Posted by: Kathy Temean | February 5, 2022

Illustrator Saturday – Carrie O’Neill

Today I have Carrie O’Neill, who was featured on Illustrator Saturday in 2015. While visiting Sleeping Bear Press I noticed There Was A Hole a new book coming out that Carrie illustrated. I checked out her website and realized how much she had accomplished in last seven years. I thought everyone would be interested in seeing her new work and accomplishments.

Carrie O’Neill (she/her) writes and illustrates picture books in Olympia, Washington. Her illustrations have been recognized by Kirkus, The Society of Illustrators LA, and The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. Clients include Little Bigfoot, Sleeping Bear Press, and Ladybug Magazine. She works in both digital and traditional media, incorporating handmade textures in gouache and ink into her illustrations. She is currently working on a graphic memoir about growing up in the 1980’s, learning to navigate what it means to be a girl—and a woman—in the shadow of second wave feminism. Carrie prefers coffee to tea, cheering loudly for every runner at a cross-country meet, picking blueberries, and writing stories & drawing pictures for tender hearts.


Sleeping Bear Press hired me to illustrate There Was a Hole by Adam Lehrhaupt. I was intrigued by Adam’s story and the challenge of portraying the main character Lily’s grief and what she does to heal. Her loss manifests as a hole. This hole eats her joy, makes her angry, and–no matter what her dad does to try to help–it just keeps growing. An empathetic friend shows her how to patch the hole. I designed the patches to represent her healing—spending time on friends, family, the things you love, yourself, and kindness.

On this page, Lily’s friend Thomas shows her how he’s made patches to heal his own grief. In the illustration Lily’s hole has grown quite large, while Thomas’ patches has helped his hole shrink.

In addition to designing the main character, Lily, I needed to figure out what a “hole” caused by grief might look like. I played around with different hole shapes and transparencies. In the end, I made the “hole” with watercolor and paper. The color I chose reminded me of the grief I’ve experienced. Also, I was smitten with the name of the paint, “Moonglow” by Daniel Smith.

Once I figured out what Lily would look like, I began making thumbnail drawings on my iPad. I started with rough line drawings, built out the drawings with rough shapes, then refined the drawings to the point where my editor and art director at Sleeping Bear Press would have a clear idea of what I was trying to do in each spread.

After getting their feedback and approval to move forward, I scaled up and tightened the thumbnail drawings. At this point I was working with the art director to accommodate the text on each page. The text for this particular story plays a role in the visual narrative, so special consideration was given to placement.

While I mostly worked digitally, I also scanned in hand-painted and found textures to add depth to the illustrations.

I made the patches used in the story by hand. I embroidered several life-size patches on a t-shirt and scanned it at a high resolution to preserve the stitching and fabric details.

The final illustration incorporates fabric swatches and found textures. I like to think these found elements reflect the spirit of the story—in particular, how Lily learns to honor and heal her grief by creating patches from the world around her.


In our last interview you mentioned that you had taught art classes to children and adults through our city’s parks and recreation department and also had developed an art class for seniors with dementia and Alzheimer’s. Have you done any more things like this in the last seven years?

When my daughters were in elementary school, I volunteered in their classrooms to teach monthly art classes. Due to the pandemic, I haven’t taught private class for some time.

Have you seen your style change since your last Illustrator feature?

It’s hard for me to look at my own work and delineate a particular style. It’s clear that I’ve grown as an artist over the past seven years. Daily practice has made me more confident with my lines and composition. That said, I like to try new things and experiment. I love adding collage to my digital drawings, incorporating layers of texture, and play with new materials. I’m trying to include more of myself into my work—to work on projects that I’m passionate about and to make a conscious effort to translate that passion onto the page.

Are you still involved with the SCBWI?

I am a member and I try to attend at least one conference a year. Since I am now a PAL member, I’ve started presenting at regional events. I hope to do more of that in the future!

What happened with SWIM the book dummy you’d written and were working on in 2015?

SWIM is just one of nearly a dozen different stories and book dummies I’ve created since we last spoke.

While these stories have yet to be published, making them taught me so much about storytelling, illustration, and what I enjoy working on.

Seven years ago you had written another book titled, Good Turn for Tortoise, but only had a few illustrations. Did you finish the book dummy?

Good Turn for Tortoise is another one of those stories and book dummies I’ve created.

In my interview with you in 2015 you were just thinking of looking for an agent. I see you were successful in that endeavor and are now represented by Tugeau2. How did you connect with Nicole and how long have you been repped by her?

Nicole reached out to me after seeing my work on Instagram. Although I hadn’t queried Tugeau 2 yet, I admired so many of the illustrators that Nicole represented and knew we’d be a good fit. She’s been representing me since April 2018.

You told us about establishing studio spaces with five other women in an old historic building once the Olympia Knitting Mill. Do you still maintain that studio?

I moved out of the downtown studio and have a studio space at home. While I miss the comradery of working alongside other artists and having ample space to spread out, establishing a home studio has been a blessing. When the pandemic hit, my kids switched to distance learning for more than a year. Working from home has helped me maintain a regular work schedule through all the challenges of pandemic parenting.

Do you still work primarily work in watercolor, gouache, and ink?

I love working with traditional materials—watercolor, Acryla gouache, ink, colored pencils, collage, embroidery—but, have grown to enjoy working digitally as well.

Now that your youngest daughter is in school full time, has your illustrating schedule changed?

I’m feel fortunate to have big chunks of time to work in my studio when my kids are in school. With summer vacations and school breaks, I’ve learned to be flexible with my schedule, too. I’m pretty good about dipping in and out of work as time allows. I even bring my iPad in the car so I can work while my daughter’s at cross-country practice.

Do you still do commission artwork?

I’m not open to commission work.

In our last interview you said, “I use Photoshop to touch up my illustrations. I’m learning how to take elements that I create traditionally and digitally manipulate them. Although I’m excited about adding digital tools to my artist’s toolbox, I don’t think I could ever give up the experience of working with paint and paper.” Has your opinion changed in the last seven years?

My opinion has changed as the technology has changed! I bought an iPad Pro with the advance from my first book contract, and it’s been an invaluable tool. I used Procreate to sketch, edit, and add layers to my traditional artwork for my first book. With my second book I illustrated the whole book on my iPad. I did all the thumbnails, line art, composition, and editing with Procreate. I scanned handmade and found textures, which I then integrated into each spread. The different brushes and digital tools that are now available, add so much depth. It’s becoming difficult for me to see the difference between digital and traditional art—and working digitally has been a real time-saver.

One of the things you expressed an interest was adding pattern design and packaging to your writing and illustrating picture books.

I would love to create pattern design someday, but at this point I’m focusing my energy on writing and illustrating.

You were working on a wordless picture book. Did you ever finish that?

I did make a dummy for a wordless picture book. It is something I’d like to experiment with in the future.

Have you illustrated anything for a children’s magazine?

I have! I illustrated a two-page spread for Ladybug magazine in 2019.

I noticed an illustration of an infant nestled asleep amongst the plants that look like you did with cut paper. How long have been using that technique?

I’ve been making collages or incorporating collaged elements into my work for a few years now. I start by painting rice paper with gouache or ink, building layers of color and texture. I’d love to illustrate a whole picture book with this technique—I think the textured paper gives illustrations such depth.

Do you sell any of your work on the Internet?

I haven’t for some time, but I’d like to sell prints and original art online in the future.

Do you still work on your portfolio?

My goal is to create a new piece for my portfolio each month. My agency has a monthly prompt which is then used for a promotional mailing. I add new work to my personal website frequently, post process photos and sketches on Instagram, and refresh my artist page on the Tugeau 2 website a few times a year.

Have you exhibited your illustrations? If so, do you feel this helps get you new work?

I have shown my original work locally and in Seattle, although I haven’t exhibited anything since the start of the pandemic. I’m planning to have an art show and book launch at my local bookstore, Browsers Books, in April 2022. I’m crossing my fingers that things will be safe enough for an in-person signing/reading!

Was Our Shed: A Father-Daughter Building Story by Robert Broder, published in 2021 your first illustrated picture book?

Yes! Illustrating Our Shed was a dream come true! I loved Rob’s sweet story from the start, and enjoyed working with the editor and art director at Sasquatch/Little Bigfoot.

Is Nicole responsible for getting you that contract?

She did. Since it was my first contract, I really appreciated the care she took in explaining the process of working with a publisher and negotiating the contract.

How much time did you have to do the illustrations?

From sample illustration to final art took 9 months. Final edits and the cover illustration took a couple more months to complete.

I see you have a new picture book titled There Was A Hole by Adam Lehrhaupt with Sleeping Bear Press. How long did it take you to illustrate the book?

Nine months from start to finish. There Was a Hole (releasing April 15, 2022 and available for preorder now) is a lyrical story about learning to cope with grief and loss. The schedule gave me time to experiment with the visual concept of what a hole caused by loss could look like and how best to depict the healing patches.

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

I’d love to write and illustrate my own stories. I recently earned a certificate in writing from the University of Washington. I took a year-long memoir writing course and fell in love with the writing process.

What are you working on now?

I am working on a YA graphic memoir about girlhood in the 1980s and how the language of body autonomy and consent has changed since then. In it I examine the lessons I learned about what it meant to be a girl—and a woman—on the playground, in mainstream media, and at home—and how third-wave feminism and the Riot Grrrl movement changed my life.

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.

To make interesting textures and collage materials, I recommend using rice paper, Acryla gouache paint, and cheap paintbrushes. I love the rough texture made by a crummy brush.

Any words of wisdom for new illustrators?

I think the advice I gave in my 2015 interview still holds true: Work on your craft every day. A sentence, a doodle, a photo–no matter how small, it all adds up.

Carrie, 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 Carrie using the following links:






Talk tomorrow,



  1. Thank you for featuring me on the site again, Kathy! It’s such a pleasure!


  2. What a nice interview! Such a big fan of Carrie’s work! Nice to see her featured again. 🙂


  3. Like

  4. Beautiful! Thanks for sharing, Carrie!


  5. Wonderful interview and lovely illustrations. Thanks for the post.


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