HomeBooks by AgeAges 4-8Illustration Inspiration: Kayla Harren, Author-Illustrator of Mary Had A Little Lizard
Illustration Inspiration Kayla Harren Author-Illustrator of Mary Had A Little Lizard

Illustration Inspiration: Kayla Harren, Author-Illustrator of Mary Had A Little Lizard

The Children’s Book Review | November 14, 2017

Kayla Harren studied illustration at the School of Visual Arts in New York City. Her work has been featured in the Society of Illustrators Editorial and Book Show as well as 3×3, Click, and Zoodinos. She’s illustrated more than thirty short stories for children’s book app, FarFaria and Juma the Giraffe published by the Wildlife Nature Institute as part of their education outreach program in Africa.

She currently lives with her husband and their hound dog in Minnesota where she gathers inspiration for stories during long walks in the woods.

I make art because . . .

I want to capture beautiful, fleeting moments that might otherwise disappear. There are many precious experiences we have that can be so small, yet so meaningful, and gone in an instant.  I love these ephemeral moments and when I see them happening, I feel compelled to replicate them in my art so they can be enjoyed over and over again.

My latest published book is . . .

Mary Had A Little Lizard published by Sky Pony Press.

Art medium used . . .

A combination of colored pencils and digital color in Photoshop.

My artistic process . . .

. . . begins by searching for reference photos of everything I plan to draw. I like to do a lot of research first and saturate my brain with images related to the story.  Then I stop looking at the images when I draw because I like to be inspired by reference, not copy it.  I start very roughly laying out a thumbnail outline for the entire book.  Then I create character studies and decide on the look of each main character.  I tighten the sketches and tweak each composition until I feel like each element on the page feels right.  I like to do this sketching process in Photoshop because I can quickly resize and move objects around.  Once I am happy with the sketches, I print them out with a very light opacity. I draw final lines with colored pencils on paper because I like the texture of the pencils.  I scan those lines and finish coloring in Photoshop by adding layers of color, texture, shadows, and light.

I am inspired . . .

When I see the way light interacts with objects. When I see someone’s backlit ears glow with a neon orange hue, it just makes me want to paint.  When I see a sunset cover everything in rose-tinted light, I try to think of ways I can incorporate that visual into a story.  While working on Mary Had A Little Lizard, I was excited to capture the morning sun softly lighting up Mary’s bedroom.  I was also particularly inspired by a moment when I saw warm light shining through a window, creating a square patch of light on my wood floor.  I knew I needed to include that image in a book, so I used it to highlight Mary’s backpack and Lizard.

My favorite place to create & illustrate . . .

. . . is outside on my deck with a sketchbook on my lap, a pencil in my hand, and a great view of my dog sniffing around the wildflower field.  I do most of my illustration work on my computer at my desk, but being outside to draw is a special, refreshing treat that I always look forward to.

 My most used art supply or tool . . .

. . . is a kneaded eraser.

My illustrator idols . . .

Tony DiTerlizzi, David Wiesner, Shaun Tan, Jerry Pinkney, Benji Davies, Julia Denos, Teagan White, Stephanie Graegin, Jon Klassen, Oliver Jeffers, Erin Stead, Lorena Alvarez, Renata Liwska, Peter Brown, Amy Bates, Jon J Muth, Torben Kuhlmann, and Chris Van Allsburg.

My all-time favorite children’s book I didn’t illustrate . . .

The Arrival by Shaun Tan.  This is the book that inspired me to become a children’s book illustrator.  Shaun Tan is a master of wordless storytelling and The Arrival taught me it is possible to use only images to guide a reader along an emotional journey.

A literary character I would like to create art with . . .

It would have to be Charlotte the spider from Charlotte’s Web.  She is amazingly skilled in the art of web spinning and I am inspired by her focus and hard work.

I am currently working on . . .

A fun, food related picture book with Sleeping Bear Press.

Connect with Kayla Harren

www.kaylaharren.com | www.instagram.com/kaylaharren

Mary Had a Little LizardMary Had A Little Lizard

Written and Illustrated by Kayla Harren

Publisher’s Synopsis: A modern take on “Mary Had a Little Lamb” featuring hilarious antics as Lizard sneaks into Mary’s backpack and causes nothing but mayhem in her Kindergarten class.

He eats someone’s lunch, makes a mess in the painting corner, and scares the teacher silly during story time before being sent to the principal’s office to wait for Mary’s mom to pick him up.

It’s no fun being alone.

But when Mary finally comes home from school, Lizard knows he’ll always have his very best friend.

Rendered in a combination of traditional and digital color, Mary Had a Little Lizard is a silly, satisfying celebration of new experiences and friendships that can never be broken.

Ages 4-7 | Publisher: Sky Pony Press | 2017 | ISBN-13: 978-1510716353

Available Here: 

Discover more picture book illustration inspiration and books like That Is My Dream!, written by Langston Hughes and Illustrated by Daniel Miyares, on The Children’s Book Review by following along with our Illustration Inspiration series and articles tagged with , , and .



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Bianca Schulze is the founder of The Children’s Book Review. She is a reader, reviewer, mother and children’s book lover. She also has a decade’s worth of experience working with children in the great outdoors. Combined with her love of books and experience as a children’s specialist bookseller, the goal is to share her passion for children’s literature to grow readers. Born and raised in Sydney, Australia, she now lives with her husband and three children near Boulder, Colorado.

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