Posted by: Kathy Temean | October 9, 2021

Illustrator Saturday – Taia Morley

TAIA MORLEY has worked on a variety of projects ranging from children’s books, branding art, product design, packaging art and design, animation, toy invention/development, and even a bookmobile. My client list includes the good people at Random House, Scholastic Books, Harper Collins, National Geographic, Highlights for Children, Mattel, Target, Fisher-Price, Hasbro, Merck, and the Mayo Clinic. Her illustrations have appeared in books and magazines. Her most recent books include Ho Ho Homework from Harper Collins and Wake Up, Color Pup from Random House. She lives in St. Paul, Minnesota. 

In 1986, after graduating from Cornell University with a degree in product design, Morley left her home state of New York to move to Minnesota for a toy design job at Tonka Toys. The Stillwater resident has worked on a variety of projects in product design, branding art, packaging and animation for such clients as Hasbro and Fisher-Price.

During the past few years, Morley’s favorite part of her career—children’s book illustrating—has taken off. “It’s a labor of love,” she says. In addition to book projects, she creates illustrations for children’s magazines such as Highlights Magazine. Her artistic style involves a mix of traditional and digital design work. She also draws illustrations by hand and then digitally manipulates them.

Morley enjoys her children’s book work the most because of the collaborative nature of working with art directors on a project, particularly at the start of the creative process, which she refers to as the “honeymoon period.”

Morley has worked on such books as Anna’s Table by Eve Bunting and Math Fables Too: Making Science Count by Greg Tang.

“You’re really determining the look of the book and what it’s going to feel like,” Morley says of illustrating books. “It’s fun because it’s wide open, and you can explore and sketch and try different things.”

She and her daughter, Emma, also sell cards and other items including jewelry and wood prints on Etsy under the shop name, EmmaAugusta.


My process always begins with rough sketches, I like to explore a few different compositions and it’s best to work through ideas quickly. I will usually work digitally for the rough sketch phase, but sometimes I’ll use pen and paper. Just depends on my mood.

A good art director will help me wrangle that rough sketch idea into a stronger concept. Once we agree on a direction, I move on to color exploration.

From there I like to paint some elements in watercolor. I will scan and composite my composition till it starts to work. You could consider it collaging.

Once everything is composed, I will fiddle around with adjusting color. This is the part where I often get mired down in small details. It’s good to take a break, give your eyes a rest.


How long have you been illustrating?

I have been at this since I was a kid. Drawing was a means for me to make a little sense of the world around me and the world inside my head. I’ve been illustrating for children’s book with serious intent for the last ten years. Before focusing on illustration, I worked as a toy and game designer.

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

Presentation boards for toy concepts and product development. Toy design was great training ground for illustration work. Clear communication and working fast were necessary when proposing toy ideas at company reviews. Some of the toy companies I’ve worked for include Hasbro, Fisher-Price, Mattel and Manhattan Toy.

Why did you choose to get a degree in product design from Cornell University?

I wanted a big university experience, and I felt product design was a broad enough course of study to find work after graduation. I spent my junior year at Pratt Institute which gave me a focused art school exposure and time with an exceptionally talented faculty and student body.

Did Cornell help you find the job with Hasbro?

This was my first toy job, before my Tonka years and where I was taught the business of toy & game design. Cornell and Pratt helped me build a design portfolio, but honestly I bounced around a bit before I ended up at Hasbro. Right out of school I worked on display windows for Macy’s Herald Square store in New York City. I got to work on the production of the iconic Macy’s Santaland on the eighth floor!  One thing leads to another, and a couple of years later I landed a design position at Hasbro.

Did Cornell offer any illustrating classes and did you take any?

My college studies were design oriented. My classes concentrated on  product rendering, presentation skills and model building. I’ve never had a formal illustration class but I loved figure drawing so I went to lots of live model sessions to keep my drawing skills sharp.

When did you decide you want to illustrate for children?

I always knew deep down that I was a better illustrator than designer! When I had children, all those visits to the public library children’s book section made me curious about illustrating for children.

Was Bustin’ Loose published in 1995, your first illustrated book?

I believe so, but there were lots of little illustration jobs in the juvenile market before I got my start in books.

How did you get that job?

I had been doing some spot illustrations for a local parenting magazine in Minneapolis/St. Paul. An art director for Augsburg Press saw some of those pieces and contacted me. Back then there were not the social media venues there are today, so art directors often looked for locally grown artists in local publications.

You illustrated Math Fables too with Scholastic. Was this your first book with a major publisher?

Yes. I was so excited (and nervous!) I suffered from imposter syndrome. At that stage in my career I was doing vector illustrations. It is interesting to see how styles evolve. I hardly ever work vector anymore.

How many Barbie books did you illustrate?

Talk about vector artwork! All that Barbie work had to be vector- Adobe Illustrator was my constant companion. I’ve worked on four Barbie books. Lots of detail in those books and tight deadlines. I learned a lot.

In 2015 you illustrated Hurricane Watch for HarperCollins. Did an agent secure you that contract?

No, I attended an SCBWI conference a year before and I was contacted by HarperCollins to do a test illustration for that book. It was a great opportunity, combining art and science. Even more of a coincidence since my parents live in a hurricane prone area.

Was that a two book deal, since you illustrated The Sun and The Moon the following year with HarperCollins?

No, because Hurricane Watch was such a positive experience for everyone involved I was offered The Sun and The Moon. Since then I’ve had the delight to do 2 more titles in the Let’s Read and Find Out science series.

In 2017 you illustrated My New Big–Kid Bed with Random House. How did they find your illustrations?

I was recommended by the wonderful Martha Rago. She had originally brought me in on the Hurricane Watch project. When Martha moved to Random House, she suggested my work for My New Big-Kid Bed.

In 2019, you illustrated another book Ho Ho Homework with Harper. Had you worked with the art director or editor from previous book with them?

Yes, I worked Tamar Mays (editor), and Erica DeChavez (art director), on the Let’s Read and Find Out books. The LRFO books can be challenging because the illustrations have to communicate science concepts in kid-friendly ways. When I would get stuck, Tamar and Erica would get me back on track. A good editor and a good art director makes a good illustrator!

You also illustrated Wake-up Pup with Random House in 2019. Were you working on other books during this time?

I was finishing up Wake-Up Pup and Ho Ho around the same time. As an illustrator, you are often juggling a couple of projects.

As Babies Dream just came out. Were you working on A Pandemic is World Wide (coming out in Feb. 2022 with HarperCollins), while illustrating As Babies Dream?

Yes, more juggling. As I was completing final art for  As Babies Dream I was working on sketches for the Pandemic book. It was helpful to bounce back and forth between final color work and rough sketches, I think it enabled me stay loose. I enjoy the sketch phase of book illustrating, messy and free, the ideas reveal themselves.

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

Nicole contacted me. We’ve only been working together a couple of years. She is my first children’s book agent. Prior to that I worked with Carrie Perlow of Das Grup for all of the toy product and packaging illustration I did. Both women have been great to work with.

What do you feel helped develop your style?

All those children’s books from library visits with the kids for all those years! There is some amazing talent out there and some artists inspire me to try different things. Melissa Sweet, Richard Jones, Kenard Pak, Lizbeth Zwerger, I could go on and on and on…

An illustration style is an ongoing evolution. I am illustrating differently than I was a few years ago.

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

Yes, there are a few in the drawer that are waiting for a home. It is a long labor of love to develop a story that works in 32 pages!

Have you ever tried to illustrate a wordless picture book?

Wake Up Color Pup was originally submitted as a wordless picture book, but it was decided that simple text would help the story. Hard to read a wordless picture book out loud at a story time.

Have you illustrated anything for children’s magazines or educational publishers?

Yes, those are the fun projects because you see the published piece within a few months of submission. I’ve had the great pleasure to do pieces for people at Highlights and Ladybug/Babybug and Cricket Magazines.

Do you have studio in your house?

Yes, I’ve got a set up at home in a basement office. When I’m working on the iPad I can move around.

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

Coincidentally, I’m working on one now. But I will only take on that type of work if a book designer is involved.

What do you think is your biggest success so far?

That I am still at it! This is a competitive industry with its own ups and downs and business cycles. I am grateful for all the projects that come my way and I have learned to not take rejection too personally. That has been the biggest challenge to overcome.

What is your favorite medium to use?

I still love to pull out the watercolors and gouache. The work ends up getting digitized and manipulated, but underneath it all there is a sound sketch and pigment on paper.

Has that changed over time?

When I was working in vector I rarely incorporated traditional techniques. When I concentrated on children’s illustration, I went back to working with paints, photoshop and Corel Painter.

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

If I am working with my full computer set up, I use a Wacom Cintiq. Smaller projects, I use an iPad.

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

I end up working at it almost every day. I keep a sketch book with me most places I go and record/sketch random thoughts. It’s helpful to refer to the sketchbooks if I’m in the doldrums and looking for inspiration.

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

I will often take pictures of images that have interesting colors and/or subjects. They often end up as reference. Image searches on the internet are crucial for me since I often need reference!

Do you think the Internet has opened doors for you?

I believe so, but I honestly don’t know! There are so many media platforms for exhibiting work these days. It’s boggling to know which platform reaches your desired audience. I try to keep my website current. T2 encourages their artists to participate in monthly art prompts which are sent out digitally to publishers. It is important is to maintain positive relationships with people you work with. Meet your deadlines and be flexible. A good impression can lead to more work opportunities.

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

I’d like to have the opportunity to write and illustrate another book or two. I’d also like to design costumes for the Masked Singer. Those costumes are campy, fun and goofy. There is a well known design aphorism “less is more”, but on that show MORE IS MORE!

What are you working on now?

I am in the sketch phase of an adorable book titled Mazel Beuno for Lerner Publishing. This is going to be a fun one.

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.

Cheap Joes art materials is my go to for paints and papers. Daniel Smith watercolors are solid, Windsor Newton and Arches cold press watercolor papers are my favorite. Don’t use brushes that are too small because when you do, you get hung up on detail too quickly.

Any words of wisdom for new illustrators?

Hang in there, try not to compare, be nice to yourself. We are our worst critics.

Taia, 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 Taia using the following links:


Talk tomorrow,



  1. What a feast for the eyes! Lovely art.


  2. These illustrations are stunning!


  3. Beautiful, colorful artwork Taia, thanks for sharing it with us, and thanks Kathy for the interview!


  4. This is gorgeous work. Thank you for your generosity in sharing it with us!


  5. Oh, my. These are all just beautiful. I love every one. Thanks for such a gorgeous post and interesting interview.


  6. LOVE your work! I especially love the colors and all of the animals. Such pleasing compositions! Thanks for sharing with us!


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