Posted by: Kathy Temean | July 23, 2022

Illustrator Saturday: Katie Mazeika

Once upon a time, in Mrs. Hershner’s kindergarten art class, Katie Mazeika painted the perfect butterfly. Then she accidentally stuck her thumb in the middle of its right wing. To fix the problem, she stuck her other thumb in the other wing. Mrs. Hershner announced that Katie was a “Little Artist.” She decided to go with it.

Many years after kindergarten, Katie went on to The Columbus College of Art and Design, where she graduated with a BFA in illustration. She moved to Northeast Ohio, where she eventually settled down with her husband, two kids (Lillian and Jack), and two dogs.
Katie still likes to paint butterflies, but now she works primarily in Photoshop on a Wacom Cintiq. When she isn’t in the studio, she likes to spend time at the theater, in her garden, or getting lost in a good book.

Katie is a member of the SCBWI.

Clients include:

  • Beach Lane Books/Simon & Schuster

  • Charlesbridge

  • Wiley Publishing

  • Ladybug Magazine

  • Ask Magazine

  • The Friend Magazine

  • Nomad Press

  • Benchmark Educational


I start with thumbnails on paper but move to Photoshop very early on. I make myself a template for every project with ¼ in bleed and 1/2 in the gutter. Then I always add another ¼ to the edges to remind myself to keep anything important away from the edges. I like a very clean line drawing as my final sketch. I make it my top layer, set it on multiply, and fade the opacity to 30% or less. I start painting underneath the sketch layer.

I’ll play with colors and figure out my palette in a separate document. When I’m illustrating a book, I’ll use the same palette through the whole book. Some images may have more of one color or another, but ideally, the entire book is cohesive. Once I have a palette I like, I drag it onto my sketch and do color tests. I’ll leave the palette layer there for most of my painting process, occasionally turning it on to check against the painting. I keep everything in separate layers at this point so I can change things out quickly if I need to.

When I have a color sketch I’m happy with,  I paint the base color on everything. When I’m working on a book with the same setting for multiple scenes, I’ll do all of the backgrounds of those scenes at once to help maintain consistency.

Finally, Textures and details! This is my favorite part- I add in the textures and any patterns on clothing and in the background. During this stage, I have a solid black layer on top the painting in color mode that I switch on and off. When it’s on, it shows the artwork in black and white. This helps me double-check the contrast. I also use the navigator tool in Phostoshop on a separate computer monitor. The navigator gives me a smaller version of my image. Looking up at this as I work is the equivalent of an artist stepping back from their canvas to see the entire image at once. Ideally, when I’m done,  everything reads easily and doesn’t look like it was done digitally.

Interview with Katie Mazeika

How long have you been illustrating?

I guess since I was little kid. But I started really focusing on illustrating professionally about 2015, when my kids got older..

What and when was the first painting or illustration that you did where someone paid you for your artwork?

It was right out of college. A local hospital does gigantic yearly fundraiser, and I was hired to do the illustrations for the ad, program and promotional materials.

What made you decide to attend The Columbus College of Art and Design to get your BFA in Illustrating?

I started at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. I knew I wanted to study illustration but my sophomore year Miami’s only illustration professor left-and so that was the end of their illustration department. Fortunately, that professor was from my hometown and we stayed in touch. He told me about CCAD and got me in touch with their Dean of illustration and I transferred.

Did you do any freelance art while attending college?


What classes were your favorite?

Color Theory-I loved learning the science of color. And my illustration classes.

Did college help you find work before leaving school?

No. I wish I’d learned more about what to expect and about the business side of being an illustrator.


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

My senior year of college. I had spent years learning how to draw realistically. I was taking all kinds of photo reference and doing light studies before even beginning a piece. And then I saw what my friends studying children’s illustration were making. Picture book illustrations seemed so much more fun and free.

What type of things did you do to get illustrating work when you finished school?

Right after school I did local work, The few jobs I found were from pitching myself. I sent out postcards and joined an illustration promotion website. Eventually I started illustrating for vanity presses and educational publishers. They didn’t pay well but it gave me experience with how to work on spec and meet deadlines. Working with these publishers also helped me learn how quickly I could work and how much work I could juggle at a time.

What caused you to move to Northeast Ohio after graduating?

My husband is from the area. We were dating through college. He moved here after graduating and when a graduated a few years later I joined him.

Do you have an agent to represent your illustrating work? If so, how long have you been with them and how did you make the connection? If not, would you be interested me having one?

Yes, I am represented by Sorche Fairbank at Fairbank Literary Representation. She found me on twitter’s #DVpit more than three years ago now.

Do you work full time as a free-lance illustrator?

I work full time as both a writer and illustrator.

What do you feel influenced your illustrating style?

Initially, that realism I was taught in college, I had to learn to shake some of that and I’m still pushing myself to be looser. I am a big fan of Martin and Alice Provensen, and Richard Scary. I think there is some of them in my work.

I noticed you are part of Dr. Mira Reisberg’s 2022 KidLit Palooza in August – sharing  illustrating tips with everyone. How did you connect with Mira?

I took a Children’s Book Academy Classes with Mira a few years ago.

You illustrated four Books with Nomad Publishing on September 10 2019. Were these the first four of their Picture Book Science Series?

I think there were others in the series prior to the four I illustrated.

On August 13th 2020 you had five picture books coming out with Nomad Publishing as part of a 15 book science series. Did you sign a 15-book contract with Nomad Publishing?

No. I just did the 5 animal science books, they hired other illustrators for other parts of the series. Nomad Press is a fabulous group. I really enjoyed working with them.

The 2019 books were all written by Andi Diehn and the 2020 books were written by Laura Perdew. Do you know who is writing the rest of the books?

No idea, I was just brought in on the books I illustrated-not sure who the other writers and illustrators are.

It looks like you signed a multi-book deal with Charlesbridge, since you illustrated two Chicken Soup for the Soul BABIES: with them and it says they are part of a 7-book series. How did this deal come about?

I did a portfolio review with an art director from Charlesbridge. She liked my work and thought of me when the job came in. I am not illustrating all 7 books in this series. They are using multiple writers and illustrators for the series. I illustrated the first two books and the seventh.

Have you started illustrating Chicken Soup for the Soul BABIES: Playdate!: (with Bear, too?) coming out in March 2023?

Actually, I just finished the artwork for this book.

Is Annette Feels Free: The True Story of Annette Kellerman, World-Class Swimmer, Fashion Pioneer, and Real-Life Mermaid coming out with Beach Lane Books the first book you wrote and illustrated?


Would you illustrate a book for an author who wants to self-publish?

Possibly, but only if it’s a project I am passionate about.

Do you have a studio in your house?

I have a studio over the garage in our house.

Have you done any illustrating for children’s magazines? Which ones?

I’ve done a couple of Babybug interiors, an Ask Magazine article and the back cover of The Friend magazine.

I know you are early in your career, but what do you think is your biggest success so far?

My first book as an author/illustrator ANNETTE FEELS FREE

What is your favorite medium to use?



Has that changed over time?

Yes-I loved gouache and pastels in college, but I started painting digitally when my kids were little and my oldest was diagnosed with asthma. I started with Corel Painter but eventually switched to Photoshop.

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

No specific time, I try to learn better technique and sharpen my skills, but the amount of time I spend on it varies depending on how busy I am.

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

It depends on what I’m illustrating.  “ANNETTE FEELS FREE” had it’s own Pinterest Board and a photo file on my computer with everything from photos of Annette Kellerman to Victorian fashion décor and action shots of swimmers and divers. But the Chicken Soup books were done with very little refence. I looked at photos of real animals when I design the characters but after that didn’t need much reference.

Do you think the Internet has opened doors for you?

Very much so. It let me see what was going on in the industry, what was popular and what wasn’t.

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

Yes, I work on a Cintiq.

Do you use Photoshop or Painter with your illustrations?


Do you have any career dreams you want to fulfill?

I’ve wanted to write and illustrate my own books since college. It’s still hard for me to believe, but I’m doing that now. 😊

What are you working on now?

So much! I’m working on my second picture book biography for Beach Lane Books about the inventor Beulah Louise Henry. I’ve finished the text and sketches and am now on the final artwork. It should be out the fall of 2023.

I also have two other picture books coming out with Beach Lane Books in 2024 and 2025-one is about Sears Houses and the other about NELA Park (one of the Edison plants that became the first industrial park.)

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.

Yes: A good chair is worth its weight in gold-especially if you are a digital artist. There are several reputable dealers that sell refurbished Steelcase and Herman Miller chairs- I got mine through Crandall Office Supply and paid half the price of a new chair. Which is very cheap considering that I spend all day, every day sitting in it.

Any words of wisdom on how to become a successful writer or illustrator?

Ignore social media. Be your own worst critic. Look through PW Children’s Bookshelf regularly. Google the illustrators getting hired. Ask: What are they doing you aren’t? What’s in their portfolios that you don’t have? Then fill those holes.

Katie, 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 Katie using the following links:


Talk tomorrow,



  1. Your work is spectacular, Katie! I’m a fan!


  2. Like

  3. This is all so cute. Thanks for a pretty post.


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