Interview With Illustrator Karen Romagna + Win One of Her Illustrations!

Today it is my pleasure to bring you a post featuring one of my favorite children’s book illustrators, Karen Romagna.   Karen tells us a bit about how she came to illustration and the projects she’s working on.  Here’s Karen:

When I was in the 7th grade my mom dropped me and my 15 year old sister, Michele, off at the train station in Morristown, New Jersey. We had enough money between us to find our way up to Newport, Rhode Island to visit our older sister in college. I remember wandering through the streets of Newark looking for Penn Station. and then running to catch a Greyhound in Providence that would drive us to Newport. Once we arrived in Newport we met up with our older sister and walked for miles to get to her college dorm. It never dawned on us that this was something we couldn’t do. … or maybe shouldn’t do. We had a fun weekend and made it back home Sunday night. I knew we would.

The same applies to my art. My parents always said “Of course you can!… Just don’t leave a mess.” So I spent years trying new things. Some turned out better than others, but I never thought that I might not be able to do something.

I attempted to learn the dulcimer, piano, banjo and ukulele before realizing the tambourine was more my thing. I went through a pottery making, stained glass, candle making, pickling, canning, bread making, mural painting, faux finishing decade. I even owned a stencil design business for a few years. Through it all the one constant was my love of painting. The other constant was that I ALWAYS left a mess.

In the early 1990’s I studied painting and illustration with Milton Charles, a retired Art Director from Pocket Books. He was an incredible teacher who also made me believe that “Of course I can!”. For years I used the tools and techniques I had learned from Milton to paint children’s portraits and landscapes. At the time my children were young and great subject matter.  Spot #1 Casting Off

Spot #2 Matt Study


Fast forward to current day. I have transitioned from painting children to illustrating for children. I am a traditional painter who really needs to learn more tricks in Photoshop. I switch back and forth from oil paint to watercolor. Both are so much fun.

My Process:   My process is simple. I paint what I love. Once inspiration strikes it is a matter of painting what I see. The hard part is learning how to see! And very often what I am seeing is in my imagination.

In Once Upon a Time study  Spot #3 Study-Once Upon a Time I was sure I had seen a duck and some birds.
By the time I went to the final I decided “Nah”, they had just been passing through in the process of seeing what it is that I really love.
The result is Once Upon a Time       Spot #4 Once Upon A Time


Voyage, A Book!

Voyage, my first picture book debuted in October 2014. It is based on a poem written by Billy Collins, former U.S Poet Laureate. While Billy was in office he wrote the poem about the adventures reading can take you on. It was presented to John Cole to celebrate his 25 years as Director for the Center for the Book at the Library of Congress. An editor from Bunker Hill Publishing noticed Voyage hanging in John Cole’s office. Billy agreed to let them publish the poem as a picture book.

Billy likes to choose the illustrators for his books. He chose me! I asked the publisher if he wouldn’t mind telling me exactly which illustration Billy Collins had seen that made him feel that I was the right artist for his book. “Of course!” he said “It’s the one of the boy in a boat.”

My heart melted… that was one of my paintings, not one of my children’s illustrations… somewhere out there Billy found a painting of my younger son, Tim. One of those paintings I had done so long ago. There was something magical about Tim. He would find himself in a great adventure with a piece of rope that he’d found. Tim was a creative spirit and truly believed that he could do anything. He was the perfect character for Voyage.     Spot #5 Voyage Cover



Now What?

I am currently working on a picture book about a lonely frog looking for adventure and love. Spot #6 Flying Frog


Since completing Voyage I have taken on several painting commissions for private clients. I love new challenges to see, if in fact, I still “can”. You know what? My studio is a little messy, but of course I can!

Thanks so much for having me on your blog Darlene!

Karen Romagna’s debut picture book, Voyage, launched at The National Book Festival in Washington, DC on August 30, 2014. Written by former US Poet Laureate, Billy Collins, Voyage is the tale of a young boy setting off for an adventure on the open sea. Karen used the softness of watercolor in illustrating this wonderful dreamlike tale.

Karen grew up surrounded by art, music, brothers, sisters and parents that always supplied paint, paper, and the freedom to try new things. She lives in rural New Jersey where she and her husband, John, raised two sons, Matt and Tim, in a house filled with music and art… and hopefully a spirit that has allowed her sons to try new things too.

Karen is the Illustrator Coordinator for the New Jersey Chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.  http://www.njscbwi.orgSpot #7  Romagna, Karen Headshot

You can see more of Karen’s work at:

And now for the giveaway:  A limited edition archival print.
Title: Goose Girl     

One lucky winner’s name will be drawn from a hat.  To enter the give-away, leave a comment at the end of this post for one entry.  Share this post on Twitter or Face Book or other social media site and get a second entry.   If you reblog the post, you’ll get a third entry.  You have until Monday, 11-2-2015 to enter.  Winner will be announced on Wednesday, 11-4-2015.  (Sure wish I could enter. What a gorgeous illustration!) Spot #8 Goose Girl



Introducing Children’s Book Author/Illustrator, Patricia Keeler

Today it’s my pleasure to have an interview with an author/illustrator friend I recently had the pleasure meeting at the NJSCBWI Conference this past June.  Patricia Keeler’s work is playful, uplifting and filled with a sense of whimsy that is a joy to behold.  Here’s Patricia:

What kind of art interested you as a kid?
I would say everything I did in my free time as a kid qualified as art–decorating cookies, stapling together Halloween costumes, cutting my hair, making mud villages, and chalk drawing on the sidewalk. Drawing was in the mix, but it was probably one of my least favorite types of art.

To get the flavor of my home growing up, my mom was a fibers artist. She shaved our black French poodle and wove cloth for a dress for herself. I didn’t want a dress made from my dog.

When did you decide to pursue illustration as an art form?
I was hired to create sets, do advertising, and background images for PBS television programming in Virginia. I was amazed you could get paid for doing that!

Did you go to school or are you self-taught?
I’d say self-taught, as I got a Master’s in Art Education.

What advice would you give to kids who are interested in drawing and illustrating?
Say something through your art about your day. Got wet feet on the way to school? Mystery meat for lunch? New cat? Show what your feet feel like wet, what the lunch room mystery meat tasted like, and how happy your new cat was to see you. (Show what your cat would look like if you found her wet and eating mystery meat.)

Don’t worry about using a certain medium like watercolors or colored pencils. That ‘pick a medium’ is a made-up rule. Use whatever in that moment that helps to get your idea out.

Which illustrators do you admire?
I fall in love with every piece of children’s book art I see these days! It’s crazy–or folks are just that good. I think children are amazing artists! But my current perfect illustration person would be a mash-up between Laura Cornell and Frank Viva.

What is your process?
I get coffee from Starbucks and one of those chewy chocolate cookies. Those are scary good. I sit by the Hudson River and watch the boats go by, the dog walkers, babies . . . Then something floats up in my mind that makes me laugh. Like babies flying with books for wings.     BOOK FAIRY

After that it’s a wrestling match with pencil, colored pencil, watercolor, and digital. It’s like trying to pick out a tiny, slippery seed from the inside of a ripe tomato. I just keep picking at that idea until it fabricates.

Generally I make a lot of sketches, than paint a few loosely in watercolor. I scan the images into the computer. I change the colors and add textures.


Digital gives me so many colors, texture, placement options–and I’m learning more all the time. So mostly I run out of time. I feel like I could play with the ideas in Photoshop indefinitely.

Do you have an agent?
Yes! I’m excited to be working with Liza Fleissig and Ginger Harris of Liza Royce Agency.

Do you have new picture books coming out?
I have a busy year ahead because I’ll be illustrating two new books! Both books will be published by Sky Pony Press in the spring of 2017. The working title for the first book is LIZZIE AND LOU SEAL. For the second book we’re still working on the title.

I’ve illustrated, photographed, and/or written trade and educational books including DRUMBEAT IN OUR FEET, (Lee and Low Books, 2006) and A HUGE HOG IS A BIG PIG, (Greenwillow, 2002), a selection of the Junior Library Guild and the Children’s Book-of-the-Month Club. I received the Christopher Medal and the New York Book Festival First Prize in 2011 for illustrations in WOULD YOU STILL LOVE ME IF, an Indie picture book, written by Wendy LaGuardia. Over the years, my books have been reviewed by the New York Times Book Review, Kirkus Reviews, School Library Journal, Booklist and The Horn Book.

An original painting from DRUMBEAT IN OUR FEET went to the Children’s Art Auction, ABFFE, this past May 2014. This piece was purchased by the Kerlan Collection’s curator, Lisa Von Drasek. The Kerlan Collection at the University of Minnesota may be the largest collection of children’s books in the world, as they house more than 100,000 books, as well as original manuscripts, galleys and color proofs.

Eventually the Kerlan Collection was interested in the entire DRUMBEAT file, from illustrated pages, galleys, proofs, acceptance letter, contract, pages of editorial critiques, and early sketches to the original paintings. I’m pleased my work found a final home and is now available for students and artists to explore a comprehensive example of children’s book illustration process.      

Patricia in her studio.

Patricia in her studio.

More of my work can be seen at

You can also contact Patricia at:

Thank you, Darlene for giving me the opportunity to share my thoughts and process.