Posted by: Kathy Temean | March 13, 2021

Illustrator Saturday – David Hohn

David Hohn received his degree in illustration from the Maryland Institute College of Art. Over the years his work has focused on the juvenile markets, ranging from picture books, children’s theater posters, video games, toys and apparel graphics.

For David the pleasure in illustrating comes from paring all the various possibilities of an image down to the single moment that best encapsulates the author’s words with the artist’s vision. Seeing that moment come to life in a finished painting, whether it be a traditional watercolor and oil or digital piece, is what keeps him excited to hit the studio each day.


Scholastic Publishing                       Viking Publishing                       Random House Publishing

Bloomsbury Publishing                    Waterbrook Press                       Sasquatch Books

Spider Magazine                              Charlesbridge Publishing           Arkansas Arts Council

Electronic Arts                                  Nike                                            Doernbecher Children’s Hospital

Sockeye Creative                              Oregon Children’s Theater         Proctor and Gambel

Sleeping Bear Press


Book Mapping:

Once I receive the manuscript I will lay out the entire book as a series of boxes on a single sheet of paper or a single photoshop document. Then I will make boxes to indicate where I imagine a image might go and what the drawing MIGHT be. Emphasis on might as I make a lot of changes at this stage. In this case the big grey box shows that I was thinking this spread would be a full spread full bleed image.


After the bookmapping has been done I will place a piece of tracing paper over the book map (in Photoshop it will be a new layer) and quickly sketch my written description from the Book Mapping stage. Again, this stage has a lot of changes. I will try all sorts of compositions and camera points of view. These drawings are always very rough and nearly impossible for anyone but me to understand.

Rough Sketch:

I place a new layer or tracing paper over the Thumbnail and clean it up. Still not very tight yet as it is likely to change but refined enough that my editor and art director can understand what they are looking at. It’s at this stage that I introduce simple values. So much information is communciated through the values! Once the entire book is at this stage I will send it to my editor for the first time.

Final Sketch:

After some degree of back and forth with my editor we will have an approved rough sketch dummy. At that point I will refine the rough sketches to Final Sketches. At this stage I am making sure all the details are just right.

Finished Art:

All the major decisions have been make and now it is time to execute the finished art. I have a digital watercolor technique that I apply to all the final sketches.

Illustrator Saturday Interview with David Hohn

How long have you been illustrating?

Decided to be a illustrator at about the age of 12 (when I learned that it was a job I could actually have) Professionally, I’ve been doing it for 20 years.

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

In college an instructor gave us an assignment for a paying client. It was a spot illustration for the local weekly paper Mine was chosen. I want to say it was a repair man doing . . . . something.

What made you choose the Maryland Institute College of Art to get your BFA degree in illustration?

Always knew I wanted to be an illustrator. I chose MICA after attending a portfolio review event in SanFrancisco. MICA offered me a scholarship (which had a significant impact on the decision) but growing up on the west coast I also was eager to see what the east coast was like!

Did you take any time off between getting your BFA and going to the University of Hartford to get your MFA in Illustration?

Yes. I was anxious to get my professional career going and so wasn’t interested in grad school right after undergraduate. I’m glad I waited. It was quite a while between both and I had learned what I didn’t yet know, and was ready to go back and be a student again.

Did you take any children’s illustration courses?

At MICA we petitioned to get a children’s book class. It was only one term, but I knew I was hooked.

How long have you been a professor at PNCA?

Six years.

How did you get that job?

I had started teaching at a different school in Portland that didn’t have a formal illustration department. I was working with graphic design majors in a class designed to help them get familiar with illustrations and how to work with illustrators in the future. After a few years there I realized that teaching made me a MUCH better illustrator. So when an opportunity came up to teach full time illustration students I pursued the opportunity.

Did you grow up on the East coast and move to the west coast to take the college job to teach art?

I am adjunct at PNCA so a move would not be financially viable. I grew up on the west coast, did college in Baltimore and then moved portland a few years after college. Been in the Pacific Northwest for the last 20 years.

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

Very early! about 12 years old.

Was Finding Fairies your first picture book?

It was my first trade picture book.

How did you get that contract?

Just after moving to Portland I contacted every local publisher I could find. Beyond Words is located just outside of Portland. Close enough that I could stop in and drop off my portfolio. It happened that two editors of Beyond Words were working on an manuscript that would become Finding Fairies and I had fairies in my portfolio! Sometimes it’s just about your work being in front of the right person at the right time.

How did Charlesbridge Book discover your artwork and choose you to illustrate Zachary Zormer: Shape Transformer by Joanne Anderson Reisberg?

I don’t know the details of that. I do know that Charlesbridge has always been on my mailing list. I would send postcards to them regularly.

It looks like you had a two book deal early in your career with Waterbrook Press. How did that contract come about?

That was due to an online illustrator group I participated in. The editor was familiar with the group and asked me to create a sample image for God Gave Us Christmas. That project went well and she asked if I would be interested in doing additional books for the publisher. My relationship with Waterbrook Press has been the longest of my career.

Did you do all the covers for the castle series?

I did Tuesday at the Castle though Fridays with the Wizards.

Since the five are all days of the week, do you think they will someday finish with Sunday and Monday?

That I do not know. It would make sense right‽ But Jessica Day George is so creative I’m sure she has some ideas in mind!

Did you do any interior art for the Series of books by Ruth Chew or did you only do the covers?

Only the covers for that series. Such a great series! I was really pleased to be a part of it.

How many years have you been illustrating the 11 books in the God Gave Us series?

I am the second illustrator in that series. I have done 5 books. My first was in 2006 and the newest God Gave us Prayer just released this March!

I am very impressed with the mock-up covers you created for books we all know. Did you ever send them to the publishers?

You are likely referring to the children’s theater posters I’ve created over the years. I’ve done a lot of the classics! I love theater, but as I can’t sing, dance or act my contribution is to create the poster art.

What type of research did you do for Just Like Beverly to help you decide how to illustrate the book?

So much research! I read both of her autobiographies. I went to the library and historical association archives for photos of Portland when Beverly Clearly lived here. I collected as many photos of Beverly as I could find. I read all her books so that I could insert as many references to her eventual books as I could into the images of her childhood. It was a lot of fun!

I featured Headstrong Hallie by Aimee Bissonette that you illustrated. How long did it take you to illustrate that book?

I worked on that book for 6 months.

Do you have an agent? If so, who and how and when did you connect? If not, would you be interested in finding representation?

Yes I have an agent. I am represented by James McGowan at BookEnds Literary. He and I met via another agent at BookEnds and we both determined that we would be a good fit.

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

Yep! I am collecting rejections letters as I write this!

Have you ever tried doing a wordless picture book?

My most recent book dummy proposal is looking like it will be wordless. Didn’t start off that way, but I keep editing it down.

Do you have a studio in your house?

I do. I like having a group studio whenever I can, but these last few years it has made more sense for my family to have me working from home.

Have you done any illustrations for children’s Magazines? If so, who?

I have! Various different ones over the years but most regularly for Spider Magazine.

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

I will consider any project. There’s isnt any client I would automatically say “Yes” or “No” to. I evaluate each project based on a bunch of factors.

What do you think is your biggest success?

Some books have proven to more financially successful than others but I’m always trying to make each book better than my last. So really, the book I’m most proud of is whichever I have finished most recently.

What is your favorite medium to use?

Watercolor and colored pencil. I have a long history with it. Even though almost all my work is created digitally these days I have worked hard to develop a process that evokes the feeling of watercolor and colored pencil.

Has that changed over time?

The transition from physical media to digital was a gradual one. I started doing color studies digitally simply because it was intentionally rough and quick and easy to change. But like any medium you “play” with long enough, eventually you get pretty good. One day I realized that another few hours investment in my digital rough color study and I would have a submission ready finished piece. Of course changes in the industry also played a part. My contracts started stipulating that I submit “print ready digital files.” Put those two factors together and it makes more sense to create using digital mediums. That said, I keep working with different physical mediums, because I feel strongly that the medium carries a lot of the message. The feeling you get from a watercolor painting vs a monotype vs a charcoal drawing can have a huge impact on the way the reader reacts to the illustrations.

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

I use a Wacom Cintiq

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

Lots of physical media textures that have been scanned in. I create almost all my work in Photoshop.

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

I wish I could say it was a specific (that is, limited) amount of time — I work pretty much all the time. Either on a client project or practicing some new medium or developing a book idea.

Do you think the Internet has opened doors for you?

I don’t know that the internet has meant I’ve gotten book projects I wouldn’t otherwise have gotten. Most books contracts come to me via promotional postcards or my agent. Like so many I can use social media to show my work to followers more easily. And who does’t appreciate the random “like” on Instagram?

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

Would like to have a book that I’ve both written and illustrated.

What are you working on now?

I have three book projects in the works right now. One is a very sweet and funny Grandmother oriented book, the other is a picture book biography and the third is a nonfiction book about nature.

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

Tenacity. Even now I have good and bad days. Days when I’m very confident about my work and days when I wonder why I bother. But every day I’m excited to get up and get to work in my studio, because I’m going to make something that didn’t exist before!

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

To see more of David’s work, you can visit him at:





Talk tomorrow,



  1. Wow! Love your illustrations! All the colors, the black and white, the adventures. Beautiful. Thanks for sharing with us. 🙂 Best wishes!


  2. I really enjoyed your interview with Kathy, David! Looking forward to seeing that future book deal for you as Author/Illustrator my friend!


  3. Wonderful art and a wonderful interview. I especially love that little raccoon in the mailbox and in the trash can. Thanks for the post.


  4. It was interesting to read about the steps you take after receiving a manuscript. I wasn’t familiar with book mapping. (Also, I especially love your Red Riding Hood illustration and the pictures for Headstrong Hallie!.)


  5. Really neat to read about his process of planning how a book will be illustrated. And his drawings are fantastic — fun expressions on the characters, and feeling of magic to them.


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