Illustrator Interview – Donna Jeanne Koepp

One of the thrills of this illustrator series is being able to spotlight not-yet-pubished talent, for the pleasure of my readers, but also never quite knowing who is going to take a look! Today I want to introduce you to one of my fellow mentees on the SCBWI Nevada Mentor Program. I had the fun of having Donna in both my critique groups during the May retreat and she wowed everyone with her animal realism!

[DJK] Thank you Joanna for this interview and allowing me to think about and tell you a bit about my creative journey.

  • Illustrator or author/illustrator?

[DJK] I consider myself an illustrator first, but I must say that I’m working on my first fully fleshed out story idea.  I started with ideas for illustrations and it has happily turned into a manuscript, storyboard, sketches and dummy book.  I’m having a blast having the words inform the art and the art in turn informing the words.  Total blast!

  • What’s your nationality and how does where you have lived influence your art?

[DJK] I was born, raised and continue to live in Nevada, USA.  I live in the northern part of the state, so we have four seasons and a mixture of landscapes in all directions.  There are vistas everywhere I look and when I look at my art, there are always far reaching vistas in the backgrounds.

  • Tell us a little of your beginnings as an artist.

[DJK] Like many artists, I’ve created stuff since I was a kid.  I couldn’t wait for Halloween each year because I would draw, color and cut out witches, jack-o-lanterns, ghosts and black cats to tape in the windows.  As a matter of fact I still decorate my house for Halloween.  In the sixth grade I drew a detailed image of a racoon for my book report on Rascal, by Sterling North.  That kicked off my illustration career selling other students illustrations for their book reports for ice cream bars after school.  But our teacher shut down my business rather quickly.  I’ve always wanted to illustrate stories.

  • What is your favorite medium for your artwork?

[DJK] I mainly work in pencil, ink and watercolor.  I love art supplies and learning new techniques.  I suffer from Multiple Muse Disorder and have taken many paths in my creative life.  Stained Glass, Sculpture, Calligraphy, Quilting, Altered Books, Collage, Jewelry are just a few of the disciplines I’ve sunk myself into (see what I mean?).  But I always return to illustration with simple tools and try to get my muses to behave and take turns.

  • Do you have themes/characters that you return again and again to in your art?

[DJK] I love animals, but have been practicing my humans recently.  I usually don’t dress my animals in clothes (yet), but push their ability to communicate with our species.  I always like stories that bring characters together to work toward a common solution.  Unlikely animal friends, like predator and prey are characters in my current project.

  • What books and/or illustrators influenced your childhood?

[DJK] I think my biggest influence is John Tenniel who illustrated Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass.  I copied his work like crazy to see how he handled his ink technique.  Also Arthur Rackham, Edmond Dulac, Kay Nielsen and N.C. Wyeth are big influences.  But having listed them just now, my art is not too much like any of theirs I don’t think.  Hmmm, not sure what my art looks like.

  • What does your workspace look like? 

[DJK] I’m a total stack rat.  I really need to clean my studio now.  I’m extremely lucky to have a whole room devoted to my art.  It does spill out to my evening chair because I must be working on something at all times.  I’m also a how-to bookaholic.  I try to limit them to one bookcase, but that’s not working out so well.


  • Can you share a piece or two with us, and the process of producing them?

[DJK] I recently did a fun challenge of re-illustrating a cover for a Harry Potter Book.  The one assigned to me was the Chamber of Secrets.  The only restriction was that we had to use the original Harry Potter, J.K. Rowling font.  First I read the book again but did not watch the movie or do any image research other than what Mary Grandpre’ did for the original book.  I wanted to see what images my own imagination conjured up.  It was really tough to do because Harry Potter is already a cultural icon and there is no changing Harry at this point.  Once I decided on something I just charged ahead.  I used pencil on pastel paper and lived in the chamber for a few weeks.

Harry Potter Bk 2 Selected Thumbnail 051112

Harry Potter Bk 2 Progress Sketch a 051112

Harry Potter Bk 2 Blog 051112

The Real Book

My current project for the SCBWI Mentor Program pretty much grew organically out of some animal sketches and a painting that looked like the sky was on fire.  I love that place where ideas come from.  I’m going to live there someday.

Dummy Page 1-2

Dummy page 3-4

Dummy Page 5-6

3 Animal Painted

  • How is being part of the Nevada SCBWI mentor group adding to your creative life?

[DJK] I think having a mentor, Deborah Nourse Lattimore, is helping me get to a completed dummy book to take to the program wrap up.  The past few years I had portfolio reviews and received some great feedback and advice that my work would work best for covers and interior spots.  But up at Tahoe, Deborah asked one magic question, “What do you want to do?”  So imagine that, doing what you want.  The full picture book was my answer and my focus at the moment.  Not only is she a publised author/illustrator, she is an art professor so my art recieves the best of the best criticism.

  • What is the most useful craft book for illustrators you have read?

[DJK] Writing With Pictures by Uri Shulevitz is my favorite for children’s book illustrations.  Imaginative Realism and Color and Light both my James Gurney are amazing.  But like I said, I also have a whole bookcase full. 

  • Five Fun Ones to Finish?

What word best sums you up?

[DJK] Daydreamer

If you could live anywhere for a season, where would you go?

[DJK] Switzerland in the autumn.

What do you do for non-art related relaxation?

[DJK] Other crafts, tatting, sewing.  Cruising the internet for reference photos, Facebook, Pinterest.   I also like to play golf.

Cats or dogs?

[DJK] Dogs.  I have two Scottish Terriers and they are cats in dog bodies (don’t tell them I said that).

If you could spend a day with one children’s book character, with whom would that be?

[DJK] Pippi Longstockings

For more of Donna’s illustrations, check out White Wolf Studio!

Donna, one of my cats was convinced of his canine heritage. He would heel, follow, and chewed every pair of shoes I had. I should send him over to give your Scotties some lessons. As a lover of wildlife, as my blog-readers know, your illustrations are riveting for me. The authenticity makes me take a step back almost expecting one of the big cats to spring off the page! I am excited at your first attempt at adding a story to your vivid pictures and wish you success as you pursue your passion.

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25 Responses to Illustrator Interview – Donna Jeanne Koepp

  1. Dana Carey says:

    What a pleasure to read this interview and look at the art. You made me laugh more than once, Donna. I especially liked your illustration barter scheme in 6th grade– wish I’d thought of that! Good luck with your picture book!
    Thanks, Donna & Joanna!

  2. Enjoyed being introduced to Donna’s illustrations. Her animal illustrations are so authentic and real — they leap off of the page. Love them as they are. Would love to see the picture book she’s doing. Good luck. And, I did love your cover for Harry Potter — it did capture the story and was amazing. We’re going to be seeing a lot more from you. Thank you ladies for the interview.

  3. Donna’s illustrations are amazing! Thank you for introducing us to this up and coming artist/writer. And YAY for tatting! Hardly anyone even knows what it is anymore!

  4. Donna’s animals are gorgeous, the black and white character sketches especially. The Harry Potter book cover sounds like a fun project and I’m intrigued by the depiction of Slytherin on the statue. It’s a unique vision of a well-known story. Good luck with your book!

  5. Joanna,
    The interview looks great and I’m honored to be featured. Thank you!! I have so much to show you next month at the SCBWI Mentor wrap up. I can’t wait to see what you’ve done the last six months as well.

    Beth, yes, tatting is one of my activities I do to keep my hands busy while pretending to watch TV but actually daydreaming about stories and how I can put thoughts down in an illustration. Multi-tasking at its best.

  6. Joanna says:

    Cheers, Erik, I thought you might like that.

  7. Love seeing the art in progress! So cool. The hawk shadow is my favorite:>) Thanks for introducing me to this illustrator!

    • Thanks Laura. My husband asks me why I show the thumbnails and progress sketches. I do because they are so spontaneous and cool. Just raw ideas without any judgements. Then, the internal critics line up to beat me up. I like the hawk shadow too. I will go back and make the shadow more realistic on the different levels of flowers and such because it’s too flat right now (ok, goodbye internal critic).

  8. Donna, your art is amazing! The animals in particular are exquisite! Thank you both for a wonderful and entertaining interview, and for the chance to be introduced to Donna’s art. And I love Pippi too! 🙂

  9. Hannah Holt says:

    Fantastic illustrations. Her Harry Potter cover is awesome. Now I’m going to have to look at my book to see how it is different (I haven’t read it in a while) because her’s looks like it should be the real deal.

    • Thanks Hannah. I printed it out and put it on my real book just to see if I thought it might just be, maybe, even remotely possible that I could do a book cover. I like it myself. Mary Grandpre’s covers for the American market are so wonderful it was hard to even start this challenge.

  10. Cathy Mealey says:

    “Stack rat” – I love it! I live with one, and it makes me crazy! May I steal that phrase?

    Thanks for the showcase.

    • Well, of course you can…….but us stack rats stick together and I would defend it. Not sure why I would defend it, it makes me crazy too.

      Love your blog and someday I must go to that deCordova Sculpture museum. WOW!

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