Illustrator Interview – Kelli Thrasher

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FBprofilePICI have been drooling for quite a while over the illustrations Kelli Thrasher uploads to her FB page so I was very happy when she said yes to an interview on Miss Marple’s Musings.

Illustrator or author/illustrator?

100% Illustrator. (I love to read a lot of books, sing songs & make up stories for our children at bedtime. I have a huge respect for Authors and people who are amazing with words)

What’s your nationality and which and how have certain cultures/regions influenced your work?

1/8 Italian, Scottish & Dutch I think. I’m really just all American though… with an appreciation of all cultures, their color palettes, textures and food. Some early influences for me were my Father’s paintings & drawings, all of my picture books, coloring books, Cartoons & my Fisher Price hand crank Movie Viewer.  I was also very influenced by Vintage Hairstyle books at the beauty salon, my Mother’s clothing pattern packages & Good Housekeeping Magazines that were around our house growing up.

I used to color some of the black & white pattern packages because I felt that they needed more color & textile design. It was a lot of fun to add more to the fashion pages in the magazine too… more makeup, bigger hair and always added a beauty mark! I was always interested in fashion, makeup and colors. You could often find me embellishing my Barbie Dolls clothing, cutting their hair and giving them eyeliner & beauty marks via a sharpie.

I grew up with Hasbro Fashion Plates and would constantly add in more lines, fabric patterns and reconstruct their outfits before coloring them in. That has sort of carried over into later years. I still love to work on lines first, to create exactly what I’m envisioning, and then go in and add colors & textures to bring the Illustrations to life.

I love all these early influences you have shared can you tell us a little bit more of your beginnings and journey as an artist?

Uncle Don

Uncle Don

I used to draw pictures for my great Uncle Don when he would come up from Florida to visit my Grandparents. He was an artist also (an Oil Painter) and he would buy my little drawings for $1 each. The money was nice, but what I loved most was his honesty! If I needed to improve on a drawing he would offer kind constructive criticism.

Drawing ventured from little 5×7 papers to my cardboard pencil boxes in school. I always got in trouble for zoning out and drawing in my pencil box. It was a great place to escape to and create my own little worlds.



Art & Music were favorites during my school years. After High School, I attended the Art Institute of Houston & then transferred to The Art Institute of Philadelphia to be closer to family after my Dad had his first heart attack. I worked for a couple different Advertising Agencies during the day to pay my way through college, and then attended school from 6pm-10pm every night. It was a hectic time in my life, but I have always performed better under pressure.

I continued working in advertising for many years and currently work at home full time doing Graphic Design. I focus on Illustration projects, taking online classes and creating new portfolio pieces in the evenings and weekends. It all balances out and although I still work long hours doing what I love, I can fortunately work from the comfort of home, which allows me to be there more for my husband and children.

 Do you have a preferred medium to work in?

I love any medium that I can create line-work first. I love pencil, sharpie, pen & ink, watercolors and working on my Wacom Tablet in Photoshop. I love the raw materials but, from the production end, working in PS saves a lot of time. I also like the challenge of finding new brushes and creating new mixed media backgrounds to scan in & try to make every Illustration look like it came right off of a hot press paper.

What does your workspace look like? 


Studio at Night

Studio at Night

I used to have a large office upstairs, but it is now our Son’s room. I work at home full time so my office ranges from the Breakfast Room, the Deck, & Living Room. Pretty much where ever the kids want to play or I can hear them. Often times I’m more creative at night and work in bed or at Starbucks on days when both of our children are in school.

Can you share a piece or two with us, maybe of a WIP, and the process of creating them?

 My process is pretty simple. Here is a peek at a Picture Book Dummy that I created for our Daughter’s 6th Birthday. It was based on a story that I tell to the kids each night.

 01_ROUGHS04_WIP2eating_new02_FINALS• Draw a lot of Thumbnails & develop Character Studies

• Layout pages in storyboard format to figure out the flow

• Create background textures to scan in

• Sketch out each page in either the sketchbook or iPad before redrawing it in Photoshop

• Put the book dummy together in InDesign

• Read through it over and over, correct some pages and reprint

• Send storyboard to an editor

• Receive a rejection letter, smile & frame it (only 79 more rejections to go…)

• Keep taking classes, reading more books, work on other pieces, dabble with the book again from time to time and just keep drawing, learning and growing every day.

Do you have themes or characters you return to again and again?

Bear Hug

Bear Hug

I seem to have a love for larger animals… especially Hippos. I also love Bears, Walruses, Elephants and Manatees. Trying to branch out to more furry creatures and develop some character studies of people and turn them into matching animal personalities. Children are also very fun to draw, they are really characters all by themselves! They have SO many amazing expressions and they say the funniest things!!

Walrus Whiskers

Walrus Whiskers

How does your background in graphic design influence your illustration work?

I have been working in advertising and Graphic Design for over 15 years. As long as I can remember I have been Illustrating for my clients to avoid purchasing stock art. I loved the challenge and they appreciated saving money. I used to work on a lot of commercials & photo shoots, so years of storyboarding & art directing have helped as well.

How as being a member of SCBWI benefited you?

SCBWI New York

SCBWI New York

SCBWI has been amazing! I joined in 2009 and have been to a couple of conferences including the New York International Conference this past January. I have met so many inspiring people and have enjoyed sharing stories with them & learning from them as well. The Children’s Illustration Community really is so supportive… not competitive like the Advertising world. It is very refreshing!

Another great influence has been the Highlights Foundation. I first heard about their Workshops through the SCBWI, and last January discovered that they offered an Advanced Illustrator Workshop. I applied in early January and after being accepted, attended last August. I had learned so much from SCBWI but before attending the International Conference I felt stuck. There is so much helpful information out there, but I wasn’t sure where to go. I met so many wonderful people at that workshop and had the blessing of being Mentored by Flood Cooper, Kelly Murphy, Eric Rohmann & Ruth Sanderson.


Back in 2009 I had a portfolio review by an Agent and she suggested to keep creating in Illustrator (Vector Graphics). I had put my heart and soul into a few Watercolors but she said that the children’s industry was going to be more eBooks and online so I was safer to go with the digital route. Since I had been doing graphic design for so long it seemed to be the best fit, but I missed soft edges and the feeling of loose sketchy lines and the magic of watercolors. Long story short, I continued down this Vector path from 2009 until I attended the Highlights Workshop in 2012. Floyd looked through my portfolio and saw some hand drawn illustrations that I had in the back of my portfolio. They were illustrations that I had licensed to a scrapbook Manufacturer in Utah. He said that he saw “Me” in those Illustrations.

It was SUCH a huge sigh of relief that he validated something that had always believed in, and from that moment on I have been creating art that makes me happy and feels the most organic to me. I try to improve on that each day.


I just attended the Advanced Illustrator Workshop again this past August and met so many wonderful artists again and we were mentored by Joy Chu, Matt Tavares, E.B. Lewis, Cindy Smith & Artie Isaac. Everyone there really felt like family! Thankfully it was a little more challenging this year and I feel that it really helped all of us grow even more. I highly recommend it to anyone who is looking for a little extra push or to find some clarity in their direction.


What’s your preferred social media network, and how do you use it to build your platform?

Facebook has opened so many doors & has become a supportive community. I met one of my favorite Highlights Art Directors through a mutual friend and worked on my first project with them. I love how the kidlit community is so large and supportive at all levels.

I use the Pulse app to keep up on all of the blogs & Twitter on most Thursday nights during Kidlit Chat. But most of all Instagram has been a wonderful place to share and learn from other artists, publishers, editors, & agents. It is much more personal than Facebook and just like picture books it’s focus is on images rather than words.

Five Fun Ones to Finish?

What word best sums you up?  Passionate

If you could live anywhere for a season, where would you go?  Makena Beach on Maui

What’s your go-to snack or drink to keep the creative juices flowing? Does Wine count? Just kidding… Pirate’s Booty or Coconut Chocolate Luna Bars. Wine definitely counts!

Cats or dogs? Both, but we currently just have 2 goofy cats.

If you could spend a day with one children’s book illustrator, dead or alive, with whom would that be?  Richard Scarry… he influenced most of my towns inside of my pencil boxes as a child. I’d love to collaborate on building some towns & characters together!

Where can we find/follow you and your work? 

FB page:
Blog:                                                                 Twitter:                                                                          Shop:

Kelli, thank you for taking the time to share you art with us, and I was especially excited to see a shout out for the Highlights workshop as I have heard such great things about them. I have also fallen in love with those three little penguins and the walrus! To your continued success!

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9 Responses to Illustrator Interview – Kelli Thrasher

  1. Dana Carey says:

    I love seeing Kelli’s sketches on Facebook, too. Thanks for this interview, Joanna!
    It was good to learn about you, your process and your journey, Kelli. Love those big animals– bear hug! Great work!

  2. Cathy says:

    Like Dana, I especially enjoyed Bear Hug. Fun interview!

  3. Wow, I understand why your drool Joanna over Kelli’s artwork. I really like how expressive it is. My favorite is the intent look of the little girl wishing her frog, who seems to be not so sure. All of her work is beautiful.

  4. Great interview! I like the “Uncle Don” part! Alas, I am the only writer in the family, but my Mom-Mom is an ar- That’s it! I’ll ask Mom-Mom if she can illustrate my books! Yeah! 😆

  5. Great interview Kelli! Glad you could continue working in your passionate medium. Anything can be changed into digital these days.

  6. Kelli’s illustrations are so cute. I’m so fascinated with the illustration process. I had fashion plates when I was a kid (and spirograph)–so much fun.

  7. Wonderful interview. 🙂 Love your frogs and ducks Kelli.

  8. Joanna,
    Thank you again for interviewing me & thank you everyone for the kind words also! Joanna, I love reading your blog every week and look forward to the Illustrator Interviews & your recommendations on Perfect Picture Book Fridays! Thanks for all that you share with us!

    Best Regards,

  9. Joanna says:

    Kelli, thank you so much for sharing your art, studio and enthusiasm with us!

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