Posted by: Kathy Temean | August 14, 2021

Illustrator Saturday – Ken Daley

From as far back as he can remember, Ken Daley was certain of one thing: he would live his life as an artist. As Ken explains, “Art is what I am.”

Ken draws inspiration for his work from his African-Caribbean roots, his life experiences and the people and cultures he encounters along the way. He explores art through different styles and materials – oil, acrylic, ceramic tiles, wood, nails and found materials – each spilling onto and infusing the other. His work is an explosion of colour and emotion, indelibly marking forever impressions onto the mind of the viewer.

Ken Daley was born in Cambridge, Ontario to parents who emigrated from Dominica, West Indies. Ken is an honorary graduate from the Art Centre of Central Technical School as well as an architectural technology graduate from Humber College in Toronto. He has exhibited his artwork within Canada, the United States and the Caribbean, and his work can be found in numerous private collections. His work has been featured in children’s books, print publications as well as on television.


Here’s a rough sketch for a cover of ‘Jayden’s Impossible Garden’ using the brief that was given to me by the art director. I’ve inserted the title into the sketch to make sure that I leave enough room for the text. From there, I like to gather photos to use as inspiration for the character, and other details and begin sketching. I normally do about 2-3 sketches for the art director and the team to choose from and give feedback.

Once they decide on the cover they like, I continue onto the final art. At this point, I decide on the colour palette, and begin to block out and outline the shapes, starting with the background, foreground and figure. Then, I start to outline the figure and add highlights.

I continue to define the illustration by adding more details such as the vine, flowers, wooden crate, bricks, pots, etc.

Here’s the final cover!

Interview with Ken Daley:

How long have you been illustrating?

I’ve been illustrating children books for 6 years, and been painting for 23 years. My first picture book came out in 2016.

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

My first piece of art I created for money was a watercolour piece called ‘Appearing’.  There was a call for submission for an art contest at the college I was studying at, so I decided to submit my piece. I won 3rd place and that cemented the idea to pursue my art after finishing my Architectural Technology degree. I eventually sold the piece and made prints.

You mention your African-Caribbean roots in your bio and I certainly can see that in your art, but how did you soak in those influences growing up and living in Ontario? Did you visit the West Indies?

I was born and raised in a predominately white town in Ontario with a small Caribbean community where almost everyone knew each other. I learned about my roots mostly from my parents and extended family that emigrated from Dominica and other islands. It was really tough growing up as a little Black boy in a small town where facing racism was a daily occurrence, so having the opportunity to meet up with extended family at home parties and playing Calypso and reggae music, learning the traditional dances and language, food, and sharing stories from ‘back home’ instilled in me a sense of pride and insight into my cultural heritage. Having that childhood experience influenced me later on when I started to paint from photographs that my dad would take when we would visit our family in the Caribbean. I have family all across the Caribbean so we would travel to Dominica, Antigua and St. Croix. Eventually when I got older I would take trips myself and visit and get inspired by the landscape and culture. I still travel to the Caribbean when the opportunity arises.

Is the Art Centre of Central Technical School a private high school in Ontario?

No it’s a public high school with a specialized Art program that is funded by the government. It was a great program with accomplished artists and instructors. I learned a lot from being in there Unfortunately budget cuts are threatening to dissolve the program.

What were your favorite classes while going there?

Sculpture, painting and life drawing

Why did you go to Humber College in Toronto to study architecture?

Initially, I applied to an art school called Ontario College of Art and Design (OCAD) and wasn’t accepted so I fell back on my second career choice and that is architecture.

I love architecture and thought I would study Architectural Technology to understand the technical side of building. When I got there, I realized it wasn’t for me but I decided to follow through and finish the program.

After graduating, did you do anything using your architectural degree?

I would as a building inspector for a bit and then worked as a AutoCAD operator, inputting interior and exterior plans into AutoCAD for interior and retail design firms for numerous years. After that I decide to pivot back to my first love which is drawing and painting.

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

I first started with painting from old pictures that my dad took from our vacations to the Caribbean. That was the beginning of my art career. I would paint portraits, and tropical landscapes all from photographs and travel magazine clippings.

How did you start exhibiting in art galleries?

I became a member of an artist co-op in Toronto we’re I was able to exhibit my work there. I was connected to a community of African-Canadian artists where we would organize our own art shows since we weren’t recognized by mainstream galleries. I researched galleries and coffee shops who were looking for artists to exhibit so I would reach out to them as well. Eventually I transitioned to doing music and art festivals instead of hanging my work in a gallery. I felt like I wasn’t getting the exposure I wanted, and I needed to sell my artwork.

Do you think doing art exhibits helped to promote your work?

Yes, especially art and music festivals. I did so many festivals that I’ve lost count! It’s a great place to promote and expose your work to a wider audience who necessarily wouldn’t go to art galleries. I’ve made lots of contacts from doing festivals.

How did you end up moving to Rhode Island in the USA?

My wife was a professor of Costume Design at Emerson College in Boston. Since we couldn’t afford to live in Boston, and Rhode Island is more affordable we bought a house in Cranston, and lived there for 4 years until we decided to move back to Ontario, Canada last year.

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

I was contacted by a publishing company called Annick Press to do illustrations for ‘Joseph’s Big Ride’ At first, I was hesitant to do the project as I’ve never illustrated a book before. But when I expressed my concerns with the art director, they told me they really want to work with me and they’ll guide me thru the whole process from beginning to end. It was an amazing experience and I’ve learned so much from doing the book. I think that’s when I decided to pursue a career in children’s book illustration.

Have you taken any children’s illustrating courses?

I have. I took some courses and I continue to take them as there’s so much to learn in the picture book world.

What do you feel helped you develop your style?

Attending art school was a major breakthrough in learning technique and developing my visual language. Looking at artists and illustrators work that I admire has also influenced my style.

Was Joseph’s Big Ride your first published picture book?


How did you get that contract with Annick Press?

Annick Press contacted me out of the blue as they saw my website and really liked my paintings of the Caribbean. They thought my work and style would suit the ‘Joseph’s Big Ride’ story.

Two years later you illustrated Auntie Luce’s Talking Paintings with another Canadian publisher. Did they see your previous book and contact you?


How did you get the contract with Free Spirit Publishing to illustrate Jayden’s Impossible Garden that came out this year in March?

I got the contract through my agent Christy Tugeau-Ewers

Next month the picture you illustrated titled A Feast for Joseph is coming out, published by the Groundwood Books and written by Terry Farish. This is the same author and the same publisher as your first book Joseph’s Big Ride. How did this come happen. Were they looking for the right book for you these last four years?

Annick Press published ‘Joseph’s Big Ride’ and was working on the manuscript with Terry to release a sequel to it, but decided not to publish it. So I just finished working on ‘Auntie Luce’s Talking Paintings’ for Groundwood Books when Terry contacted me about the possibility of passing along the manuscript to the editor at Groundwood her manuscript to garner any interest. I said ‘yes’, and introduced the story to the editor. She loved it and decided to go ahead with the book and that’s how ‘A Feast for Joseph’ was born!

Have you illustrated other books? If so how many have you done?

Yes I’ve illustrated 5 books. One of the book features one illustration called ‘In The Spirit of A Dream’, published by Scholastic Books.

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

I attended the 2019 SCBWI Annual Conference in Springfield, MA since I was going to be presented with the Diversity Award for my work. I decided to sign up for a portfolio showcase where I could display my work along with other illustrators. Christy saw my work at the showcase and contacted me after the conference to say she loved my work, and was very interested in representing me. At the time I was with another agent. About six months later, I decided to part ways with my former agent and decided to go with Christy. Christy is really amazing and it’s been really an honor to have her as an agent and a friend.

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

No I haven’t, but I would love the opportunity to do so!

Do you work full time as an illustrator?

Yes for about 5 years.

Do you try to devote a certain amount of time everyday to working on your art?


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

Yes I’ll be working with a self-published author on her book in the coming year.

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

Being able to share my work through book form and the positive impact it has on Black kids and kids of colour has been really amazing.

What is your favorite medium to use?

My favorite medium is acrylics and oils

Has that changed over time?

Yes it has, as now I’ve transitioned into working digitally because I don’t have a studio setup since we’ve moved to a small apartment. I like the ease of making changes on an illustration with the use of a Wacom pen, than having to wait for the paint to dry.

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

Yes I own a Wacom Cintiq and use it exclusively for illustration work.

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

I used to work with acrylics on illustration board for my first two books: ‘Joseph’s Big Ride’, and ‘Auntie Luce’s Talking Paintings’. After the second book, I decided to make the transition to digital.

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

Yes. I’m a workaholic, so it’s hard for me follow set working times. I can easily put in 8-10 hours a day.

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

Yes I do research on a project and collect a lot of photos to work from. Pinterest is my friend!

Do you think the Internet has opened doors for you?

Yes it has since everyone is online, and the pandemic has forced us to shop and view everything online. It has opened doors for me and other artists to exhibit, promote, and sell our work, without having to go through the traditional channels of galleries and festivals. Having a website, engaging on social platforms such as Instagram and Facebook have been great tools for self-promotion.

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

My wife and I would like to write and illustrate our own children books in the future based on the stories we’ve heard from our parents growing up in the Caribbean.

What are you working on now?

I’m working on three books at the moment, and gearing up to do two more in the fall, so it’s been a very busy year!

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.

If you’re new to working digitally on a tablet, try to find Photoshop brushes that match you style and brushwork. There are literally hundreds of brushes out there that can replicate the feeling of painting brushstrokes in any medium. I started digital painting in 2019, so I’m really new to it, but at the beginning, I tried using some Photoshop dry brushes available from Spoon Graphics. I really liked them, and they helped me keep the freshness and vitality in my artwork and prevented it from looking like clipart.

Any words of wisdom for new illustrators?

Keep working, creating and honing your craft. There’s always something new to learn and that you can add to your toolbox to help develop your style. Also, figure out your worth and always ask to be paid for your work. Doesn’t matter how small the project is, or how small their budget maybe, asked to be paid for it, even if it’s $20. That’s something I’m still learning because some people believe there’s no value in what you do. So you have to show them that your art/craft has value and it’s a valid profession.

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


Talk tomorrow,



  1. Way to go Ken – love your ‘dancing’ art style!

    Kathy- do change the agency website to the correct one – The really doesn’t exist any longer. !! Thanks for all you do!!!


    • Chris,

      Can you help me find the mistake? The link is working and I wrote The Cat Agency in the Q & A, but I tripped and fell on my face, broke my nose, fractured the bone between my eyes, and had to go to the hospital twice for excessive bleeding. I only had a few minutes to add the links before it posted at midnight, so I could have made a mistake. I can’t wear my glasses and my eyes are almost swollen shut, so that definitely could be the reason I’m not seeing it. Just let me know where it is and I will fix it. Thanks!


  2. Oh my, Kathy, I’m so sorry you had such a bad fall! That was a memorable Friday, the 13th for you! Wishing you a speedy recovery!

    Ken’s art is absolutely stunning! I love his use of color, shape and perspective!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Love the movement and vibrancy of these illustrations! Really gorgeous work!


  4. Oh, Kathy! Such a bad fall! I hope you heal quickly. Take care.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Kathy, I’m so sorry about your fall and am sending healing thoughts to you!

    Ken, your art is stunning. As I scrolled down, I kept thinking “This is my favorite” and then I’d come upon another favorite, and another. Thank you for sharing your work and journey here. So vibrant and beautiful.


  6. Yikes! What a terrible fall, Kathy. I am sending healing thoughts and wish you a speedy recovery.

    I love the amazing use of rich colors in Ken’s work. It is stunning.


  7. Ken – thank you for sharing so much of your process, life story, and art work. Your illustrations are so bold, colorful, and joyful! Best wishes for continued success on your creative journey.
    Kathy – thank you for proviiding this wonderful venue for authors and illustrators to share their work. Heal quickly!!


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