Posted by: Kathy Temean | June 25, 2022

Illustrator Saturday – Devon Holzwarth

Devon Holzwarth is a picture book illustrator, author, and painter. Born in Washington D.C., Devon grew up in Panama surrounded by nature and her dad’s art supplies, and has lived in many other places over the years. She currently lives in Germany with her family including her husband, two kids, a galgo dog from Spain and a little dachshund from Romania.

Devon earned her BFA in 2000 from the Rhode Island School of Design focusing on screen printing and painting. She has written & illustrated two picture books: FOUND YOU and SOPHIE’S STORIES, with Alison Green Books/Scholastic UK. She has a number of picture books publishing in 2022, including “Tia Fortuna’s New Home” (Knopf Books, English & Spanish language versions), “Listen” (Dial Books and Penguin UK), and “Everywhere With You” (Walker Books US and Walker Books UK).


My first rough sketch done on the ipad (actually there was one before this but it was just a scribble)…this is the sketch that got approved to go to final art.

I  always do color mockups now before starting. Even if I change my mind about color later, at least I’ll have a guide to start with.

I print my sketches in very light color on the final art paper, then paint directly on them.

First washes with a mix of watercolor and gouache (and salt).

Adding in  some darker colors.

More color washes are going in. I used to do washes to start for skin tones like this example, but now I go straight to gouache.

More color, more detail.

Color pencil is added and other bits of paint where needed. At this point, I scanned the art and moved to Procreate on the ipad. Lately, I try to get much more accomplished on paper before scanning.

The final version after playing around with it in Procreate and tweaking levels in Photoshop. This is what you’ll find in the book (“Everywhere with You” – Walker Books 2022)


Was it your father who encouraged you to paint?

Growing up, my dad’s drafting table was always set up somewhere with a project on it, along with messy bits of things throughout the house and outside. Not everything was necessarily arty, much of it practical like a piece of wood my dad would be turning to replace a broken cabinet leg. I don’t remember my dad encouraging me to make art (though my mom did), but I had a natural interest and the materials and books were always at my fingertips. My uncle was very well known in Panama for his painting and did so full time, while my dad just had time on the weekends. I realized later on how many artists are in our family, and in my teens I met my Austrian cousins who are jewelry designers!

You were born in Washington, DC. What made your parents move to Panama?

I was born in D.C. and lived there for about a year before my parents moved back to Panama. They had grown up in Panama as part of the Canal Zone – an American community of three or so generations who had originally moved there to work for the Panama Canal. My NYC grandparents arrived in the 30’s, and around the same time my California grandfather and Costa Rican grandmother met there when he had to suddenly get off a ship and find work. My parents then actually grew up knowing each other, and still today there is a Canal Zone reunion held in Florida every year. It was a beautiful place to grow up and still inspires me.

How did you end up choosing to leave Panama to attend Rhode Island School of Design?

I never considered staying in Panama for college as there was only a 2 year program with American accreditation, so I applied to all kinds of colleges in the US. I wasn’t completely sure what I wanted to do and was considering creative writing. My art teacher was not encouraging, but I was used to tuning him out and didn’t trust his advice. I had sent applications to UNC Chapel Hill and to Rhode Island School of Design and when I got rejected from UNC it sort of pushed me the way of art school. I was just really excited to be accepted. My parents were totally supportive about me going into art/design.

Did you do any freelance artwork while at RISD?

While at RISD they kept our schedules so full, and I had small jobs on campus as well which kept me busy. I had majored in textile design and adored making large scale paintings, learning about color theory and various screen printing techniques. I didn’t love weaving as much then (required classes in that department!) and I knew I didn’t want to work at a mill or a design studio. My favorite teacher at RISD encouraged me to go into film but I couldn’t see that connection then. There were so many possibilities!

Right now, you are living in Germany. What was your journey to get from USA to Germany?

We live in the medieval city of Aachen, Germany, right next to the Netherlands and Belgium. We’ve been here for 10 years actually. My husband was offered a position with a company here in 2012 and we spontaneously said yes. We were living in CA and had two little kids, one a newborn, and I was often frustrated not having time to make art (I had had a mural/fine art business for the years up to my daughter being born). I figured it would make life more interesting, and it was only a 2 or 3 year commitment. Obviously we liked it so much we’ve stayed much longer!

What was the first book you illustrated.

My first book was FOUND YOU – written and illustrated by me, and published with Alison Green Books/Scholastic UK in 2020. I get so confused with the dates because the journey of that book was winding, and then Covid arrived right before we published. It actually started back in 2018 when I made a dummy for a totally different story and gave it to an art director at the Bologna Book Fair (we had met through a class and she is amazing). She thought it had promise and asked me to write two more stories and then she would submit them to an editor she knew (Alison!). I got an offer for the story that turned into FOUND YOU late 2018, and I wrapped up the art mid-2019. It published in August 2020 in the UK and ended up on Waterstone’s best children’s book prize short list! It so far has not been published in the US, but it would be nice (there is a Turkish edition, but I don’t yet have a copy).

In 2021 ALISON GREEN BOOKS/SCHOLASTIC UK published another one of the books you wrote and illustrated SOPHIE’S STORIES.  It looks like they have printed the book in other languages. How many other languages have been printed?

My second book with Alison Green – SOPHIE’S STORIES (2021) – has co-editions in France and Canada which is really lovely and it’s exciting to see your book in different languages. The art for SOPHIE’S STORIES won a gold medal this year at the Society of Illustrators. I wish I had been able to attend the opening!

Have you used any of the screen printing you learn at RISD in the picture books you have illustrated?

I haven’t! Maybe someday…though I’d prefer a less complicated process instead like maybe gelli printing or a mix of print making and painting.

When did you decide you wanted to make a career how of illustrating and writing children’s books?

In 2016 I started to take some online illustration classes. At that point my younger child was at the kindergarten for more than a couple hours a day and I was ready to jump back into…something. I was doing the Lilla Roger’s MATS classes, going through them but not really seeing a path for myself. Then I took their new children’s book course and had a moment of visualizing myself in the future, working on stories and painting again. It was a little spark. So I took the course again twice to get myself prepared, then planned a trip to the Bologna Children’s Book Fair (a small jump from here) and from there made steps for myself to see if I could turn that spark into something real. I definitely felt overwhelmed and intimidated after the fair, but I was motivated to keep going. I wrote a couple of stories, and turned one into a book dummy about a boy and a bee and brought it to the next fair.

When and how did you connect with Nicole at Tugeau2?

After the fair, and getting some interest in my work and the dummy book, I decided to try and find an agent. I knew about T2 from friends of friends and so I sent an email to Nicole. We had a great chat and I just really liked her as a person (still do), and happily, she welcomed me into the agency. I should mention that I didn’t hear back from two agencies I was also interested in, and got a very nice no from another. I was prepared for that though, and didn’t let it get me down.

PAPA, DADDY & RILEY by Seamus Kirst and published by Magination Press May 2020. This was at the height of the Pandemic. Did Covid-19 have any effect on the book? Did Magination consider delaying the pub. date?

It’s amazing that every book I’ve worked on thus far has been during Covid one way or another! I worked on Papa, Daddy, & Riley in the fall of 2019 and there wasn’t discussion about pushing back the pub date as far as I know. This was the first project I worked on for a US publisher (and had gotten through my agency) and I’m so proud of our book.

You started out 2022 with KNOPF BOOKS, TÍA FORTUNA’S NEW HOME by Ruth Behar how long did it take from signing the contract to being published?

It was at the beginning of 2020 that I got the first emails for Tia Fortuna’s New Home. I was thrilled to work with such a poetic author like Ruth, and loved the story. I’m not sure when I actually started work on the art but I’m pretty sure it was all wrapped up early-mid 2021, and then our pub date was January 2022.

In April I featured Dial Books LISTEN written by Shannon Stocker on Writing and Illustrating. I haven’t seen many picture books also available in audio. Was this always part the publishing plan?

Thanks for the feature! 🙂 Yes, I think Dial/Penguin had this idea in the works from early on as it lends itself so well to the book. I haven’t yet heard the audio version but I’m sure it’s wonderful.

Your latest book EVERYWHERE WITH YOU by Carlie Sorosiak just came out at the end May with WALKER BOOKS. Were you illustrating other books while working on this?

Yes, I ended up in a difficult situation in Fall 2020 where I had art for three picture books due around the same time. I had planned to have more time but with Covid, everything got compressed and I felt like the time evaporated. Both my kids were home and one of them needed a lot of help with school. I really had to focus super hard and streamline my process to make it through those months! It was around then that I got an A3 scanner to cut down the amount of time I was spending scanning each piece of art 5 times! I was looking for everything that would help me to meet deadlines, but was also able to get a little more time from the publishers when necessary (an extra two weeks I think). Also, it was such a needed escape from the pandemic drudgery to be able to work on those projects.

All That Is You written by Alyssa Satin Capucilli and published by Henry Holt & Co. is hitting book shelves in Aug 2022. How long did your publisher give you to illustrated this book?

I’m not sure of the exact timeline but I know I signed on to All That is You in March of 2020, but the final art wasn’t due till the following year based on the schedule I had already set up with Tia Fortuna, Listen, and Everywhere with You. It was definitely tight finishing up final art for Tia Fortuna then jumping straight into rough sketches for ATIY!

Have you finished illustrating ALL THAT IS YOU?

Yes, I wrapped up the art in March or April of 2021.

Do you have any books that have not been published in English?

The co-editions of my author/illustrator books are in French and Turkish, and I’m crossing my fingers for others (I would love to see a book of mine in German). Tia Fortuna’s New Home has a lovely Spanish translated version that published simultaneously with the English language version.

How hard was it to illustrate 7 books (2 that you wrote and illustrated) in two years? Did you manage to have any free time?

It was more like 3+ years, but it does feel like it’s been a lot. Maybe if Covid hadn’t come into play it would have been a little easier. But I had always planned to work really hard at this so I could reach a place where things felt more manageable.

What book do you think was your biggest success?  

This is a difficult question actually! I love everything I’ve worked on for different reasons and it’s too hard to choose (and maybe too early to know) which book has been the most successful. I will say that I love how FOUND YOU has touched so many kids (especially those shy ones like me).

Do you take research pictures before you start a project? 

Before starting a project, I typically make a pinterest board for inspiration with everything from vintage to contemporary illustrations, patterns, color inspirations, and often poses/angles that I’m interested in portraying. I also have a huge collection of new and old children’s books which help me decide on the vibe I want to go for. I’ll often spend a lot of time gathering inspiration, but then forget all about it later…I think this is actually a good thing (and not a waste of time). It’s a process at least for me to understand how I want the book to feel and look and once I have that in mind, I can just go from there. There’s definitely times I’ll also just ask my kids to do a certain pose so I can figure it out.

Do you use Photoshop with any of your work?

Photoshop comes into play for me when I’m scanning my painted work and making sure color is balanced. I also use it at the end of my process to make sure everything is good and ready to go. But I hardly do any actual drawing in Photoshop especially since I started using an ipad.

Do you have and use a graphic tablet?

I used to have a Cintiq but really disliked the pen and feel of the system. I was so happy to discover Procreate app and use my ipad pro for any digital work.

Would you be willing to work with a self-publisher picture book writer on a project?

Yes possibly, if the project was especially meaningful to me, or depending on other factors.

Has any of your work appeared in magazines?

I did illustrations for a feature in Highlight’s magazine a couple years ago.

Do you have a studio in your house?

My studio is at home, in a really lovely attic space (super hot right now). I’m so grateful to be back in here after months of trying to fix a leaky roof. I had had to move everything out earlier this year to deal with the problem and then it just wasn’t getting resolved. After the roofing company gave up, my husband ended up climbing on the roof and finally fixed the problem (he’s the best). I was working in a tiny space with barely room to turn around and was really motivated to get the new drywall up and get everything sanded and painted (this took me forever!). I’ve slowly been moving back in and setting up in between work and hope to have it looking nice again soon.

Is there anything in your studio, other than paint and brushes that you couldn’t live without?

My dad gifted me an old drafting table he found at a flea market and beautifully refurbished. It’s my favorite thing in here and gets used daily!

Do you follow any type of routine to attain your career goals?

I tend to just go towards what’s in front of me, but I’m trying to find a bit more focus and a more manageable day to day life. I suppose one thing that’s really helped me I started a few months ago is writing out the week ahead on paper. I’ll sit down sometime on a Sunday and write down everything I have to do that week, and inevitably will remember things that I’ve wanted to get to. It helps me to see what I can accomplish when I have just a few minutes and is a perfect place for a brain dump so I can stop stressing over certain tasks floating around in my head. I also have a wonderful group of illustrator friends that I meet with regularly on Slack and we actively encourage each other with this type of thing. It’s great to have that kind of support.

Any exciting projects on the horizon?

Yes! I’ve got a few picture books coming up for this year and next that I’m thrilled to work on.

Do you think the Internet has opened any doors for you?

Oh yes, definitely. Having a presence online is super important.

What are your career goals?

I love the idea of working to live (as opposed to “live to work”) and want to keep doing what I’m doing in a sustainable way. I’d love to bring more fine art into my day to day, possibly do workshops, and connect with more like minded people. I’d like to write more stories for kids (I have one in the works!) and of course continue illustrating meaningful children’s books.

What are you working on now?

Right now I’m wrapping up the final art for a picture book with Athenaeum called “The Story of a Book”. It’s been such a lovely project and I’ve been able to try some new techniques and ways to work with color. Can’t wait to see it in print next year!

Are there any painting tips (materials, paper, etc.) you can share that work well for you?

My favorite materials are Hahnemühle hot press watercolor paper (I also like Fabriano brand) for when I’m making final art. For day to day drawing I’m currently enjoying sketchbooks from the Mossery. When you finish the pages, you can take them out and insert a replacement. I like to use acryla gouache from Holbein, watercolors and gouache from Schmincke. I’ve recently started experimenting with oils but that’s far off in the future!

Technique tips? See my blog, illustration fixation.

I only work standing. The only time I sit for work is on my ipad, and for email or scanning. I think it’s helped me to avoid neck issues.

Any words of wisdom you can share with the illustrators who are trying to develop their career?

I think the advice I’ve heard that really rings true for me is to make work that you enjoy (and don’t put anything out there that you don’t!).

Devon, 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 Devon using the following links:






Talk tomorrow,



  1. Brava, Devon! Thank you for sharing your awesome and inspiring journey thus far. Alles Gute ❤


  2. Beautiful work, Devon! I’m a huge fan of your illustrations paired with Shannon Stocker’s words in LISTEN. It was great to see other work of yours.


  3. Such gorgeous work! I love all the colors! Thanks for sharing with us and best wishes!


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