Society of
Children's Book Writers
and Illustrators

Previous Get to Know Our Illustrators

September Illustrator – Marcela (Mace) Cespedes-Alicea

How long have you been a member of SCBWI? What’s the most impactful thing you have learned from being in SCBWI?

I have been a member of SCBWI since 2018. A couple of years before that, I had started my career as a freelance illustrator, and as fun as it was to be my own boss, for the first time in my life I was working all by myself and that made me feel very lonely. As soon as I found SCBWI and started attending the meetings, I began making wonderful friends with all the wonderful people there and quickly was able to create a strong support team to rely on. Since then and thanks to SCBWI, not only have I made great friends but I have learned so much about this beautiful industry, it has become my “university” for this path in my career that otherwise I wouldn’t have known how to navigate.


What medium(s) do you use to illustrate? 

I have become a complete digital baby; I still rely a lot in the trusted paper and pencil for my initial sketches, and I keep several sketchbooks, but since I come from a graphic design background, I became extremely adept at photoshop which gave me the practical skills to go from sketch to finals all in owe file.


What is your illustration process?

My process changes a lot depending on the project, I’ve had to learned (the hard way) to just let it flow as it may. For example, the current project I’ve been working on began as a bunch of sketches on post-it notes with red pencil. It quickly evolved from a dozen post-it to double its amount until finally I had a whole 20 pages of story in post-it notes! Whenever I didn’t like a scene or thought of a better idea for it, I just had to remove that post-it and draw a new one. The way I did it was that the first 10 or so post-it I drew were the main events in my story. When I had gotten those out of the way, I started thinking about the major details around those events, and just like that I was slowly filling the gaps and constructing a well-rounded story.

When I was satisfied with that initial “schematic” of my story, I scanned everything and began to edit and move around stuff. When I had properly cleaned up the file, I shared it with my most intimate critique group;  a group of 2 other girls and I who get together regularly to talk about our ongoing projects and to support each other in many aspects of our lives (not just professionally), I knew they would give me great and honest feedback.


From then on, I have continued with the steps that I always do, going from sketches to tights, and from tights to final colors.


How long have you been illustrating?

I have illustrated all my life, I basically never stopped. But I realized I wanted to do it at a professional level when I was working in advertising back in Colombia, about 13 years ago. When I was looking for colleges, I realized that in my hometown there wasn’t a proper career for an illustrator to do professionally, so I studied what I thought was the closest thing which was graphic design. From graphic design I went into advertising and the next thing I know I am being given all the assignments that require illustrations. Then I started being commissioned illustrations in my personal time outside of work and suddenly, I’m being represented by and Art Rep who is getting me all these illustration gigs in advertising. At this point I couldn’t wait to get home after work to start drawing, so I came to the realization that I needed to leave advertising and just focus on illustrating full-time. But I wanted to refresh and improve my skills, to learn what was being done out there; what other illustrators were up to, that’s when I found this master’s degree in illustration in the US and made a big move, leaving behind everything that I knew and loved for a “new career”.


Are you self taught or did you study illustration? 

Since I first grabbed a pencil as a toddler, I never stopped drawing, but I have refined my skills in many ways throughout my life. I was put in extracurricular art classes as a little girl and I did life drawing course with excellent painting masters when I was a teen. I studied an undergrad in Graphic Design and then I did a master’s degree in Fine Art with emphasis in Illustration at the Savannah College of Art and Design in Atlanta, GA. And even now, I keep doing courses and thinking about what I can learn next; you can never know too much!


Do you have a dedicated art space? 

I do have a space for my work at home. Sometimes I wish it were out of home but there is nothing like rolling into your computer in your pajamas in the morning to keep working where you left off the night before! But I also have a movable computer that I sometimes take to dedicated coworking spaces or simple to the nearest Starbucks just to get out and change the routine.

What would be your dream book to illustrate?

What books would I like to illustrate? I have fallen in love with graphic novels in every way!

Since I was little, I was crazy about all kinds of comics; X-men, Batman, Archie, Mafalda, Calvin and Hobbes… but I’d say that my very first “graphic novel” was a very old, gigantic book of my mom’s that was the retelling of Romeo and Juliet in sequential photos. It was the best thing in the world! Then in grad school I came across my first real graphic novel which was Blankets by Craig Thompson and I’ve been a collector and a fan of the genre ever since. I always knew I wanted to do comics, but Craig Thompson’s work really gave me the answer to what I really wanted to do with my art in terms of subject matter for my stories and of the style for my characters.


Are you working on any fun projects now? 

I am working in like 4 projects right now!!! But yes, I am currently dedicating my focus to this one story that has become very dear to my heart: it’s the story of a little boy who learns to take care of his environment with the help of some magical friends. It was inspired by the work of my childhood best friend who currently works with the communities of the pacific coasts of Colombia to maintain the beaches clean and teach the locals kids how to take care of their environment. I’m very excited about this message.

Tell us about the children’s books you’ve written.

I write all kinds of stories. Mostly stories from my family, from growing up with a feminist dad and a strong businesswoman-like but sensitive mom and a very smart and rascal little brothers, and the biggest furry sister <dog> I’ve ever had or seen. I’d say most of them could perfectly be children’s books but truly they are just raw, nonfiction of what it was like growing up in Colombia and the many peculiarities of my tropically warm culture.

Any tips for illustrators that are starting out?

For all illustrators starting out, I’d say, trust your passion; if what you love is drawing fat cats with pants, find your place through it, don’t try to conform to the market. The trends always come after one person has started something from the deep love of what makes them different. Keep your ears and eyes wide open, you might not realize it but everything that goes on in your life is what make you unique in your art; if your favorite hobby is needle point, then draw in needle point or write a story about it or about who you learned it from… search your life and show its best and/or worst moments to the world through your own, unique art.


Do you currently have an agent? 

I just recently signed with an agent. She found me through the SCBWI portfolio showcase at the virtual summer spectacular conference and from the first moment we started speaking we had a great connection and we just decided to take the plunge together. But I feel I have to say that it didn’t happen overnight on my end; it took more than a year of talking to a few more agents and deciding, either on one end or the other, that me and them wasn’t the right collaboration at the time. And it was never because I didn’t like them, in fact, many of the agents I spoke to, were amazing people that I would have loved to work with. But in the end, it only takes the tiniest details to help you understand that everything in your paths must flow the way you both need to for it to be the right match. Never despair if the few first connection don’t pan out, the right collaboration is out there looking for you, and when it doesn’t work with someone it’s just the universe teaching you how to recognize it when it finally comes along.


Have you had any books published or won any awards?

I have illustrated over 12 children’s books for Nickelodeon’s and Disney’s shows over the past 4 years through imprints like Penguin Random House and Shutterfly. Working with big clients like those is a lot different than working on your own personal stuff (or even for a fellow writer). For starters, the turnaround times are a lot shorter, and everything is done as work for hire, meaning that I don’t get any royalties, but I am very well paid per project. Also, I mostly work with characters and stories that are already written and designed so my work is mostly translating them into the page, and drawing these wonderfully designed characters is actually an amazing exercise for enhancing and personalizing my very own style. It is actually a very fun job with a wonderful learning experience, especially for me as an emerging author/illustrator; as I have to become fast in producing material for them, I now know how to be fast at producing my own stuff, and the very well thought out way they produce their stories has taught me a lot about storytelling too. Plus reproducing these characters that are so well-known worldwide is a huge honor that I’m happy to have.


Tell us 5 interesting things about yourself.

1- I’m a perfectionist and since I know it, it’s the biggest thing I fight with myself over and over until I always end up falling on the other end of the spectrum of not caring at all!

2- I love writing; my handwriting has always received a lot of compliments. I use it regularly on everything I write, people are always impressed when they see it and that makes me happy. Sometimes I think I started writing stories just so that I could practice my type, narcissist much?!

3- I dance salsa since I have memory, it’s something that we do in my hometown, if you are born in Cali (Colombia), you must know how to dance, otherwise its just shameful. I was taught by my uncles and then I taught my little brothers, that’s just how we are raised.

4- I have 75 hundred, thousand drawings hidden in remote files of my computer or actual sketchbooks, for every drawing that does make it to my website or on Instagram.

5- In my spare time I study languages: I speak fluent English and Spanish, and have studied French, German, Italian and Japanese, and counting… I think languages are key to solving the problems of the world: learn a new language + understand a new way of thinking = be more compassionate.

Extra Fact- I have around 200 books dispersed around my house so that I can read any moment, any time (even in the bathroom!!!)


Where can people find more of your work?


Instagram: @marsmela

Twitter: @macecespedes



August Illustrator – Susi Schaefer

How long have you been a member of SCBWI? What’s the most impactful thing you have learned from being in SCBWI?

Hi everyone!

If memory serves me correctly, I joined in 2013. The most impactful thing I’ve learned is that I have A LOT to learn still. I write and illustrate picture books, and honestly, I had no idea how little I knew about the craft and the publishing industry before I became a member of SCBWI.

What medium(s) do you use to illustrate? 

The best description is probably digital collage with traditional textures and washes. I also incorporate photography into my pieces; I feel it really adds dimension to my work. The trick is to not make it look gimmicky. I pull from a library of textures that I have created–somehow I feel more ownership over the final piece when I incorporate those.


What is your illustration process?

First, I always try to see the finished illustration in my mind, and I try to feel the vibe of it.

Then I create a sketch, either in a sketchbook or on my iPad.

Many times, I start with a simple shape or a line doodle. I use references a lot. My goal is to have highly stylized characters and environments, so I need to see how much I can push the simplification process without losing the characteristics of the intended subject.

Next comes color blocking, either in Procreate or Photoshop.

Color is one of my favorite parts of the illustration process, and I have a lot of fun selecting palettes. I’ll look at fabrics and paint swatches and vintage illustrations, really anything that speaks to me. Adobe Color is another fantastic tool.

I spend a fair amount of time on the expressions of my characters.  Once again, I try to make them as simple as possible, ideally just with lines and dots.

Finally, textures are my very favorite thing. I may use a hand-painted background, or I add texture over my illustration.

Oh, and sometimes–but not always–I use shadows behind shapes.


How long have you been illustrating?

When I was in my teens, I was an apprentice to a glass painter. I’m from the Austrian Alps, and glass art is very popular in that region.

Once I came to Socal, I studied graphic design, and I ended up working for a marketing company.

And after I had my kiddos, I fell in love with all those glorious picture books that I got to read to them. So I made it my mission to study that craft. As I mentioned above, it’s an ongoing journey.

In a nutshell, I have been illustrating in one form or another for a very long time!

Are you self taught or did you study illustration? 

I did not study illustration, so in that sense, I am self-taught. But I’d say that my glass painting and my graphic design days helped me out quite a bit in the beginning.


Do you have a dedicated art space? 

I teeter-totter between my little home studio, which has my Wacom, and every loungeable surface in and around my house with my iPad Pro in tow. My dog, Raven, is my studio buddy regardless of where I end up.

What would be your dream book to illustrate?

It always seems to be the current one that’s rattling around in my head. I wish I could just blink and the art would appear since patience is not my strong suit.


Are you working on any fun projects now? 

Here is some recent work. I also have one book out on submission and another that I am tinkering with.

Tell us about the children’s books you’ve written.

I have written stories for as long as I have illustrated, but I didn’t start writing seriously until a few years ago. That’s when I took some online writing courses, and they helped me improve a lot, especially with getting rid of unnecessary text and with voice and story structure.

Cat Ladies is actually my author/illustrator debut.

Any tips for illustrators that are starting out?

For me, the trick was learning to keep it simple. I used to think that I had to force myself to include as much variety as possible to show that I can do anything. Stick to something you love to create, and the joy will shine through. Then build from there.

Also, just because a specific style comes easily doesn’t mean it’s not valid; it might just be what you’re meant to do. Making an easy piece used to feel like cheating, but if I labor too much over a piece, I feel the spontaneity and fun are gone. Sometimes, your natural style is your best style.

Do you currently have an agent? 

I do have an agent, and we connected when I queried into the black void of slush piles. Eventually, my work got the attention of an agent. She ended up showing my work to a colleague and that’s who I signed with.


Have you had any books published or won any awards?

I have two published books out in the world.

One is “Zoo Zen – A Yoga Story For Kids,” written by the talented Kristen Fischer, illustrated by me, and published by Sounds True.

The other is “Cat Ladies,” published by Abrams, written and illustrated by yours truly.

I have been recognized by the SCBWI and the Society of Illustrators of Los Angeles.

What was your publishing experience like?

The publishing experience was a wonderful rollercoaster of emotions. I got to work with some fabulous teams at great publishing houses.

There is a fair amount of waiting involved, especially once final art is turned in. It took another year until I got to hold the physical book in my hand. But when that moment comes, it is very, very special. I learned a lot on the fly.


Tell us 5 interesting things about yourself.

I was born and raised in the Austrian Alps.

I love Nutella.

I am a certified scuba diver.

I love bugs.

I wish I could fly, but I’m afraid of flying (confusing, I know).


Where can people find more of your work?

Thanks for having me!

Here is how to find me online.


IG and Twitter:    @susischaeferart




July Illustrator – Chuck Grieb

Humming Bird Riders Land by Chuck Grieb


How long have you been a member of SCBWI? What’s the most impactful thing you have learned from being in SCBWI?

Hmmm, I’m not sure what year I joined. I think it was 2015 (might have been 2016). And the second part of the question is even harder to answer. I knew little of the children’s book publishing world and have learned so much from fellow members and the SCBWI conferences I’ve attended. I think I can better answer if I consider the most impactful or beneficial experience – in that context I would say that the SoCal Illustrator’s group, the small illustration community we’ve created, has been most impactful. I’ve benefited from the shared experiences and support of members such as Carolyn Le, Susi Schaeffer, Nina Podlesnyak, Irina Mirskaya, etc. It has been wonderful to learn from and receive critique, counsel, and support from the other illustrators.

Through the Thicket by Chuck Grieb


What medium(s) do you use to illustrate? 

Lots! I enjoy drawing and painting and create art using pen and ink, pencil, Casein (an old paint medium, kind of somewhere between acrylic and gouache), watercolors, and oil paints. I also use a lot of digital tools. In particular, I use Clip Studio Paint EX when writing/drawing Graphic Novels.


Which medium do you prefer?

I hate having to pick a favorite! But if pressed, I think I’d pick Casein. I enjoy its immediacy and the matte finish. However, I also enjoy the depth of light and color oil paints allow.

For Graphic Novels, I think Clip Studio Paint is unparalleled. It is fast, fun, and provides the most responsive digital watercolor tool I’ve ever used.

Klang by Chuck Grieb


What is your illustration process?

My process varies – each illustration is its own problem. I approach each medium in a different way, and I’ve varied my approach over time. But I will do my best and have documented the process for creating a Casein illustration here.

The initial concept is explored in a variety of thumbnails. I want to capture an emotional moment, one significant to the story, the world, and the characters, which will connect that moment with the viewer.

Character Study of ‘Bela.’

Number 2 became the selected thumb to develop.

I often shoot photos to use as reference.

Photo reference for Picking Berries.

Photo reference for Picking Berries.

When creating an image of something which does not exist, I will sometimes build a model or maquette to use as reference. I did not do so for this image, but here is an example from a different illustration.

Maquette created of Grendel

Before painting, I resolve the image with a detailed drawing. I often draw on an iPad Pro with the Apple Pencil using an app called Procreate.

Digital Drawing of Picking Berries

My planning stage also entails a value study.

Digital Value Study, Picking Berries

I need to transfer the digital drawing to paper.

How I transfer the drawing depends on the size of the piece and the medium. When I paint in Casein, I paint on 300 lb Hot Press watercolor paper. If the painting is smaller than 13 X 19 – I print directly on to the watercolor paper at about a 30% opacity. (The largest paper my printer can handle is 13 X 19. If the final image is larger than this size, I employ a more complex process.)

The printed image provides a light image over which I redraw/trace with a brown colored pencil. I clean the digital drawing up more carefully before printing when printing directly onto the paper on which I will be painting the final illustration.

The digital drawing printed onto 300 lb watercolor paper

The finished drawing, mounted with tape on a drawing board

I next completed a value underpainting (I don’t always complete an underpainting – and in this instance it proved to not be very helpful).

The finished drawing, mounted with tape on a drawing board

While the underpainting dried, I explored color schemes. I prefer to explore color with traditional media. I find it provides a better sense of how I will mix the colors and which tubes of paint to use. I make specific decisions as I explore different color schemes.

Color studies

I selected C5. This selection introduced a different value scheme than I’d already painted (a High Key value scheme). Sometimes this happens! As a result, I had to ignore the value underpainting when applying the color.

In process – you can see the edge of the Stay-Wet palette I use when painting with Casein

Palette before I started to paint

Detail as I painted Bela

Picking Berries, completed


How long have you been illustrating?

I’ve been drawing my entire life, falling in love with animation (especially stop motion animation) when just a kid. This led to studying art and film in college and a career in animation.

I worked as an animation artist for studios such as Disney and Nickelodeon and had my own studio with a partner for a time. Now, I teach animation at Cal State Fullerton. I’ve also created my own animated shorts which have screened in festivals all over the world.

Illustration is something I began to explore in earnest in 2015.

Ladybug Bunny by Chuck Grieb


Are you self taught or did you study illustration? 

I have college degrees, though not in illustration. However, concepts I learned studying film and animation have informed my approach and understanding of illustration. I’m not sure I understand or embrace the concept or claim of being ‘self-taught’ vs. ‘school-educated’. We all learn on our own and we all learn from others, whether in a formal institution, or from a book, workshop, or online videos. Formal schooling (ideally) provides a foundation. It is not the end, but the beginning. We continue to grow and learn throughout our lives. I continue to take classes and learn from others, but at the same time I teach. The journey continues.

Lizard Banner by Chuck Grieb


What school did you attend?

I earned a BFA in Applied Media Arts from Edinboro University and an MFA in Film Production from USC. Neither was a focus on illustration – my interest was more on animation and filmmaking. I’ve also attended the Illustration Master Class and taken courses via the SmarterArt School. James Gurney’s blog is regular reading and I’ve learned more than I can measure from his books, videos, and daily musings. I learn by drawing and painting in my sketchbooks on a regular basis, reading books, talking with artists, I’m reading Miyazaki’s collected essays, having recently started the second volume, “Turning Point”.

Tack the Spider Knight by Chuck Grieb


Do you have a dedicated art space? 

Yes, I do. I have an office space outfitted with a digital work-station equipped with a Cintiq and a traditional work-station comprised of an antique oak drawing table.


What would be your dream book to illustrate?

My own!

But if I have to select something existing (and not written by me), I’m drawn to fantasy and love Tolkien’s world of Middle Earth. I also love Ursula K LeGuin’s Earthsea stories. But both of these worlds have been so well visualized by other artists – maybe TH White’s “The Once and Future King”? I adore King Arthur and TH White’s rendition of that world in words.


Are you working on any fun projects now? 

I’ve been creating illustrations and writing stories about a secondary fantasy world I’ve created and call The Garden Clans.

A little about The Garden Clan:

Garden faeries are small, tiny even, the tallest never quite reaching two inches in height; and come in many forms and colors. There are the Faerie Rabbits, standing on two legs, unlike the animals we know. The Faerie Owls which appear a little odd to our eyes in that they have no wings, but claws for hands as well as feet. The Faerie Elves who look much like you or I, though their ears tend to be pointy. And the Goblins. Goblins are small, just as most faeries are, look very piggy in the face, and are covered in a fine fur. They stand on two legs (hooved); most are brown, grey, or a dark blue black, some are even spotted or piebald, but never white. Scholars do not include the Trolls (which are much large than most faeries) amongst the Garden Clans, because whereas they are a form of faerie, they live alone or in small family groups. And the rats and crows, though intelligent and organized, are animals and therefore not counted amongst the faerie peoples.

Tack the Spider Knight by Chuck Grieb


Tell us about the children’s books you’ve written.

I’ve written a few stories set in my world of The Garden Clan including an MG novel, ‘The Goblin Twins’. I’d hoped to see this book published as an illustrated novel, but I’ve been counseled to consider exploring the story as a Graphic Novel, so have recently developed a Graphic Novel pitch for the story.

I’ve also written and prepared a Graphic Novel pitch for another Garden Clan story, ‘Tack, The Spider knight’.

Tack the Spider Knight by Chuck Grieb


Any tips for illustrators that are starting out?

Draw. Draw all the time. Draw every day. Draw what you see. Draw what you love. Then draw some more. Look stories in the world around you and capture those stories in your drawings. 

When you find yourself inspired by an artist – dig a little. Discover who inspired that artist. And then go further. Who inspired the artist that had inspired THAT artist? Steve Hickner (DreamWorks director and story artist) put a name on this idea for me, he called it following the breadcrumbs. It’ll expose you to new ideas, imagery and understanding.


Do you currently have an agent? 

I am not currently agented.

Troll Hunt, Found One by Chuck Grieb


Have you won any awards?

My work has been featured in Spectrum vol 23 and the upcoming Spectrum vol 27, ImagineFX magazine, the Infected By Art annuals, Volumes 4-8, Illustration West 57, and I was awarded an SCBWI, SoCal region Portfolio Showcase Award in 2018.


Where can people find more of your work?

Instagram: @chuck_grieb

Twitter: @chuck_grieb