Inside the Studio with Kaley McKean, Illustrator of Howl like a Wolf!: Learn to Think, Move, and Act Like 15 Amazing Animals
The Children’s Book Review | May 28, 2018
Kaley McKean is an illustrator based in Toronto. She received her BDes in Illustration from OCAD U in 2012, and since then has been working in the realms of editorial publications, children’s literature, and product design. Her work features bright, minimal colour palettes and hand-made textures. She is inspired by medieval bestiaries, folklore, traditional handicrafts and the natural world. She will happily draw you any animal.
Inside Kaley McKean’s Studio
I live in the top two stories of a Victorian row house in Toronto’s west end. The upper story is comprised of a little storage area and an attic room with vaulted ceilings and a skylight. It has proven itself to be a really ideal studio space for myself and my husband, illustrator Nolan Pelletier. When we moved in a few years ago, one of our first projects was to build an 8-foot desk along one wall to serve as a shared work-space. Since then, the space has been filled out with a pillowy sitting area by the front window, my sewing desk and a couple of sturdy industrial shelves to accommodate an ever-expanding collection of books and ephemera. The walls and shelves are plastered with original art we’ve collected and various curios. I don’t do minimalism.
The space is well-lit and airy. The fact that it’s upstairs, separate from the main living area, is helpful for getting into work-mode.
I try my best to stave off cabin fever by leaving the house now and then. I like to take walks on the lakeshore, which is only a few minutes away, or work in our little rented allotment garden in a nearby park.
Kaley McKean’s Creative Process
I like to tidy up my half of the desk and the rest of the studio before starting a new project, or at the very least neaten the assorted piles of detritus that remain from whatever I worked on last. Shortly after doing this I comb the shelves for reference material and create fresh new piles.
I begin by sketching on paper to feel out composition and concept and develop the look of the illustration a bit. I don’t really nail anything down at this point, just work up a solid starting point. From here I move on to more developed roughs. My work relies a lot on colours and textures and how they interact, so working digitally here allows me to easily experiment and problem-solve before I go to final.
It’s important to me to see my own hand in my work, so there’s a lot of back-and-forth between digital and traditional media as I put together a final illo. I favour ink, watercolour, and graphite, which I use to create textures, washes and various hand-drawn elements. These are scanned in and compiled in Photoshop, at which point I bring in my colour and mess around until, several hours and podcast episodes later, I get the look I want.
Howl Like a Wolf was my first book, and with most of my past experience being in quick turn-around editorial illustrations it was a real change of pace (and a pleasant one!) to spend more than a year sinking my teeth into a single project. That being said, my process wasn’t much different – each stage was just a lot longer. I made a point of taking as much time as I could at the beginning to develop a unified style and approach that I felt I’d be able to carry through the whole project. From there, it was just a matter of developing the book a few chapters at a time, helped along by my fantastic art director Alethea Morrison, who made it a very smooth process.
Learn more about Kaley McKean
Written by Kathleen Yale
Illustrated by Kaley McKean
Publisher’s Synopsis: What does it feel like to “see” with your ears like a bat or go through a full body transformation like a frog? Can you wriggle in and out of tight places like an octopus, camouflage yourself like a leopard, or do a waggle dance like a honeybee? This creative and beautifully illustrated interactive guide makes learning about animals fun for children ages 6 and up. Fifteen animals explain their amazing feats and invite kids to enter their world by mimicking their behavior — an imaginative approach to learning that fosters curiosity, empathy, and dramatic play.
Ages 6-9 | Publisher: Storey Publishing, LLC | 2018 | ISBN-13: 978-1612129051
Discover more books like “Howl like a Wolf!: Learn to Think, Move, and Act Like 15 Amazing Animals,” written by Kathleen Yale and illustrated by Kaley McKean, on The Children’s Book Review by following along with our articles tagged with Animals, and Picture Book. And be sure to check out more authors and illustrators featured in our Inside the Studio column.