Monday, December 29, 2008

Pen and Ink Rendering for a gift

Why do I promise things close to Christmas? This one was for a relative...and I am so glad it's done so that I can get back to the oil illustrations.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008


May your New Year be blessed with Joy, Happiness, and Good Health. To all the Picture Bookies, I wish you the blessings of this season and beyond!

White Christmas

This is one of my all time favorite animated cards. Here's to another great year for everyone!

Thanks Everyone!

© Kathleen Rietz
I just wanted to say thank you to all of the Picture Bookies for allowing me to be a part of this group for another fun year. I hope we all have great projects awaiting us in 2009! It's been fun to see you all grow in your craft. Cheers!

Friday, December 19, 2008

Day EIGHT..... a bit of weather....

The VOICE of winter is a silent one. Rain that slowly turns to icy creations...snow that blankets the earth quickly and quietly.

The VOICES we are hearing in the tiny market down in the town, and in churches and on TV are still announcing that there are present outages in our area.
Our street and all those right around us and on up the mountainside are still without power for the 8th day in a row. When we talk to strangers we find everyone has a story, and yet the VOICES are cheerful as is the custom for this time of year. We are still operating on a small generator and we have some internet service from the satillite connection. That puts us in the category of very lucky as many people are still spending their days and nights in our middle school shleter.

So here for your winter enjoyment are scenes of the least up here in the Monadnock Mts. of NH.
The ice is now melted away, and we expect 10 " of snow to top of the small snowfall earlier this week.

People exist with woodstoves, fireplaces, generator, and that typical New England attitude. It seems like they can handle anything with a smile and an ability to rise to any occasion. We have only been here five winters, so we are novice to the challenges, but we are learning FAST.....

Be of good Cheer, Christmas is a few days away. Even in the dark, the light of this Holy season will shine.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

The Books ARRIVED *:)

Words by Brettell Hone  ~ Pictures by Ginger Nielson

The book I illustrated for SHAMWARI PUBLISHING in South Africa is finally here. The inventive rhymes of Brettell Hone have created a newer view of some African animals that might otherwise be overlooked. A pair of trout, an African fly and a Wood Owl are just some of the characters for whom Brettell has created a story in rhyme. And to add to all that, this is a book that BOYS will enjoy very much. There is a bit of action, some surprise, some danger and lots of fun!

The books are available now at and you can take a sneak peek as some of the story here. Books are also available from Atlas Books.

I really enjoyed working with the author on this project. His lifelong association with these animals and his idyllic location in the Limpopo provence of South Africa have given him a unique perspective on the lives of these animals. The books were printed by IMAGO printing and I have to admit that although there were some ups and downs with the process the finished product is gorgeous. The colors are true and vivid and I am totally pleased with the outcome.

If you want the book directly from your bookstore, just ask for it and include the ISBN number which is:978-0-620-40992-6.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Christmas House

Here's one I drew from a photo that was lacking in there are areas I would like to have been able to see better. It also had much brush that I had to remove and make it look snowy and wintery.

Holiday Help... the Seasonal work force...

Sometimes you might wonder why your mail looks a little the worse for wear. It is the Holiday seasonal helpers, I am sure.

And I am also sure that some of the help has a distraction or two.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Highlights Magazine

I'm so honored to have illustrated a wonderful Christmas poem by Eileen Spinelli in this month's issue of Highlights Magazine. Highlights - "the world's best-loved magazine" - how sweet is that!

The only thing I didn't realize was how dark and dull my illustration would print on magazine newsprint. The top is what it looks like in the magazine, and the bottom is how it's supposed to look. Hmmm... I'm hoping for more assignments from Highlights, and I'll be sure to up my brightness and colors next time around.

Happy THANKSGIVING ~ The Alternative

Monday, November 24, 2008

The Peahen Pen

If you were a peacock with a desire to become a writer, you wouldn' t have to go to far to find a pen with which to write.

Saturday, November 22, 2008


As I was creating the current episode of Trowbridge, it occurred to me that I make frequent use of the smudge tool in Photoshop. In the event that you rarely, or never use it, I thought I would call it to your attention. I should preface my comments by acknowledging that I am the last one to give instruction on Photoshop. I know it just enough to get by. But I have become quite familiar with the small part of Photoshop that I use. It has literally transformed all of my work.

For many years all of my illustration was done with "wet paint", watercolor, colored inks and Dr. Martin's Dyes. I never imagined myself painting digitally. But our digital wizard son, Eric, who now works for Disney in Los Angeles as a Flash master, had other ideas. He gently nudged me into the digital world. One of my regrets, however, is that I am a slow learner in all things digital. But I do catch on eventually.

Rather than do a literal step-by-step, I thought I would mention the areas in the painting where I used the smudge tool extensively, and how I used it. First to the Trowbridge page:

I used the smudge tool a lot in the rocks in the stream. I used it to sweep the rock color upstream and downstream from the rocks, to softly blend the rock and the water. Ditto with the texture of the trees in the background, the rock that Mrs. T is sitting on, and the foreground rocks that are cast in shadow, and the moss on the side of the stream.

Also, the smudge tool works well if you want to soften a hard edge, as I did with the rock that Mrs. T is sitting on. When I do rock, bark and moss textures I do tiny swirls with the smudge tool to blend colors together. If you experiment with it, as I did, you may find that it really enhances your work.

Sidebar: The "airbrush" brush came in handy (at 50%) to add a vapor effect at the base of the waterfall in the background.

I thought about the smudge tool as I was working on a full-sheet realistic floral watercolor early this morning for my Painting in Paradise. There were so many times when I felt like a smudge tool would come in handy for blending the leaf and petal colors. But that ain't gonna happen when you're working with traditional media.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Humpty Dumpty Magazine

I recently did a project for Humpty Dumpty Magazine which is in their November/December issue. I got my free copies of the magazine a few weeks ago and much to my delight my illustration was on the inside cover! It was a small project, but I had a great time and they were just wonderful to work for. As you can see I used my simplier style for this project.

Monday, November 17, 2008


What am I currently working on? A sweet, trade picture book for Shen's Books. Here's a lil' sneak peek at the main character. I'm still in the sketch phase. It's so much fun to create a personality, a tiny life that exists in this book.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

A new direction

I am working on a chapter book and need to do 18 interiors in black and white. Since my main focus is normally full color paintings, this will be a change of pace, a new challenge and also something to which I am looking forward. This illustration isn't going to be part of the new book, but it is an example of one of the styles I like to use in Black and White.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Pretty Neat!

I just received this little sneak preview from Teresa Anne Power, author of "The ABC's of Yoga for Kids"! It is so exciting to see the cover of the book now. It makes it seem all the more real to me....even though I still have so many of the illustrations yet to finish before the book can be published! Watch for more details on how you can pre-order the book in upcoming weeks.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Another place to create an online portfolio

I just found
It's another place to create an online portfolio at no cost. It's well designed. I'm in the process of uploading images now.

Friday, November 7, 2008


What a great feeling it is to finish a project! After a year and a half I've finished one with the USDA. Here is a smaller spot illo from it.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

the BugCatchers

Something I have been working on this week.... my efforts this month are concentrated on ethnic studies.

Monday, November 3, 2008

My Interview with Stephanie Ruble

Happy Monday Everyone!

Today I am honored to be featured and interviewed on both the blogs of Stephanie Ruble. I had a great time answering her thoughtful and very fun questions. Why not stop on over to one of her blogs and check the interview out?

Here are the links.

Thanks for the interviews Stephanie!

Saturday, November 1, 2008

 I have been working on this one illustration for several days, and wanted it to 'fit' the current subject for Illustration Friday (vacant).  It is the fifth version of a much earlier work. Sometimes when you think you have a good image and look at it a year later you can see a new way to create the mood. That is what happened with my old "duckpond" illustration. I think I may have it where I want it, but who knows it may resurface again at some point.

Somehow I don't find it a waste of time or energy to revisit older paintings and sketches.  Occasionally I will find something in my portfolio and take it right out. Then I say to myself, 
"What was I thinking!"  At that point I either trash it altogether or find a new way to make it work. That is growth for me.  What about the rest of you..... do you do that?

I find so much out about myself and my painting when I redo or revise something that 'almost' works.  I always want it to be the best it can be.  Whether it is traditional painting or digital I do keep a stack of possible 're-dos' just to remind me to work harder.

Monday, October 27, 2008

When do you STOP?

These illustrations are for the children's yoga book I am illustrating. The book is meant to be instructional, so the focus needs to be on the poses in each case. But...since the book is for little children (ages 4 - 8 mainly), I want to make it cute and appealing. I felt this illustration needed a little something more, but I did not want to compromise the main focus, which is the child imitating the frog's stance. So I brought a few elements into the scene that would add interest and color without taking the focus off of the characters.

Friday, October 24, 2008


I was just planning on making time to post this illustration on Picture Bookies when your letter came, Ginger. Good timing.

I just finished this back cover illustration, titled Lost in London, for Focus on the Family's Clubhouse Magazine the other day, and I thought I would make a little step-by-step out of it for Picture Bookies. Not that creating one of these illustrations is that tricky of a process to justify a step-by-step. What's so complicated about pencil, ink, and color? The hardest part was finding the scrap (Google Image) for the background and making it work. I spent a lot of hours noodling on the background. I wanted it to be relatively monochromatic so that it wouldn't compete with the crowd. The art director wanted the setting to be in front of the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben in London. A Japanese family (front center) has lost some items, which are hidden in the picture. That, too, was a challenge, because how can you hide a bunch on items on a big slab of pavement. I had to get a little creative, but I managed to pull it off.

When I create a "Waldo" page, I start by doing a rough layout, so I know where I'm going and roughly where things will be placed. I don't draw in any people. I just draw the "stage". The actors come later. Once I have the general layout nailed down I start with the front row of the crowd and overlap my way to the back of the crowd. It wouldn't work, of course, to start with the back and work your way to the front. I usually establish a standard size for the characters, like one inch for the front row characters, then I reduce their standard size as they recede into the distance. If I just eyeballed the sizes of the characters, the size relationships could be totally out of whack.

As I penciled the crowd I was thinking about where I would hide everything. I didn't have everything hidden by the time I finished the sketch. I figured I would wing it as I went along. I didn't hide some of the stuff until I was well into the final art. I tend to make things up as I go along a lot. I do that with Trowbridge all the time because I can't afford to put much time into it.

My father-in-law gave me a big box of "tractor" computer paper a few years ago. I still use that for almost all of my work. It's cheap bond paper, but it seems to work okay for most everything I do. I've always drawn my Health Capsules comic on the tractor paper. In this case, I had to tape two pieces of tractor paper together. If I recall, I drew this 25% up. I do all of my inking with the same pen that most illustrators use: Micron Pigma Pens. This job required a size 1.

FYI: One of the things that the kids love when I go to the schools is when I give away one of my Pigma pens. I leave just enough ink in the pen so that the child can draw with it. I sometimes throw them into the audience. That always creates a memorable response. Sometimes after the show a child will come up to me and try to give me the pen back. They can't believe that I would actually give away my pens.

The final result is not much more than Photoshop 101. Of course I have to start with the gradated sky. Next I painted in the buildings, then the pavement, then the crowd. I used the Photoshop pencil for the base color, then various brushes for the shading of the characters. As I went along I was careful to make sure everything was cleverly hidden. It took a lot of extra time, to tone, shade and detail every character in the crowd. People look at these scenes, but they usually don't realize the hours that goes into an illustration like this. My cartoon maps are similar in complexity...that's why I have to work nights and weekends to avoid getting behind.

The title and text are not in yet, of course. This is just the art. Can you find: 10 pigeons. a wallet, an iPod, a camera, a map, a key, and a backpack? There's more hidden stuff, but that's all I can remember now.

That's it for now. Next time: I'll give you concrete proof of how much you can make doing school programs. And, for those, like Paige, Sherry (and myself) with hand problems from overuse, I'll show you how I avoid this problem with a rather unique solution that has worked well for me.

The Sighting

I have been reworking an older version of this tree. But it needed something more, perhaps an investigative reporter.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Portfolio Critiques at SCBWI conferences

A new part of the Midsouth SCBWI conference this year was a poster contest for children's book art. The conference faculty (including an art director from Greenwillow, an editor from Abrams, and Harold Underdown) chose the one that they felt looked most like the cover of a children's book and mine won. How exciting is that!

If I had used a piece of artwork that I had in my portfolio last year at this time, I don't think I would've won. This past year I've grown a lot in my art, and I contribute the starting point of that growth to portfolio critiques from a number of art directors at SCBWI conferences this past year. Each critique pointed out small changes I should make to bring my art to a new level.

There were a lot of beautiful illustrations at the conference this year. Those of us who had attended last year's conference and had met with the Art Director, Laurent Linn, have greatly improved our portfolios based on his articulate suggestions. I think it's so important to get your portfolio critiqued by Art Directors as often as you can.

It's easy for illustrators to stay so stuck in the same way of drawing and painting and composing scenes just because they've sold some artwork. I want to grow as an artist. I want my newest work to always be my best work - but that takes being open to suggestions from others, especially Art Directors, and not getting defensive about my work. Then putting in a lot of hard work to implement those changes. When you look over your portfolio, do you have old pieces in there because they're better or the same quality as your newest work? Are you always striving to bring your artwork up to a new level?

Good to be Back

It's great to be posting again. I love the new banner! Sherry did an amazing job on it.
Ginger...thanks for your motivating energy and vigor in your illustrations and promotion. What would we do without you.
I'm nearly done with a large project with the USDA that I've been working on for over a year. I'll post images after it is published. In the meantime, I'm catching up on the blog here, reading what the fabulous Picture Bookies are up to.


I received my copies of Jack and Jill magazine this past week! In addition to getting to illustrate a story, I ended up on the same page as a feature for a book by fellow Picture-Bookie,  Phyllis Harris and her hubby, Bradley Harris: "My Brother and I"! Phyllis also designed the characters of Jack and Jill who make appearances throughout the magazine. Very, very adorable kids!

In other news I was very excited to receive the "I Love Your Blog" award from Erik Brooks!
I've been a fan of Erik's work for quite some time now so this was a very nice surprise. Thank you!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Article: How to Survive a Professional Dry Spell

This was an article I originally wrote for the "Prairie Wind", the SCBWI-IL e-newsletter. I thought maybe it would be helpful to some visitors to our blog.

By Kathleen Rietz

As freelance illustrators, we’ve all been there before - those times when assignments stop trickling in and we find ourselves lying awake in our beds at night and wondering how we will pay next month’s bills. Sometimes these professional dry spells cause us to question what we may have done wrong. And if enough time passes, we may even begin to doubt our own talents as illustrators. Usually though, dry spells last a short amount of time and new assignments bring us a new sense of security - and coincidentally - restore our sleep.

I know first-hand how difficult it can be to coast through a professional dry spell and survive, because I went through a dry spell that lasted nearly two years. I won’t lie - relying on an income solely through freelance work is not for the faint of heart. But if you use your time wisely, you can come out of a professional dry spell with a redefined sense of purpose and a clearer identity as an illustrator. I would even argue that dry spells are important and necessary if we choose to use our time wisely. For me, those 2 dry years turned out to be a time of immense growth as a children’s book illustrator.

I have compiled a list of suggestions for surviving a professional dry spell. Many of these I tried myself. Others are things I still plan to do the next time work slows for me.

• Conduct a class or demo. Art stores, such as Blick Art Materials, are often open to artists who are interested in teaching anything from a 6-week course to a 1-day workshop. This can be a quick way to earn some cash while promoting yourself as an artist. It’s also a great way to meet and network with other artists in your community. Store managers like it because it draws customers who are inclined to purchase art supplies.
• Get current. Take a computer arts class. Even for traditional illustrators, Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator skills are almost a must-have. Even if you pride yourself on being “old-school”, many clients now expect artists to submit illustration jobs in digital format. You may also want to take a class to learn how to build your own website. If you can’t afford a class at your local community college, offers $25 monthly subscriptions to online tutorials you can complete at your own pace.
• Experiment. Always wanted to try acrylics, gouache or collage art? Now’s your time to shine. Something you try might end up redefining your entire purpose as an illustrator. You can even find online demos and artist groups devoted to a specific medium. In my case, I wanted to get back to using acrylic paints, which I had in storage for years. Before taking them out for a try, I contacted an illustrator whose acrylic work I admired and asked her about her technique. She was more than happy to share her technique with me. I am now using acrylic paint to illustrate a new children’s picture book assignment.
• Update your database. Social sites for illustrators and writers, such as, can offer a wealth of information to aid you in compiling a database of publishers whom you may want to contact for future illustration work. The site contains information such as a publisher’s most recent books, news, imprints, what type of books they publish each year and how many. Other sources for compiling your database are the SCBWI Bulletin, and an annual publication titled “Children’s Writer’s & Illustrator’s Market”. New copies sell for about $25, but you may be able to cut costs by checking one out at your local library.
• Revamp your portfolio. Now’s the time to be honest with yourself. Easier said than done. Sometimes we as illustrators want to include every fabulous illustration we have ever done. We lose focus of our portfolio as a whole. In that case, attending a group critique such as a local SCBWI chapter meeting can be helpful. Personally, I also found it very helpful to contact some artist agents and request feedback from them about my work and my portfolio. While each agent’s advice differed to some extent, there were a few comments made to me by each agent that remained consistent. It was these key comments that really helped me to cull my body of illustration work and focus on creating some new illustrations that gave my portfolio a much stronger sense of unity.
• Create a new promo mailing. Now that you have updated your database and created some new pieces for your portfolio, it’s time to design a new mailing to send to editors and art directors at publishing houses. Be sure that whatever illustration you decide to showcase on your mailing represents your portfolio and your purpose as an artist. Remember, you are trying to convince very busy editors and art directors to stop what they are doing and look at your website or online portfolio, so choose your illustration wisely. I find postcard mailings are best. Both and run lots of sales, and I have been very satisfied with the quality, color, and sharpness of the postcards I have ordered. Plus, you can actually see what the postcard you design will look like before you place your order.

Although no one enjoys not having a constant influx of assignments, an occasional dry spell can a time of renewal for any illustrator willing to learn to be resourceful and honor the ebb and flow common to the freelance lifestyle.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

My New book!

You know how it is when you have a secret you are just bursting to tell someone?? Well I wanted to give you a 'sneak peek' at one of the new books I have been illustrating titled "The ABC's of Yoga for Kids" by author Teresa Anne Power. Teresa is a yoga instructor as well as the author. Teresa's yoga expertise combined with my ballet background has been the perfect formula in bringing this fun and instructional book to life through the illustrations of children demonstrating the poses. Teresa and the book shepherd - Brookes Nohlgren - have been so wonderful to work with. It really makes the project so much more fun when you work with people who are positive and understand each other's vision and have respect for the kind of time and work that goes into children's book illustrations. There will be close to 60 illustrations in all!

Teresa has allowed me to give you a little peek at the book. I was going to post only one illustration, but I feel these 3 are a pretty good representation of the book so far. As the holidays approach, I will add to my blog a link for pre-ordering the book. Remember this illustration that was selected by Teresa for the "book cover"?

So here are a few of the poses:

The "X"

The "Frog"

The "Dolphin"

I am so excited!! Okay...back to work!

Saturday, October 18, 2008

My African Bedtime Rhymes

My African Bedtime Rhymes, by Brettell Hone is now in print!
Very soon this book will be available in the US. Right now it is in the pre order stage, but I just read a really nice review and wanted to share it. The author of this book was raised in South Africa in the closest proximity to the animals he writes so effortlessly about. A rhyming story this book invites young and old(er) to enjoy the habits of some of Africa's well known and lesser known wildlife. You can read the review HERE.

Soon to follow this book is another, also by Brettell Hone, THE BIG FIVE COME ALIVE, and I am just as excited about that one as it features some of the wildest creatures and is a challenge to illustrate but a joy as well.
I feel extremely fortunate to have been chosen for these exciting assignments. I am sure that all illustrators understand the wonderful journey we take when we begin a new illustration project. The research always leads to new learning just as process that we use to create the illustrations always leads to new growth.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

International Day of Peace , Sept. 21, 2008

During the week of September 14 - 21 Peace Day exhibits, and activities took place in many parts of the US and abroad.
One special week in Panama City Florida was sponsored by the Gulf Coast Womens' Group. School children created art, sang special songs, prepared international foods, crafted Origami doves inscribed with Peace slogans and enjoyed hearing the book, One Day in Peace read aloud. The book by Robert Alan and Steve Diamond was my first illustration assignment. To this date it is still featured on thePeace Kids website and has been translated into over 17 languages.

In addition to all the hands on activities a Proclamation Ceremony was held by the Panama City, Florida Mayor, the Honorable Scott Clemons who read and signed the document proclaiming Sunday, Sept. 21 as the International Day of Peace in Bay County.

Below are images from the book I illustrated that were enlarged and displayed along with text from the book.

Monday, September 22, 2008

"Little Black Ant on Park Street"

Today I received this catalog sample file of the book cover for "Little Black Ant on Park Street". The book is scheduled for release in Spring 2009, published by Soundprints for the Smithsonian Institution. I am currently working on the inside illustrations, all double page spreads.

A Different Twist on Children's Illustration

I rarely post any of my design work here, but since I am adding these to my surface design portfolio on my website, I thought I might give you a taste.
Yep, I do a little of everything.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

A Sweet Surprise

I had the nicest email from my friend, and fellow Picture Bookie Amy Cullings Moreno!
What a good friend to let me know that I finally acheived a long time wish. This week I was chosen as Illustrator of the week on Children's Illustrators.
If Amy hadn't emailed me I would have missed the enjoyment of seeing my work in that little window. True, there isn't much left of this week...but I will go back a few times, just to take another peek and smile!

Thanks again, Amy *:)

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Promoting Peace

The first two books I illustrated were done about 8 years ago for the talented Robert Alan Silverstein who works closely with various Peace organizations and the UN to promote peace. The first little book was printed in paperback and is now online and translated into over 17 languages. The message of Peace and how children can help to bring it about has been brought to millions of people world wide.

I am honored that the Gulf Coast Women's Club of Panama City Florida is planning an exhibit for their International Day of Peace Celebration that will include images from the books I illustrated for the People for Peace. One Day In Peace-2000, Peace Day and the Peace Department feature children of the world who meet in cyberspace, much as we are doing now. Their goal is to promote peace in various ways.

You can read all these books online at PEACE KIDS.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Have you thought about this?

I have seen several group POST CARD mailers lately. Some are good, some are better and all have the impact that was intended.
Recently I have been hired to redesign the website for the agency to which I belong. In addition to the website overhaul, I have designed a group postcard.

Are any of the Picture Bookies interested in something similar? Maybe not this fall, but perhaps in the spring we could get together and create a really awesome group card.

Although there are 30 artists on the card I designed for the agency our group is only 8 and that would give us much more exposure.

Let your voice be heard and share your thoughts on the subject.