

Do you work full time as an illustrator?

I currently work part-time as an illustrator, but it is my goal to work full-time.

I noticed that you have a number of illustrations that you created in Procreate. Is this something you plan to keep using for your illustrations?

I use Procreate to sketch my illustrations for the books I work on and if paper cutting takes a bit too much time for a particular project.  I don’t use it that often, but it has helped me to develop my paper cutting techniques and visualize my artwork before cutting.  I typically do not draw or sketch a project beforehand, unless I am working on a book.

Do you have a studio in your house?

I do! I have a whole room dedicated to my craft.  I wish it were a little bigger, but the space is big enough to house a giant table, flat files and other pieces to store all of my papers.

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

I am happy to work on projects that I find a connection with or feel excited about. I hope there will be many more projects in the future!

What do you think is your biggest success?

My biggest success has been overcoming my fears. I held back for 35 years before I decided that it was time to believe in myself for a change. I spent an entire year working on my confidence and another year pushing myself to make everyday count.  I have learned since to keep taking chances and to say, “YES!” more often.

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

I do not own a lot of techy gadgets. In fact, I got my first smart phone in 2016 and my first ipad in 2018. So far, I have only managed to learn how to use Procreate, but I hope to keep growing and learning how to work digitally.

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

I usually work everyday, mostly on tiny paper doodles that I hashtag #paperplay.  I take 10 to 30 minutes trying something new or bringing to life something that I drew up in my sketchbook.

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

I do! I leave plenty of wall space to create a collage of pictures and words up on the wall before I begin a project.

Do you think the Internet has opened doors for you?

I have been a part of the creative world via the internet since the early 2000s. It has connected me with friends from all over the world! Although it took me years, I watched so many artists go from their little blog to being giants in the art and publishing worlds. If anything, the internet remained a constant inspiration and reminder to keep dreaming! I have been able to share my work online all of these years and I believe I got my first book deal from sharing my work on Instagram.

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

I would love to work with the USPS on a stamp set and possibly see my artwork in the toy market.

What are you working on now?

At the moment, I am working on Christmas card design for local organizations and fundraising events.

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.

For the longest time, I didn’t buy paper. I only used what I could find or collect from others via trades.  If you have the opportunity to trade papers via pen pals, do it!  There are so many different pieces of ephemera that you can use in paper artwork.  There may be pieces you’ll never want to use and others that will spark ideas you never dreamed of before!

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

Be kind and patient with yourself.  No matter what, keep at it. Dreams really do come true.

Dawn, thank you for sharing your time to answer the interview questions and showing us your process. I really enjoyed viewing your illustrations. Please let me know your future successes so I can share them with everyone.

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



The Cat Agency:


Talk tomorrow,



  1. Thank you for sharing this, it made me smile!


  2. what a unique talent and beautiful work as a result of it –


  3. Wow I love this journey and this art so much, thank you Kathy for introducing us to such an amazing person, and thank you Dawn for telling your truth and inspiring us all. Your books look amazing and I can’t wait to see more from you,


  4. Absolutely gorgeous work! Thanks for the intro, KT!


  5. I love paper art! It’ so tactile. And you do beautiful work! Great interview!


  6. So very cool! Your artwork is so intricate and colorful! Love it!


  7. Your illustrations are so cheerful! I especially like the kite scene.


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