Posted by: Kathy Temean | October 1, 2022

Illustrator Saturday – Nate Sweitzer

NATE SWEITZER is a Chicago-born Illustrator who attended the College for Creative Studies in Detroit. His work places an emphasis on figurative drawing, textural mark-making, and visual storytelling through conceptual solutions. He specializes in book illustration, editorial illustration, and poster design. His work has been awarded and featured by 3×3 Magazine, the American Illustration Awards, the Society of Illustrators, and the One Club for Creativity. His clients include the L.A. Times, Starcut Ciders, the Detroit Pistons, House of Vans, Park-Rite Detroit, Full Set Society and They Changed the Game, a book about creativity in sports published in 2020.



1. Drawing

This can be anything from a full render to simple line, depending on the style of finish you’re pursuing. I tend to draw without construction, starting from an eye and working my way around the figure. This gets me to an interesting result faster than hyper-designing my underdrawing and helps keep my drawing loose. I’ll often lightly render at this stage by smearing my drawing and erasing the highlights. For this piece, I used an excellent photo of Muddy Waters for reference.


This step allows you to preserve and potentially adjust your drawing. For this piece, I scanned my drawing to begin working digitally. You can also scan, print, mount, and seal your drawing (with matte medium) on a board to continue to the next step traditionally. Sometimes I’ll bring the drawing into Photoshop and chop it up or use Warp/Liquify to push the line of action or likeness a little more. This gives me the chance to“retroactively construct” my looser drawing, which reduces the pressure to absolutely nail a drawing on the front end.

2. Tone

The next phase involves the introduction of tinting, texture, and midtone in the form of a “wash”. This can come in the form of a traditional acrylic layer as well as digital toning. The idea here is to bring the piece to a unified color and value range so you can pull the lights and darks out later. Toning with digital tools allows me to find the dominant color temperature of the piece in the early stage, build up my lights and darks with a complementary tint, and then adjust at the end if need be. Photoshop has wonderful options for toning a b+w image. I usually toggle between Color Balance, Photo Filter, Gradient Maps for tone and use the blending sliders in Layer styles to mix.

3. Chaos

The thinking behind this step is to create unexpected marks and passages to solve when I re-establish my lights and darks. We can turn the negative space of the toned drawing into an activated midtone with texture and mark-making. This can be achieved either traditionally, with a combination of dry and wet media, or digitally, with texture brushes (I recommend Greg Rutkowski’s) and clone stamping. Sometimes I’ll end up covering most of this stage up, but incorporating an element of abstraction and experimentation at this point in my process helps keep me excited as I approach the finish.

4. Lights & Darks

Time to restore order. Here’s where I refer back to my color and value studies and carve in my lights and darks appropriately. This stage can involve naturalistic rendering, digital painting, “inked” linework, or can simply involve bringing in flats to reestablish your negative space, making the more nuanced textural areas stand out. If you’re working digitally at this point, you can sometimes literally reestablish your drawing by mixing your linework back in at the desired level of transparency. Part of the game is deciding which areas need more refinement and which spots to let the rhythms of the previous step show through.

5. Finishing Touches

Now we bring it to a finish. This step can take 8 minutes to 8 hours, depending on your deadline and level of neuroticism. This can be a good time to look for places to add pattern and make sure your focal points are working as designed. You should spend a lot of your time in this phase squinting or looking at your piece from across the room – this cuts down on unnecessary adjustments. (I say this as I spent the last two hours making marginal alterations to Muddy’s left eyelid.)


How long have you been illustrating?

I’ve been illustrating for many years, but it wasn’t until I graduated this past spring that I had the resources and clientele to consider myself a full-time illustrator.

What was the first thing you did where they paid you for your art?

I think a family friend bought a drawing I did of Robin Hood for a dollar when I was four. I remember her saying “you’re a professional artist now!” It was tough to find buyers for those first eighteen years, but it’s starting to pick up now. My first job with a major client was a poster I did for a Detroit Pistons game in 2020, just in time for the season to be postponed due to the pandemic.

What made you decide to attend the College for Creative Studies in Detroit?

I visited a few different schools, but I ultimately landed at CCS because of the faculty. I was already familiar with the work of Detroit artists like Don Kilpatrick and Francis Vallejo, and when I found out they both taught at CCS I thought I’d better see what was in the water over there.

What did you study at the College for Creative Studies in Detroit?

Illustration was my primary focus at CCS, but I also took classes in creative writing, graphic design, and animation. I’ve found that each discipline has its own storytelling language, and my goal is to achieve a level of fluency in as many of those languages as possible to continue to push myself as a storyteller.

I found your art on THE ONE CLUB website under Young Ones Student Awards, which says it is one of the most acclaimed advertising, interactive and design student competitions. How did you get into the competition?

The Illustration Department at CCS does a fantastic job keeping us informed on the variety of student competition opportunities that come up throughout the year, and they encouraged me to submit them. When I saw how high the quality of work was in the past Young Ones competitions, I knew it’d be a good competition to enter.

Are the illustration they show on their site what you submitted?

Yes, I submitted a portfolio with six pieces which received an award, as well as an editorial illustration, and my Catcher in the Rye series, which received silver and bronze cubes, respectively.

Did your school do help you find work before you graduated?

Yes, CCS organized a sponsored studio project with Park Rite Detroit to design a mural for one of their parking garages. The mural should be up sometime within the next year.

Did you do any freelance work while attending school?

During my senior year at CCS, I illustrated a can label for Starcut Ciders, which is currently being sold at Westborn Market locations in Michigan.

I found Paul Bunyan and Babe! Which you said was a 2-page spread illustration for a Children’s Book class. Is this the spark that made you consider illustrating children’s books?

I’ve always had a love for children’s books, but early on at CCS I went through a phase that many young artists experience, where I wanted my work to be seen as serious and sophisticated. Taking that Children’s Book class helped me loosen up a little and rediscover my love for picture books.

I love your illustration titled The Summer of Covid. You mention this was your second piece for @edwarkinsella ‘s ideation class at @visualartspassage. Can you tells us a little bit about this class?

The Ideation class I took with Edward Kinsella at Visual Arts passage was massive for my development as an artist. Edward is a fantastic illustrator and mentor and he gave us an inside look at his process, from ideas to finished artwork. Once he showed us how he handles an illustration project, he gave us prompts to work from to create our own pieces. This class was a wonderful supplement to my undergraduate education at CCS, and I came back for classes with them each of the next two summers.

How did you get the job to do the mural to commemorate Dr. Schumacher’s tenure as superintendent for Libertyville District 70?

I was a student in Libertyville District 70 in elementary school and middle school, so when they were looking to commission artwork to commemorate Dr. Schumacher’s tenure my name must’ve popped up. It was a cool project- Dr. Schumacher played an important role in my development as an artist by making sure District 70 had a good art program, so it was nice to do something for him.

How long did it take you to create Big League Chew 1910’s for your Redesign for Illustration & Design class?

The Big League Chew package came together over the course of about three weeks. I’ve long had an interest in early 20th-century packaging and illustration so it was a fun challenge trying to recreate that style.

I noticed your Catcher in the Rye illustration and a picture of it in a book. Where was this published and how did that happen?

My Catcher in the Rye project hasn’t been published yet, I created a mock-up of my illustrations in a book so it was easier to view the images in context. Hopefully, an edition with my illustrations comes out someday.

You received a Distinguished Merit Award from @3x3mag for your Catcher in the Rye project. How exciting was that for you?

The Distinguished Merit award from 3×3 was a huge honor. 3×3 is an outstanding publication with a high standard of work. It was one of my first times submitting work to a professional show, so I felt incredibly fortunate to have received recognition from them so early in my career.


Another Catcher in the Rye series Illustration got in to the American Illustration 41 show. How did that happen?

I submitted a few pieces to American Illustration 41 and I was fortunate enough to get one in. Their catalog is a who’s-who of contemporary American Illustrators so it was humbling to see my name alongside so many artists I look up to.

Did the model in your live drawing class come dressed in that costume?

Fortunately, our figure room at CCS has an assortment of wardrobe options and a walled-off corner the models can change in so they don’t have to ride the bus in period-accurate renaissance attire.

What made you choose King Arthur for one of your Children’s Book Illustrating Class?

My dad had a book with a collection of N.C. Wyeth illustrations that I used to look at a lot growing up. His illustrations from A Boy’s King Arthur always captured my imagination so I wanted to do my own version. His are a lot better.

What was your inspiration for Handbarbers that you created for your illustrative cartooning surrealism project?

I went back through my sketchbook to see if I could figure out how I got the idea for Handbarbers. As far as I can tell I was inspired by a number of different Norman Rockwell pieces that depict barbershops. I think I followed that thread of ideas trying to find an opportunity for more surrealism and ended up swapping the guy’s head for a hand.

You did an Illustration for @theychangedbook, featuring George Mikan, the NBA’s first dominant superstar, who won 5 rings in 6 years with the Minneapolis Lakers. Can you tell us about this book? How you got into it? Is it available to purchase?

They Changed the Game, a collection of stories about creativity in sports, was my first big publishing job. I was one of several illustrators to work on it, creating a series of 4 illustrations of George Mikan, Muhammad Ali, Babe Ruth, and Jackie Robinson. The book was in print for a couple of years but is sold out now.

Why did you choose to illustrate Robert Johnson at the Crossroads for your Children’s Book Illustration class?

I’ve always had an interest in the history of music and folklore, and Robert Johnson very much stands at the intersection of those two spheres, as one of the most influential songwriters in American history, who, according to legend, sold his soul to the devil at a Crossroads in return for his otherworldly guitar playing. There’s something about historical characters that blur the line between legend and fact that is endlessly fascinating to me from a visual storytelling lens. It’s an arena where your storytelling has the power to continue to shape our culture’s collective memory of a character, and gives you the opportunity as an illustrator to use your imagination and provide pictorial definition to events that weren’t visually documented in their own time.

Did you do other illustrations of Robert Johnson showing him doing other things?

This is my first finished Robert Johnson illustration to date, but I explored telling the story from a variety of angles while ideating for this piece. I eventually settled on depicting the pivotal moment where the devil emerges to cut a deal with Robert.

What type of things did you or do to promote yourself as an illustrator?

I’ve primarily used social media and entering Illustration annuals as a means to promote my work, which has provided me with solid early-career opportunities, but I’m currently working on an email and postcard campaign to reach additional publishers and continue to establish myself.

Your illustrations are amazing. What do you think helped develop your style?

I’ve been fortunate enough to have mentors like Francis Vallejo, my illustration professor at CCS, who encouraged me to study illustration history and build a visual library of various techniques and picture-making decisions made by masters over the years that spoke to me as an artist. I feel that my style is a reflection of the qualities and theory that forge the deepest connection with me in my ongoing exploration with the medium; emotive mark-making, an interplay between abstraction and realism, and visual storytelling.

Chad Beckerman at the Cat Agency you are represented you. How did the two of you connect?

Chad juried a Society of Illustrators Student show that I entered and reached out to me. We immediately hit it off and I’m looking forward to my first book project with him.

Do you have any desire to write and illustrate you own book?

My primary mission as a creator is to bring stories to life with my art. I’m also interested in writing my own stories when I arrive upon stories that I feel qualified to tell from my point of view.

Do you take research pictures before you start a project?

A large portion of my process involves compiling research and references, including reading up on my subjects, shooting on-site, using 3d models, and drawing inspiration from other artists. No art is created in a vacuum, and I find I get the best results

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

I would love to work with a self-published picture book writer if the project feels like a good fit for my perspective!

Has any of your work appeared in magazines?

My illustration of the late sportscaster Vin Scully appeared in the print edition of the L.A. Times.

What book do you think was your biggest success?

They Changed the Game is my first illustrator credit in a published book, so that’s my biggest success to date. Now that I’ve graduated I have a lot more time that can be devoted to an opportunity as large-scale as a book project.

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

My routine is a cycle that involves doing a series of paid illustration jobs followed by sketchbook and style experiments to cleanse my palate and keep the exploratory side of my brain firing. There are highs and lows with every job, and sometimes you have to remind yourself how fortunate you are to be able to create art for a living. Personal work can be a great way to continue to explore new directions in your work when you’re often working within set parameters for jobs.

Any exciting projects on the horizon?

I don’t have much I can talk about at the moment. I’m finishing a batch of projects this early this fall but will have space to take on some exciting projects this fall and into the next year.

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

The internet has absolutely opened doors for me, providing almost an oversaturation of references to choose from as well as a platform to showcase my art. 

What are you working on now?

I’m putting the finishing touches on a movie poster at the moment and finishing up a couple of pieces to be used in my promotional package through CAT Agency.


Are there any painting tips (materials, paper, etc.) you can share that work well for you? Technique tips? See my blog, illustration fixation.

I have a blog post that offers a detailed explanation of the process I’ve used to create many of my pieces. I like to work back and forth between traditional and digital media.

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

I’m still very early on in my career so I wouldn’t say I have anything figured out as of yet, but I would encourage everyone to seek the mentorship of a working illustrator whose artwork you admire. My mentorships with Francis Vallejo, Edward Kinsella, and Sterling Hundley have made a profound impact on my early career.

Nate, thank you for taking the time to answer the interview questions and sharing your process. Please let me know about your future books and successes so I can share them with everyone.

You can visit Nate using the following links:





Nate is represented by Chad W. Beckerman, of the CAT Agency. Contact him at

Talk tomorrow,


For publishing-related inquiries,


  1. You just got yourself another fan 🙂


  2. Absolutely stunning work. I enjoy the classic figurative knowledge, but the expansion of the human form in each illustration. Amazing style!


  3. Amazing illustrations!


  4. Wow! Wonderful! Thanks for sharing!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.


%d bloggers like this: