Illustrator Interview – Steve Light

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HaveSeenDragon1-300x267Steve Light is one of the many fabulous artists I have been stalking on FB for a while. His latest WIP is “Have You Seen My Monster?” a follow up to “Have You Seen My Dragon?” Dragon is a counting book Monster is a shape book.  “Have You Seen My Dragon?” comes out April 8th from Candlewick Press, so don’t miss it if you dig dragons as much as I do (and if you don’t). Betsy Bird says of it in the SLJ, “A riot of miniscule details, numbers, colors, familiar city elements, and a magnificent, fantastic creature always hidden in plain sight, Light gives us a city dragon worth remembering long after the pages are turned.”

Steve drawing

Steve drawing

[JM] Illustrator or author/illustrator?  If the latter, do you begin with words or pictures?

[SL] Author/illustrator. My stories always start with pictures usually in my sketchbook. I usually just start drawing things I want to draw then start reading about things related to what I have drawn and the stories grow from there. I always have a sketchbook with me—lately two! A few of my books were proposed as sketchbooks on a theme and my publisher said “Oh, that needs to be your next book!”

[JM] Where are you from and how has that and/or where you have lived influenced your work?

[SL] I grew up in an enchanted place known as New Jersey. When I was 7 years old my family drove into NYC to see the Disney movie Pete’s Dragon and after we walked through Rockefeller Center and I saw all the buildings and remember staring at the huge art deco medallions on the side of Radio City Music Hall and falling in love with NYC and wanting to live here. So I do! I live in Manhattan and love it. I am constantly inspired. My newest book was based on something my dad said to me when we were driving through Manhattan and I saw steam coming from the manholes and vents. I asked what was making the steam and my dad with out missing a beat said “Dragons! Dragons live under the streets and that is dragon breath you see!” My newest book “Have You Seen My Dragon?” is based on that and there is even a dragon on the cover blowing smoke out of a manhole cover.

[JM] Love this inspiration to Have you seen My Dragon? Tell us a little of your beginnings and journey as an artist.

[SL] I always LOVED to draw and still do—I am always drawing. I was lucky enough to have a high school art teacher Mrs. Hasselman who encouraged my father to send me to art school. I went to Pratt where I met another amazing teacher named Dave Passalacqua who really taught me to draw and think. After Pratt I did some corporate illustration work and even a few pieces for the New York Times Book Review but was not loving it. Then I started to teach and tell stories to kids and it was like a rebirth. I started writing and illustrating my own children’s books and love everyday I get to draw with a story in my head and a pen in my hand.

[JM] Do you have a preferred medium to work in?

[SL] I LOVE Fountain Pens! And drawing with them. Have You Seen My Dragon? Is drawn completely with fountain pen and colored with fountain pen ink. I also like to use watercolor and pastel and colored pencil.

[JM] Do you have themes or characters you return to in your art?

[SL] I love giants and dragons. I love machines of any kind and complicated scenes.

[JM] What does your workspace look like? 

studio in a closet

studio in a closet

[SL] I live in Manhattan where space is limited so my workspace is actually a walk in closet that I made into a work space! It is small and I would love more space but it works and I get to live in the greatest city in the world an walk to most any place I want to go {I hate driving}.

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

The Cover to Have You Seen My Monster

The Cover to Have You Seen My Monster

The two main characters from Have You Seen My Monster?

The two main characters from Have You Seen My Monster?


The Problem Elephant – a WIP

Griffin - WIP

Griffin – WIP

[JM] What does an artist like you enjoy doing in his spare time?

[SL] I love museums and movies. My wife and I actually go to Fountain Pen Shows {yes they exist!} where you can buy and trade pens and talk to other pen geeks. I also repair old pens and love teaching and drawing my own stuff.

[JM] Wow a pen geek, that’s so cool!                                                                        What would you say to budding illustrators who want to make picture book illustration their profession?

[SL] Draw, Draw, Draw then study other artists/storytellers, then draw some more and NEVER,EVER,EVER,EVER GIVE UP! Also get good at interacting with people {something that was very hard for me and I feel I am still  learning} Most artists just want to hide in their caves and create—which is great –but you need to talk to people to learn and to be able to sell your work , so work on those difficult social skills.

[JM] What art do you have hanging in your apartment?

[SL] A Paul Klee poster, Two Molas from Panama, A framed set of stamps of Charles and Ray Eames, A beautiful watercolor made by my lovely wife, A poster of a cover of The Horn Book magazine done by the great Arnold Lobel and my favorite: A poster by Ben Shahn that I have had since college. This poster reminds of a quote that Ben Shahn said “That when he was a struggling artist and very poor he always told himself that a ‘Room full of paintings and a head full of thoughts are what matter’ now that success has come at last He still believes this to be true. I believe it also. [JM] Great quote!

Five Fun Ones to Finish?

[JM] What word best sums you up? Exuberant

[JM] If you could live anywhere for a season, where would you go? JAPAN

[JM] What’s your go-to snack or drink to keep the creative juices flowing? Black Tea and cinnamon toast

[JM] Cats or dogs? CAT


[JM] Which literary bad guy do you like the most? The Three Robbers by Tomi Ungerer—technically three but still my favorite

[JM] Steve, where can we find/follow you and your work?

My website  –

Read more about me here:

And here at the Candlewick website

I forgot to ask what your cat’s name is! So now with all this pen talk I want to know if you are into calligraphy, too? I think it is so cool that you use fountain pens in your work. I loved finding out more about you, thanks so much for sharing. Looking forward your (new York) dragon in April. Wishing you a successful year.

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12 Responses to Illustrator Interview – Steve Light

  1. What a fun and interesting interview! Love Steve Light’s work, his imagination, his attitude, and his cat. Thanks Joanna.

  2. Great interview! I am so excited to see these books!

  3. Wow, I will really look forward to his dragon book. It looks like great fun. I enjoyed the interview and insight into his work. His illustrations are really wonderful and kids will love them. Thanks for the such another interesting interview.

  4. Those are all of my favorite media too! I loved that his dad tells him the steam was from dragons…that’s my kind of parent. His art reminds me of some kinds of illos that I’d seen back in the youth in the 70s and I absolutely love it. Now I have to own his books. I also think that it’s too cool that he and his wife go to Fountain Pen shows!

    And that cat…oh, what a sweet beauty!

    • Hi Teresa,

      Read your comment here and these are my favorite media also. Are you taking any more classes with Mira? I have to get this book also. Need to update my website. Do you have one? Would love to see more of your work.

  5. I LOVE that the cover has the dragon blowing smoke out the manhole! Really fun illustrations, thanks for the post!

  6. Heather Greene says:

    Great post. If Steve Light can do all that in his closet office…I have no right to complain about my little table in the living room!

  7. Oooo! A PEN Geek! I think I’d like this guy! And, about the desk-in-a-closet – it’s almost as cool as the nonexistent house-in-a-box (which is extremely amazing – it has everything! But it IS a cartoon…)! Japan is awesome too. 🙂

  8. Rhythm says:

    What a great interview! Mr Light sounds like a pretty cool guy – even if he likes cats best. The kids I read with LOVE illustrations with lots of details. There is so much story in pictures like that. I’ll have to look for Mr Light’s books! Thanks for sharing!

  9. Ah! Another cinnamon toast lover! Yum. I just requested that my library purchase Have You Seen My Dragon? I can’t wait to read it (although I know I’ll have to wait until April 🙂 ) It looks fabulous. And I am partial to dragon books (hee hee)!

  10. Love the spirit of this book already. Can’t wait to read it, and probably buy it. What’s the criteria for a good fountain pen? You must have lots of size nibs? I want to try some of this type of drawing. I’ve just had a class in Adobe Illustrator, and I don’t think I can handle “this” kind of drawing. I feel soooo restricted in space and movement, but I know many people illustrate with these digital tools. Think I’m not one of them. Love your work!!!

  11. Faith Pray says:

    Steve Light’s work is so refreshing and joyful. It’s fun to hear a bit about how he thinks. Thank you for this fabulous interview!

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