Posted by: Kathy Temean | April 17, 2021

Illustrator Saturday – Annie Zygarowicz

Annie is originally from Brooklyn, NY, educated at the School of Visual Arts – BFA in illustration and design and now located on a small farm in upstate NY. Her art background began as a freelance editorial illustrator for magazines and has grown to encompass a myriad of exciting entrepreneurial adventures.

Intrigued with developing three-dimensional objects and characters for theater sets led her to sculpting with clay and digitally. She was lucky to have the opportunity to show and sell her sculpts in galleries and in retail shops.

To promote her artwork and other artists, she designed promotional pieces that began to attract clients. She opened her studio, Zygdesignz, to help individuals promote their small businesses though graphic/web design services, publication layout and design and marketing advice.

Annie’s primary focus has always been illustration — for editorial, children’s books and designs for art licensing. She has created a new series of paintings that are currently being exhibited in galleries and sold in eclectic stores.


This is my art process for all of my illustrations. It starts with many sketches with pencil on tracing paper or on my iPad. Then I narrow it down to one with some kind of composition in mind.

This is a rough sketch for the Wizard of Oz book cover.

The next step is to figure out the composition (characters, forest, etc.). It’s really scribbly but it makes sense to me.

I also like to make preliminary sketches of the characters for interior illustrations.

Then I set up a color palette and beginning painting with lots of layers.

Ta Da, I’m done! Well, this took a few days. There were so many small details to paint. I really enjoyed creating this illustration.

Interview with Annie Zygarowicz:

How long have you been illustrating?

Thanks for this opportunity, Kathy. Becoming an artist was always important to me, especially because it meant that I can have an exciting career doing what I love to do. Besides illustrating, I thought I could make difference in the world in some small way. Despite having multiple art careers in twenty-five years, children’s book art and writing has always been what I wanted to do but I never had time. It feels like an entirely new career for me but in reality, I think I’ve preparing for it all along.

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

In art school, my future husband and I would scan through the art job bulletin boards. We were hired to create everything from storyboards for a film, greeting cards for a new card company, hand lettered signs for a trade show, props for theatre productions and caricatures, the list goes on. These small commissions were fun and gave us a glimpse of real world art experiences.

What inspired you to attend School of Visual Arts, New York to get your BFA?

SVA provided an excellent art education with instructors who also worked in the industry. There were a myriad of courses including animation, sculpting, cartooning, illustration, fine art painting, etc. Plus New York City was the perfect backdrop where you could walk to museums and galleries between classes.

What did you study at SVA?

Four years of illustration and fine art, as well as cartooning/graphic novels, animation, a few writing courses and lots of electives.

Did you take any children’s illustrating courses?

I did – “Writing and Art For Children’s Books,” included writing, story breakdown, character development, and dummy construction. At that time, I was interested but there were limited resources (like zero internet) so I instead pursued editorial illustration to get my foot in the door.

Do you feel school helped you develop your style?

After much experimenting with all kinds of medium (colored pencils, pastels, oils, etc.) with weekly critiques, I think art school gave me the freedom to make mistakes and understand how to rework them. Two art styles emerged — one that is cartoon-like while the other is dark and painterly. Both have been part of my aesthetic for years.

Did the school help you find work when you graduated?

The faculty was always there if you asked for help but I had a plan and was confident that my portfolio represented what I could offer. I sent postcards to magazine art directors who would potentially hire me for my art style.

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

An editorial illustrator. After a week out of art school, I was sending out postcards and was called for illustration work from a few national magazines. It was cool. While I freelanced as an illustrator, I was hired as an art director for the production, graphics and advertising departments at a news corporation, overseeing and training a large staff, weekly deadlines but it was a good way to learn every facet of operating a company. Eventually I gained enough experience to open my design studio. Soon after, a well-known eyewear company hired me to design and illustrate nearly all of their product lines, including logos, signage, packaging and catalogues. Soon more client work followed, such as educational games and books, branding, tourism maps/brochures, journals, websites, etc.

I still had children’s book art in mind, but it wasn’t the right time to pursue it. So I became involved in teaching art classes part time at a museum and at schools (K-12) where I developed an art curriculum that was fun and interactive for different grades.

It looks like you do a lot of art exhibits. Do you find this is a good way to get business?

Preparing art and hanging an exhibition can be both exciting and challenging. I think it’s a good way to get exposure, network and to get to know the community. It’s always a bit nerve-wracking when there’s tight deadlines to create 15-20 pieces, although it’s worth it. For me, watching viewers get caught up in my paintings is rewarding. I’ve sold many pieces, cards and prints, as well as received referrals and requests for commission work.

You did an exhibit titled, “The Faces Behind the Science” at the Museum of the Earth in Ithaca, NY. Did you do the 16 paintings of active and decease scientists and scientific illustrators because you knew the museum would be interested in the illustrations or did they come to you?

I submitted a proposal. I’d like to think it was an opportunity to educate the public about the scientists, naturalists and artists who made substantive contributions to our society through their discoveries and dedication. When a gallery vacancy became available at the Museum of the Earth, a friend of mine recommended me. I wrote a proposal for a personal project based on my fascination with scientific illustration, botany, entomology and paleontology. After scouring every primary resource I could find, I made a list of both notable and unknown men and women. Among them were Charles Darwin, Katherine V.W. Palmer, Samuel H. Scudder. After painting their portraits and 13 others, it was fitting to write brief biographies (with footnotes) to accompany each portrait. The Museum
gave me the approval to exhibit the portraits and bios. (Even though I use several photographs to draw caricatures, it’s important for artists to check with Creative Commons that your reference images are in the public domain).

How did you get the chance to illustrate the SCBWI Winter 2018 Bulletin?

By accident. I attended a luncheon and sat next to a children’s book writer and after two hours, we
agreed to submit her article and my illustrations together to the Bulletin. Thank you to Sarah Baker
and Stephen Mooser for making that happen!

Is the cover illustration on your website of The Wizard of Oz a book that was published or did you do that for your portfolio?

I’m building my portfolio to include images of projects that I’d like to be hired for, like book covers
for chapter, middle and YA books as well as interiors full art and vignettes.

Was The Adventures of Rodger Bensworth a published book, too?

This is also a mock cover for my portfolio. It was one of the props for a college student film. The
caricature on the cover is the actor who played Roger Bensworth. I really enjoyed co-writing this
film with my daughter and thrilled when it won a few film festival awards, too.

Was The Adventures of Smokey and the Grouchy Neighbor your first published book?

It was. Although I didn’t write it, I helped with editing and illustrated it. The author knew me and approached me in 2016 with the idea. Completely a book of illustrations was daunting at first but exciting. I created character designs, lots of sketches and began two final paintings in watercolor. They looked good but I thought they could be better. One day I read about Cintiq/Adobe apps vs. iPad/Procreate as alternative painting tools. I opted for the iPad/Procreate and I quickly adapted to world of digital painting. Oh and I was able to complete all of the final art for the book on time.

How many illustrations did you do for the book?

Twenty-three illustrations (several spreads) and the cover design.

How did you get that contract?

Susan, the author was one of my studio clients. She adopted a Schnauzer named Smokey and was inspired to write a story about his adventures for her daughter. We met and discussed her vision and marketing strategies. What I liked most was that she trusted me to develop the illustrations independently with minimal revisions. It worked really well and we enjoyed the process of making a book.

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

It wasn’t until I became a children’s library assistant in my teens. I worked in an historic library on the East coast of Long Island, among lots and lots of books all day long! After reading most of the library’s juvenile collection, I was able to refer books to patrons and their children. Kids would come up to me and ask about more books in a series or we’d discuss exciting parts of a book. It was fun listening to them talk about their favorite stories, the characters and the worlds that the authors and illustrators created just for them. It was around that time that I signed up for the children’s book course at art school.

Can you tell us a little bit about being co-founder and artist at Night and Day Art Collective and what they do?

Night and Day is a group of four local fine artists with different art styles. We focus solely on fine art painting, art shows and exhibitions. We’ve become good friends and supportive of one another. I’m also a part of new art collective of women artists from around the globe – we’re in the planning stages but more details are coming soon on my website blog.

Do you have an artist rep or literary agent? 

At present, I do not, but I’m open to working with an editorial agent who either represents author/illustrators or one who represents only artists (children’s and/or editorial). It’s important to me that it is someone that I can share my enthusiasm with; who is interested in how my mind works and my overall style.

Every six months, one of my ‘must-do’ tasks is researching agents with similar writing tastes in art, kid’s fiction and nonfiction genres. At this moment, I have four manuscripts completed. I wrote/illustrated a picture book w/dummy; a chapter book as a ghost writer/illustrator and a non-fiction chapter book as an illustrator/editor. I’m also experimenting with other forms of writing that are a
work-in-progress. Three times a year, I also like to submit my updated portfolio as a website link or newsletter to
industry professionals.

Have you ever tried illustrating a wordless picture book?

Not really, but would like to. I think wordless stories should be planned carefully with page turns and pacing from start to finish, for example check out Mercer Mayer and John Goodall’s books — they’re wonderful.

I see you do commission work. How did this start and how do you find that type of work?

Like most introverts, it takes a good deal of courage to make a cold-call via email to a company or local business to sell retail/wholesale. Most of my illustration work has been through referrals so it was time to take the big step. Five years ago, I made an appointment with a retail art gallery to show my portfolio and the owner WAS interested. She’s been selling my art card collections, prints and referring commissions to me steadily since then. I’ve gained a niche following of like-minded admirers as a bonus. New galleries in 2021? I think it’s a possibility.

Do you work full time as an illustrator?

I now consider myself a full time freelance illustrator and writer, having scaled back on my studio business so I can focus on and prioritize illustration and book projects. Occasionally I still create websites for authors, illustrators, and small businesses.

What do you do to get your art noticed?

Painting for galleries and retail are always excellent ways for the public to see my work.

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

I would consider it but…my goal is to work with professional publishing houses and an agent. But to be fair, here’s what I look for in a self-publish client: Good communication skills and time management, adhering to deadlines, signing a contract and their trust in my skills and interpretation to illustrate the story. In the past year, I’ve worked with two lovely authors that have decided to query their manuscripts traditionally first before self-publishing, so I’ve begun that process for them.

I know you will have many successes in your future, but what do you think is your biggest success so far?

That’s kind of you to say, Kathy. As far as careers go, I really believe hard work and perseverance is the likely path toward success but it’s not always a guarantee. And as they say, it’s best not to put all of your eggs in one basket. Despite that old saying, I have spent considerable time dedicating myself to learning about the art, writing and marketing of children’s books. I consider that a success
because it was during the time when I was working full time in my studio and raising my family. I think with a strong support system, including friends, mentors, and my amazing family, anything is possible.

What is your favorite medium to use?

• Digital painting. Transitioning from traditional supplies to an Apple Pencil, Procreate and Photoshop. I like the ease of making revisions, meeting rapid deadlines, transporting and painting anywhere and of course, the unlimited color palette.
• Sharpened HB pencils/erasers and Micron markers for my sketchbooks.
• Painting with oil paints. I’ve been an oil painter since art school days —mixing rich colors on a palette, textural brush strokes, and the smell of paint (not turpentine) is a meditative process. I can’t wait to use them again for gallery shows.

Has that changed over time?

I haven’t changed much insofar as digital devices and apps – they are updated periodically with new
features to explore. With oils, yes, I would like to paint traditionally for shows.

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

Sketchbooks, newsprint, vellum, pencils, pens, markers, paints, digital devices (12.9” iPad) and lots of books and online resources for reference.

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

Anywhere between 8-10+ hours a day for freelance work. Oddly enough, I really like deadlines for painting, researching and writing. During a typical month, though, I’ll do work on craft. Meaning that I loose myself in everything children’s book related. From reading industry magazines to various blogs (like yours) for new book releases, agent/editor wish lists and read lots of children’s books and reviews. I try to attend one webinar, workshop or conference to stay current and updated. I enjoy volunteering as an illustrator coordinator for my SCBWI regional chapter – it’s is a good way to stay involved, as well as, participating in my critique group and online groups. A limited amount of time is devoted to posting art on social media, which I’m not really a fan of.

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

I usually read through a brief or manuscript a few times while drawing thumbnail sketches. It’s good practice for me to envision the project in my mind before researching anything. On my third draft, before an art director or a self-pub author views it, I’ll use image references to be sure that parts of the drawing are accurate. If the subject matter is readily available to me locally, I’ll photograph it.

Do you think the Internet has opened doors for you?

The internet has its advantages and disadvantages. It’s beneficial to have an online presence through my website to get inqueries and commissions, access to unlimited resources, expandable search for photo reference, email queries directly to publishers and attend online meetings around the world. Aside from art purposes, it was vital for me and so many people in the US and globally to be able to connect with family and friends, especially during the pandemic. All of these points outweigh the disadvantages.

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

My bucket list has dozens of words left on it but at the top is what this interview is all about: Diving back into illustration. Like so many artists and writers who spend thousands of hours of writing, revising, drawing, redrawing and painting — that process gives me a better understanding of what it takes to be an author/illustrator. I’ll admit it’s intense to juggle art and writing but I’ve discovered it
involves lots of self-discipline and most of all, being proactive on a daily basis. I admire all of those published author/illustrators, authors and illustrators out there who make it look so easy.

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.
Not really, but I can recommend a couple of resources.
• If you’re interested in becoming children’s book illustrator, join SCBWI.
• For graphic designers, writers and illustrators, there are webinars, template contracts and general
information, join The Graphic Artist Guild (in US).

Any words of wisdom for new illustrators?
Art is subjective. Listen to your inner voice and interpret what you see and hear with a small sketch then move onto drawings. Try all sorts of art supplies and play with form, texture and light. Find the real artist within you.

Annie, thank you for taking the time to answer the interview questions and showing us your process. Please let me know about your future books and successes so I can share them with everyone. 

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


Talk tomorrow,




  1. How fun that searching the job boards gave Annie and her husband both money and experience. Thanks for another interesting post.


    • Thanks, Rosi! Ha, Not always profitable but odd jobs helped pay for school. Love your blog.
      – Annie


  2. wonderful interview and collection of artwork!


    • Thank you for your kind words and support, Sabine!


  3. That was a fun trip, reading this post and looking at the neat illustrations! Love the people and the hedgehog might be my favorite. Though there are others that are very interesting as well. Thanks for sharing!


    • THANK YOU for your lovely comments, Angie!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Annie’s illustrations are SO much fun! Thanks for sharing!


    • Hi Marcia,
      Thanks for your support!


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