HomeBooks by AgeAges 4-8Illustration Inspiration: Carolyn Conahan, Illustrator of This Old Van
Illustration Inspiration_ Carolyn Conahan

Illustration Inspiration: Carolyn Conahan, Illustrator of This Old Van

The Children’s Book Review | August 14, 2015

Illustration Inspiration_ Carolyn Conahan

Carolyn Conahan is the author and illustrator of several picture books, including The Twelve Days of Christmas in Oregon (Sterling), and The Big Wish (Chronicle), which was awarded the 2011 Oregon Spirit Book Award for Picture Books by the Oregon Council of Teachers of English. She is also the staff artist of Cricket magazine. Carolyn comes from a family of adventurous teachers, and she spent her childhood on a series of bumpy road trips, much like the one in This Old Van. She lives in Portland, OR, and still loves to travel. Visit Carolyn online at carolyndigbyconahan.com.

Latest published book …

This Old VanI illustrated This Old Van, written by Kim Norman

Inspired by …

Hippie Van adventures, past and present!

Art medium used …

Watercolors on paper.




Artistic process …

If it’s not my story, I read and re-read it until I start to picture it in my head. Then I do lots of sketching (in pencil, and in color) to find the characters, and get to where I can draw them consistently. I like to include people (and in this case, vehicles) that I know or have known, or that I see around and about the neighborhood. It helps me connect with the characters, a connection I hope will come across in the pictures. Then I lay out the book. I try to get a flow moving from page to page to page, a pace in tune with the words. When I have everything sorta planned (sorta is as close as I get when planning) I start splashing the paint around. The project takes on a momentum of its own at a certain point, when I’ve got the characters and the palette and the pages worked out. But little things spring up by surprise along the way (creatures hiding in the greenery, or finding a seat on an empty bench, or possums with cool hippie shades) and that helps keep the process fresh. If I knew exactly what was going to happen every day when I sat down to work, it would get boring. But it never does.


Favorite place to create & illustrate …

I work in a shed out back (aka the workhouse, or the doghouse) which we converted over a period of years, using salvaged and recycled materials, into a cute little studio. It has lots of windows and electricity.  All the conveniences I need.

Most used art supply or tool …

Pencil, and eraser!

Illustrator idols …

Lisbeth Zwerger, Barry Moser, (his wood engravings, in particular) John Burningham, Maggie Rudy, Carson Ellis,  … Lots of others.

All-time favorite children’s book you didn’t illustrate …

Cannonball Simp, by John Burningham

A literary character to create art with …

Willie Wonka because if I goofed off, or got slovenly, or sloppy or lazy, I know he’d trick me into turning myself into a blueberry, or get me to fall into a vat of something. He would keep me on my toes, I think.  I am very easily distracted, which has a negative effect on productivity.

Currently working on …

I am the staff artist for Cricket magazine, so I’m always working on buggy adventures for the cartoon, or margin bugs or something. I’m also working on 2 picture books and a middle grade novel. Illustrated, of course!

Connect with  Carolyn Conahan 


This Old VanThis Old Van

Written by Kim Norman

Illustrated by Carolyn Conahan

Publisher’s Synopsis: This old van,   
she passed one, 
shining in the rising sun.

With a click clack rattle rack,
ready for some fun,
This old van says,
“Goodbye, one!”

Take a rollicking ride in This Old Van, a joyful take on the classic children’s counting song. As the colorfully painted vintage vehicle, driven by a really cool pair of grandparents, rolls down the highway, it passes one train, two bulldozers, three tractors, and four semis, right up to ten muddy motorbikes. And along the way, luggage flies off, horns honk, and the hurrying van zigs and zags—till it arrives at its destination JUST IN TIME! You won’t be able to resist singing every fun verse out loud.

Ages 3-7 | Publisher: Sterling Children’s Books | 2015 | ISBN-13: 978-1454910633

Available Here: 

Discover more picture book illustration inspiration and books like “This Old Van,” by Kim Norman and Carolyn Conahan, on The Children’s Book Review by following along with our Illustration Inspiration series and articles tagged with , and Picture Books.

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