Posted by: Kathy Temean | September 11, 2021

Illustrator Saturday – Courtney Dawson

Courtney is a freelance illustrator with a great love for drawing, reading and most kinds of ice cream. She has a background in animation and a deep love for picture books.

Courtney works both digitally and traditionally, gouache being her favorite medium. She is inspired by the world around her and all of the good in it!  Courtney loves to work on projects that are empowering, inclusive and whimsical. And she loves rainy days and painting to Sam Cooke.

Recent clients include Harper Collins, Penguin Random House, Thomas Nelson, Sleeping Bear Press and Albert Whitman.

Courtney grew up in a sunny suburb of Southern California with a love for drawing, reading and most kinds of ice cream. She moved to San Francisco after high school, where as an undergraduate she majored in Women & Gender studies and discovered her passion for creating positive texts for children that are beautiful, inclusive and empowering. Courtney also received her She specializes in color styling, prop design and children’s book illustration. She loves rainy days and painting to Sam Cooke. Courtney currently lives in Ventura with her partner and wild toddler.


I started by getting very excited for autumn to be right around the corner. Then I sketched characters. I don’t usually use references for character design.


Then Look at inspirations for things that felt like fall to me. For painting I usually start by blocking in colors for background and characters so I can find a cohesive color pallet that I like.

I like to experiment with different texture brushes at this stage as well.

Then I begin to refine.

I add details at the very end.



How long have you been illustrating?

I have been drawing my whole life, but professionally about 4 years.


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

It was a piece I actually really like! It was an art test for a book I didn’t get. It ended up being one of my favorite portfolio pieces!

How did you decide to get your MFA from Academy of Art University in Visual Development after getting your BFA Women & Gender?

I have always wanted to be an artist. But at my core I am an activist. I always knew I wanted to make art that others could see themselves in. I wanted to create representation that I did not see myself in as a child. I learned about intersectionality and how it ties to race, class and gender in undergrad. I knew I wanted to make art that reflected that.

What did you do once you graduated from college?

I worked a retail job in San Francisco where I spent most of my time drawing comics behind the counter. I might have been fired from that said job…

Did you take any time off between your undergrad studies and getting your MFA?

I took a year off and applied to grad school.

Did AAUVD help you find work when you graduated?

The most helpful resource I found in art school was my teachers! Most art teachers are in your field and are so supportive and helpful to up and comers.

What type of work did you do before working as a freelance illustrator?

A month after graduating from the academy I became a first time mom!

You studied animation while getting your MFA from Academy of Art University in Visual Development. Did you do any animation work since you graduated?

I was considering taking an internship at an animation studio right before I was contacted by Nicole at Tugeau 2. I felt like a calling and I chose that route.

Was Help Wanted, Must Love Books by Janet Sumner Johnson the first book you illustrated?


How did that opportunity come your way?

Capstone had inquired my agent Nicole about me. I read the manuscript and thought the book was so adorable. I leaped at the opportunity!

Later in 2020 you illustrated A Vote Is a Powerful Thing by Catherine Stie and published by Albert Whitman. How did you get that job?

This was another query but from Albert Whitman, Nicole and I both thought the manuscript was great and I happily took the project on.

How did you connect the Nicole at Tugeau2 and how long have you been with her?

Nicole actually found me on Instagram! I had my eye in T2 as an agency I might like to query one day. by happenstance she reached out to me.

Was Nicole responsible for getting you the job to illustrate Tani’s New Home: A Refugee Finds Hope and Kindness in America by Tanitoluwa Adewumi, Published on November 24, 2020 with Thomas Nelson?


The Stars Beckoned: Edward White’s Amazing Walk in Space by Candy Wellins April 2021 Philomel. How long did it take you to illustrate this book?

I really took my time on that book. The stars beckoned has some of my favorite illustrations I’ve ever done in it. It took me about a year to do.

The McClure Twins: Make It Fashion by Ava McClure(Author), Alexis McClureHarperCollins June 29th 2021. How long did they give you to create the Illustrations?

This one was quick! I had about a month or two to finish all art.

How many picture books have you illustrate?


I just featured ISABEL AND HER COLORES GO TO SCHOOL on Writing and Illustrating, which you illustrated for Sleeping Bear Press and published on July 15th 2021. Where you still working on The McClure Twins while illustrating this one?

I had just submitted final art for the McClure book when I started this one. Luckily I haven’t had much overlap with projects.

What do you feel helped develop your style?

Drawing a lot! Also being really nerdy about art. I definitely have picked up techniques and quirks that I have loved from classic picture book artists. I’m always giving myself space to find my own sense of who I am and I try to let my style evolve naturally

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

Yes! I always have so many thoughts and ideas of stories I’d love to create. I just have to hone in my writing skills.

Have you ever tried to illustrate a wordless picture book?

Not yet, but it sounds appealing

Have you illustrated anything for children’s magazines? 

Yes! I’ve worked with cricket media and highlights

Do you have studio in your house? 

Yes! We just moved to Portland. I have my own little studio now.

Do you ever exhibit your artwork?

No, but I’d like to.

Have you written or illustrated for any children’s magazines?

Illustrated yes, written no.

How long have you been work full time as an illustrator?

For about 3 years now

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

Definitely especially if it’s a story that conveys meaning that I am passionate about

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

Getting the opportunity to illustrate a Little Golden Book was kind of a life long dream of mine. And it was about a city I truly love. That felt really special and felt like a huge success for me.

What is your favorite medium to use?

I love gauche! I never have time to paint these days, but I’m hoping to pick up again.

Has that changed over time?

Yes, especially since right now I’m almost exclusively working digitally

What type of Graphic Drawing Tablet do you use when illustrating?

I use an iPad most of the time

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

All day everyday. At least 4-5 hours everyday

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

Yes! I defiantly spend a lot of time mood boarding before I start to develop any kind of design.

Do you think the Internet has opened doors for you?


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

Yes! I’d love to write my own book one day. I’d really like to work with kids one day as well. I’d love the chance to mentor and help other young artist get into the field.

What are you working on now?

I’m working on a really exciting book for little brown about a Dragon

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.

Practice! And walking away when you feel stuck. Creativity is usually found for me on a long walk or brainstorming in the shower.

Any words of wisdom for new illustrators?

Keep going!

Courtney, 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.

You can visit Courtney using the following links:





Talk tomorrow,



  1. her characters are so charming and full of life !


  2. Beautiful work, Courtney!! Such talent.


  3. This is all so cute. I particularly like the little girl and giraffe picking apples, but it is all simply wonderful. Thanks for such a pretty post.


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