Posted by: Kathy Temean | May 1, 2021

Illustrator Saturday – John Herzog

John Herzog is an award-winning illustrator and educator. His clients include Hasbro, DreamWorks TV, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Scholastic, and Highlights for Children. He also teaches illustration at Ringling College of Art and Design.

John is a member of the National Cartoonists Society and the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, where he received the 2018 SCBWI Magazine Merit Award for his Highlights High Five cover illustration. He lives in Florida with his wife, two kids, a pair of geckos, a bearded dragon, and a tarantula.

HERE IS A VIDEO JOHN PUT TOGETHER TO DISCUSS HIS CHARACTER PROCESS (picture book writers don’t miss watching this):

Interview with John Herzog:

How long have you been illustrating?

Professionally, I’ve been an illustrator for about six  years now. However, I’ve been drawing cartoons for most of my life.

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

I made a logo for my uncle’s pool plastering company back in 1996 or 1997. I believe he paid me about $150 for it, which I considered a small fortune back then.

What inspired you to attend Brigham Young University to get your BFA?

I saw the 2009 Pixar film Up and decided that I wanted to work in the animation industry. I’d attended BYU before but didn’t finish, and in the time that I was gone their animation program had gained some impressive industry clout. And so, with significant other and newborn in tow, I decided to return.

The school was also very affordable.

What did you study at BYU?


Did you take any children’s illustrating courses?

I didn’t, unfortunately. Some great illustration teachers there at BYU.

Do you feel school helped you develop your style?

Not overly, no.

Did the school help you find work when you graduated?

No. I don’t have very many positive things to say about my time at BYU Animation, so I’m just going to leave it at that.

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

Mainly children’s editorial. Patrick Greenish over at Highlights for Children took a chance on me early on, for which I will be forever grateful.

Do you participate in art exhibits to help promote yourself?

Not really, no. I’m terrible when it comes to promoting myself.

When did you start drawing cartoons?

When I was six or seven years old – possibly earlier. I’ve always loved it.

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

Growing up, I always loved Bill Peet’s picture books. His work heavily inspired me as a kid, and still inspires me today. Illustrating picture books has always been one of the things on my radar, but it wasn’t until I’d graduated from BYU that I decided to pursue it more seriously. I focused mainly on camera and staging while I was in school, and there’s very little drawing that goes into that. When I was done, I found that I’d really missed drawing. So, every day after I was done working my 9 to 5 job, I would come home, spend some time with my family, and draw well into the night.

What type of illustration classes do you teach at Ringling College of Art and Design?

2D design, visual development, digital illustration, character design, and general illustration classes.

How did you get that job?

Largely through the kindness of others. I started as an adjunct instructor teaching digital illustration. Then I became a visiting full-time professor, before finally being promoted to full-time.

I see that you are represented by Shannon Associates. Who is your agent there? How did you connect with them?

I’m actually no longer represented by Shannon Associates, but my primary contact there was Justin Rucker. I connected with him through a mutual friend back in 2014.

Did they get you the job to do the cover and interior art for Scaredy Cat?

They did indeed.

How many illustrations did you do for that book?

Including the cover, I did 37 individual illustrations for Scaredy Cat. It’s the biggest project I’ve worked on to date.

I just featured Clarinet and Trumpet on Writing and Illustrating. How and when did you sign that contract?

The contract for Clarinet and Trumpet was signed digitally in July 2018.

In 2018 you won the SCBWI Magazine Merit Award for your Highlights High Five cover illustration. Were you excited when you won the award? Can you show us the cover?

I was really excited for that, yeah. It was one of those things that I sent in and just forgot about, so winning was a very pleasant surprise. Here’s the cover:

Do you have a studio in your house?

It’s not really a studio, per se. It’s more of an office. But that’s all I need, really. Since I work digitally, the amount of space that I need is somewhat small.

Have you ever tried illustrating a wordless picture book?

Not yet, although I’m actually working on a wordless (well… nearly wordless) picture book that deals with the death of an elderly loved one through the eyes of a golden retriever. I’m hoping to have the dummy for that done within the next year or so.

Do you have any desire to write and illustrate your own book?

That’s the goal, yes.

Do you work full time as an illustrator?

No, but I’m fine with that because I love teaching at Ringling. The students, staff, and other faculty there are amazing.

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

Yes, I would absolutely consider illustrating a self-published book. The issue that often arises with doing that, however, is money. If you’re planning to pay for a professional illustrator yourself and your book is the standard 32 to 40 pages, be prepared to pay anywhere between $10k to $15k.

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

I get to be creative for a living. That’s the real success for me. There’s this quote from Thoreau that’s in my head constantly: “Most men lead lives of quiet desperation.” I’m incredibly fortunate that I get to do what I love for work and for fun.

What is your favorite medium to use?

My preference is to work digitally.

Has that changed over time?

For sure. I used to work primarily with paper and pencil. Digital really opened things up and helped me feel like I could experiment and play.

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

Yes, I have. All of the work I’ve created since 2015 has been done on the 12.9” iPad Pro.

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

In addition to the iPad Pro, I use the Apple Pencil and Procreate. I also use Photoshop to make color edits and touch things up as needed.

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

I try, but often fail. Generally, I don’t just sit down and start drawing. I have to take time to really think the idea through and draw it out in my head. If I can’t see it in the abstract, I typically can’t draw it in reality.

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

Absolutely. For example, with Clarinet and Trumpet, I had the opportunity to go to a local high school orchestra room and see how it was laid out. I was able to observe little details – like how the music stands all had rounded corners, and where the fabric-wrapped panels were placed on the wall. All of those little details made their way into the book.

I tell this to my students all the time: No artist is above research and reference.

Do you think the Internet has opened doors for you?

Reluctantly, I must admit that I think it has – specifically social media. Patrick Greenish first saw my work on Twitter. The good folks at DreamWorks TV saw my stuff on Instagram. And while I’m not currently on either of those platforms, I would be lying if I said that the internet/social media hasn’t opened doors for me.

That being said, I despise social media.

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

I would love to illustrate a cover for The New Yorker.

Honestly, though, my dream is to continue being a teacher and a working illustrator. I couldn’t ask for more than that.

What are you working on now?

Right now, I’m working on getting a new agent. I’m also working on several picture book and graphic novel ideas. I’m also trying to get back into the swing of things when it comes to writing. In a previous life, I used to write screenplays and short films but that was many, many years ago. Gotta work on oiling those joints a bit more.

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.

Something that I love to do is apply a slight film grain layer to my illustrations. It’s just something that breaks up large blocks of color and really breathes life into the work.

Here’s how to do it:

Create a new layer on top of all the other layers and fill it with white. Then, depending on the app you’re using, add the grain using the appropriate filter. In Photoshop, there’s a filter called Film Grain that you can use. In Procreate, the filter is called Noise. Be sure to adjust your settings as you see fit, and make sure your grain is desaturated to the point of being grayscale.

Next, play with your blend mode for the layer. Multiply often applies the grain evenly and looks weird because it applies the grain into the highlights, and typically grain disappears in the highlights. I’ve found that the best blend mode to use for this is Color Burn. Adjust your opacity to taste (I usually keep this layer between 50% and 75% opacity), play around with angle and size of the grain layer, and voilà!

Much like Jeff Lebowski’s rug, it really helps tie everything together.

Any words of wisdom for new illustrators?

There will come a time when illustrating becomes a job, when the fun is completely sucked out and you’re no longer passionate about what it is that you’re doing. It may happen early on, it may happen later… The point is it will happen. In those incredibly difficult and vulnerable moments, the important thing to do is to stay the course. Of course, you should do what you need to do to get through – whether it’s playing a video game, spending time with loved ones, or screaming into a pillow. But be sure to come back to the work, get it done on time, and know that this too shall pass.

Also, please don’t work for exposure. Know your worth as an artist and know that you deserve to be paid for your time and talent. If you’re looking for a good starting point when it comes to pricing, check out this video I put together:

John, 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 John’s work, you can visit him at:



Talk tomorrow,



  1. Thank you for sharing such valuable information and wishing you continued success -love your books!


  2. John, your work is fabulous and I enjoyed every bit of this interview! Your tip about the film grain layer is SO helpful–thanks. I also appreciate your philosophy about illustrating.


  3. Another wonderful interview. I love Clarinet and Trumpet. Thanks for the post.


  4. Great interview! Thanks for sharing!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.


%d bloggers like this: