Illustrator Interview – Kelly Light

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I have known Kelly pretty much since I moved to New York at the end of 2012. Passionate SCBWIers seem to find each other. Among a number of other publications, Kelly is the author/Illustrator of the Louise series. Louise Loves Art (Fall 2014) and Louise and Andie, The Art of Friendship (June 2016) are the first two books in the series. The first in the Louise I Can Read! series is Louise Loves Bake Sales! out in 2017, as well.

When I am feeling down about life or my slow progress to getting published, I think of Kelly, who is an example extraordinaire of courage and perseverance!

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

[KL] I am an author/illustrator. I have illustrated other author’s books as well as my own. I tend to self depreciate with the term “drawthor’ – because, I draw a lot before I ever even think about the words. I storyboard, that’s how I write.                 

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

[KL] I grew up “down the shore” in New Jersey. I spent a lot of time drawing and a lot of time watching cartoons. My parents owned a diner and there was a lot of time hanging out in a back booth with stacks of paper and a tiny black and white TV. There was also a comic book shop at the end of the strip mall where the diner was. I spent tons of time and all of my tips on comic books (and Centipede and pin ball in the arcade).                             

[JM] Tell us a little of your beginnings and journey as an artist.

[KL] I actually started freelancing in high school! I would walk around town with fliers offering my art for fliers, window painting, holiday cards for businesses. I wound up getting illustrations in the NYC radio station, WNEW’s music magazine. Then I went off to Syracuse University and majored in illustration with a minor in animation, that I had to create on my own. There was only one animation class. It was in the film department. I got hired by the teacher to work at his animation studio and then moved to Los Angeles after graduation. I worked in animation briefly. At the time- I did not have the confidence to persevere through rejection. It was the early 90’s and there were severe lay offs which meant- constant rejection for a newbie. I wound up back in NYC and fell into cartoon licensing. I was a character artist for Disney and Warner bros and Nickelodeon and Peanuts and so many more cartoon companies. It was fun for a long time. I had an itch though, to do something more personal. I wound up starting a family and staying at home with my daughter. When she was 6, I joined SCBWI thinking it was an easy transition from cartoons to children’s books. It was not.

But by then, I had the confidence to persevere through rejection. Six years later, I got published.

[JM] What is your preferred medium to work in?

[KL] If I had a lot of time- watercolor. I have worked digitally in all of my books – so far. I have pledged to go traditional in my next few.

[JM] Can you share a piece or two for us, maybe from a work in progress, and the process of creating them?

[KL] My next picture book is “The Smiley Family Album” it is a “found” photo album of family that- doesn’t smile…for various reasons. It’s got themes I think we are all familiar with, family – is weird. There is no normal. Also, photo albums were once treasured, as were photographs, as was family. Someone would lovingly be the curator of the lives that they shared. Families would pass down the albums. Today, where do we keep our photos? (Got something in your hand?)(Ever print out the photos?)  I have collected lost family photo albums for years. I call it “rescuing  people”.

Here is a peek at some of the images.

[JM] You recently made a trip to somewhere very dear to my heart. Can you tell us what too you to the Lake District and maybe one or two highlights of your time there?

[KL] I am still basking in the glow of the light that bounced off of those green hills, in the morning, in the afternoon and at sundown.

Lake District Gate

I spent 14 days, two doors down from Beatrix Potter’s home “Hill Top”.


She would be the spark that drew me there, but I knew, I needed beauty and peace and life affirming – all – natural eye candy to remind me a bit of who I am and why I make art.

It did so much more than I hoped. Beatrix was an amazingly strong, ahead of her time – woman artist. A conservationist of unequivocal value. There would be no Lake District with out her foresight. She spent her book royalties on – land. Preserving it, farming it, gifting it to England.

I fell in love with the place. I loved how the people who lived there, were in love with where they lived. I worshipped the breeze, the sounds, the sheep, the lakes, the light, the people, the walking, the quiet, the friendliness, the stone walls, the fells, the flowers, the scones, the tea, the simple appreciation of the simple and good things in life. Every scene my eyes took in, was beautiful.

Nature. Watercolors. A pub at the end of the day.

A pub and watercolors

Heaven on earth.

Lake District Morning

[JM] I have to ask if you put vinegar on your chips (fries) for your pub meal? What does your workspace look like? (Photo)

[KL] These days, I have a shared studio space in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. It is inside of the amazing old Eberhard Faber Pencil Factory. Built in the 1920’s it has giant pencils on the facade. Yellow ones.

I love walking up to it every day.

I moved last Fall from a big, old house with a lot more studio space. It was the whole , giant attic in the old house. Now, my space is small but I love having other artists all around me.  It is what I need right now to spur me on to make new work.

[JM] What artwork do you have hanging in your new home? 

[KL] I downsized dramatically. I took from my house the things that I loved most.

My vintage Hawaii airlines poster.

My original “Pogo” strip by Walt Kelly – one of the BEST drawers of all time.

I have two drawings by Tony DiTerlizzi. I admired him a lot all of the years that I was trying to get published. This one is a Maurice Sendak tribute.

I bought at the BEA auction this summer, an original Tim Miller. I have (immodestly) very good taste. So I see this one as an early career investment piece. It’s actually really great to have pieces from friends.

I also got a Patrick McDonnell original at a previous BEA auction, it’s a Dr. Seuss tribute.

This print from talented illustrator from New Zealand, Jez Tuya.

I bought this from an artist I admired on Instagram. Little gouache masterpiece by Brian Moore.

There is Magic in Tea as well as in this original illustration by an unknown Mid Century illustrator. It’s gouache and it’s a treasure. Just look at those peddle pusher pants!


The coolest things ever, two original paintings from an Ex Lax ad in the 1920’s. They are oil. They are funny and beautiful at the same time. They hung in the original Ex Lax building here in Brooklyn until it was turned into condominiums. They were painted by Fredric Stanley, a student of  Norman Rockwell’s. When I first saw them from afar, on the wall of a weird store in Brooklyn..I freeaked! I thought they looked like early Rockwell. But noooooooooo…that would be too nuts! I still knew they were valuable and the guy didn’t really know what he had.

Oh! And! An original cel from “The Sword in the Stone” from my favorite scene from the movie if, not one of my favorite animated scenes of all time. Squirrel girl meets Wart (young King Arthur) who is turned into a squirrel by Merlin. You have to watch the clip!! Then you can be in awe of animator Frank Thomas.

I have a tiny room in my apartment that I work in as well, I have my Iron Giant Movie poster in there. That is my favorite animated movie of all time.


[JM] At what moment in your process do you start working on endpapers?

[KL] I usually think about them from the start.  I love beautiful end papers. Mine tend to be simple. But creative or gorgeous end papers rock my world as soon as you crack open the book – and if they start the story?? Whooo-boy. All the better.

[JM] What advice would you give to an artist who has been creating for many years and yet still feels they are their work are invisible?

[KL] First – define what it is you want. Then ask yourself – Why do I want it?

Allow your self to dream but be realistic in your expectations. The only way there is hard work.

Ask yourself what it is you love most. Draw on what makes you , “you”.

What defines “invisible” for you? What defines “visible”?

Everyone has the secret wish to be a big deal but chasing that goal is like in Monopoly when you draw the go directly to jail card. You get STUCK in it.

Are you unpublished?

Do you not have an agent?

If you have an agent, you are not invisible. Someone has seen something in you that they are willing to sell. They see you as a viable, publishable creator from whom.. they can make money. You are marketable. You just need to create new work, regularly.

If you are unpublished, get an agent. Submit. There are no easy answers. There is only showing your work.

In our industry there is a lot of  “chatter” online about a very small percentage of people who work in the industry. There are so many more working children’s book authors and illustrators then the ones that get the spotlight shown on them. So first, accept that.

Then, marvel at that. it’s pretty great when you look around instead of “up” at the people at the podiums.

Then know, the real definition of a successful artist is doing what you love and making a living off of it or at least, supplementing your living with it. It’s the love.

SO – The obvious things of a website, twitter, instagram, yes, yes, yes… all of that. Submit, submit again and again. Find the right eyes for your work.

An agent is important as the doors open easier for them. They have the relationships.

But you cannot rely on representation by an agent, alone.

You are not invisible if you show your work at every single opportunity. Local, NY, LA SCBWI conferences. Show your work in person. Be your own salesperson. Sell your heart and your spirit and you ability to collaborate and work with an editor, an art director and marketing people.

Still, show work online, postcards and online prompts and hashtags.

Make new work all of the time and show it all of the time.

This is not an easy ambition to have. You have to want it more than you are afraid of rejection.

Chuck Jones said : “The rules are simple. Take your work, but never yourself, seriously. Pour in the love and whatever skill you have, and it will come out.

Five Fun Ones to Finish?

[JM] What’s your favorite park (state/urban..) in the world? (photo?)

[KL] The Lake District in England!

[JM] Haha, full disclosure, my grandparents grew up in the Lakes so I know and love the region!                                        Cats or dogs? 

[KL] Hmmm. I like both. But I have a cat.

[JM] Fact that most people don’t know about you?

[KL] I want to move to England.

[JM] 😀 What was your first paid job?

[KL] I worked in the Burger King in my hometown. I was the cashier. I also painted on all of the windows. Burger King had a character Rodney the Reindeer. I took him out of the holidays and painted him surfing in the summer.

[JM] Go to snack/drink to sustain your creative juices?

[KL] Tea or water.  Snack is usually a greek yogurt with granola right about now, 2-3 PM.

Kelly, thank you so much for sharing so much inspiration and heart today. Wishing you success in art, in life in connections.







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2 Responses to Illustrator Interview – Kelly Light

  1. What an interesting interview ladies. I admire that Kelly is so visual and storyboards a book before she writes the text. Would love to have that talent!

  2. Joanna says:

    Thanks, Pat, I love Kelly’s art!

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