Illustrator Intensive at the Highlights


Last week I attended the Illustrator Intensive workshop at the Highlights Foundation in the Poconos. And, yes, it was as good as it sounds! No, actually it was even better. I was very lucky to spend four days among amazing picture book makers enjoying forest walks, making friends and getting out of the creative comfort zone by experimenting with graphite powder, spray paint and scalpel.

The retreat itself is a very beautiful, peaceful place where you can always find a nook to reflect on your creative struggles or find inspiration to sketch and just be you. They even have a cabin with art supplies! And lots of rocking chairs.

Another thing is delicious food. All the meals are cooked by the chef from locally sourced seasonal ingredients, mostly veggies, fruits and greens that I normally cook at home, but no two dishes were alike and everything  tasted so very very GOOD. I would just come back to enjoy Amanda's cooking! Although I went to the retreat to learn more about illustration, I also learned how to cut veggies the right way, so that they are more flavorful. Yum!

The workshop began on Friday with a talk by author-illustrator Elizabeth Rose Stanton, followed by an ink demo by this year Caldecott medal winner Matthew Cordell on  Saturday morning, a graphite powder demo by author-illustrator Mike Curato on Sunday morning, a papercutting illustration demo by illustrator Merrill Rainey on Sunday afternoon and concluded on Monday morning with doodling exercises with Elizabeth Rose Stanton. We also had a portfolio showcase and two one-one-one sessions - one with a mentor (yes, you get a mentor!) and another one with an editor and a creative director - where everyone was able to discuss projects they were working on at the moment and ask any questions about their work.

I brought in a picture book dummy of a new story I was wrestling with. As I retold the story to my mentor, Elizabeth Rose Stanton (how lucky am I?!), it dawned on me what my story was actually all about. I then had time to revise some of it and start a fresh storyboard.

During my one-on-one with industry professionals I showed my portfolio and asked  what was the one thing that was missing from it that they would like me to add or work on,  and I got a really good, in-depth feedback about my weaker and stronger sides.

It was  a lot of information (and inspiration) to take in during my short stay there! It's good we had an opportunity to unwind in the evening by just doodling in small groups, chatting and getting to know each other. The faculty joined us during meals and shared their personal stories and experiences of working on their amazing books.

The thing I liked most about the Illustrator Intensive is that it was really small (about 25 people). The programming was intense, hands-on and interesting, but very well-paced and included informal activities (such as a picturesque hike to an old graveyard at 6:30 AM!). The faculty was very approachable and had time to answer any questions in detail. I'd love to go back one day!

I'm very grateful to the amazing and welcoming staff of the Highlights Foundation retreat for making my stay there so wonderful and comfortable (Shout out to Alison, Lindsay and Jo - I can't even imagine how much effort you put into organizing it and making it run so smooth!). I would also like to thank the faculty for answering all of our endless questions with much patience and grace and sharing their process of creating their characters and stories (sometimes into wee hours of the night)!


My Inktober 2017 Adventure

I want to tell you about making my Inktober project "My One and Only Planet", while it's still fresh in my memory. 

As a child, I spent a lot of time in the countryside, digging up worms in the garden and running wild in the woods. I could see with my own eyes how greedy people can corrode a beautiful landscape and how slowly alien materials decay in a natural habitat. Some time ago, I started reading more articles about environmental problems faced by people with different economic backgrounds and living in different parts of the world.  As I read and looked at the pictures, I felt more and more helpless. I realized that I was only a tiny person, one of eight billion, who couldn't possibly change the course of unfolding environmental disaster. Then I began to look for ways to reduce my own negative impact on the world around me. Soon I had a set of new, less wasteful habits, but I still felt completely helpless. That's when I had an idea about Inktober. It was clear to me, of course, that my pictures would not break the habits of millions of people, but on the other hand, in my experience, I felt that many people, especially city dwellers, do not realize that their daily routine might harm the planet and contribute to global warming.

Fragment from "Microplastic" illustration for Inktober, 2017

Fragment from "Microplastic" illustration for Inktober, 2017

I started working on "My One and Only Planet" in July. I knew that in order to complete it I had to use my own prompts, because there's no better motivation than doing something for yourself. I also knew that I wanted to make a series about climate change, but just telling everyone about doom and gloom didn't seem very appealing to me. I needed to come up with a charming character, personal prompts and limited palette or color accent (I was bored to death last year after using only black ink).

So, at first, I began rounding up topics about climate change and narrowing them down to fun prompts. I realized that my theme would only resonate with people if I told them about tiny things anyone could change or do in their everyday life.


Then I started working on my character, as you can see at first it was a cat, but then I thought that the Internet is over-saturated with cats as it is and decided to go with a fox. After I had my character and prompts I started working on my thumbnails, because thinking and coming up with ideas are actually the hardest and most time-consuming part of Inktober. I swapped and reordered some prompts at this stage.

When October arrived and I started drawing actual Inktober pieces, I ticked them off in a little table to keep track. (I think I shamelessly stole this progress tracking system from Vera Brosgol, author of "Leave me Alone!", and it proved amazingly effective. Thank you, Vera!).


Some ideas and sketches changed along the way, but having thumbnails on the ready has helped me tremendously.

"My One And Only Planet" was conceived as a visual project to be shown on Instagram. It had a specific grid layout. You can see all of my Inktober illustrations in order from #01 to #31 with cover on my Instagram page here.

My own Inktober project - My One And Only Planet

This year I will be doing my own Inktober project this year about small things everyone can to help our planet cool down and be less polluted. I would be glad if some of you joined me!

Inktober is an art challenge when you have to draw one picture in ink for every day of October. The mastermind behind it is Jake Parker, who ran his first Inktober in 2009. He publishes official prompts for Inktober on his Instagram and Twitter pages. I will be using my own prompts this year, but you can follow official prompts or do your own thing. It doesn't have to be big - sketches and doodles count as well. Inktober is really good to get into habit of drawing everyday... And it's fun!

Here are my prompts:


You can view my Inktober pictures in this gallery.


Picture book class with Dana Sullivan

Yesterday I finished a 6 week picture book illustration class with author and illustrator Dana Sullivan. It was amazing! Now I have a dummy book for a story that I wrote myself (never in a million years I thought it was possible). This class has given me so much knowledge, but above all it has given me confidence to go forward.

In the class we went through all stages of picture book design from a raw idea to a dummy book that you then may actually submit to a publisher. We studied how to bring to life a memorable character, how to cluster a story and make it flow, how to make a storyboard and then transfer it to a dummy book. Dana pushed us to draw quickly and freely with new tools (we even tried drawing with a stick - you should try it, nothing beats the splatter!).


Also we looked through and analyzed a heap of beautiful picture books from a variety of different illustrators such as David Small, Diane Goode, LeUyen Pham, Eric Rohmann, John Burningha, Tom Lichtenheld and many many others.

For those of you in Seattle area, you can enroll to this class in April at Kirkland Arts Center.

For more classes from Dana click here.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Hello, dear friends!

This year was a memorable one. I met so many wonderful kind-hearted people!

Last winter I took a watercolor class with a very talented artist Molly Murrah. Molly helped me plunge into still life studies and discover new features of watercolor, that I haven't been able to grasp on my own. I also made new friends who inspired me to take bolder steps towards my goals. Those 3-hour-long classes at Tsuga Fine Art Gallery became my refuge to slow down and absorb new knowledge in peace and quiet. Here are some studies from the class.


In March I attended a watercolor demo by two amazing artists Alvaro Castagnet and  Ron Stocke at Daniel Smith, Seattle. Although very distinct, both Ron and Alvaro have free-flowing style of painting, which fascinates me. On the side note, they are both very charming - how can you not fall in love with watercolor after witnessing Ron and Alvaro at work, is beyond me :)


In April I attended a Schoolism Live workshop. I bought the pass in December of 2015, can you imagine? So, I was very excited to attend and meet artists, whom I admired for years online, in person. It was a two day workshop with saturated and energizing talks given by Robert Kondo and Dice Tsutsumi from Tonko House (Have you watched "The Dam Keeper" yet?), Mike Yamada, Marcelo Vignali, Terryl Whitlatch and Bobby Chiu himself. Although many of the speakers work in animation and movie industry, their tips on storytelling flow, composition and character design can be applied to picture book realm as well. These two days were a turning point for me. They breathed so much energy and purpose into me, that I spent the rest of the year doing twice as much art as I usually do. And I also was able to figure out my  goals, using Bobby Chiu's method of imagining your future self and tracing back the steps you need to take to get there. If you are able, I highly recommend attending their Seattle workshop in March 2017.   

In September I took a "Illustrating Picture Books" class with amazing Dr. Mira Reisberg and awesome Knopf/Random House editor Julia Maguire. This was an avalanche of knowledge and challenging 5 weeks of sketching, thumb-nailing, character design and putting together a dummy book! I learned a lot thanks to my fellow peers' critique and kind advice, webinars and one-on-one consultations, and I am still reading through all the invaluable class materials. But, most importantly, I connected with a lot of good supportive artists, whose creative advice I can now count on when I need one.

In November I published my first picture book "Fishing for Turkey" with a talented YA author N.A. Cauldron. When I got the manuscript of the story in my mailbox, I liked it at once. The rhyming story was full of action, twists and turns, and humor - I could see some of the double-page spreads in my head already. Of course, imagining is easier, than arranging a dozen of characters on paper, but we got through it and released the book before Thanksgiving (it's important - the story takes place during the holidays!). N.A.Cauldron was very kind, patient and understanding towards my creative process. And I hope that some time  in future if she has another story to tell, she will remember me ;) The book - hardcover, paperback and Kindle edition - is now on Amazon

Ah, what a year...

Thank you for following my creative journey! I'm wishing you lots of love, happiness and unforgettable sweet moments with loved ones. 

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!


How I make my custom original watercolor nursery artwork

I'm a young woman, and at this stage of my life I'm surrounded by other young people who also happen to be parents to adorable little babies. New babies pop up all around me like mushrooms. Just last year my friend had triplets… Can you imagine?

There came a day when a part of my brain responsible for coming up with gift ideas couldn't keep up with such a rapid baby supply to satisfy their new baby gift demand. I was stuck and didn't want to repeat myself. So, I figured that I could as well paint a little nursery keepsake. Each gift would be unique and I wouldn't have to spend sleepless nights thinking of great (but not over-the-top great) and memorable (but not too much out-of-the-box) gift ideas for my friends. This is how I came up with an idea of a watercolor initial artwork that could be customized to each baby's unique personality and each family's unique story, memorabilia and favorite things.

Here are two examples of custom watercolor initials that I did.

Here are two examples of custom watercolor initials that I did.

I start working on a new initial painting after talking with parents about things they would like to see in the picture. For some families it is important to reflect their baby's personality (this is especially popular as a 1st birthday gift) - an adventurer? a girl's girl? an explorer? Others like immortalizing certain family memorabilia such as a grandma's brooch or baby's favorite stuffed animal.

I start out with a rough draft to loosely sketch out basic ideas. Then I show my sketch to a baby's parents to make sure we're on the same page. We decide on the size of artwork, its color scheme and framing.

After my sketch is approved, I refine my lineart and transfer it to watercolor paper. I do not sketch on watercolor paper, because drawing and erasing messes with its texture.

After my sketch is transferred, I block out the initial with masking fluid and start painting. After watercolor is done, I refine details with colored pencils and scan my work for future use in my portfolio.

Usually completing these steps takes up two to three days.

To view my nursery art gallery, click here.

My palette

I am often asked about palettes and paints that I use.  Here is my current setup.

For outdoor sketching i mostly use my Mijello palette. It is light and airtight, which is very convenient for carrying it around in a small purse. It has 18 wells, which I filled with the following pigments (from left to right): 

  • Aureolin,
  • New Gamboge,
  • Yellow Ochre,
  • Quinacridone Burnt Orange,
  • Cadmium Red Light,
  • Pyrrol Scarlet,
  • Alizarin Crimson,
  • Quinacridone Rose,
  • Burnt Sienna,
  • Cobalt Teal Blue,
  • Cobalt blue,
  • Cerulean Blue,
  • Ultramarine Blue,
  • Phthalo Blue,
  • Permanent Sap Green,
  • Hooker's green.

I also added Raw Sienna and Raw Umber recently.

Basically you only need 6 colors (3 pairs of cool and warm primary colors - yellows, reds and blues). As you can see I use paints from different manufacturers. I find that all of those paints are superb in terms of quality, so sometimes when buying a refill I just go for a cheaper alternative among these brands. One thing that I should note is that in my palette I have Cerulean Blue from Van Gogh, which I mainly use to paint skies - and it's the brightest Cerulean Blue you would ever find,  but this particular paint is a little bit different in shade from Cerulean Blues that you would normally use for mixing (e.g. skin tones).

18-well Mijello Fusion Airtight/Leakproof Palette

18-well Mijello Fusion Airtight/Leakproof Palette

In my studio I use a huge palette with wide wells. I love to work with big brushes and big generous washes, and that's the best palette i could find for this purpose. 

Sterling Edwards 14-well huge mixing palette with lid

Sterling Edwards 14-well huge mixing palette with lid

My most frequently used brushes are Sterling Edwards blending brush 1.5", Sterling Edwards 1" flat, Da Vinci squirrel mop 1, Trekkel Golden Taklon 4. 

I hope this helps.